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Comfort and Joy

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~oOo~

December 17

Olivia watched Velasco cuff the young girl that had just confessed to attempted murder of her mother. Fin read her rights as they both walked her out of the interrogation room.

Liv leaned forward in her chair and rested her elbows on the table. She brought her hands up and massaged her temples. The headache she’d been trying to keep away all day had finally taken its hold.

She sighed as she got up from her chair. She walked out of the room, closing the door behind her. She walked towards her office. She hoped no one else was around. She really didn’t want to make small talk with anyone. Fin was aware and she was certain he was keeping everyone at bay.

She had decided, with Fin’s encouragement, that she was going home.

She just wanted to get her coat and her bag and leave. She just wanted to get home and take her shoes off and curl up with Elliot on the couch and despite it being barely noon, have a glass of wine or two. She was looking forward to a night without either of their kids around.

Noah and Eli were staying at Maureen’s tonight. They were going to help her decorate her Christmas tree. They both didn’t have school today and Maureen had picked them up the night before.

As much as she loved her son and adored Eli, she desperately needed some alone time with Elliot. Her anxiety had been flaring up all day. The case she had just wrapped up brought back some particularly harsh memories of her mother and touched on some memories of her time when Lewis had held her captive.

Fin had caught on quickly to her struggle and tried to push her out of the interrogation and to let him handle it, but she had refused. It had been a long night. She had been in the precinct since the prior day.

She opened the door to her office, walked to her desk, picked up her gun and placed it into her holster at her hip, pulling her leather jacket off the back of her chair. She slipped it on and picked up her bag. She walked back to the door and shut the lights off. She stepped out, closing the door behind her.

She made her way to the elevator, feeling her ankle protest. It was bothering her so much today. Her phone rang in her pocket. She pulled it out and smiled when she saw Elliot’s name flash across her screen.

“Hey," she said, bringing the phone to her ear.

“Hey.” His voice rasped in her ear. “You left yet?”

“I’m walking out now," she said. “I can’t wait to get out of here.”

“Good." She closed her eyes, relishing in the low monotone of his voice. “You need to relax, get some rest. I have plans to make you some carbonara.”

“You know how I feel about your carbonara," she said, her face breaking out in a grin. “So, will you be home on time today then?” she asked hopefully.

“Yes, I do know you love my carbonara," he said playfully. “I’m trying to get out early. Fin told me you had a rough case.”

She sighed. “A five hour interrogation. I’d rather not get into it right now. I’ll tell you later though.”

“Ok. You didn’t take your car, I dropped you off yesterday. How are you getting home? Please don’t tell me you’re going to walk. It’s very slippery from the ice," he said, concern mixed with worry lacing his voice.

“I’ll order an Uber or take a taxi," she replied. “You should leave now. Come take a nap with me.”

“I’ll try. Let me call you back in a few minutes. I can pick you up if Bell says it’s ok for me to leave," he said.

“I will go downstairs, and I seriously need coffee, so I’ll wait to hear from you in the coffee shop across the street," she said.

He made a noise in disgust. “No, I will bring you a coffee. Don’t drink that stuff," he said.

She laughed. “Making sure I only drink good coffee?”

“Well, it’s not as good as my coffee but it’s better than that place. Didn’t you say they tried to poison you with pumpkin spice last week?”

“Oh god! Please don’t remind me. I haven’t had any coffee yet today," she exclaimed.

~oOo~

“I need you to do me a solid, Ayanna.” Fin nervously looked around making sure no one was around. Liv would kill him if she caught him in the act.

“What do you need?” she asked.

“Can you let Stabler leave early? If anything comes up, SVU will have your back in a quick minute. She’s really had a day. Her PTSD is going to hit hard, she’s gonna need him," Fin said.

“Shit, that bad?” Ayanna asked.

“Yeah," Fin said with a sigh. “I was in the interrogation with her, it’s not gonna be pretty and she’s about to run out the door. I have no reasons to distract her or keep her here until he’s done.”

“So, you figured you’d call in a favor to me?” Ayanna said with a laugh. “You promise you got my back?”

“Well, I did get those Knicks tickets for you, didn’t I? You want courtside for another upcoming game? I know a guy. I can make that happen," Fin said.

“Relax, Tutuola. I will take those tickets, and as long as you promise me you got my back if I need you I will cut him loose now," Ayanna said.

“Listen, I got your back anytime. I’m gonna make sure she doesn’t come back until Monday or Tuesday," he replied.

“No problem. If you need me, OC has SVU," Ayanna said.

“Thanks. I owe you. I will get you a set of tickets I promise. I’ll even babysit for you. How bout that?” Fin said.

~oOo~

“Tutulola, you got yourself a deal!” Ayanna exclaimed. Denise was sure going to love this!

Ayanna walked out of her office after getting off the phone with Fin. She knew of Oliva’s past. She knew what she had been through. She could spare him. If anything came up, Fin said he’d have their back and she trusted his word.

“Hey Sarg," she heard Elliot call as she approached. She could see his cell phone pressed to his ear.

Before he could say anything, she spoke. “Stabler, get out of here. I don’t want to see you until Monday morning.” She turned around and started to walk back towards her office.

“You’re serious?” he asked.

“Did I not just say it? Want me to change my mind? Make sure you take care of her today.” She nodded towards his phone. “Out! Home. Now Stabler," she called over her shoulder as she walked away.

She pulled out her phone and scrolled to Fin’s number and typed out a quick text.

When can I expect my tickets?

~oOo~

“Hear that Liv?” Elliot asked, still staring after Ayanna as she walked back to her office.

“You’re coming to pick me up," she replied.

“I sure am. I’ll bring the good coffee," he said with a smile.

“Please bring the good coffee!” she said.

“I’ll bring the good coffee if you wait for me in your office," he said.

“Can we compromise and meet in the middle?” she asked.

“How so?’ he asked as he got up from his desk and grabbed his coat. He waved at Jet as he walked towards the elevator.

“I can’t stay here anymore. I want to be away from here if something happens, so I don’t get drawn in. I’ll wait for you in the lobby, but I need to be off this floor, deal?” she asked.

“I accept your counteroffer, Captain," he replied, pausing in front of the elevator before opting to take the stairs.

“Good. I really can’t be on this floor right now. I don’t want to see our suspect get brought to central booking," she said with a sigh.

“Rough one, huh?” he asked.

“Yeah, it was definitely something," she said.

“Well, then I’m glad I caught you. I’ll drive us home and then we will just relax and later I’ll make us some dinner," he said.

“Sounds good.” She reached out and pressed the button for the elevator. “I’m getting in the elevator, I’m going to lose you. See you in a little while?”

“I’ll be there. I would say about 15 minutes," he replied.

“Elliot," she scoffed. “We both know it will take more than 15 minutes for you to get here," she said.

“I will be there in 15 minutes. With the good coffee," he said. He could hear the stress in her voice.

“Ok, see you in 15 minutes," she said. “Love you.”

“Love you too. Stay inside, it is very slippery out," he said before he ended the call.

~oOo~

He leaned against the passenger side waiting for her to come out. When she walked out, he could tell she was exhausted. He could see her bad day written all over her face. He could see her ankle was bothering her from the limp he knew she was trying to hide.

“Hey," she said, coming to stop in front of him. Her tiredness displayed again in her eyes.

He leaned forward and took her bag off her shoulder and slung it over his. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into his chest. He heard her sigh as she burrowed her head into the space between his neck and shoulder. Her arms wrapped around his waist.

One of his hands splayed out in the center of her back and then reached up to the back of her neck. “Hey," he said into her ear. “Sorry you had a bad day.”

“It’s getting better now," she said against his neck. He could feel the warmth of her breath on his neck.

He moved both of his hands down to her waist and pushed her away slightly. His right hand drifted up to her left cheek and cradled her jaw as he ran his thumb over her cheekbone.

He looked into her eyes before placing a soft kiss on her lips. “Let’s get you home," he said. He moved his hand back into her hair slightly before trailing it down her neck.

She nodded. “That’s all I’ve wanted for the past few hours," she said quietly as she let her arms fall away from his waist.

He leaned in and kissed her again before he reached and opened the passenger side door for her and handed her bag to her after she got in.

He walked around to the driver’s side and got in. He put his seatbelt on and watched as she did the same. She leaned her head back against the seat and shut her eyes and let out a loud sigh.

He started the car and reached over to grab her left hand. His thumb found her ring finger and caressed it over the ring he’d put on her finger a few weeks prior.

He felt her squeeze his hand. “Thanks for coming," she said.

He lifted her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing the back of it. “Anytime," he said as he put the car in drive and pulled away from the curb.

“What did Fin tell you?” she asked.

He glanced over at her quickly before glancing back to the road. “He told me you weren’t having a good day and that I should take care of you tonight. He didn’t say more than that. He told me you both were busy with an interrogation.”

“We were," she said, looking out the window. “I’ll tell you all about it, Elliot. Can we just get home first?”

He was instantly on alert. Whatever the day had entailed seemed to deplete her of all her energy and left her with a weariness that extended beyond just a busy workday. She looked small and vulnerable. Whatever had occurred he would be patient and let her explain on her own terms. “Of course.” He pointed towards the cup holders. “Here’s your good coffee.”

She smiled and released his hand and reached for the cup. She wrapped her hands around it and drank from it. “Oh, that’s so good.”

“So much better than that stuff you wanted to get across the street," he replied.

She reached over and grasped his hand again. “Thank you," she said softly.

“For what?” he asked. He knew she would tell him what was wrong, but he couldn’t help feeling worried at how small and vulnerable she appeared.

“For just being you. You’re so good to me.” She sighed. “Today was bad right from the start.”

“I figured it was when I didn’t hear from you," he said, glancing over at her after coming to a stop at a red light.

“I knew it was going to be rough when I got the call.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I’m probably not going to sleep well.”

“Ok," he said, squeezing her hand. “We’ll deal with it, Liv. We always deal with it, don't we?” he asked. He knew from experience that her not sleeping well, meant nightmares and anxiety.

“We do, but it isn’t fair that you have to deal with it Elliot," she said.

“You deal with it when it’s me. So, when it happens to you, I’m gonna be there just like you’re there for me," he said.

She sighed and leaned back in the seat.

~oOo~

Elliot brought the car to a stop and turned it off. She unbuckled her seatbelt and opened her door. “Shit” she cursed loudly as her bag hit the ground, the contents spilling out onto the concrete.

“Liv?” Elliot called out as he walked around the car. “You, ok?”

“Yes I’m fine I just…" she started to answer and was cut off by the heel of her boot catching a patch of ice. She slid and her ankle locked up and before she knew it, she was on the ground, the cup of coffee she held in her hand landing a few feet away. “Fuck, I just really hate this day," she cried out.

Elliot was by her side in an instant. He crouched down and his hands wrapped around her biceps and effortlessly helped her to her feet. “You ok?”

He crouched back down and picked up the items that fell from her purse, watching as she moved her ankle around and put some of her weight on it. “Yes, it’s been bothering me today, but it’s that patch of ice that I slipped on. I’ve also had these boots on since yesterday.”

He looked around making sure he hadn’t missed anything that fell from her purse. He stood up and looped her bag over his shoulder. “Well, let’s get that foot up, put some ice on it and I’ll get a fire going.”

He wrapped his free arm around her waist. She leaned into him and together they walked up the steps that led to the front door.

Elliot unlocked the door and ushered her inside. He took off his coat, he stuck his hand out waiting for her to pass her coat to him and then he turned to hang them up on the hooks by the door.

He turned back to look at her and saw her head was bowed, and her eyes were squeezed shut. He stepped towards her and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into his chest. He rubbed circles on her back with both of his hands. He felt her grasp the front of his shirt.

He kissed her temple and moved his lips closer to her ear. “You ok?” he asked. He felt her nod against his chest. “Why don’t you go take a shower. I’ll bring you something comfortable to change into.”

“Ok," she said softly.

~oOo~

She emerged from the bathroom about half an hour later. Dressed in a pair of leggings, one of his t-shirts, and his gray zip-up hoodie that she had claimed as hers long ago. Her hair was contained in a messy bun at the nape of her neck.

The lights were dimmed, the house was filled with a glow from the Christmas tree, and the room was starting to fill with the warmth from the fireplace.

She took a seat at the counter and watched as he stirred a pot on the stove. She could smell chocolate and vanilla and cinnamon.

“What are you making?” she asked.

He looked up at her and grinned. “Hot chocolate. It’s the one my mom used to make us when we were younger. Secret Stabler family recipe," he said with a wink. He shut the burner off and turned towards the freezer.

She watched as he opened the freezer and reached in and pulled out the ice pack, he’d bought her for her ankle. It was a special one that was specifically for ankle injuries. He placed it on the counter.

He turned back towards a nearby cabinet and pulled out two mugs. He split the contents of the pan into two mugs. “Do you want marshmallow or whipped cream?” he asked.

Olivia leaned her chin on her hand, her elbow resting on the countertop. She shrugged. “Surprise me, however, you’re having it," she said with a smile. She could feel her body already starting to relax.

She knew she would probably get anxious again when she explained things to Elliot. Where he used to push for her to tell him he now waits for her knowing she will tell him. This countertop has become where they have had and continue to have a lot of conversations. Sometimes with cups of coffee, glasses of wine, or something stronger when needed, and now today with mugs of hot chocolate.

Elliot has been her savior when her anxiety grips her, when she has a triggering case. Her PTSD still loomed over her shoulder and grasped on to her tightly from time to time. She sought him out exclusively when it got bad. He could bring her back and ground her faster than anyone else. She trusted him completely and felt safe with him.

He nodded. “Ok," he said. He opened a jar on the counter and pulled out two of Maureen’s giant homemade marshmallows and plopped one into each mug. He placed a mug in front of her and one in front of the other bench and walked around the counter.

He moved his stool closer to hers. He sat down and reached down for her right foot. He gently grasped her ankle and brought it up to his lap. “It looks swollen," he said as he gently massaged her ankle over and around her scar.

Her head rolled back, and she closed her eyes. “That feels good.”

He smiled at her, his blue eyes shining brightly. “Drink your hot chocolate.” He reached for the ice pack and wrapped it around her ankle and placed her ankle down to rest on his thigh.

She wrapped her hands around the mug and brought it to her lips and sipped. Her eyes slid shut again as the warm chocolatey concoction flooded her taste buds. “That’s so good, you have to make that for Noah, he’ll love it.”

He nodded. “I will when they get back on Sunday.” He picked up his own mug and drank from it. He looked at her and laughed when he saw her top lip coated in a mixture of chocolate and marshmallow. “Can’t take you anywhere Liv.” He reached out and swiped his thumb over her top lip.

“Thank you," she said softly, suddenly looking downward.

“For what?” he asked, bringing his thumb to his mouth.

“You’ve already made me feel so much better. You always seem to know what I need even when I don’t know what it is I need," she said.

“You never have to thank me for taking care of you Liv. You, my kids, and my mother are my life, you know I included Noah in that grouping when I said my kids right? All of you are my whole world," he said reaching out and grasping her hand. He rubbed his thumb back and forth over hers.

“Noah loves you so much," she said, her eyes filling with tears. “You have no idea what you being here in his life has done for him. I can see how much happier he is.”

“I love him too, Liv," he said, squeezing her hand.

“This case made me think a lot about family. It brought back a lot of memories about my mother and Lewis too," she said with a grimace.

“How so?” he asked softly and calmly.

“So, when we caught this case when Fin and I got called in last night, we got called to Mercy for a 45-year-old woman with massive head trauma that had fresh burns on her arms and…” She squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath.

~oOo~

“Liv?” He squeezed her hand and leaned forward.

“I’m ok," she said. She opened her eyes. “She had massive head trauma and burns on her arms, chest, and breasts.” She looked up and met his eyes. She could see the worry in his eyes.

“You should’ve called me Liv, I would’ve come by," he said, still holding tight to her hand.

“It was 2:00 am Elliot," she said, shaking her head.

“It doesn’t matter what time it is Olivia. If you need me, I will be there," he replied.

“I had to push through it, Elliot. There was no one else to work it with Amanda," she reasoned.

He could feel himself getting uneasy. He was already wondering how this brought up thoughts of her mother. He nodded. “I get that. You felt you had to push it down and ignore it in the present moment so you wouldn’t fall apart.”

“Exactly," she said. She lifted her mug to her lips and drank from it again.

He watched as she placed her mug down on the counter and took a deep breath. She turned back to him. He could see the weariness in her eyes. “You want to go to the couch?” he asked

“Not yet, but soon.” She drank from her mug again. “So, our victim had massive head trauma and burns. She is obviously not conscious and isn’t expected to make it. It didn’t take us long to find our suspect.”

“Let me guess," Elliot said. “Boyfriend or husband?”

Olivia shook her head. “No, her 16-year-old daughter, Alexis," she solemnly said.

“Wow," Elliot said, shock evident on his face. “Wasn’t expecting that.”

“I wasn’t either. At first, this girl was rude, showed no emotion, no feelings. It didn’t take long to learn her story. Her mother was raped, and she was the product of that rape. It was hard for me to talk to her because she smelled like vodka and it kept making me spiral.”

“Jesus," Elliot whispered.

“So apparently, the mom had this boyfriend when she was younger that would burn her with cigarettes, but that will make more sense a little later.” Elliot looked down and saw that her hands were clenched together tightly in her lap, and they were shaking.

He inched closer to her and took her hands in his and squeezed them. “You doing ok?” he asked, making it a point to hold her gaze. “Just checking in.”

She nodded. She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths before continuing. “She told me that her mom came home very drunk and got very upset when she saw that she had decorated the house for Christmas, and they fought. The mom started to get violent. Hitting her, punching her, and she put a lit cigarette out on her daughter’s arm.”

Elliot watched as she paused again. Squeezing her eyes shut. “Liv, you can stop here. Why don’t you get some sleep, you can tell me the rest later.”

She opened her eyes and looked into his. She shook her head. “No, I’ll finish.”

“Ok, but if it gets to be too much for you…” He trailed off, finishing his sentence with the concern that shone in his eyes. He knew so much of that story had brought Liv back to bad memories with her mom.

Olivia nodded again. “She smelled like vodka because her mother had forced about half a pint of vodka down her throat. When the bottle was empty, she smashed the bottle and went at her with a piece of the bottle.” She paused to take another sip from her mug. “That irony hit me right away. The age, the drink of choice, the method.”

“Liv…” Elliot began but stopped when he saw her shake her head with a frown.

“So, Alexis was able to gain some control and pushed her mother into a brick wall in their apartment. Then proceeded to bang her head on the wall several more times. When her mother was unconscious, she then burned her mother on her arms, chest, and breast. Reenacting a time three years prior when one of her mother’s boyfriends burned her when she refused to have sex with him. She said it was like she was outside of herself watching herself do those things to her mother.”

Elliot shook his head. “I have no words for that. I don’t even know what to say.”

“The thing that set her off was the Christmas decorations.” She shook her head and looked off to the side gazing out the window at the Christmas lights Elliot hung outside. “For me, it was always the Christmas decorations too.”

Elliot narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean Liv?” he asked. His voice was full of concern.

She removed her foot from his lap and peeled the ice pack off. She placed it on the counter and got up from her stool. She walked towards the Christmas tree and reached out to touch an ornament.

Elliot got up and followed. Stopping right behind her.

“When I was a little girl, I loved Christmas, but my mother didn’t," she said softly.

If he hadn’t been standing right behind her, he wouldn’t have heard her. He watched as the lights reflected off her face and her hair.

~oOo~

“You’d think I would’ve learned after the first time I put up a Christmas tree when I was 8. She came home that day. I could hear her coming down the hallway before she got to our apartment. I knew she was drunk before she opened the door," she said. Her fingers reaching out touch an ornament.

She felt Elliot’s arms wrap around her. He guided her towards the couch with his arm around her waist.

He sat on the couch and pulled her down with him. He pulled her into his arms. “Lay down with me," he said.

She felt him pull her body into his. She pulled her legs up onto the couch and put her head on his shoulder. His right hand threaded into her hair and his left came to rest on her bicep. Her hand held on to his t-shirt. “When she set eyes on the Christmas tree, she turned to me and slapped me. I remember watching horrified as she broke every ornament. She dragged the tree down the stairs and put it out on the curb. I tried again two years in a row and was met with the same reaction each time. There was a year or two where all of a sudden, she’d have a Christmas spirit and Santa would even come for me, but I never trusted it. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop.” She sniffed and released his shirt to brush away a tear.

“I’m so sorry, Liv.” He moved his head down to press a kiss on her temple. His hand on her bicep moved to find her hand and he brought her hand to his lips and brushed a kiss across her knuckles.

“I’m not excusing what Alexis did to her mother, but god El, I really felt for this girl and identified with her. All she wanted was Christmas decorations. I try so hard to give Noah the best possible Christmas every year. I didn’t get to experience it, the magic, the joy, as a kid. You know until that second year we were partners I had never even eaten a gingerbread cookie? You gave me my first one. I don’t even remember why we had them, I just know that it was you.” Her voice was thick with emotion.

“I bought it for you after a bad case. You found the little girl we were searching for. You were so sad after. I remember thinking you’d probably leave the unit, but you had such a determination to see the case through and to find the asshole who did that to her. I went into the bakery to buy the kids some cookies. It was Christmas Eve when we wrapped that case and you had agreed to work so I could spend it with my children. I wanted to see you smile, and clear as day I can remember you eating that cookie with the biggest smile on your face.” His voice was soothing, comforting to her.

“I always volunteered to work so you wouldn’t have to, so you could be with your family on Christmas. I never saw any reason to take it off, it seemed greedy when it was always just me," she said softly.

“I want you to tell me everything you ever wanted to do on Christmas, that you never got to do. We’re gonna change that," Elliot said, holding her tighter to him.

“No El," she said. She shook her head. “It’s about the kids, not me. Focus on your kids.” She didn’t tell him because she expected him to make up for all her disappointing Christmas.

“What if I want to Liv? It will be fun for me to have all those experiences with you, maybe I want to have those experiences with you. Please just humor me? I want to do this?”

She pressed her head between his neck and shoulder. His warmth, his scent, the dim room with the twinkling lights from the Christmas tree, all making her feel so comfortable and drowsy.

“Tell me, Liv," he prodded.

“I have what I always wanted now. I wanted a family. I wanted a big family Christmas like I saw in all the movies. I wanted children, laughter, love, Christmas magic. I never got that so I always tried my best to make sure you could enjoy Christmas with your family.”

“You’ve always been my family, Liv.” His arm held her closer, tighter to him. “More so now. You did what you could to make sure I had all those Christmases with my kids. Let me make this Christmas magical for you, and everyone after for the rest of my life," he insisted.

“You really want to do that for me?” she asked. A rush of emotion hitting her.

“There isn’t anything in this world I wouldn’t do for you," he whispered.

“It’s December 17, I doubt you could squeeze my perpetual Christmas wish list in before Christmas. As long as Noah, Eli, Kieran, and Seamus have a magical day, and the rest of your kids, your mom, and you are happy, then I will be happy.”

He laughed. “Do you realize you basically just said as long as everyone else is happy you will be happy? What about your happiness?”

“I am happy, El. So very happy. I just don’t want you to feel obligated to do that for me because I had a bad day at work.” She gripped his shirt again. Her eyes felt so heavy.

“Olivia Benson, you are not an obligation. You deserve to have a magical Christmas too. I want to know how I can do that for you," he said.

She pressed her face tighter against him. “I know it will be magical and the best Christmas I’ve ever had because I’m with you. I have the family I’ve always dreamed of," she said sleepily. “I just want you with me.”

“You got me," he said softly.

“Is my hair bothering you? It’s still wet. Do you want me to let you get up?” she mumbled.

“No, your hair isn’t bothering me. I want to stay right where I am," he said.

~oOo~

He could tell when she fell asleep. The change in her breathing, and the way she sagged against him. It broke his heart to think all those Christmases he spent in Queens with his family and she was alone at work so he and everyone else could have a good day.

He decided he was going to make sure she had the very best Christmas.

He carefully pulled out his phone and opened a text message. He added in all the names of his children creating a group text message.

I’m gonna need help from all of you.

M: What’s up Dad? Need me to keep the boys longer?

E: Mo, you realize I’m in this group text too, right? smh.

K: What do you need, Dad?

L: Give me details?

R: You need me to stop by Dad?

It’s not an emergency. I’m ok. It’s actually for Olivia. I want to give her an extra special Christmas this year. She was telling me that her mom wasn’t into Christmas, so she never really celebrated Christmas until Noah came into her life.

He watched as all his kids started replying.

R: She never got Christmas when she was growing up? We have to do something!

K: That’s so sad. Poor Liv. ☹

E: Do we want to get Noah in on this?

L: I have some ideas, Dad! I can get some tickets for the Nutcracker, maybe we can go as a family?

M: I would love to help any way I can, Dad. I know Carl will help too.

Thanks. I will let you all in on the details one I figure some things out. Eli, let's not tell Noah yet. Can each of you maybe share a special Christmas tradition with her?

He looked at the time and saw it was 1:30 pm. He hoped she would get at least a few hours of sleep.

He knew her telling him how the case impacted her wasn’t easy. Soon after their relationship started, they made a promise to each other that they would be more open with each other.

The first time he witnessed one of her PTSD flare-ups and subsequent panic attacks he was able to ground her quickly and bring her back to the present. It was before their relationship got serious. OC and SVU were on a joint case. They were at a crime scene and had found a live victim in the trunk of a car, her hands bound, duct tape on her mouth and cigarette burns littered her arms.

He remembers looking over at her and seeing it on her face. He quickly guided her away from everyone else. He had to extricate her from her bulletproof vest and he had draped his coat around her and had her sitting in the passenger seat in his SUV and was standing in front of her urging her to breathe, telling her she was safe and then holding her against his chest until it passed.

From that point on, Fin and Amanda Rollins would purposely seek him out, to help ground her and reel her back in similar situations.

Oliva had told him no one else could help her the way he could in a situation like that. He had helped her figure out ways to cope and she had done the same for him. Ironically, all they needed was each other. She started to feel better opening up to him.

He felt his eyes start to drift closed. His last thought being that they both probably wouldn’t sleep later on that night due to their nap.

~oOo~

She opened her eyes and could hear the steady beat of his heart beneath her ear. His right hand was curled around her left shoulder, holding her to him almost. His left arm bent and tucked behind his head.

She felt safe, and warm laying in his arms. She felt so much better having talked to him. She turned her head slightly to look out the terrace door, trying to judge what time it was by looking at how dark it was outside.

She felt his hand move from her shoulder to her face. His thumb came to rest at the back of her ear. “You ok?” he asked, his voice thick with sleep. His left arm came down, pulling her closer and tighter to him.

“I’m ok, I’m good," she said. She brought her right hand up and pressed it against his cheek. “You helped," she whispered.

“What?” he asked. He did not hear her low whisper.

She took her hand off his cheek and lifted her head from where it rested on his chest and pushed herself up so could look into his eyes. His blue eyes shone at her in the dim light of the room. “I said you helped. Everything felt so heavy like I couldn’t breathe. You helped me unpack all of that, thank you.”

“You don’t have to thank me for that," he reached up and his fingers traced over her cheekbone, sliding to the back of her neck and up to cradle her head. He gently pulled her head closer to his and kissed her.

A ring sounded from the direction of the counter.

“That’s Noah’s ringtone," she said. She pulled back from him.

~oOo~

Elliot swung his legs down, so she could get up. She quickly jumped up, trying to make it to her phone before the ringing stopped. He got up with her, only a step or two behind her.

In a rush to get to her phone, she didn’t feel her ankle buckling. His position behind her allowed him to see it as it happened, his hands shooting out to prevent her from falling. “You ok?”

“Yes. It’s still bothering me a little. I had those boots on too long.” She got to the counter just as her phone stopped ringing.

“Damn," she said.

“Hungry?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m starving. I have not eaten yet today," she said as she pressed Noah’s name to call him back.

“Nothing to eat all day?” he questioned. “You probably haven’t eaten since dinner last night.” He shook his head.

“Actually, lunch yesterday. You sent me Lo mein and egg rolls," she said.

Bringing her phone to her ear, she listened for Noah’s greeting. “Hi, baby.” She turned her back to Elliot, sitting down on the stool. “But you will always be my baby.”

He walked around to the other side of the counter. Making a show of shaking his head at her.

She playfully stuck her tongue at him. “Are you having fun?” she said into her phone.

He watched as whatever Noah had said to her in response made her laugh. He bent down and reached into a cabinet below the sink to pull out a pot for the pasta. He rose back to his feet and filled the pot with water. He brought it over to the stove, added a generous pour of salt to the pan, and turned it on.

He had done all the prepping for the carbonara while she had been in the shower. He had chopped the guanciale, grated the pecorino, and cracked the eggs. In one of his undercover assignments in Italy, he had portrayed a line cook that worked in a busy Italian restaurant and had picked up a lot of skills.

This simple pasta dish was her preferred comfort food. She’d often request him to make it for her when she had a bad day or just needed a little extra comfort.

It was effortless to make if you had good, quality ingredients. Something so easy was such an immense comfort to her. He tried to always make sure he had the ingredients on hand so he could make it for her when she needed it.

“I think you’re going to have to ask Elliot that yourself.” She looked over at him with a grin on her face. She got up from the stool and walked towards him. “Ok, I love you, have fun," she said before she held her phone out to him. “Noah would like to talk to you.”

He reached for her phone. “Hey, buddy, what up?” he said as he put a skillet on the burner to warm up, he glanced over at her and watched as she leaned against the counter with her arms folded across her chest looking at him with a smile.

“Elliot?” Noah’s nervous voice came over the line. “I have a question to ask you.”

“You can ask me anything.” He reached for the guanciale and dumped it into the skillet. He reached out for Olivia’s arm and pulled her closer. “Stir this with this spatula.” He reached and adjusted the flame to low. “Just keep it moving.”

“I’ve never gone to a hockey game before, and I watched a Ranger’s game with Kieran and Seamus and they told me how their dad took them last weekend to a game and how much fun they had. Maureen told me I should ask you. She said you would probably take me, so can you please take me to a Rangers game? Is it ok if it’s just us.”

“You want me to take you to a Rangers game?” He looked over at her again and met her eyes. The lights from the Christmas tree reflected in them. He saw her smiling back at him. He gestured to the pan. “Don’t let that burn.”

The feeling of love for that little boy that washed over him hit him full force. “Of course, we can do that. I would love to take you. I’ll look at what’s available for tickets and then I’ll talk to your mom and we’ll figure it out ok?”

“Really?” Noah’s excited voice came over the phone.

“Really.” He came up behind Olivia and wrapped his free arm around her waist.

“Ok, thank you. I’m gonna go tell Maureen you said yes. We’re going out for pizza. Thank you so much, I’ll talk to you later. Bye, Elliot!” his excited voice came over the line.

Elliot laughed into the phone. He felt Olivia’s hand rest over his on her waist. “Bye, Noah, talk to you later.”

“He loves you so much Elliot," she said softly.

“And I love him. I hope you don’t mind that he doesn't want anyone else to come. He wants it to just be us," he replied as he gently took the spatula from her hand. “Good job. You didn’t burn it.”

“I can cook some, you know," she said. She elbowed him playfully in the ribs.

“I know you can.” He remembered being surprised when she’d told him that during her recovery and leave after Lewis, at the recommendation of her therapist, she had taken a part-time class at one of the culinary schools in Manhattan. She took a 9-week course in pastry and baking and although she stood away from the fancy showy things, she was quite skilled at baking. She didn’t do it often but when she did bake, Eli was her biggest fan.

“You don’t mind taking him?” she asked.

“Of course not," he said, leaning forward and kissing her temple. He lowered the burner a little more and turned her around in his arms. “It honestly means a lot he wants me to take him to his first hockey game.” He smiled. “I haven’t been to a Rangers game in way too long!”

“I didn’t even know he was going to ask you," she said.

“It’s ok. I’ll look at upcoming games tomorrow, see what’s available for tickets, and we’ll figure it out.” He leaned forward and placed a kiss on her lips. He grabbed her hand and led her back to her stool. He reached across to grab the glass of wine he had already poured and placed it on the counter in front of her.

“I didn’t even see you pour this.” She smiled as she took a sip.

He shrugged and gave a smirk before he walked back to the other side of the counter.

~oOo~

She pushed her empty plate away from her. “Like always, that was so good. Thank you," she said reaching out and grasping his hand. She felt him squeeze her hand back.

“You’re welcome, you don’t need to keep thanking me though," he said.

“I might’ve exaggerated a bit," she said.

“How so?” He turned to look at her, confusion evident in his expression.

“Not all of my Christmases were bad growing up. There’s one in particular that stands out," she said, a smile gracing her lips.

“Yeah?” he asked.

She nodded. “The best one I can remember was the year I turned six, it was a few months before my grandmother died. She loved Christmas so much," she said with a smile. “My mother always gave me books. Big, leather-bound, English Literature books. Don’t get me wrong I loved books, but as a 6-years-old I wanted fairy tales and Nancy Drew not the Great Gatsby or Pride and Prejudice.”

Elliot smiled over at her. “Nancy Drew, huh? That’s impressive for a 6-years-old.”

“My Grandmother used to read them to me, and Grimm’s fairy tales. I loved reading with her. I always wonder how my life would’ve been different if she hadn’t died when she did.” She sighed. “Sorry, I got off track," she said. As she shook her head.

“Don’t be sorry. I want to hear about your grandmother, Liv. I want to hear all about her, I don’t remember you talking about her before," he said, turning his body all the way to look at her. “Let’s go sit on the couch, want a refill?” He nodded towards her empty wine glass.

“Yes, I’ll take a refill. Let me help you clean up.” She got up and reached for her plate.

He jumped to his feet and reached out for her bicep. He turned her back towards him. He wrapped his arms around her. “I will take care of it all. Everything else is already in the dishwasher. I’ll put our plates in, I’ll turn it on, I’ll refill your wine and I’ll be right over with you. Go wait for me on the couch." He leaned forward and captured her lips in a lingering kiss.

She nodded. “Ok," she said with a smile. When he pulled away, she walked over to the couch and sat down to wait for him. Her mind drifted back to when he was holding her earlier. Promising to make up for all the not-so-great Christmases she had as a kid.

Leave it to Elliot Stabler to want to right every bad experience she’d had in life. She turned to look at him as he put the last of the dishes in the dishwasher. She watched as he refilled both of their glasses.

Spending Christmas with him and their family this year would make up for every bad Christmas. She turned back around and stared at the fireplace. She pulled her feet up and tucked them next to her.

Elliot walked back over and sat next to her, handing her one of the glasses in his hand. “Tell me more about your grandmother," he said as he slipped his arm across her shoulders.

She held on to her glass and leaned her head back on his shoulder. “Her name was Margaret. She would make me rice pudding when I wasn’t feeling well. She used to braid my hair every morning before school. She loved Christmas, she used to give me these filled chocolates that were wrapped in foil. She had a cousin that lived in Milano and she would send them to her. I wish I could remember the name of them. I remember Milano was embossed on the foil because it was the same as the postal mark, but there was a word before it I think it started with a B. To this day I wish I could remember the name, I’ll never forget the taste. I felt so special eating my grandmother’s chocolate.” She smiled at the memory and drank from her glass.

“You should describe them to Eli, I bet you he can find them for you. Maybe even here in New York," he said.

“Oh, they probably don’t even exist anymore," she said, shaking her head. “That Christmas there was this big bowl on the dining room table. The bowl never seemed to empty. I don’t remember my mother being around much. My grandma tried hard to hide her drinking from me. She bought me this doll that was very similar to those American girl dolls. I wanted that doll so badly. You could buy them to match hair and eye colors to little girls and there was this line of different clothes and accessory sets you could buy for them. She also got me a first edition of the Brothers Grimm Fairytales and the entire collection of Nancy Drew books. It honestly was the best Christmas. The only others that compare is Noah’s first Christmas and last year when you invited Noah and me. And I already know this Christmas will definitely make that list.” She sighed and drank from her glass, finishing the wine, she reached forward and put her glass on the coffee table, and she leaned back against Elliot’s chest.

The way she spoke about her grandmother really touched him. He was going to figure out what those chocolates were. He already had an idea of what they could be, and he would make sure she was never out of them.

“Sounds like a memorable Christmas. I’m sorry you lost her when you were so young," he said, brushing his lips against her temple.

“She had an aneurysm right before Valentine’s Day. She lived for a few days after," she said softly, reaching up to brush a tear from her eye. “We didn’t have a Christmas tree that next year. I told you earlier what happened the year I put up the Christmas tree.”

He pulled her tighter against him. “For the rest of my life, I will make sure every Christmas is happy and magical.”

~oOo~

December 20

The rest of the weekend flew by, and Monday morning brought the work week for them both. Much earlier for her than for Elliot. She had gotten called in for a case at 3:00 am, and by 7 am she had two more victims. Two more notifications she would have to make to families that would have an empty chair around their holiday table this year.

By 4 pm she had already been forced into a press conference by McGrath, had forgotten about her 4 th cup of coffee that wasn’t that good, but by this point, her body desperately needed the caffeine, and gotten into an argument with Noah because she couldn’t come to his Christmas recital.

Elliot had intervened on FaceTime when Noah had screamed that he hated her and that she always disappointed him.

She sighed, taking her glasses off and tossing them onto her desk. She looked up when she heard a knock on her door. She was surprised to see Eli standing there. “Hey Eli, come on in," she said with a smile.

Eli looked around nervously. “Kathleen is waiting outside in the car with Grandma. Dad told us about your case, and I saw your press conference, just thought you could use some good coffee. I bought enough for everyone," he said, holding up the cardboard container filled with coffee. “We went to the new coffee shop that Dad likes.”

She got up from her desk and walked around to him. “Eli thank you so much. That will be so appreciated. I haven’t had a good cup of coffee all day. I was just thinking how badly I needed one," she said with a smile.

She reached out and took the container from him. “There’s cream, milk, and different sugars in this bag. I also got some cookies I thought you would like," he said with a shrug. “Oh, Kathleen suggested we get you a travel mug so your coffee would stay hot. There’s one in the bag too.”

She put the coffee container down on a nearby table and Eli put the bag down next to it. She opened her arms and hugged Eli. He was stiff and awkward at first before he warmed up to it and relaxed into her embrace.

“You’re welcome," he said. “Kathleen is waiting, I gotta go.”

“Ok," she said releasing him. “Thank you so much, Eli.”

He smiled and waved as he walked out the door. She watched as he walked back out into the bullpen. Amanda smiled at him and touched his arm as he walked by her desk. She got up from her chair and walked into Liv’s office.

“That wouldn’t be that amazing coffee Stabler brings by, would it?” she asked hopefully.

Olivia laughed. “It sure is! Help yourself, but I get the first cup!” she said with a smile.

~oOo~

Elliot knew she was in the midst of a tough case. He hoped it broke before Christmas. He understood more than anyone if it didn’t. He just vowed to make this the best Christmas. It technically would be their first altogether. Noah and Liv did join them last year, but this year they wouldn’t have to leave they would be there for it all.

He went to Noah’s recital today. her son was so disappointed that Liv didn’t go and even yelled that he hated her when she had FaceTimed him while he was doing his homework.

She was tired and stressed. He was able to pick up on that from her press conference. She may have appeared confident and put together, but he could see the stress in the way she rigidly held herself. He noted, although Fin stood tall to her right, he kept throwing scowls at Chief McGrath who stood to her left.

He would bet McGrath had given her a hard time; his guess was his hand forced the press conference. He hadn’t had the opportunity to talk to her yet today, he hoped he would get to or that she would get to come home for a little bit so she could rest.

Eli was pretty sure he had figured out the chocolates Liv had described to him that her grandmother had always given her, and he had located some locally and had ordered a bigger variety direct from Italy and they were hopefully currently on the way. He knew she would still be very appreciative if they arrived after Christmas, but he had wanted to have them for her Christmas.

He was going to try his hardest to make sure their Christmas was amazing. From what she had said to him she craved a big Christmas, with family, laughter, and love. He would make sure she knew how loved she was and how much she means to him.

The thought crossed his mind that she probably hadn’t eaten dinner. The whole squad probably hadn’t eaten.

~oOo~

The hardest part of this case was trying to find a connection between the three victims, only there wasn’t a connection. Other than the fact that they were all female, all college students, and all killed by strangulation.

They all attended different colleges, all in Manhattan, but all different. Olivia shook her head as she looked at the three girls posted on the bulletin board. She was interrupted as the desk segreant alerted her to a delivery for her.

She walks over to see a delivery guy holding two big bags and a smaller bag. “Are you Olivia Benson? Delivery for you.”

“I am Olivia, but there must be some mistake. I didn’t order any food," she said.

“This order had been paid for, tip too. I was told to bring to 16 th precinct SVU and to give it to you. The smaller bag is for you specifically, and the larger bags are for everyone else. He said to say ‘he wanted to make sure you had dinner’," he said with a smile.

She smiled knowing it had been Elliot. “Thank you," she said to the delivery man.

“Fin, Rollins, Velasco, Elliot bought us all dinner," she called out.

Fin suddenly appeared at her side to take the bags. “Hey the little one is all mine, I’m not sharing!” she said jokingly.

“Elliot Stabler coming in clutch for us!” Fin exclaimed. “I’m gonna make damn sure those Rangers tickets are the best I can get.”

“Enjoy dinner everyone," she said, walking back towards her office.

“Liv”, Fin called out. “Tell him we said thanks.”

“Yeah, please send my thanks as well” Amanda chimed in. “Those Stabler men are sure looking out for us today!”

As she walked away, she heard Fin say, “What’s the matter Velasco you can’t say thank you?”

“I don’t really know him," he replied.

“I don’t know him all the well myself and I still said thank you," Amanda said. “I didn’t give the poor guy a chance until a few months ago.”

When Liv got back to her desk, she closed the door, grateful for a little alone time. She went to her desk and sat down to open the bag. She pulled out four cans of coke zero, an order of egg rolls, chicken dumplings, Lo mien, and sesame chicken. She smiled. Elliot always made sure she ate when they were partners.

He knew she liked to drink coke zero when she was working late. She liked to alternate it with her coffee.

She reached for her phone and navigated to the most recent text message from him. She pressed the icon to call him and held the phone to her ear.

“Hey, your dinner arrive yet?” His voice rumbled over the line.

“It did. Thank you, El," she said. “It’s been a long frustrating day, and this was just what I needed. Hope you don’t mind me talking with my mouth full.”

He laughed. “You’re welcome, and I don’t mind you talking with your mouth full. How are things going?” he asked.

“We’re stuck at a standstill. No connection between our victims that we can see right now. It’s so frustrating and I have McGrath on my ass about updates when we don’t have any," she said.

“I’m sorry. I wish I could help," he replied sympathetically.

“You are helping. You dropped Noah at school and picked him up and went to his recital. I’m certain you’ve helped him with homework and made sure he’s had dinner. You’ve sent dinner for everyone and I’m sure you were behind what Eli and Kathleen brought me earlier," she said as she opened up the container of dumplings.

“I didn’t know they brought you something. What’d they bring?” he asked.

“They brought coffee and cookies. I’m still savoring that coffee. It’s helped so much. I for sure thought you were behind that," she said as she took a bite of the dumpling she held between the chopsticks in her hand.

“That was nice of them. I didn’t know anything about that. I haven’t seen Eli yet today; he is out shopping with Liz and Kathleen," he said. “I just wanted to do something, make sure you ate.”

“Everyone appreciates it," she said. “Fin said to say he’s going to get you the best tickets he can get his hands on, and Amanda said thank you too.”

“You’re welcome. You’ve done the same when I’ve been on a big case," he replied.

“I don’t think I’ll be home tonight, but I can try hard to get home to bring Noah to school so you don’t have to do it again." She really felt bad that Elliot had to drop him off and pick him up. “He’s already pretty mad at me so I feel like I have to make it up to him.”

“Liv, if you manage to get away for a few hours you will come home to sleep, not bring him to school. I already have it taken care of actually. Bell understands. We do not have a lot we’re working on right now. Our criminals over at OCCB like to take the holidays off. Besides, I like spending time with Noah, you know that,” he reasoned.

“You already have it figured out?” she questioned.

“Yup. I’m going to drop him off in the morning, Lucy called to say her finals are done, and she will pick him up because she is taking him to the Natural History Museum and Christmas shopping after school, and she’ll have him home by dinner," he answered.

“Now I remember Lucy talking about taking him to the museum," she said with a sigh. “I miss you.”

“I miss you too. I don’t sleep well when you’re not home.” His voice was thick with emotion.

She looked up to see Fin standing at her door.

“Liv, we got another body," he said solemnly.

“Shit. El, I gotta go. Fin just said we got another body," she said.

“Ok. Be safe, Liv. I love you," he said. “Take some of those dumplings to go. Make Fin drive so you can eat them on the way.”

“I love you too, I’ll call you back when I can, if it’s not too late," she said, sighing as she ended the call. She was so tired. She had such a relaxing weekend with Elliot taking care of her. She just wanted to be home, sitting on the couch watching TV with her head on his chest.

~oOo~

December 21, 1:44 AM

The ringing of his cell phone woke him. He reached for his phone and when he saw Fin’s number flash across the screen, he jumped up, suddenly jolted awake.

“Fin, what happened?” he demanded. He got to his feet and strode to the dresser in two big steps, pulling a drawer open to yank out a pair of jeans.

“She’s hurt, but she’s ok. Can you get to Mercy quickly though? Her left shoulder is dislocated, and she’s got a possible concussion," Fin’s panicked voice came over the line.

“Yeah, I can be there soon," he said, yanking the jeans up his legs and quickly zipping them.

“We’re still on scene, she’s being loaded into the bus now," he said.

He quickly pulled a t-shirt over his head and sat on the bed to pull on his socks. “I’m out the door in 2 minutes.”

“Fin, I need Elliot. Please, I need him now. Please tell him I need him,” Liv cried in the background.

Hearing her cry out for him like that made him jump back up and race around the room to find his sneakers. He felt his anxiety starting to take over.

“Liv, I got him right here. Talk to him. He’s right here on the phone and he’s coming as soon as he can. He’s coming.” Fin’s voice once again filled the line. “Talk to her El, phone’s on speaker now.”

“Liv, baby I’m on my way. I will be there soon. I’ll meet you at the hospital.” He shoved his feet into his sneakers, grabbed his grey hoodie, and zipped it up. He quickly grabbed his keys and wallet and shoved them into his pockets.

“Please hurry, El. I need you with me, please hurry," she cried.

“Elliot the EMTs want to sedate her, they’re worried she’s going to hurt herself more. She doesn’t want to be sedated without you with her. I’m going to try and calm her down. I’ll see you soon," he said.

“Fin, I’ll get there as soon as I can.” He ended the call and rushed out of his bedroom.

Eli was standing in the kitchen drinking a bottle of water. “Everything ok, Dad?” he asked.

“Liv got hurt. I have to go to the hospital. You think you and Noah will be ok here with Grandma?” He asked.

“Is she hurt bad?” he asked with concern. “We will be ok. I’ll make sure Noah is ok.”

“Fin said dislocated shoulder and possible concussion," he said, looking at his son. “I gotta go.”

“Ok, Dad. Anything else I can do?” Eli asked.

“Just look out for Noah and for yourself. Noah will probably stay asleep the whole time and likely grandma too. Why are you up?” Elliot asked as he walked towards the door.

“I was talking to Gio. My semester at school ended on Friday remember?” Eli said.

“Sorry, bud. I gotta get to Liv," Elliot said as he rushed out the door

~oOo~

Her panic was all he could think about as he drove. He could hear it in her voice, in the way she had begged Fin to get him.

He knew why she had panicked. She made him promise if it could be avoided to never put her in an ambulance.

Traffic was light given the hour, that coupled with using his lights gave him that allowance to make it to the hospital even faster.

When he strode through the doors, Fin was arguing with a nurse. “Look her husband will be right here. If she wants you to wait for him, just wait," Fin insisted.

When Fin saw Elliot walk up, he sighed in relief. “There he is. Told you.” He shook his head, reaching up to pull at the mask covering his face. “El, she won’t let them fix her shoulder she wanted you here for that.”

“Where is she?” Elliot demanded, looking at the nurse.

“Third door on the left," she said, pointing to the hallway.

“Go to her," Fin said. “I’ll explain everything that happened to you, I just gotta check in with Rollins and Velasco.” He took off down the hall.

He paused outside the room to take note of her appearance. Her left arm was secured to her side, and he could see the obvious dislocation of her left shoulder. She was wearing a hospital gown, and she had an IV in her right arm.

~oOo~

Liv wasn’t sure what was worse, the pain in her head, the pain in her shoulder, or the feeling of panic she felt looming. Elliot would help. Just him being here would make her feel safe.

She was currently being urged by a doctor to accept the sedation they wanted to administer so they could reset her shoulder. She wanted to wait for Elliot.

“Ms. Benson, I urge you to reconsider. The sooner we get that shoulder back in place the better. We need to take x-rays to ensure surgery is not needed.” The doctor pleaded.

“It’s Captain Benson," Elliot said.

“Excuse me?” the doctor said turning around to look at Elliot in the doorway.

Elliot stepped into the room, walking right up to Liv on the stretcher. “Hey Liv, I told you I would get here as soon as I could.” He kissed her forehead before turning to the doctor. “This is Captain Benson. She was injured in the line of duty, you should respect her by using her title.”

The doctor nodded nervously. “I didn’t mean any disrespect. I’m sorry," he said. “I’m Dr. Bentley.”

“Elliot Stabler," he said.

She reached for his hand and gripped it. “El, please stay with me," she said.

“I’m not going anywhere," he said. “I’m staying right by your side.”

She gripped his hand harder. “They had to cut my…” She squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath. “They had to cut my shirt off because of my shoulder. Lewis he…”

Elliot stepped closer. He brought her hand up to his lips and kissed it. “You don’t need to say it, Liv. I know how hard that was for you.”

“Can we start administering the sedation now so we can reset that shoulder?” Dr. Bentley asked. He was fiddling with his stethoscope.

Liv gripped his hand tight. “I had to wait for you. I couldn’t let them do it without you here.”

“I know it’s really hard right now but try and stay as calm as you can, Liv. Keep breathing in and out, ok? As soon as this is over, you’ll feel so much better. I know that shoulder must really be hurting you.” He reached out to tuck her hair behind her ear. “You trust me, right?” he asked softly.

“Yes," she whispered. A tear slipped down her face. She could feel herself starting to calm down. The panic was still there but Elliot was here now. She always felt safer when he was around.

“I’ll be here with you the whole time. You’re safe here with me. I’m not going anywhere," he said in a soothing tone. Reaching up to wipe the tear away with his thumb.

Elliot turned to Dr. Bentley. “She’s had some trauma she dealt with years ago and suffers from PTSD, that’s why she wants me with her. It’s really a long, complicated story. I have to be here in the room, will that be a problem?”

“No, that won’t be a problem. We really just want to get it back in place so we can x-ray her shoulder and see if there’s damage that requires surgical repair. She’s already expressed her wish to go home, and as soon as we get this done, we can monitor her for a bit, then send you both on your way if no surgical intervention is necessary. I suggest she remove the ring as a precaution.” He gestured towards the engagement ring on her finger. “It is common for the hand and fingers to swell if the reset fails, and it will need to be removed for the x-ray anyway.”

Elliot nodded and gently slid the ring off her left hand, he releases her right hand and slides the ring onto the ring finger on her right hand. “Let’s just keep this over here for now, ok?”

Elliot took his coat off and the hoodie and put both on a nearby chair. “How’d this happen?” he asked softly. Trying to distract her from a nurse entering the room and she and the doctor discussing their game plan.

“Long story short, we cornered our suspect. He lunged at me with a knife, I fell backward down about four or five steps, I landed with my left hand hitting the ground first and ending with my head hitting it. Fin told me I got knocked out for a couple of minutes," she said.

Elliot shook his head. “Damn," he said softly. “You sure your ankle is ok?”

“It doesn’t hurt," she said.

“Ok, we’re going to get started," Dr. Bentley said. “We’re going to administer a combination of two drugs, Propofol, and Fentanyl and then we will manually move your arm, and hopefully your shoulder will go right back into place.”

“Hello," the nurse said stepping forward. “My name is Jessica. I am going to inject a few medications into your IV there.”

Olivia nervously looked to Elliot. “I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere," he said.

“I will need you to let go of her hand though. I will need to be right there to inject the medications. How about you sit right here next to the head of the bed," Jessica said.

Elliot nodded and moved to the head of the bed. He brought his face next to hers, touching his left cheek to her right. His right hand comes up to hold her right shoulder. “I’m right here, Liv. You’re safe, this will all be over soon. Just close your eyes, don’t worry about what’s happening. I got you right now," he said softly.

“I’m injecting the medication, Olivia. You’ll be asleep in a minute and we’ll get the shoulder x-rayed, and hopefully, we’ll be sending you home in an hour or two,” Jessica said with a smile. “This medication will burn a little bit, just keep taking deep breaths. I’m going to put an oxygen canula on you so we can monitor your oxygen.”

Jessica reached out and touched Elliot’s arm. “The oxygen is normal, don’t you worry. She’s doing just fine.”

He watched her eyes flutter closed. Jessica quickly injected another syringe into her IV.

“Olivia?” Jessica called. “Olivia, can you hear us?”

“Ok,” Dr. Bentley said. “It appears she is out. Let’s hope this is an easy one.”

Elliot watched as Dr. Bentley lifted her left arm in the air by her wrist with his left hand and he pushed slightly on her shoulder. He lifted her arm a little bit higher until the sound of her shoulder popping back into place was heard.

“That’s good right?” Elliot anxiously asked.

“Yes, that’s very good," Dr. Bentley said. He gently placed her arm back down. “I have an x-ray waiting right outside, if the x-rays are clear I can get you both out of here in an hour.”

Elliot nodded. “Can you x-ray her right ankle too? She broke her ankle almost a year ago, had to have surgery. She said her ankle didn’t hurt her, but I thought it would be good to mention it," he said with a shrug.

“That’s not a problem. We will definitely look at that right ankle too. If you can just step out, we can’t have you in the room while the x-ray is being taken," Dr. Bentley said with a smile. “We’ll get you back in here as soon as it’s done.”

Elliot took a step away and hesitated, looking back at her.

“She’ll be out a little while longer. I thought it better to have a portable x-ray brought to the room as opposed to taking her to radiology and back here.”

Elliot felt a little better about leaving her and walked towards the door. He stepped out into the hallway and saw Fin leaning against the wall, his arms folded across his chest.

“How she doing?” Fin asked.

Elliot stepped away from the door so the waiting x-ray technician could get into the room. “They just popped her shoulder back in, the doctor thinks things are looking good. Wants to take a x-ray to be sure. Hopefully, I can get her home and into bed in an hour or two.”

“That’s good to hear. She tell you what happened?” Fin asked.

“She told me the suspect lunged at her with a knife and she fell backward down some stairs," Elliot said.

“It happened so fast. I took him down hard though. This guy left a fingerprint on the last victim’s thumb nail. After spending all day trying to find a connection between our first three victims, he was sloppy with his fourth. We connected him to the murders because he was an exterminator at nine college campuses," Fin said, shaking his head.

“Sounds like a tough day," Elliot said, shaking his head.

“I swear, Liv hearing your voice calmed her down in the back of the bus. They were getting ready to sedate her," Fin said. “I was worried how she would react if they’d sedated her without you there."

“Thank you for calling me, Fin. I got here as fast as I could. Traffic was next to nothing, even going over the bridge," he replied.

“No need to thank me. I appreciate you sending us dinner. That helped us get our heads back in the game. Oh, I got Liv’s bag out of her office. Her badge and gun are in there. I imagine she’ll be out for a while. I am not happy she got hurt but I’m happy she’ll get to have Christmas off.” He handed Liv’s bag to him.

Elliot took Liv’s bag and slung it over his shoulder. “When I dislocated my shoulder I was out for a few weeks, but she’s got a possible concussion too. Honestly between you and I, I would like to see her get a few weeks so she can just relax for a while, you know?”

Fin nodded. “I agree. I’m gonna head out now. Tell her I was here and I’ll check on her at some point. Michael Kors looks good on you Elliot," he said with a laugh.

“I’ll let her know Fin. Yeah, we all know I’m used to carrying her purse," he said with a laugh of his own.

“See ya," Fin said as he turned and walked down the hallway.

“Mr. Stabler?” he heard a voice call.

He turned around to see Jessica’s face.

“You can come back in now, we’re done with the x-rays," she said, holding the door open for him.

He walked back into the room and walked to Liv’s side again and picked up her right hand.

Dr. Bentley turned around and stepped towards him. “The x-rays all look good. You’ll be able to take her home soon. We want to get her into a sling, and we’ll write out a prescription for some painkillers and I’ll give you some instructions, she’ll need to follow up. At the minimum out of work 7 to 10 days, she’ll need to follow up with an orthopedic doctor, she likely won’t get a referral until after the holidays though," Dr. Bentley said.

“Can I take her home soon?” Elliot asked.

“Normally we’d say we would want her to stay overnight at this point but given what you’ve told me about her past, I am ok with you taking her home. I would just ask that someone stay with her at all times for at least the next 24 to 48 hours because of the concussion," Dr. Bentley said.

“I will be with her. She won’t be alone," Elliot replied.

~oOo~

4:31 AM

It was just after 4:30 am when Elliot pulled into his parking space. He could see Eli waiting at the top of the steps that led up to the entrance. When the SUV came to a stop, Eli walked down the stairs and stood by the passenger door looking in at Liv sleeping in the passenger seat.

Elliot got out of the car and walked around to the passenger side. “Hey, bud. Thanks for watching out for Noah," he said with a smile.

“Is she ok?” he asked, concern evident on his face.

“She will be," Elliot said with a nod. “She just needs to rest her shoulder and take it easy for the next few weeks, she’ll be out of work for a bit.”

“It’s not good she got hurt, but she’ll get to spend Christmas without having to work. So, that’s an unexpected silver lining. She won’t get called into work like she did on Thanksgiving," Eli said with a shrug.

Leave it to his son to look right to the benefit of the situation. “We can definitely give her a Christmas she’ll remember," Elliot said with a smile. “Can you carry her bag in for me but be careful and don’t reach into it. Her gun is in there, and walk ahead and open the doors?”

“I can do that," he said with a nod. He took her bag from the back seat and walked ahead inside.

Elliot turned and opened the passenger door. Her head was back against the seat, her eyes still closed. He reached over and carefully unclipped her seat belt and ran his knuckles up and down her cheek.

“El?” she mumbled, her eyes fluttering open.

“I’m right here. I’m gonna get you inside and into bed, ok? You don’t have to do anything. I’ll carry you," he said.

“I’m too heavy for you to carry. I can walk," she said sleepily.

“You’re not too heavy, and trust me, the ground is slippery just let me get you inside. It will be so much quicker," he said. “It’s pretty cold out too.”

“Wait," she said. “Can you put my ring back?”

“We can do that inside Liv," Elliot replied.

She shook her head and held her right hand out. “No. Do it now, please. It’s important.”

“Ok, I’ll do it right now," he said, slipping the ring off her right hand and carefully putting it on her left. “Back where it belongs.”

“Thank you," she said, closing her eyes again.

“Put your arm around my neck, Liv," Elliot said.

She raised her arm and looped it around his neck grasping onto the collar of his coat. He put one arm around her back and the other under her legs, and carefully lifted her out of the seat. He closed the car door with his leg and shifted her in his arms so he could lock the car with the key fob.

He felt her press her face against his neck. Without a doubt, she would’ve had trouble navigating the slippery sidewalk, even without her current injury and the effects of the drugs she was given in the hospital.

He quickly walked up the stairs with her and brought her inside. Eli was waiting to close and lock the door behind him.

He carried her past the kitchen and through the living room into his bedroom. “Ok, Liv, I’m gonna get you changed and ready for bed. Can you sit up on the bed for me? I’m gonna have to undo this sling for a minute," Elliot said as he gently put her down on the bed.

He watched as she blinked a few times. He cupped her cheek with his hand and ran his thumb over her cheekbone.

“I have such a headache, I feel so foggy," she said, squinting at the brightness in the room.

He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “I’ll make this quick then.”

~oOo~

A few hours later, Elliot was up and dressed, getting Noah ready for school. He had already called Bell and told her he wouldn’t be in today. He hadn’t gotten much sleep with taking care of Liv. It wasn’t only pain, she was very restless, unable to get comfortable.

She refused painkillers until about an hour ago, then had woken up crying in pain and begged him to get her something for it. A dose of Ibuprofen and ice packs just weren’t relieving her pain. The doctor had sent her home with a prescription for Oxycodone.

She had tried to go as long as she could without resorting to needing a painkiller. She was undoubtedly still feeling the stress from her ordeal and that case, and her injury just added more stress.

He had calmed her down, given her the painkiller she had asked for, and some orange juice that she had specifically asked for. He tried his best to make her comfortable, sleeping in a shoulder immobilizer was uncomfortable, he knew from experience.

He leaned against the door frame watching her as she slept. She had several pillows behind her head and two under her left arm.

“Oh, the poor thing.” Elliot turned to see his mother come up to him on his right side.

“She had a bad night, we got home at 4:30. Was just able to get her comfortable," he whispered.

“You didn’t sleep. Why don’t you get back into bed with her?” his mother asked.

“Mama, I gotta get Noah to school," Elliot said.

“No, you don’t," she said. “I called Kathleen she is coming to drop him off. What if she wakes up wanting you and you’re not here? Hmmmm? Then what?”

“Mama, you didn’t have to call Kathleen," Elliot said shaking his head.

“She is taking Eli shopping again today, they’re going to the outlets, then she already had plans on taking Noah out shopping later to get gifts for you and his mother," she said. “Get in that bed and get some rest, Elliot Stabler.”

“I will, Mama, I will. I just want to say goodbye to Noah first," Elliot said, reaching out and touching his mother’s arm.

He walked into the kitchen to find Noah sitting on a stool at the counter next to Eli, talking excitedly about a Lego set he hopped he’d get for Christmas.

“Hey, Bud," Elliot said, coming up behind him. “Did you hear your mom hurt her arm? She’s ok, she’s resting right now.”

“But she’ll be ok right?” Noah worriedly asked.

“Oh yes. She’ll be good as new in a few weeks. She will have to take a few weeks off work," Elliot said with a smile.

“Noah that means she definitely won’t get called in to work on Christmas! She’ll get to stay with us!” Eli said, clapping him on the back.

Elliot smiled gratefully at Eli over Noah’s head and mouthed a thank you at him.

“Grandma B said Kathleen is driving me to school and we’re going shopping with Eli after school ‘caus I only have a half-day today," Noah said. “Can I go say bye to Mom?”

“She is asleep. She didn’t have a good night, so can we just let her sleep? How bout you FaceTime her when Kathleen picks you up from school?”

“Ok. I just feel bad that I said I hated her yesterday," he said, looking down at his shoes.

“Sometimes we say things we don’t mean when we’re upset. I know how you can make it up to her though," Elliot said, placing his hand on Noah’s back.

“How?” Noah asked, looking up at Elliot.

“Well, you gotta keep it a secret but Eli, Kathleen, Lizzie, Maureen and Dickie are all helping me make sure your Mom has the best Christmas ever! Do you think you can help?” Elliot asked.

“Sure I can help! I’m really good at keeping secrets! I didn’t tell Mom when you told me you were going to ask her to marry you," Noah said excitedly.

“Yes, you kept that secret from her for a month. I was proud of you," Elliot said as he moved his hand up to ruffle Noah’s hair.

All three of their heads turned as they heard Kathleen come in. “Hey, everyone! Good morning!” she called.

Elliot quickly stood up and held his finger to his mouth. “Liv is sleeping. She got hurt on duty. She had a bad night," he said quietly.

“Oh my god," Kathleen said. “What happened?”

“Shoulder dislocation and a concussion," he replied. “She’ll be out of work for a bit.”

“Grandma didn’t say she was hurt. She just said you needed help getting Noah off to school," Kathleen replied, flipping her blond hair to the side.

“Elliot, did Mom tell you I was supposed to get donuts to bring to the class Christmas party? Mom said we would get them on the way to school but she isn’t taking me today so I think she forgot.” Noah looked up at him expectedly.

“Ummm, no, I don’t remember her saying anything about donuts," Elliot said looking at Kathleen with raised eyebrows.

Noah looked down and sighed. “She forgot again.”

Kathleen walked over towards Noah and crouched down in front of him. “Sweetie, I don’t think she forgot, she got hurt. I bet as soon as she wakes up, she’ll remember her promise to you. Your mom would never forget on purpose. We’ll get your donuts for your party.”

“Let me get you some money," Elliot said as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He pulled out some cash and handed it to Kathleen.

~oOo~

After Kathleen left with Noah, he walked back into his room. She was still sleeping, and he was happy to see she looked very relaxed. He quietly took his shoes off and carefully climbed into bed. He laid as gently and quietly as he could, hoping he didn’t wake her.

“El?” she sleepily mumbled

“I’m right here. Do you need anything?” he asked.

“I have to get donuts for Noah’s Christmas party," she said with her eyes still closed.

“It’s already taken care of. Kathleen took him to get his donuts," he said as he shifted closer to her and put his right arm across her abdomen. “Go back to sleep, Liv.”

“I have so much to do. Christmas Eve is Friday. I still have gifts I need to buy," she said sleepily. She opened her eyes and glanced over at him.

“Today you will rest though. If you need anything that’s important, I will go get it or I can get one of the kids to get it. Please just let me take care of you, Liv. If our positions were reversed right now, and I wanted to get up and go shopping what would you say to me?” he asked.

“Low blow, Detective," she replied. “Low blow.”

“But am I wrong?” he asked, placing a kiss on her temple.

“Is Noah mad at me?” she asked as she laced the fingers of her right hand with his.

“No, he wasn’t mad. He felt bad you got hurt," Elliot replied.

She leaned her head against his. “I’m sorry you didn’t get much sleep," she whispered. “I kept you up.”

“Don’t ever apologize. I want to know if you get hurt, regardless of how minor, I want to know about it. You’ve done the same for me. Remember last month when I hurt my back? You stood up all night with me.”

“I just don’t want to be a burden and take away from Christmas," she said softly.

“Oh, Olivia.” He sighed. “You honestly think you’re taking away from Christmas because you got hurt?” Suddenly something occurred to him. “Tell me.”

“What?” she asked.

“Did you get hurt on Christmas when you were a kid and your mother said you ruined her Christmas?” He squeezed her fingers tight.

“When I was 9, I had appendicitis," she whispered. “I got an infection and was in the hospital for two weeks. She told me I ruined Christmas for her, then never came to visit me until I was released from the hospital.”

“This is the best Christmas because you and Noah are here. The first one we spend completely together as a family. You being hurt won’t take away from it, but you not being here sure as hell would. I am sorry for every bad Christmas you had in your life. You are not an obligation or a burden, I love you and I know this Christmas will be amazing because you will be here in this house. You and Noah will wear a pair of the matching pajamas that Maureen will insist we all wear. You will sit next to me on the couch, and I will have my arm wrapped around you as we watch our boys open presents. You will be a very important part of my Christmas, Olivia Benson," he said, his voice next to her ear.

She squeezed his hand tighter and brought it up and held it over her heart. “You always were a big part of mine. You always were so excited about Christmas. You could see it in your eyes, in how excited you always were to work overtime in October and November so you could make sure your kids got everything they wanted. I always wanted to work on Christmas because I loved your excitement and love for it. If I worked you got to have Christmas with your family, and I loved you so much even back then that it made me happy just knowing you were happy." She turned her head slightly so she could look at him. “It would be enough for me just to hear you talk about it.”

He shifted even closer to her, leaning in to kiss her nose before moving down and kissing her lips. “I loved spending Christmas with my family all those years, but you have to know I always felt like a big part of my heart was missing.”

She released his hand only to pull his arm tighter around her. As if he read her mind he laced the fingers of his right hand carefully with her left that was poking out of the sling. “How’s the shoulder feeling?”

“Not so bad anymore. When it happened it hurt so much," she said.

He slipped his other arm under her pillow. “It is definitely a pain you never forget. You gotta keep it in the sling until your follow-up," he said close to her ear. “You don’t want it to dislocate again.”

“How long am I out of work?” she asked.

“Couple of weeks," he replied. He waited for her to complain and say how ridiculous that was.

“Ok," she said. “I could use a break. I gotta let Fin know.”

“He already knows. Said he’ll call you tomorrow," Elliot said. He felt her shiver and he moved his hand from hers to reach down for the comforter that was at her waist. He pulled it up to their chests and then snaked his arm back under the blanket and across her again. “That better?”

“Much better," she said as she grasped his shirt with her right hand.

“Good," he said pressing his nose against her cheek. “Get some more sleep. I have a few surprises for you later," he said softly.

~oOo~

When she woke the second time, she felt so warm and comfortable. His arm was still draped across here, a warm welcome weight. She was annoyed that she got hurt, but she will take the bonus of the guaranteed time off that would allow her to have an uninterrupted Christmas with Noah and Elliot and his mom and kids. Her family. Their family.

She could’ve stayed where she was all day. If it wasn’t for her bladder strongly alerting her that she needed to get up, she likely would’ve.

She could tell by Elliot’s breathing he was still deeply asleep. She knew he hadn’t slept much the night before. He had waited up to hear from her before he went to bed and when he finally did go to bed, he wasn’t asleep for long when Fin had called him.

She tried as best she could to slip out from under his arm without waking him.

It was hard with her arm in the sling and from the sudden instances of severe dizziness thanks to her concussion.

She made it into the bathroom and back out just fine. She was almost back to the bed when she was hit with a wave of dizziness. She grabbed for the wall but instead grabbed onto the curtains and she and the curtains went crashing to the ground.

“Fuck," she cursed.

The noise woke Elliot and he jumped up. “Liv!”

“I’m ok.” She groaned. “I’m sorry for making a mess and waking you up.”

He quickly got out of bed and walked the few steps to her and crouched by her side. “Let’s get you up. Does anything hurt?” he worriedly asked.

“Nothing new hurts. I’m more embarrassed than anything else," she said looking into his eyes.

“Put your arm around my neck," he said. “I’m just gonna pick you up.”

The bedroom door opened and Bernie came rushing in. “Elliot! I heard a crash. Is everything ok?”

“Mama, we’re ok. Liv just lost her balance," Elliot said, turning to look at his mother.

“Well, what are you waiting for Elliot?” Bernie said frantically. “Help her up!”

Elliot sighed and looked at his mother. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

“You don’t have to pick me up. Just help me stand," she said.

“Put your arm around my neck Olivia," Elliot insisted. “You will stand when we make sure you’re ok and can stand.” He stared into her eyes.

She saw the way he gritted his teeth and the no-nonsense looking in his eyes, that he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Anyone else she would’ve fought with for telling her what to do, this was Elliot though.

“Ok," she said, giving in. “I just don’t want you to hurt yourself. I’m not nearly as light as I used to be you know.”

Elliot laughed out loud. “Lifting you is a piece of cake compared to what I lift in the gym, so stop with that," he said. “You know I think you’re perfect.”

She slid her good arm around his neck. He put one arm behind her back and the other under her legs. He effortlessly stood with her in his arms.

She grasped the back of his shirt and squeezed her eyes shut by pressing her face into his neck when another wave of dizziness hit her.

“I got you," he said. “You should’ve woken me up.”

“I wasn’t going to wake you up because I had to go to the bathroom Elliot," she said, her face still pressed into his neck.

He walked the few steps back to the bed and gently put her down so she was sitting on the side of the bed. He tilted her chin up so he could look into her eyes. Again, she could see the worry reflecting in his concerned gaze.

“You hurt anything? Shoulder? Ankle? Hit your head?” he asked

“No. I just got very dizzy, lost my balance, and made a mess," she said, pointing towards the curtain rod and the curtain.

Elliot shook his head. “I don’t care about that. As long as you’re ok, that’s all I care about.” He moved his hand to her cheek.

Bernie stepped up and pointed at her. “You’re just as stubborn as they come, aren’t you?”

Elliot smirked at her. “Mama, you have no idea just how stubborn she can be.”

She rolled her eyes at him. “I’m stubborn because I had to go to the bathroom?” she asked.

“You’re stubborn because you won’t ask for help," he said. He took his hand off her cheek and tapped the end of her nose.

She turned her head to the side and closed her eyes briefly. “That’s not something I can ask for help with," she said softly. No matter how hard it would be to go to the bathroom.

She looked back and saw the realization hit him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think when… I’m sorry.” He shook his head. “Damn.”

“No, it’s fine. I’m ok, really, I am.” She smiled at him. “I promise I’m ok.”

“Are you hungry?” he asked.

“A little," she said with a nod.

“I’ll make eggs," Bernie exclaimed as she started to walk out of the room.

Elliot looked at Olivia and saw the almost panicked look on her face. “Mama, no eggs, ok? I’ll handle it.”

Eggs were a food she couldn’t eat after Lewis. They used to be one of her favorite foods, but in her time with Lewis, he would cook eggs and eat them as he taunted her. The smell of eggs was enough to turn her stomach. If they were in a quiche or mixed into something else, it wasn’t so bad. She could be out to eat and be around people eating eggs but if they were presented to her on a plate that was a different story.

“If she wants eggs… Elliot, it’s ok," she said, looking up at him.

“Nah. I’m not in the mood for eggs though. Haven’t had a bagel in forever. You want a bagel?” he asked.

“Bagels sound good," she said with a smile.

“Ok," Bernie said, turning around and walking out.

“Ok, I’ll go get some at the bagel place up the street, the one you like," he said. “Want to stay in here or go out to the kitchen?”

“I’ll go out there," she said.

“Ok.” He picked up his hoodie that he put on her at the hospital to take her home. “Let me help you. Go slow so you don’t get dizzy.”

She nodded and reached her right hand up to him. He grasped it and slowly helped her to her feet.

He picked up the hoodie and put it on her right arm and draped it over her left and zippered it up. He tucked the left sleeve into the pocket.

She stepped forward and wrapped her right arm around him, she turned her head into his neck and closed her eyes. She felt one of his arms come up around her waist and the other found its way to the middle of her back. She would never tire of being in his arms. When she was with him, she felt safe, didn’t feel the need to be in control. She could let her guard down and know with certainty that he would protect her.

“Sorry I woke you up," she said into his neck.

“Don’t be. I sent an alarm for 9:45 anyway. I have packages that should arrive today," he said close to her ear.

“No work for you today?” she asked, knowing he took the day off because of her injury.

“Do you really think I was going to work with you having gotten hurt? We don’t have much going on right now. When I called her this morning, Bell suggested I take some vacation time and I agreed, so I’m off until after New Year’s.”

“I will enjoy having you off work with me," she said.

“It will be nice. Also, we won’t have to worry about either one of us getting called in on Christmas," he said as he started to sway back and forth.

“How’s the shoulder feeling?” he asked.

“It’s starting to hurt a little," she replied.

“You want something for it?” he asked.

“Yes. Maybe some Ibuprofen or Tylenol," she said.

A knock sounded on the door and it opened.

“Dad?” They bother turned towards Eli’s voice.

“Hey, bud, what’s up?” Elliot asked, tightening his hold on her as she tried to pull away.

“Sorry to interrupt. Grandma said you were going to get bagels, do you want me to go get them for you?” he asked.

“Yes, that would be great," he replied.

“What do you want?” Eli asked.

“We’ll have one everything with olive pimento cream cheese, a marble with plain cream cheese, and then whatever you and Grandma want. My wallet is right there on the dresser.” He pointed to the dresser closet to the door. “Take some money.”

“Ok," Eli said with a nod. As he reached for his Dad’s wallet he said, “Hope you feel better soon, Liv.”

“Thanks, honey," she said, not moving her face from Elliot’s shoulder.

“You want some coffee?” he asked.

“I do," she said with a laugh. “You’re gonna let me ignore the doctor’s orders of no caffeine?”

“We both have willingly ignored that order more times than I can count, and we’re both too dependent on caffeine to cut it out in any capacity.” He pulled away to look at her face. “You have a bruise right here.” He lightly brushed his fingers across her temple. “I bet it will get worse over the next few days.”

“I twisted my body as I was falling trying to protect my ankle. Doctor told me my ankle is solid with the plate and screws and it would’ve probably have been fine," she said.

He leaned forward tipping his head down slightly to kiss her. “Let’s go get you that Tylenol.”

He walked with her towards the kitchen, with his arm around her waist. This time she was able to avoid dizzy spells. Which led her to believe maybe she had just gotten up too quickly.

Elliot guided her to one of the stools at the counter and helped her onto it. “I’m going to get the coffee started," he said squeezing her shoulder as he walked away.

She watched as he walked to the other side of the counter and opened a cabinet on the right. He pulled out a bag of coffee beans and poured them into the coffee grinder. He checked that it was on the right setting before he turned it on.

The smell of fresh ground coffee filled the kitchen.

~oOo~

“I’m just going to get my phone," she said getting up from the chair. A sudden wave of dizziness hit her, she squeezed her eyes shut and reached out for the counter.

Elliot was by her side in seconds. He grasped her right bicep and her waist. “Back on the stool, Benson," he said.

She opened her eyes and saw concern and worry in his eyes. “I got up too fast," she said. “I’m ok.”

“You sure?” he asked. “You know, I would’ve gotten your phone for you," he said, shaking his head. “Please, back on the stool, Liv.”

She sighed and sat back down.

Elliot walked back into the bedroom and came out a few seconds later with her phone in his hand. He walked back to her. “Here you go," he said, handing her phone to her.

“Thank you," she mumbled.

He shook his head and walked back around the counter. He measured the coffee out into the filter and filled the carafe with water from the sink.

“I forgot Noah has a half-day at school today," she said with a sigh. “How did I forget that.”

“Don’t worry. Remember he’s going shopping with Eli and Kathleen? She’s gonna pick him up and they’ll go from there.”

“Oh.” She shook her head. “I guess I forgot about that too. I think I’m losing my mind," she said, her tone laced with frustration.

Elliot reached across the counter to put his hand on hers. “It’s normal with the concussion, besides, Kathleen was all over it. She knew, and Eli knew. Noah would’ve been taken care of either way.

She nodded her head. “Yeah, you’re right," she said softly.

“We’re back," Bernie’s voice called out. She and Eli walked into the kitchen. “You know, you both have the most horrible taste in bagels. Horrid combinations," she said, shaking her head.

“Grandma you got a salt bagel with lox, cream cheese, and tomato," Eli said with a grimace. He set the bag on the counter and he reached into the bag and took all the bagels out and placed them on the counter before he threw the paper bag away.

“Well, I’m sorry Mr. Cinnamon Raisin bagel with cinnamon cream cheese," Bernie said with a laugh. She reached down to take her bagel. “Now if you’ll excuse me I have General Hospital to catch up on." She walked out of the kitchen towards the bedroom she stayed at while she was over.

“Lox. I never understand the appeal,” Elliot said with a grimace.

Olivia laughed. “Remember Munch used to smell the squad room up with his lox?”

“Ugh. How can I forget.” He pulled down two coffee mugs from the cabinet. “You want some, Eli?”

“Nah. I’m good. I got a game scheduled with Gio though. I’m going to take mine into my room," he picked up his bagel and walked towards his room. “Let me know when Kathleen gets here.”

She watched as Elliot filled two cups of coffee, he turned to the fridge and opened it to get the cream and put a splash in both cups. He put both cups on the counter, one in front of her, the other in front of where he would sit.

Elliot walked back around the counter and sat on the stool next to her. Without having to ask, he opened both bagels up. Like any good New York bagel they were cut in half and loaded with cream cheese smear. He took one half of everything with olive pimento cream cheese and one half of marble rye with plain cream cheese for him and the one for her.

“No one else likes to share bagels with me," she said with a smile.

“Well, I only like to share bagels with you," he replied.

“I really want to take this off, it’s so annoying," she said, pointing toward the sling.

“You really should wear it when you’re moving around and if you go out. If you’re sitting down and relaxing it should be fine to take it off for a bit," he said with a shrug.

“I just have so much to do this week, this really makes it inconvenient. I have presents I still need to buy, I have things to wrap, and I just don’t know how I’ll get it all done," she said, shaking her head.

“I’ll help you. You rest today, and you can send me or ask Lizzie or Dickie. I’m sure they will want to help," he said, reaching out to squeeze her arm.

“I didn’t want to wait until the last minute, I’ve just been so busy at work and now this," she said.

“Well, for now, eat your bagel and drink your coffee. We will figure it all out, I promise.” He reached across the counter for a bottle of Tylenol. He opened it and shook two out into his hand and held them out to her.

“Thanks," she said, taking them and swallowing both with a sip of coffee. She hated to be restricted by an injury. She hated to not be in control. Since she and Elliot had started seeing each other though, she liked to relinquish some of the control when she was with him.

She didn’t have to be in charge and make decisions. She could just sit back and just be. Just enjoy. As much as it sucked to have gotten hurt, and to be out of work, Elliot would be with her. They would have a lot of time together.

She turned towards him. “So, what are my surprises?” she asked with a smile. Taking one of her bagel pieces and opening it up.

Elliot turned to her with a big grin on his face. “There are surprises. Be patient," he said with a smile.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had a good bagel," she said. “You know McGrath sent us bagels yesterday morning from Dunkin Donuts. Amazing bagels all around and he sends us bagels from Dunkin Donuts.” She shook her head.

“He sure is a piece of work," Elliot said. “I don’t like him.”

“He’s an asshole," she said shaking her head. “I didn’t want to do that press conference yesterday, but it does seem maybe it led to getting the guy.”

“I could tell you didn’t want to do it. Just by watching it. I could see the looks Fin kept shooting at McGrath," he said, reaching for his own bagel.

The doorbell rang. Elliot got up from his stool and went to answer it.

She picked up her phone and noticed she had a voicemail. She pressed play on her phone and brought it to her ear.

“Ms. Benson this Mike at Dwellar’s Jewelry. I just wanted to let you know the items in your order are ready for pick up.”

She placed her phone down on the counter. She was so nervous Elliot’s gift wouldn’t be ready in time, now that it was she had to figure out how to pick it up. She knew she could probably ask Fin to get it.

There was one other gift she was very excited to give. One for the whole family. She knew Elliot would probably be upset she didn’t talk to him about it first. Maybe she would let him in on the secret.

Elliot walked back into the kitchen, carrying five boxes. “These are yours," he said handing her a padded envelope and two white boxes. “These are mine," he said with a smile.

She cringed when she saw him carrying the stack of boxes. She could see two boxes that were part of that gift. “We should talk about something," she said with apprehension. “You might be mad at me thought.” She looked up at him with a guilt-ridden expression.

“Ok," Elliot said with a worried expression on his face. “Let me put these away.”

“Actually, we shouldn’t do it here," she said looking at him again with a guilt-ridden expression again.

“You shouldn’t go out; you need to rest," he said, shaking his head.

“I’ll be with you though, and you wouldn’t want to ruin Christmas presents, would you?” she asked. “This is one I got for everyone, and I just decided I want to let you in on the surprise early.”

He sighed. “Olivia, what did you do?” he said, shaking his head.

She could see a hint of a smile on his face. “What you need to remember is it’s for everyone, and that you love me," she said, her face breaking into a big smile.

“Oh really? Let me go put these down, and then we’ll discuss this further.” He walked out of the room, glancing back at her several times, grin still on his face.

~oOo~

He walked into his bedroom, curious as to what she was going to tell him. He put the packages down on a chair in the corner of the room. He ripped open the top one and pulled out the shiny gold box.

He smiled to himself as he walked out of the room, box in hand. “Close your eyes," he called out.

“What?” She said. “Turning slightly.”

“Eyes straight ahead, Captain!” he ordered. “And close them or you don’t get your surprise.”

She sighed. “This better be good," she jokingly replied.

He walked back over to her and placed the box down in front of her. He put his mouth close to her ear and whispered. “Ok, you can open them now.”

She opened her eyes and when she saw the box in front of her, she gasped. She looked over at him and brought her right hand up to her mouth and her eyes filled with tears. “You found them," she tearfully said.

He smiled at her. “I did. With Eli’s help. I described them to him, and he told me what he thought they were. I guess we did good?” he said as he reached and tucked her hair behind her ear. He felt his heart catch at how much this simple gesture meant to her.

She nodded, with her hand still pressed to her face. Tears now spilled down her cheeks. “Yes, you did," she said, launching forward to throw her arm around his neck.

“I told you I was going to make sure you had the best Christmas ever this year," he said in her ear. He felt her press her face down on his shoulder. He held he to him tighter, trying his best to be careful with her hurt shoulder.

“Just being with you and having a big family Christmas is all I need for that," she said, her voice muffled being pushed against his shoulder.

“Well, you’re still getting an extra special Christmas this year, you already have the big family that loves and adores you," he said. He tried to pull away so he could see her face, but she held on to the back of his shirt.

“I don’t think you know just how much this means to me Elliot," she whispered. “My Grandmother was my first best friend, and you were my second. It may seem ridiculous to get so emotional over chocolate, but I know this took effort. Thank you," she said, releasing his shirt and pulling away slightly.

He brought his hands up and cupped her cheeks. He looked into her eyes that still shone bright with unshed tears. “There isn’t anything in this world I wouldn’t do for you," he said. “You’re everything to me, and I will spend the rest of my life making sure you’re happy.”

He leaned forward and kissed her. His intention was to keep it a simple kiss, Olivia on the other hand had other things in mind. He felt her hand move from grasping his shirt to his neck. After a simple chaste kiss, his original intention, her hand moved to the back of his neck and her lips caught his lower lip. All it took was her hand urging him on, for him to get caught up in the kiss.

He ended the kiss when he felt her fall forward coming completely off her chair. He removed his hands from her face and brought one down to her right bicep and the other down to her waist. “You, ok?” he asked with a grin on his face.

She nodded. “I’m good," she whispered.

Hid face still close to hers, he whispered, “You gonna open that?” He nodded towards the box in front of her.

“I only have one hand right now; I’ll need your help," she replied.

He kissed her once more before he pulled away and reached for the box. He took the cover off the golden box and poked a hole into the plastic that wrapped the box. He picked it up and pulled the plastic wrapping off the box before he placed it back down in front of her.

She looked up at him with a smile. “I loved them all, but the gold ones and the blue ones were my favorites.” She sighed at the memory. “My Grandmother would pick me up at school and have one for the walk home, and whenever I was sad she always seemed to have one in her pocket to pull out and give to me.”

“I remember you mentioned her rice pudding too. I don’t have your grandmother’s recipe, but I have my grandmother’s rice pudding recipe I thought we could make it together on Christmas Eve," he said with shrug.

She put her hand to her chest. “Are you trying to make me cry again?” she asked, her eyes filling with tears again. “I would love to make it with you.” She reached for him again and wrapped her good arm around him as tight as she could. “I don’t deserve you," she whispered.

“Olivia Benson, you deserve so much more than I can give you," he replied, wrapping his arms around her tight. “So much more.”

“Please remember that when I tell you what I have to tell you. I was going to keep you out of it and surprise you along with everyone else, but you need to be in on this too," she said. “It’s big. Really big.”

He pulled back to look at her face. “What did you do?” he asked with a smile. He watched as she picked one of the foil-wrapped chocolates. She selected a gold one and she picked out a blue one and handed it to him.

“Try this one," she said. She opened the gold wrapper and pulled out the chocolate and took a bite from it. “Just like I remember it!” she said with a smile.

“I got you plenty. Your supply will never run out.” He unwrapped the blue foil wrapper and popped it in his mouth. “That is very good. I can see why you like them.”

“I never had them after my grandmother died. How did you figure out what kind they were from my vague description?”

“You gave half the name,” he tapped the box that was printed with Barratti & Milano, “and when I told Eli about the bright colored foil wrappers that you mentioned he knew right away.”

“Thank you," she said reaching for his hand. “This means so much to me.”

He grasped her hand and brought it to his lips. “Well, there’s more coming your way," he said with a grin.

“We should talk," she said softly. “Can we go outside? It’s not very cold out today. I don’t want anyone to hear us.”

He looked at her curiously. “We can do that.” He got up from the stool and reached for her hand.

“Grab those boxes too.” She tilted her chin towards the two long white boxes he placed on the counter.

“Ok," he said, picking up the boxes and putting them under his arm, and walking with her towards the door.

He reached for the doorknob and opened it. He stepped outside, still holding her hand, and led her to the table and chairs.

She released his hand and sat down. She took a deep breath.

He watched how nervous she had become. “Liv, just tell me. I doubt I’ll be mad.”

“Ok.” She took another deep breath and looked over at him as he sat down. “So, I decided I wanted this Christmas to be full of good memories. Then I thought what would be better than our family making a memory together. When I realized Maureen, Carl, Kathleen, Lizzie, and Dickie all had the same time period off in February that coincided with school vacation I requested the time off and called in some favors for you to get the time off too.”

“Ok," Elliot said nodding. “You want us to go on vacation together? That actually sounds very fun. What favors did you have to call in for me to get that time off?”

She nods and refuses to meet his eyes. “Well, we don’t need to talk about that, I have it under control.”

“Liv…" Elliot started.

“Ok, we might be babysitting a lot over the next several months," she said with a shrug and smile.

He shook his head and laughed. “Ok do you have a destination in mind?”

“I do actually. I already booked it and paid for it. For 13 days all of us are going to Disney World," she said.

“You paid for all of it?” Elliot asked, a shocked expression on his face.

She nodded. “Round trip airfare, Disney Beach Club resort, 10-day park hopper passes with water park option, Disney meal plan, and transportation to and from the airport," she said looking at him and biting her lip. “I was going to surprise everyone on Christmas Day, but when I realized these two packages were amongst your pile I thought maybe I should let you in on the secret.”

Elliot sighed. “This must’ve cost a lot, Liv.”

“I just thought we would have fun; the boys would have fun. I’m sorry if I overstepped," she said wincing.

“Please don’t apologize. I’m just worried about you paying for all of it." He shook his head and laughed. “I can’t believe you did all of this!”

“Don’t worry about the cost. I can handle it, I promise. This will be from you as well Elliot. This is a gift for our family. Do you think everyone will like it?” she asked.

“Oh, I know they’ll love it, and I know we will have plenty of babysitters around to have some time to ourselves. You have to let me pay for some of it," he said.

“El it’s already paid for. I booked this the day after Thanksgiving," she said, reaching for his hand. “Please let me do this. It’s from us, but I already took care of it. I need you to help me think of how to reveal it to everyone.”

He took her hand and squeezed it. “You really are something else," he said with a smile. “I know you’re a closet Disney fan.”

“I just want us all to have some good memories together as a family, before we moved in here Noah has only just had me. He told me months ago he wishes we could have a big family vacation like all his friends have and then when I was thinking about I thought about how much fun it would be.”

He sat forward in his seat. “I love you so much. You have the biggest heart, Olivia. I am fully on board with this.” His blue eyes shinned with amusement. “Now I want you to tell me five thing you’ve always wanted to do at Christmastime that you never did as a child or as an adult. The catch is they have to be for you, not for Noah, or me, or my mother, or any of my kids or grandkids. They have to be for you.”

“Elliot, do you understand that I am already going to have the most amazing Christmas just because I get to spend every single second of it with you? That’s all I could have ever wanted. You’re here for me, and for Noah and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

“Please indulge me Liv?” he pleaded. “I really want to experience Christmas firsts with you please let me do this.”

She nodded. “Even if they’re cliché boring things?” she asked.

“Whatever you want I will try my hardest to make it happen by Christmas. Tell me some of the things you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t.” He looked at her intensely, waiting for her response.

“I honestly don’t know.” She looked down. “When we started rebuilding our friendship last year, I vowed to myself that I would try to always look to the future and not on the past. I know I let myself get drawn in sometimes when I have triggers or flashbacks and that case, I had last week really threw me down memory lane, but I don’t expect you to make up for my crappy childhood Christmases, but I am looking forward to seeing your family Christmas traditions and being included in them and having some new ones of our own. I honestly have all I’ve ever wanted Elliot, really, I do. Can you just share with me things you did or do at Christmastime that you love and feel like you have to do every year? I honestly don’t know what normal families do for Christmas, I tried hard to make sure Noah didn’t miss out on things but who knows maybe I’ve deprived him.”

Her admission to him warmed his heart but he also felt sad for her. She really had nothing specific she wanted to do? Mundane things he and others took for granted, like making cookies and matching pajamas. “You’re an amazing mother to Noah. You haven’t deprived him.” He shook his head. “You would never deprive him.” He stood up and held his hand out to her.

She took his hand and stood up. He opened his arms to her and when she stepped forward, he wrapped his arms around her. “You are amazing. I promise you this Christmas will be the best you’ve ever had. You planned this amazing vacation for our family. I can’t wait to tell them all about it on Christmas day.”

He felt her arm hold on to the back of his shirt. She was shorter in her slippers. He reached down to gasp her chin and tilted her head up towards him. “You holding on tight?” he asked. “Wouldn’t want you to lose your balance," he said with a smirk before his lips descended on hers.

~oOo~

December 22

“I can help with the wrapping you know," she said, shaking her head. “It’s going to take a long time if just you do it.”

“I got a decent amount done," Elliot said, coming to sit beside her on the bed. “How’s the arm feeling?” he asked, pointing to her shoulder.

“It feels fine, a little stiff but it’s not hurting me," she replied.

“Good. You feel up to going out for a while? Being festive and finishing up some shopping?” he asked with a smile.

“Being festive?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Well, I figured we could do some shopping, walk around and look at the decorations on 5 th and take a peek at the tree," he said with a shrug. “If you’re up for it of course.”

“That could work," she said with a nod. “Can we take an uber in and take my car home? I don’t want to leave it sitting there longer than I have to.”

“You read my mind," he said with a grin, reaching forward to tap her on the nose.

“Any suggestions on an easy way to maneuver this with a coat?” she asked pointing to her sling.

“We might be able to just drape your coat over that arm," he suggested.

“I just gotta ask Amanda something," she said as she pulled out her phone.

Can you do me a favor?

A: Sure, what do you need?

Elliot and I are coming to pick up my car a little later on today, can you pick up something for me? It’s Elliot’s present and Fin will tell him I know I can trust you. It’s at Dwellars Jewelers.

A: No problem. It’s on 8 th right?

Yes. It’s all paid for.

A: Let me know when you’re coming for your car, I’ll bring it down. If for whatever reason I have to leave before you get here, I’ll leave it on your desk.

That will work. It’s already wrapped. I already saw a picture of it. Thank you. I owe you.

A: No problem! ☺

She turned and smiled at Elliot. “Ready when you are.”

Lizzie and Dickie had agreed to spend the day with Noah and Eli. They were gearing up for a Monopoly marathon.

“Let’s get out of here before the crying starts. Dickie is a real sore loser when it comes toM," Elliot said loudly.

“I heard that, Dad!” Dickie exclaimed from the other room.

She was dressed in dark jeans, with a stretchy black t-shirt, an emerald, green cardigan, and her Ugg boots. Elliot also wore jeans with a grey henley and his sneakers.

Elliot was able to drape her coat over her left arm in the sling. She looked at him as he buttoned her coat. “You sure you won’t get sick of having to button my coat for me?” she asked with a smile.

“Never," he said, pulling her close to him. He kissed the tip of her nose before moving down to capture her lips in a slow, lingering kiss.

“Gross." Noah groaned behind them. “Can’t you wait until you’re out of the house before you slobber all over each other?”

“Yeah, Dad. Stop slobbering all over Liv," Dickie called out.

“I think our kids are teaming up against us," he said to her as he pulled away to put his own coat on.

“Noah loves being with them," she said, watching as he and Eli set up the Monopoly board while Lizzie made popcorn and Dickie got them all drinks.

She smiled as she watched. Her boy was so happy. He loved Elliot so much. He adored Maureen, Kathleen, and Lizzie, and he absolutely idolized Dickie and Eli. Noah would have what she never had at his age. He would have a family; he would have the most amazing Christmas.

~oOo~

Forty minutes later, he helped her out of the Uber that dropped them across from Rockefeller Center. Elliot smiled as he looked at all the Christmas decorations that shimmered and sparkled in the sunlight.

He always thought it didn’t feel like Christmas until he walked around this area and saw the decorations and the Christmas tree. He’d never taken anyone besides his kids when they were younger. Kathy never liked the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. She would avoid it whenever possible preferring to stay in Queens.

He wrapped his arm around her waist as they waited to cross the street. Her injured shoulder was close to his body despite her wanting to hold his hand. He told her he didn’t want someone to bang into her.

The walk sign signaled they could walk, and they walked to the other side of the street and made their way up 51 st towards the Christmas tree. The air had a crisp feeling to it and you could almost smell the snow that was forecasted to fall.

“When I was a kid, it never felt like Christmas until my mother took us into the city to see the decorations and the Christmas tree,” he said with a sigh, a big grin adorning his face.

She glanced over at him and smiled. “You always complained about this area, saying you hated the tourist traps of the city, yet that grin on your face still looks the same as when we would come look at this tree when we would be on lunch break or a coffee break.

“You know, I have these memories of my mom bundling us all up and we’d take the train into the city. It always left me with this feeling of excitement in the pit of my stomach," he said as they continued their walk. The Christmas tree was now in their sights with the skating rink behind it.

“My mother never wanted to come. She thought it a waste of time that I could spend reading or doing something more useful," she said softly. They walked a few more feet before they came to a stop, both of them staring up at the 79-foot Christmas tree.

Elliot looked over at her. “You know I only ever came here with my mother, my children, and you. Kathy thought it a waste of time too. It always held a special place in my heart but in all our time together she never came here with me," he said, shaking his head slightly.

He was interrupted by an elderly woman tapping his arm. “Would you mind snapping a photo of my grandson and me? We will repay the favor and take one of the both of you.”

He smiled at the woman. “Sure.” He removed his arm from around her shoulders and took several shots of the woman and her grandson who by his guess was 10 or 11.

“Ok, now you two!” the woman said happily.

Elliot stepped back towards Oliva and wrapped his arm around her waist again. She turned in towards him slightly and rested her right hand on his chest. Both had big smiles on their faces.

“Ok, now you should look at each other,” the elderly woman instructed. “Sammy make sure you get the tree in the background.”

“Yes grandma," the boy said with a bored-sounding tone to his voice.

“Ok, now you have to kiss," the woman exclaimed, clapping her hands together. “What a nice Christmas memory!”

Elliot looked at her and grinned. “You heard the lady, now we have to kiss," he said. He already knew he would have all these pictures on his desk at work. He had only wanted to take her to look at the tree because of how it had made him feel as a kid, he didn’t even think of getting a picture of them.

They spent Christmas Day together last year when he invited her and Noah over but they hadn’t been together as a couple until after the New Year, so this would be a new Christmas memory for them both.

Elliot leaned forward and grasped the back of her neck and gently pulled her face towards his and kissed her.

“Oh, that’s a lovely picture," the woman said. “Sammy give him back his phone. Have a Merry Christmas you two!”

Elliot laughed as he took his phone back. “Merry Christmas," he called out as the woman and her grandson walked away.

He held his phone out so she could see as he flipped between the three pictures. “I have to say, Benson, we make a pretty good-looking couple," he said with a grin.

“I love them," she whispered. “Send them to me?”

He nodded. “I’ll do it right now.” He quickly sent the pictures to her. He also sent them to Maureen, including a quick text to ask if Carl could print up some copies for him. His son-in-law was a photographer, he did work for the New York Times and People Magazine. The NYPD had even utilized his services numerous times.

He had no doubt Carl would work his magic and give him amazing copies of the photos.

Olivia smiled at him. “Thank you for taking me here. I honestly only came here with Noah and you, but it’s different this time with you. It feels so different. It feels…" she started to say.

“It feels magical," he said with a grin. “I feel it too.” He reached out to tuck her hair behind her ear.

“Yes, it’s magical," she said, leaning into resting her head on his shoulder. “I experienced two firsts with you looking up at this Christmas tree.”

He wrapped his arms around her, drawing her closer to his chest. “Yeah?” he asked.

“That first time we stood here looking up at it, late at night, it was the first time I looked at it with that being my goal. The first time you took me here after a hard case in our second year as partners, to remind me that there still was light in the dark world we lived in, and today you took me here and it feels like I’m seeing that light again. I’m feeling Christmas magic with you. It’s not me creating Christmas magic for Noah’s sake. It’s you sharing Christmas magic with me," she said, leaning her forehead against his chin.

He moved his head slightly to place a kiss on her temple. “Christmas feels different with you, Liv. I can’t explain it, but I feel lighter. I can feel it everywhere.”

“That’s how I always feel when I’m next to you El," she said. “ My heart feels complete standing next to you.”

~oOo~

5:45 pm

They did some last-minute shopping at the Lego store and the Nintendo store for Eli, Noah, Seamus, and Kieran.

He’d bought her gingerbread cookies and peppermint hot chocolate, insisting she take a picture with Santa in front of Saks.

He pretended to be annoyed when she insisted on buying every family member personalized embroidered Mickey ears and personalized ornaments, but she knew he was playing.

He loved the excitement on her face as she told him how she couldn’t wait for everyone to find out about the trip.

God, he loved her. He loved seeing her smile, seeing her happy.

When he purposely drove past the exit on the bridge that would bring them home, she looked over at him in question.

“I’m going to show you another of my childhood favorites at Christmastime. You weren’t with us when I took Noah and Eli last week," he said, keeping his eyes on the road.

She had her arm in the sling resting on the center console. He moved his right hand from the steering wheel and gripped her fingers.

“Elliot where are we going?” she questioned when she notice he was driving towards his old neighborhood in Queens.

“Just trust me, Liv,” he said. “You’ll love it, trust me.” He smiled as he anticipated her reaction.

He turned down the street he knew was most elaborately decorated. He heard her gasp when she saw it.

“Look at these houses! Look how pretty they are with all the lights and decorations," she said in a breathy tone.

“I always loved when my mother would take us on rides to see all these houses decorated with all the lights. I always wished to have a house decorated like these," he said purposely slowing his speed so she could see the lights and decorations adorned on all the houses on the street.

“Wow. This must take so much time and effort," she said.

Her face was almost pressed against the passenger side window her right hand pressed against the glass close to her face. “I love the lights and the colors," she sighed. “Red, green, blue, silver, and gold were always my favorite colors. I loved red because of poinsettias. When I was a little girl, I always dreamed of getting married on Christmas Eve so I could have poinsettias and Christmas lilies in my bouquet and specifically on Christmas Eve because it was the best night of the year," she said softly.

Elliot stopped the car. Her words hit him full-on. “How come you didn’t yell me this?” he asked. “Why haven’t we talked about this, Liv?”

“Because it isn’t fair of me to make Christmas all about me," she said, shaking her head. “It seemed a little girl fantasy that just couldn’t come true.”

Elliot quickly pulled into a nearby space. He turned off the car, unfastened his seatbelt, and opened the door. He got out and quickly walked to the passenger side.

He opened her door and reached over to unfasten her seatbelt.

She turned towards him to with a confused look on her face. “Elliot…” she began, unable to finish her sentence.

“Oliva, is that what you want? Is that what you deep down in your heart want more than anything?” He reached forward and cupped her cheek with his right hand.

“I can’t take Christmas and make it about me Elliot," she said, shaking her head. “It wouldn’t be right.”

He could see the longing in her brown eyes. The Christmas lights from a nearby house bathed her face in lights.

“Olivia, why can’t you? It wouldn’t just be about you, it would be about us.” He was starting to feel excited, an idea brewing in his head. Could they make it work?

“It wouldn’t be fair to your kids, Elliot," she said. “I don’t want to hurt your kids.”

“My kids love you so much. We can make this happen. Let’s make one of your dreams come true," he said, intently staring into her eyes.

“It wouldn’t be just one," she said, her eyes brimming with tears. “It would be four dreams.”

“Four?” Elliot questioned.

She leaned into Elliot’s hand and brought her right hand up and placed it over his heart. “My four dreams. First — Get married at Christmas, Second — Marrying you, Third — Officially having a family.” Suddenly she looked down. Tears started to flow down her cheeks.

Elliot could feel his own eyes brimming with tears. “What is number four, Liv?” he asked, his voice thick with emotion.

“Fourth — You being Noah’s Dad, you adopting him," she said in a sob.

“I already consider him my own, Liv," he said, wiping at her tears. “He’s already mine.” He leaned forward and kissed her. A slow lingering kiss. Her hand pressed against his heart and his cupping her cheek.

She pulled back to look at him. “We don’t have time to make this happen," she said, shaking her head. “Christmas Eve is in two days. Today is basically over so we only have tomorrow.”

“Is that a challenge?” he asked, his blue eyes sparkling. “I’m up for it if you are.”

He watched as the thought of the possibility of making it work crossed her mind. “Could we really make it happen?”

“I think we could, honestly. Isn’t Carisi ordained? He was supposed to marry Fin and Phoebe, right?” Elliot asked.

Olivia’s eyes grew wide. “Yes. We can make this happen. We really can make this happen!” she exclaimed.

~oOo~

December 23

“We’re really getting married tomorrow night," she whispered. It was just after 5:30 am and her head rested on his chest.

“We really are," he whispered back, kissing her temple. He was amazed at how quickly their family and friends jumped into action.

Fin, of course, knew of a jeweler that owed him a favor that was able to make them wedding bands.

Carisi jumped at the chance to marry them and had an uncle in Staten Island that assured he could provide suits for Noah, Eli, Dickie, Kieran, and Seamus.

Amanda’s girls would be flower girls.

Everyone thought Liv would be disappointed to not have time to secure a wedding dress, but Lizzie and Kathleen had sworn they would find her something. She was set to head out with them in a few hours.

Phoebe had a cousin that was a florist that promised a room full of poinsettias and Christmas lilies.

They would get married on the terrace and then have a small party inside with their closest friends and family of course.

Fin came in clutch and managed to help with last-minute catering and had even convinced Chief McGrath to have Queens and Bronx SVU cover their cases and anything that should come up so all could attend the wedding.

“I can’t believe we’re going to pull this off,” Olivia exclaimed happily.

“Oh, I did. I knew we would pull it off somehow. Anything is possible at Christmastime, Liv.” He felt her hand find his.

“I know you probably would’ve to get married in a church," she said. “If you would rather that I wouldn’t be upset you know.”

This amazing woman always put everyone ahead of herself. When faced with the opportunity to have her dreams come true, she would selflessly give it up to make him happy.

“I am faced with the ability to help make your dreams come true, Olivia. We’ve both had our fair share of Christmases that weren’t happy. We’re getting married on Christmas Eve, Olivia Benson," he insisted.

“Benson-Stabler," she corrected.

“Olivia Benson-Stabler, I like the sound of that," he said.

~oOo~

A classic ballgown silhouette got a modern, romantic revival in a spectacular unembellished satin wedding dress. An off-the-shoulder neckline and crisp seams down the bodice create a figure-flattering taper at the waist, which transforms with slight pleats into a dramatic ball gown skirt. The color of the dress was a deep red that coincidentally was called Christmas red.

 

“You girls don’t think it’s too much? Or that I’m too old?” Olivia asked, smoothing her hands over the dress as she stared at herself in the mirror.

Maureen, Kathleen, and Lizzie stood to her left, and Amanda stood to her right.

Kathleen looked at her, tears filling her blue eyes that mirrored Elliot’s. “You look beautiful, Olivia," she said.

“I knew this dress would look amazing on you!” Lizzie exclaimed.

“You look amazing Liv," Amanda said softly next to her. “Wait til he sees you in this dress.”

Maureen stepped forward and put her hands on Olivia’s shoulders and stared at her in the mirror. “Liv, this dress looks like it was made for you.”

Lizzie bent down and pulled the dress up slightly. “I think silver shoes will go amazingly," she said.

“We will have to make sure we don’t get too big a heal, we don’t want her to fall with that ankle,” Kathleen said, pointing to Liv’s right ankle.

Amanda smiled. “Your Dad won’t let her fall," she said reaching out to pull Liv’s hair up. “How should we do your hair?”

“You girls have to help me convince your dad that I’m not wearing the sling. I don’t want it in the pictures," Olivia said.

“Don’t worry," Maureen said. “Carl already knows not to take pictures if you’re wearing the sling. Plus, I’ll hide it and it will miraculously turn up after the wedding.”

“This is really happening," Olivia whispered, her eyes filling with tears.

“It sure is," Amanda said. “Jesse and Billy are so excited to be flower girls.”

“Seamus and Kieran are so excited to carry the rings," Maureen gushed.

Lizzie stood up as the associate came back into the room and handed her a white faux fur shawl. “And this is the finishing touch!” she exclaimed, placing the shawl around Olivia’s shoulders.

“We’re going to wear green," Amanda said. “You will be the only one wearing red. The ties for Elliot and the boys will be red.”

I want them to wear ties. Not bow ties," Olivia said. “I never liked bow ties," she said, crinkling her nose.

“You just like the way Dad looks with a tie, Liv," Kathleen joked.

“All those years working next to him huh?” Amanda joked.

Olivia’s face flushed with the beginnings of a blush. “We never did… when we worked together nothing ever…”

“Liv we know nothing happened with you Dad when you were partners," Maureen said.

“I’m sorry," Amanda said. “I didn’t mean any disrespect."

“Don’t worry," Kathleen said, reaching out to touch Amanda’s arm.

“Ok, I’m ready," Olivia said. “This is my dress.”

~oOo~

“Wow," Fin exclaimed as Dickie showed him a picture Lizzie sent him. “Damn, Stabler, wait till you see her in that dress.”

“I can’t wait," Elliot said. He was still amazed at how quickly they had pulled all this together. When he decided days ago he wanted to make this the best Christmas Liv’s ever had, he had no idea it would lead to this very unexpected, but very welcome development.

“Phoebe said Liv specifically said she wants you in a tie, not a bow tie," Fin said with a smirk.

“Whatever she wants. It’s her day," Elliot said. “I want to thank you for all your help, Fin.”

Fin clapped Elliot on the back. “You know I got you, man. Besides, I made out big. I collected on three different pools," he said with a grin. “Munch better Venmo or Zelle me my winnings.”

“I wish Munch and Cragen could be here," Elliot said. “Heard they’re deep sea fishing somewhere in Florida.”

“Oh they’ll see it, don’t worry. We’re gonna set up a Zoom for them," Fin said.

“Is there anything else I’m forgetting? Carl will do photography, Phoebe said the flowers are set, we already have our suits, Liv and the girls have their dresses, you handled the food, Liz is taking her for her nails in the morning," he listed off.

“Rings," Fin said. “We gotta go get the rings.”

“I can’t believe you knew someone that was able to customize our rings," Elliot said shaking his head, grin on his face.

“He owes me a favor. You can believe he’ll make it happen," Fin said with certainty.

“Do I even want to know?” Elliot asked with a smirk.

“Just keep in mind, if you ask questions then I’ll need to answer, which in turn will involve you, and Liv will likely beat my ass if it gets you into trouble," Fin replied.

“Ok," Elliot said. “As long as I have rings, honestly, it doesn’t matter.”

“All you have to know is that I know people," Fin said with his palms raised. “This guy made Phoebe’s ring in two days.”

“I just am so happy I was able to do this for her, I wanted to make this the best Christmas she’s ever had. When she told me how she’d dreamed of getting married on Christmas Eve so she could wear a red dress, the look on her face as she described what she wanted, I had to do all I could to make sure she got it, Fin," Elliot said. He felt himself getting emotional and he was close to tears.

“Aww, man, you’re gonna make me cry," Fin said, wiping at his eye.

“Dad?” Eli called out. “Someone on the phone about the cake.”

“Ok, I’m coming," Elliot replied.

~oOo~

Fin walked out onto the terrace where Carisi was walking nervously back and forth muttering to himself.

“Are you nervous?” Fin asked, barely holding back a laugh.

“Well, yes and no. I know what I’m going to say, it’s just Liv. I have to make sure it’s perfect," Carisi said.

“Man, you’re a ball of stress. Maybe you should get a drink," Fin said, shaking his head.

“Babe," Phoebe called out as she stepped out onto the terrace. “What’s the head count again?”

“It’s mostly just family and close friends, I believe it’s 35," Fin replied.

“The reception space looks good. I have to say, I’m impressed. I wasn’t expecting much, but that whole space he bought in the next apartment is actually nicely done," she said.

“Yeah, Stabler doesn’t play anymore. He made a shit load of money in Rome," Fin said with a laugh. “Baby we’re going on vacation when bony ass pays up!”

“You better take me somewhere warm," Phoebe said pointing at him before she turned around and went back inside.

~oOo~

December 24

It was just after 8 am when Elliot opened his eyes and discovered he was alone in bed. He ran his hand over Liv’s side of the bed and it felt cold. She must’ve been up for a while. His girls insisted he wasn’t allowed to see her until the wedding at 4 pm.

He sat up and stretched his arms above his head before he got up and walked out into the kitchen to make some coffee.

He was surprised to see Eli and Noah sitting up at the stools at the counter. “Hey, guys.”

“Hey, Dad,” Eli said.

“Hey, Elliot," Noah said.

“You guys all set with your suits?” Elliot asked. He walked behind the counter and turned the coffee grinder on. He measured out the coffee into the filter and filled the carafe with water from the sink. He filled the water compartment and turned the machine on.

“Yeah, we have everything laid out," Eli said. “We made sure before we went to bed.”

“Hungry?” he asked looking towards Eli and Noah.

“No, Eli already made us eggs," Noah said.

“Thank you," Eli said looking at Eli.

“It was no big deal to make some for him," Eli said with a shrug. “I was making some for me anyway.”

His phone vibrated on the counter indicating he had a text message. He picked up his phone and saw it was a text message from Kathleen.

He opened it up to see a picture of Liv surrounded by his daughters.

The caption below the picture read, Thought you’d like to see your girls.

He smiled and typed out a reply. Love all my girls so much.

The sound of the front door opening was heard. “Hey, you guys up?” Dickie called as he walked down the hallway. “Hope there’s coffee.”

“It’s brewing," Elliot said, pointing towards the machine.

“Hey," Dickie said. “I was told I needed to get a picture of us, so everyone gather around," he said moving behind Eli and Noah. “Come on Dad, get in here.”

Elliot stood behind his sons and Noah, and they all smiled as Dickie took a selfie. “That’s a good one,’ Dickie exclaimed.

~oOo~

Olivia pulled out her phone when she felt it vibrate in the pocket of her robe. She saw it was from Dickie.

She opened it up to see a picture of Elliot with his hands on Noah’s shoulders and Eli and Dickie on either side of him.

Underneath the picture was the caption Hey, Mama Liv, thought you’d like to see a picture of your three handsome boys and Dad also decided to get in on it, don’t know why, no one invited him. ;)

She laughed and started to type out a reply. Well, I love my handsome boys and that awkward photobomber too.

She turned and looked at her dress hanging on a hook against the wall. She still had to remind herself she wasn’t dreaming. This was happening.

Maureen walked in, carrying a cup of coffee in her hands. “I was just next door bringing the boys over and Dad asked me to bring this to you," she said handing her the cup. “He also asked me to give you this.” She held up a gift bag.

“Thank you," she said with a smile, putting her cup down on a nearby table. She reached for the bag.

“He asked that you call him while you open that," Maureen said, pointing towards the bag. “We will give some privacy. Lizzie said it’s almost time to leave for our nails," Maureen said as she walked out of the room.

She sat down in the chair and picked up her phone. She selected Elliot’s name from her favorites and pressed the call button. The phone barely rang once before he picked it up.

“Hey," his voice rasped over the line. “I missed you this morning.”

“I missed you too. Lizzie dragged me out of bed at 6:30," she said with a smile on her face. “Maureen just gave me the gift bag. Elliot, why are you giving me presents today?”

“It’s our wedding day, I’m allowed to give you presents if I want," he replied. She could tell he was probably pouting.

“I have something for you too," she said. “I left it next to your badge on the dresser.”

“Hold on, I’m walking back into the bedroom.” He walked into the room and walked to the dresser and saw a silver gift bag that he was certain wasn’t there when he walked by earlier. “Got it," he said, walking to the bed and sitting down.

“I want you to open yours first," Elliot said.

“Ok," she said, reaching into the bag. She pulled out a square silver box and opened it. “Elliot," she gasped. “I love it.” She pulled out a silver necklace that had what looked like a diamond knot and matching earrings.

“It’s a Celtic lover’s knot. A best friend like you is like a four-leaf clover, hard to find, very lucky to have. When you fall in life with your best friend, your partner for life, it’s the perfect symbol of an eternal link between two souls, yours and mine," he said. “I love you so much, Olivia. I can’t wait to marry you. I can’t wait to make all your dreams come true.”

“Oh, El," she sobbed. “Mine isn’t as good as yours. I love you. I want to see you right now.”

“NOOOOO!” she heard Lizzie yell from the other room. “You can see him later!”

They both laughed.

“Ok, you open yours now," Olivia said, wiping away tears.

He picked up the silver bag and pulled out a small box. He opened it up and saw a pair of platinum cuff links.

They were round and in the middle, the engraving said E & O P4L. around the outside edge there were GPS coordinates.

“I love them.” He felt tears spring to his eyes. “I will wear them today.”

“The coordinates are where our desks used to sit in the old building. Where we first met. I felt it was fitting," she said softly.

“God, I don’t deserve you," he said, his voice breaking. It was his turn to cry.

~oOo~

3:27 PM

“Oh Liv," Amanda said. “You look beautiful.” She like Elliot’s daughters was dressed in a simple strapless emerald green gown.

“Livvie you’re so pretty," Jesse squealed. Jesse and his younger sister Billie were dressed in green, ruffled dresses with white tights and shiny black shoes.

“Thank you, Amanda," Olivia said. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair was curled and pulled back from her face with a snowflake hair clip that was crusted with crystals. It had been a gift from Amanda and the girls. Lizzie did her makeup. She had a smokey eyeshadow, and her eyes were highlighted with dark liner that had some silver sparkle to it. Her lips were painted red, the color called Big Apple Red.

Lizzie came up behind him and draped the faux fur shawl around her shoulders. It clasped in front, also with a bejeweled snowflake.

Maureen stepped into the room. “Carl would like to take some pictures if that’s ok," she said with a smile.

“Oh of course," Olivia said with a smile.

The next 15 minutes were spent taking pictures. A group photo of all of them, then one with Maureen, Kathleen, and Lizzie. Then one with each girl individually.

Next, a photo of Olivia, Amanda, and her daughters. Then one with Amanda and then one with Billy and Jesse.

~oOo~

Elliot was bent over fixing Noah’s tie. “Ok, now it’s perfect! Wait until your Mom sees you.”

Eli and Dickie were standing off to the side, talking to Fin.

Carisi was walking back and forth muttering to himself again.

“I think he’s more nervous than I am," Elliot said with a laugh.

Fin rolled his eyes. “That’s Carisi for you," he said, shaking his head.

Carl knocked on the door and began the same process he had next door. 15 minutes later Fin tapped Elliot on the arm. “You ready?” he asked with a big grin.

“You bet I am," Elliot said. He took one last look at himself in the mirror. He nodded and turned and walked outside to the terrace that had been adorned with white Christmas lights and poinsettias in white and red.

Outdoor space heaters had been discreetly placed, and they, along with the unseasonably warm 50-degree weather, made it feel like it was Spring and not Christmas Eve.

He made sure his mother was seated in the front row, before taking his place at the end of the aisle.

Fin clapped Elliot on the back as he stood up with him at the end of the make-shift aisle that ended right before the gate. Carisi stood in front of them, still nervously mumbling to himself.

Elliot noticed Dickie standing at the door waiting. “Dickie, come stand up here with your brothers.”

He shook his head. “No, I’m escorting the bride down the aisle. She’s worried she’s gonna fall in her shoes," he said.

“Please don’t let her fall, Dickie!” Elliot said.

“Dad, relax I got this. Even I can’t screw that up," Dickie said, rolling his eyes.

Elliot looked around at the people standing around. Ayanna and Denise were talking with Phoebe.

He looked over to Jet who had been tasked with setting up the Zoom meeting so Munch, Cragen, and Elliot’s sisters could watch, all who couldn’t make it to the wedding on such short notice.

They didn’t have many people here but they had the people most important to them both.

Carisi cleared his throat. “If everyone could please take their seats, we will get started momentarily.”

Elliot saw Amanda and his daughters lined up waiting to make their way down the aisle.

Kieran was standing next to Jesse and Seamus next to Billie.

The wedding march opening chords were heard, Eli’s girlfriend, that he insisted was his study partner, had agreed to play the wedding march on the violin.

The kids started walking down the aisle. The girls dropped rose petals as they walked along, the boys each carried a ring on a little satin pillow.

Amanda as maid of honor came next, followed by his daughters, the bridesmaids. All carrying their bouquets of red poinsettias and white lilies.

After Lizzie made it to the end of the aisle, he looked towards the door and his breath caught in his throat when he saw her. If he wasn’t already an emotional basket case, seeing Olivia in that red dress, about to walk down the aisle towards him, pushed him over the edge.

His eyes filled with tears as he watched her walk towards him, holding on to Dickie’s arm. He could see his emotions matched her own.

He locked eyes with her as she walked towards him, smile on his face.

When she got to the end of the aisle, Dickie leaned and kissed Olivia on the cheek before he let go of her hand.

Elliot reached out and took her hand squeezing it tight. “You’re so beautiful," he whispered as a tear spilled down his cheek.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, on Christmas Eve, to witness and celebrate the union of Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler. I planned on saying this at another wedding not so long ago, the plans changed last minute and I didn’t get to use something I wrote for that ceremony. Ironically, what I wrote for that ceremony applies to this one as well. When Olivia came to SVU, Elliot was her first partner over 23 years ago. A partnership is a lot like a marriage. You fight, and then you make up, but at the end of the day, you always have each other’s backs, and if you had to, you’d take a bullet for each other. And a bond like that never goes away. Marriage is a sacred institution in our culture. It’s a tradition of partnership, of trust, and of dependence on one another to navigate the sometimes stormy seas of life. People have said that marriage requires things like work, like commitment, and like sacrifice — and certainly, all of those things are true. No matter what it looks like in the end, however, a healthy marriage always needs a solid foundation, Elliot and Olivia have that solid foundation that started when they became partners at the 1-6 precinct. Elliot and Olivia are you ready to pledge the love you have for each other for all of us to bear witness to today?”

“I’m ready," they both said simultaneously, they looked at each other and smiled. Of course, they would say it at the same time.

Carisi turned to Olivia. “Olivia, do you take Elliot as your lawfully wedded husband? Will you honor him and cherish him; love, trust, and commit to him, your partner for life, through sickness and health, joy and pain, whatever life may throw at you both until death do you part?”

“I do," Olivia said, staring into Elliot’s eyes.

Carisi turned to Elliot. “Elliot, do you take Olivia as your lawfully wedded wife? Will you honor her and cherish her; love, trust, and commit to her, your partner for life, through sickness and health, joy and pain, whatever life may throw at you both until death do you part?”

“I do," Elliot said, staring intently into her eyes.

“Olivia and Elliot will now exchange their rings. The wedding ring is a symbol of attachment and belonging, not of possession, but of partnership.

“Elliot, please place the ring on Olivia’s finger and say the vows you wrote for her.”

Olivia turned and handed her bouquet to Amanda.

Fin handed Elliot the ring. Elliot carefully lifted her left hand, trying to be as gentle as possible, and slid the ring onto her finger. He started into her eyes. “Olivia, I always knew we had a special connection. You’ve been there for me, by my side through so much. You’re my best friend, my lucky charm, my four-leaf clover. You’re the love of my life and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you. You’ve made Christmas even more special to me. I promise to love you, to commit my whole life to you. I promise to be there when you need me, to be honest, and faithful to you and you alone. Like this ring, my love for you is never-ending.”

Carisi turned towards Olivia. “Olivia, please place the ring on Elliot’s finger and say the vows you wrote for him.”

Amanda handed Olivia the ring. Her hands shook as she reached for Elliot’s hand. She placed the ring on his finger. She knew she wouldn’t get through what she wrote for him without crying. She looked into his eyes. “Elliot, when I was growing up, I didn’t have what you’d call a traditional family like everyone else. I always felt like something was missing. I’m standing here today, knowing I now have everything I will ever need. You, and our children, our family, are my life. I finally have the family I’ve always wanted. I feel complete now, and that’s because of you. My one true love, my partner for life, my best friend. I promise to love you, to commit my whole life to you. I promise to be there when you need me, to be honest, and faithful to you and you alone. Like this ring, my love for you is never-ending.”

“May the rings Elliot and Olivia have exchanged today always remind them of their enduring love for each other. They have both pledged their love and commitment in front of you, their family and friends, their loved ones. By the power vested in me and by the State of New York, I am happy to pronounce them husband and wife. Elliot, you may kiss your bride.”

Elliot immediately stepped forward and wrapped one arm around her waist, the other moving to the back of her neck, tilting her head up towards his. His lips descended on hers, in a lingering kiss, as everyone clapped and cheered around them.

When they broke apart, Amanda handed Olivia her bouquet. Elliot reached for her hand and brought it to his lips. He wrapped his arm around her waist, and they began the walk back up the aisle.

“Please don’t let me fall," she whispered to him.

“Never," he said. “I got you. After the pictures, let’s get your arm back into the sling.”

“Elliot, have you even looked at this dress? I’m not wearing that sling with this dress. I’ll be careful, I promise," she said.

When they reached the house, he ushered her inside. “Actually, I haven’t seen the dress. Let’s see it.” He grabbed her right arm and twirled her around. “I always loved you in red, you look amazing in this dress. So damn beautiful.”

“You really did make this the most magical Christmas ever. I love you so much Elliot," she said.

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer. “I love you too, Olivia. Sometimes I can’t find the words to tell you just how much.”

“You, tell me with your eyes all the time. You always have," she said as she pulled his head down to kiss him. “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you.”

“You know that I would do anything for you right? You are my whole world, and I will spend every day of the rest of my life showing you how much I love you, my partner for life.”