I hadn't meant to fall asleep and I wake up when Olivia nudges me gently.
"El," she whispers, and I open my eyes to look at her.
I feel that goofy grin coming back instantly. I love her so much and she's really here, in my arms, her eyes wide open.
"Company," she tells me, and I finally become aware of our surroundings.
We're still in her hospital bed, she is underneath the covers in her hospital gown and I'm on top of the covers in my clothes, my leg hooked behind hers over the covers. Company?
I sit up and look behind me to find our Captain standing there, smiling widely.
"Good morning. If this isn't a sight for sore eyes."
I hear Olivia chuckle when I slip out of her bed quickly. I extend my hand and Cragen grabs it with both hands.
"Good to see you Elliot. And good to see you two together."
His eyes settle on Olivia's and I grab the controls of her bed to help her sit up. Olivia reaches for the Captain and they hug. I bite my lip, trying not to get emotional. I'm doing that a lot nowadays but I don't want to in public. Not with other people around.
"Everyone is dying to see you Olivia. Are you up for more company?"
There is genuine concern in the Captain's eyes. He's always been like a father to us, and as happy as he is to see Olivia awake, I know he'd leave instantly if that was what she needed. But Olivia nods, squeezing Cragen's hands for emphasis. Her eyes are sparkling and when they meet mine, I have to look away because she's making me tear up again. The door opens, and more of our coworkers come in. Well, her coworkers. Nick comes in first. He's her new partner and I'm relieved that I like him. We clicked right away when I saw him at the station and he nods at me before heading over to Olivia's bedside. She hugs her partner and holds him tightly, whispering something in his ear. When Nick moves back to give the next person room to greet Olivia, he is as misty-eyed as I am. Fin is up next and he chuckles nervously when he sees Olivia awake and looking at him. He manages to keep it together but I know that he is affected as well. Munch follows and after hugging Olivia, he takes off his glasses and openly wipes at his tears. He claps me on the back then as if I haven't been away and it means a lot to me.
A blonde comes shuffling in - Amanda was it? - and I'm surprised to see Brian Cassidy with her, clutching her hand. They greet Olivia together and I make an effort to suppress the stab of jealousy I'm feeling towards Cassidy. I know it's been over a decade but still … he shared Olivia's bed once and I've hated him for it ever since - although I had no right to be possessive of her at the time. She'd still bite my head off today if I started acting possessively but I feel I have a right now. She's mine and I don't want that man near her. He's lucky that he has his new girlfriend with him. Amanda is explaining shyly to Olivia that she and Cassidy are together now and when she beams at both of them I try to let go of my jealousy. She never loved the kid and had told him it had been a mistake.
Amanda has brought Olivia a gift and I make room on her nightstand for the nice bowl of fruit with a helium balloon attached. I hand Olivia the drink that the nurse must have left for her while we were sleeping and she takes it from my hand carefully. I want to help her but she warns me with her eyes. She can do it herself. Of course she can. She's Olivia Benson.
It's so good to see everyone again and to thank them for being here for me. At my request, Elliot explains to them that I'm having some trouble speaking in whole sentences but that I have heard all of them talking to me during their visits.
"Really," I say, pressing my palms together to visualise my gratitude. "Thank you."
They all nod and tell me how happy they are that I'm awake again.
Just then, another visitor arrives and from the astonished look she gives me, I know she hadn't been informed that I'm out of my coma.
"Olivia!" Alex Cabot exclaims, dropping her bag at the door. "Oh my God, you're awake!"
She rushes over to me and hugs me. I hear her sob softly before she whispers close to my ear,
"It's a miracle. I'm so happy."
It's almost too much to receive so much love from the people I consider my family. Alex takes off her glasses like Munch had done, and Munch pats her on the back while she dabs her eyes with a napkin. My vision is blurry as well and I feel Elliot's warm hand on my back, supporting me. I take a shaky breath and then focus on Alex again.
"The book?" I ask her and when she realizes what I mean, she presses a hand to her mouth and her eyes start watering again.
"You heard me read to you?" she asks incredulously and I nod.
"Do you want to read the rest of it?"
I shake my head and point at her.
"You," I tell her and I manage to add her name, "Alex."
"You want me to read the rest to you? Now?"
I look around and Nick and Fin step out of my room to find a few extra chairs. They all find a place to sit around my bed, Amanda, Brian and Munch to my right and Cragen, Fin and Elliot to my left. Elliot sits next to me on my bed of course. I reach for his hand and he holds mine while Alex pulls the mystery novel out of her bag and finds the right page. Her fingers are trembling and she chuckles nervously. She takes a deep breath and when she starts reading the next chapter to me, I lean back and close my eyes.
Everyone listens quietly while Alex reads. She reads so beautifully and I will remember this story for the rest of my life. The camera never lies, the book is called. I've forgotten the name of the author but I can check it for myself now. It's about a photographer who is asked to take pictures of her friend's wedding and ends up trying to solve a murder. It's not too dark but I do feel a need to find out 'who did it'.
I open my eyes while we all listen to Alex and I look around this unique group of people.
Alexandra Cabot is a sophisticated lady but I know that deep down, she's as outraged as we all are about domestic violence and sexual abuse. She chooses different words and methods but our goal is the same. Get the scum off the streets and get justice in court for the victims. She won't punch a perp in the face but she will hit them over the head with the law.
Donald Cragen, our boss and our champion. He's put his job on the line for us more often than he should have had to. But he isn't just our superior officer. He's like a father to me and Elliot and he knows that if he should ever get into trouble, we'd fight for him like he has always fought for us. Because we're family. He seems very content to see Elliot sit close to me on my bed and he smiles at me when he notices I'm watching him.
And then there's Nick Amaro. I've told him that I miss riding with him too, and I can't wait to get out there together again. I think I made him cry but he deserves to know he's a good partner. He's part of the family now. Amanda too, although I'm still getting used to her. I hope she and Brian will be happy together. They both deserve it.
I look at John Munch, who has seen more than all of us and who still won't stop trying to lock up the bad guys. We roll our eyes when he comes up with another elaborate conspiracy theory, but the truth is, he lightens the mood and the squad needs that. Even joking about his coffee can help us take our minds of yet another gruelling case at times.
And Fin. My loyal friend who tries not to show it but I know he cares deeply about me. And I care about him. I was beside myself that time he got shot in a bodega while he was getting coffee for me. His knowledge of what goes on in the streets of the city and his down-to-earth mentality keep us anchored. I can't imagine the unit without him there.
Then again, I couldn't imagine working there without Elliot either. And yet for the past months, he wasn't there. I look at him and I see he's watching me. We've glanced at each other a lot over the years, but they were veiled looks when we thought nobody was watching. Now, there is no mistaking the love in his eyes and I hope he can see in mine how much I love him, too. He wraps his arm around me and tugs me close to him. I rest my head against his shoulder and I know I'm going to be alright.
I'm going to get a haircut before I leave the hospital. I haven't seen myself in the mirror yet but I've felt the short hairs on the left side of my head. It's all coming off, I have decided. A nice short cut. The part that's almost bald will be covered up soon enough. It's a new start, the beginning of life After my coma. I will have new hair to go with that new beginning. I'm not ashamed of my scar. I'm going to wear it with pride. We got the bad guy and I won't mind showing my scar in court when I testify against him. I'm already eager to start working again. I have some more healing to do, I know that. I will need to have speech therapy but I trust that soon, I'll be my normal self again.
Alex is wrapping up the chapter and we agree that one chapter is enough on this special day. She offers me the book and I take it, but part of me feels sad that this chapter in our lives is over. It's been our time, reading together. I look up at her and Alex is looking at me expectantly. I want to say something and I hate that the words come so slowly to me. Elliot rubs my back and it helps me to focus. I want to be able to say simple stuff again and I finally tell her,
"Don't be a stranger."
Alex grabs my hand and promises me she'll be over soon and we can discuss the book with each other.
"I'd like that," I tell her.
I look at Elliot, who looks so proud of me. It feels silly that he's proud of me saying two short sentences and I most definitely don't want things to stay this mushy between us. But for now I'm basking happily in these little moments. We still have so much lost time to make up for.
"So Stabler," Cassidy pipes up, and everyone looks at him. "Does this mean you're coming back to SVU?"
Elliot glances around the group and I watch him, suddenly eager to hear his answer. Having him back in my life is already so wonderful but to have him back next to me at work would be perfect. He looks at me and there is a light in his eyes. He pulls me close to him and kisses my temple in front of everyone. I bite my lip and wonder what he's up to.
"That depends," he says, and he's looking at Cragen now.
"Depends on what?" the Captain asks.
"Well, would the department allow a married couple to work in the unit together?"
The group gasps and mumbles and I feel hot and cold at the same time. What did he just say?
Elliot looks at me with a wide grin, and then his face softens and he asks me silently, wordlessly, just by looking into my eyes. I see the love and absolute certainty in his eyes and fresh tears well up in my eyes when I see everything I've ever wanted reflected back to me in those blue eyes that I have loved for so long.
"Will you?" he finally asks me, and I hear the others saying 'aww' and 'yes' softly. Elliot reaches up to cup my cheek with his hand and I cover his hand with my own when I tell him,
Everyone applauds but I ignore them for a moment when we kiss. I close my eyes and just feel for a moment. I just feel him and I know I've come home at last.
We break apart when Cragen clears his throat and when I look at him, I see tears in the older man's eyes.
"I'll have to run it by one PP but I'm sure something can be arranged. I'm looking for someone to take over from me soon anyway."
"Me?" Elliot asks, clearly surprised.
Cragen chuckles and then shakes his head.
"No Elliot. Your fiancée, actually. Would you have a problem with working for her?"
Elliot looks into my eyes again and never breaks eye contact with me when he tells the Captain,
"No sir. Not at all. I know we butt heads a lot, but in the end, I'll always do whatever she tells me to do."
A/N Thank you all for reading. Until next time!