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Tattoo

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Sonny groans the moment he regains consciousness. All he feels is pain. His head hurts, his back hurts, his chest is sore in a weird way, and his tongue feels like cotton. He pushes beyond the pain and forces his eyes open. He assesses his surroundings: he is laying on a lumpy couch in an unfamiliar apartment, the couch smells like popcorn and orange soda, there are people here and one of those people is Noah Benson. He is with a dark-haired teenage boy who looks familiar in a way he can’t place. They’re playing a video game and talking about turnips.

Sonny manages to sit up and tries to call Noah’s name but it comes out as just another strangled groan. It gets his attention, though.

“Good morning, Uncle Sonny!” Oh my God, he is so loud. “Mommy says you should drink this water and take these pills.”

Sonny blearily looks at the boy. “This isn’t your apartment.”

The teen looks very amused as he hands Sonny the glass of water. “It’s my apartment.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Eli.” Sonny blinks at him. “Stabler.”

And just like that, everything makes sense.

Well, not everything but some things. He knows where he is, that’s the important thing.

Oh, and he can smell food. Breakfast.

Sonny turns to the kitchen and sees Olivia Benson making coffee, dressed in blush pink pajamas and glowing. Elliot Stabler is scrambling eggs right by her side, looking the most at peace he has ever seen him.

“All right, boys, come get your breakfast,” Stabler says. “You, too, Carisi.”

He doesn’t know how he makes it to the breakfast nook, but he does it.

“What happened last night?” Sonny asks, taking a tentative bite of toast.

Stabler hands him a cup of expensive smelling coffee and it may be the greatest thing Sonny has ever put in his mouth. “You decided to follow an Old Fashioned with a boilermaker. And don’t worry about Rollins and the girls, they know where you are.”

Sonny frowns into his very delicious coffee. “What the hell is a boilermaker?”

“A shot of whiskey dunked in beer.”

He takes another bite of toast and frowns some more. “Why does my chest feel so sore?” He touches the space over his heart and feels gauze and tape. Delicately, he lifts a piece of tape off of his chest and gasps at the sight. “Oh, God, my Ma’s gonna kill me!”

A tattoo. He got drunk and got a tattoo like some punk college kid. What the hell did he get anyways?

“Oh, they’re sunflowers,” Noah says. “Why’d you get sunflowers, Uncle Sonny?”

“For ‘Manda.” He explains, fragments of memories coming back to him. The sound of buzzing tools, the smell of rubbing alcohol, and the sharp persistent sting of the needle. “I got it for your Aunt Amanda and Jesse and Billie.”

Olivia and the boys nod in approval.

Eli turns to his father with a knowing stare. “Did you get a tattoo, Dad?”

Stabler wordlessly pulls his shirt aside and shows off a string of letters over his heart. He also shows off a fresh-looking hickey on his neck.

“Why’d you get random letters on your chest?” Eli asks, his face scrunched in confusion. His dad rolls his eyes and laughs.

“They’re not random. It’s all of your initials. You and your siblings.”

Olivia says nothing but smiles adoringly at him and his chest.

Noah climbs out of his chair and leans in close to Stabler’s chest. “’M’ for Maureen. ‘K’ for Kathleen. ‘L’ for Lizzie. ‘D’ for Dickie. ‘E’ for Eli. Who’s the ‘N’ for?”

“It’s for you, silly,” Stabler says, tickling the boy’s side before pulling him close. “This way, no matter where I go or what I do, I always have you guys with me.”

Sonny looks and sees Olivia’s adoring gaze and her pajamas, Stabler’s hickey and the tattoo, the boys and their ease. A shaft of light sings through and the fog in his brain is lifted.

“Wait, are you guys together? Like, together-together?”

Olivia rolls her eyes and sighs. “Drink your coffee, Carisi.”