Actions

Work Header

not the same (as it was)

Work Text:

Dominick Carisi has always been tall. 

Lanky, too — gangly, his aunt Maria liked to call him, back when he was a teenager and sprouting like a weed — and a little bit clumsy, prone to bumping into things and tripping over his own two feet. Over the years, he grew into himself, both literally and figuratively; he found his footing and discovered his calling at SVU and the DA’s office. But Sonny is still six feet tall and hard to miss in a crowd, and right now, he’s not above wishing that he could shrink down a few inches. 

It’s Saturday morning, and he’s in Chelsea Market running errands for his mother, who insisted they were all long overdue for a big family dinner. She somehow managed to find a night where all the kids were free, and insisted ‘Manda make sure she and the girls could come too. The three of them have a permanent place in the family, now, and the thought of it makes Dominick’s heart swell.

Ma appointed him errand boy for the weekend (she still doesn’t trust him in the kitchen), so he’s scouring Buon’Italia’s maze of aisles and shelves for Carapelli olive oil and bucatini pasta. The whole thing was supposed to be quick — in and out in ten minutes, giving him plenty of time to make the drive back to Staten Island — but that was before Dominick found himself crouching down next to a shelf full of tinned sardines in oil and tomato sauce, trying valiantly to disappear into thin air. 

His ears had first perked up a minute or so ago, when he thought he heard a pair of familiar voices among the typical din of the busy store, but he dismissed it out of hand. They wouldn’t be here, not on a Saturday. Especially not together.

Now, though, the voices are clearer, and he’s pretty damn sure they’re coming directly from the other side of the shelf he’s trying to hide behind. 

“Eli used to go nuts over these when he was younger,” Sonny hears the first voice say, with a kind of wistful fondness he’s not used to hearing. “They’re filled with chocolate; Noah’d love them.”

“Oh, would he?” the second voice quips, clearly teasing. “Or are you just saying that to justify getting some for after dinner tonight and breaking whatever no-carb thing you’ve got going now?”

The first voice laughs, deep and booming, and Dominick screws his eyes shut, as if that’ll somehow make him blend in with the canned seafood. 

This cannot be happening.

It’s one thing to run into your old boss outside of work; it’s another thing entirely to run into her when she’s grocery shopping with her old partner, talking about dinner plans like it’s the most natural thing in the world. 

“Intermittent fasting, if we’re gonna get specific,” Stabler corrects from the other side of the shelf, and Liv makes a noise of agreement. “Besides, I don’t hear you complaining about the results,” he tacks on for good measure, and, wait, what?

“If you’re talking about last night in the shower—” Liv starts, then, in a coy kind of half-whisper, and Dominick fights a wince. Oh God, he can’t be hearing this. 

This can’t be happening to him.

He can’t be minding his own business at the grocer’s on a perfectly random Saturday and just so happen to overhear his old captain flirting with Stabler in the snack aisle. Or is it even still flirting if they’re talking about their sex li—

Nope, no, absolutely not.

A shiver passes through him; he’s gotta stop that train of thought right there. He’s gonna have to face the two of them again eventually, and he doesn’t think he’ll be able to do that if he thinks too hard about what exactly Liv is implying right now. 

But he can’t stand here forever, either, in the aisle next to theirs, with his eyes screwed shut and his hands covering his ears. Pretty soon, someone is going to notice him: either a random shopper who’ll look at him like he’s gone crazy (honestly, he’s not ruling it out) or, worst of all, Liv or Stabler. 

And for all the practice he’s had schooling his features into a poker face in interrogation and the courtroom, Sonny’s sure that absolutely none of it would stick right now. He has got to get out of here, fast, and somehow manage to avoid them both while he’s at it. 

He opens his eyes and takes a deep breath, letting out a relieved exhale when all he can hear from the other side of the shelf is small talk about what kind of pasta they’re planning on buying for dinner. Crouching down a little further, he starts inching toward the end of the aisle, taking a right past the sauces before he ducks behind a display case full of panettone. From this angle, he can see down the aisle Liv and Stabler are standing in, and mercifully, they’re not looking his way. 

What they are doing might just be worse, though, because Dominick realizes, with a sudden sort of clarity, that Stabler has gently backed Liv up against the shelves and is kissing her, right there in the middle of Buon’Italia — and she’s letting him.

He doesn’t have time to process this — process any of it, really — as he hightails it toward the checkout area, where the line is thankfully, mercifully, only three customers long. Still, he keeps shifting his weight from foot to foot uneasily and sneaking glances over his shoulder, terrified that he’ll look back and find Liv or Stabler eyeing him from an aisle away. 

Finally, after the elderly woman in front of him has packed three packages of pasta, a hunk of parm and two pounds of pancetta into her foldable cart and hobbled out the front door, it’s his turn. He fidgets nervously as the cashier scans the olive oil and pasta, and doesn’t even wait for his receipt before sprinting out of the store. 

It’s only when he’s safely made it to his car, started the engine and pulled out of his parking spot and into the street that he lets it sink in:

Liv and Stabler are together.  

And he’s pretty damn sure he’s the only one who knows. 

/

If his mother notices something’s off when he gets back to the house, plastic bag from Buon’Italia in tow, she doesn’t comment on it, too busy in the kitchen and already stressed about not having made enough food. 

“There’s always plenty leftovers, Ma, don’t worry about it,” Sonny tells her, but she just shushes him and sends him out of the kitchen with a wave of her ladle. Tells him to go find that pretty girl of his and spend some time together, since they’re both normally so busy with work. 

Ordinarily, he’d jump at the suggestion; he and Amanda don’t get to see nearly enough of each other, these days, with both of them on crazy schedules. It’s a miracle if they get one or two nights a week where they all have dinner together, and he can stay over and tuck Jesse and Billie into bed at night. 

But today, the prospect of facing Amanda makes something churn deep in his gut, because he just knows she’ll sense he’s hiding something. If there’s one person in the world who can see through him immediately, no matter the situation, it’s ‘Manda, and she won’t back down until he tells her what’s going on. 

Which leads him to his second problem: he can’t tell her, no matter how much he wants to. 

And boy, does he want to. 

Because it’s Liv and Stabler, flirting and kissing and doing God-knows-what in a grocery store aisle, and Dominick’s not entirely sure he didn’t dream the whole thing up. 

He knows his old captain and Stabler were close, back when they were partners, knows just how much she cares for him — and his family, too. He saw it during the trial, and before that, during the initial investigation into Wheatley; she was a rock for Stabler and all his kids, grieving with them and steadying them all. 

And he’s heard rumours about them for years. That Liv used to have a partner, before Amaro, one she was with for a decade and change. That they were legends in the department, known for their closure rate and the way they seemed to work and speak and think as one. That he left after he shot a kid, right there in the squadroom, and never looked back. 

That Liv grieved him in the same way people grieve their spouses, and that she’s never been quite the same ever since. 

Sonny’s only ever known Liv as his sergeant and his lieutenant. But ‘Manda’s known her longer, met her back when the wound from Stabler’s departure was still fresh and Liv was, to quote his girlfriend, “a little bit of a bitch.” He wonders, sometimes, what it would have been like to know her back then, before she was the boss, before—

He shakes his head; he doesn’t even want to think about what happened two years before he joined the squad. No, right now, he has to focus, has to figure out how to face Amanda without letting the whole thing slip. 

Liv is like a sister to him, and as much as he wants to spill it all to Amanda, she’s clearly keeping whatever’s going on between her and Stabler quiet for now. And he gets it, gets wanting to stay in a bubble for a little bit, let the change really sink in before making it official. 

And Dominick loves his girlfriend, knows she’s it for him, but if there’s one thing Amanda is terrible at, it’s keeping secrets like this. If he tells her, she’ll get excited and she’ll end up telling Fin (and only Fin) but then all bets are off.

So it’s better to pretend he saw nothing at all, that the most exciting thing at Buon’Italia was a cheese tasting for some aged parm, and wait for Liv and Stabler to tell everyone on their own time. 

At least, that’s the plan.

/

Amanda’s sitting outside on the back porch facing the sun, holding a glass of white wine in her hand as she watches the kids play in the backyard. She’s squinting slightly, and it makes Sonny smile, seeing the way her nose scrunches up as she shields her eyes from the glare. 

“Forget your sunglasses again?” he asks, grinning when she turns around to scowl at him. 

“You try wrangling two kids hopped up on sugar into the car on a Saturday morning and then tell me you wouldn’t forget something.”

Dominick laughs, ducking down to press a kiss to Amanda’s temple. “I ever tell you you’re a superhero?”

She smiles at that, eyes crinkling at the corners, and a pretty flush spreads across her cheeks. “You’re sweet,” she says, fondness bleeding into her tone, and he shrugs. 

Amanda pats the space beside her on the oversized chaise lounge, scooting over so Dominick can sit down next to her. He wraps an arm around her and exhales as she rests her head on his shoulder, letting out a quiet sound of contentment of her own. 

He relishes this — the little moments, where they get to watch the girls play and just sit together, spend time with one another and not stress about work. 

“Traffic still horrible?” Amanda asks after they’ve sat in silence for a few minutes, and Sonny startles, his heart rate speeding up as he feels his palms go clammy. 

“Traffic—?”

“To and from the market. You said it was gonna be backed up when you headed out the door.” 

He exhales, scrubbing a hand over his jaw. Jesus, he can’t be this jumpy just thinking about the store; he’s gotta play this cool.

“It was fine,” he says, hoping Amanda doesn’t hear the way his voice has suddenly jumped an octave. “Accident on the Expressway, otherwise everything was normal, totally fine.”

“You sure?” Amanda doubles down, eyes narrow like she doesn’t believe a word he’s saying. 

“Yeah, totally,” Dominick replies, trying for cool and missing by about a mile. “Grabbed the oil and the pasta and walked right back out. Ten minutes, tops.”

“If you say so.” 

She shakes her head as she leans back against the chaise lounge, but doesn’t ask any more questions, and he tries his hardest not to exhale a sigh of relief. 

Pretty soon, his mother is calling from the kitchen and Billie’s asking if she can have ice cream before dinner (“Absolutely not,” Amanda tells her) and blessedly, Sonny gets to avoid the subject for the rest of the evening. 

Small miracles, indeed. 

/

After dinner, they stay at his parents’ house for a few more hours; the adults pile into the living room to talk and catch up while the kids take over the basement and play video games. Amanda and Sonny share the loveseat in the corner, and he loves the way she feels comfortable being close to him now, leaning back against his chest and letting him card his fingers through her hair. 

By the time everyone gets ready to leave, the kids are tuckered out and the adults aren’t faring much better. He helps get Billie and Jesse strapped into their carseats and gives ‘Manda a quick kiss on the cheek before getting into the driver’s seat of his own car; he’ll meet her at their apartment and stay the night, like he does most weekends. 

They put the girls to bed together — and Sonny feels his heart swell when Jesse insists he tuck her in and read her a story. Amanda watches him from the doorway, and they lock eyes for a second, a wave of gratefulness washing over them both. 

He meets her in the bathroom, where she’s standing in front of the vanity and putting some sort of serum on her face; he’s got no idea what’s in all those little pots and vials that line her counter, but he’s smart enough not to question whether she really needs them all. 

“Hey,” she greets him, looking at his reflection in the mirror. “Tonight was nice.”

“Mmm.” He steps up behind her, wrapping his arms around her torso and leaning down to press a kiss to her neck, smirking when she shivers. 

“You okay, though?” Amanda asks, turning in Dominick’s arms so she’s leaning back against the lip of the sink. “You’ve been tense all night,” she says, reaching up to smooth her thumb over his cheekbone. 

“I’m fine,” he tells her, trying his best to ignore the concern etched plainly on her features. He dips down to press a kiss to her lips, short and sweet, tacking on a “really,” for good measure. 

“Is it work? The case?” Amanda prods, and God, he loves her for it, but right now he really, really can’t talk. If he tries to make up an excuse, she’ll see right through him, and then—

Then he’ll be well and truly fucked. 

So instead he switches tactics, sliding his hand under the hem of her sleep shirt, up the smooth skin of her back, and leans back in for another kiss, grinning when Amanda instinctively presses closer and shivers. 

This way, Sonny thinks, as he trails open-mouthed kisses along her collarbone, they won’t have to talk at all.

/

Somehow, blessedly, he manages to avoid the topic for the whole day on Sunday. They make pancakes for breakfast and take the girls to the park, and Sonny does his level best not to talk about work in any capacity so there’s barely any chance of Amanda bringing up Liv (or Stabler). 

Amanda, for her part, seems to accept that he doesn’t want to talk about whatever might be bothering him, and they spend the day focused on the girls and spending some uninterrupted time together — a rarity these days. 

He’s almost distracted enough that he could forget about what happened in Buon’Italia, could pretend it was just a fever dream, something his overactive imagination cooked up in the heat of the moment, but then he remembers the way Liv’s voice had gone soft from the other side of the shelf as she and Stabler talked about dinner, and how he’d gently cradled her head as he kissed her up against the cookie display.

Then Dominick has to fight not to shudder, because, while he’s happy Liv seems happy… that is a mental image he really, really did not need. 

And he is happy for her, honest.

Despite his own reservations about Stabler, back when they first met, Sonny has to admit he’s warmed up to the man. Trial prep gave Dominick a better sense of who he was — beyond his jacket and what the rumour mill has been whispering about him and Liv for years — and now, having been assigned a few cases with both SVU and OC’s involvement, he’s gotten to see the Benson-Stabler dynamic firsthand. 

They get each other the way few people do, work off each other’s thoughts seamlessly and almost move as an extension of each other. No wonder their closure rate was through the roof, and people always talked about them like they were a matching set. 

What happened to Stabler’s wife was a tragedy, an injustice of the highest order, and the fact that Wheatley still walked makes him sick.  

But Dominick can see, plain as day, that Stabler’s return has brought a lightness back into Liv’s expression that he’s never seen before, a steadiness and sense of calm his old captain deserves. Liv’s a fighter, through and through, but he hopes now that Stabler’s back, she has a place to put down her armour and rest for a while. 

Another person who she can lean on, no matter what.

Her partner, in every sense of the word.

/

On Monday, Sonny has to head to the one-six to drop off files and check in with Liv and Fin about an upcoming trial where they’ll be testifying. He hasn’t been back to the precinct in a few weeks, usually meeting the squad in his office instead. 

He’s been swamped with trial prep and depositions, so the trip to the precinct almost feels like a field trip. 

He grabs coffee for him and Amanda along the way, and she shoots him a grateful smile as he sets the steaming cup down on her desk. 

“None for me?” Fin teases from across the room, and Sonny laughs. 

“Text me your order next time, man,” he replies, before heading toward the captain’s office.

He stops just short of the door when he spots them: Liv and Stabler, sitting at her desk, talking and laughing about something. Oh shit. 

Oh shit, shit, shit.

It’s one thing to spend two days trying to stay cool in front of Amanda, it’s a whole different ball game to have to look her in the eye and pretend he didn’t overhear her and Stabler talk about what they do in the privacy of their own apartments. 

Sonny takes a deep breath, squares his shoulders and raps on the door. 

Liv and Stabler pause mid-conversation, turning their heads in Dominick’s direction. 

“Hey, sorry to interrupt—” he starts, eyes flitting back and forth between the two of them, but they both shake their heads and Stabler gets up from his visitor chair. 

“I’m headin’ out anyway,” Stabler says by way of greeting, picking up his near-empty cup of coffee and leaning over to give Liv’s shoulder a squeeze. “See ya later,” he tells her on his way toward the door, sparing a nod for Sonny. 

“I’ll text you, El,” Liv replies, and gestures toward the newly vacant chair. “Sit down, sit down, sorry about the mess.” 

“Don’t worry about it.” He slides a stack of files to the side so he can set down his own pile; Liv’s gotta sign some things for the DA’s office, and he brought everything at once to make the process easier. “Here ya go,” he tells her, holding out the first set of documents. 

“Thank you… How was your weekend?” she asks as she starts working her way through the stack, and Dominick freezes. 

“Ah, fine…” he starts, haltingly, and Liv raises a brow as she looks at him over the tops of her reading glasses. “Had a big dinner at my mom’s house; she managed to get us all under one roof.” 

“That’s nice,” Liv says, smiling. “Spend some time with Rollins and the girls?”

“Yeah, we got them out to the park on Sunday,” he says, passing over another batch of files. “Weather was gorgeous.”

Liv nods. “Mhmm, Elliot and I took the boys over to the soccer field close to his place, let Eli show Noah some tricks.”

“That’s great,” Sonny says, voice pitching an octave higher than normal. “I mean, that the boys are getting to know each other, and you’re spending time together, and—”

Oh Jesus, he can’t do this. 

Liv’s looking at him like he’s about to lose his mind, and Sonny can feel his pulse quickening, his hands getting clammy. He’s not normally like this; he doesn’t get this nervous in court anymore, he never got like this in interrogation.

But there’s something about Liv, about her presence and the way her eyes narrow, that makes him feel like she’s staring straight through him and can tell he’s hiding something from her.

“Is everything alright?” Liv’s face has shifted, and now she’s looking at him with genuine concern. 

“It’s fine, everything’s fine.” He shakes his head, shuffles his papers.

“You look a little pale, Carisi. Do you need any water…?”

“Liv, I swear, I didn't tell anybody ‘bout you and Stabler.” The words come out in a rush, before he’s even registered he’s said them. Across from him, Liv freezes, and oh God, he’s fucking this all up. “I didn’t even see…” Dominick tries to reassure her, even though he knows he’s rambling, now, unable to stop it. “Hell, I got outta there as soon as I could once I realized it was the two of you—”

“Carisi, what—?”

Liv’s voice snaps him out of it, and he stops for a second, gathering himself. “You and Stabler. I, ah, I saw you at that Italian grocer in Chelsea Market this weekend, talkin’ about dinner, and—”

To Dominick’s surprise, Liv doesn’t look embarrassed, or defensive, or even mad; she’s smiling, shaking her head fondly.

“Oh… Amanda didn’t tell you?” she asks, and wait, what? “It’s not a secret, we just haven’t disclosed to the brass yet.”

“What?”

Liv shrugs. “It’s been about a month and a half now, I’m surprised she didn’t mention it.”

Surprised is an understatement, Dominick can’t help but think. Shock would be more accurate, especially considering he has no earthly idea why his girlfriend wouldn’t tell him. 

“Well, congratulations,” he says, stupidly, and Liv gives him a fond smile. “I’m happy for you— for you both.”

“Thanks, Carisi. Got anything left for me to sign?”

/

After Liv gets through the stack of paperwork, and then Sonny gives her and Fin pointers for their upcoming testimony, he heads back out to the bullpen and makes a beeline for Amanda’s desk. 

“Got a minute?” he asks, tapping his foot on the linoleum when she looks up at him, a question etched in her features. 

“Yeah, ‘course.”

“Break room?” 

“Sonny, what—”

“Just, c’mon.” He gestures toward the other side of the squad room, and Amanda relents getting up from her chair and following him over. 

Sonny doesn’t miss the low whistle from Fin’s general direction, but he can’t be bothered to care.

“Sonny, what the hell?” she asks when he closes the door behind them, hands on his hips.

“Liv and Stabler? Liv and Stabler have been together for a month and a half?”

Amanda’s looking at him like he’s grown two heads, and under any other circumstance, Sonny would try and reassure her that he hasn’t actually gone crazy.

“Yeah? You knew that.”

“I knew—” he starts, and then stops again, shaking his head. “No, I didn't know that. You never told me!”

“Yes, I did. I told you the day Liv told me about them—”

“I’m pretty sure I woulda remembered that, ‘Manda, or I wouldn’t have had a damn heart attack when I saw them at the store on Saturday—”

Amanda has the audacity to laugh, then, and Sonny scowls. “Oh, that’s why you were so freaked out all weekend? ‘Cause you thought it was a secret?”

“Rollins—” he bites out, scratching at the back of his neck. “You told me?”

“Over lunch at your office, that week where you were swamped with the Johnson case.”

He remembers that one — the defence attorneys had tried to make their lives a living hell and Dominick had practically lived in his office for ten days straight. Which meant he didn’t really focus on anything but the case, even when she was updating him on the squad—

“You’re sure?”

“Positive. You nodded along and everything.”

“I did?”

“I distinctly remember a ‘mhmm’ in there somewhere.”

“Jesus.”

Amanda narrows her eyes, then, like she’s realizing something, and oh, fuck, this can’t be good.

“What else have you pretended to hear when you didn’t?” she asks him, and Sonny blanches. 

“How would I know?” 

Amanda just shakes her head. “You did hear me when I told you Barba has a new boyfriend, right? And we’re having dinner with them next week?”

Sonny groans. 

“Okay, new rule: never, ever tell me anything when I’m sitting in front of a case file again.”

Amanda laughs. 

“Noted.”