“Mom, can we open presents yet?” Olivia smiled and ruffled Noah’s curls.
“Not yet, honey. We’re gonna take the presents with us to Elliot’s and open them tonight, ok?” It was Christmas Eve - the second since the Stabler family had returned to her life, and her and Elliot’s first Christmas Eve as a couple. Olivia was nervous; while she’d stopped by for dinner the year before, she hadn’t ever spent the holiday with his family before. It’d been their first Christmas without Kathy, and she’d been worried the kids would feel like she was replacing her. It would have been too soon, then.
They had officially been together for six months, and while it had taken his kids, especially Eli, some time to get used to the idea, they were happy for their dad and Olivia. It was only natural that they missed their mom, of course, but if their dad had to move on with anyone, Olivia was the best choice in their minds. They loved her and had even grown to love Noah too.
It took a few introductions and an interrogation from Noah, making sure Elliot loved his mom and was sorry for hurting her, and wouldn’t leave her again, but now the little boy had grown quite fond of his mom’s former partner. He thought Elliot was the coolest guy ever, and with the help of Eli, he was well on his way to becoming a soccer star - in his mind, anyway.
“Did you finish your homework?”
“What homework?” He gave her an innocent, sweet smile that tended to work well. Most of the time.
She narrowed her eyes, fixing him with a stare that was half-mom, half-captain, and all-intimidating. “You know what homework, young man.”
He groaned. “Can’t I give Eli my homework and make him do it? He’s way smarter than I am.”
She laughed, and shook her head. “Nice try, but no. Baby, you’re very smart, and you need to do your own homework so your teacher sees that. Besides, Eli is a teenager. He hates homework more than you do.”
“Mom, I’m not a baby. Not anymore.”
“Hey, I wouldn’t care if you were sixty. You will always be my baby boy. Homework. Now. Go.”
He stuck his lower lip out in a pout.
“That’s not gonna work either. Finish your homework or no presents.”
He said something indecipherable, only barely-audible grumbles.
“What was that?”
A thick blanket of white, fluffy snow had formed as she pulled up to the Stabler residence. Noah was out of the car and at the door the minute she took the keys out of the ignition. She shook her head at his eagerness and smiled when Elliot opened the door and Noah gave him a hug.
“Merry Christmas, buddy.” She heard Elliot’s voice call out, as she slowly got out of the car. “Liv, hang on a second! It’s slick.” She wanted to roll her eyes at his overprotectiveness, but couldn’t deny that it warmed her heart. Plus, he was right, it was slick out and even though her ankle had long since healed, she still wasn’t as young as she used to be. “I had Eli shovel the sidewalk before we went to Mass, but of course, more’s fallen since then.”
“It’s fine, El. I got it.”
“I know you do, but humor me, okay? I don’t want you to slip and fall.” He walked over to her car, being cautious himself about the icy spots and held out his hand for her. She gratefully took it and stepped out. He closed the car door with his foot and used the hand that wasn’t interlocked in hers to cup her face. She reveled in the warmth being so close to him provided her, even though they were standing out in the snow.
“Hi. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, sweetheart.” He grinned and kissed her, slow and deep. He let go of her hand and wrapped his arm around her waist, tangling his other hand in her hair as they kissed. She hummed and moved her arms around his neck, relishing the feel of the two of them together.
“Dad! Are you gonna bring the presents inside and eat dinner, or are you gonna kiss your girlfriend all night?” He laughed good-naturedly at Kathleen’s teasing. Olivia buried her face in his neck to hide her flushed cheeks, and he placed a kiss on top of her head.
“Why don’t you kids come get the presents, and I’ll stay out here and kiss my girlfriend.”
“One problem with that, Elliot.” Olivia pulled back to look at him with a smirk on her face.
“What?” He wiped away a few snowflakes that had fallen on her face. God, she was beautiful .
“You’re bald! Your poor head will freeze if we stay out here.”
He rolled his eyes. “Very funny, Benson.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close, then turned to Kathleen. “I mean it though, you kids can help get the presents out of Olivia’s car. Especially since most of them are for you.”
Olivia laughed and snuggled into Elliot’s warmth as they walked up the path to the house. They held onto each other securely, avoiding each of the slick spots as much as they could, as the swirls of snow continued to fall from the sky.
“Well, look at you two happy lovebirds. Hurry up and get inside. It’s cold.” Bernie held the door open for them as they reluctantly pulled out of each other’s embrace in order to remove their coats.
“I would’ve been fine going faster, but your son-”
“Didn’t want the city’s hero captain to break her ankle again. You’re welcome.”
She rolled her eyes playfully. “El, stop doing that.”
“What? Bragging about how proud I am of my girl? Never.” He grinned, smoothing down her sleeves.
“There’s nothing to brag about. I’m only doing my job; I’m not special.”
“Liv, you’re more than special, you’re incredible. Twenty-three years and still kicking ass. You’re the strongest woman we know.”
“Mom, what does kicking ass mean?” Noah interrupted and Olivia glared at Elliot when he fought back a laugh.
“Nothing, honey. Can we not use that language around my son please?”
“Noah, it means your mom is a superhero.” Kathleen chimed in. “A real life superhero. That’s even cooler than the ones in the books and movies.” Olivia couldn’t help the smile that formed at the way her son’s eyes lit up at the praise.
“Can you fly, Mom? Do you have a cape like Wonder Woman?”
She laughed and shook her head. “I don’t. Sorry.”
“She saves people in other ways. You’ll understand more when you’re older, but you’re pretty lucky to have her as a mom.”
“Alright, alright. Enough of the love fest. I already bought all your presents.” She teased, wiping at her eyes. “I’m not crying. I have allergies.”
Elliot scoffed and shook his head. “No, you don’t. You’re not allergic to anything. C’mere.” He pulled her into his arms and kissed her softly. “I love you.”
“I thought I said enough with the love fest.” She joked, but it always made her happy to hear Elliot say he loved her; after too many years of questioning her feelings, they were finally able to admit their truth and say it.
“I can’t help it. You bring the sap out of me.” He nuzzled his nose against hers, grinning.
“There is no escaping the love fest in this family, dear,” Bernie added.
“Grandma’s right, Liv. You’re stuck with us now.” Olivia smiled at Bernie and Maureen’s words, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to remember what life was like before this warm blanket of love was around.
It may have been snowing outside, but something about this place - Elliot’s embrace, their kids’ laughter, and the smell of warm home cooking - made her feel warmer and more at peace than she’d felt in a long time.
“I wouldn’t want to be stuck anywhere else.”
“Good. ‘Cause Noah and I need to take at least one run at the Ender Dragon in Minecraft before tomorrow.” Eli teased, earning a series of loud laughs from the rest of the room.
“Ugh, Minecraft. Can’t I teach them to play Call of Duty now?” Dickie said with a loud groan, and both Olivia and Elliot glared at him.
“Absolutely not.” Elliot replied sternly. “But you can play Minecraft with your brothers, or hang out in the living room with your sisters. Your choice.”
“And while the kids are doing all that, maybe Olivia can help me finish the cookies.” Before Olivia could respond to Bernie’s request, Elliot tightened his arms around her and buried his face in her neck.
“But Mama, I don’t wanna share her.” He whined, but smiled at the loud, joyous laughter that came from the beauty in his arms.
“Well, too bad. You’ll have to wait ‘til bedtime to have her all to yourself.”
“Oh, please, Dad. No one’s mind was in the gutter but yours.” Kathleen teased. “Obviously Grandma meant for sleeping.”
“Of course, his mind was in the gutter. Have you seen Liv? She’s hot!”
“You only want her to let you teach Noah how to play Call of Duty, Dickwad.”
“And it will not work.” Olivia replied firmly. “My nine year old does not need to be playing a game about shooting people.” Dickie vocally groaned. “Not so hot now, am I?” She raised an eyebrow in Dickie’s direction.
“You’re very hot.” Elliot growled quietly in her ear.
“Dad, gross.” Eli interrupted this time. “There are kids in the room.”
“And how do you think you kids got here?”
“Elliot Stabler!” Olivia smacked his chest playfully. “That is not a conversation I need my nine year old to hear right now, either.”
“Yeah, Dad. Who’s corrupting our young minds now?” Dickie chimed in.
“Alright, alright. Benson-Stabler men, go play Minecraft before I take all your presents back to the store.” He and Olivia both laughed, as Dickie sighed in defeat, and followed behind Eli and Noah. “You girls can do whatever you want, because you’re not giving me a hard time tonight.”
“Give us a few hours.” Lizzie teased. “Come on, Liv, make cookies with us.”
“Yeah go on, Liv.” Elliot kissed her nose. “I love you.” He moved his lips to capture her own, in a short, sweet kiss. “Don’t burn down my kitchen, please?”
She rolled her eyes and laughed, winking at him. “I’ll have you know I can cook pretty well now. You’ll see, and I love you too.” She gave him another quick peck before following Bernie and the girls to the kitchen. Elliot grinned as he watched her walk away with Lizzie and Bernie.
“Dad, if you take a picture of her, it'll last longer.”
He rolled his eyes at Eli’s remark. Little did he know. “I thought you boys were taking on a dragon in Minecraft, or something?”
“Ok, I’m going, I’m going.”
“Oh, it smells good in here.” Elliot grinned at the sight of Olivia, his mother, Maureen, Kathleen, and Lizzie bustling around the kitchen. Bernie was pulling one batch of cookies out of the oven to be decorated, while Olivia and his daughters had rolled out the dough for another batch and were pressing cookie cutters into it. He started to step closer, but the women glared at him.
“You can wait till after they’re finished like everyone else, Dad.” He rolled his eyes.
“Mo, that’s hardly fair. I paid for this kitchen.”
“And your partner paid for the cookie ingredients.” Bernie smiled fondly, remembering when her son was little and would beg her to let him have a cookie before dinner. She’d given in, sometimes, but not as often as he’d have liked.
“Yeah, come on, El.” Olivia teased. Before she had Noah, she didn’t really celebrate Christmas. It was another day on the calendar for her. There were no real family traditions for her to enjoy. Her mother never baked cookies like this. Not only that, when Olivia was only five years old, her mother had drunkenly screamed at her that Santa wasn’t real and even if he was, he wouldn’t be bringing her anything.
She was going to enjoy every single Stabler holiday tradition she was included in, even though she hadn’t baked cookies before. Noah usually went over to his Aunt Amanda and Uncle Sonny’s and cooked with them for the holidays. She would’ve been fine picking some up at the store and bringing it, but Bernie insisted that the woman she thought of as her daughter-in-law participate in baking the holiday goodies.
She gave in, realizing she couldn’t say no to anyone with the last name Stabler no matter how hard she tried, and bought the ingredients for Bernie’s sugar cookie recipe and Kathy’s gingerbread cookie recipe. Even though the kids loved Olivia, and knew how happy she made their dad, spending the holidays without their mother was still hard. They wanted to make her gingerbread to honor her memory.
“Oh, so two can play at that game huh? Well, I’m the one who invited my partner, who paid for all your cookie ingredients.”
“You didn’t invite her, Dad. She’s family. Of course she was gonna come.” Kathleen laughed at her father’s grumbling.
“What if I promise to stand here, watch you make the cookies, and I don’t try to eat anything.”
He held his hands up in surrender. “I swear.”
He walked behind Olivia and wrapped his arms around her waist, and she let loose a giggle. “What are you doing?”
“All I wanted was to hug my girl.”
“Uh huh. Right. You’re not tasting the dough.”
“Maybe I want to taste you instead.” He kissed Olivia’s neck and she turned in his arms, blocking him from getting to the cookies she was working on.
“Dad! Gross!” Lizzie groaned in disgust and Elliot laughed, leaning his forehead against Olivia’s and grinning.
“May I have a kiss, Captain?” He asked, with a pout, and Olivia rolled her eyes.
“Make it quick, Detective.” Smiling against her mouth, he began to kiss her, as he moved his hand behind her towards the dough, hoping his tongue would be enough to distract her; instead, she swatted his hand away. “El!”
“I’m sorry. I’ll behave. I promise.” He said with a snicker, before kissing her again.
“Go swallow your girlfriend away from the food, Dad. Please.”
“Again, I paid for this kitchen and therefore, I’ll swallow whatever I damn well please while I’m in it. In this case, it’s this beautiful woman. And some of her cookie dough.”
“Smooth, Stabler. Real smooth.” Olivia rolled her eyes, but smiled, snuggling into his embrace.
“Oh, let him taste it, dear. Then we can go back to decorating.” The others in the room laughed at Bernie’s characteristic bluntness.
“Ok, fine.” She scooped some dough on her finger and he licked it off, before they exchanged a series of small kisses.
“Mmm, thank you, Liv.”
“You’re lucky I love you.”
“Love you more.” His eyes glittered with laughter.
“Go love me from the living room until the cookies are finished, ok?”
“Aye aye, Cap.” He kissed her nose and she smiled, shaking her head as he walked back into the living room.
After dinner was eaten and presents had been opened, the family enjoyed the sugary treats the women had spent the afternoon baking. Olivia sat on the loveseat with Elliot, while the kids and Bernie occupied the couch and recliner. They watched ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ which felt fitting for all the feelings from the day.
By the time the movie was over, Elliot was the only one still awake. He smiled as he looked around the room filled with the people he loved most in the world, and he felt Olivia stir against his chest; he kissed the top of her head and cherished the fact he could finally hold her like this.
“El? What time is it?”
“A little after midnight. I guess all that sugar made you crash.”
She quirked an eyebrow at his statement. “ Me ? Don’t you mean us?”
He couldn’t help but laugh. “Uh, Liv, I stayed awake for the whole movie. The rest of you were out cold before it was halfway through.”
“It’s your fault I fell asleep.”
“How do you figure that?”
“I don’t know, but somehow, it is.” She yawned. “Carry me to bed.” She wrapped her arms around his neck. “I’m too tired to get up.” Her voice was laced with sleep and to him it was adorable.
“Ok, Liv.” He lifted her into his arms and quietly carried her to his bedroom. He pulled back the covers and laid her down, kissing her softly as he covered her up. “Get some sleep. I’ll be back in a little bit. Get everyone else to bed and then put the presents for tomorrow under the tree.”
She hummed and snuggled into the warmth and comfort of his pillow. “You make a good Santa, Stabler.”
“I love you, Mrs. Claus.”
“I love you, Elliot Claus,” she said, joining in his laughter. “We’re ridiculous.”
“We are, but Cragen knew what he was doing when he made us partners all those years ago.”
“He definitely did.” She smiled at him sleepily. “Hurry and go play Santa so you can come back in here and hold me.”
“I will.” He gave her a peck on the lips before going back into the living room.
About twenty minutes later she felt the bed dip when he returned to the room.
“Did you finish your Jolly Old St. Nick duties?”
He laughed, teasing her as he said, “I did. I thought you’d be asleep.”
She shrugged her shoulders loosely. “It’s weird sleeping in your bed without you.” She snuggled close to him as he wrapped her in his arms.
“Sweet dreams, ‘Livia.”
“Merry Christmas, El. Thank you for making all my holiday wishes come true.”
He finally felt his own eyes growing heavy, and he held her against him as he began to drift off to sleep. He whispered, “Like you’ve made mine. Merry Christmas, beautiful.”