There were always people in the trauma waiting area at Bellevue- sad, but true. Always family and friends, huddled together in little groups, heads down, concerned faces- here on the worst day of their life. Some would leave relieved, others in tears. That was just the way life- and death- worked.
But it wasn’t every night there was a group of uniformed NYPD officers and detectives in the trauma waiting room. Not every night one of their own had been shot.
Earlier that day, Detective Olivia Benson had been working a case in Chelsea with her partner, Detective Nick Amaro, when the suspect in the same case shot at them- and Olivia got hit in the chest. Amaro managed to disable him with a few shots in the leg, but the damage to Olivia was very, very severe- the bullet may have punctured her lung, or even her heart, for all they knew. It must have hit something important- because she’d been in emergency surgery for nearly six hours now.
Amaro was sitting in one of the chairs, arms folded, eyes half-closed and face twisted with guilt and worry, his shirt still stained with blood. Detective Amanda Rollins was sitting in the chair next to him, her blonde hair mussed slightly from a hard day’s work, scribbling case notes down on a yellowed pad. Detectives Fin Tutuola and John Munch were standing and talking in the corner of the sterile, windowless waiting room. Captain Don Cragen was standing near the door to the OR, his hands in the pockets of his trenchcoat. Olivia was the closest thing he had to a daughter- he’d be the one to get the news, when it finally arrived.
Brian Cassidy had been notified, but he’d been forced back undercover just a few short weeks before, so it could be months before he heard, let alone was able to free enough time to see her.
No one expected someone who’d been out of the loop for two years to walk into the waiting room.
Everyone looked up at the footsteps in the hallway that preceded his arrival. At this hour of the day, this unspeakable hour between night and morning, very little stirred- except surgeons who had just completed long surgeries, now delivering good or bad news to the families of their patients. They all believed that the footsteps came from the doctor that would tell them the fate of their friend and colleague.
But this elite squad of detectives was off their game- normally, they’d know that the footsteps of a scrub-clad doctor would be much softer and lighter. These steps were loud and purposeful, echoing off the quiet hallways and the linoleum floor. They’d normally know- the source of the footsteps was wearing boots.
And then he turned the corner, and Fin, Munch and Cragen’s mouths all simultaneously dropped open in shock- they knew this man. They’d worked with him for twelve years- or eleven, in Fin’s case- longer than anyone else they’d known, save for each other, and Olivia. This tall, slack-jawed man was none other than the retired Detective Elliot Stabler.
"Where is she?" he said in that familiar gruff low tenor, his pale blue eyes intense with worry.
"Well, look who decided to show up." Munch quipped, obviously sore to see him two years after his rather sudden, mostly unexplained retirement. "Only two years late." Fin added disdainfully.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Asked Cragen, in the serious, strict voice he’d always used when the former Detective had gone out of line.
"What are you talking about? I heard Liv was in trouble…"
"Well maybe you’ve forgotten," Cragen retorted shortly, "but Detective Benson is no longer you concern. Maybe she would be if you hadn’t dropped off the face of the goddamn planet after Jenna Fox. Maybe if you’d shown your sorry ass in the past two years we’d be happy to see you."
"I- jeez, I didn’t think-"
"No. You didn’t think. So excuse us if we’re not tearin’ up with joy at the sight of you." Fin scoffed.
"You know that the Captain was framed for murder?" Asked Munch, walking towards his former colleague. "And the daughter of Fin’s old partner from Vice went on a killing spree? And Dana Lewis admitted to killing her boyfriend in her first days at the FBI? Where the hell were you for any of that?"
"…I- I didn’t know- I- I’m sorry…"
"Oh, did you hear that, he’s sorry!" Fin jeered. "Well, sorry just don’t cut it, Elliot."
"Hold on," Amaro cut in, standing up out of his chair. "You say his name’s Elliot?" He walked towards them, wearing a disbelieved expression. "Elliot Stabler? You’re Elliot Stabler."
"This? This is that guy?" Rollins sassed, standing up and pointing at him with mock surprise.
Elliot narrowed his eyes at the young detective. “That depends on who’s askin’.”
"Detective Nick Amaro. I’m Liv’s current partner," he challenged, getting right in Elliot’s face. "But your reputation precedes you."
Rollins sauntered up alongside Amaro. “And I’m Detective Amanda Rollins,” she said, acting more friendly than hostile.
Elliot laughed. “So you needed two to replace me, Cap?”
"What’s the matter?" Amaro jeered. "Scared to know we’re better than you?"
Elliot matched Amaro’s stance. “Look, kid, I don’t know who the hell you think you are, but you’re about ten years away from even beginning to measure up. So no, I’m not scared of some naive rookie that thinks he can do my job better than me.”
"What do you care, huh? You quit the job."
"Quit? No! I’ve been undercover."
A hush fell over the waiting room. Everyone’s heads turned to the source of this new voice; the scrub-clad doctor they’d been waiting for, fresh from surgery- wearing an unreadable expression.
Cragen was the only one who spoke. “How is she?”