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Shitty lighting, decent beer, horrible bar food…Elliot had finally convinced Frank to grab a drink anywhere except for the dumpster that they normally drank in. Frank had been lingering outside 1PP when Elliot had finished with yet another meeting about his ‘removal’ from OCCB, one during which Elliot had walked into the lobby, made a couple of hot headed remarks on the phone, with Jet and Ayanna on the other end, unbeknownst to anyone who could hear him, then went upstairs to talk to Dodds. He hadn’t known William Dodds well when he had been on the force years ago. He knew the name. They’d crossed paths. He actually believed the man had retired, but evidently he had been working anti-corruption which is how he had been looped in on what Elliot was working on. And so after his pretend temper tantrum for the second time in the lobby of One Police Plaza, Elliot had gone upstairs and had a very civilized conversation with William Dodds about where they were at. When he left, he was surprised to see Frank who had simply told him ’word travels fast, and Elliot had suggested they grab a drink at a restaurant he had seen on his way by earlier.

Of course Frank had obliged. Never mind that he had a wife and a newborn at home…Frank made it known that he always had time for the brotherhood, Elliot thought it was more accurate to say that Frank always had time for booze and shit talking, but there was no point in mincing words about it.

“Nicer than our usual shit hole,” Frank surmised as he took a sip of his beer, watching as Elliot looked over the menu, he had said something about working up an appetite earlier, but the truth was, he had skipped lunch and it was after five, he was just hungry.

“Doesn’t take much, does it?” Elliot chuckled as he looked up at Frank. “You wanna eat somethin’?”

Frank shook his head, “nah. Gotta make it home to the missus. I’ll grab a pizza or somethin’ on the way. Don’t let me stop you though.”

Elliot returned to scanning the menu, ultimately deciding he would just eat at home too, no matter how hungry he was. “You come here before?” Elliot asked.

“This place is more for the brass,” Frank shrugged, “not really my kinda people, y’know? Above my pay grade.”

Elliot laughed, “I do. I do know. But hey, it was close and fuck, after that…”

“Yeah, yeah. I heard about that. A friend called, said you got called in for a meeting? Said things didn’t sound good…”

“They’ve got nothin’” Elliot shrugged, “plus, I don’t know, workin’ for Don back in the day…there was respect. Y’know, man to man. Not sure Bell gets it if you know what I’m saying,” Elliot wanted to slap himself as he heard the words coming out of his mouth. He tried to remember that he was playing a part, that this wasn’t him, but he still hated it.

“You saw Dodds? What is he back for?”

Elliot rubbed his chin. He wasn’t sure how Frank would’ve even known it was Dodds he went to see. He would have to look into that later. “He’s lookin’ at some stuff for SVU again,” Elliot lied quickly, instinctively. It almost worried him just how easily he could lie to these people. “Worried about the close ratios…”

Frank nodded, his chin jutting out across the bar, “might wanna keep that on the down-low right now,” his eyes lingered on Olivia Benson who was sitting about twelve seats down. Elliot wasn’t sure how he hadn’t noticed her when he came in, how he hadn’t felt her. “Guess we’ll save that for later.”

“Not surprised Dodds is lookin’ into that,” Frank gave Elliot a grin, his eyes moving from Olivia to Elliot.

“Oh yeah?” Elliot nodded, apparently oblivious to whatever had happened that might result in William Dodds having an issue with Olivia. “Guess being in Europe really kept me outta the loop on that shit. I swear, the force…gossip like teenaged girls.”

Frank shrugged, another long sip of his beer, he raised the glass to the bartender, signalling that he needed another and then putting up two fingers to indicate that they both needed another. “Rumours a couple years ago that he and Captain Benson had a thing. He was uh…instrumental in getting her promotion, so I mean…not surprising when you put two and two together.” He paused and smiled at the waitress once their beers arrived, “but then y’know, Benson was the CO when his kid died, she screwed up, can’t believe Dodds’d slip into bed with her after she killed his son…”

Elliot felt his jaw clench as he drank the amber liquid. He hated the way this man was talking about Olivia. How dare Frank fucking Donnelly talk about her like that. “Liv wouldn’t screw her way to the top,” Elliot shrugged his shoulders, trying not to seem too invested.

“I’m just sayin’, Dodds…the rat squad…she had some help movin’ up the ranks.” Frank laughed as he saw Elliot’s features sharpen, his jaw clenched, “oh you can’ta been living under a rock all these years.

“Benson and Tucker?” He tried to seem unattached, unbothered, but his stomach was doing somersaults and he had to fight the urge to vomit. “He had her arrested for murder,” he wanted to add that he had mortgaged his own fucking house for her. “No way they were together.”

Frank raised his eyebrow, “closest thing her kid has had to a dad. All shit aside, Ed didn’t deserve to go the way he did. Ate his fuckin’ gun.”

Elliot looked at him with disbelief. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He wanted to believe it was true, but as Olivia had pointed out, he had never asked. And then…then there was that moment in front of the courthouse…he had not asked her one thing about those years…then she had told him about Ed, and how Ed died. He took another sip of beer before focusing his eyes back on Frank. “So what, this the guy she dated after Tucker?”

“Peter Stone,” Frank looked at Olivia and her guest. “Used to be the SVU ADA. After Barba.” Elliot could feel himself starting to sweat, he had to hope that Donnelly didn’t notice it too. “You jealous Stabler?” He laughed, “C’mon…late nights…I remember the rumours about you two. Don’t tell me you and Detective Benson didn’t get freaky a time or two in interrogation back in the day?”

Elliot tried not to laugh at the fact that Frank Donnelly had just said ’get freaky,’ in a sentence. “Benson wasn’t like that…didn’t shit where she ate back then,” he tried to sound disconnected. “Seems young?” He furrowed his brow and nodded over at Olivia and her companion, Peter Stone. She had never mentioned him. She had never so much as mentioned seeing anyone, not since he’d asked her at Christmas in Jersey.

“Ben Stone’s kid.”

Elliot couldn’t help but wonder just how Frank knew so much about so many people. He would’ve been a good cop if he hadn’t been so hell bent on playing around in the old boys club. “He died, right?” Frank nodded, telling a brief story about Ben and his death, Peter’s return to the city, his pro-baseball career. Olivia was screwing a pro ball player?, he couldn’t help but wonder how the hell he would measure up to that if they ever sorted their shit out. Had he waited too long? She was here, now, with some guy. She had said no to lunch with him and Noah…and now she was out here, in broad daylight with some guy at least 15 years younger than her, laughing and smiling and fucking flirting like no one else was there. He pulled out his phone, “my kid,” he told Frank as he swiped it open and began hammering out a text.

Captain Olivia Benson 6:17pm: Down the bar. Put on a show. Here with FD

He quickly locked the phone and shoved it back in his pocket, “this kid…doesn’t understand what being grounded means. I’m telling you,” Elliot shook his head, “you’re gonna be in the same boat in a few years. You think you’re done with parenting, then you have another, a generation younger than your youngest kid and you’re fuckin’ doing it all over again.” And I can’t wait to do it again with Noah if she’ll let me, he thought to himself. “It’s exhausting, and Eli…I mean, it’s a different generation.”

Frank chuckled and grumbled something about sleepless nights. “My youngest until recently is eighteen and she’s gonna put me in the grave.”

Elliot laughed, this time it was a real laugh. He could certainly appreciate that. How difficult some of those times had been with his own children. Maureen and her partying, Kathleen and her issues, but now, being on the other side of if…he had good kids. “My oldest…I donno if it was bein’ so young when we had her,” Elliot ran a hand over his mouth as he tried to avoid how Olivia had suddenly started laughing more from her seat, it was loud and boisterous and he could hear it, and the truth was, as her radiating smile held his attention, he couldn’t even be sure if she was faking it. “Or maybe she was just purely defiant…but she gave us a run for our money through toddlerhood.”

“Seems to be havin’ a good time. Guess that answers if she was bangin’ him,” Frank nodded and laughed, “tellin’ ya man, women…they get away with fucking their way to the top.”

Elliot took another sip of his beer, a long sip, trying to push down the feeling of rage directed at Frank for daring to suggest that Olivia didn’t deserve everything she had accomplished, and also the jealousy. The jealousy he felt as he watched some man touching her and Olivia smiling and leaning into it. His hand was on her thigh, fingers brushing underneath the hem of her knee length red dress. He wasn’t sure the last time he had seen her in colour and fuck, red looked good on her. He tried to reason with himself that he had told her to put on a show, but did it have to look this real?

“You should go say hi,” Frank smirked putting his beer a little bit too forcefully down on the bar and pulling out some bills to cover their tab. Before Elliot could protest, Frank was moving and had shoved Elliot by the shoulder in the same direction, “Olivia Benson,” Frank chuckled, purposely not addressing her by the rank he was so sure she didn’t deserve, “didn’t expect to run into you today!”

“Detective Donnelly,” Olivia smiled broadly, Elliot could tell it was fake as he lingered behind Frank, “and Detective Stabler,” her tone softened just a tiny bit as she looked at Elliot. “Not a place I would expect to run into the pair of you…”

“I uh,” Elliot shuffled awkwardly on his feet, “had a meeting…”

“Oh,” Olivia nodded before turning back to Peter who was sipping his scotch, “this is Peter Stone. Peter, this is Detective Elliot Stabler, I’m sure you’ve heard of him…”

“You’ve uh, mentioned him once or twice,” Peter smiled and extended his hand to Elliot, gripping it firmly.

Elliot smiled politely, “I knew your old man, sorry for your loss.” He had to remind himself to swallow as he stood there and watched as Peter fucking Stone kept his hand in that same spot he had seen it in on her thigh, dancing under the hem. He wanted to ring his neck. Fake or not, Elliot wanted to kill this guy. “We uh…Liv, we should head out. I told Noah I would watch that new show on Netflix with him?”

“Noah eh?” Now Elliot had his eyes trained directly on Olivia, thinking about what she had told him a couple of months ago, Noah gets attached easily, so this guy must’ve known Noah for a while if the two were watching Netflix together and Elliot couldn’t take them out for lunch.

“Peter used to coach Noah’s baseball team,” Olivia was rubbing salt in the wound now and he could tell she was enjoying it just a little bit. “He’s back in town for a conference,” she added, hoping that it was just nonchalant enough that Donnelly would believe that this was some sort of slightly too personal friends with benefits situation.

“Not working here anymore? Couldn’t hack it?”

Olivia cringed. She had yet to tell Elliot all of what had gone on when he was absent. But Peter…his leaving may have hurt, it may have broken her for a period of time…his decision to protect her against Rob Miller at all costs…she would never forget that. “Peter was an amazing ADA. I mean, I love Carisi, I may even be a bit biased on that front, but until you’ve seen the view from his penthouse in Chicago…” she was trying to make a point for Frank’s benefit. She had only ever seen that penthouse in photos he had shown her and a few FaceTime calls between friends.

“Y’know,” Frank interrupted the pair, “we should head out. My wife’s gonna kill me if I don’t give her a break from the baby.”

Olivia resisted the urge to ask if he wasn’t a bit old to have a newborn, instead smiling and congratulating him on the bundle of joy and wincing as Frank told the story of Elliot bringing his wife to the hospital. “Well, I can certainly relate to helping a partner out when their wife is in labour,” Olivia smiled softly at Elliot. His lip curled up in a smile, “that feels like a whole other lifetime though. Guess he really is your partner now, isn’t he?”

Elliot smiled, he wanted to tell her no. He wanted to remind her of what he had promised her all those years ago, partners, for better or for worse,, but he couldn’t. Not without blowing everything. But he would. He would burn it all down for Olivia if he thought for a second that is what she wanted. He knew better. He knew her better than to think that was what she wanted. For him to throw away his work on an undercover designed to rid the force of bad cops. “Guess things change.”

“Well at least we always know he’s got good lookin’ partners, eh?” Frank clapped Elliot on the shoulder. “Good to see you Benson, Stone.”

Olivia exhaled as she watched them walk away. Elliot looked back at her a couple of times, trying to tell her something with just his eyes that he couldn’t quite convey and she couldn’t quite read.

“So that’s Stabler?” Peter gave her a weak smile as he signalled for another glass of red wine. “Gotta say…he seemed jealous, so if that was what you were going for…”

Olivia laughed, “come back to my place to see Noah. I’ll tell you about it.” Of course she hadn’t seen Peter in a while. They had spoken a handful of times in the last few months after speaking sporadically in the years since he had left. Of course the pandemic and life had made actually seeing each other difficult over the past while, so this was the second time she had actually met with Peter since he had left. Noah had talked to him on the phone, but this would be Noah’s first time seeing him as well. Peter had told her he wanted to apologize in person to Noah. He had apologized over the phone and Noah had accepted, but she certainly appreciated his willingness to apologize again to her little boy who had been so hurt when Peter had vanished from his life. “Thank you for tonight though, and for the…show…for Donnelly.”