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The Rules of the Game

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August 5, 2008
9:14 P.M.


When it comes to dating, she’s never understood the rules to live by. On date one, she’s ordered pasta with sauce, because at a young age, she learned how to eat without needing a bib. While she’s been told to never keep someone waiting, her “special” someone needs to understand that dating a cop means that sooner or later, he’s going to be left alone and hailing a cab without her beside him. She’s laughed at jokes to be polite when her suitor was being serious, and kept grim at something she didn’t realize was supposed to be funny. She’s slept with men on the first date without adhering to the third date rule, and kept men out with her until date six when she knew all along the sex wasn’t going to happen.

In her entire life, Olivia Benson followed the rules at every turn; relationships, however, were her one exception. And when she accepted that first date from her partner, both of them knowing it was against policy, she realized that the newly (once again) single Elliot Stabler lived his life the same way. She didn’t care what he saw her eat when they had spent long nights and late dinners beside one another. If she was fifteen minutes late because she misplaced her badge in some dire need to get ready fast, he would understand without a word. She’s never felt the need to laugh at his jokes, and she’s never hidden all the moments in which she’s found him to be funny. But the sex…that was something else when it came to her partner.

And now, after a three hour dinner, with wine that has perfected her buzz, and the smell of his cologne surrounding her, she’s thankful that she never bought into the bullshit of the third date rule.

Olivia turns around at the door, leaning against the cool wood. It touches her bare back, and even against the cold, her skin burns like it’s been scorched too many times. She smiles at him, and for a second she considers laughing at the schoolgirl she can become when pushed hard enough.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you.” Elliot takes a step closer, and the air diminishes as if it was never between them at all. “You lost that bet. The hostess slipped me her number on the way out.”

“She did not!” Olivia exclaims, extending her hand. “Show me.”

For them, the first date actually consists of nine years, with no boundaries in between.

Elliot reaches into his pocket, and within seconds, produces a small card. “Suzanne. 867-4901.” He crumbles it in his hands, the paper crinkling with creased lines. “She’s young enough to be my daughter.”

Olivia nods, strands of dark hair falling into her face. She reaches to sweep them away when his hand intercepts hers. He brushes the bangs to the side, his fingers delicate, and she wonders how the same man who holds a gun with force can be this gentle with his hands. “Thanks,” she says quietly.

“You’re welcome.”

Her ankles cross, and while she wishes she wouldn’t, she can hear her best friend from childhood reciting the diatribe that Cosmopolitan once taught her.

A simple kiss on the first date. No tongue; you must be a lady.

As a forty year old woman, tongue on the first date is the least she can hope for.

Don’t be someone you’re not. Sooner or later, he’s going to find out.

If she knew who she was, she figures she’d probably be married by now. At least when she kicks the shit out of a perp or spends an hour doing combat with the heavy bag, Elliot doesn’t question, merely accepts.

Don’t make judgments. Even if he’s not funny or says something offensive, he could just be nervous. First impressions count, but they’re not everything.

Elliot is never all that funny; at least not intentionally. She’s learned to accept his sarcasm and his bitter wit, and learned that her first impression long ago of a man who held his anger and his love as one hasn’t changed all that much.

Don’t date your best friend. While it can end up amazing, it can also end in tragedy.

What doesn’t end in tragedy? She’s been single for the past seven years. If she doesn’t date Elliot, who does she date? Munch is too old; Porter spends more time on his hair than she spends on her own, and Fin, well she’s not exactly Fin’s type. Oh wait, there was Kurt. So, she hasn’t exactly been single for seven years, but he was nothing more than a distraction from her life.

The woman never makes the first move. After all, remember, she is a lady.

No, she’s a cop, who hasn’t had sex in…how long ago had she broken up with Kurt?

“Do you want to come in?” Olivia asks, motioning behind her.

She watches as his eyes flit between her and the door. Within seconds, he smiles—that tight smile that she’s seen after long cases, even longer days. The smile that means it’s time to head home.

“Thanks, but I think I’m going to go.” Elliot shoves his hands in his pockets, finding something particularly interesting on the floor. Yes, the dust bunnies of her hundred year old apartment building are fascinating. “I have an early morning tomorrow.”

Olivia’s arms cross, and anger ebbs while happiness abates. “You do realize that we have the same exact job, right?”

If she could see past her own annoyance, she’d have seen the hint of pink now tinting his cheeks. “You know what I mean.” He leans forward, and with her arms still crossed, he kisses her cheek. “Night, Liv.”

Fuck dating. At least her vibrator never turned her down.

+++

August 6, 2008
7:27 P.M.


“Would you slow down?” Elliot asks, catching up to her outside the precinct. “What the hell is the matter with you?” He grabs her arm, forcing her to stop, to turn around.

She wonders if Cosmo is accepting new submissions on lessons in love.

Cosmopolitan Rule # 1: Men are moronic, plain and simple.

Olivia sighs, and inhales the smell of that damn cologne he’s wearing. How had she not noticed that he wore that daily? “Elliot, nothing is the matter. I’m tired, I want to go home, and I’m not in the mood for this right now.”

“Look, Liv…” He stares down at the ground, and instead of those damn dust bunnies of her apartment, all that remains is the tarnished ground of the earth. “I’m sorry.” Elliot looks up again, with the same tight smile he had given her a few nights ago. The same tight smile that was followed by, I have an early morning. “I know you’re pissed about last night, but in my defense the last date I went out on had me crawling back to my wife.”

Cosmopolitan Rule # 2: Men, while moronic, never fail to surprise you. Whether it’s good or bad is another question all together.

And when she doesn’t answer, he cringes, shaking his head.

“Not that our date had me crawling back…Look, let me take you to dinner tonight.” Elliot touches her arm, and the smile widens into something real, something light. He always did have the cutest damn smile. “Would you stop being impossible?”

“Is this your way of charming me into a second date?” Olivia asks.

“It’s my way of telling you you’re a pain in the ass.”

His smile remains, and she finds herself nodding in confirmation. “Tomorrow night.” She smiles herself this time, the sly gesture covering her lips. “I have an early day tomorrow.”

Cosmopolitan Rule # 3: You might not follow all the set laws to being a woman, but playing hard to get, no matter what age, no matter what the occupation, is always in her best interest.

+++

August 7, 2008
7:59 P.M.


“It’s ridiculous,” Olivia mentions, taking a sip of wine. “It was one of those things that started in childhood and for some reason, it always helped.”

Elliot smiles, dragging his fork through a piece of strawberry cheesecake. “How do melted Girl Scout cookies help a sore throat? What the hell even possessed you to try that?”

“It was an accident. I was six, I think, and I was so sick. I don’t think I’ve ever been that sick before or again. I’m not exactly the easiest person to deal with when I feel like shit under the best circumstances—”

“I’ve never noticed that,” Elliot says sarcastically.

She glares at him, shaking her head. “Anyway, there was this huge snowstorm, and we had no food in the house. I wouldn’t stop crying, so my mother just searched through all the cabinets, looking for something. She, uh…” Olivia pushes a strand of hair behind her ear, glancing down at the table before staring back up at him. His eyes are focused on hers, taking in her words, and she smiles gently at him. “She made me hot chocolate and got this box of Girl Scout cookies that we bought from a neighbor. She let me dip the cookies into the chocolate but one fell in. It was disgusting and gooey, but we fished it out of the bottom of the mug with spoons and just ate it like that. I went to sleep and woke up and felt better. Every time I would get sick after that, if she wasn’t…” She doesn’t dare taint the night with her mother’s wrongdoings. “She would do that for me. She actually did it for me long after I’d grown up.”

Elliot’s smile widens, and he tilts his wine glass as the crimson liquid curves along the bottom of the glass. “What kind of cookies?”

“Thin Mints.”

“Do you still do it?”

The music plays softly in the background, and over the noise, and the lyrics lingering somewhere in the distance, she wonders if this is the epitome of a good date. “No, I haven’t in eight years,” she answers softly.

And in words she refuses to say, he merely nods his head in understanding. “Can I ask you something?”

“What?”

She expects questions of her mother, of the life of a child who was far from naïve, yet more innocent than he realizes, of things he has always wondered but had never known. But the words that come from his mouth are not what she expects, not when she has spent the entire night forgetting the fact that consequences do in fact lie in the realm of their dating relationship.

“What are we doing about work?”

The bomb has been dropped, and all along, she should have realized that sometimes rules were made for a reason.

“You had to bring it up, didn’t you?” She smiles, but it’s the same tight-lipped smile that they share, the one that brings them back to life, to consequences, to the longest days only the other can understand.

“One of us had to.”

Olivia rubs her finger across the tablecloth, one shoulder lifting in a shrug. “I think that partners split up all the time, that you and I have split up before and the world didn’t end. It’s not going to get better if we end this date now and then continue to work together. It shouldn’t determine whether or not we start to see each other.”

He nods, taking a sip of his wine. “Okay. That’s all I wanted to know.”

“That’s it?”

“I just wanted to see where we stood. So yeah, that’s it. Tell me something else.”

She purses her lips and rests her elbow on the table. The wine glass remains in her hand, and without realization, she continues to tilt the drink back and forth watching the gentle waves weave. “My favorite song that I hate admitting I love is Against All Odds by Phil Collins.” He laughs, and her eyes narrow, a small smile lifting her wine moistened lips. “Be nice.”

“I love that song.”

“You don’t have to be an ass about it, El.”

“When we were first partners there was that one radio station that only played songs from movies. You used to listen to it all the time and that song would come on about once a day because the DJ loved it. I heard it enough times that I actually started to like it.”

Huh. Well, then.

“I didn’t realize that.”

“Now you do. Give me another one.”

“I’ve never seen a full Disney movie. I’ve seen parts of a lot of them, but never in full.”

“You’ve never seen a full Disney movie?”

Of course the father of five would find this absurd, almost inhumane.

“What’s so great about them?” Elliot lifts an eyebrow and she laughs. “I’m serious. Bambi’s mother gets shot. Sleeping Beauty spent most of her life asleep. Cinderella gets treated like crap by her family—”

“You do know there is a Prince in the end, right? He comes in and saves her?”

“Do you really think that a movie where a woman is inferior to a man and she needs to be saved sounds like something up my alley?”

“No,” Elliot smiles. “I guess it doesn’t.”

“So, what about you?”

“What about me?”

“Book, movie, I don’t know. Something I wouldn’t have learned in almost a decade of working with you.”

He doesn’t even think about it, like he’s been conjuring the answer in his mind all along. “I’ve read Goodnight Moonover five hundred times and probably could recite it as well as I do the Miranda Rights.” He grins, and it strikes her as odd that the last time she saw him smile remotely close to this was the start of their working relationship. Was Elliot Stabler only happy at the beginning of something? “And I’ve read all seven Harry Potter books, which has nothing to do with my kids. I actually like them.” He gauges her reaction; the one of shock that she’s sure is evident on her face. “Your opinion on me has changed, hasn’t it?” he teases.

“No, it just surprises me. You never said anything that time Warner mentioned her husband read it.”

“We were in the middle of a case. I guess I just didn’t think it was important. I don’t watch the movies though. Oh, and for the record, I’ve seen every Disney movie at least forty times.”

“My turn to ask you something you might not want to answer.” Olivia taps her fork on her plate, the gentle chiming matching the beats to the music. “After all we see everyday I think it’s incredible how good you are to your kids. But everything you just mentioned, it was about them somehow. At a certain point, do you still have an identity separate from them?”

Maybe rules were also made so you don’t end up sounding like a moron when you’re actually asking an honest question.

“I love my kids, I—”

“I know you love your kids, Elliot. That wasn’t what I was asking. I’ve never had children, and I probably never will. I’m only wondering if you become so wrapped up in who they are, in their lives, that the part of you that existed before them no longer does. I’m not asking to start an argument. I’m genuinely curious.”

Elliot’s silent for a moment, and she wonders if date two is going to end in a crash course on romance. Too personal too fast. Too serious a question when the night has been mellow. And then he responds, and too personal too fast doesn’t exist for people who spend their days taking care of the other’s life.

“You become your kids, Olivia. You still have your life, your interests, but you care more about theirs. Elizabeth loves Gossip Girl. For so long, she’d always hint that she wanted me to watch it with her, and for the longest time I didn’t because I didn’t know that was what she wanted. When I finally figured it out, I sat down with her while it was on. I hated it. It was horrible and the epitome of what I hate about television, proving that it’s okay to mess around with the opposite sex at such a young age, to hang out with the wrong crowd, to be a spoiled brat, but I shut my mouth. It’s not that I’ve forgotten my identity. But seeing them happy is bigger than that.”

Cosmopolitan Rule # 4: If men tell stories of their children on the first date, the second date, anytime before the third date, the sex rule gets tossed aside. There is nothing more attractive than a good father.

Olivia finishes off her wine because in the end, I want to take you home and have sex with you, probably wouldn’t go over so well, and That’s such a sweet story, Elliot, might actually make her more pathetic than she figures she already is. Instead she smiles again and says, “That answers my question. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. You ready to go?”

Kiss my cheek at the front door, El, and we’re done.

“Yeah.”

+++

August 7, 2008
9:48 P.M.


“Do you want to tell me why you have a teddy bear with a cop uniform on? With an unfortunate pair of sunglasses?” Elliot takes the brown bear off of the shelf and stares at it as she comes up behind him. “Are these the sunglasses you wore our first year together?”

“Shut up,” Olivia mumbles, handing him a glass of wine. She takes the bear out of his hands, placing it back on the shelf housing her CDs. “Maria Recinos got it for me after she got out of the hospital. She was the one who—”

Elliot moves to the couch and sits down with this back against the armrest. “Do you really think I don’t know who she is?”

“You weren’t there for it,” Olivia answers, and she sits in his exact position on the opposite side. She wonders if that’s hurt in her voice, or if it’s merely what she sounds like when she speaks of the little girl. “I wasn’t sure if you’d know her by name.”

He looks at the bear before turning back to her, ignoring her accusation, if that’s what it was. “It’s cute. Did I ever tell you the gift I got from Tommy Keegan?” She shakes her head, and Elliot shifts his wine glass from his left hand to his right. “Most of the kids we deal with get attached to you. You’re so good with them, you have that maternal instinct that most of them are craving, but Tommy wouldn’t let go of me the entire time he was with us.”

She nearly closes her eyes, the memories remaining filled with pain, with love, with emotions she has never come to understand. “I remember.”

“It was right after Eli had been born and I came into the precinct and the box was waiting for me. You were…” He pauses, and she goes back to that day again, to the moment things had changed, the moment he had touched her and she knew nothing would ever be the same. “You must have been at home, but Munch was there. He was convinced it was a bomb. A bomb or Jimmy Hoffa’s head.”

Olivia laughs. “Of course he did.”

“I opened it anyway, probably just to spite John, and there was all this Superman stuff inside. A couple of pencils, a notepad, and there was a note from his aunt inside. She kept saying that Tommy called me his Superman, that I was some kind of superhero. You always look at this job in technical terms. I never looked at it like that before, in terms of some kind of hero.”

She leans forward, resting her hand gently on his thigh. “For them, you are. You’re incredibly good at your job, Elliot.”

He puts his glass of wine down and pulls her closer. Inches sit between them now, yet no moves are made. She wipes her thumb over the rim of her glass, watching as the imprint appears and then fades. It’s ridiculous to her that at forty, games are still played when neither participant is willing to make the first move.

Screw it. If given the advantage in any game, whether it is life or something else, always make the first move before it’s too late.

Her glass of wine now rests beside his, and she doesn’t ask the questions that still plague her mind. She doesn’t ask why he had turned her down two nights ago; she doesn’t ask why, if she looks down at him now, his hands flutter on his lap, as if he’s shaking. She moves closer to him and places her lips on his. She doesn’t make a move again; she doesn’t do anything but get the feel of his mouth on hers. And when his lips falter, she captures his upper one, gently nipping the soft skin tasting of wine. She lifts her head and stares at him, watching him. She doesn’t look at the hesitance in his eyes; she looks past it, into something that she has deciphered for the past nine years.

Olivia leans down and kisses him again, her tongue brushing across his lips. His mouth opens; his hand carefully grazes her right hip. She takes the control, like she has so many times before, guiding the kiss into a fevered moment, slowing it down when she can no longer breathe. She doesn’t think of the rules, of the amount of dates, of the number of years they’ve spent building, breaking, and rebuilding their partnership. She moves closer to him, and she’s surprised at how much she wants him, how nine years had passed and it wasn’t until this moment that she realizes how much.

Elliot’s hands remain in place and she straightens. She wonders if this is supposed to be uncomfortable or if the sex should have just worked between them because walking beside someone for so long automatically means you know their moves. He’s tense. She can feel it in the way he sits, in the way his fingers grip her hip as if he’s holding on to the wreckage from the Titanic or something. Not the sexiest thing she can think about right now. She sighs, her breath hitting the corner of his mouth, and she moves to the other side of the couch.

“Elliot, if you don’t want to do this, it’s fine.”

He moves closer to her, his lips grazing hers. “Would you believe me if I said it’s not you, it’s me?” he asks, and she can swear his voice hints at the slightest lilt of a crack.

“We had a good date, a good couple of dates, but if that’s all it was, then it’s fine. We gave it a shot.”

“Is that what you think?”

At least the vibrator has never fought with her, not normally anyway. “Elliot, really, it’s fine.”

“Olivia, stop.” He sits up and leans his elbow on his thigh, glancing up at her. “I don’t…it’s not you, Liv. I slept with one person before I went back to Kathy the second time. But with you…” He lifts his head, planting both feet on the ground. “I’m going to go.”

“Elliot…” She places her hand on his thigh, forcing him to look at her. “It’s not a big deal. Look, all relationships at this point take time to get used to. You find a rhythm. Just because we’ve worked together for so long, it doesn’t mean…well, it doesn’t mean this is going to automatically work.” She holds her hand out to him. “If you fuck up, you know I’ll tell you,” she teases.

“Is your gun around here?” He looks around the expanse of her living room. “Just kill me.”

Olivia grabs his other hand, dragging him off the couch. She turns around to him, brushing her lips across his. “It doesn’t matter,” she whispers. “Stop thinking that it does.”

And without another word, she tugs him into her bedroom, the door slamming shut behind them.

+++

August 7, 2008
11 P.M.


“To the left,” Olivia guides, shifting underneath him. She lifts herself off the bed slightly, gripping his shoulders with her nails. “Little more to the left.” She moans, drawing small scratches against his skin. “Oh God, like that.”

Elliot stops moving, nipping at her lips. “I was hesitant at first, Liv, it doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Olivia flips him over, now on top. “Don’t be a wiseass.”

“Not being a wiseass.” He leans up, running his nails underneath her breastbone. “But I have done this right before.”

Give a man some confidence and he runs with it, as if he’s never had a problem at all.

“Then shut up and do it.”

She grinds over him, and as his fingers slip through her hair, he grips her hips with that shit-eating grin appearing on his face, the one he’s been known to give the accused. “Harder,” he mouths, jerking her hips forward so he tightens inside of her.

Olivia smiles, kissing the corner of his mouth. “You can be such an asshole.”

“You took control out there…” His fingers skim her right breast, massaging her beaded nipple between his fingers. “I think I’ve got it covered in here.”

She rolls her hips, and his teeth grind, his head falls back. “You should know by now,” she whispers, her voice husky, “that I never hand over my control.”

“Until now.” And before she can utter a sound, she’s on her back again. His movements are fast, hard, and she grips onto his shoulder once again, onto the map of scratches that have reached their destination. He lifts himself slightly, raising himself higher, and she moans the moment he slides himself down. “Is that good?” he asks, stroking his tongue around her edge of her nipple.

“Yes,” she mumbles, tightening her muscles. “God, Elliot, now.”

Elliot moves inside of her again, slowly rising in and out of her wetness. She brings his mouth down to hers, kissing him hard as he gives one last thrust inside of her, and she comes around him, his name loud in her bedroom. And moments after he comes behind her, he rolls off of her, his breathing deep, labored.

“You let me come first,” Olivia says. “Most of the time, I…Well, I can’t remember the last time that happened.”

Elliot laughs, brushing a piece of hair from her face. “I was raised to always put women before myself.”

“Oh.” She moves against him, her lips placing a gentle kiss against his neck. “That’s good to know.”

+++

August 16, 2008
7:30 P.M.


“Don’t forget my pickle,” Olivia says, reaching into the large fridge next to the deli counter. She pulls out a diet coke and water, letting the door slam closed with a burst of cold air. “Here.” She hands it to him, and lets the icy drink brush across her heated skin. “I hate summer.”

Elliot wraps his arm around her, his lips touching her temple. “Get over it. It’ll be gone soon.”

“Not soon enough. What did you order?”

“Corned Beef, so you can have half of it since you never actually order it yourself.”

“You never used to let me eat your food.” Olivia smiles, knocking into him, his hand falling from her waist. “You used to grab it away like I had stolen your toys or something.”

“I did not! I just—”

“Elliot?”

They both turn at the sound of the deep voice, a man around Maureen’s age standing behind them. He’s good looking, with short dark hair, piercing green eyes. She wonders if his oldest daughter knows him, if this man belongs to his former life.

“Mark! Hey, man. I haven’t seen you around in a while.”

“I know. I was at my parent’s house in the Hamptons for a couple of weeks. Summer in this city sucks a lot.”

Olivia laughs, both men looking at her. “That’s exactly what I said.”

“Mark, this is Olivia Benson. Olivia, Mark Johnson. He lives in the apartment next door. Every once in a while he’ll take pity on me and let me watch a game with him.”

“I’ve been back for three days, Elliot, and there has been a whole lot of noise coming from our joint wall. I don’t think you need the pity. Hell, I think I need it more than you do.”

Olivia can feel the blush on her cheeks, the way Elliot stiffens beside her. Leave it to some college aged kid to make them feel like they’re fucking at one hundred. Mark doesn’t seem to notice though, not when she can feel his gaze on her, looking her up and down.

“Olivia. Elliot’s mentioned you a couple of times. His partner, right?” Before she can answer, he continues, taking a step closer. “I have to admit, I don’t think there is anything sexier than a female cop. I can’t explain it, but…look, this is totally presumptuous, I’m sure you think I’m too young, but would you ever want to go out some night? Maybe for dinner? A drink? I think Elliot can attest to the fact that I’m a decent guy.”

She stifles her laughter. Oh God. Is this guy actually hitting on her? She wants to make some comment, let herself smile in the face of his ridiculous question. She looks at Elliot, for the first time noticing that his hands have clenched, that he looks pissed off. Hell, it looks like he’s about to pummel some suspect who has just admitted his guilt.

“Olivia’s my girlfriend,” he answers, his arm finding a home back on her waist.

Mark doesn’t seem intimidated, not when he smiles, takes a step back. “It figures two cops would have amazing sex,” he mumbles. He holds up his hands, shaking his head. “Didn’t mean to step on toes, El. Listen, I have to go meet some of my guys for the Yankee game, but Elliot, we should have a beer soon.” He holds his hand out to Olivia, and she takes it, shaking. “I’m so sorry. Didn’t mean to hit on you. If I had known—”

“Don’t worry about it,” she laughs. “After a sixteen hour work day, it was good to hear.”

Olivia moves out of Elliot’s embrace the moment Mark is gone, grabbing the food that has been put on the counter. Men are idiots; all of them.

“What?” Elliot asks, stepping into sync beside her.

“Nothing, let’s go.”

+++

August 16, 2008
8:15 P.M.


“You haven’t spoken to me since we left the supermarket,” Elliot says, pulling their food out of a paper bag and placing it onto his table. “You want to tell me what your problem is?”

Olivia leans back in his kitchen chair. She pours ketchup onto her plate, dumping a bag of fries. “You should have just peed on me when we were talking to Mark. I don’t think you claimed me quite as successfully without.”

“Is that what this is about? Some twenty-something kid was hitting on you. What did you want me to do?” He hands her half of his sandwich, stealing some of her fries in return. “Let him take you to his senior frat formal?”

“Would you have called me your girlfriend if he had just been saying hello? I don’t do the territory thing well, Elliot. I’m not your property to stake claim to.”

“You think that’s why I did it?” He moves his chair closer to her, his leg locking with hers underneath the table. “Look, Liv, maybe I should have…We haven’t discussed it, what we are to each other beyond friends, partners. I do know that this isn’t just sex to me.”

“I’m not saying it is. But are we just having fun, seeing where this is going, or are we dating?” Shit, she has never been good at this. She’s like the anti poster child for a decent relationship. “I’m not one of those women who asks where a relationship is going, because most of the time, I’m honestly not that invested to care. But if we’re…with work, I have to be the one to ask it. It’s more than sex, but is it something we’re continuing with?”

Elliot leans forward, kissing her jaw. “I called you my girlfriend because I wanted the punk away from you, but it felt right to do it. I come with a lot of baggage, Olivia.”

“Who the hell doesn’t? I know you have the ex-wife, the five kids. I’m not a newcomer to your life, El.”

“You’re never that invested. Are you now?”

How the hell did she get involved in this serious conversation so early on? Maybe Cosmo was right all those years ago. Was dating your best friend ever that smart?

Olivia closes her eyes, his mouth brushing against hers. “You mean a lot to me. I…We’re two weeks into this.”

“We’re nine years into it. You were right to ask. Are you willing to continue with this?”

“Yeah,” she finally whispers. “I’m willing.” Her eyes open, and she smiles at him. “I feel too old to be a girlfriend.”

“You just got hit on by someone my daughter’s age. You are not too old, Liv.”

“Thanks.” Her eyes narrow. “I think.” She pushes him back on his chair, and dips her French fry in ketchup. “Come on, let’s eat. I’m starving.”

+++

August 21, 2008
5:45 A.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule # 5:
Sneaking out of a man’s bedroom—no matter what the circumstances—is sort of like taking a very long walk on a very thin line of barbed wire. One wrong move, one misstep and you’re done. There are no tricks. You just have to hope like hell you have soft feet and a hell of a lot of luck.

She didn’t want to wake him, at least not at this time of morning. The bright lights of his alarm clock shone into her eyes; the mattress was too hard. So, on night six of staying here this week, she had given up the notion of sleep. After seven years (with the exception of Kurt—although, she’s still not sure he counted) she’s come to figure out that she can do without sleep, as long as she’s getting sex. Well, as long as she’s getting sex from Elliot Stabler. She didn’t want to tell him of her dislike, instead remained on all other mornings, pretending to sleep but really staring up at the ceiling, at the shadows and shapes that formed and merged.

It wasn’t that she hated his room, or his apartment. She just never realized how much she would miss her own place, the mattress that had so perfectly formed to her over the years. But with month one, she treads lightly. Well, lightly for her, anyway. She complains when necessary, but keeps it to a minimum. Sure, she loves his bed. Sure, that alarm clock is great. Sure, her back feels like it’s lying on the hard ground all night.

Olivia tip-toes through his kitchen, and pulls a bottle of water out of the fridge. The lights from within cast a soft glow throughout the room and for the first time, she notices the colorful magnetic letters draped haphazardly across the surface. She’s surprised she hadn’t noticed it before. She’s also surprised the moment she spots raspberry yogurt in the back of his fridge, the kind she always has with her during mornings. Then again, stumbling through the apartment for sex makes fluorescent letters and raspberry yogurt so much less important.

There are remnants of an old message up, and she wonders which one of his children had put it there, what it had said. The ‘y’ and the ‘o’ remain pieced together, and she pulls some of the other letters off, creating a spot for herself. She stares at it for a moment, wondering what to write, wondering if he’ll even see. And then it comes to her, and she smiles, gathering the letters in her hand.

Is there a memo in Cosmo about what to do when you realize you’ve become the person you’ve always wanted to be?

She places a letter on the refrigerator door, followed by another one. A smile flits across her lips, and in the darkness she continues to write her message. Crap, she needs another couple of E’s.

He’s going to think she’s insane. Mentally, emotionally insane.

++

August 21, 2008
7:21 A.M.


“You are the unique one that really knew me. That’s poetic.”

Olivia laughs, cradling the phone between her ear and shoulder. “You saw the fridge message,” she says, pulling on her jeans. “Where did you get the translation?”

“Babelfish. I don’t think it’s ever translated anything correctly.”

“Tu eres el único que realmente me conoció.” The accent flows off the tip of her tongue, and she sits down on her bed, staring out into the city. “You’re the only one who really knew me at all.”

He’s silent for a moment, and shit, what were the rules for month one? Was she supposed to be somewhat romantic or was writing a lyric from one of her favorite songs moronic? Was it even more moronic when it was in another language?

“Why that lyric?” he asks, quietly.

“There was raspberry yogurt in your fridge.”

It’s not a full answer, but it’s enough. Maybe it’s always been enough.

“You were gone when I woke up.” There’s a pause in his words, and she breathes in between his. “I missed you. You about to leave for work?”

“In a minute. Do you mind if we sleep here tonight?”

There’s laughter in his voice when he responds, “You hate my bed, don’t you?”

“Hate is a strong word. Dislike immensely. I have to get going. See you soon.”

Cosmopolitan Rule # 6: Even when you survive bullets, knife wounds, the worst creatures on the face of the earth, the start of a relationship is something else entirely. The potential of falling in love has even the strongest person weak in their knees.