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The Waiting

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{I’ve never known nothing quite like this
don’t it feel like tonight might never be again}

"Hey." Your voice is soft and measured, cutting through the silence and the dark.

If Elliot had been surprised when you asked him to stay, he hadn't shown it. He had simply come over to stand next to your bed, still and waiting until you had nodded toward the empty space on the other side, slipping off his shoes before taking his place next to you.

The room is almost completely black save for the moonlight, but it's more than enough to illuminate the frown on his face when he turns to look at you. Your face scrunches up a little in confusion, wondering if you are reading him wrong, if you are misinterpreting his expression because you have never seen one quite like it from him before.

He is watching you like he has absolutely no fucking idea what to do and is terrified at the thought. "Hey," you repeat, any thought of your own lingering panic momentarily forgotten. "This is good. So...thanks."

The tightness in his jaw seems to relax ever so slightly. "Fuck, I'm sorry. If I."

"No, no," you quickly assure him, saving him from having to finish his sentence when it wasn't necessary. You already knew. "You didn't. It just happens. Sometimes I don't even know why, honestly."

"It happen a lot?"

"Not as much as it used to. Some days are, uh. Better than others."

"I assume you don't want to talk about it."

"You assume correctly," you say, pushing back the blanket you had wrapped around yourself until only your legs were covered.

"You ever talk to him?"

"No. Not about...that." You take a deep breath, pushing your hair back from your face. "He wants me to, we fight about it all the time, but I can't. We've...it's too much for him to handle."

"Is that what he said?" Elliot asks, and you could swear he almost sounds excited at the possibility of an excuse to start shit. Yeah, you shouldn't have told him that.

"No, that's what I said. Relax. It's fine." Laughing quietly at the thought of confiding in him like that, you shake your head. "Besides- I'm not talking to you, of all people, about my relationship problems."

"See? So then you admit there's a problem."

"Oh my God. Can we just talk about something else? Please? He and I are fine. That's all you need to know," you say firmly.

"But if he-"

"Elliot! It's not your concern. Okay? We're working things out."

"So what's there to work out if everything's supposedly fine?"

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear you ask that. Now pick a new topic. I mean it."

He looks down at the big green pillow that you're clutching to your chest, one end tucked under your chin. "What's that about?"

You are confused for a moment until you remember that he's never been in your bedroom before, either here or back at Brian's place. Suddenly it strikes you that you might be breaking some sort of rule right now, that maybe he shouldn't be sitting here with you in the dark on a bed you share with someone else. A bed that smells like someone else. You wonder if it will smell like Elliot after he leaves, and you make a mental note to drench the entire room in Febreze once he's gone. "This? It's a pillow, detective."

"I think it's bigger than Eli," he remarks, and you just hug it closer, some of your anxiety starting to dissolve as he launches into a story about the latest member of the Stabler clan to walk the halls of Our Lord God Mother of Mary Jesus Christ Elementary (or whatever the actual name of that place was, 15 years of hearing about it and you still are never able to remember). His whole face brightens with pride whenever he mentions the little boy, and in moments like these you can't feel angry at him for leaving, not when it eventually led him to this new life he has now. He had told you that he made a promise to himself that he wouldn't make the same mistakes with Eli that he did with the older kids, that this time he wasn't going to wake up one day and realize how much he had missed. Even as he had carved out a nice little niche for himself in consulting- the expertise of a former sex crimes detective is unfortunately always in high demand- his schedule still revolved around Eli.

You watch him shake his head ruefully as he talks about how he was forced into coaching the first grade basketball squad by virtue of being the only dad present (and God how you would pay to see this, because you can't even imagine). Sometimes you wonder if you had been the one keeping him from all this, if he would've walked away from the force years prior if not for some misplaced sense of responsibility towards you. Maybe he would've gotten out before he burned out, wouldn't have had to go through the ensuing downward spiral, if you could've proved to him that you could make it on your own. It seemed ironic because you had never asked him for that sort of loyalty, but you think back to your conversation after Munch's party and you realize that you hadn't been telling him anything he didn't already know. He knew he was all you had. He knew and he never said a word, just stood beside you even at the risk of losing his family, his sanity- everything.

You didn't deserve it.

"You don't have to stay, you know," you say after a few moments of silence.

"I know."

"I'll be fine. Brian will be back in a few hours...if you need to get home."

"I'm good here," he says simply, slouching down a little further against the headboard, arms folded behind his head like he is settling in for the long haul.

"I mean it, El, I'm fine."

"I believed you the first time."

"You don't need to feel obligated," you say, because this is what you do- the more you want something, the more you try to push it away, to keep it hidden. You've learned over and over that you never get what you want. It's easier, cleaner this way.

"Did it ever occur to you that maybe I'm here because I wanna be?" He smiles like he already knows you'll try to fight him on this and he's fully prepared for the challenge. "And it'd be rude to kick me out onto the street in the middle of the night. I'm a guest here. Be a good hostess."

"Is there a reason why you never do what I tell you to?" you ask, and damn him for somehow managing to get you to smile back when you're trying to show him you mean business.

"If I thought for even a second that you actually wanted me to leave, I would leave," and you turn over onto your back and look up at the ceiling in annoyance because you didn't think you were that transparent, really. "I'm saving you from having to admit it. You should be thanking me."

"El..."

"Do you argue this much with him, too?" he asks, sounding amused.

"Course I do." You curl up on your side again so that you're facing him, and he waits to speak until you're settled in.

"I promised you we wouldn't talk about it." You frown at him in confusion. "When you asked me why I'm not leaving, even though you told me to. I promised you before that I wouldn't mention it again. Remember? All that about how I was fucking with your head."

He's looking over at you from where he sits at your side, leaning against your pillow like he belongs there, and you close your eyes so you won't be tempted to look back at him. "We're just friends," you say, and you don't know who the reminder is for, you or him or both of you at once.

"Yeah." He couldn't sound less enthusiastic if he tried.

"I. I'm tired, I'm sorry, I think I need to get some sleep," you say softly. It's not a lie, but it's not the whole truth either. You're treading on dangerous territory, and part of you wonders what it would be like to fall asleep next to him like this all the time, and you have to stop talking now before you put something out there that you can't take back.

"I'm still not leaving."

"You don't-"

"Here, we'll make a deal,” he announces, ignoring your attempt to protest. "I'll stay until you're asleep and then I'll wait out in the living room until he gets home. Just in case."

"You're not going to go even if I tell you to, are you," and of course he won't, not when he already knows you can't sleep without someone next to you.

"Nope."

"You really don't need to, I'm fine." It's a lie, and there's no way he believes it- not when you don't even believe yourself. You sit up so you can pull your sweatshirt off over your head, and you're face to face now and that seems like a good enough reason to lean in and kiss him...so you do. It's soft, simple, but he cups your cheek in his hand and it all feels right and even after you pull away you are resting your forehead against his.

"We've gotta stop this," he says with a little laugh, and you murmur in agreement.

You both know that neither of you mean it.

{we know better than to try to pretend
baby no one could’ve ever told me about this}

Tap tap tap tap tap-tap. Tap tap-tap.

You sit up in bed abruptly when you hear a knock at the door. It's a familiar rhythm, patterned after the Imperial March from Star Wars, which means it can only be one person. Sure enough, a second later you hear keys turning in the lock.

Elliot takes it upon himself to welcome Brian home before you can even make it down the hall. "Hey," you hear him say casually, as if it's perfectly normal for him to be sitting on your couch watching SportsCenter at 7 am on a Saturday morning.

Brian does a bit of a double take, looking from him to you and back to him again. "The hell is he doing here?" he asks you, and this is going to be great because if there's one thing Elliot loves, it's people talking about him like he's not right there in the room with them.

"Ihadabadnight," you say in a rush. Elliot turns away from the TV to face you, apparently deciding whatever is about to transpire in front of him is more entertaining than a recap of the Knicks game. "I. I just needed someone here."

"So you call him?" Brian nods toward your houseguest, and you know that alarm bells are probably going off in his head if for no other reason than because you are suddenly so willing to admit that you are something other than 'fine' or even 'okay'. After all, he's come home before to find you hiding behind the dining room table, sobbing uncontrollably, and even then you insisted that there was absolutely nothing wrong.

"I didn't want to bother you." You look over your shoulder at Elliot, trying to send him a silent message that you had no plans to tell Brian about anything you had discussed last night. How would you even begin to explain? «hey honey, so I just remembered that I almost beat a man to death and then sort of accidentally-on purpose lied about it. And how was *your* day?» "Not for...it wasn't anything important. Same old shit."

"I would've come home if I knew, hon," he says, kissing the back of your head.

Elliot smirks at the two of you. "But then who would keep the drunks from pissing on the courthouse? That's serious stuff right there."

You give him a murderous glare but say nothing, shifting closer to Brian and wrapping your arm around his waist. "I'm fine now," you tell him quietly. "Don't worry about it."

"See, she's fine, Stabler. Time for you to go," Brian announces, and you have to fight the urge to strangle them both simultaneously.

"What, you're not going to invite me to stay for breakfast?"

"El." He is enjoying this way too much, you can tell. "Both of you, actually. Enough. Can we please be adults?"

Brian mouths 'tell him to fuck off' at you, and you aren't sure if this feels more like a grade school playground faceoff or one of those nature shows where the lions are about to battle it out over some animal carcass.

"I’m able to read lips, you know." Elliot finally stands up, although he doesn't seem to be in any hurry to leave. "But I can tell when I'm not welcome, so-"

"You sure about that?" Brian asks, and fuck coffee, you are going straight for the scotch this morning.

Blessedly, Elliot ignores him. "Liv. Walk me out?"

"Door's right there, man, you really need her to show you?" You hiss at Brian to shut the fuck up, that you'll just be a minute. "I think he can make it downstairs on his own, babe."

"Oh so what, she's gotta get your permission to leave?"

"Children!" you bark in your best Badass Benson voice, all but hauling Elliot over to the door. "I'm going downstairs, and then I will be right back. End of discussion."

"What an asshole," Elliot says as soon as the door closes behind you, at the exact same time as you ask "Why are you such an asshole?"

"Seriously, you couldn't find anyone better to date? No one?"

"Who, El? Who am I going to find that'll meet your impossible standards?" You're a smart girl, you know the answer already, but it's worth it to watch him struggle to come up with a good reply.

"He just seems kinda controlling to me, that's all."

"I'm not even going to respond to that," you say as you both step into the elevator. Fortunately for you there are already other people inside, and that keeps him quiet until you reach the lobby. It doesn't, however, keep him from staring at you for the entire trip. You can tell without even looking that his eyes are focused right on your mouth, and you pretend not to notice until you're only seconds away from stopping on the ground floor.

The tip of your tongue darts out, sliding over your bottom lip, and there's no mistaking the little hitch in his breath that you hear as you step out into the lobby in front of him. Yeah, he definitely saw that.

You suppose you shouldn't start playing games now, not after last night and...whatever that was. Right after you came to an agreement that it was done, all over, finished, he was kissing you again and you weren't exactly calling him out on the mixed signals. Back and forth it went, taking turns to pull away with some sort of insincere protest.

"This is a bad idea," you whispered against the corner of his mouth.

"We can't."

"Yeah. We should stop."

"No more," he said, and that was it- well, at least that was it when it came to talking. The kissing part, on the other hand...that kept going on for a bit longer. It was laid back, gentle, definitely not like your dreams where your tongues battle for dominance and you bite at his lower lip until you draw blood and he growls in your ear about how hard he's going to fuck you. It was slow and lazy but you were still so goddamn worked up that you could hardly stand it, and you cursed yourself several times for having already taken off your bra for the night because your old t-shirt was really doing nothing to hide your obvious arousal and there was no way he could miss it.

In your defense, you didn't exactly invite him to come over and make out with you. It's funny how that shit just happens for no reason at all. Absolutely none. The universe is simply random like that sometimes.

"Hey," he says, snapping you back into the present. You can feel yourself blushing and he's clearly amused by it. "You okay there?"

"Yeah, yeah I'm fine. Are you still coming over Tuesday?"

He promises that he'll be there, that you'll sit down and get your new official story written out so you'll have time to learn every little detail. Upon seeing your uneasy look, he reaches over and brushes his fingers across your wrist. "Hey. You're gonna be fine. You trust me, right?"

"I dunno. Why should I start now?" He laughs and you glance around the lobby, mildly paranoid that your neighbors can pick up on the scent of perjury and infidelity in the air. "I should, ah. Go back upstairs."

He's still smiling because you're still blushing, and you are about to tell him to knock it off when he leans over and his mouth almost brushes across your earlobe. "It's so fucking hard to keep from kissing you right now."

"Goodbye, El," you say sternly, and you can hear him chuckling as he walks away. You feel like a fifteen year old girl with a crush, and it is completely ridiculous, and you haven't smiled like this since...well. It's been a long time.

{I’ll be your bleeding heart
I’ll be your crying fool}

"That asshole gone now?" Brian calls out from the kitchen when he hears you walk back in.

"He's not the only asshole here, you know."

He looks over at you disbelievingly, thumb pointing toward himself. "Me?"

"You."

"I still don't get it. He was the best option you could come up with? Seriously?"

"Who would you rather I call? Nick? It's not like I have this huge circle of friends to choose from and...nothing happened, Bri, I don't know what you're thinking but nothing happened. We talked for a little while and then I asked him to hang out here until you came home so I could get some sleep." All of which was sort of true.

"And he was more than happy that you wanted him to come over in the middle of the night, I bet."

"It's not like that. Hell, he's the one who thought I should call you, but I told him no. You've taken way too much time off for me already." You sigh when you see that he still seems skeptical. "Look, if something was going on, why would I tell him to stay until you got here? Think about it."

"I didn't say I thought you were...I trust you, okay? He's the one I think is shady as fuck. And I get that he's important to you, but that's what I don't like. I don't wanna see him screw you over again. Especially not now."

"Listen to what you just said- you trust me. So trust that I know what I'm doing. Please?" You know he's thinking about the night when you explained Elliot's departure to him after you had been putting the conversation off for months. It was the first time you had told anyone the whole story and the first time you'd cried, really cried, in front of him. Ironically enough, that night was also when you first started to think that maybe you and Brian could actually be something more than friends with benefits. "I've got my eyes wide open this time, believe me."

He frowns like he's thinking this through. "There's just no fuckin' way I could forgive myself if I let someone else hurt you, not after..."

"Hey. No," you say quietly but firmly, resting your forehead against his chest. "We can't start thinking like that. What's done is...there's nothing anyone can do to change it. So don't start."

You can tell there's something else he wants to say but he stays silent, kissing the top of your head. "Sure you're okay? Want to talk about it?"

"I'm fine," you assure him. "Nothing we haven't been through before."

"I'm just trying to take care of you, Liv. Like you told me. I don't wanna fuck this up."

He looks so goddamn uncertain that you can't keep yourself from kissing him, irritation temporarily pushed aside. You forget sometimes that this is new territory for him too, this learning how to let yourself be vulnerable in front of someone else, and that he was thrown into the middle of this storm every bit as abruptly as you were. "It's okay, hon, it's okay," you reassure him, and over his shoulder you can see into the bedroom, see your pillow still sitting just as Elliot had left it. "If anyone fucks this up...it won't be you."

{then there were those who made me feel good
but never as good as I’m feeling right now}

You lean against the kitchen counter, watching your newest creation splash about in the blender. Brian walks past, wrinkling up his nose. "That's the exact same color as-"

"I didn't say you had to drink it, did I? Keep your opinion to yourself," you say with a smirk. Your blender experiments had started a few months ago, when you and Elliot happened upon an infomercial where a woman went on a juice fast and was then cured of her depression, allergies, infertility, and irritable bowel syndrome within the week. You were plenty skeptical about her miraculous recovery, but the part about getting all these nutrients without ever having to eat actual food was intriguing, because at the time you still couldn't force yourself to choke down more than one small meal a day and your doctor was on your ass about the weight you had lost in the month prior. After having thoroughly scoured the internet for ideas, you bought a juicer and a new blender and got to work. It had been a process of trial and error, including learning a valuable lesson about how garlic doesn't belong in juice under any circumstances, but you were finally able to come up with plenty of combinations that didn't make you want to die a little after drinking them. Unfortunately, Brian was still too scarred from taste testing some of your earlier recipes to give it another try. (Not that you could really blame him).

"I have to look at it and that's almost as bad." You shake your head, your back to him as you rummage through the fridge until you find the tomato you were searching for. When you turn around, he's standing so close to you that you're almost toe to toe.

"Yeah?" you ask, because he's just standing there watching you, giving you this look that you can't interpret, but you don't get an explanation before he leans in and kisses you. He steps forward until you're backed up against the fridge, putting one hand on your hip and the other right next to your head, palm flat against the cool metal. Your lips part on a quiet sigh, your tongue searching out his and holy shit you were not expecting this. You had pretty much given up on trying lately, knowing you couldn't handle the inevitable rejection, and so things were basically at an impasse because he wasn't going to make a move of his own. It was understandable and you loved him for it, but the longing you had to be treated like someone who wasn't broken still grew stronger with every passing day.

He nudges your chin until you tilt your head back, going straight to work on sucking a bruise onto the side of your neck right above the pulse point. You laugh softly to yourself because you get what this is now, and normally you would have no patience for that whole possessive jealousy thing, but this is different. It's different because he's kissing you hard, like he's as hungry for this as you are, and you've got one leg wedged in between his and he's pushing your sweatpants down over your ass and it has been so, so long since you've felt wanted like this. Needed.

"Bedroom," he mumbles, and you are headed in that direction before he can even get both syllables out. He catches up to you in the hallway, hands on your shoulders and pushing you back against the wall, and you smile when you reach up to pull his head downward for another kiss.

Somehow you eventually stumble into the bedroom, already halfway undressed by the time you shut the door. "Go take your contacts out," you order, the room now lit only by the narrow strip of sunlight that sneaks in across the floor.

"Already did."

"Aha...so you were already planning on getting lucky, hmm? Hope you weren't too overconfident there," you say teasingly. You're shoving back the comforter and he is kissing you again, although now he's halfway on top of you, and for a fraction of a second you're starting to get nervous but the feeling passes as quickly as it comes on. You're okay, you can do this. You put your hand on his chest to push him away a little, and now it's his turn to look uneasy until you shake your head. "Shut up," you tell him before he actually has the chance to say anything, yanking the t-shirt you're wearing up over your head and then tossing it aside.

When you lie back down you're completely skin to skin for the first time in what might as well have been an eternity, that one night you surprised him in the shower aside, and you can't believe how fucking good this feels. Your hands are clasped together on the pillow next to your head and you lift one leg up to hook over his, arching closer to him while his mouth trails across your collarbone and down between your breasts.

If he notices the scars that are scattered across your chest and stomach, he doesn't say anything. You know it's all but impossible for him not to notice, but you can live with that, at least for as long as the darkness is there to conceal them from view. His mouth keeps moving lower, and when he's kissing your hipbone your eyes fly open. "Hey, no," you choke out quickly before he can make his way down any further, before you inevitably start to panic. You worry for a moment as you reach out for him, afraid that he'll pull away from you entirely, but then he looks up and for once it's like he's seeing the Olivia he used to know. Not the one who's a collection of visible scars and hidden minefields, not the one he's scared to touch for fear of waking some unseen monster that lies buried inside you. It's him and it's you and god it feels like you've waited forever for him to want this as much as you do.

He gives you this wicked grin and ducks his head back down, tongue tracing the underside of both of your breasts because he knows it never fails to make you come undone. You moan appreciatively, a random string of vowel sounds and obscenities coming from your throat as he sucks one of your nipples into his mouth, your hand coming to rest on the back of his head to encourage him to keep going. Not that it was really necessary- he was usually more than content to do this for a while and this time didn't seem to be any different.

"I forgot how fucking incredible your tits are," he mumbles as he's nuzzling your neck, and you let out a loud laugh.

"Oh you did not," you say before he licks at your other nipple, the pad of his thumb brushing over your clit and then teasing you by circling around it. You're so wet by now that the tip of his finger slips inside you almost without trying, and you suck in a surprised breath. "I. That's."

"Want me to stop?"

"No, just...slow." You rest your hand on his shoulder, his mouth going back to your breast as he slowly works his finger in deeper. He's seen you do this for yourself plenty of times so he knows he's not actually hurting you, that it's all psychological when you suddenly wince and squeeze your eyes shut, but you can hear the uncertainty in his voice anyway.

"Hey. Hey, look at me, Liv," and you hesitate because you're not sure what you'll see. But when you finally take a chance and peer over at him, you're relieved to find that he doesn't look like he's already decided that he (and you) have reached the limit of how far he's willing to take this. "Tell me what you want."

"Don't stop," you say, but you're a bit surprised anyway when he actually keeps going without second guessing you. It gets better as you start to relax, the tension in your muscles dissipating, and when he crooks his finger slightly you let out a breath you didn't know you were holding. "Shit...yeah. Like that again, fuck."

You're still a little unsure, but it's definitely not uncomfortable, and you imagine that it wouldn't be bad at all if you weren't so wound up already. But right now you can't be patient anymore, you've confronted enough of your fears for one day and goddamnit, you just really want to get off.

"Enough...stop fucking around, jesus." He looks amused by your frustration as you grab a pillow and shove it underneath your ass, lifting your legs up so you could wrap them around his. Now he's on top of you again, kissing you hard as you rock against each other, and your hips are angled upward so that he's rubbing against your clit with every movement. You groan into his mouth when you're coming, crying out softly as you ride it out, and you shudder as you feel the head of his cock brushing against you once, twice, before he's coming too. "Oh. Fuck."

As soon as he sits up, both of you still out of breath, you roll over onto your stomach and reach out for your discarded shirt. "Hey, no, leave it off," he says, lying down behind you and pulling you closer until you're spooned up next to him, one arm draped over your stomach. "Maybe I'm not done with you yet."

"Oh really now?" you ask in a low purr.

"Maybe," he repeats, and you can feel him kissing in between the notches in your spine. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I guess that was decent," you say, pretending to be nonchalant even though you can't stop grinning smugly to yourself. "You?"

"Eh, it was pretty alright. You're not so bad."

Apparently he wasn't kidding about wanting to go again, because his hands are already wandering and you shiver in anticipation. Normally it's the other way around, where you're the one who's still horny as hell and he's the one who's decided you shouldn't tempt fate with another chance for something to potentially set you off, but if this is how he thinks he's going to prove he can give you something Elliot can't...well, you are going to milk this for all its worth. You'd be insane not to.

{don’t let this go too far
don’t let it get to you}

The scent of sex hangs in the air, and your pillow still smells faintly like Elliot.

You text him while Brian is in the shower and his reply has you blushing like a stupid teenage girl again.

It's not manipulative if all you're doing is taking advantage of what's already there, you decide. It's just being resourceful.

You fall asleep sprawled out on top of Brian, and you dream about Elliot fucking you while you're bent over the back of the couch. You wake up with your heart pounding and your thighs reflexively clenching and unclenching.

The next morning you call your doctor to find out what you have to do to go back on the pill.

Things are starting to change.

{the waiting is the hardest part}