They are not even trying to hide it anymore.
Ayanna is ecstatic for them. Really, she is. But she kind of wishes they wouldn’t do this in the middle of a case, in the middle of the squad room. A very important, all hands-on deck, police commissioner and D.A. breathing down their necks kind of case.
It’s not that they’re being particularly distracting or unprofessional. They’re not doing anything that will get them in trouble. But they are distracting her with how ridiculously tuned in they are to each other. So aware of where the other is in the room. The veiled glances and little touches. The secret dialogue that passes silently between their gazes. A language only they know. It’s cute and annoying as hell to be on the outside of.
Ever since Liv came back from her vacation, skin golden from the summer sun and irises gleaming the same shade as single malt whisky, Ayanna knew something had changed.
What’s currently going on right in front of her certainly proves that. If this is the Benson and Stabler of old? Shit. How did they get anything done? The air between them crackles with an energy that makes the hair on her own arms stand on end.
Ayanna is sorely tempted to wave a hand in front of their faces. Step into their line of sight just so they’ll quit looking at each other like that.
The tiny, knowing smirk that pulls at the captain’s mouth like she’s perfectly aware of what she’s doing. Ayanna doesn’t think Stabler has so much as blinked since Liv shrugged out of her fitted blazer to the white blouse underneath. His gaze hasn’t left her for a single second, and Ayanna can’t really blame him for staring. White is a good color for the captain, and the way the fabric hugs her body makes Ayanna’s mouth a little dry because she’s got eyes and taste too. The woman is positively glowing. It’s hard not to stare, but this isn’t the time or the place.
If she was closer to Stabler, she’d elbow him, pinch his arm, do something to get him to pay attention to Brewster’s briefing at the front of the room. Ayanna has a clear line of sight to him, and it’s obvious from the way his head is angled that he’s still watching Liv. And perhaps, even more concerning, Liv is watching him too.
Ayanna sighs and rolls her eyes, deciding that the moment the meeting is over she’s going to pull Stabler aside. It’d be inappropriate to approach Captain Benson, but Ayanna's own detective? It’s her job to make sure his head is in the game. That Stabler is focused on the right things. That he doesn’t get his dumb ass hurt because he's distracted.
The second Brewster excuses them, Ayanna is on her feet and making her way over to where Stabler is leaning against the wall. She stops short, hanging back a little as she sees Liv beat her there. Captain Benson’s hand goes to Stabler’s forearm, squeezing lightly once before dropping away as her body cants forward into his space. Her head dips toward his, nearly knocking into his temple as she says something in his ear. Ayanna is too far away and there are too many overlapping voices to catch what’s being said. Stabler nods and his arm disappears behind her, his hand most likely resting on her lower back. Liv’s fingers brush once more along his arm down to his wrist and over the back of his hand. Stabler’s hand flexes.
Ayanna turns her head and sees Tutuola lurking by the doorway to her right, watching them the same way she is and smirking openly. He feels her eyes on him and glances at her, chuckling and giving a shrug as if to say what can you do?
With one last lingering, unnecessary touch, Liv walks away, and Stabler’s eyes trail over her from head to toe as she joins her sergeant by the door before disappearing through it. The grin on his face is obnoxiously wide and bright. And stupid, Ayanna thinks. A crazy, stupid love smile that makes her own chest ache for things lost.
Shaking her head, she calls out to him. “Stabler!” Trying futilely to break through his trance.
He doesn’t even look in her direction. Gives zero indication that he heard her and seriously? Liv isn’t even in the room anymore. Jesus, Stabler needs to get a fucking grip.
“Hey, Stabler,” she repeats more firmly as she closes in on him and it’s like talking to a brick wall for all the response she’s getting.
Ayanna purposely moves between him and the door, fighting the temptation to snap her fingers in front of his face. She lifts an eyebrow when it takes him way too long to look at her, and even then, his gaze continues to flick over her shoulder.
“Hm?” he mumbles, half-heartedly, and now she just wants to smack him upside the head.
Her mouth quirks. “You should take a picture, it’ll last longer.”
“I- what?” His brows scrunch together and his eyes finally track to her face and settle there.
“Captain Benson,” Ayanna clarifies. “I’d say that vacation did her some good. She looks…very refreshed,” she notes, conversationally, side-eyeing him.
Stabler’s ears redden for some interesting reason and he swallows hard, rolling a shoulder. “Sure, I guess. I, uh, hadn’t really noticed,” he stumbles a little over the words, his hand scratching at the back of his head.
Ayanna hums, unconvinced. “Uh-huh.”
His eyes cut at her, and she could laugh at the silent challenge in his gaze. The sudden widening of his stance and straightening of his spine as if preparing for battle.
“You’re about as subtle as a freight train, Stabler,” she informs him, smirking.
He opens his mouth, probably to argue or deny, but Ayanna talks over him. “I don’t care to know – I don’t want to know what’s going on with you two.” She waves a hand dismissively. “It ain’t my business unless you make it my business, so do us both a favor and keep it out of the squad room. And quit being so damn obvious.”
His jaw clenches, and she can see his hackles raising just a little. “This isn’t going to affect the job. Liv and I know what we’re doing.” Like in everything, he’s stubborn, digging in his heels when he feels that he’s in the right.
“Oh, I’m sure you do,” Ayanna mutters, eyes roaming over him. It comes off wrong perhaps because really all she wants is for them to be careful. She doesn’t want to see people who have become dear to her ruin a good thing or destroy their careers in the process. Doesn’t want to see the job come between them.
Stabler deflates at her comment, rocking back on his heels, and Ayanna amends her words, adding. “Look, as your friend I’d say I'm happy you two are figuring it out. As your boss, I’d tell you to be on your A-game or they’re not going to let you continue working together. Just don’t want you to forget that you gotta lot of eyes on you and not everyone is rooting for you to win.”
Ayanna knocks into his shoulder and leans in like she’s letting him in on a well-known secret, lowering her voice even though most of the room has cleared out. “And maybe try not to look like you’re undressing her with your eyes next time. For a cop, you have an awful poker face.”
His face turns beet red, and he coughs, choking on his own spit. “Sarge, I wasn’t- That’s not- I swear it-” Bless the man, he can’t even finish a sentence. Liv got him wrecked.
“Yeah, you were and that’s okay. She was undressing you too.” Ayanna leaves him standing there dumfounded, eyebrows high on his forehead and eyes impossibly wide.
Hopefully, he’ll reboot before the lunch break is over. Maybe.
Fighting the smirk pulling at his mouth would be like trying to stop a rising tide, so he doesn’t even try to keep it in. Fin knows his cat that ate the canary demeanor is irritating the hell out of his captain, but he can’t help it. After witnessing what he did during the briefing, it feels too much like fucking Christmas Day to quell any of his sudden enthusiasm.
They’re standing in the break room, thankfully alone somehow. He’s leaning against the island counter, and Liv is standing in front of the open fridge door, snagging water bottles for both of them. She knocks the fridge door shut with her hip and turns to face him.
Her brows perk up as she holds out the water to him. “Just spit it out, Fin. I know you got something to say so let me have it.” Twisting the cap off the bottle, she takes a healthy swig.
“Things seem to be going well with you and Stabler,” he comments, uncapping his own water. “Dude was practically frothing at the mouth.”
Liv nearly spits out the water, swallowing hard and coughing into her hand, obviously caught off guard by his directness. Fin reaches out and pats her on the back. “God, Fin. Why?” she groans, glaring at him from behind the hand still over her mouth.
Fin grins, rolling a shoulder, unrepentant. “Just stating facts, Cap. You got that man by his-”
“So help me, Odafin Tutuola, you finish that sentence and I'll have you on weekends for the next two months,” Liv rushes to cut him off, water bottle dropped heavily on the counter so she can perch her hands on her hips. “I’ll write you a rip you will never forget,” she stresses.
Raising his hands in surrender, not at all threatened, he concedes, but not before adding. “Get your head outta the gutter, Captain, I was gonna say throat.”
He sobers slightly when he notices the tiny frown on her face. The tense set of her shoulders. Fears he may have pushed too far. “If I overstepped just now, Liv, my bad. I meant no disrespect, just missed this is all.”
Dropping her hand away, she peeks over at him. “Missed what?” Liv wonders cautiously like she’s afraid to ask.
“Seeing you happy,” he answers seriously, but can’t resist adding another little tease. “And I missed the Benson and Stabler show. It’s a classic. Thought for a second it might not make a comeback, but it did.”
Liv rolls her eyes and smacks his arm, leaning beside him against the counter too, but he can tell she’s unclenching and allowing herself to see the humor in it. She shakes her head, but doesn’t exactly deny it.
“And that hold you got on Stabler? Hasn’t loosened one fucking bit. He ain’t leaving your side even if someone tried to pry him off with a crowbar,” Fin says, attempting to make her smile, laugh, something to let him know he didn’t just fuck up their friendship. Hopefully, she’ll forgive his crassness.
Her brows lift and her mouth fights a wry grin at the mental image. “That’s an interesting analogy, Fin. A bit of an exaggeration maybe-”
Fin snorts, glancing at her without turning his head, and catching something out of the corner of his eye when he does. “I wouldn’t say it’s an exaggeration…” Sure enough, the man in question is striding down the hall towards them. Fin can see from his body language through the window that he’s obviously searching for something or someone.
“Speak of the devil,” Fin murmurs, smiling widely now. Liv turns around at his comment and sees what he’s looking at. “Nice to see his Benson radar ain’t broke.”
“Fin,” Liv warns lowly, but it’s half-hearted because now her focus is solely on the man closing in on them. “We’re in the break room, not Siberia.”
Her gaze does catch Fin suddenly pressing his hands firmly into the countertop and her brows furrow, glancing quickly at him. “What are you doing?” she asks, caught off guard.
He shrugs, nonchalant. “Just checking the integrity of this counter. You’re good to go, Cap,” he tells her cheerfully, starting to back away as Stabler nears them.
Feeling the heat of her flabbergasted glare, he says. “Might wanna make that three months of weekends. I deserve it.”
“You read my mind, Sergeant,” she says darkly, but Fin notices the grateful spark in her eyes and thinks maybe this was the push she needed.
Before Fin can say anything else, Stabler is standing in the doorway, gaze predictably on the captain. “Hey, Liv-”
Stabler catches his eye, and pauses, seemingly unsure. “Fin.” His eyes dart between them. “Everything okay?”
“We’re good,” Fin assures him. “I was just headed out. Gotta quick lunch date with my girl.” As he passes Stabler in the doorway, he lowers his voice so he’s not overheard. “Go take care of your girl, Stabler.”
Fin smirks, feeling both of their gazes on his back as he walks away. His work here is done, and it only cost him the next three months of working weekends. He can’t wait to tell Phoebe.
Just before he walks out of earshot, he catches Stabler asking, “do I even wanna know what that was about?”
And Liv. “No, El, you really don’t.”
“I think we’re being ganged up on by our own sergeants,” Stabler adds, superstitiously.
Fin hears Liv groan and can’t stop the snicker that comes. “You too?” she asks, and it’s the last thing he catches.
On the way out of the building, he runs into Sergeant Bell, his unwitting partner in crime.
“Benson and Stabler?” Bell wonders, glancing over his shoulder.
Fin grins and jabs a thumb over his shoulder. “Break room,” he says, sounding way too happy about it.
“They gonna be good?”
He appreciates her concern even though it’s unnecessary. “Those two have been multitasking since '98, they’ll be alright. Might wanna give ‘em a minute though. Two decades carries a lot of pent up energy.”
“Christ help us all,” Bell mutters, shaking her head. “They’re gonna get thrown off this case.”
Fin shakes his head. “Nah, they won’t. I think even the Commissioner put in on the betting pool.”
Bell eyebrows nearly disappear into her hairline. “There’s a betting pool?”
Fin gestures with his head. “Walk with me and I’ll fill you in on the stakes.”