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something about the sunshine

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Life is better here.

Nick decides this one summer night as he sits outside on his patio, a fire he’d built burning in the pit and crackling into the smoky air. Gil and Zara sit on either side of him, both of their hands sticky with marshmallows and chocolate, graham cracker crumbs coating their laps. They tease each other and laugh, his little girl looking up at him with a big grin before resting her head on his shoulder. This moment, he wouldn’t have had it two years ago. He could have died and never had another moment like it. The thought weighs heavy on his chest a moment. Just a moment. That is the past. Things are good here.

The screen door opens, shuts, and the familiar footsteps make him turn his head, a smile forming on his lips. Maria triumphantly holds up a bag of Reese cups as she plops into a chair beside Zara. “I told you we had them, Nick. Guys, s’mores are so much better with a little peanut butter. Trust me.” She prepares Gil and Zara each a new little treat and both are eager to try it.

He didn’t have this, her, two years ago, either. He didn’t have his family.

Nick leans further back in his chair, watching this perfect Hallmark worthy moment and thinks back on he got here when so recently he’d been on a downward spiral of self-destruction.

 

****

 

When he first arrived in California, he’d been overwhelmed by the change of it all. Everything, the people and the places alike, were so much different than NYC. He settled down in LA, got himself a small apartment and found a part-time job in security since he was technically retired. The job offered none of the fulfillment being a detective had, but it was stable with normal hours, benefits and decent pay given his experience. No one would be shooting at him and he had plenty of time for his family, which mattered more to him than loving his work.

It wasn’t SVU, he wasn’t actively working to help make difference daily, but he didn’t leave at the end of the day sick to his stomach and with rage in his heart, fists looking for a fight.

He did his physical therapy and that had been exhausting, but he'd powered through it and came out alright. No cane needed.

The first Saturday night he’d gotten to sleep interrupted to Sunday morning, no phone calls demanding his presence at some gruesome crime scene, he realized SVU had slowly been draining the life out of him. His coffee had tasted better that morning. Mass with Zara and then their lunch, followed by a walk on the pier, had been better that day.

He saw Zara the very first day he was there, Gil that weekend when they went to basketball game. He saw Zara several times a week after that, taking her to the movies or the park or picking her up from the school, then making dinner together. He’d missed her so much, much more than his heart had ever allowed him to fully realize in order to protect itself, and he never wanted to be apart from her again. He never would again. Their time together gradually continued to increase from there. Cynthia brought Gil down as often as possible and he went to San Diego when he could, but it could be difficult. The very first Saturday he had both his kids, the three of them went to the beach for the day. Bringing with them a picnic lunch, they’d swam, built sandcastles and had a volleyball game. He’d laughed and smiled on that day more than he had the entire year before. It was the happiest day he’d had in a long time.

Only a few months after that, he and Maria started to have Zara equal amounts of time. And Nick started to wish for even more than that. Every time he dropped Zara off at Maria’s house, walked her to the door and kissed her goodbye, he felt a piece of him slip away until the next time.

After the beach trip, Nick finally decided to a see therapist because he was so happy with his life and he was determined to hold on to it, no matter what his pride thought of giving in and seeing a shrink. He wasn’t naive. His issues and his trauma hadn’t left him when he’d left New York, left SVU. He wasn’t just magically okay now. Anger still gripped and controlled him, as did his trust issues, and he knew he needed to work on them. He needed to deal with his Father’s abuse, what happened when he’d came to New York.

And it took a lot of time, patience and prying on his counselor’s part, but he started to improve. He talked through the scars, physical and emotional, that his Father left on him all those years ago. His hold on Nick finally broke and he finally started to let go of the past, not letting it control his life a minute longer. The rage faded, only rising in the most serious of situations, and he began to truly trust those around him. It was new feeling for Nick, being free from his demons, but he would never go back. He felt lighter now, like a new person. Perhaps one he would have been from the start under different circumstances.

A year after his initial arrival in California, Maria asked him if he would be willing to watch Zara for the night because she had a date. At first, it surprised him that she’d brought it up with him given the past-it said a lot for his progress, their progress, he supposed. No longer did they have screaming matches over the phone, more like heated discussions at times, but even then, it was rare. An awkward friendship of sorts had formed between them and he couldn’t deny that he’d missed her being a part of his life. Though he strongly disliked the idea of Maria dating again, for Zara’s sake he convinced himself, he agreed. He’d never turn down a night with Zara and he wanted Maria to be happy. However, he hadn’t been able to shake off the glower when he thought about her out with someone, some guy who was probably less worthy of her than he’d been. He did his best to ignore it.

When he picked up Zara and saw Maria in her red cocktail dress, he realized two things as he took in how beautiful she looked: he was jealous and he still had feelings for his ex-wife, the mother of his daughter. But he said nothing.

At his apartment, he and Zara made dinner, then baked cookies at her request before snuggling on the couch and watching TV until bedtime. As Nick cleaned up the disaster that was his kitchen, he was surprised to hear a knock on the door given the late hour. When he opened it and saw Maria in the hallway, he was even more surprised. She looked tired, exasperated.

Words unnecessary, he motioned for her to come inside, leading her to the couch where she threw herself down and rested her head against the cushions. Nick watched her in amusement from the kitchen, pouring her a glass of wine he knew she needed. “I thought you weren’t getting Zara until tomorrow. Your date that bad?”

Maria groaned at the reminder as he handed her a glass, taking a seat beside her. “It was awful, okay? Seriously, this guy was the worst. He was so threatened by everything.” She gulped down some wine, then looked at him apologetically as she tucked some hair behind her ear. “I’m sorry, this is weird to talk about with you. I just missed Zara and wasn’t even thinking that she was asleep-”

Nick sipped on his wine. “It’s okay, M. We’re friends, right? What was he so threatened by, anyway?”

Assured by the fact he wasn’t uncomfortable, Maria groaned again, her annoyance returning. “My entire life, basically. Hear me out. We were telling about ourselves, right, like any normal date? I told him I’d been military. Threatened by the fact that I could totally kick his ass. Told him I had a daughter. Threatened by that.” She rolled her eyes. “And then he asked about her Father. Imagine how he took the fact that you did 9/11 interrogations and were a detective in New York City. Practically bolted on the spot.”

Nick had to laugh, his jealousy gone. The old him would have never let this go. “Sounds like he wasn’t worthy of you. And it also sounds like you had a lot to say about me, huh?” He quirked his eyebrow at her. What was going on here? Maria having an in depth conversation, granted about his career, with a date?

He swore Maria flushed and she took a long drink of wine. “I guess I did. I don’t know, I like talking about you. It's easy.” She rested her head against her elbow, curling her legs up on the couch, as they sat face to face. “When did dating become so awful? I don’t remember it being that way with us.”

Their eyes held. Nick had forgotten how much he loved her brown eyes, the passion and fire inside them. “Well, we clicked.”

Maria smiled. “We did, didn’t we?” She leaned in closer, placing her hand on his arm, tracing circles. “I don’t know if it’s the wine talking or what, but I want to kiss you right now.”

Nick felt his breath slip out of him. Normally, he was so suave, charming and in control, especially in situations like this, but right now he didn’t know what to do. But Maria had always been the same as him and she took the lead. She pressed her lips against his, cupping his cheek in her hands. It felt amazing to kiss her again, her soft lips and the taste of wine on them his very own brand poison. He’d missed this. God, he’d missed them.

Really, he’d never gotten over Maria or their marriage. Never stopped wanting them to be together, never stopped loving her. He’d let her go to DC, then California and he’d backed off like she wanted, even if he wanted to fight for them. There were times when he’d been furious beyond belief with her and thought he’d moved on with someone else he cared about, but that hadn’t changed anything in his heart.

Maria pulled back from him, breathless and with rosy cheeks. “You’re still good at that.”

He laughed at the comment, but it turned into a smirk. “That was pretty unexpected, I gotta say.” Not that he was opposed.

She finished off her glass of wine, then moved closer to him subconsciously. “I don’t know. I’ve missed you, Nick. Missed us.” She brushed his cheek with her hand. “Which is kind of crazy given how crazy everything went in the end, but things feel different now.”

Crazy was the understatement of the year. It thrilled him that she missed him the way he missed her, but his uncertainties and fears couldn’t help themselves from rising to the surface. “Is this you asking to get back together? I think the wine or the bad date is talking here.” He stood, pacing around his living room.

Maria stood too, taking his hand in hers and making him stop. “I’ve had one glass of wine and I’m not using you to make myself feel better. I think I went on this date to ignore the way I feel about you. I do want us to be together again, but I’m not asking you to jump into bed with me tonight or go get married again, Nick. Is me wanting to be together so surprising to you? I mean, I asked you to move to California with Zara and me in the first place, which was really selfish of me looking back on it.”

How were all these wonderful things continuing to happen to him? He stepped closer to Maria, looking down at her and seeing the sincerity, the emotion and perhaps even the love that was in her eyes. “I want to be with you again, too. I do, I’ve wanted it for so long now. But what about Zara? We can’t put her through us getting back together and splitting up again if things go to hell.”

She wrapped her arms around his neck and he’d missed this, too. “We’ll take it slow, one day at a time. But I just don’t see it going to hell again. Things are different now, we’re different now. I’ve worked through my issues and you’ve been working through yours, which I’m so proud of you for. This could work. We’ll make it work. We’ll be a family again.”

And he trusted her on this, he believed her. He really did. It was so new to have so much faith in someone, to not be looking for holes in their words, hidden meanings, for this to not end up being an interrogation. Peace at last. And he kissed her.

That night, after a makeout session on his couch that took him back to his best days in high school, he walked Maria to his bedroom, flicking on the light. He grabbed a blanket for himself off the bed. “It’s late and I don’t want you walking home by yourself. You can sleep in here and I’ll take the couch.”

Maria perched herself on the edge of the bed, raising an eyebrow at him and crossing her legs in a seduction attempt that so often had worked in the past. “We can’t share a bed? I think we’re a little past that, don’t you think?”

Nick shook his head, adamant on this point. “I don’t think I could trust myself, or you for that matter, to keep this from leading to more like I want it to if we’re in the same bed. And in the name of taking it slow, we’re not ready for that right now.”

“I’ve always admired your strength,” Maria, that tease of a woman, stripped herself out of her dress right in front of him, left in nothing but a lacy thong. He muttered some things in Spanish and held himself back in the doorway, his mouth going dry. His eyes following her, she went to his dresser, removed a t-shirt and sweatpants, knowing him so well that she didn’t even have to guess which drawers they’d be in. Slowly, she dressed herself in his clothes. “You don’t mind, right?” She grinned at him. Such a flirt.

He shook his head, counting to ten in his head. “You’re gonna be the death of me,” he said and left the room before he threw her down on the bed and showed her exactly how much he’d missed them being together.

The next morning, after a long sleepless night on his part, he was making breakfast when Zara padded into the kitchen, still in her pajamas and rubbing her eyes. She came to the stove and gave him a hug around his waist from behind. Nick turned and kissed her head. “Buenos dias, mi amor.”

“Morning, Daddy,” She said as she took a seat at the counter. “What are you making?”

“Pancakes and bacon,” Nick said as he dished out three plates full of food. This was Maria’s favorite breakfast and she’d always said he made the best pancakes.

“Why are you making three? Is Gil coming?” Zara asked, hopefully. She loved hanging out with her older brother and it made Nick happy how well they got along given that they didn’t see each other all that much. Maybe that was why.

“No, he’ll be here tomorrow, though. But we do have a special guest for breakfast.” He couldn’t hide his grin.

The front door opened then and Maria came in, dressed in clean clothes and wearing a big smile. Nick and Maria had both decided it was for the best she changed, then came back as to not confuse Zara as much with her spending the night. “Morning, baby!”

Zara hugged her Mother, but at ten years old she was suspicious of what was going on here and Nick could tell. “What are you doing here, Mommy?”

“Your Dad invited me for breakfast. Fun, right?” Maria said and took a seat beside Zara, sharing a look with Nick like two kids with a secret.

Zara looked to her Father now, who just smiled and shrugged his shoulders, then served a plate. Zara began cutting up her pancake. “You guys are weird.”

 

And things progressed from there over the next couple of months. Nick and Maria went on several dates: dinner, movies, dancing, the beach. Sometimes they took Zara with them to hang out, like to the peer or the carnival or the bowling alley. She thought it was strange that her parents were spending so much time together, but hadn’t caught on to why. A few times, Nick had dinner at their house, but always went home afterward, though he didn't want to. This time together felt like when they’d dated the first time, but with the comfort and familiarity of two people who’d been married as long as they had. It was nice, fun, and better than he could have hoped for.

They’d talk for hours, about work and Zara and what they wanted from here out. They reminisced about the happy times in their relationship and expressed regret at the bad times. Though they already knew these things about one another, they talked about the little stuff: likes, dislikes, interests and other little details about themselves.

And sometimes they did more than talk, so wrapped up in being reunited and exploring their physical relationship again. They’d kiss for hours, touch and taste each other, but they never took it as far as they wanted to. Things were still fragile, too new even though it was a return to the past. They didn’t want to mess up, wanted it to be special as the final seal to their reconciliation. But the wait was killing them.

Then something different happened: Nick suggested they go see his counselor together. Just like with himself, he knew their relationship wasn’t just suddenly perfect. They had issues to work through and just like with his own mental health, he was determined not to let his own pride get in the way of happiness, of something better. He wasn’t letting this go. Not again.

So they went to counseling. Maria had accepted, awe in her eyes at how far they’d come. Side by side on a couch in front of his shrink, they talked about everything that had gotten in their way: trust issues, distance, anger, perfectionism. Maria shared how hurt she’d been that Nick accused her of cheating on him, how he went after and assaulted her friend and how he couldn’t see the trouble she was having adjusting to being at home after Iraq. In return, Nick talked about how he’d been hurt that she hadn’t come to him when she needed to talk, though he admitted that he did have the tendency to want everything to be perfect and that he was wrong for what he did to Jason, for accusing her. And they delved into his trust issues, how everything was an interrogation with him in the past. He couldn’t explain why, traced it back to Nicholas, then his own paranoia and his job. An insecurity of his. They acknowledged that he’d grown from there gradually and Maria expressed her shock that he hadn’t blown up about her date, didn’t question her about male co-workers like he used to. He’d found security, in her and himself, now.

Nick and Maria were by themselves at her house one day, Zara at a sleepover for the night. They’d just returned from a session and had ordered takeout, neither feeling like cooking. Maria had been quiet since they got home and had only picked at her food.

“M, is everything okay?” He finally asked when she’d went ten minutes without talking, so zoned out she wasn’t even watching the game on TV just staring into space.

She cut her eyes to him, expression sad. “I never apologized to you for ganging up against you with Sonya when Nicholas came to town. Sending Zara, getting her excited about the wedding, that wasn’t fair of me to do. I just thought that maybe you could finally work through your issues with Father and things would be better for you, that you could let go of him and move on. I was trying to help, but I went about it wrong, Nick.”

He pulled her closer to him, Maria resting her head on his shoulder. “I was pretty pissed at the time, but I understand why you did it. Don’t feel bad about now. I think I’m finally ridding myself of him. God knows it’s been hard as hell.”

“You still have nightmares about him?”

“Sometimes. They’re fading. Talking has actually helped.” He kissed her forehead.

She sat aside her food and pressed her lips against his for a sensual kiss. He grabbed her by her waist, pulling her onto his lap and deepening the kiss. When they finally needed to breathe, Maria pulled back and posed a simple question to him: “Take me to bed?”

For him, there was no question about it. It was the right time. Now was the perfect time. They’d earned this. Nick stood, lifting Maria with him as she wrapped her legs around his waist, arms around his neck. Desperate, he carried her towards the bedroom, but when Maria started kissing his neck, biting under his ear, they didn’t make it the far. He pushed her against the wall, ripping her shirt away and attaching his lips to her neck, her chest as she moaned his name. God, he’d missed this. Their movements were frantic, rough and full of passion. No time or thought for anything but being together. It had been too long. Soon, he was in her and touching her everywhere, her breasts and her most sensitive spot, giving her as much pleasure as he could manage as he slammed her back into the wall. They finished together, each other’s name on their lips, and everything was perfect.

When they finally made it to the bedroom, they made love the entire night.

A few days after this, Nick was picking Zara up from school and they were walking home, talking about her day and what they wanted to do this weekend when Zara stopped and looked up at him. “Daddy, are you and Mommy getting back together?”

Nick raised his eyebrows, trying his best to keep from giving them away. “What makes you ask that?”

She shrugged, voice unsure. “We’re all together a lot now and I see you guys staring at each other. Are you in love again?” She had so much hope in her eyes that Nick’s heart nearly burst.

Nick had wanted to come up with a good way to do it. He and Maria had talked about doing it together, but he couldn’t help himself now. He grinned at Zara. “Yeah, baby, Mommy and I are getting back together. We're in love.”

Zara squealed and threw her arms around him in a hug. He knew she’d be happy, but this was even better than he’d expected. When Maria got home from work, Zara ran to meet her outside and leaped into her arms, screaming, “You and Daddy are back together!”

Maria had clung to her daughter, then looked at Nick with a raised eyebrow. He took his girls in his arms. “I couldn’t resist. You should have seen her face when she asked me. ”

"She has you wrapped around her little finger."

"No place I'd rather be."

Maria laughed and kissed the side of his face, whispering into his ear, “I love you, Nick, in case you didn’t know.”

“I did, but it’s nice to hear. I love you.”

She kissed him, making Zara giggle. “You're right. It is nice to hear.”

Not long after this, Nick and Maria got in their first fight since their reunion. It was over nothing big, but nothing they weren’t used to. He’d gone to a cocktail party at work with her and her boss had been a little too handsy for his liking. Really, he’d nearly gotten in the guys face and would have done more had Maria not pulled him away. He’d grown a lot, but he was still him: overprotective. Not jealous, just protective. He knew Maria wasn't sleeping with the guy, but seeing him put his hands on her like that bothered him. When they got back to her place late that night and saw the babysitter off, the yelling began.

Nick tugged at his tie, throwing his jacket down on the bed and storming around the room. “He was all over you, Maria! He had his hands on your arm, your waist-when I was standing right there. If he’s like that in front of your boyfriend, how is he in private? One hand on your ass, the other on-”

Maria removed her earrings, tossing them onto the dresser carelessly, and cut him off: “Nick, for the last time, it was harmless. He was being friendly, he does that to everyone. It’s just my arm, my waist. Yes, it’s weird and makes me a little uncomfortable, but he doesn’t mean anything about it. He’s my boss and you can’t just all but threaten him in front of all my co-workers. I thought we were past this!”

Nick rolled his eyes, his voice raising louder the angrier he got. “Harmless? Yeah, right. And if I wanted to threaten him, I would have. He has no right to put his hands on you like that, boss or not, and I’m not going to stand by and watch.”

Maria stepped towards Nick, her eyes narrowed. “I’m a tough girl, Nick, I can take care of myself. I don’t need you playing all macho man in my defense. Especially at my job.”

They were interrupted by the sound of little feet running down the hallway, a door slamming shut and soft cries. At once, their anger immediately dissipated, their eyes meeting. Maria ran a hand through her hair, a deep sigh falling from her mouth. “We woke up Zara.”

Nick headed for the door, entering Dad-mode. “I’ll talk to her.”

Nick knocked on Zara’s bedroom door before stepping inside. She laid crying on the bed and Nick felt his heart break. Even after all his years in NYPD, this was by far the worst sight he'd ever seen: his little girl upset because of him.

“Go away,” she said into the pillow, clinging to a stuffed animal, when Nick sat down beside her.

He stroked her back. “Not til you talk to me. C’m here, mi amor. I’m sorry you heard us fighting.”

Zara sat up, looking at him with a quivering lip, as tears trailed down her cheeks. More heartbreak for Nick. “Are you and Mommy splitting up again?”

Nick pulled her close to him, holding her tight. “No, baby, no. We were just fighting. Mommies and Daddies do that sometimes. It doesn’t mean they’re splitting up.”

Zara nodded, snuggling closer to him and resting her head on his lap. “I don’t want you guys to split up. I don't want us to leave again.”

“That’s not gonna happen, okay? You don’t need to worry. I’m not going anywhere.”

Nick held her until she went back to sleep, finally fully understanding the wringer he and Maria had put Zara through the first time and how they were at risk of doing it again. His little girl had been through so much.

Zara went with them to their next counseling session and the one after that, then another. It helped her cope with the change, even if it was a happy one. Nick had long since realized that talking is good, taking of yourself and your mental health is good. It's nothing to be ashamed about.

Nick moved in with them a few months later, happy to have his girls full-time. His first official night there, Maria burned sage and the three of them ate pizza and watched the newest Disney movie. His only wish was that he got to see Gil more often, that he got to be a part of all this.

On Valentine’s Day that year, Nick and Maria went out to dinner at a fancy restaurant Maria said had the best seafood on the west coast. As usual, she’d been right. They were half-way through a piece of chocolate cake they’d ordered to share when Maria suddenly reached down into her purse. He watched her, curiously, as she pulled out a small, little black box. She sat it on the table and said, “Okay, don’t get mad, but I was organizing some of your stuff, which you have a lot of, by the way, when I found this.”

Nick picked up the box and carefully opened it, though he already knew what it was. Sure enough, there were their wedding bands and Maria’s engagement ring, twinkling in the low light of the restaurant. He removed the diamond ring, holding it between two fingers, remembering the night he’d proposed to her.

Maria continued talking. “I can’t believe you held on to them, Nick, and took such good care of them. Then again, what do people do with their rings when they get divorced?”

“Some people throw them in the river,” Nick quipped and she smiled at his joke.

She began talking nervously, her words coming out faster the farther she went. “Not you. You kept them and even brought them with you across the country. When I saw them, I got to thinking. I know we haven’t been back together again that long, but I don’t know, what if we...were engaged...again?”

Nick’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. Was this really happening right now? Was she saying what he thought she was saying? “Ugh..M, are you proposing to me?”

“Kind of. Proposing the idea of proposing. You wanna marry me again?”

Nick rose and leaned across the table, pressing his lips against hers for a passionate kiss, before sliding her engagement ring back onto her finger. “Of course I wanna marry you again.” He kissed her again.

He’d really found his happily ever after. California really was the place where dreams came true.

****

 

And now he was here, sitting on the patio with his family in front of a fire, roasting marshmallows, talking and laughing. He was happy. They were all safe and together. His world was perfect.

He looked at each of their faces, wanting to commit this moment to memory forever.

Zara was happy and healthy with her parents, doing well in school and blossoming. She had friends, a good life. She skyped her Abuelita twice each week.

Gil was nearly a teenager now. He did sports and had good friends, a strong relationship with his Mother and a developing one with Maria. He would be with Nick for a few more weeks this summer before he went back to San Diego.

And Maria. She liked her job, it paid well and she got to be home with her family in the evenings and on the weekends, except a few Saturdays here and there. They would be getting married come fall in a small ceremony with just the kids, his Mother, sister and her parents.

And Nick had recently been exploring the idea of becoming a PI, looking into missing persons cases and helping women wanting to ensure custody in DV situations. He wanted to go for it. He could not only find satisfaction in that, but balance. His own terms, his own boss. Maria was very supportive of the idea, said he'd be great at it with his instincts and experience.

Life was good.

He missed his Mother dearly, had slowly been convincing her to move to California since her son and grandkids lived there and it wasn’t like Sonya lived in the city.

Nick thought about New York, wondered if he missed SVU.

He missed Olivia, his partner, sergeant and friend for life. Her support, friendship and loyalty had meant so much to him, despite their rocky start, in the darkest periods of his career there. He was so happy that she’d finally gotten to adopt Noah, to get the family she’d always wanted. She deserved it. Even though it had meant getting shot himself and ending his career, he was glad he’d killed Johnny D if it meant he could protect Noah and Olivia from him. That monster would have no Earthly hold on that innocent boy. He’d do it again if he had the option to go back, anything for his friend. Anything for justice.

He missed Cragen, who was doing the same thing he was now: living his life with his family and finally getting to be happy. When he left, he had said Nick was a good man and a good cop. Even though he wasn’t a cop anymore, he would do his best to prove him right about being a good man.

He missed Munch, who was like a Father to him and the only person more paranoid than him in the squad. He’d came through for Nick in one of his darkest hours and had always been his source of advice, of knowledge. The man was rarely ever wrong, but there was one time that stuck out to Nick. That day in the prison yard, he’d said that he known his marriage to Maria was over after the incident at the precinct. His marriage may have ended, but his life with Maria was far from over. Really, it was just beginning again. He knew Munch would be happy for him.

He missed Amanda, a friend, one of the strongest people he’d ever known and a woman he could have loved for a long time. He hoped she was happy, she deserved to be as much as anyone else. He hoped she went far in her career because she was a great cop. In another life, they could have really been something, but it was bad timing. They both had their own issues, too many of them, to ever work out and he’d never gotten over Maria. Hopefully, Amanda would find someone, too.

He missed Fin, a good man, a good cop and the funniest person he’d ever met.

He missed Barba.

He even missed Carisi.

Nick realized that he didn’t mess SVU, the workload or the stress. Not the victims he just wanted to protect, not the perps he wanted to beat bloody and not the weight that dragged home behind him everyday. The anger. The disgust. The cynicism. He missed none of it, not even the satisfaction of putting those monsters behind bars, even if it was one of the best feelings in the world.

But he missed the people, his friends and his work family. They would all always hold a special place in his heart and he’d never forget about them.

He had his family now, his ex-wife turned fiancee and his two kids who he loved more than life itself. He was happy now. He felt lighter than he ever had before, breaking free from the past. There was just something about the sunshine in California that made him better and he would never give that up.