Work Header

only worth living (if somebody is loving you)

Work Text:

Elliot Stabler has never been the best at keeping in touch with former coworkers.

He’s been back for over a year and avoided Cragen’s calls for as long as he could, until his curiosity for his father became too overwhelming. He still hasn’t made his way down to the ME’s office to see Warner, never replied to her kind condolences. Elliot asks Fin about Munch, but refuses to pick up the phone, blames international fees and not wanting to disturb Munch’s peace in France. He even remembers feeling a little relief when he looked at the names of the current working ADAs and none stuck out to him.

So he’s more than a little surprised to see Brian fucking Cassidy walk into the OCCB headquarters, dressed in a black suit, black dress shirt and no tie. It’s too fucking early – Bernie hadn’t been able to sleep and she’d kept Elliot up banging around the kitchen. Bell had mentioned that someone from the DA’s office had been assigned to this case, that it was to help them though no one in this unit particularly enjoys outsiders.

He raises his eyebrows at the other man, who stops in his tracks when he sees Elliot.

It’s been a long time – hell, it’s been almost twenty-five years since he’s seen Brian Cassidy. He liked the guy, enjoyed having a man his own age in the squad who kept up on baseball and came to him for advice. It probably helped his ego too, made him feel worthy and important in such a tough field. By the time Cassidy had arrived, Elliot was already pretty seasoned in the unit, already in the process of taking Olivia under his wing and teaching her everything he could to make sure she succeeded.

Not that she ever really needed it.

Then, Cassidy fucked Olivia on a drunken night out. Or multiple night outs. Elliot never got a clear answer on that one. And he tried, he really did, but he couldn’t separate Cassidy from the man in Olivia’s bed. No more Mets games, no more nights at the pub around the corner. Cassidy had touched Olivia, had kissed her and made her feel good enough for a repeat performance. Elliot couldn’t look at the guy and see anything else anymore.

“Brian Cassidy,” Elliot greets, reaching out his hand. “As I live and breathe.”

Cassidy just stares at his hand, a little shocked but unmoved by his presence. Finally, his mouth breaks out into a grin, not a genuine one but a grin all the same and he slaps his hand against Elliot’s.

“How you doing, man?” Cassidy asks. He looks tired, worn down. His hair is gray and thinning, though there is more of a tuft than Elliot can say about his own. He’s still got that boyish look that reminds Elliot of their first year together. “I was sorry to hear about the missus.”

Elliot nods, ignoring the comment.

“I’m doing alright,” he says. “What about you? You working for the DA’s office now?”

Cassidy nods, standing up a little straighter. “Yeah, I get tossed around a lot. I like it here though. Worked with Munch for a minute before he officially retired.”

Elliot nods, and they lapse into silence. He hears Cassidy clear his throat.

“Liv know you’re back?” He asks, his voice stilted. Elliot looks at him, confused.

“Yeah,” he responds slowly. “She knows I’m back.”

“I saw that SVU was involved with your wife’s…” Cassidy trails off. “I just wasn’t sure how involved Liv was.”

“She was– she was involved,” Elliot admits. “A lifesaver, really.”

Cassidy’s mouth jerks, a regretful look on his face as he whispers: “Yeah, sounds like her.”

It’s gone as quickly as it came, a cocky smirk replacing it. “God, she must’ve really given it to you. I mean, ten years, man.”

Elliot stiffens, leaning back in his seat. “You two kept in touch?”

Cassidy looks at him, and for a moment Elliot sees a flash of hurt on his face. It makes Elliot nervous, makes him not want to hear the next words out of the other man’s mouth.

“She didn’t tell you?”

“You lived with Brian Cassidy?” Elliot asks the minute Olivia opens her door. He stalks inside, looking around to confirm that she is alone, that he isn’t barging in on her time with Noah.

He shouldn’t be barging in at all. But he can’t get the look on Cassidy’s face out of his fucking head. It’s like he’s back in his thirties, dealing with a preteen at home and realizing that Cassidy got everything Elliot’s ever wanted.

“Hello to you too.” Olivia replies, playful, and Elliot narrows his eyes at her.

“Do you know how much pride I had to swallow to ask you…” Elliot doesn’t finish that sentence. He swallows, frustrated. “And then you don’t even fucking tell me.”

“I didn’t exactly think a hospital waiting room was the place to get into it.” Olivia crosses her arms over her chest. “And I didn’t have to tell you shit, actually. It was a long time ago.”

“But you lived together,” he repeats. “I mean, it must’ve been serious.”

“It was,” Olivia says, nodding her head. She thinks for a moment, amends: “I mean, it was as serious as I could let things get.”

Elliot tilts his head, confused. She sighs, gesturing towards her couch and he gratefully takes the invitation. She settles herself next to him.

“I don’t know how much you want to know,” she says. Olivia’s right, she always is, but the idea of not knowing is eating him alive about the same as hearing intimate details of her relationship with Cassidy. Olivia nods. “We started sleeping together maybe a year after you left.” She glances away, Elliot leans forward. “It was– it was nice to be with someone who knew me before.”

Elliot stays quiet, allowing her to continue.

“When you left, I was so…” she waves her hand, a thoughtful expression on her face, “angry at everyone who wasn’t you. I think I just wanted you back. I hated all the changes.”

Olivia takes a deep breath.

“That’s how everyone saw me– all the rookies at least,” she says, shrugging. “And then a case matched up with Cassidy’s UC and it was like it was the ‘90s again and I could be myself,” she tilts her head, mouth twisting with amusement. “Or at least a younger version of myself.”

Elliot swallows, looking away. He glances at the array of picture frames in her apartment, tucked away on shelves and displayed on the mantle of the fireplace. He’s been back over a year and has yet to be added back into the exclusive line-up of people that mean something to Olivia.

He wants that more than anything.

“I’m sorry,” Elliot mumbles and Olivia peers over at him. “I shouldn’t have barged in here, demanding answers.”

“You shouldn’t have,” she allows. She frowns, looking down at her hands. “But I shouldn’t have withheld that information. Brian doesn’t– he doesn’t deserve that.”

Elliot reaches for her fidgeting hands, grabbing one and she immediately wraps her fingers around his.

“He was good to you?”

Olivia nods without hesitation. “We weren’t perfect and things…” she closes her eyes, swallows, “happened that didn’t make the relationship easy. And God knows we’ve both made mistakes. But that’s in the past.” She smiles wistfully and Elliot hopes she doesn’t feel the way his hand tightens its grip on hers. “He was good to me.”

She sighs, dropping his hand and brushing her hair back over her shoulders.

“Now tell me,” she starts, furrowing her brows. “How exactly did his name come up?”

There is a part of Elliot that wishes he hadn’t asked. His curiosity has never done him favors, especially when it came to Olivia’s love life. He didn’t like hearing about her and Cassidy twenty-five years ago, he’s not sure why it would’ve been better now.

Except, now he knows that Cassidy was good to her, was respectful and probably loved her.

Probably. As if you can experience a relationship with Olivia Benson and not be wholly and completely in love with her.

Now that he knows that Cassidy wasn’t some cheating dickhead, he has to be nice to him – not nice, Olivia wouldn’t expect that much of him but at least respectful. He didn’t ask if she and Cassidy were still in touch. He didn’t want to know, really, because then it would lead to comparisons that would ultimately find Elliot lacking.

Did she answer all of Cassidy’s texts, instead of leaving at least a few unanswered like she did with Elliot? Did she agree to drinks every time Cassidy called?

Did she let Cassidy meet Noah when he was just a baby?

The look on Cassidy’s face when Elliot greets him again on their first day officially working together almost makes the perfunctory handshake worth it. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Bell look between them like she is ready to break up a brawl.

“You talked to her?” Cassidy asks later, when they are pouring over paperwork. Elliot turns to see Jet’s eyes a little too focused on her desktop to not be eavesdropping.

“Yes,” he replies, looking back at his own computer to mindlessly replay the security camera footage.

Bell walks in before Cassidy can say anything to Elliot’s short answer. Trailing her is a small boy and his mother and both men stand in deference to their new guests. Bell gestures to Cassidy who nods once, turning back towards Elliot.

“We good?” The other man asks and Elliot grits his teeth. But there are more important things than Olivia’s former lover and even through his jealousy, his innate possessiveness, Elliot knows this better than anyone.

“Yeah, man,” he responds, mouth set in a firm line as he nods. “We’re good.”

He meets Olivia again that night, more planned instead of his unannounced visit to her apartment. She’s too kind to him sometimes, well– all the time. She is still in what she wore to work but he can’t help looking at her appraisingly. Her hair is soft and loose and long past her shoulders. All of her is soft, really, and it’s becoming harder for Elliot to ignore it.

As if he’s ever ignored it.

“How was your day?” Olivia asks, bringing her drink to her lips and looking at him knowingly.

“It was fine,” he says amiably. She raises her eyebrows, unconvinced. “I can behave, Liv.”

Olivia smiles at him, though he knows she doesn’t quite believe him. It falters and she pauses, swallowing hard. “He was doing okay?”

Elliot freezes, surprised by the tentative tone of her voice, the concern seeping through around the edges. “Yeah,” he says, more intent on making her feel better rather than his own jealousy over her concern. “I mean, we didn’t discuss much, but he seemed to be doing well.”

Olivia gives him a weak chuckle, but her eyes are still sad. Elliot reaches for her hand, gripping it gently. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s not for me to say,” she whispers, shaking her head. “He’s just been through a lot. We’ve been through a lot together.”

He nods, unsure of how to respond. His thumb caresses the back of her hand and they watch it, together. Finally, she pulls her hand away, using it to take a sip of her drink. Elliot clears his throat.

“When was the last time you saw him?”

Olivia takes a sip of her wine. “We meet up every now and then,” she admits and Elliot fights the way his body tenses at the information. “Not since the pandemic.”

It bleeds Elliot dry – to be curious, to want to know more, but his mouth is moving anyway. “Why did it end?” Olivia sighs and he back tracks. “I mean, have you ever thought about–”

“We didn’t want the same things, El,” she interrupts. “Relationships just end. It doesn’t mean we didn’t love each other.”

“I know that.”

Olivia purses her lips, gaze dropping to the table. “He called me the love of his life a few years ago,” she says, shaking her head. “I guess I didn’t realize…”

“What?” Elliot prods. “That he felt that way?”

She nods, shrugging. “Or that anyone could feel that way about me, I suppose.” Elliot swallows, hand curling around his glass. She clears her throat, not waiting for him to respond. “It’s just– the relationship meant a lot to me but I never let it get to… that.”

“You’ve always been a tough nut to crack.”

Olivia’s dark eyes land on him. “I wonder why,” she says. They sit there for a moment, staring at each other and Elliot wishes that words could come to him, seep out of him in the same way they build up in his mind. Her face cracks before he can, smoothing out as she offers him a small smile. “You two are more alike than you know.”

She laughs at Elliot’s obvious disdain for her comment.

“It’s true,” she continues and Elliot rolls his eyes. “You’re both brash and quick to anger. But underneath…” She tilts her head. “You have the biggest heart. And you care so much.”

Elliot bristles at the comparison but he doesn’t try too hard to make his case, letting her order them another round.

“Cassidy and I care about you,” he says, finally. “That’s about the only thing we have in common.”

Olivia hums, draining her glass of red wine.

“You don’t think that’s enough?”

Things go sour about a week into the investigation. A recanted statement, a victim in the wind – Elliot feels like he’s back at Special Victims, instead of the work he’s become accustomed to for the past year.

Cassidy just takes everything in stride, seemingly unfazed by everything going wrong and it annoys Elliot, making his jaw clench and his hands fist. He waits until everyone leaves and they are the last ones left at the headquarters.

“That’s it?” Elliot asks. Cassidy puts some papers down on Cho’s desk.

“What are you talking about?”

“We lost our witness,” Elliot says, pointing towards Bell’s office, “one that you interviewed. And you don’t care?”

Cassidy scoffs. “Did I say that?”

“One can tell just by looking at you.”

“Well, you know what they say about assumptions, Stabler,” he replies. He begins to walk toward the exit and Elliot follows, anger coursing through him.

“We wouldn’t even be in this mess if you hadn’t screwed up,” he says, raising his voice. He beats Cassidy to the exit and the other man sighs, exasperated which only fuels Elliot’s anger more. He jabs his finger at the other man’s chest. “I shouldn’t even be all that surprised. It’s what you fucking do.”

“Oh, I’m the screw up now?” Cassidy taunts, shit-eating grin on his face. “Maybe we should ask the audience on that one. Because I wasn’t her fucking life when I left for a decade. But at least when I came back, I spent every moment trying to prove how much I felt for her. Can you say the same?”

Elliot grits his teeth, his hands fisting at his sides. He wants to do it – he wants to hit this man who has touched Olivia, who has loved her and been loved in return.

“You want to hit me?” Cassidy yells, his accent thick. “Fucking try it. I’ve wanted to hit you from the moment she woke up screaming your fucking name.”

Elliot’s whole body stops.

“What the fuck does that mean?”

Cassidy freezes, his grin faltering on his face. He jerks his head, stepping back and Elliot watches his hackles raise – not for himself, but for Olivia.

“Forget it.” Cassidy spits. “Just fucking forget it.”

He tries to move around Elliot to leave but he blocks the other man from his exit.

“Tell me.”

Cassidy shakes his head. “If Liv doesn’t want you to know then it’s not for me to say.”

It’s not for me to say. We’ve been through a lot together.

“She hasn’t said–”

Cassidy shakes his head. “She hasn’t said or you haven’t asked?”

Elliot flinches.

You have not asked me one question about what has happened to me since you left.

He feels sliced open, so transparent he is in his selfishness. And Cassidy won’t fucking stop talking.

“I don’t know why she keeps you around, man,” he says, smirking and Elliot feels his anger find its way back to him. “I knew from the moment I met you that you were going to hurt her.” Cassidy continues and Elliot wouldn’t be surprised if there was steam coming out of his ears. “The way she looked at you like you were everything to her. The way you were everything to her.”

Elliot swallows around his sadness, his guilt. He steps forward, raising his head.

“That’s funny,” he says, voice laced with sarcasm. “From the moment I met you, I knew you’d be a fuck-up. And I don’t need to know shit about your life from the last twenty-years to know that at least one of us was right.”

Cassidy sniffs, his hands tightening at his sides and Elliot barely realizes what’s happening before he has a fist in his face, landing on his cheekbone. He stumbles, unprepared for the impact but he’s experienced enough violence over the past year not to completely fall. He finds his footing, sends a prayer that Olivia won’t hate him too much and rounds his own fist at Cassidy’s smug fucking face.

Cassidy manages to catch Elliot’s fist, but he’s prepared for this, already has his other hand ready to go. It may be weaker but Elliot’s a strong man, has spent too much time in the gym so it still has a solid impact on Cassidy’s face. So solid, in fact, that the man goes down and Elliot follows – right arm now free so that both his fists can fly.

Except Cassidy isn’t fighting back. He’s laid on his back and he looks disappointed – in himself and the man above him. Elliot breathes hard and lets go of the other man’s shoulder, stumbling up. His cheekbone is pulsing from Cassidy’s punch. He shakes his head, closing his eyes and breathes like his shrink taught him. He thinks about Olivia, about her beautiful face and warm voice and how beating her ex-boyfriend to a pulp would mean that he won’t be able to kiss her the way he wants to, the way she deserves.

He steps forward, holding out his hand and Cassidy hesitates, staring between it and Elliot’s face before sighing and accepting the help up.

“If it wasn’t for her…” Elliot grunts, shaking his head. Cassidy surprises him with a genuine chuckle, one that Elliot finds himself matching.

“Tell me about it.”

If it wasn’t for Olivia, Cassidy’s face would not look like his face. If it wasn’t for Olivia, one of them would be in handcuffs right now.

If it wasn’t for Olivia, Elliot would’ve stayed friends with Cassidy even after he left the unit. He would’ve helped Cassidy navigate his personal life until he found some nice wife to settle down with in Queens, maybe have a couple kids. If it wasn’t for Olivia, Elliot would’ve met Cassidy at Mulligan’s every couple months, chatting to him about narcotics and making sure that the other man was doing okay.

You two are more alike than you know.

Elliot walks towards the break room and he hears Cassidy follow him. There are ice trays in the freezer and he grabs one, breaking out a few pieces and wrapping it in a paper towel. He holds it out to Cassidy, who accepts it without comment. Elliot makes his own, groaning as he holds it to his eye.

“Liv is going to kill us.”

Cassidy smiles, shrugging. “Maybe she’ll just be happy that we didn’t kill each other.”

Elliot hums. The ice helps, but his cheek is going to bruise. The headquarters is empty, so if they had been a little more careful about leaving marks, Olivia would never have known.

“You want to grab a beer?”

Elliot blinks, furrowing his brows at the other man. “Are you serious?”

Cassidy shrugs. “I could use one – remind me to never work with my ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend ever again.”

“I’m not–”

Cassidy gives him a grin, and Elliot rolls his eyes, ready to decline his offer.

“Stabler, let’s get a drink.”

“You just sucker-punched me.” The other man shrugs. “I think you’ll find a better drinking companion with someone else.” Elliot throws the makeshift ice pack into the freezer, walking towards the sink to wash the last remnants of blood from his knuckles.

“Oh, there’s no doubt about that,” Cassidy replies. “It’s you I’m worried about.”

He takes his own ice from his face, wincing a little when he tries to move his cheek. It’s swiftly bruising and Elliot tries to not feel too proud of the fact.

“Don’t bother.”

“Hey, I know we have this…” he points between them, “thing between us. But I’ve always known how much you mean to her. Resented it a whole lot, but still knew. And there was a time where you were my friend too.”

Elliot narrows his eyes at the other man, unsure where this is going. Cassidy throws his ice into the sink, shrugging.

“Look, I’m not a corrupt cop and I won’t be nosy about the year you’ve had,” he tilts his head, assessing Elliot. “Seems like you don’t have a better option.”

Elliot finds himself agreeing.

Elliot’s phone pings with a message from Olivia but her ex-lover is sitting next to him, sipping on a glass of scotch, so he pockets his phone. They’ve been sitting in silence for nearly fifteen minutes, sipping their drinks and watching the basketball game on the television that hangs behind the bar.

Basketball is not Elliot’s game of choice. He looks over at Cassidy, whose eyes are glazed over as he seems to pretend to watch the game, even though he was the one who invited Elliot out and not the other way around.

“Remember that Mets game we went to?” Elliot asks and Cassidy blinks, looking at him. “In ‘99?”

Cassidy pauses, placing the memory. Finally, he nods, smirking. “Of course. We were so optimistic.”

Too optimistic.” Elliot adds, tipping his glass back. “Had to pay a fortune for those tickets from some dad at Maureen’s school just for the Braves to beat us… again.”

“That was a good night.” Cassidy admits. “We sat next to those women who were Braves fans,” he chuckles, pointing at Elliot. “You weren’t a bad wingman, Stabler.”

Elliot rolls his eyes, not replying.

“You helped a lot back then.” Cassidy continued, his words awkward and stilted from the uncharacteristic amount of seriousness. “You tried to help me not make the job my life. I always appreciated that.”

“I wanted to help.” Elliot sighs, frustrated. “I just didn’t–” He cuts himself off, shaking his head.

Cassidy doesn’t call him out on it, but the words hang between them as if Elliot had said them anyway. He helped Cassidy until he realized what he was helping him for – only realizing once Cassidy had succeeded in getting into Olivia’s bed.

“Liv and I…” Cassidy sighs, readjusting in his seat. “It was all so complicated. But once you left, it worked–” he tips his head to the side, “for a while.”

Elliot tightens his hand around his glass. “These… things that I don’t know–” he starts, closing his eyes. “Did that contribute to it?”

Cassidy nods. “Things were tough for a while,” he says. “They were never not tough, after. And I didn’t handle it well.” He shrugs. “I just wanted my girlfriend back.”

Elliot swallows, closing his eyes. He takes a sip of his drink, trying to take deep breaths to curb the way his mind runs through different scenarios of what could’ve happened to Olivia.

“I need to ask her.”

Cassidy chuckles. “Yeah, you do.” He peers over at Elliot. “But you need to let her tell you the way she wants to tell you. Don’t let your guilt get in the way of her recovery.”

Elliot nods, taking the words and sealing them inside his head. He moves the glass around on the bartop, and Cassidy raises his hand at the bartender, ordering them another round.

“Liv said–” he clears his throat, “she said you’ve been through a lot.” Cassidy freezes and Elliot shakes his head. “She didn’t go into specifics. She wouldn’t do that to you.”

Cassidy nods his head, shrugging. “Let’s just say,” he blinks rapidly, pausing. “There is a reason I couldn’t handle Special Victims,” he jerks his lips up in a self-deprecating smile. “Hit a little too close to home.”

Elliot is stunned by the implied confession. Twenty-years ago, Cragen had announced that Cassidy was headed to narcotics and Elliot thought the other guy couldn’t handle it. And maybe it felt good to have him out of the unit so that Elliot could live in ignorant peace. But this… this was more than he ever could’ve known – ever could’ve guessed and Elliot feels sudden regret when he looks over at the other man.

Cassidy seems to notice.

“Don’t worry about it, man,” he says, shaking his head. “It was a long time ago. Dude’s been in prison almost four years now. And Liv helped me work through it.”

“I shouldn’t have said–”

“Don’t pity me, Stabler.” Cassidy interrupts, a boyish smirk on his face. “Or I can start bringing up your last year.”

Elliot puts his hands up in surrender, and their next round arrives. He mulls over his drink, digesting this new information. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it makes him look at Cassidy differently – more than just an aloof cop.

Olivia used to try to make him see, all those years ago, that there was more to Cassidy than meets the eye. Elliot didn’t like to hear that, but in the end she was right.

“I’m glad Liv was there for you.” Elliot says into his glass. “I’m glad you had her.”

Cassidy nods, shrugging. “I was lucky to have even a moment with her,” he admits, and Elliot can feel the statement in his chest. “But the only person who had all of her was you.”

Elliot doesn’t know what to say to that. It should give him some sort of relief or comfort maybe, but instead just makes his insides ache.

“I hurt her,” he whispers, though it’s obvious. “I don’t know how I’ll ever make up for that.”

“You won’t.” Cassidy says, blunt as always. He lowers his eyes to the bar. “But Liv is good at forgiveness, especially when it comes to the people she loves. Now that, I would know.”

Elliot nods, his eyes landing on the TV once again.

“For what it’s worth,” he says, “I'm sorry for what I said. I know things happen in these cases and it’s nobody’s fault.”

“We’ll get the guy, Stabler.” Cassidy says. “I promise.”

Elliot nods, holding out his hand. The other man looks at it before slapping his own down, shaking hard. He understands that Cassidy was right earlier – after the year Elliot’s had, a brother in arms who is only a little bit of an asshole and not hell-bent on corruption is an upgrade.

His phone goes off and he pulls it out, worried texts from Olivia filtering through.

Ayanna said the case fell through?

You two alright?

Elliot. Please tell me he’s still alive.

His lips quirk up into a smile. He wants to see her. He dreads showing her his face, explaining his actions. It doesn’t matter that it was physical retaliation – he came at Cassidy with his words and he didn’t deserve that.

But he still wants to see her.

He’s alive. We’re getting a drink.

He sends it off, downing the rest of his drink. His phone buzzes in his hand and Cassidy peers over at it, amused.

You’re lying.

Elliot snorts, typing out his next message.

You need proof?

The response is immediate.


Elliot laughs, starts calculating the best angle to hide their respective bruises. He nods his head at the man sitting next to him. “Hey. Feel like taking a picture?”