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My boy plays it pretty close to his vest. Gets that from his father.

Olivia's eyes fly open and she stares immediately at the ceiling. She can hear Bernadette's voice resonating in her ears and she can't tell the difference between her memories and the dreams. Her skin is warm, too warm, and the air around her feels sticky.

Her room is flooded with light, despite the closed curtains. It's unnaturally calm outside and she can tell this because there is absolutely no breeze brushing over her skin. She can feel the thick humidity and she immediately kicks the covers off of her, lying still again in her t-shirt and cotton shorts.

She can tell it is long past early morning. She must have slept in.

Olivia's pulse is racing and her mouth is dry. She's got the slightest bit of a headache, but it's not too bad. She's slept most of the tequila off and besides her thirst she is no worse for wear.

The previous night comes barreling back at her. She closes her eyes again against the onslaught of recollection. The liquor had loosened her up a bit and she'd told Elliot she didn't want to leave. And he had held her - held her - right there on the beach.

If she had even the weakest line to God she would ask for some guidance right now. She'd pray for some sign that making the decision to stay here with him for the rest of her week off is the right thing.

She is worried about how far gone she will be if she stays. She is worried that she is already too far gone to leave. The pressure against Olivia's breastbone is unbearable when she thinks about him. She's been awake all of two minutes and she already wants to get out of bed and find him, touch him, make sure that when Elliot had held her last night it had all been real. She needs to make sure that he isn't spending the morning alone with his regrets.

He'd held her for endless minutes. She remembers feeling every second go by. Elliot's pulse had been strong, and he had smelled like tequila and summer. She had pressed her face against his neck and she could feel the movement in his throat as he tried to swallow, and everywhere she touched him, brushed him, he had been strong and solid and just granite - unbreakable, it seemed.

She had been the first one to pull away. She hadn't been able to look at him as they had walked home then, but when he started locking up the house, Olivia had stood in the doorway to her room and caught his eyes.

She'd whispered then, her heart racing. Goodnight, Elliot.

He had stood there, unmoving and expressionless, until after she had closed the door and changed to go to sleep.

Her skin is heated with want. It would be almost impossible not to fall for him - for this. It's the beach and Elliot's assured smile and the way he's confident and calm all the time. It's the fact that she knows him and she feels like she has a certain right to him and that if it's not him, it will be no one at all. It's the heady feeling of possibility that doesn't abate because of logic or rules or boundaries.

Olivia ignores the voices that remind her that she can't stay here forever, that he can't. There is a tiny part of her that wants to believe they could make something work between them back in the city. At least for awhile, until they both figure out what they want.

Want.

The problem with touching him this much - with being touched - is that her body is learning his, and the cravings run deep. She knows the parts of Elliot; his sleep-roughened voice, the breadth of his shoulders, the size of his hands and the dark inkings on his skin. Independently each one of those things would arouse any woman, but combined, Jesus, combined she doesn't stand a chance.

There is a voice inside of her that is growing louder. So loud. He's the one it says and she does everything she can to drown it out. It's Elliot, she argues back. He can't be the one. He can't be.

Only she is forgetting all of the reasons why.

She wants to strip down, to take a cool shower this morning. It's like trying to breathe in a sauna, and she needs to get out of this bed and pull her hair up. Staying in bed and fantasizing about her partner isn't going to accomplish a thing. Besides, it's not as if Elliot has even asked her if she wants to see if there is anything between them.

Just get used t'me.

Her head tells her that he is waiting for her to get comfortable with the idea; her heart tells her that she won't be able to withstand Elliot walking away when whatever this is dissipates.

She rolls her head to her right and looks at his mother's journal resting on the end table. Before she realizes what she is doing, she's reaching for it. Despite the cloying heat, Olivia remains on the bed, her fingers searching for the last page that she had read.

January, 1970

Dearest Suhaili,

I am only writing today because I am doing my best to stay awake. I haven't been able to keep my eyes open for days and Joe has stayed home from work to watch after Elliot. Joe looks at me like I am disgusting to him now, and I wish that I could blame him.

I've that that I've done a terrible, terrible thing.

It started out so far from where it ended up. Elliot and I were wrapping presents in the living room and the tree was gloriously lit. His small hands made a mess of the wrapping paper, and he had more tape stuck to the carpet than to the boxes that contained the gifts we had picked out for Joe. Elliot was watching me more than made me comfortable, and his little face was so serious, so solemn, that I couldn't take it anymore. I bundled him up in his parka and took him outside. It was nearly eight o'clock and the street was so dark, but the snow was coming down. Big, thick flakes of pure white snow. The flakes were so big that they looked like feathers that were trickling down from God's pillows.

Elliot had on his boots, but I was just in my slippers. It didn't matter though because the moment was so exhilarating that I didn't feel the cold. I ran onto the lawn and waited for my boy to chase me, but when he finally tried the snow was already so deep that his little feet got stuck in the thickness of it. So I told him to chase the snowflakes instead, to catch all of them. The snow was slower, surely he could get it. But he got stuck again and this time he fell. And then he started crying. He kept pointing to my feet and telling me that I needed to go inside and get my boots. When I looked down, my feet were bare and icy, my slippers lost somewhere in the white tufts that covered our lawn.

I couldn't stand my beautiful baby boy crying! I couldn't take it! It broke my heart into tiny little pieces that outnumbered the snowflakes. So I bundled Elliot in the car instead, and told him we would always be faster than the snow. The snow couldn't beat us. And we started driving. Just driving. We drove all the way to Broadway and I started singing to him. I sang Jingle Bells and Joy to the World. I sang Rudolph and God Bless Ye Merry Gentleman. I sang so many songs! So many. The car was our magic flying reindeer and we were going to bring good cheer to everyone.

Only Elliot started crying again. He wanted me to stop the car. I didn't understand. Why did he want me to stop? We were flying! He was such a lucky little boy to learn how to fly so young. But he cried, louder and louder and I just kept singing and singing, thinking he'd stop all his bawling and listen to my wonderful songs.

I don't remember anything after that.

Joe tells me that Elliot's little body hit the back seat hard when we crashed, and that I am lucky he didn't fly straight out of the car. He tells me all of the nasty things the ambulance drivers said about me when he overheard them as he walked into the hospital. He tells me I should have been the one to break my arm, and I heard him whisper last night when he thought I was sleeping that I should just do it already - just die - and that I need to leave our boy out of it.

I remember the hospital. I remember thinking I should die. No one looked me in the eyes. The nurses were rough with me, the doctors were curt. And when I finally slipped out of the room they had put me in and walked into the hall my bones hurt. But I didn't ache from the accident. I ached because I saw Joe, and his head was bowed as he stood near a young nurse. Her hand was stroking his arm and her palm cupped his face and I knew. I knew.

It's been twelve days since the accident.

Elliot clutches Joe now, and he seems to breathe harder when he is around me. His arm is in a cast for another six weeks they say, and when I try to do things for him he takes a few steps back as if he is scared of touching me. My little boy looks at me like I am a monster. I tell him I love him again and again but he just mutely stares at me.

I don't blame him.

Joe tells me again and again about how hard Elliot cried. He tells me that even with his arm broken, Elliot had cried in the hospital for hours because he had been worried about me. Until I went to see him in his hospital room, he had believed I had died and Joe tells that part like I have failed him. The both of them. Sometimes I suspect that I have failed them because I keep on living.

So I have been sleeping as much as I can. I am staying away from the two of them until they stop looking at me this way. I tell Joe that the roads were icy, that it wasn't my fault, but he says horrible things to me. He tells me I am an idiot, and that I am stupid. He tells me that I should never have been a mother. He tells me that one day Elliot will hate me and that I will deserve it.

There are moments when I wonder if he is right. I watched Elliot open his presents using his unbroken arm on Christmas morning, and he didn't smile once. He struggled with the wrapping paper that covered his train set and his colored pens. But he wouldn't let me help him. Not with one thing. I wonder if he is old enough to be done with me.

I'm tired again. So tired. Maybe now that I have told you this I won't dream of it when I sleep.

Goodnight, Suhaili.

Bernadette

 

The sound of the screen door slamming jars Olivia and she flinches, nearly blinking against the surprise of her surroundings. Her chest is pounding - hurting - and for the first time in a long time she feels the acidic burn of anger. She knows his mother was sick, she does, but she can't separate the clinical diagnosis with the effects it had on Elliot. For the moment she can't forgive his mother. She knows Bernadette had suffered in a time when medication had not been readily available, in a time when her condition was not easily identifiable, but that doesn't change what her illness did to Elliot.

She'd known about the car accident, of course. She'd overheard Bernadette telling Kathleen the story. But being given the detailed images of Elliot as a child is overwhelming. It's her job to protect him. Her job. Only she can't protect him from his past. She can't change that he'd been abused as a result of his mother's illness.

Abused.

The word evokes a visceral reaction in her. If she could fight the ghosts for him, she would.

It scares her how so much more about Elliot makes sense now. His nearly obsessive need to keep his family away from his job. His inability to walk away from his marriage. He had needed to keep something together, to just create the most protective, idyllic environment for his kids that he could - no matter what it could cost him. She'd always thought it was him separating his job from his family, but she realizes now he was separating his past from the present.

For a moment, Olivia feels a stab of inadequacy. He hadn't confided in her. Even after all of the shit they had experienced together - the moments their lives were on the line, the body count that they both kept as a silent number in their heads - he still hadn't trusted her enough to tell her the truth.

But then her own choices sit in front of her, glaring with the hypocrisy. She'd been silent all these years, too. In an effort to disconnect from her past, she had pretended it didn't exist. Maybe if she had talked more about her own childhood, in some way that would have made it okay for Elliot to talk about his.

He's erased his childhood.

It takes her breath away to think about just how locked up Elliot's been for all of these years. She wonders why they both chose to ignore their own demons. Maybe it's because every day they were faced with horrors on a grand scale, and it had seemed indulgent to revisit the bruises they still carried.

He had just been a little boy.

Olivia can almost picture him, his blue eyes too serious, too soon. For a moment she wonders if a child can possibly overcome a childhood lived in uncertainty to ultimately find some solid ground as an adult.

She hears Elliot's footsteps, heavy on the hardwood floors.

And then the house fills with music.

Olivia feels a punch of air escape from her chest when she realizes that he's just kicked on a Bob Seger CD. The easy sounds fill the air and Seger's grainy voice is singing about the summertime and his 1960 Chevy and cornfields. And then Elliot chases away both her memories and his.

He sings a couple of the words. And he's into it. Jesus, he's into it.

No one can see her, so she lets the smile come. She lets the air back in. The humidity seems manageable for the moment and suddenly it's summer. It's fucking summer and she's at the beach and she's got no plans for the day. Her cell phone doesn't ring out here, and she hasn't fallen asleep beneath the sun for years, but she will today. She plans on it. She'll probably even go buy some clothes on the boardwalk because she can't live out of her overnight bag forever.

Forever.

She rolls her head to the side until the pillow cups her face and she forgets that she is forty years old. She forgets that she doesn't live here and she forgets that there are a million reasons why she shouldn't let him hold her.

Elliot must think he's only humming along. But he's loud as hell and he's apparently sung this song to himself before because he's got every nuance of the tune down pat.

Olivia wants to roll her eyes as she stares up at the ceiling, but the truth is that she wants to listen to him take on the whole song. Every word of it. She wants to know him. This Elliot. She wishes she could sneak into the family room and watch him undetected, because she's pretty sure that Elliot Stabler knows how to play the air guitar.

And then she laughs and no one can see her. The instinct comes from deep in her gut and her palm covers her stomach and she knows that this moment is a turning point. It's a moment she knows she will remember forever. It's the pivotal one, the one she will cherish. She'll understand the particular significance of the moment later, but she understands its importance now.

She is grinning at no one and listening to Elliot and she thinks about how it's amazing that he can teach her how to let go of her past simply because he is learning to let go of his.

Her fingers skim the leather, and she wonders if somewhere up there Bernadette Stabler knows that despite it all, her little boy grew up to be the most amazing man that Olivia has ever known.

+ + +

It's as if the sun is sticking its tongue out at the fierce storm that will roll in later tonight. It's the sun's last stand.

Going out in a blaze of glory, he thinks.

He's dripping all over the kitchen floor, but he doesn't particularly care at the moment. It's after ten and Elliot wants to wake Olivia up, if only because he's thrumming with adrenaline and she is sleeping the day away. Logic tells him she needs to sleep and he doesn't want to think about why she is so sleep deprived. He knows why and it still eats at him that he left her there in Manhattan doing that job.

Elliot looks up and out at the ocean though the kitchen window. He doesn't want to think about the past right now. The Atlantic is warm as hell today - warmer than it should be in June - and he wants to go back out there. It had been too hot to run, so he'd gone for a swim instead. There is something inherently invigorating about floating out past where the waves would break, with no one around. The nearest neighbors to his mother's home are older, so this stretch of beach is amazingly quiet.

He grins. He's gonna drag Olivia's ass out there today. He hopes to hell she brought a bathing suit because he can't let go of the image of her swimming with him, her hair slicked back and wet and the saltwater getting caught on her eyelashes.

His stomach growls in irritation and he expels a breath. He'd only left the water because he'd been starving, but now that he's inside, he's not going back out there until she agrees to go with him. Maybe the music will wake her up. Nothing like waking up on a gorgeous summer day to the gritty sounds of Seger. Sometimes when he's alone he'll sing this song and he'll imagine for a second that he's an old rock star who's strumming a beaten up guitar. He's never been able to sing, and maybe it's just middle age, but he thinks every guy at some point has to have imagined he was Seger or Springsteen or Ronnie Van Zant while crooning in the privacy of his living room.

Elliot reaches for one of the knives from the wooden block and grabs the cantaloupe. He can't stop thinking about last night. Olivia had stayed still as he had held her - held her - and...and...

Jesus, he'd held her.

His disbelief and utter satisfaction starts and ends there. He had been aware of how much he had wanted to touch her, but until Olivia was finally there, in his hands, he hadn't realized just how gut-wrenching the experience would be. He had underestimated just how powerful it would make him feel to get her to relax against him, if even for just a few moments. Soothing her had made him feel invincible.

Of course it had also turned him the hell on.

He's an asshole. He's clear on that. But she's also had plenty of time to find someone else - someone far better than him - and she hasn't fallen for any one of the guys she's met. He's watched them all come and go - the stockbrokers, the lawyers, the cops and the fucking reporters - and they've all been summarily dismissed by Olivia. He's spent a dozen years with her day in and day out; he has to have an inside track. He knows her better than anyone else, and that has to count for something.

He's got the cantaloupe in wedges on the countertop when he finally hears her bedroom door open. He knows she's bare foot just by the sound of her tentative footsteps on the wood floors. She comes to stand just at the edge of the doorway into the kitchen, and despite the music he hears her take a deep breath.

Elliot doesn't look up. He's cutting the seeds out of the center of his slices. "Careful on the floor. I didn't dry off."

Olivia doesn't say anything.

He shoots her a glance over his shoulder, and he almost laughs at her stupefied expression. "You doin' your best impression of sleeping beauty this morning??" He sets the knife down and turns around, opening the fridge. He can see Olivia out of the corner of his eyes and she is standing perfectly still. He's positive she's gotta have some shorts on, but her t-shirt is so long that he can't tell. He can't look at her legs. He can't. He's gotta focus on finding the vanilla yogurt in this overstuffed fridge and refrain from ogling her.

A ha.

He grabs the container of yogurt and lets the door slam shut, turning back to the slices of cantaloupe that are now leaking juice all over the countertop. Olivia's legs are still too visible, and unless he keeps his hands occupied, he's going to try and touch her again.

She hasn't moved.

He's gonna give her a second because she just isn't a morning person. Maybe she had too much tequila last night and she's hung over. Or maybe - maybe she regrets how much she let him touch her.

That stops him. He stops separating the cantaloupe from its skin and drops the knife onto the cutting board. He exhales, and tells himself to calm down. That can't be why Olivia is dead silent. She can't be thinking of ways to tell him that she's gonna leave today and -

"You went for a swim?"

Her voice is extraordinarily quiet and suddenly the music is too loud. Elliot grabs a dish towel and dries his hands, trying to regain his composure before he looks at her. He can't get angry if she tells him she's going back to the city. Getting angry isn't going to accomplish anything.

Elliot turns, and lets his lower back rest against the edge of the counter. He tosses the towel next to the cutting board and finally looks up at Olivia, straight at her.

She seems frozen, and she's staring at him.

He does nothing but answer her question. "Yeah."

Olivia nods and then her gaze fall away. In seconds though she's back, searching his face again. And then Elliot sees it, the nearly imperceptible way that she chances a glance lower only to immediately whip her eyes back up to meet his.

She looks guilty. Guilty. In fact she looks so damned guilty that she seems to almost flush, and in her nervousness she sucks her lower lip into her mouth.

Because God still takes mercy on him every now and then, Elliot gets it immediately. He hadn't thought twice about it, but now he realizes how it looks. He'd come out of the water and walked up to the patio before grabbing his towel and wrapping it around his waist. At this very moment, Olivia doesn't know if he's got anything on beneath the towel, and instead of walking away or ignoring it altogether, she's standing there. Unmoving.

She does it again then. Only this time it's slower, almost as if she is fighting it. Her gaze drops and he can practically feel her eyes on his neck, his chest, his abs. And then Olivia looks right at the knot of his towel and if he didn't want to keep her here so badly, he'd laugh out loud and call her on it.

She catches herself again and this time she whips her gaze back up and locks eyes with him so fast that he can palpably feel her absolute immediate panic at having been caught.

It's her expression that makes him feel just a little bit arrogant. When she looks at him like this, he doesn't feel the places where he's got scars. He doesn't think she sees the faint knife lines that form thin white trails across his chest and stomach. His left shoulder and arm have small puckers from bullet wounds and his right shoulder still has a tiny indentation from where he was once stabbed by a scared kid. His elbow bears the evidence of once having been fractured, his arm was once sliced open and his knuckles are misshapen. But the way Olivia is looking at him, with arousal instead of disgust - it makes him forget that he is battered from the ugliness. He doesn't feel the need to cover up around her just to save her from the reminders of who he has been. Who he still is.

The humid air has an electrical charge to it, as if the pending storm has inhabited the space around them, even before it rolls in.

The music is grating on their brand of silence.

He can't even describe how he feels about her right now. Olivia's classically beautiful face is devoid of makeup and her hair is long enough that she has it tucked behind her ear. The moisture in the air has made the strands curl a bit, and he's itching to know how those waves feel in his hands.

"Hungry?" he asks quietly, trying to break the stand-off.

Olivia smiles just a little bit at that, and he watches as the heat slips into her irises. Even though he knows she's trying like hell to ignore the thrumming chemistry between them, she's still feeling it. "Yeah."

He's got to move, or the evidence of his very real need to get his hands sliding up under her shirt is going to be evident to both of them. Everything around him feels slower, as if a barometer in the room has registered an intensification of the air pressure. The music feels like it's coming from far away.

There is no breeze in the room at all. He is so attuned to every movement around him that he feels like he can hear the hiss of the dragonflies that settle in the brush just past the patio.

Elliot turns and picks out one of the pieces of cantaloupe that he's cut away from the skin. He dips it into the open yogurt container and pulls it out, cupping beneath the now coated piece of fruit with his other hand. "Here." He moves closer to her, making no jarring moves.

He wonders what she's gonna do. By her expression, she seems to be wondering too.

And then Olivia catches his gaze and doesn't let go. She steps closer to him and when he holds the piece of fruit out to her, she doesn't reach for it. Instead she lets the smile form slowly. "You sure this combination isn't utterly disgusting?" Her voice is sweet, thick molasses, husky almost.

He has no idea who has the upper hand anymore. He's aching. Fucking aching for her. He knows far too much about how Olivia moves, and too little about how she would move on him. Beneath him.

"You'll like it," he says quietly. A drop of the yogurt drips off of the melon and into his palm.

The ocean is loud now. Just minutes ago he was out there, his body cold, his blood free-flowing. Only now everything has stopped. He'd think even time had paused, but he can hear the echoing ticks of the grandfather clock that sits in the corner of the living room.

Olivia steps closer, and nothing has ever been as sexy as just the way she looks at him. She tips up her chin and by some miracle he's not already all over her. By some miracle he doesn't already have her body up against the refrigerator, trapped between the door and him. By some miracle he lifts the piece of fruit to her mouth.

When her lips close around it and take a bite, Elliot feels the drops of juice slip down his fingers, but he doesn't pay any attention to it. Instead his focus is on Olivia. Even when her eyes slip closed as she moans just a little in appreciation of the perfectly ripe bite, he keeps his own wide open.

He watches her. Every movement. He notices the unintentional way the tip of her tongue darts out and over her lower lip and he notices the way she sways on her feet just a little bit.

This is when a man should die, he thinks.

Every man should die in the moment after he's been shown all he needs to know about living.

+ + +

It's amazing that she can feel paralyzed in the exact same moment that she can feel every inch of her skin come alive.

I'm through the looking glass here, Liv.

He'd once said that to her. Olivia remembers how she had been ready to walk away from him, so irritated by his choices with regards to Kathleen's future yet knowing she had no say in the matter. He'd stopped her with those words. It had hit home for her then how instantly people could be thrown off their axis. How the world could be completely transformed from one moment to the next.

She feels like that right now. Like she's through the looking glass and she has absolutely no idea what to do. Attraction to Elliot has always been the greatest taboo. He's married, he's married, he's married. She's said it a thousand times to herself, even when he had been separated. She'd said it even when she didn't know why the hell she was saying it. Why the hell she needed the reminder.

Only now he's not married. He's her partner - so it's still taboo - but absolutely, positively nothing is registering in her head right now except for the fact that Elliot is feeding her fruit while standing half-naked and still wet in front of her. She's dated dozens of men, but none of them looked like Elliot. Even if he had no other advantage outside of his physical appearance, he'd knock every blind date she'd ever been on out of the park. If anything, he's gotten more muscular since she'd last seen him. His skin isn't perfect - he's got scars everywhere that bisect his muscles - but she almost feels like those are her marks on him. He earned those scars because of their joined history and it's irrational but it makes her feel ownership over him.

Olivia wants to touch him. Even as she forces herself to swallow the sweet fruit, she can't think past what is right in front of her. Who is right in front of her. Her fingers itch to skim the hollows and shadows that form between the ridges of Elliot's muscles. She wants to use her palms to shape his skin, and the light scrape of her fingernail to trace his tattoos. The dips in his shoulders still seem to hold the slightest bit of salt water and she wants to taste it. Taste him. His skin. She catches herself just before she moans. She's thirsty, she thinks. It's sweltering in here. Sweltering.

She closes her eyes and grips the doorframe, not quite steady on her feet. The words this is wrong keep on a loop in her brain, but her body isn't listening. She thinks that by simply closing her eyes that she'll get some control but then the air around her intensifies.

"It's good, right?" Elliot rumbles in her ear.

Somewhere over the last twelve years she has to have shut down completely as a woman, because there is no other explanation for how she lasted this long without touching him.

Olivia forces her eyes open, and she can't tell if it's the outrageously thick heat or the lack of coffee or him, just him, but she is lightheaded. Elliot is too close to her. So close. And he is wearing a towel for God's sake.

It's just a cotton towel, she reminds herself. Don't look at it. Just don't. She starts conversations in her head about objectification and partners and working relationships but it's all a jumbled mess of nothing. She tells herself that falling into bed with Elliot would be a cliché, that his family - Kathy - would hate her. She tries to picture his kids, to think about how he'd told his wife he loved her just before the accident had happened a few years back. She draws on anything she can to clear her damned head.

But in the end, it's his presence that wins out. He's big. His body is chiseled. He's strong as hell and he moves like he's sure of himself.

He's so close to her that he is practically on her. He's so close that she has to look up at him to see his eyes. Twelve years, she thinks, and Elliot is actually going to kiss her. Her stomach knots and the fear makes her nauseous.

Only he doesn't. He doesn't make a move at all.

Instead the corners of Elliot's lips lift. "You bring a bathin' suit out here?"

Olivia can still taste the remnants of the cantaloupe on her lips. "Yeah." Her voice refuses to work properly. She's not sure if she is disappointed or relieved at the change in direction.

"Good. Go put it on."

While she's seen him in all his male-dominating glory, he's never really directed that attitude towards her unless her safety was involved, so this is new. Elliot seems to know that ordering her around is a good way to get himself injured, so he grins charmingly to get on her good side.

"I'm not going swimming with you," Olivia declares, and it feels good to argue with him a little bit. It cuts the tension, and it occurs to her that they have argued a lot over the years. She doesn't want to explore what that means.

He's a smug jerk. "Why not? It's hot as hell out there."

Olivia lifts her chin. "Unless you're hiding a pool around here, you'd be asking me to go swimming in the ocean."

He narrows his eyes, amused. "Give the woman a badge and call her a detective."

She ignores the slight rise of defense she feels slipping into her shoulders and her lower back. She can feel the knots forming again in her stomach, but in a perverse way it eases her physical reaction to him and gives her room to breathe. He's standing right in front of her, blocking her entrance into the kitchen. "I need coffee, Elliot. Move."

Elliot stands his ground, and the playful look on his face disappears. Now he's too close to her again, and his eyebrows are drawn together as he leans down, searching her face and suddenly serious. "You've never been swimming in the ocean." His voice is low, too self-assured. He states it like she's an open book, and she wants to hit him because it's unnerving to have him read her so easily.

"No. I haven't. And I have no desire to go out there. Now move." This feels like solid ground. She sounds like a cop again, and he can't disarm her when he's being overbearing.

"Why not?"

Olivia feels last night's tequila hit her temples. She's hungry and she needs coffee and now she wants to tell him to put a shirt on because he's too damned naked all the time out here. She looks up at him then and tries to convey all of her irritation in her expression. This isn't a subject she is going to debate with him. She doesn't want to explain to him that the idea of going out there makes her uneasy. She doesn't need for him to think she is weak or afraid of anything.

"Because I've got no desire to swim in polluted water," she says, thinking he can't possibly argue with that.

The music is making her head throb now, and she wishes he'd just turn it off. It's gone from a friendly debate to something deeper, and she doesn't like it. She can tell that Elliot senses that there is something she is hiding, and he's not going to drop it.

"Ocean water is cleaner than a pool filled with chemicals," he states matter-of-factly, shooting down her excuse as if he knows good and well that it is bogus. He's not even hiding his curiosity. "What's the deal, Liv?"

He's still blocking her way into the kitchen and she finally pushes on his shoulder. Elliot gives way immediately and Olivia walks past him then, ignoring the way the taut skin of his bicep brushes against her bare arm. The coffee pot is still on, but the brew is probably hours old judging by the condensation on the inside of the glass pot. She doesn't care. Olivia reaches for a mug and pours some of the liquid, ignoring the way he still stands in the entrance to the kitchen. Only now Elliot is facing her, his back leaning against the molding and his arms folded across his bare chest.

Olivia ignores him. The coffee is bitter, but she takes a long sip of it. She doesn't look at him, instead choosing to stare out the window. The ocean is rumbling today. The waves are curling and crashing closer to the shore, and the white foam is washing onto the sand in tufts. But just beyond the rise of the waves there is a deceptively calm stretch of water. It's that stretch that rises slowly, nearly imperceptibly, pushing water towards land.

"Come out there with me," Elliot presses.

Olivia wraps her palms around the mug, and prays he'll stops pushing it if she doesn't say anything.

She can tell that for him this now has nothing to do with going swimming. Now he wants to know why she won't do it. He thinks she's got some sort of secret and for some reason he's feeling confident enough to push her. Only there is no secret. It's not like she can't swim. It's not like she is hiding some sort of traumatic experience that she once had on the ocean. She just doesn't want to swim in it. There are too many variables out there. She isn't someone who likes to immerse herself in a place where she can't see her feet. She needs to see the bottom, to know how deep the water is.

Olivia wants him to just drop it. Elliot keeps pushing her though, and suddenly his pushiness is not just about this but about everything.

"I'll save you if Jaws comes after you," he jokes, but the tone of his voice makes it clear that he's only trying to cut the silence.

He's relentless.

It's too much then. It's too much change. Like a rubber band that's been stretched past its limitation, she feels herself snap back into place. The staying here with him, the lack of boundaries. The way he'd held her last night and the way he is mercilessly fanning her attraction to him. She's overwhelmed and he's pushing her and clearly being out here this long has changed him. Changed him.

She's afraid to death of changes.

She doesn't say a word and maybe that will make him give up. Her silence usually works with him. He usually gives up. Back in Manhattan he would have given up by now. When she makes it clear something is none of his business, he gets the picture.

At least he used to.

"Olivia, talk to me."

The joking is long gone and Elliot's voice is a thunderous rumble. It makes her think of the storm she's heard is coming in. One minute she thinks she could stay here for days, and the next she thinks she can't endure even a few more seconds.

She says nothing. The coffee sticks in her throat, but she forces herself to just keep drinking it. The beach is empty, but she can already see the seaweed accumulating on the edge of the shore, the sea plants that the pounding surf is churning up and discarding. Abandoning.

Maybe it's just too much togetherness. She's used to being alone and since she arrived here she hasn't had a minute when she hasn't been aware of him.

She's ignored him for so long that now even Elliot is silent. The CD must have finished, because there isn't even any music to buffer the oppressive quiet that hovers between them.

Maybe now he'll walk away. Leave her be.

"You scare the shit out of me," he finally whispers.

It hits her square in her stomach. Hard. It's so raw that she almost wonders if he meant to say it. Olivia looks over her right shoulder and directly at him, and Elliot isn't hiding from her. He's staring at her, and he's laid bare in that moment. She can see the fear in his eyes, and she remembers the last time he'd looked like this. It had been during Kathleen's case, when he'd been sitting on the lower bunk, terrified that he was losing his kid.

My boy plays it pretty close to his vest.

For the second time that morning, she hears Bernadette Stabler's words only this time she thinks his mother is wrong. Elliot is not hiding anything. He's not holding back. He almost sounds like he's confessing. She thinks about him as a little boy - locking up more and more year after year. She thinks about how he contains everything, holds onto his emotions because it's the only thing that feels safe.

Only he's trying right now. He's trying so damned hard. Olivia doesn't know what he's trying so hard for, what has prompted this stark moment of honesty. He only does this when it is absolute necessity. When he is desperate. Sinking.

She grips her mug in front of her with both hands. She is hanging onto it even as she looks at him, unable to pull away from the way he is locked on her.

Elliot doesn't look away. He doesn't blink. "I can't take it when you leave." Rasping. Grating. "And ev'ry time you shut up like that, I think that's it. You're gone again."

It's too much to watch him like this. Olivia's heart is slamming inside of her and she feels like years and years inside of her need to come out. She doesn't know if she wants to yell or cry or scream, but something has to happen. Something. She's suffocating on the inside, and hearing Elliot like this, seeing him like this - it's going to make her break.

She can't let her eyes water in front of him.

"I wasn't the one who left, Elliot." Olivia's voice is soft. She doesn't accuse him. She can't. It hurts too much to even muster up the energy to be angry. She can only think of the way she had readily accepted his abandonment. The way she had - deep down - felt a little bit like it was inevitable, deserved, to be expected. She is who she is, and while she knows she is a damned good cop, she doesn't have much else to give. She's aware of this. She's resigned herself to it.

His eyebrows draw together, and if Elliot has ever seemed fragile it is now. It's a horrifying thing to see a powerful man expose any weakness. "The kinda leavin' I'm talking about has nothing to do with being next to you, Olivia. I've been standing next to you plenty of times when you locked me out. It's when I don't know what the hell you're thinkin' that I'm..." He shakes his head as if warding something away. He scrapes his teeth across his lower lip, chewing on it. He swallows thickly. "I got nothin' to hang onto then."

Olivia can't speak. She's frozen. Inside she's crumbling. She knows too much about his past now to pretend she doesn't understand, even if he still doesn't. He's been locked out before, by a mother who was too sick to offer him any sort of explanations for her actions, any sort of assurances, any sort of stability. At least his mother's illness had been an excuse for why she had mentally retreated all the time. Olivia lives inside of her walls because it's easier. It's what she knows. She doesn't share anything because she doesn't want him to really see her, not like she sees him right now. Maybe she is afraid he will see that she needs too much or can offer too little. There is also the devastating possibility that maybe he will see nothing at all.

Olivia looks at the floor because the way Elliot is just ripping it all open is too visible in his expression. By the time she thinks she might actually be able to speak, she looks up and he's gone.

She flinches when the screen door bangs shut behind him.

And then she's alone in the kitchen, and she feels like she's rocking, teetering, even though she's nowhere near the murky depths of the mutable, unpredictable ocean in which she has never, ever been.

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