A/N: Damn it, LSM, now you've got me in a sentimental mood...and I'm not too sure Emotional!Munch is a good thing right now...meh. Oh, well. It's written, and it's posted, so there you have it. And SVU isn't mine. But this kinda goes with Life or Something Like It, so I guess it could go under H:LOTS, but now I'm rambling, so I'm done.
It started when she was a kid. I don't even remember when. It was like one day, she wanted me to leave her alone while she was reading, and the next, she wanted me to read with her. So I did. We decided we'd pick one book each month and try to finish it by the first day of the next. And it worked. Most of the time, she was the one reading to me. But some nights I took over. I figured it was one of the few ways I could still feel like I was close to her, what with my working all the time and hardly ever being around.
And as she got older, those nights were the only times she could stand having me around. I never knew why she seemed to hate me during the days, but once we started reading, I forgot about it. And she did too…that is, until the next morning. The cycle repeated itself every day, but after a while, I learned not to care. I also never figured out why, despite many a conversation with Abby and Rose about it. They didn't get it any more than I did.
Once high school hit, however, the tradition tapered off. We'd picked a book to read the month she started her freshman year, but somehow it never got finished. First it was homework, then it was volleyball, and then it was whatever she happened to be doing with her friends on any given night. It took me a while to get over it, too. I'd become so used to reading with her every night that it hurt when she started to forget about it. But I didn't blame her. I never could. And then the next thing I knew, I was sitting in the high school auditorium, watching her walk across the stage in cap and gown.
She went home to Baltimore after that, for school. She told me when she left that if she didn't come back after four years, it was because she'd gone into the city's police academy. I told her I'd come down and bring her back myself if I had to, and she laughed, before getting into the car with the friends that were taking her down. I watched them go, unable to go myself because of the high-profile case the unit had just landed. When I got home that night, the book we'd picked four years ago was sitting on her desk, the bookmark right where we'd left it. I stared at it for a long while. And then it hit me that she was really gone, and I started to cry.
Four years went by faster than I'd thought it would. She came home a few times for various breaks, but for the most part, stayed in Maryland. She'd call every now and then, but I was rarely ever there to answer. Emails, however, I answered moments after they came. Sometimes I'd be lucky enough to catch her while she was still logged on; other times, I'd have to wait for days, sometimes weeks, before a reply came. The book remained where it was. I didn't have the heart to move it. This was the first one in years that we hadn't finished, and I couldn't help but wonder if we ever would.
When she came home, she was wearing a ring on her finger. It scared me at first; I thought she'd gone and gotten married without telling me, but she laughed when I asked, and said no, it was just an engagement ring. But that scared me even more. Before I knew it, I was stuck in the middle of a bunch of wedding plans, and for once, they weren't my own. I almost wished they were. But I'd already gone through it a fifth time, and, luckily, wouldn't ever have to again. She decided not to stay at home, but rather with her friends, the ones who would end up being bridesmaids on her wedding day….sometime in the fall. But at least she was in the city.
By now, any hopes of finishing that last book with her had long since disappeared. It remained where it was, slowly gathering dust, as were many of the other things from her childhood that I'd never had the heart to put away. It was starting to feel like it had all those years ago…that I was losing her. It seemed ridiculous when I thought about it. She wasn't even leaving the city once she was married; she wanted to go into the academy and become a cop…the very thing I hadn't wanted her to do. I'd told her this more times than I cared to remember, and every time I did, she'd laugh before shoving whatever book it was that we were reading into my hands because she knew it'd make me shut up about it.
This time, however, it was different. I told her as we stood there at the place she was getting her dress from and she laughed, telling me that it was already too late; she wasn't going to change her mind. I hadn't expected anything different. So I'd offered up a faint smile, thankful that my glasses were hiding the tears welling up in my eyes as I watched her standing there. When she finally asked me what I thought, I couldn't say anything. She seemed to take this as a good reaction and grinned before going back into the dressing rooms to change again. I watched her go, still saying nothing. And then one of her friends appeared beside me, asking where she'd gone. I pointed in the direction she'd walked off in, still unable to say anything, and her friend had smiled up at me before disappearing as well.
The night before the wedding, she decided to come and stay at home again. It was probably more so that she could pack up the things she'd be taking with her than anything else, but even so, I was glad. We spent most of the day going over everything, to make sure that nothing would go wrong. I was probably more worried about it than she was. I doubted she'd care whether or not something went wrong so long as the actual wedding took place, but I was determined for everything to be perfect. This was, hopefully, the only chance I was going to have to give her the wedding she'd dreamed of, and I didn't want anything screwing it up. She called me a perfectionist and I gave her a look, pretending to be annoyed, but it didn't work, and both of us laughed. She rose to her feet, then, and told me that she was going to go start packing before it got too late…after all, it wouldn't do for the bride to oversleep and miss the wedding. She said this mock seriously, but the straight face she'd been trying to keep disappeared when I pointed out that I was more likely to oversleep than she was, and she walked down the hall towards her old bedroom, calling over her shoulder that if I needed her, I knew where to find her.
About fifteen minutes passed before she returned. Startled by the sound of her footsteps on the kitchen floor, I turned to face her. In her hands was the book I'd kept on her desk all this time, the one we'd started, but never finished. The bookmark hadn't moved. I hadn't been able to keep reading it without her; it wouldn't have been the same, and in any case, when we'd chosen it, it had been her month to decide what we were going to read. I could tell from the look on her face that any thoughts of packing her things had been forgotten, and wordlessly, I pulled out the chair beside my own as she came to sit, flipping the book open to the place we'd saved. The bookmark was hers. That was how we'd been able to tell whose turn it was to read. I'd lost mine a long time ago, but hers was still the same one, all those multi-colored stars on a black background. She looked at me for a long while, saying nothing, and I knew that she was wondering why I'd bothered to keep it. Why I'd wanted to keep it.
Before I could say anything, though, she got up and walked into the living room, settling herself on the couch. I followed, sitting down beside her, wondering what she was going to do, but when I asked, she didn't answer. Instead, she leaned over so that her head was on my shoulder, shifting slightly until she was comfortable. I watched, unsure of what to say, but not wanting to move, because suddenly, I thought I knew what she was going to do. And I was right.
She looked up at me for a few seconds before flipping back to the page we'd stopped on…and then she started to read.