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Claustrophobia

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She is always slightly breathless when she arrives at the door of his apartment.

"Took the stairs again?" he'd ask with a smile as she moved into his arms. He'd always assumed that it was because she wanted the exercise … until the day came when she asked him to accompany her to covertly check out a last sighting on one of her cases and the two of them had walked up twelve flights of stairs.

"I'll take the stairs," she had told him as he had headed towards the elevators.

"No problem," he had said, changing direction to fall into step beside her and the two of them he had taken the stairs, in silence except for the sound of their breathing as they kept pace.

On the day Lina and Abby are trapped inside the elevator and Lina's giving birth, he decides that he has to find out what the deal is with Abby and enclosed spaces. There's panic in her voice as she sings breathlessly … he can hear her freaking out while at the same time trying to calm her friend and partner.

"So what is it with Abby and elevators?" he finally asks Richie while the two of them are out on patrol. Richie glares at him irritably.

"I don't talk to you about Abby," he reminds his friend and partner.

"Is she afraid of them?" Brody asks curiously, it seems strange to think of Abby being afraid of anything. "She was freaking out – and singing the other day when she and Lina were in the elevator…"

Richie scowls. "Fuck it," he mutters beneath his breath. "She claims she has claustrophobia." he falls silent for a moment and then scowls down at his cup of coffee. "It's possible that we locked her in a cupboard for a joke when she was a kid," he admits, looking very ashamed of himself. "The little twerp kept winning at hide and week so the three of us lay in wait and when she went into the cupboard - we locked the door."

"How long did you leave her in there?" Brody demands.

Richie clears his throat and a look of guilt flickers across his face. "It's also possible that dad called us outside to rake leaves and we totally forgot about her … for several hours."

He didn't share the fact that when Abby had finally been retrieved from the cupboard, his little sister's eyes had been swollen, face drenched in tears and she'd cried herself hoarse and injured her small fists from all the pounding on the door. No one had heard her because they'd all been outside …

"Shit, man," Brody mutters and Richie nods.

"She's been terrified of confined spaces ever since then." He and his brothers had felt so ashamed about their part in the terror that they'd never once tried to tell her to get over it or talk to her about it. Just let her take the stairs, just glanced away if she got slightly tense and sweaty when they had to enter an enclosed space.

"She sings when she's nervous," Richie offers up reluctantly. "Coping mechanism or something… she's got a lot of weird little issues."

"It must be a Kowalski thing," Brody jokes and Richie laughs and punches him in the arm, the laughter lightening the mood and removing the tension.

During the next group outing, the Kowalskis head to the lift to head up to the restaurant while Abby heads towards the stairs like usual. "Not coming with us Brody?" Don Kowalski asks curiously and Brody shakes his head. "I'll take the stairs with Abby," he calls over his shoulder as he jogs to catch up with Abby who's already powering up the stairs.

"You don't have to take the stairs with me – I'm used to doing them alone," she tells him with a wry smile.

"Save your breath, Abby," he says over his shoulder as he overtakes her.

He decides he's going to help her get over her fear of enclosed spaces. One day they arrive at his apartment building and instead of taking the stairs, he reaches out his hand and draws her to his side. "Let's take the elevator, Ab," he tells her casually.

"No," she tells him firmly, trying to pull away.

"It's just a quick trip," he reassures her, pulling her against him, tickling her until she laughs, his hand sliding through her hair and pulling her face nearer to his so that he can kiss her. Her soft lips part and she kisses him back, her tongue sliding up against him as he backs them both into the elevator. As the doors slide shut, he feels her body tense up as she starts to freak out.

He holds her tight. "It's fine … I'm not going to let anything hurt you," he promises her as his mouth covers hers again and she feels her relax a tiny bit, her body leaning into his as he holds her close and concentrates on deepening the kiss.

Going down in the lift later, she is hesitant but puts his arms around her and kisses the back of her neck, whispering dirty endearments into her ear so that she laughs.

"You're a pervert," she laughs even as she turns in his arms so that she can kiss him.

"Only for you," he teases her and the doors are opening and they step out of the elevator.

When he's on break, he stops by the station and drags her into tiny, dark broom closets for a quick make-out session. At first, she resists, panic threatening to overwhelm her but with his mouth hard on hers, his clever hands sliding into her jeans she dissolves in his arms and finds that nothing exists except him.

She rests her forehead against his as they stand in the tiny, dark broom closet.

"You ok, Abby?" he asks her and she nods, turning her head to press a kiss to his lean jaw.

"I'm standing in a broom closet with a police officer," she remarks, her fingertips tracing his skin. She knows the space is small, she knows it's a tiny area but she can smell the tang of Brody's aftershave lotion, smell his clean masculine scent and the panic dissipates.

When she's calm and pliant in his arms, he presses a kiss to the top of her head and then opens the door. They step outside into the light, blinking slightly and almost colliding into an incredulous Richie who stares at them in shock.

"What the fuck?" he demands incredulously, staring down at their linked hands and over to the broom closet.

"Hey Richie," Abby says casually, her face still flushed and happy-looking.

"What's going on?"

"None of your business," Abby retorts.

"A broom closet – seriously?" Richie demands and Brody shrugs carelessly.

Nonetheless, the next time they have a family outing, all of the Kowalskis stare in silent surprise as Abby steps with them into the elevator. They stare down with equal fascination at Abby and Brody's linked hands.

"You OK?" Brody asks her, feeling her hand twitch in his and tighten around his convulsively.

"I'm good," she says, taking deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling.

"Just imagine what I'm going to do with you when we're alone again …" he whispers into her ear.

"Geez, get a room," Steve mutters beneath his breath as Gail elbows him sharply. The Kowalskis are impressed, although none of them would ever admit it. Richie glances at his partner with grudging respect in his eyes.

The real test comes one day when Abby finds herself standing at the elevator doors alone. They slide open and she steps inside. A familiar panic starts clawing at her and she stares around desperately, aware that she cannot escape but then she closes her eyes and takes a deep breath.

In her mind's eye she can see Brody, imagine him with his arms around her tightly, imagine his irreverent smile … The doors slide open and she steps out, feeling ridiculous pride at her achievement.

She gives a light knock on the door before unlocking it. "I did it," she tells him smugly when he glances at her questioningly.

"Proud of you," he tells her, lifting her up onto the bench and standing between her knees.

Her mouth curves into a smile.

"Prove it," she retorts and he does.