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The Course Of A Lifetime

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{I know they say let it be
but it just don’t work out that way
and the course of a lifetime runs over and over again}

Between pretending to be asleep when he got home, going to work early (okay, so all you did was sleep off your hangover in the cribs, but it got you out of the apartment), and staying late to finish a stack of paperwork you'd been putting off, it was after midnight the next night before you had to face Brian again.

"Hey," you heard him say, voice thick with sleep.

You didn't bother to turn any lights on before you laid down on the living room couch. But even in the dark, it hits you once again just how goddamn tired he looks, and not in the way that a good night's sleep would do anything to change. Sometimes it's hard to believe that he was ever that baby-faced, overeager kid that you knew 14 years ago. But then you remember the person you were back then, back when you were determined and ready to take on the world and still believed that you could atone for your parents' sins through sheer force of will, and you don't know which one of you has changed more- or if either of you have changed for the better. "I...sorry, I didn't mean to wake you up."

"S'okay, I guess I was kinda hoping I'd catch you when you got back. Can I..." He gestures to the opposite side of the couch, and is this really what you've come to, where you can't even sit together without having to tread so cautiously around one another? You had spent all weekend at each other’s side, and now it was only Tuesday, but yet you were already back to avoiding phone calls and eye contact and anything else that might tip the other off to what was truly going on beneath the surface. "I thought about it all day, Liv...I hate what I said to you."

You clutch your coffee mug a little tighter, its warmth a welcome embrace for your cold hands. "I'm not her."

"I know you're not, babe, and I swear I never thought you were. I'm just worried, I guess. I know things are gonna be real fucking tough between now and then, until the trial finally starts, and...it worries me. I know you'll tell me it shouldn't, you're fine, but- ah fuck. Liv?" he asks, seeing your faraway stare.

Your only response is to move a little closer to him, pushing the sleeve of your shirt up over your left shoulder and pointing to a mark at the top of your inner arm. "See right there? I. I did that."

"What? When?"

"Not now. While I was...missing," and it's maybe a strange way of putting it, seeing as how you knew full well that you were in your apartment at the time and- can you really be missing while nobody's searching? Maybe you hadn't been missing so much as you simply disappeared, vanished from the consciousness of all but one person. «this has to be the most attention you've gotten from anyone in years, huh? almost makes me feel kinda sorry for you, sweetheart.» "He, uh, he was smoking and he handed it to me and t-told me I knew what to do. He said, do it or I'll fuck you...and so I did."

Brian rests his elbows on his knees and presses his palms against his forehead, muttering something you know you're not meant to hear. You expected him to react like this, remembering that night he came unglued after seeing that bite mark that got infected, so you sit back a little and try to give him some space to think this through. "Liv...jesus."

"He didn't rape me," and you're not sure who you're trying to remind by saying that. "I said I'd do anything and I did but...what the hell for? I thought it'd make me feel better somehow, being able to say that, but."

"Does it?"

"I...don't know."

"Would you feel worse if he...you get what I'm saying? Not making you feel better and making you feel worse, those are two separate things."

You nod in understanding, drawing your knees up and hugging your legs to your chest. "Sometimes I don't think there's any way I could feel worse," you say with a sarcastic little laugh.

"Was that...funny?" he asks, because he sure as hell isn't going to laugh along without your express permission.

"Eh, in the 'universe playing a giant cosmic joke on me' way. I figure I can try and find the humor in it, or else I'll just keep raging about how massively unfair the world is. I mean...it's me, right? Why would I ever think that somehow I'd be any different?"

"Than your mom? Babe, you are different. You know that, I know you do."

You laugh again, but this time with a few tears escaping from the corners of your eyes. "The whole time, in the back of my mind I'm thinking...God, I'm going to end up pregnant. No matter how much the odds are against me- because like I said, it's my life, I never seem to catch a break. I was so sure of it."

"But you didn't," he reminds you gently. "And even if you did, it's not like you're some sort of failure...that you're doomed to the same life she had."

He's completely confused when you start crying in earnest, and you can almost see him mentally replaying his last words to figure out where he fucked up now. You shake your head and move in to let him put his arm around you as a silent reassurance that, at least this time, it wasn't something he said. "I know I wouldn't be. Because I couldn't do it. Hell...when I was at the hospital- I was almost positive nothing had happened, there was nothing to suggest it had- but I wasn't a hundred percent sure, you know? Because I knew I'd been unconscious and...so they offered it to me, the pill, and I was all over that shit so fast. So fast. It took me four tries to actually be able to swallow it, but I was gonna choke it down. No matter what. I can't believe it, I'm such a..."

"Such a what? It's not like...you didn't do anything wrong, I don't think," he's quick to add, convinced that this whole conversation is littered with landmines.

"I feel like the biggest fucking hypocrite, y'know? I feel like...I think about Mom all the time lately. Wondering what things would be like if she was here. And then I think it's probably better that she's not, fuck, it's bad enough that I can almost hear her voice in my mind."

"Saying what?"

"That she's disappointed. That she wanted better for me."

"That's a bad thing?" You whip your head around to give him an astonished glare- because seriously, what's that supposed to mean?- but he hurries to raise his hand and cut you off before you can get started. "Hey, no, listen. Why's that shit automatically your fault? Maybe she wanted better for you, of course, she loved you...but she'd understand, she wouldn't blame you for how things turned out."

"You clearly didn't know my mom," you say dismissively, tilting your head back so that your neck rests against his arm like a pillow.

"No, but...eh, I dunno. I think that, wherever we go when we die, we see things, people, like they really are. We get to strip away all the bullshit we were carrying on earth, right? So I look at it like that, and I don't see her thinking it's your fault. That's her own issues talking, it's not you, and it's not her. Underneath everything...if she's angry, I think it's because there's someone out there who hurt her daughter."

You close your eyes for a few minutes, mulling it all over. "I'm not sure. I still feel like she'd see it as me being ungrateful for all she had to sacrifice, if I'd gotten pregnant and decided not to keep it. Like she'd be saying 'so what, you think I made a mistake or something?' She wouldn't understand."

"Maybe not. Or maybe she would've, she'd be glad that at least you had options she didn't. Cause I don't think it has to be...just cause you made a different choice, you're just doing what's right for you at the time. Doesn't mean she didn't do the best she could with what she had to work with. I mean, I wish she could've had more choices too. I wish she didn't have to go through what she did, but I'm still kinda happy you're here."

"Only kinda?" you ask with the barest hint of a smile on your face. "Because I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you."

"Liv..."

"I'm serious. Look, I know I'm a bitch and I know you think you can't do anything to help me, or that I won't let you do anything to help me...but it's not true. I know, I know you're the main reason I've made it through the last six months. There's no way I could've done it without you." He looks part hopeful, part hesitant, like he's waiting for someone to confirm that he has the winning lottery ticket, and you have to say it. No matter how much of a struggle it is to admit, even imply, that yes, you needed him. That you still do. "I'm...thank you. For everything. I really mean it."

You stare at each other in bewilderment because this is strange territory to you both, talking about Feelings and Important Stuff and having it be an actual two way conversation rather than an argument or monologue. It's gone well, you think, but now you're at a point where it's either going to get even more serious or you'll just fidget silently and look at each other's feet for a while.

Fortunately for you he breaks the stalemate, leaning over and kissing you, and it's slow and sweet and one of those moments that you wish you could press between the pages of a book to preserve as a reminder that there really is good in your world. "We okay, babe?"

"Mmhmm," you mumble sleepily, the effects of last night's insomnia starting to hit you full-force as a rare sense of calm settles over the room. "Yeah. We're good."

"Oh, hey, before you fall asleep. This came in the mail for you." He hands you an envelope that had been sitting on the coffee table, and your heart rate quickens a little when you see the return address. You rip it open, unfolding the paper inside only as much as you need to be able to read the contents, and a smile starts to form as your eyes skim over the words.

Brian's trying to read over your shoulder, unable to make out the small print in the darkness, and you swat him away playfully with the folded up paper. "I passed."

"Seriously?"

You nod, a full-fledged grin on your face. Studying for the sergeant's exam had given you something to focus on when you badly needed it, much like when you were younger and would throw yourself into schoolwork as a way to escape the chaos that was your life. Even still, you had your doubts about how well you had done on the actual exam, coming as it did after a string of sleepless nights and with the infamous deposition looming only days away. But here you were now, holding a piece of paper that felt like a big fuck you to your own self doubt, to a whole goddamn universe that seemed to be conspiring against you. see this? I did at least one thing right. It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

"Proud of you, babe," he says, kissing the side of your head, and you raise an eyebrow because he looks entirely too pleased with himself for some reason.

"And...?"

"Eh, nothing. Just thinking how this is really all thanks to me, cause if it weren't for me you'd still be squinting and saying there's nothing wrong with your eyes. So y'know, you're welcome."

You smack him on the back of the head with the letter one more time as you go off to bed.

{the sexiest thing is trust}

Six months ago you sat on the edge of a hospital bed, hugging your good arm against your body and trying to resist the urge to curl up in a fetal position while one of the doctors came in to give you all your discharge instructions. "...and no driving, swimming, heavy lifting, exercise, or intercourse for six weeks or until your doctor tells you otherwise. Basically resting as much as you can, that's the important part."

None of those activities sounded even remotely appealing, so you didn't think you'd have much of a problem following that advice. From the other side of the room, the woman who had come in to collect the trash bags snorted loudly.

"That's same thing they say to ya after you have a baby, right, no sex for six weeks. Lemme tell you, my daughter was nine pounds four ounces and I pushed her out on my own, all natural. My mom told my husband, she said 'son, forget six weeks, anything you get in the next year, you should consider that a gift from God!'"

You and the doctor looked at her, looked at each other, and then the doctor shook her head and continued. "In any case, you'll need to come back in ten days..."

So life went on, and eventually you were able to cross each of those previously banned activities off of your to-do list. That is, all but one.

And then one day, that changed.

Quite frankly, it changed because you had a sincere and overwhelming desire to get laid. That was motivating factor number one through...eh, sixteen. You didn't know where exactly this was coming from, but yet there it was, and who were you to argue with something like that?

"How fucking stupid do they think we are?" Brian asks, and you glance at him out of the corner of your eye to find out who he expects to answer that, you or the TV. "On CNN. Do they really need to be holding a model airplane in order to do a story about planes?"

"Mmm," you hum, because you've learned it's best not to encourage his outbursts- he can carry on a one way conversation with the people on the screen just fine all by himself.

"Look at that. They're sending down another submarine to look for that plane that's missing. What I wanna know is, who the hell's paying for all this shit?"

"They're looking in the wrong place. It's been on land the whole time," you say, thinking of that bet with Elliot that you won when it hadn't been found by the end of July. Speaking of which...you pick up the phone, tapping out a text to him while you keep talking. "Bri, look at my list of things I need to do tomorrow and tell me if I'm missing anything."

"Looks good, babe."

"You didn't even read it! C'mon, you told me you'd help. Please?"

"Actually, I think it's you who told me I'd help. I said I don't like having guests. They eat all your food, drink all your booze, and don't leave when you tell 'em to." Despite this, he picked up the iPad and started reading your list anyway. You had wanted to have a housewarming party since the day you moved in, and he'd objected to it since that very same day, saying he didn't see a point. 'It's just something people do,' you explained. Normal people, who had their own little piece of domestic bliss, who cooked and decorated and did all those things you were only now starting to attempt. You didn't tell him that part, of course, there's no way he'd understand that maybe you'd like to play at being a grownup for a change. That having all the trappings of the perfect life didn't mean a thing until you had a chance to put them on display. So instead you just kept talking about it ad nauseam, hoping he'd figure out that resistance was ultimately futile.

One day he finally sighed in resignation and reached out to rest his hand on your shoulder. "This is really important to you, huh?"

"Yes."

"I still don't get why. You never do shit like that."

"It just is. It's what I want."

He seemed to realize that this would be a good time to surrender on all fronts. "Then I won't stand in your way, I guess."

"You're damn right you won't, because you're going to be helping me. I can't do this all on my own."

And so it went. You suggested that maybe he should invite people too, but he dismissed that idea with an noncommittal shrug. There was a piece of you that struggled not to take it personally, wondering if he was worried your 'issues' would start to show and then he'd be stuck having to make excuses, the way he did the night you freaked out on Will because you weren't expecting to find someone in your living room. Entertaining guests probably doesn't seem like fun when your girlfriend is "still working through some stuff."

Of course, not everyone you knew was showing up either. You had invited Elliot, knowing full well that he wouldn't come but also knowing he'd get all pissy if he didn't have the chance to formally turn down the invitation. Whatever, you decided- after all, last night you had a dream where he held you down on the dining room table and fucked you, and there was no way you wouldn't have that image stuck in your head the whole time he was around. (Not that you were going to tell him that; he would be far too smug about it).

Speaking of which..."I'm gonna go get showered," you announce as you finish off your last text to Elliot and stand up.

"Already? Kinda early," he says, turning around to look at you as you walk out of the room. You resist the urge to roll your eyes, instead mouthing 'think about it'. "Ahhh okay. Be there in a minute."

You'd gotten in the habit of taking long showers before bed a month or two ago, when you were going through a brutal stretch of sleepless nights and were trying everything you could possibly think of to avoid the dreaded sedatives. It worked surprisingly well, so it became your routine (at least, when you were home at a decent hour. On those nights where you dragged yourself in at 2 AM after an 18 hour day, you went straight for the bottle- no time to fuck around).

Brian's new habit, meanwhile, was getting unnecessarily nervous whenever you shut yourself in the bathroom for too long. It had become your default place to hide simply because the door locked, which was exactly what he didn't like about it. You resented the implication that you needed to be babysat to keep you from doing...what? The most reckless thing you'd ever done while he was locked out was butchering your hair, and you had certainly learned your lesson about that already.

After a protracted 'discussion', you came to the agreement that if you kept the door unlocked, he'd respect that it was your hiding place and he would leave you alone unless he had your permission first. He had kept his promise, giving you your space and pretending not to notice that it was where you went to cry alone, so you were surprised when he knocked on the door while you were in the shower a few weeks later.

He said he was looking for something or another, and you told him to go ahead with a smirk on your face, thinking you had this figured out. When a couple of minutes had passed with no sign of him, you peered around the curtain in annoyance. "Are you coming or not?"

You see him kneeling down in front of the cabinet under the sink- yes, actually searching for something- before he turns around and snickers. "What are you- ohh man, you just got shut down, didn't you?"

Scowling to yourself, you duck back behind the curtain. "On second thought..."

"I just fucking shut you down! Shit, you thought I-"

"I'm gonna change my mind and kick you out in about 30 seconds if you keep being an ass."

And thus your regular routine was born. More often than not, you were both too exhausted to do anything other than sorta lean on each other to keep from falling asleep on your feet, but there were some notable exceptions...such as tonight. You're all over him from the very second he steps in behind you, palms flat on the tile on either side of his arms so he's backed up against the wall.

"I want you to fuck me. I'm serious," you say, looking him right in the eyes so you're certain he gets it.

"You're sure about that? Because-"

"I'm sure." You're pressed up against him and holy shit, he definitely wants this as much as you do, but you had come to the realization that it was up to you to take charge here if you ever expected anything to happen. "You told me not to overthink it, remember? Because this is me, not overthinking it."

"But what about-"

You let your teeth scrape the side of his neck ever so slightly to make your point. "Hon. Do you trust me?"

"Course."

"Then shut up before you give me a complex." The direct approach seemed to work, because he leaned back in and started kissing you fiercely without any further comment. You weren't nearly as sure of yourself as you pretended to be, but you were at the point where all that was really holding you back were your worries about a thousand different things that could go wrong- and that list just seemed to grow by the day. It made you wish you hadn't waited so long, until it started to feel like a much bigger deal than it needed to be, but you could hear your therapist telling you that's not how it works, that you can't pick an arbitrary date on the calendar and decide that you'll be 'all better' by that day.

Then you decide that thinking about your therapist is killing the mood and you push all that out of your head, because really, not helping. You tell Brian you're getting out now, and you know you're doing something right when he doesn't let go, just reaches for your ass and pulls you flush against him so that his dick's trapped between your stomachs. "Shit, Liv, I."

"You want me?" you ask in the closest thing to a purr that will still let you be heard over the noise of the showerhead, palm wrapped around him and moving up and down slowly.

"Fuck, I...yeah. Yeah I do."

"Good." You let go of his cock, pressing your lips against his in a quick chaste kiss before taking a step back.

You do your best to quickly dry your hair off as you make your way out of the shower and into your bedroom, switching off the lamp and the lights in the hall as you go. Back in the bathroom, Brian sees the lights going off and takes it as his cue to follow after you. By now it was largely a formality, even if you wouldn't admit it out loud, but there was still no way in hell you were going to let him see you in the light unless you were fully clothed. He had tried to subtly point out that there really wasn't that much mystery to it anymore, that he had pretty much seen it all and wasn't bothered by it, but you had just shook your head and walked away as if to say we can do this my way or not at all.

So now it's dark, and that's fortunate timing because he's coming out of the bathroom and you're there on the edge of the bed to greet him, rising up on your knees and sighing as he leans in and sucks one of your nipples into his mouth. He flicks it with his tongue and tugs at it lightly with his teeth before gently nudging you onto your back, kneeling in between your thighs. "You're so fucking gorgeous. Always have been."

You spend a long time just kissing and touching and exploring each other lazily, and you know he's trying his hardest to make sure you're comfortable but you suspect he's also a bit like you are, more than willing to put off actually having sex until you've run out of other ideas. His mouth travels down over your stomach, licking at your belly button with the tip of his tongue in the same way he used to tease your clit before sliding that tongue inside you. The thought alone makes you gasp, back arching slightly off the bed, and you want it so much despite the way your stomach twists at the same time, despite the small voice deep in your head that says it can only do so much to hold back the darkness and the memories and you'd do best not to push it. He pauses and looks up at you, and maybe you're already further gone than you realize because the next thing you know, you're shaking your head slightly and telling him he doesn't have to stop.

"You...you're sure?" he asks- and no, you're not, but are you ever going to be completely sure? Probably not, but the part of you that wants it is a lot more demanding than the part of you that's still hesitant.

"Yeah. Just...," and it's hard to pick out the right words amongst everything else swimming around in your mind, especially as he kisses your hipbone, as his fingertips brush over dark curls. "Fuck. Just not...too much."

He nods, promises he'll stop the second you say so, and then he's kissing the inside of your thighs even as they're shaking slightly in nervous anticipation. "It's okay, babe, I'm not gonna hurt you. It's okay."

You take hold of his free hand as he reaches around from behind one of your legs, fingers linked together. He nuzzles at your pubic bone, laughing as you start to squirm, and the feeling of those warm little puffs of breath on your wet center does nothing to help keep you still.

"Shit...no, good, it's good," you reassure him quickly. He kisses the crease of your inner thigh, traces it with his tongue, and then he does the same thing with the other leg, mouth slowly working inward toward its ultimate destination. There's still that part of you that's on alert, that won't allow you to completely let your guard down, but mostly it just feels fucking amazing. And that's even before the tip of his tongue slides all the way down your center, before he's got his mouth on you, licking and sucking and holy shit.

He's got his hands under your ass so he can get a better angle when his lips close around your clit, and he's working one finger inside you and fucking you with it and you're getting louder, getting more restless, but all of a sudden your muscles start to tense up and it's too much and you can feel your sense of control slipping away and it's happening too fast and you don't want this, you don't want-

"Hey. Stop," you choke out.

His head instantly jerks upward. "Fuck, did I...?"

"No. No, I...that's enough, just come here?"

He sits up, rubbing his face and eyeing you warily. "You're sure?"

"I'm fine. Actually...no, I'm not. I'll be fine once you fuck me," you say, looking back at him with your best determined stare, and you could have a long conversation where once again you assure him that you won't break, that if you waited for every single one of your anxiety triggers to disappear you would never have sex again. You could explain how, in some strange way, you feel like you have a piece of yourself back every time you're able to say no and have that respected. Or, you know, he could just fuck you and you could skip the talking altogether.

"Okay. But we don't have to, y'know."

"God, you're such a romantic. Because that's exactly what every girl wants to hear in this situation." You shake your head and duck away when he tries to kiss you, turning over onto your side so that he's spooned up behind you and his mouth can only reach as far as your neck. It seems better, safer like this anyway; face to face just feels far too intense when you're already on the verge of being overwhelmed by it all.

Reaching behind your back for his hand, you take it in your own and place it over your stomach. He gets the hint and his fingertips trail lazily across your skin, your hand still covering his as it drifts downward and his knuckles brush across you. "Shit, you're so..."

You make a noise of what's supposed to be agreement, even though you're not completely sure what you're agreeing with, and you set to work on fucking yourself with your fingers in a steady rhythm while he keeps touching you, your hands brushing together. "That's...jesus, Bri, I'm ready, just...fuck. Keep doing that."

It's fortunate that you hadn't been waiting all these months with the expectation of mind-blowing sex, because that's not what you got. You winced and bit down on the inside of your cheek to stay quiet at first, your body unaccustomed to the stretch, but it soon turned into more of a dull ache as he started moving inside you slowly, shallowly. Not an amazing feeling, but tolerable once you adjusted to it, especially when you started rubbing your clit while his free hand massaged your breast. He kisses the nape of your neck, behind your ear, all the while telling you that you feel so fucking good, babe, god you're so good, and you know that he must be getting close when his voice drops and his hips jerk forward sharply.

"Liv. Shit," he groans, pinching one of your nipples between his fingers and swearing when he comes. You cringe slightly as he pulls out right afterward, letting him take over where your own hand has been, and after a few moments you shudder and moan into your pillow.

"Fuck," you finally declare when you turn back toward him, eyes fluttering shut.

"You okay?"

You nod against his shoulder. "I'm...I'm good."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. You're...you’re good to me, I guess," you admit shyly, your normal filter having not returned yet from wherever it hides during sex.

"Hey, uh," he says, and the uncertainty in his voice has you curious enough that you open your eyes to look over at him. "So I was thinking about what you said the other day. When you said I had no idea what it's like."

"Oh?"

"And I realized you're right, I don't. I can't ever really...understand, I guess. But I wanted you to know- I see what you're up against every day, and I get that you've had to pretty much start your life from scratch all over again," he says, and that's certainly one way of putting it. "So I don't know what it's like, but I see how fucking hard it is on you and...yeah. Just wanna make sure you knew that."

"Thank you," you say softly. "I...it's like I told you the other night. Thank you. I really mean it."

He nods, rubbing the back of his neck in thought. "This is kinda weird, isn't it? It seems like we've been...talking about so much shit this week. Heavy shit."

"I know. Want me to go off on you to even it out?"

"Sure."

"I hate you, you fucking son of a bitch," you say, and you both laugh with an absurd amount of relief, and then you let yourself snuggle up to him and it's as if all has been made right in the world for now.

You don't know if you love him, or if he loves you, but you do know you feel loved.

{the captain grimaced
“those are cliffs of rock ahead
if I’m not mistaken”}

Brian gets up early the next morning to start in on your party to-do list so that you can sleep late. You protest halfheartedly, but your muscles ache and you're beyond tired, so when he tells you again to go back to sleep you yawn and happily obey.

Later on, you're startled awake by an unfamiliar loud noise in the living room. You lift your head up a fraction of an inch, decide it's the sound of furniture being moved, and roll over-

Wait. Furniture. Living room. Shit. You leap out of bed so fast that you nearly trip over the blankets you've shoved aside onto the floor, praying to the god of all things holy that you're not too late.

"Liv. Hey," he says as soon as he sees you, looking baffled. "It's good you're up...do you know that we have this huge fucking hole in the wall behind the bookshelf?"