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Easy Tonight

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{in over my head and it’s not easy tonight}

The room was dark, and no one was sleeping.

You wondered what it would look like from above, if it would be like the cartoons with two pairs of big white eyes surrounded by the blackness. "Hey Liv?"

"Yeah?"

"You awake?"

"Um...yes."

Brian snickers. "I guess that was kinda obvious, huh?"

"A little."

You hear him shifting around underneath the comforter. "Did I ever tell you about the thing I went to?"

"Gonna have to be more specific than that, hon."

"Last month. I found it on the internet. A group for people with a wife or girlfriend who'd been ra- assaulted."

"Oh." You prop yourself up on one elbow to get a better look at him. "Did it help?"

"A bit. I guess it was nice to feel like you're not the only one, y'know?"

You wouldn't know. "Why did you stop?"

"It was...everybody else there, they were married or engaged or it's like they had already been dating for five years or something. They already had these long term relationships and I- it's hard to relate. Nobody tells you what to do when you're still trying to, I dunno. Figure shit out."

"We always have the worst timing, don't we?" you ask ruefully.

"Nah, not always. Now, fifteen years ago- that was bad timing. Never would've worked out."

"Oh come on, you would've married me on the spot if I had asked."

"And we would be divorced a month later!"

"A month? I think you're giving us too much credit," you say with a laugh. "I would've been gone before I could finish signing the marriage license."

"See? That's what I mean. We were young and dumb."

"Are you sure we're not just old and dumb now?"

"Speak for yourself," he huffs, punching you in the arm playfully.

"Hey, I'm not claiming to have my shit figured out, as you put it- but I think now I'm smart enough to realize that I don't know everything." That could stay Elliot's domain.

"I'm not sure it's about timing," he says after a few silent moments. "Like...there was never going to be a good time for all this. Obviously."

"No. There wasn't."

"But last night. I maybe could have, uh. Handled that better." He leans back, arms crossed behind his head. "You're not the only one who keeps things stuffed down, I guess. I just. I get so fucking angry and I don't know what to do with it all."

Join the club, you think to yourself. "Angry at me?"

"No. I mean, yes. At you, at myself, at how I can't kill the motherfucking bastard son of a bitch and make it all go away," he says, voice getting tighter.

"You really think that would change anything? If he were dead."

"I...eh. I can't see how him dying could make things any worse, y'know? At least we wouldn't have to deal with the court case."

"True, but- don't get me wrong, I'd be thrilled if he turned up dead tomorrow. But it doesn't get rid of the past." You remember something Dr. Lindstrom had said once; that you couldn't control what happened, but you are the only one who can decide where you go from here. "It wouldn't fix us."

"You think we need fixing?"

"You don't?" you ask, slightly incredulous.

"I think that we need, I need, to be able to be not okay once in a while...and have it be okay to not be okay. Do you get what I'm saying? I think- oh hell, Liv, I just don't wanna let you down."

The last sentence comes out in such a rush that it takes you a few seconds to catch up, and once it makes sense it still doesn’t make sense. "You...seriously? Why would you even think that?"

"Because I mean, shit. I know I probably don't act like it, but you're. You're a really tough act to follow. I for sure couldn't deal with everything you've had to as well as you have and," he laughs sheepishly, "that can be kinda intimidating."

"I...wow. I had no idea you would even- jesus christ, Bri. You're not letting me down. Not at all."

"No?"

You shake your head emphatically, turned away from him. "I get how it must be. Trying to take care of someone who won't let herself be helped."

"I didn't mean it like that-"

"I know, but I did. Believe me," you say. "And you, god, you're here. That's the only thing that matters to me. Maybe that means I have low expectations, who the hell knows. But you're here."

"Yeah, I am," and when you lie back down next to him you hope he understands all the things you're not saying, that he's the first person in your life who hasn't abandoned you (yet) and that it scares the shit out of you but it doesn't stop you from wanting him to stay, maybe for good, even if you know you don't deserve it.

When you look over at each other again, it's a relief to see that he seems to be at least as overwhelmed as you are. Neither of you are particularly good at this whole unfamiliar talking things out process. "Do you think we're okay?"

"I think we're awesome," he replies, and the tension is broken as he reaches one arm out to pull you closer. "And you're still my girl."

You grin brightly at him through the darkness. There was this one night last summer, back when he was staying at his mother's house while he recovered, and when you drove him home after dinner you spent a half hour feeling each other up in the parked car like high schoolers. After you finally kicked him out, he went over to the driver's side door and waited for you to roll down the window. "Yes?"

He had leaned in to kiss you, smirking. "So, uh. Does this mean you're my girl now or something?"

"Not a chance in hell. I'm not that easy- but you're welcome to keep trying."

He did, of course, and somehow this is where you both ended up a year later. You yawn and give him another sleepy smile. "You know...I’m kinda glad you didn't give up."

“Nope. Can’t give up on you that easily.”

{you were wrong you were right
and you are gone tonight}

September is here and the nights are getting longer.

You watch with trepidation as the neatly coiffed weather girl announces the day's sunrise and sunset times on the evening news, smiling in a way you interpret to mean that she has never had a reason to fear being alone in the dark. The sunset moves forward a minute or two with each passing day, the sunrise gets pushed back an equal amount, and by next week there will be a full two and a half hours of blackness that you didn't have to contend with in June.

Brian is still working most nights. Lately he's also done his share of days, the courthouse being perennially short staffed, but those you can deal with. You're perfectly capable of keeping your shit together while the sun is out- well, at least you are most of the time- and you're also usually busy at work dealing with whatever paperwork or weirdo you've been saddled with now. It's hard to decide which one you dislike more. Paperwork is tedious, and the weirdos do liven things up, but there's only so much you can take of listening to completely unfounded allegations that were deemed not worth a 'real' detective's attention. You really think that by now everyone knows you're ready to go back to your old duties and your old hours, but you have 45 days until you can be cleared for full time and the brass isn't going to compromise on that. Cragen's still willing to bend the rules a little for you, especially when something major is going down and he needs all hands, but as soon as things start to settle you find yourself being pushed out the door.

You're definitely not allowed to keep working late into the night, even though you feel a thousand times safer within the confines of the one-six than you do when you're home alone- especially now when you haven't had time to acclimate yourself to all the unfamiliar sounds that come with living somewhere new. Last night you had been startled almost half a dozen times by the same clanking noise before you finally figured out it was from the upstairs' neighbor's plumbing.

And each time you had instinctively picked up the phone, muscle memory allowing you to find Elliot's number before your brain could catch on, barely hanging up in time. A few weeks ago you wouldn't have hesitated to make the call, to give a flimsy excuse for why you needed to talk to him at 3 AM. He would've accepted it without question, as if it was perfectly normal behavior for an ex-coworker, and stayed on the line as long as it took for you to calm down. But things are different now. He would still answer, there is no doubt in your mind, and that is precisely why you don't call. Not when he seems to want...well, you haven't figured out quite what he wants, which is the problem. He's angling for something from you, and it's almost certainly something you're not willing to give, so in some strange way it feels like you'll only be leading him on unless you keep your distance.

But it doesn't mean you don't miss him, and it doesn't mean you're not lonely. You spend all night unpacking, hanging things on the walls and then moving them to the opposite end of the room, rearranging the furniture so that everything in the living room is six inches to the right and the dining room table is shifted to an angle that gives a better view of the kitchen window. Brian says he feels like he comes back to a different place every time he walks through the door, and there's a slip of paper in the mailbox that says you have a package waiting at the post office for pickup, and don't you think we have all the shit we need for a while?

You just smile and kiss him because this place is so close to perfect, and you are so close to loving him, and he’s the only one who hasn't left you.

{shot down said you never had the chance
took a ride on a suicide romance}

"Come sit down and have a drink with me," you call out, looking over your shoulder to make sure you're not talking to yourself.

"Yeah, gimme a sec." When he emerges from the bedroom, he is scratching his head and looking mildly baffled. "Did you ever realize that you have an entire herd of cattle in leather jacket form in your closet?"

You give him a tight lipped grin and shake your head. "Nope."

"Figures. You've got too much else crammed in there with them." He sits down next to you on your ridiculously comfortable new couch and drapes his arm over your shoulder. "And that right there, that lamp, has magically appeared in the last twenty minutes."

"You noticed, I'm impressed. It just got delivered while you were in the shower. See, doesn't it make the lighting in here so much better?"

"But we already have lamps," he says, as if they are some sort of rationed commodity.

"None of them fit on that table, though. I wanted one right there so you don't have to go to the other side of the room to turn the light on and off. And now we don't have that glare on the TV."

"Do you ever think that...I dunno. Whenever I turn around, you're buying more shit."

You don't understand the annoyance in his voice. "It's not like it's costing you anything."

"I didn't say it was."

"Then stop acting like I'm buying fur coats and diamond bracelets. Everything I get is useful," you point out.

He relents, unscrewing the cap on a bottle of water. "I'm trying to cut back on drinking," he explains when you give him a quizzical look.

"Since when?"

"It just seems like we've been doing a lot of it lately, that's all. It's not like I'm quitting completely."

"Suit yourself," you say with a shrug, moving in closer so you can rest your head against his arm. You half-expect him to say something about how you've been more affectionate than usual for the past couple of days, seeing as how he seems to be full of observations tonight. There's no real way to explain it other than a part of you is still in shock that he has stuck around, and it's comforting to have this tangible reminder, this familiar scent and the sound of his heartbeat and the feel of him pressing a kiss to the top of your head. Not that you would ever actually tell him this. You have an image to protect, after all.

He sets the water bottle down on the table next to your newly acquired lamp, and once his hands are free you're cupping his cheek in your palm and kissing him, sitting up and positioning yourself in his lap. He kisses back and catches himself before he can reach for your hair, settling for kneading the muscles in your shoulder.

"God, that's good, that's really good." You sigh in appreciation, and you are definitely not remembering how you used to love it when he would rub the back of your head, fingers scratching your scalp and getting tangled up in loose brown waves. Your hand slips underneath the soft fabric of his ancient t-shirt, across his chest and coming to rest over his heart.

He reaches down for your other hand when you're tugging at the waistband of his sweats. "Hey. Babe."

"Mmm?" you hum in response, lips against his neck.

"Hey," he says again, more insistent this time, and when you look up he is scrubbing his palm over his face. "Shit. I can't believe I'm saying this, but..."

"But?"

"It's. Ah, fuck. Everything we talked about the other night. Do you think...can we maybe just cool it for a while?"

You abruptly slide off his lap and move over until you're sitting side by side but not touching, pointedly refusing to make eye contact. "Liv."

"I'm not doing anything I'm not completely fine with. Honestly." You're not sure why he would be doubting this now, especially when it seems like it might be the only thing you've managed to communicate about successfully in months. He's never had a problem slowing down when you needed it, and the one time you had insisted on stopping outright had been more about being physically uncomfortable than it was about some sort of emotional issue, so you don't know what would make him think you needed to take a step back.

"I know you're not, and I trust you on that. But. That's not why I'm saying this."

Oh. You close your eyes for a moment, shaking your head slightly and feeling rather stupid. Of course. It wasn't for your sake. It was for his. "Yeah. It's fine, I get it."

"Babe. Don't," he says quietly as you put your feet up on the couch, pushing yourself further away from him. "I didn't mean it like that- like I don't wanna be anywhere near you or some shit like that. All I meant was. You know."

"I know," you say with all the pleasantness you can muster, because you understand, you really do. In fact, you don't know why you had been so clueless as to not anticipate it in the first place. God knows you wouldn't want to have sex with you either.

He looks highly uncomfortable, like he had put on his armor to prepare for a fight and now all he was doing was suffocating inside a clunky metal suit. You almost think you should jump up and tell him to go fuck himself just so he'll feel better. "Are...you pissed at me?"

"No."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"No. It's fine."

He nods in slow motion once, twice. "I'm going to take some of those empty boxes down to the recycle bin."

"I'm gonna get ready for bed." With that, you get up and walk away, carefully neutral expression not wavering until you start the shower running. You brace yourself with a hand against the wall, shoulders shaking, and the hot water stings your still tender skin but you turn the knob further to the left anyway. It's not enough.

You start scrubbing yourself roughly, wincing at the pain, and yet somehow you can’t help but laugh as your mind drifts back to last year. One of the first things the two of you had decided on after your surprise reunion was that you were not going to fuck first and think it through later this time. You had agreed on the 90 day rule- meaning, if you could go 90 days as friends without having sex and still be on speaking terms at the end of it, then maybe you actually had a shot at being something more than a one-off hookup. Of course, what sounded like a sensible plan on day ten seemed very different on day 75, which was why you ended up having to institute a ban on spending time alone together for the final two weeks. But at long last the clock struck midnight on that magical day 90...and by 12:05 you were standing around behind your building, waiting for the fire department to come shut off the malfunctioning alarm system. It was funny now- but back then, not so much. On day 108 it finally happened, and then after that you made up for lost time by fucking on any available surface at every opportunity. It was fun, it was easy, and you never had to talk about it because you were just letting things happen as you went along.

Then May came around again, except this time you flinched if he got too close to you, and at night you held hands from opposite sides of the bed and every little thing became this complicated negotiation. But you wanted it, even when you were too skittish to do anything but make out fully clothed while you rocked against his thigh. It made you feel human, like you were more than the sum of all that had happened, that you had someone who still wanted you and life was moving on as much as it could.

You know you should probably stop because you are rubbing your skin raw, and that is a little counterproductive for someone who's already obsessed with their appearance. The little voice inside your head, the one who claims to be the purveyor of rational thought, is reminding you that it doesn't seem like Brian's enjoying this any more than you are. You saw the regret in his eyes, heard the ever present weariness when he spoke. The little voice also tries to give you the old line that it's not your fault, and it's not about you, but that's bullshit. It's all about you and it fucking hurts. It's not even about the sex, but it's about the things that have been taken away from you. It's about «he won't be able to get it out of his head» and «I look at you and wonder if you're seeing me or the person who hurt you».

It's all about you and it fucking hurts because he doesn't see you any more. He sees the victim, like he did when he raced into your room in the ER and reached out to hug you before abruptly pulling back. Even without the benefit of a mirror, you knew your eyes looked dead as he stared at you, his expression vacillating between relief and horror. A nurse had come in before either of you could get actual words out, explaining to him that "she's in shock, don't expect her to say anything." Then she turned to you, said that she was waiting on another nurse before they could start the rape kit, and walked back out again. He seemed stunned, like the possibility had only now occurred to him. You wanted to ask what the hell he was expecting, wanted to tell him not to worry- that the bastard didn't get it in, so at least you had that much going for you. Nah, he didn't fuck you. He 'got creative'. It's just a fun way of saying anything else is fair game. You're fine, really. Shit happens.

You open your eyes and see that the water running down the drain is tinged with red.

{could've sworn there was somebody home}

Ten minutes or so pass between the time when you get into bed and when he comes into the room. You lie on your side, turned away from him, and bury your face in your pillow as you pretend to sleep.

He reaches out for you hesitantly, kissing the back of your neck. "God, I- I'm sorry, Liv, fuck. Just...need some space, I guess. Not like it's forever."

His warm breath tickles but you fight to hold still, not giving him any response. When he finally decides that you are either truly asleep or truly ignoring him, he murmurs a goodnight, and then all is silent.

The room is dark, and no one is sleeping.

{shotgun fire anybody home
I got two dimes in the telephone}

You call Brian, and he doesn't answer.

Elliot calls. You don't answer.

You text Brian to say you really need to talk to him, and he doesn't text back.

Elliot texts to say that he really needs to see you. You don't text back.

{I ain’t gonna meet you anywhere
don’t know where I’m going yet
but I sure am getting there}

You pour yourself a drink and sit down in the dining room, noting that you really do have a perfect view of the skyline from this angle. Two candles occupy the middle of the table, just as they have done since the day you moved in, and you wonder if you were wrong to discount their alleged powers. You never anticipated that Tucker, of all people, could be Brian's ticket out of the courthouse- but after all, God works in mysterious ways and maybe Mexican candles do too.

Your instinct is still to tell Tucker to fuck off, that you’re not going to be the middleman who drags Brian into this scheme of his. You have no delusions that this will be as simple as he makes it sound, or that it would even stay as a one-off gig, and you can’t think of anything Brian needs less than to become Tucker’s bitch. He’s far too easily manipulated and you aren’t always going to be there to run interference.

Rubbing the bridge of your nose, you see St. Jude looking up at you with his usual beatific stare, reminding you of your status as a lost cause. You remember Tucker's 'I thought you would be sympathetic to that', and how you didn't like what he was implying. He holds the Rosetta stone, the key to unlocking the secret of how fucking damaged you truly are- the recording of your statement that you gave to IA right after leaving the hospital. It was the first and only time you've shared your entire recollection of those four days (minus a few conversations that will stay locked away inside you for the rest of this life and into the next), and the contents are known to only half a dozen people. Unfortunately, Tucker is one of them. You're certain he must secretly enjoy having something like that on you, this bargaining chip that he merely has to hint at to get his point across in perfect clarity. «It would be terrible if this all got out, wouldn't it?» you hear in Lewis's faux-sympathetic drawl, words reverberating in your head as clearly as when you heard them at the Mayer's house, and you're kneeling on the floor and he's gripping onto your hair with a clenched fist and there is a dead man staring straight at you and oh god don't let me die here too...

Tucker knows all this, and he knows you- at least enough to be sure you're not being particularly forthcoming with the details to anyone else, especially Brian. You think about «what the fuck did he *do* to you?» and «can we maybe just cool it for a while», about «it's a bite mark» and how he doesn't look at you the same anymore and what it would do to him to hear it all. You think of him being stuck at the courthouse for years on end, counting down the days until he can put in for his twenty, and you think of making pasta salad at two in the morning because he likes it and you know he's not happy- with the job, with you- and you need to feel like you're doing something. But now you have the chance to potentially make a real difference and maybe the ends will justify the means, as distasteful as those means might be.

St. Jude keeps on staring at you. He seems to be saying that he has no plans to intercede in your life anytime soon, that you're beyond the reach of miracles right now, so you should probably take any opportunity you have to change the things that can still be changed.

You pick up the phone and actually get a response this time. "Hey. So listen, I've been thinking..."

{You were free, and now you’re not}