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Happy Birthday Noah!

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Hospital for Special Surgery, Manhattan 

Hospitals. 

They always spent so much time in hospitals. For victims, for Kathy, and also for him. All those times he was shot, or stabbed, or blinded— she was the last person he’d see before things went black, and she was the first person he’d see when he woke up. He never got to return the favor though. Never had to see her being loaded into an ambulance, bloody and broken, or lying in a hospital bed, small and fragile. Even with Gitano and Rojas she was too stubborn for anything more than on-site treatment. 

“Kinda nice for the shoe to be on the other foot for a change,” he teases, breaking the easy silence. “For once we’re not here for me.”

It’s funny now, she thinks, but his recklessness was the cause of more sleepless nights than he ever knew. “I used to be able to fill out your forms in my sleep, I had to do it so many damn times.” 

He takes the clipboard from her hands. “Here. Let me try.” 

He starts to fill out the basics: name, sex, date of birth. Out of habit he starts with her old address, but she quickly corrects him. He remembers the cozy but small one bedroom she had on the west side. Not an ideal place for a family. 

“Blood Type — A positive,” he scribbles with a smile and the slightest of winks. “Marital Status…Divorced?” he tries to look nonchalant, or at least he hopes so. 

“Real subtle. Single.” 

“Sorry. Fin made it sound like—”

“I know what Fin said,” she says a little sharper than she intends. Her ankle is throbbing and every time she looks over at him all she can see is the white line where his ring used to be. It’s all a bit too much. 

“Then emergency contact?” 

“It’s my ankle, Elliot. Just put Amanda I guess.”

He knows he should let it go, that her love life is none of his business, but he just can’t. Jealousy is one thing, but Olivia as a single mom is another and his blood has been on a low simmer since he heard the name Porter . That asshole’s speciality was swooping in, upending Olivia’s life, and then ducking out of town leaving her to deal with the fallout. He knows he’ll never win any father of the year awards, had left Kathy holding the bag with their kids more often than not, but he was still there for his kids when it mattered. Was still there for Kathy when it mattered.

Who was there for Liv when it mattered? 

“Okay just tell me one thing and then I’ll drop it. Does Porter at least help you out with Noah? He wasn’t at the party.”

“Why in the world would Dean be at my son's party?”

“Noah Porter, I thought --”

“Oh god no, I haven’t seen that guy in years. Wait, did you think that--” 

“Well yeah, what else was I supposed to think?”

“Is that why you were so quiet on the drive over? Have you been stewing about this the whole time?”

“I wasn’t stewing. I was curious.”

The man was still so exasperating, and she feels a headache coming on to add to the throbbing in her ankle. There’s enough potential landmines between them, the last thing she needs is one more. “Noah is mine, Elliot. Mine, and no one else’s,” she says with a proud finality. “It’s a long story and maybe someday I’ll have the energy to tell it. But for now that’s all you get.” 

A cheery nurse saves him from putting his foot in his mouth further, “Captain Benson, I haven’t seen you here in a while! What happened this time? You didn’t aggravate that wrist did you?”

“No, it’s my ankle not my wrist. And it wasn’t a perp, just a hyper 8 year old.” She sees the look of skepticism on the nurse’s face and adds, “my son took me out at a trampoline park.”

Understanding dawns on her face, “that trampoline place keeps us in business. Let’s get you back here and back on your feet in no time.” 

They’re out of earshot when Elliot realizes she forgot the clipboard. Before taking it to the front desk, he pulls his phone out to make a few arrangements. She might be used to doing everything alone, but that doesn’t mean she has to. 

+++

Benson Apartment, Manhattan

You didn’t have to walk me up, you know. I am perfectly capable of pushing elevator buttons for myself,” she argues as she pushes open the door and hobbles through on her fashionable new footwear. 

“And how were you going to bring up all this loot?” He lifts up his arms which are overloaded with Olivia’s purse, her prescription, leftovers, and a bag full of Noah’s presents. 

“It could have waited until the morning. It’s a secure building, they would have been fine in the trunk.” 

“And the food?”

“Fine. Point taken.” 

“Good to see you’re still stubborn as ever.” 

She hangs up her keys and flips the light switch. He remembers her old place vividly — warm, inviting, and feminine. He always found it fascinating how different it was from the way she tried to present herself at work, at least early on. Like the softer side of Olivia was only accessible to those lucky enough to be invited into her heart and into her home. 

He takes in everything that’s changed. It’s still welcoming and cozy, but he has to smile at the mom shit that’s everywhere: framed photos of her and Noah, chalkboard calendar to keep track of dinners, meetings, and practices. School artwork and report cards on the fridge. And the telltale signs that a little boy lives here: a Nintendo Switch charging under the TV, the shoe rack with Minecraft slides next to sneakers and dance shoes. 

“Nice place.”

“Thanks.” She starts patting the pockets of her shorts, searching for her phone. “Have you seen my phone? I gotta text Amanda and see if she can bring Noah home.” 

“She said she would bring him home in the morning,” he says, depositing the bag of leftovers and medication on the counter. “I texted her from the hospital. Kept her updated when I realized we were going to be there a while.”

Anyone else making sleepover arrangements for her son and she would have decked them. Even Ed, who was the closest she had ever come to having a co-parent for Noah, didn’t dare cross the unspoken boundaries she had when it came to her son. Noah was hers and there was something so intimate and presumptuous about Elliot stepping in and exchanging texts with Amanda, working out all the details so she didn’t have to. This shit is second nature to him, isn’t it , she thinks, coordinating pickups and dropoffs and sleepovers. She’s been doing this alone for so long, she never really let herself imagine what it might be like to do this with someone by her side. Is this it? The other person just picking up where you left off? Moving in sync and filling in the gaps, an effortless ballet of coordination that comes with raising a tiny human? 

“Thank you,” she manages, but it doesn’t seem enough.

He rips open the pharmacy bag and pulls out the bottle of pills. When did they make the print on these so goddamn small?” he scowls, squinting at the instructions. He pulls his phone out of his pocket, and swipes open the camera app in an attempt to enlarge the text. Her peals of laughter earn her a Stabler death stare, which only makes her laugh harder.

She decides to take pity on him, so she hobbles over to her purse and rummages through it for her cheaters. He sneaks a peek at the backside he’s missed so much while she’s digging through her bag, but he’s completely unprepared for the sight that greets him when she stands up. Olivia in the cutest fucking glasses he’s ever seen. 

“Don’t. Even. Start,” she threatens while pulling the pills from his hand. 

“What’s it say?”

“Says we’re getting old, Stabler. Kidding. Says I need to take them with food.” 

“Coming right up. You want the chicken fingers or the pizza?”

“Ugh, chicken fingers. Costco pizza gives me heartburn.” 

“You want me to get you a pill for that too?”

“I hate you.” 

She takes a seat at the counter, and watches as he helps himself to her kitchen, opening drawers and cabinets until he finds the plates and cups he needs. He pulls two chicken fingers out of the styrofoam box and searches through the remaining boxes for the carrots, celery, and dressing he knows none of the kids ever touched. 

“Still have your chicken thing?” he asks. 

“Yeah.” 

He knew better than to reheat any chicken item of hers in the microwave. She always claimed it tasted like a ‘dirty bird’ when he did it that way. He finished assembling her plate, and slid it to her across the counter. 

“Wow, you’re a lot nicer than Noah. He never lets me eat off Hulk. I always get stuck with Captain America.” 

“Let’s get one thing straight, no one gets ‘stuck’ with Captain America, okay? Cap’s the best. Besides, I thought all ladies were partial to America’s ass.”

“Eh,” she responds with a flirtatious grin, “I’ve seen better.” 

+++

The sound of her ice pack hitting the coffee table pulls his eyes from the television. She’s lightly sleeping, her leg elevated atop her decorative couch cushions, the combination of pain pills and ebb of adrenaline an effective sedative. He knows he should wake her, help her lock up and settle in for the night, but he’s always hated waking her when she looks so peaceful. If her sleep is mercifully free of demons, he wants to give her as much time as he can. Besides, the flickering blue light of the TV over the exposed skin of her legs gives him a chance to really look at her. His first since he’s been back.

The years have changed her, and for the better, he thinks. Her hair is longer than he can ever remember seeing it. A few more lines on her face, but he has them too. She’s still as beautiful as he avoided remembering. 

“What time is it?” she murmurs sleepily.

“Late,” he leans forward to grab the ice pack and readjust it on her sprained ankle, the feel of his fingers brushing her skin sending a jolt through her body. “I was going to wake you but you looked so peaceful.”

The softness in his eyes, the warm fingers on her legs -- it’s been a minute since someone’s doted on her the way he is. I could get used to this , she thinks, but she can’t bring herself to say it. “I should lock up,” she says instead, a hint of an invitation in her voice. She’s not ready for him to go, the intimacy of falling asleep next to someone watching old comedies on TV too intoxicating.

“Yeah, I should go so you can get some sleep.” He can see the disappointed acceptance on her face, “let me help you get settled and then I’ll head out.” 

He offers his hand to help pull her up from the couch, but the sudden change in position makes her unsteady on her feet. She can’t keep herself from falling into him, and he instinctively wraps his arm around her waist to give her leverage. He likes having her close, the feel of her body pressed tightly against his. He pulls back to look at her face, and her hair once again grabs his attention. He’s reaching out for a tiny tendril on her shoulder before he can help himself, rubbing and twisting it between his fingers before switching his gaze back to her face. Without thinking, he starts to push it back behind her ear, something he’s wanted to do for longer than he can remember. He curls his fingers under her jaw and cups her cheek, rubbing his thumb against it while lifting her mouth to his. 

“Can I kiss you?” he asks. His lips are unbearably close to hers. His voice just a whisper on her skin. 

It surprises her that she can even hear him over the pounding of her heart and the rush of blood in her ears. She can’t manage any words in this moment, just the smallest, almost imperceptible nod. 

He shifts his other hand from where it rests on her waist, and lets it travel up her side, grazing her breast ever so lightly before moving over her shoulder and up to cup the other side of her face. She reaches her hands up to grasp his wrists, partly because he’s making her dizzy, partly because she can’t stand the thought of him changing his mind. 

Then his mouth is on hers, and it feels like she’s waited forever, but also like it’s happening too soon. He’s tentative at first, his lips teasing and testing — giving her ample space and time to change her mind. She must sense his hesitation, because she moans so sweetly into his mouth, urging him on, so he presses himself against her harder than before. 

They stay there for an eternity, wrapped up in one another, exploring, learning, desperate to make up for every moment they’ve spent apart. 

“I’ve wanted to do that for a long time,” he confesses when he finally pulls away, resting his forehead against hers. “But you always knew that, didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” she admits. It’s a truth she’s always known, even if she didn’t always let herself believe it. ”Yeah, I knew that.”

“Now that I’ve done it, I don’t think I want to stop.”

“I’d shoot you if you did.”

He draws her into him once more, and this time their kiss is lighter, playful. A new beginning. 

“El?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you. For everything. I’m glad you were there for me today.” 

“My pleasure.” 

“I missed you.”

“I missed you too.” 

Fin