"It's your little brother, baby…" said Olivia softly, cradling Sam tenderly against her chest with one hand and reaching out the other palm upturned toward her daughter, "… you gonna come say hi?"
"No?" patiently tilting her head and keeping her body language and tone calm and relaxed Olivia smiled. "Okay, that's fine. You don't have to, sweetheart."
"Where's-a Daddy?" backing her feet up until she was leant against the closed NICU door in her tiny, custom made sterile gown Eve looked around uneasily. "Where'smy Daddy?"
"He'll be right back sweetie but I'm here. I'm right here….." then, narrowing her eyes and reading that which was written all over her daughter's pinched little expression Olivia asked, "… are you scared, Evie? Is that why you don't wanna come over here?"
"Issa baby?" she could have been forgiven her uncertainty, being as though her brother looked nothing like any one of her baby dolls or indeed any baby she had ever witnessed in her short life. He was too small, too funny coloured, his tiny limbs were wrinkled and a long way from her chubby, peachy pink fingers and toes.
"Evie….." said Olivia with a firm entreat, holding out her hand again and forcing the anxious little girl to meet her eyes, "…. come stand by me, okay? Can you be a big girl and come stand by your mom?"
"Evie…" with a softer tone and gentle gaze Olivia waited a moment without saying another word as Eve peeled herself off the door and wandered, scuffing her feet, across the room.
"Toes….." noted the toddler, wrapping her chubby hand over so gently around the pads of her brother's impossibly tiny toes.
"How many toes does he have, baby? Can you count them?" whispered Olivia, her eyes glistening with emotion at the first few precious moments of connection between her two children.
"One, two, tree….." inhaling slowly and searching her overwhelmed little mind Eve stared up saucer eyed at Olivia and smiled, "…. six, ate!"
"What you counting there Mini Mouse?" asked Elliot, rubbing sanitizer gel into hands he had already washed twice in the sink outside. Taking a seat beside Olivia he unconsciously brought his hand to rest on her knee and leant over to speak with his daughter.
"Issa bay-bee…." declared Eve with a visible sense of pride as she lightly poked at Sam's thigh with an extended index finger, "… he is toes."
"Oh you were counting his toes were you clever girl?"
"Anything?" asked Olivia, with the two of them having taken a divide and conquer approach to the visit that day. Where they would ordinarily have both met with Sam's doctors today she had opted to stay with Eve and consequently now hung off of Elliot's every facial muscle movement for signs of bad news.
"He hit 5lbs 10 this morning….." unable to withhold his grin a moment longer Elliot leant over and pressed a kiss against Olivia's smiling mouth, "….a little bit stronger and they'll try him without the ventilator."
"God I feel like I was holding my breath the whole time you were out there."
"I feel like I've been holding my breath for weeks….." confessed Elliot, watching Eve drawing fingertip pictures on Sam's little legs, "…. but even though it's tempting fate I think we might have turned a corner. All four of us."
"Nah man it's just the boys."
"I really like the guy."
"You just don't want to spend the whole weekend in a yurt with him?" smirked Munch, drawing a pencil out from behind his ear and scribbling the last few numbers into his Sudoku puzzle.
"It's about time Ken and I spent some quality time together. Everything since the wedding has been insane and I don't ever wanna turn around again and realise I don't know my boy anymore."
"You know I spent a long time talking to Cragen last night….." changing course slightly Munch confided in the only person he completely felt he could, "….and this precinct is going to hell in a hand basket."
"It's all slipping through his fingers like sand and there isn't a damn thing he can do about it Fin. He's getting it from above, from below. Cases are getting dropped, perps are walking free and victims are losing the faith….." shaking his head sadly Munch lowered his eyes and sighed, "… and I can't blame them."
"You losing the faith too?" said Fin, though the answer was written all over his friends' face. "Because…."
"I just don't even know what I'm doing here anymore. I don't know what any of us are doing here anymore. I used to feel like this was all going somewhere. That we were making some small difference. In the great scheme of things it was inconsequential. The dent we were making was nothing compared to the bigger picture but we were making it anyway. We were all on board with wind in the sail and there was a point to it all."
"When the hell did you start giving up on us all John?" asked Fin, realising he was perhaps hurt more than anything. "If you tell me you're hanging up your gun I won't ever talk to you again you realise that?"
"You'd seriously disown me if I retired from SVU?" asked Munch, just curious. "Actually wait, don't answer that. I don't think I want to know while you're this wrong way out. No, no I'm not retiring. I'm doing what Cragen is in no fit state to."
"This sounds like fighting talk if ever I heard it." Muttered Fin, ever more drawn into whatever it is that Munch had been scheming in his quiet, brooding way.
"Amaro is too good to quit now. It's no good for his grief, his daughter or his sanity. We get him back."
"You don't have to sell me on that one."
"Atlanta get Rollins till the end of the month. After that they don't call the shots anymore and I don't know what crazy debt she had to repay that they could persuade Cragen they ever could."
"Rollins back in New York….." in a surprisingly impressive show of nonchalance Fin stilled his racing pulse and shrugged, "….sure, sure I can buy into that."
"Okay here's your part in all of this….."
"Why do I get the feeling I'm not gonna like this?" muttered Fin with a sceptical face.
"Benson and Stabler….." stated Munch, holding a pragmatic pause before continuing, "… ideally we have both of them, we could settle for one or the other, but somehow we ended up with neither and I don't know how."
"They'd never sign Liv off as fit for duty right now even if Sam wasn't still critical."
"She still want to move up the ranks now Cragen has turned a corner with the chemo?" asked Munch, pondering their long term game plan. "If she does then we'd be better off persuading Stabler to stick in narcotics and just work on getting her back here."
"Elliot can come back…." shrugged Munch, stating that which Fin realised probably ought to have been obvious, "… if Liv isn't working SVU then there's no conflict."
"You want me to talk to her?" was already a given, but Fin asked it anyway.
"I'll work on Rollins and Amaro…" nodded Munch decisively, "….. you take Benson and Stabler."
"For fuck's sake!" yelled Elliot loudly, as the bottom of one of the brown paper grocery bags in his arms gave out and its contents clattered loudly to the floor in a dramatic explosion of canned goods and produce.
"Elliot?" asked Olivia, brushing a curtain of hair from her face as she popped her head up from the sofa and blinked herself awake from a dozing nap. "What the….."
"They make these bags so cheap now I don't know how they expect them to hold a damn thing." Came the disgruntled mumble as Elliot bent down to retrieve the scattered groceries littered across the kitchen floor.
"Here I'll get this….." offered Olivia, drawing her cardigan closed around her waist and kneeling down to help.
"No, no you don't bend down right now….." he protested, fishing a can of tuna from her hands and fighting her for a bag of potatoes, "….hey, no, come on Liv you shouldn't be on your hands and knees get up…."
"El I'm fine just let me…. "
"Do you ever listen to a damn thing I say?"
"Woah!" she yelped mutedly, burned by his biting tongue. "Where the hell did that come from?"
"No, no if you have something to say then why don't you go ahead and….."
"I don't have anything to say!" yelled Elliot, on his feet now as he landed his right first in the belly of the refrigerator door and then held it wincingly.
"Elliot!" cried Olivia, now every bit as frustrated and irate as he was despite her underlying concern.
"I'm gonna take a shower…."
"Okay, okay fine….." sitting back on her feet Olivia rolled her eyes, rubbed her forehead and murmured, "… you do that."
"Thank God for you."
Said Elliot as he emerged from the shower wearing only a white towel and a tired smile of profound relief and gratitude that no matter how bad his day might have been he could come home to Olivia. There she was, despite even in all her beauty looking like perfect hell, sitting on the couch with two TV dinners and a case of beer waiting for him.
"I bought emergency beer….." she smiled wryly, "….because honestly we can't afford for you to keep beating the crap out of my apartment."
"Get over here."
"Did you miss the part where I nearly bled to death giving birth to….."
"Get over here….." trusting she was absolutely able to cross the room Elliot leant against the bathroom doorframe, shower water still glistening across his muscled chest and waited impatiently, "… a little closer."
"You know that linguine didn't taste good fresh out the microwave so the longer you leave it…."
"Liv….." sliding one hand to the nape of her neck Elliot moved the other to the small of her back and pulled her into him, "….shush."
"Shush?" arching an unimpressed eyebrow she was about to speak again when he crushed his mouth onto hers and kissed her with such fervent hunger she could barely maintain a regular breathing pattern much less organise her light headed mind to form words. As her body melted into his she felt a rising need press teasingly against her from behind the towel Elliot was barely wearing and her skin flushed hot as his tongue danced rings around hers.
"El…." came the low, breathy groan as she stole her lips from his and shook her head with dazed apology, "… stop."
"You have no idea how that is all I have thought since about lunchtime." He confessed shamelessly as she stroked at his chest and retained the intimacy on which their foundations were built, even when she knew she was unable to give him what he really needed that night.
"Only lunchtime?" she laughed, reaching for his hand and wandering him over to the sofa where she promptly threw a blanket haphazardly over his lap and handed him a plate of pasta. "Here, eat this instead."
"Instead of….." she couldn't help but smile as his blue eyes widened in shock, "… jeez Liv!"
"You do realise you'll kill yourself if you keep this up, right?" she said, unwilling to allow his earlier meltdown to go unspoken of.
"Hey….." she chuckled softly, reaching for a beer and opening it with a pop, "… that's my line."
"Did you manage okay? Having Mouse all day on your own today?" he asked, through a mouthful of food as she opened him a beer of his own and slid it along the coffee table to sit in wait in front of him.
"I won't break, El. You gotta trust that. You gotta stop trying to take on the whole world by yourself and let me start taking on half of everything again. I might not be back on the job or running any marathons for a while but I can take care of Evie…."
"You can't lift or carry her."
"Then its good job she can walk just fine on her own…" countered Olivia quickly, unwilling to back down in this particular battle, "….so stop worrying about us, okay? I can take care of things here and I can grocery shop for anything I can throw in my purse which trust me is more than you'll ever believe."
"I'm sorry I snapped earlier."
"I know you are."
"Elliot honestly I'd be worried if you weren't punching things. You know someone said to me recently that it's okay not to be okay after all of this….." echoing his words to her in the hospital she leant forward and swapped his empty plate for his beer, "… and with everything you're trying to juggle right now if the worst thing that happens is you throw a punch at my refrigerator, well, I think that's something I can live with."
"Can I ask you something? It's horrible timing and you're tired and I should probably…."
"Liv?" he interjected with a furrowed brow. "You know you can ask me anything, anytime. What's up?"
"Did you propose to me because you didn't think I was gonna make it?"
"What?" asked Elliot, pulling a face.
"Because it's okay if you did. I mean I'd understand. I get it. You were under insane pressure and….."
"Where the hell is this coming from because you know that you couldn't be further from the…."
"Have you told your kids?" she asked, because there came a point when the only way out was to run directly into the fire and hope you were strong enough to withstand the burn.
"No, no I haven't." He answered honestly. As he looked at her he could see all the things she was trying so hard not to say choking her, as brown eyes roamed his face and searched for the answer to a question she couldn't ask.
"You want yoghurt?" said Olivia flatly, sliding her feet out from under her and setting them down on the carpet. "We have that Greek one you like and I bought…."
"Liv?" he said softly, reaching for her hand as she got up and dragging her gently back down onto his lap.
"What?" she murmured, allowing him to fold her into his chest and wrap his arms around her.
"You feel up to a family dinner this weekend?" taking a sip of his beer he could not have been more casual, confident, calmly determined in his proposal. "You, me, all the kids? We'll get Maureen back in the city and take them to one of their favourite places?"
"El I didn't mean to pile on the pressure I just…."
"They gotta know sometime and I don't ever want to lie to them again. I want their blessing, I do, but the sooner they get their heads around it the better because this is happening….." feeling her head fall against his shoulder Elliot bent down and kissed her forehead tenderly, "… I am gonna marry you even if it takes a lifetime of chicken parmesan to get them on board with the idea."
"Not all the kids."
"Huh?" he murmured, barely able to catch her words. So, shuffling herself to a slightly more upright position she met his eyes and swallowed.
"Not all the kids."
"He'll get there. Sam will be tucking into chicken parmesan and resenting the hell out of their old man with the rest of them before you know it, trust me."
"I do….." she said, and just how of herself she was giving him was written all over her face as she spoke with a poignant gravel in her voice, "… I do trust you Elliot; with my life and everything in it."
"You gonnna trust me to pick the movie for a change then?" he asked hopefully, pinning her against him while he leant across the sofa for the remote.
"Oh absolutely not….." shaking her head with a categorical no Olivia flashed a twisted smile and leant over to peck a kiss against his disgruntled expression.