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A/N: Sooooo many ways to bring these two together. This is my take.

 


 

Late morning on a Wednesday finds them on a bench in Tribeca. It’s been two weeks since Fin’s not-wedding, and they’re finally meeting to catch up; that thing that friends do.

 

Elliot nurses a large coffee while she purchases a hot dog from a nearby cart, reciting the order he still remembers by heart.

 

Extra relish. Light onion. Mustard only.

 

She grabs a handful of napkins and makes her way back over to him. “Hey.”

 

“Hey,” he grins, sighing contentedly when she sits down beside him, “Hey.”

 

“No lunch?”

 

Their schedules aren’t aligned anymore, Olivia realizes. She’s been up nearly six hours already, but she has no idea what hours he’s working today.

 

“I’ll get something later on,” he shrugs, holding up his coffee, “Missed this stuff, still making up for lost time. I had a caffè every morning over there, but, sometimes I just wanted something to gulp.”

 

She chuckles. “They look at you sideways for ordering an Americano?

 

“Yeah I only did that about twice,” he smiles, looking down into his cup, “More respectful to appreciate it the way they do, you know?”

 

Olivia hums and takes a bite of her lunch. They’re quiet for a few moments, watching the foot traffic around them. Eventually he notices her staring at him, and he tips his head quizzically, silently questioning.

 

“Finally admitted there wasn’t much left up there, huh?”

 

Of course, she’s noticed his shaved head, and the bushier facial hair he’s sporting.

 

“Fuck off,” he throws back, shaking his head with a smirk.

 

She snorts into a bite of her hot dog, reaching over to rub his head with her free hand.

 

Stahp,” he chuckles, half-heartedly batting her away.

 

“C’mon, it’s good luck!” she argues through a mouthful, spraying a stray morsel of onion onto his pant leg.

 

He flicks it away, raising his eyebrows. “Hey, you mind?”

 

She reaches for a napkin and makes a show of dabbing at the spot, even though there’s nothing left behind.

 

“So picky about our clothes now,” she teases, bumping his shoulder with hers, “When did that happen?”

 

He grins, letting her pick apart his appearance, watching twin boys argue over a swing in the park across the street. She’s cataloguing him. She’s letting herself take him in, taking stock of what’s different, what’s the same. She’s finally doing what he’s been doing since the first moment he’d laid eyes on her again.

 

After ten years.

 

For twelve years, they’d sat across from each other. He’d have been able to tell you exactly what she was wearing at any given moment; the color and style of her hair; what she’d had to eat that day.

 

For safety, is what he’d always told himself. If anything were to happen, he’d be able to give a description of her, or answer some questions for an ER doc. It’d been for safety that he’d kept such a close eye on her.

 

Now, he tells himself it’s habit.

 

It’s habit that he still does it every time he sees her; drinks her in, makes a note that she’s rolled her left wrist out three different times while they’ve been talking, like it’s stiff or sore.

 

It’s a lie.

 

They’re not partners anymore. He doesn’t need to understand the shape of her, to anticipate how she’ll move, to remember where he might need to cover her because of an injury or a bruise. He definitely doesn’t need to notice the places her pants hug, or that her hair is longer, and he especially doesn’t need to notice that she smells like rose and vanilla—

 

Jesus.

 

Fuck, he’s attracted to her.

 

He’s known that for years, but it’s always been stuffed down and tucked away, covered with the weighted blanket that was his marriage. Some nights, the guilt eats him alive, because he should be grieving his wife. And he has, he does. But without the overwhelming presence of his marriage, his feelings for Olivia rise up unchecked.

 

There’s been an unconscious tightening in his chest over the past ten years, so slow and subtle that he hadn’t realized it was there until their lives had roughly collided. Sitting beside her again, the tightness is gone, the weight is lifted, and he realizes now what’s been missing. Having her beside him feels so safe; it’s safety that’s been missing, the kind that only his partner brings.

 

The kind that only she brings.

 

He breathes easier when she’s next to him.

 


 

He’s been staring at her.

 

No, he hasn’t been staring at her. He’s been checking her out.

 

Blatantly, obviously, obnoxiously…she wants to punch him in the face.

 

He’s doing it again now, but he’s been doing it for months, and it’s distracting. She wants to tell him to take a fucking picture, because every time she catches him she can’t think about anything else for the rest of the day. Ten fucking years he’s been gone, and when he comes back, all of a sudden he’s letting her seewhat she’s always felt is true. 

 

Is he really

 

“I bought a car yesterday,” he says nonchalantly.

 

“What?” she asks, finishing her hot dog and crumpling the leftover napkins, “What kind of car?”

 

“Just a used corolla,” he shrugs, leaning back against the bench, “Something that won’t attract any attention but still has another hundred thousand miles of life in it.”

 

“You’re planning on putting a hundred thousand miles on a car?”

 

He’s quiet, then, tipping his face up into the sun.

 

“I just realized…I’ve never been anywhere,” he admits honestly, shaking his head, “Not a goddamn place.”

 

“You lived in Italy,” Liv counters, unsure where he’s going with all this, “That’s somewhere.”

 

“Yeah,” he says, smiling a little, “New York, Jersey, and Italy. Italy’s a place, I’ll give you that. But…still only one place. Three places.”

 

Something dawns on her.

 

“Are you leaving?”

 

It comes out more harshly than she’d planned, but the thought of him forcing her to ask this time makes her angry. She stands up and starts to look for a trash can, patting her pockets to make sure her keys and cards are where she always keeps them.

 

“You know what, Elliot, I need to take off—“

 

“—I’m not leaving,” he says, reaching for her elbow, “I wouldn’t—I’m not going anywhere. Stay, Liv, I’m sorry.”

 

He looks apologetic, like he hadn’t realized he was being so cryptic. While she’d much rather pretend it wasn’t the possibility of his leaving again that’s unsettled her, it seems they’re about done pretending with each other these days. She stares into his eyes for a moment, and then down to where he’s cradling her elbow with gentle pressure, coaxing her back down onto the bench. She sits back down slowly, re-settling herself next to him.

 

“New York is always gonna be my home base,” he says decisively, like he’s been putting thought into this, “I know this is the center of the universe to most people, hell, I think it was for me too. But I just—I wanna see some stuff. You know?”

 

She smiles a little, unconsciously relaxing just because it’s him. “Like what?”

 

“I dunno,” he shrugs, starting to unpeel the sleeve on his coffee, “Eat some Maryland crab? Fresh maple syrup in Vermont? Maybe take some longer trips in the summer, see if I can get Eli on board. Go see the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, hike or something—“

 

“—you’re gonna hike?” she teases, trying not to interrupt too much because she’s missed his voice.

 

“Hey,” he grins, moving like he’s about to elbow her, “I could hike.”

 

“I’m sure you could.”

 

She’s not even thinking when she says it, it just slips out. It’s borderline flirting, and it makes him glance at her in amusement. Oliva playfully rolls her eyes, looking away before he can see her cheeks flush. Wordlessly, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pack of spearmint gum, offering it to her.

 

Always spearmint.

 

She takes a piece and gives it back to him, happy to chew away the onions in her lunch.

 

“So, traveling,” she sighs, clasping her hands, “That’s what you’re saying. You want to do some traveling.”

 

“Yeah, I do.”

 

She turns to look at him, propping her head on her hand. “Well, I think that’s great, El.”

 

He looks like he’s putting his next few thoughts together carefully, and she waits him out, giving him the time.

 

“It’s hard to be here, sometimes,” he says eventually, picking through the words, “Just—lotta memories.”

 

Her face softens in understanding. “With Kathy.”

 

He nods, looking down at his drink. “Yeah. I don’t want to run from it, but…gotta be able to breathe, sometimes.”

 

“I get that,” she says softly, giving him a safe place to land without even thinking about it, “I do.”

 

“You could come,” he grins, mood shifting again.

 

She raises her eyebrows. “Me?”

 

“Sure,” he says easily, “Be good for you to get out of the city, too. You ever have fresh Maine lobster?”

 

“I haven’t,” she admits, keeping the mood light, not entertaining the idea that he could be serious, “But I can’t really leave my kid to fend for himself.”

 

“Well, we’d bring Noah, obviously,” Elliot chuckles, sitting back to cross one ankle over his knee, “He’d love it. Dipping lobster in butter? Kids’ll eat anything so long as they have a dip.”

 

She can’t help but laugh at that. “You’re not wrong.”

 

When he turns his head and looks into her eyes, there’s something behind his gaze that stirs up old memories. Long nights doing paperwork, feeling his eyes on her and looking up to catch him staring; it’s comforting, and it makes her warm. It’s deep, all-consuming affection mixed with…something else. Something she put a lot of energy into ignoring back then, something she isn’t ready to confront just now.

 

Olivia clears her throat and looks away, brushing a piece of hair away from her forehead. They sit in comfortable silence for a few minutes, and she realizes it’s one of the things she’s missed the most about having him next to her.

 

“First, why don’t you come over and meet him sometime,” she says, smiling a little, “And we’ll take it from there.”

 

When she looks back at him he’s grinning, the kind that reaches his eyes.

 

“I’d like that.” 

 


A/N: A little bit about me! Thanks for letting me join this party, I’m an EO shipper circa 2008-ish. Watched the show in bits and pieces over the past ten years and dove headfirst back in with Meloni’s return. My body of fanfiction work is largely for the TV show Scandal. My writing is purely character-driven, rarely plot-driven, so you won’t find any case arcs or villains in this story. This story will peek into how their relationship could evolve in vignettes along a linear timeline. It will earn its M-rating. I also work heavily in one-shots, so it’s highly likely I’ll start a series of post-eps when the new season(s) starts, author alert if that’s your jam! I read every single review and will answer DM’s so feel free to interact, I would love it! “songbirdstrives” on Twitter.

 

Chapter Text

A/N: Easing in with some phone chats while Elliot explores fresh seafood…

 


 

“Why did I become a captain, again?”

 

Olivia collapses into bed with a sigh, dragging the blankets over herself with a moan of contentment.

 

Elliot chuckles on the other end of the line. “Consistent hours? You’re supposed to take advantage of that, you know.”

 

“Yeah, well,” she sighs into the phone, pushing the hair out of her eyes, “You know how that goes.”

 

He smiles to himself. “I do.”

 

“How many lobsters have you eaten?”

 

“More than I can afford.”

 

She laughs, sinking into her pillows as the sound of his voice automatically starts to de-stress her.

 

“How did you swing this with Bell?” she asks, reaching for a sip of water.

 

“They offered me bereavement, back in March. I never took it. Obviously,” he says, sounding guilty about it, “I’m takin’ it now.”

 

“Ah. Eli having a good time?”

 

“Eh,” he sighs, taking a sip of his beer, “You know. He’s a teenager. He’s a good sport, he likes trying the food and he doesn’t complain too much about the sightseeing. He’d rather be on his phone.”

 

“I got Noah a phone,” she admits, stifling a yawn, “Mainly so I can track it, and so he can get ahold of me whenever he wants. It has about three features turned on right now, I’m dreading the day he starts to beg for more.”

 

“It’ll probably be sooner than you think.”

 

She groans, imagining her baby on social media. “Don’t say that. He was a baby like five minutes ago.”

 

“I’m so happy for you, Liv,” he says softly.

 

They’re quiet for a moment, and she can hear him trying not to ask her; he’s barely asked her anything since he’s been back, like he’s afraid he shouldn’t. And a few months ago, he would have been right, she wouldn’t have given him anything. But now…it’s getting harder and harder to keep their relationship at surface level; it’s unnatural. He used to be the person she trusted—the only person—and the comfort of being able to tell him anything hasn’t really gone away. For all the terrible things that have happened since he left, there have been just as many moments of breathless joy, and it’s starting to feel wrong that he doesn’t know about any of it.

 

“Ask me.”

 

She hears his breath catch, hears him take a sip of something, and then he’s clearing his throat.

 

“Will you tell me about him?” he asks quietly, “I wanna know, Liv, you know I do. Everything.”

 

So, she takes a breath and starts to talk.

 

She starts at the beginning, finding Noah in a dresser drawer, the sweetest, most precious baby she’s ever seen. She tells him about finding Ellie Porter, and later, Johnny D; she tells him about Noah’s first year, bounced around from foster home to foster home. He interrupts with one or two questions but for the most part he just lets her talk; it’s been so long since she’s just talked to him.

 

“You know, to this day, I don’t know what it was,” she muses, staring at the ceiling, “I picked him up and he just…took my breath away. We’ve—I’ve rescued so many kids, but I couldn’t get him out of my head. I went to every single family court hearing…I had to, I had to know what was happening to him.”

 

“Four foster homes in as many months is a lot, even for the New York system,” he agrees.

 

“I couldn’t bear the thought of it,” she says softly, remembering, “It just—my heart couldn’t take it. And then the judge just, offered him to me.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“She called it ‘a judge’s hunch’,” she smiles, glancing over at the cluster of pictures on her nightstand, a few baby photos among them, “I was standing in the back of the courtroom, and she just, asked me if I wanted him. Maybe she already knew I was registered as a foster parent, I don’t know, but—god, I couldn’t get to him fast enough.”

 

“He was already yours. That doesn’t happen, Liv,” he murmurs.

 

“I know,” she breathes, shaking her head, “I thought it was some kind of sick joke. But the more paperwork I signed, the more I started to believe it. And then they finally said ‘okay, go get him’, and they really handed him over to me. He was so perfect.”

 

It’s so easy to spill her thoughts out to him, still; it’s so easy she finds herself doing it unconsciously, telling him story after story. She tells him about Noah’s first few weeks, the time of endless cuddles because he simply refused to be put down, how it broke her all over again because she realized he was making up for lost time. She tells him about his asthma, finding Lucy, how her terrible singing had actually made him cry; a little about the person he’s becoming, his love of dance, his empathy.  

 

“You’re indulging me,” she sighs, smiling a little, “You know how much moms love to talk about their kids.”

 

“No,” he says softly, “I’m not. I…”

 

He trails off, and she lets the silence stretch out between them, letting him find his words.

 

“I missed so much,” he says, finally, “I just—I want to know you again. I want that so badly, and he’s part of you, now.”

 

His declaration makes warmth spread through her chest, along with paralyzing fear. Letting him in again still feels dangerously easy, and she has to check herself; his leaving almost destroyed her, and that can’t happen again.

 

“Well,” she says slowly, picking a thread on her comforter, “Keep calling. And when you get tired of lobster, you let me know.” 

 


Picking up the phone tonight was a very bad idea.

 

Probably the worst idea she’s had in years.

 

She’s lying in bed again, with his voice in her ear, except this time she’s had half a bottle of wine and he’s had who knows how many pours of bourbon. She’s not doing anything, she reasons, she’s only listening while he recounts his latest fishing failure in Maryland. Except his voice is doing that thing where it gets low and soft and raspy, the way it always does when he drinks liquor, and she can’t control her reaction to it, especially not when she’s been drinking too. He’s talking, and she’s letting herself drift away on it, drowsy and warm, and he’s so damn comforting.

 

She’s gone so many years without his voice, and with her guard down she can’t even focus on his words; she can only focus on the sound, the fact that it’s his voice. It’s really him, after she’d put him in a box and locked it up tight, after she’d pretended that he died. He’s right here, saying something about a flounder, and she really doesn’t give a fuck whether he caught the flounder or not, so long as he keeps talking.

 

“—next thing I know, Eli’s flailing around and we both end up in the water—“

 

This part of the story snaps her out of her reverie. “Wait, what?

 

“Oh yeah,” he says, and she can picture him shaking his head, “We’re outta the boat, everything’s outta the boat—yeah, it was real funny—“

 

She can’t help but laugh at him, at the image of his city-dwelling child trying to appease his father with a fishing trip.

 

“Can you even swim?”

 

Yeah, I can swim,” he scoffs, “Jersey shore, remember?”

 

“Right, right,” she chuckles, wiping her eyes, “So, is Eli traumatized? Shit, can he swim?”

 

“We can all swim!” he explodes, laughing at her, “Nobody drowning on my watch.”

 

“What about the flounder?”

 

“Oh, that fucker got away. Luckiest day of his life.”

 

She rests a palm on her stomach, still laughing, and it makes her dizzy it feels so good.

 

“Literally my first thought, was that I couldn’t wait to call and tell you,” he chuckles, ice clinking in his glass, “I miss you.”

 

He’s casual when he tosses it out, but it’s not a casual thing to say, and she sobers. She doesn’t have anything to say to that, because she’s missed him for years, when it was his choice to stay away. She’s been right where he left her, building a new life without him, a life that he knows so little about. How much could he possibly have missed her, when she’s been right where he left her, and he’d never bothered to call, let alone come back to her.

 

“I miss you,” he murmurs, again.

 

This admission is like ice water.

 

He’s using his serious voice now, the one he uses when he wants her to talk to him, and it’s a pivot she wasn’t expecting tonight.

 

“Elliot,” she warns softly, closing her eyes.

 

“I do,” he rasps, unapologetic, “I miss you, Liv.”

 

“What do you mean?” she breathes, playing it off.

 

“You know what I mean.”

 

“I don’t.”

 

“You’re not—I feel you holding me at arms’ length,” he admits quietly, swallowing, “I feel it, and I know you, I know why—“

 

“—see, Elliot, that’s just it. You don’t know me, anymore.”

 

“Don’t say that,” he says quietly, sounding broken.

 

“Elliot you—“

 

She stops, swallows hard.

 

Part of her wants to hurt him; she wants him to hurt the same way she had hurt, for years. She wants to tell him how much she’s thrived without him, that she didn’t need him to come back; she wants to throw it in his face and make him feel it.

 

But a bigger part of her just wants her partner back, no matter how hard she’s tried to fight it; there’s a part of her that hasn’t been able to breathe, or relax, since he left. He’s part of her, somehow, in a way she’s never been able to explain, and everything about having him in her life again feels right. Part of her is still so…soft, for him. She knows him, knows his heart, and she can’t hate him no matter how hard she’s tried. She can’t hurt him, not after everything he’s been through, not after everything they’ve been through together. Part of her knows he hadn’t meant to hurt her, that it must have killed him almost as much as it killed her.

 

But he’s here now, and he’s poking at her. He’s asking for it.

 

“—Elliot, you hurt me. I thought I knew what we were,” she says quietly, shaking her head, “I thought—it was messy for a while, and then we figured it out, and we were good, but then…you just left. Now, I don’t think I know what we were at all.”

 

They’ve skirted around his leaving, and he’s already apologized, but it’s not enough. He knows it’s not enough, and she needs him to hear her now.

 

“I’m so sorry I hurt you,” he rasps, not able to go any longer without saying it, “You do know, Liv. We were…more than partners. More than friends. I felt it, I know you felt it too.”

 

Oh, fuck.

 

This is what happens when they talk and drink at the same time.

 

They’re talking about this now.

 

She swallows, covering her racing heart with her palm. “If that’s true, why did you leave? I’m not—I know why you had to leave the unit, El. I saw what shooting Jenna did to you. But you couldn’t even tell me you felt like you had to leave the fucking country? Why did you feel like you couldn’t talk to me? You know I would’ve supported you—“

 

“—would you have?” he asks, frustrated, “Because you were just as codependent as I was. I was holding you back—“

 

Codependent?” she balks, sitting up, slamming her fist into the bed, “Get outta here with that bullshit. I would’ve backed your play and you know it. Would it have hurt to lose you? Yeah. Would it have hurt to tell you it was okay to go? Yeah. But I would’ve done it, because I had your back. I always have. And it would’ve hurt a whole hell of a lot less than what you did. Do you have any idea what it was like for me to find out you’d just dropped off the face of the earth? I lost my partner, my best friend, I lost everything.”

 

She listens to him breath on the other end of the phone for a few moments, slowly realizing there’s a lightness in her chest that hasn’t been there in a very long time. She’s needed him to hear those words for a long, time.

 

“I…I took the coward’s way out,” he says finally, voice low and soft, “And I shouldn’t have. I shouldn’t have left you like that, and I knew it. And I know that’s what I did, I left the job, but I left you. I couldn’t—I didn’t want to see the look in your eyes. I thought it would be easier for you to hate me.”

 

“Well, fuck you for making decisions for me,” she sighs, reclining back against her pillows, “It wasn’t easier. And I couldn’t hate you, I tried that for a while, it didn’t work.”

 

They’re quiet again, and she closes her eyes, listening to the sound of cars outside her window.

 

“You would’ve supported my leaving?” he asks tentatively, sounding like he doesn’t believe her.

 

She sighs, opening her eyes to stare at the ceiling. “Honestly? I’d like to think so. But, we were so…I don’t know.”

 

“I’m sorry—“

 

“I know you’re sorry,” she goes on, interrupting, “But I can’t…I can’t just, not be hurt, anymore. I need time.”

 

“You don’t trust me anymore,” he guesses, breathing slowly.

 

“No, it’s the opposite,” she sighs, scrubbing a hand over her face, “I don’t know how to not trust you. It’s easyfor me to trust you. It’s like—“

 

“—instinct,” he says softly, finishing her thought.

 

She pauses, smiling a little. “Yeah. It’s instinct. But that’s why I can’t—I just can’t. I can’t fall into this, because it was too hard the first time. I—my life is full now, Elliot, I have a kid to think about—“

 

“Liv, I’m not leaving again.”

 

“You keep saying that—“

 

“I mean it,” he interrupts, more vehemently than he means to, “The circumstances back then…things are different now.”

 

“I know,” she says softly, “I’m not saying we can’t be...something. We can, I want that. But you can’t—don’t accuse me of being closed off. I won’t apologize for needing time. You need to give me that.”

 

“Okay,” he murmurs, “Okay. You need me to prove myself, and I—“

 

“Fuck, Elliot, it’s not about proving anything,” she sighs, pushing the heel of her palm against her eye, because he’s giving her a tension headache, “You fucked up. You did a really fucked up thing, and you need to own it. I’m not testing you, I’m not waiting for some sign—this is either going to happen, or it’s not, I’m not forcing it. I can’t. And neither can you. It just—we just have to breathe.”

 

She can’t tell if she’s getting through to him or not, because she can’t see his face, but he’s quiet for a few minutes after that. A quick glance at the phone tells her he hasn’t hung up, and she can hear him breathing, but he doesn’t say anything.

 

“I hear you,” he says, finally, “I just—there wasn’t a day I didn’t miss you, while I was gone. I know you don’t wanna hear that, but it’s true. I fucked up, and I knew I fucked up, every day for ten years.”

 

Her eyes burn with tears, and she turns her head away like he can see her.

 

“—but, I hear you. I’m—I don’t mean to push you. I won’t push you.”

 

She hears the resolve in his voice, and it relaxes her; he’s not going to push anymore tonight, maybe not again. The truth is, she’d be lying if she told herself it didn’t feel good to hear him say he’d missed her, that he’d thought about her. He hadn’t just tossed their memories aside, and thirteen years hadn’t meant nothing to him.

 

Thirteen years of sixteen hour days, stakeouts and cheap coffee, diner lights and lumpy crib mattresses; A knife on her neck, bullets in his shoulder, his blood on her hands, a gun to her head and then his arms anchoring her to the ground.

 

“I—“

 

She starts, and has to stop to clear the tears out of her voice, and christ, he’s definitely going to know she’s crying.

 

“I don’t want you to think I didn’t miss you,” she whispers, swiping at her face, “Because, I—“

 

She can’t say it, not right now, because it’s vulnerable and soft and he doesn’t get that from her yet.

 

“I know,” he murmurs.

 

For tonight, it’s enough.


A/N: Thank you so much for taking the time to read! I would love to hear your thoughts.

Chapter Text

A/N: Reminder that this is not 100% canon!! Elliot is not undercover in this fic, he’s working for OC per usual.


“Hey,” Olivia sighs, sinking down next to her son on the couch, “I’m sorry, baby, I really needed that.”

 

“Bad day?” he says knowingly, closing the book he’s reading.

 

Noah knows her.

 

He knows that she showers the second she walks in the door if something particularly bad or gross happened at work.

 

“Kind of. How was school?” she asks, changing the subject.

 

He’s not old enough to know any of the details of her job; he knows that she tries to put bad people in jail, that sometimes she wins and sometimes she loses. He knows that she’s Captain Benson, that she’s the boss of her precinct and she has to keep all of her people safe. He knows that some days are harder than others, that sometimes they catch the bad guy right away and sometimes it takes a long time.

 

“Fine,” he shrugs, “We found a cicada at recess. That was cool.”

 

“Cool,” she chuckles, glancing down at the book he’s reading, “Do we need to hit the library again this weekend?”

 

He’s in a tolerant mood because he lets her stroke his curls a little; he’s started swatting her away some days, which is super fun.

 

“This is my last one,” he nods, shaking the book, “It’s really good.”

 

“Good,” she smiles, eyes moving over his face, “Hey.”

 

She tips her head and holds her hand out, indicating that she wants a hug, because she hasn’t held him all day. He may be growing up, but she’s nowhere near ready to stop asking for impromptu hugs. He gets up and comes to her, flopping forward onto her chest to make her laugh, and she wraps her arms around him.

 

Oof,” she chuckles, pressing a kiss against his temple, “Be gentle with your ol’ mom.”

 

He giggles and then lays his head on her shoulder. “Love you, Mom.”

 

She closes her eyes, melting. “I love you, too.”

 

He slides off of her onto the floor, laughing, being silly, not a care in the world tonight.

 

“Hey,” she laughs, nudging him with her foot, “C’mere a second. I need to ask you something.”

 

Noah drags himself off the floor and plops back down next to her. “What? I don’t have math homework, I swear.”

 

“No, it’s not about school,” she sighs, propping her head up on her hand, leaning against the couch, “I wanted to know, if it would be okay with you if an old friend of mine came over to have dinner with us.”

 

Instantly, Noah’s mood changes.

 

His brows furrow, and he sits up. “Who?”

 

“My friend Elliot,” she says, watching him carefully.

 

He thinks for a moment. “That guy from the park?”

 

She raises her eyebrows, surprised he remembers her offhand explanation between sledding runs. “Yeah, the guy from the park.”

 

“Why does he want to come here?”

 

He’s getting protective of her, the older he gets, and she’s not sure how to feel about it. She absolutely does not want him growing up any faster than he needs to, but at the same time…it’s just the two of them. Team you and me. There’s a lot of security in their bond, and she loves that, for him and for herself. She’s always been straight with him, where it’s age appropriate, and he knows he can ask her anything and get the truth.

 

“Well, we’re…he was away for a while. And we’re becoming friends again, now that he’s back. I’d like for you to meet him, and he wants to meet you, too.”

 

But, she’s not getting off that easily.

 

“He’s a cop, isn’t he? He a captain, too?” Noah asks, like he already knows.

 

“Yes, he’s a cop,” she says, tipping her head, “He’s a detective. How did you know that?”

 

Noah shrugs. “I can tell. Why was he away? Where did he go?”

 

“He’s been living in Italy! Isn’t that cool?”

 

It’s not cool, she can tell, and oh boy

 

“Did you used to work with him? Because he’s a cop?”

 

And, there it is.

 

“Yeah,” she sighs, nodding a little, “He was my partner at work, for about thirteen years.”

 

Noah’s brows furrow. “What does ‘partner’ mean?”

 

Right.

 

He’s never known her to have a true partner at work. He’d been too little to remember Nick, and it just hasn’t come up since.

 

“Well, detectives are usually partnered together, two of them, and they investigate all of their cases together,” she explains, gesturing, “It’s just safer that way, to always have someone with you. And two heads are better than one, right? When I was a detective, Elliot was my partner.”

 

“So, who’s your partner now?” he asks, confused.

 

“Oh, once you get promoted you don’t always have a partner anymore. So, remember, I became a sergeant first, then a lieutenant, and now I’m a captain? Once I became a sergeant, I starting helping everybody. So, I didn’t have a partner after that, and I don’t have one now.”

 

“So, you stopped being partners with Elliot when you became a sergeant?”

 

She could lie.

 

Easily, she could lie to her kid and spare him the details.

 

But, that’s not what they do. That’s not their relationship. She’s promised him that she will always tell him the truth, and she clears her throat, preparing to keep her promise.

 

“No,” she says softly, shaking her head, “It was before that. Elliot stopped being a cop before I became a sergeant.”

 

“Oh,” Noah says, not buying any of it, “Why did he stop being a cop?”

 

She shifts on the couch, feeling like a suspect.

 

“I—you know, that’s—“

 

Mom,” he sighs, rolling his eyes a little.

 

“Hey,” she says, raising her eyebrows, “What did I say about the eye rolling?”

 

“Sorry,” Noah says, climbing up onto his knees, “But, why did Elliot stop being a cop?”

 

She takes a breath. “Something scary happened to us at work. Something that happens to cops sometimes—“

 

Code for, ‘I’ll tell you when you’re older’.

 

“—but, Elliot was just…he needed a break from being a cop. And so, he stopped.”

 

“Oh,” he says quietly, still thinking.

 

He has more questions, she can see them in his eyes as she watches him, and she gives him the space to think, waiting.

 

“Did you like being partners with him?”

 

His next question makes her smile. “Yeah, I did. He was the best partner I ever had. We were best friends.”

 

“How come you never talk about him? If he’s your best friend?”

 

Jesus, this child.

 

“After he stopped being a cop, we didn’t talk so much,” she admits, shrugging, trying to keep her face neutral.

 

Realization crosses over Noah’s features. “Did he say something mean to you? You’re sad.”

 

“No, honey,” she breathes, shaking her head, “He didn’t. He just—“

 

Crushed my soul.

 

“—he just didn’t really tell me that he was leaving. So, I didn’t know where he went. And I had to get a new partner after that, which is kinda scary, because it takes a little while to get used to a new partner.”

 

“He hurt your feelings,” Noah says decisively, “I can tell.”

 

“That part was a long time ago. Before I got you,” she says, smiling a little, “And I don’t want you to worry about it, okay? I’m not sad.”

 

“Okay,” he says, not looking completely convinced, “So…Elliot—“

 

She stifles a laugh at the way he says Elliot’s name, like he may or may not be using a fake identity and can’t be trusted at all.

 

“—wants to come over for dinner?”

 

“Well, I invited him,” she chuckles, tucking her hair behind her ear, “I just—I think we’re going to probably be friends again, now that he came back to the city. And he only knew me when I was all alone. I want him to meet my favorite guy. And I want you to meet him, mostly. Because, you know, we’re a team, so anybody that I hang out with, I gotta know what you think. Anybody that you don’t like, we’re not keeping them around.”

 

Noah grins, always happy to be reminded that they’re a team. “Yeah. We stick together.”

 

“Right,” she smiles, reaching out to touch his nose, “So, what do you think? We can have dinner with Elliot, right? It’s just dinner.”

 


 

Two days later…

 

“What does he know about me? Probably nothing, right?”

 

It’s a chilly Friday morning, and they’re walking towards McCarren Park, in Elliot’s new neighborhood. The first signs of fall are in the air, although the trees are still green and there are plenty of people without jackets.

 

“Actually,” Liv starts, pulling a face, “When I talked to him about it the other night, I sort of told him…everything.”

 

“What do you mean, everything?

 

“The PG version,” she clarifies, sipping her tea, “But he knows…everything. He knows we used to be partners, he knows what that means, he knows we were best friends. And he knows that you left. And that you didn’t tell me.”

 

Elliot chuckles, “Did you want him to hate me?”

 

“No,” she breathes, accidentally nudging his shoulder as they walk in step, “He just kept asking questions, and I don’t lie to him. He knows we don’t lie to each other, it goes both ways, so I had to tell him. He doesn’t hate you...”

 

“But?”

 

“He’s not…he’s perceptive, okay? He could tell that something happened, and he knows I was hurt. He knows me just as well as I know him.”

 

“So what are you saying?”

 

“He doesn’t…exactly…like you, but you know what he’s gonna come around—“

 

“—Olivia,” he groans, stopping on the sidewalk, “Seriously?”

 

“Listen, I’m not gonna tell him how to feel,” she says, holding up her hands, “I answered his questions, he made up his own mind.”

 

“So, now what?” he sighs, looking a little petulant, “Your kid already hates me and I’m supposed to come over for dinner. Should we not do this right now?”

 

“Well, at this point I think you have to,” she chuckles, looping her arm through his and pulling him along, “Now he’s curious. You afraid of a nine-year-old?”

 

He stops again, and when she looks at him her expression changes, because she can see how serious he is.

 

“He’s your kid,” he says, staring at her, “I—it kills me, that I don’t know your kid.”

 

“I know,” she murmurs, tucking her coat in closer around her body, “That’s not my—“

 

“—I know that,” he says, shaking his head, “I know that. I still, I just—“

 

“I want you to know him,” she interrupts, dipping to meet his eyes, “But we don’t have a lot of people in our life. We just don’t. I’m not a PTA mom, I don’t bake, or chaperone. I can’t. He’s made a couple of good friends at school, and we have the squad. That’s who he knows, they’re his family. I can’t just bring somebody into his home without giving him a heads-up. Not even you.”

 

“I get that, I do. I’m not trying to give you a hard time, I’m—“

 

He sighs and takes a step forward, and she lets him hug her into his body from the side, looping her arm around his waist.

 

This is a thing they do now, apparently.

 

The first time they’d had coffee after his road trip, he had greeted her with a hug. It surprised her, because it’s not something they normally do; she can count on one hand the number of times she’s hugged him, and they’ve all been under extreme duress. But now that he’s taken the step, they can’t seem to stop themselves. They hug hello, and goodbye, and lately he’s started hugging her mid-conversation like this, if they’re bickering. It’s like he’s doing it unconsciously, but he can’t possibly be, because they’ve never done this.

 

But it’s a thing they do now.

 

Apparently.

 

She rests her head against him for a few seconds, and it’s like the deepest exhale she’s ever taken. The fact that they’re touching now is new, and a little confusing, but it feels so natural that she can’t question it.

 

“I would never push you, when it comes to Noah,” he says, letting her go, “I hope you know that.”

 

“I do,” she says, smiling gently.

 

“Look, if it’s not the right time—“

 

“Elliot,” she murmurs, touching his arm, “I want you to meet him. He’s…he’s the best thing in my life. I want to be able to tell him I had coffee with you, when he asks what I did at work. I want to be able to have you over for dinner, even if it’s just takeout—“

 

He grins, laughing a little.

 

“—I want—“

 

She pauses, eyes finding his.

 

“—I want us to build our friendship again. And if we’re gonna do that, he’s going to be part of it. I don’t know how he’ll react, to be honest with you. This is the first time in a long time that I’ve brought somebody into his life.”

 

“Well,” he sighs, turning to start walking again, “Any advice? How do I get on his good side?”

 

She smiles, thinking about her son. “Just be straight with him. If he has questions, answer them. He tends to respond well to that.”

 


 

Three days later…

 

“Mom, are you nervous?”

 

“No,” Olivia scoffs, looking up from where she’s fluffing the couch pillows, “Why would you say that?”

 

“Because you’re cleaning,” Noah says knowingly, perched at the table doing homework, “You clean when you’re nervous.”

 

Oh, she’s nervous.

 

Elliot’s never seen her apartment before, or met her son, and he’s on his way here now, to spend the evening with them; obviously,she’s nervous. But she’s not about to admit that to her nine-year-old.

 

“C’mere a minute,” she says casually, sitting down on the couch.

 

Tipping his head curiously, he climbs off his chair and wanders over to her. “What?”

 

Without warning, she grabs him and tackles him onto the couch, tickling him.

 

“You are getting too smart for you own good!” she laughs, pinning him down as he shrieks with laughter, “You better watch it.”

 

“You can clean!” he giggles, squirming and twisting, “I was kidding!”

 

She lets him go and drags him up, the last of his laughter pressed into her shoulder as she pulls him into her arms.

 

Ugh, you’re getting too big,” she huffs, squeezing him in a hug, “Stop growing. Immediately.”

 

“I can’t,” he giggles, sitting up, holding her face between his hands.

 

“Hey, so, remember Elliot’s gonna be here soon,” she says casually.

 

Noah sighs, nodding, his face neutral, looking at her with his bright, blue eyes.

 

“If you need to, just whisper in my ear, okay? Like we always do,” she smiles, watching him carefully, “But I do think you’re gonna like him.”

 

Shrugging, Noah hops off the couch and goes back to his homework.

 

At the same time, there’s a knock at the door, and her heart jumps a little.

 

Noah looks up and they make eye contact, the way they always do before someone else comes into their safe little bubble. She doesn’t crack their usual joke, because they both know who it is. She raises her eyebrows and gets up to answer the door.

 

She checks the peephole to make sure it’s him, and takes a breath before she pulls the door open.

 

“Hey,” she smiles, taking in his jeans, his soft-looking henley shirt, “Come in.”

 

“Thanks,” he says quietly, offering her a bottle of red wine, “Brought you this. We don’t have to drink it tonight, just wanted you to have it.”

 

She eyes the label, brows furrowed. “Italian. Have you had it?”

 

“Yeah actually, I’ve been there. To the vineyard I mean,” he explains, gesturing, “There’s a shop here that carries it. One of the good things about New York, right? If something’s imported to the states, you can probably find it here somewhere.”

 

“Thank you,” she says, smiling gently, “Here, come in. Noah?”

 

She leads him out of the foyer and into the living room, feels him follow close behind her. Noah looks up from his worksheet when they come around the corner, still not giving her any clues as to what’s about to happen.

 

“Hey, c’mere for a second,” she says easily, swallowing, trying not to make a big deal out of a situation that is, in fact, a very big deal, “This is my friend, Elliot. El, this is Noah.”

 

“Noah,” Elliot says warmly, watching as he comes over and stands with his back to his mom, leaning on her a little, “It’s really nice to meet you.”

 

Truthfully, she has no idea what her son’s reaction to Elliot will be. He’s been quiet and pensive about the whole thing, and she realizes she’s holding her breath.

 

“You need to tell my mom you’re sorry. You hurt her feelings.”

 

Oh, jesus christ.

 

“Noah, that’s not—“

 

“No, no, Liv, it’s okay,” Elliot interrupts, holding a hand up.

 

She watches as he takes a breath and kneels down to Noah’s level, looking him in the eyes.

 

“Hey,” he says softly, meeting Noah’s standoffish gaze, “Okay. So, your mom told you that we used to be partners, right?”

 

“Yeah,” Noah says, folding his arms, “She told me. I also know you made her sad. I don’t like that.”

 

“Me neither,” Elliot says, shaking his head, like he’s speaking to an equal, “And I want to thank you for having her back. You’re protective of her, I can see that. I know what that feels like, because she and I protected each other when we worked together. I took my job very seriously, and I never felt safer than I did when I worked with your mom.”

 

Olivia knows this on some level, but still; hearing him say she’d made him feel safe is…nice.

 

“My mom’s a good cop,” Noah agrees, watching Elliot carefully.

 

“She’s a great cop,” he agrees, “Look, you guys are a team now, I know that. I’m not tryin’ to change that. And I know that I hurt her feelings. It wasn’t okay for me to do that, at all. I’ve told her how sorry I am, a bunch of times.”

 

“How many times?” Noah asks, as if it makes all the difference.

 

“I dunno, Liv, how many times?” Elliot asks, looking up at her.

 

“A lot of times,” she supplies, watching in amusement.

 

“Well,” Noah sighs, relaxing a little, “I guess that’s good.”

 

Elliot nods, holding eye contact with him. “I know how special your mom is, I don’t blame you for looking out for her. I get that you don’t trust me, that’s okay. But, I’m hoping that maybe we can get to know each other. And that, maybe, if you know me a little better, you’ll be okay with your mom and I being friends again?”

 

Olivia watches in shocked amusement as her son stares Elliot down, executing her own ‘perp staredown’ to near perfection. How he’s developed this she has no idea, because he’s certainly never seen her interrogate anyone.

 

“Yeah, okay,” Noah says finally, holding his hand out, “You can stay. For now.”

 

Elliot takes his small hand and shakes it, nodding. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”

 

“Okay,” Liv says softly, resting her palm on Noah’s head, “Why don’t you finish up that last little bit of your worksheet. Then maybe we can all play a game or something after dinner?”

 

“I really don’t like cursive writing though,” Noah sighs, trudging back over to the table.

 

Elliot stands up and looks at her, eyes widening comically, and she stifles a laugh, holding up the wine.

 

“Maybe we should open this,” she mumbles, turning towards the kitchen.

 

“You think?” he whispers, shaking his head.

 

She heads in search of a corkscrew, but he hangs back in the living room, hands stuffed in his pockets. She watches while he slowly takes in the room, wandering over to the bookshelf, looking at all of her pictures.

 

“Mom,” Noah sighs, slumping in the chair, “I’m getting all tangled on the ‘s’, the notebook is in the way.”

 

“Baby, I can’t help that, I’m sorry. We have to look for some different notebooks, I know.”

 

“You left-handed?”

 

They both look up at Elliot.

 

“Yeah,” Noah says, brows furrowed, “Why?”

 

Elliot comes over to the table. “Can I show you something?”

 

After a moment, Noah nods, sitting back in his chair.

 

“Here,” Elliot says quietly, flipping to a new page, and turning the notebook around so the spiral is on the right side, “Try that.”

 

Noah looks a little suspicious, but he repositions his worksheet and starts to copy the uppercase cursive ‘S’ again.

 

“Better?”

 

“Yeah,” he admits, staring up at Elliot, “Thanks.”

 

“Sometimes when you’re left-handed, you have to get a little creative,” Elliot shrugs, coming to sit at the table with him, “One of my daughters is left-handed. After a while we just got her those legal pads to write on, like your mom uses to take notes.”

 

“You have kids?”

 

“I do,” Elliot nods, “I have five kids.”

 

Five?” Noah says, shocked.

 

Elliot makes a face. “That’s kind of a lot, huh?”

 

“It’s a lot. How old are they?”

 

“You’re gonna test my memory now,” Elliot smiles, leaning back in his chair, “They’re grown-ups. They’re all finished college except for my youngest son, he’s fifteen. His name is Eli.”

 

It happens so fast it makes her breathless.

 

Within the space of ten minutes, he has her son talking, telling him about his dance classes, about school, what he likes to eat, the kinds of books he likes to read.

 

She stands at the stove, stirring Bolognese, and watches it happen, watches the most important person in her world, her son, meet the man who’s known her better than any other person in her life; they click, and it’s overwhelming. Elliot picks up the pencil to help with the cursive, and she’s seen his chicken-scrawl, there’s no way—but he executes a perfect letter ‘s’, like he’s helped with this before, and of course he has, of course he can write well if he needs to teach someone how to do it.

 

Slowly, the words of their conversation fade out, but she hears Noah’s giggle, and Elliot’s, and years are flashing in front of her eyes. Years without him, and then years with him; watching her son fall in love with this man, watching him build trust…and then having to break his heart.

 

It’s too much, the fear, and she has the wherewithal to turn the burner down and cover her sauce before she steps away to breathe, putting her back to the wall in front of the refrigerator.

 

Is this a mistake?

 

Is she protecting him enough?

 

Is it going to happen all over again?

 

She’s getting her breath back when suddenly Elliot’s in front of her, looking down at her with furrowed brows.

 

“Hey,” he murmurs, reaching out to gently grasp her arms, “What?”

 

Olivia closes her eyes, breathes, and when she looks up at him there’s nothing but Mama Bear in her eyes.

 

“Don’t hurt us,” she whispers, the fierceness in her voice betrayed by a hint of a shake, a hint of the emotion that’s underneath her exterior.

 

His face relaxes into a knowing, solemn expression, and he dips his head to look her fully in the eyes.

 

“I would die before I did it again,” he murmurs, thumbs rubbing back and forth against her shoulders, “I swear to you.”

 

For the first time, hiding in her kitchen, she starts to believe him.

 

She swallows, and nods, once, letting out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.

 

“Mom? Is dinner ready yet?”

 

She jumps, pressing a palm to her forehead. “Yeah, almost. I just need to cook the pasta.”

 

“Hey, I got it,” Elliot says easily, moving fluidly in front of the stove, “This here?”

 

“Yeah,” she says clearing her throat, “I already put water in it, it just needs to—“

 

“I can boil water, Liv,” he teases, lighting the burner under the large pot.

 

As he opens the box of spaghetti sitting on the counter, she turns to lean against the refrigerator, smirking. He turns to the wine next, which has been sitting open on the counter, picking up the bottle and turning back to her.

 

“You got glasses? You’re gonna love this.”

 

She stares at him for a moment, smiling gently.

 

“Yeah, in here.”


A/N: The angst and tears are coming…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Trigger warnings for discussion of: panic, anxiety, Lewis (non-explicit detail), PTSD.

 

Special thanks to exceptionalmuse for beta-ing my first swing at trauma talk.


 

“Don’t hurt us,” she whispers, the fierceness in her voice betrayed by a hint of a shake, a hint of the emotion that’s underneath her exterior.

 

“I would die before I did it again,” he murmurs, thumbs rubbing back and forth against her shoulders, “I swear to you.”

 


Two Months Later…

 

“Goodnight, sweet boy. Love you, too.”

 

Olivia closes Noah’s door and leans against it for a second.

 

It’s been a long week.

 

A long case, with too many parallels, not enough sleep, not enough food, not enough time with her son, not enough time to breathe

 

She’s triggered. It’s the kind of week where she checks the lock on the front door five or six times before she’s able to sleep, where she’ll look in on Noah at least three times, reassuring herself that he’s safe, that he’s sleeping peacefully.

 

After the fourth time she’s checked the front door, filling out paperwork in between, she’s able to go take a shower.

 

That’s another part of this.Very hot showers. Trying to wash the feelings off of her, like they’re a film coating her skin. She leaves the bathroom door open to listen, just in case, and lets the hot water beat down on her for twenty minutes, until her skin is flushed and stripped.

 

She gets out and puts her pajamas on, wrapping herself in the biggest sweater she owns, and tries to get in bed. The living room lights stay on, during nights like this, and it takes her two tries and a glass of wine to be able to lie down.

 

She tries not to drink when she’s anxious, with everything she has. But sometimes it’s too much, and in the moments where she wants to crawl out of her own skin, a glass of wine soothes all of the sandpapery edges. She sips, and breathes, sips, and breathes, slowly working her way into bed.

 

Her phone buzzes and she jumps, rolling her eyes at her own heightened startle reflex.

 

Part of her prays for a case, so she doesn’t have to try and sleep right now, but it’s not a case, it’s a text from Elliot.

 

‘hey. you close your case?’

 

Right. Elliot. That’s a thing, now.

 

He’s a thing, now. He’s a person she can text, or call, again.

 

‘Yeah. Finally.’

 

She’s not one for lengthy text messages, especially when she’s been drinking. Especially when it’s him.

 

‘wild friday night?’

 

He’d called her earlier today and left a message about wanting to see her this weekend, but she’s still not used to this. They’ve been continuing to reconnect, slowly, these past few months, but sometimes it still doesn’t feel real. She wonders when it will start to feel normal, if it will ever feel normal again, that he’s just…right there. A few buttons away.

 

‘I saw you called. Sorry just tired.’

 

‘anything I can do?’

 

She closes her eyes, because he sees right through her, even in a text.

 

The thing is, she can’t do what he’s asking, she doesn’t know how to lean on him. This is a part of her that she still keeps cradled, and protected, this shaky, scared, vulnerable part of her that is the traumatized part. It’s compartmentalized, now, because it can be, she can function and live her life with purpose and joy. But during weeks like this, she has to pick it up, she has to hold it close and soothe it, remind it that it’s safe, that they have the right coping skills and they’ll get through it together, until it’s ready to be put down again.

 

She only knows how to do this alone.

 

She’s had men in her life, in her bed, good men, men that would have taken whatever she gave them and carried it for her. But, nobody can carry this for her. She hasn’t been able to let anyone take the weight of it, not even for a minute.

 

That’s what scares her so much about telling him.

 

If he knows—

 

They’ve always taken everything from each other. It’s just how they’re wired together; they’ve been made to connect and absorb and hold and protect. She’s not sure she’ll have a choice, if he knows. No matter how tightly she tries to hold on, this part of her will float away to him, and he’ll have to hold it too.

 

That’s just how they work, and she wonders if it would feel heavier, not lighter, if he held it too.

 

She sighs, tapping her nail against the phone’s screen.

 

‘No. But thanks for asking.’

 

‘you and Noah free tomorrow?’

 

She pushes her fingers into her eyelids, just on the edge of where it’s uncomfortable, trying to ground herself in the sensation so she can focus.

 

Tomorrow.

 

Are they free tomorrow.

 

Does she want to be free tomorrow?

 

She takes a few deep breaths, and realizes that they’re coming easier than they did a few minutes ago.

 

Listen to your body.

 

That’s what her therapist is always telling her to do, and she tries, she really tries, but it doesn’t come naturally. She can’t meditate for shit, and yoga puts her straight to sleep, but if she closes her eyes and listens, sometimes, her body will help her understand what she needs to do.

 

There’s something that happens, on a completely unconscious level, when Elliot is within reach, physically or mentally. Just texting him is helping her breath easier, she realizes, and she shouldn’t be surprised.

 

‘Not sure it’s your thing. We have big plans to watch a Broadway special on TV. You’re welcome to join us.’

 

‘i’m cultured now. you sure?’

 

‘I think he’d like it. I would too.’

 

‘i’ll bring pizza. what time?’

 

She grins, in spite of herself, and almost groans with the relief of it.

 

‘Come at 6. He likes Hawaiian.’

 

‘might need to have a talk about that.’

 

She shakes her head, still smiling sleepily.

 

‘Good luck. I’ve tried.’

 

‘you still like your usual? or something new?’

 

She feels comforted that he hasn’t made many assumptions since he’s been back, aside from her coffee order (which also hasn’t changed). He knows he’s been gone, he doesn’t try to pretend he hasn’t been. Some things have changed; he just doesn’t know how much.

 

‘Some things never change.’

 

‘good to know. see you tomorrow. get some sleep.’

 

When she sets her phone down, for the first time all week, she feels like she might be able to sleep.

 


 

The next evening…

 

“Knock, knock,” Elliot calls, letting himself into the apartment, “Pizza’s here.”

 

“Hey,” she grins, poking her head around the corner, “Lock it behind you, would you?”

 

Even having the door unlocked for thirty seconds, the time between the doorman’s call and Elliot’s arrival, is enough to make her anxious.

 

“Yep,” he nods, toeing off his shoes.

 

He wanders into the living room, balancing the pizza boxes and a plastic bag in one hand.

 

“Hey, Elliot,” Noah smiles, waving from his spot on the floor in front of the coffee table.

 

Elliot holds out a fist for him to bump. “Hey, dude. Whatcha got?”

 

He’s building something out of Legos, a long instruction book unfolded across the top of the table.

 

“It’s Hagrid’s Hut,” he explains, holding up the box.

 

Elliot glances over to where she’s standing in her bedroom doorway, and she starts mouthing to him.

 

“Oh right, that’s uh—that’s har—Harry Potter, right?”

 

“Yup,” Noah nods, eyeing the bag, “What’s in that bag?”

 

“Well, I picked up some ice cream, just in case you guys like ice cream, but if you don’t—“

 

“Oh, I love ice cream,” Noah says immediately, eyes lighting up.

 

“Whew,” Elliot sighs, pretending to be relieved, “I was worried I’d have to eat it all.”

 

Olivia listens to their exchange from her bedroom, pulling a warmer sweater over her head, smiling to herself. He’s in her kitchen when she comes back out, putting two pints of ice cream into the freezer.

 

“Hey,” he smiles, casually sweeping her into a hug.

 

It’s a hug between friends, a quick squeeze, a ‘hello’—but the way it soothes all of her raw nerve endings takes her breath away for a second. They break apart and she clears her throat, trying to keep her face carefully arranged.

 

“Thanks for this,” she says, nodding toward the pizza, “John’s? You got us the good stuff.”

 

She grabs plates while he gets the boxes open on the counter, and their shoulders nudge against each other when she comes back.

 

“Hey.”

 

“Hmm?”

 

When she turns to look at him he’s studying her a little, in that way he’s always had, like he knows something’s off. He does know, she’d known he would and she’s invited him over anyway, and she wonders what that says about how honest she’s being with herself lately.

 

“You okay?” he asks, brows furrowed.

 

She takes a breath and nods, busying herself picking a slice. “Yeah. Just, still tired I guess.”

 

“Okay,” he shrugs, letting her off the hook immediately.

 

He won’t push, and she appreciates it more than he can understand.

 

Mmm…

 

She looks up to find him executing an impressive cheese pull, dangling over his plate.

 

“Seriously?”

 

“What?” he says, mouth completely full.

 

When she laughs it’s real, and it feels good, and she feels okay for just a few seconds. She shoves napkins at him and shakes her head.

 

“Noah, come pick out your slices. And don’t copy Elliot’s manners.”

 

“Hey!”

 


 

Later, they’re settled on opposite ends of the couch, and she’s curled under a blanket despite her sweatpants and sweater. Noah’s on the floor between them, completely drawn into the musical numbers on television, munching through a bowl of popcorn.

 

Clink…clink…clink…clink…

 

It takes Olivia a few minutes to realize why her scalp is starting to prickle, because she’s drawn into the show too.

 

…clink…clink…

 

Keys.

 

She glances over at Elliot, and he’s focused on the television, absently playing with his key ring. He’s twirling them, and then catching them in his palm.

 

…clink…

 

She blinks, suddenly trying to stop a flashback from clouding her vision. Her hand absently trails to the side of her left breast, smoothing over the scar there before it starts to burn with phantom pain.

 

…clink…clink…clink…

 

There’s suddenly too many things to focus on at once, and she silently curses the fact that this is happening now. She struggles to stop her chest from tightening, trying to keep her breaths deep—

 

…clink…clink…

 

—her hands start to tingle, and shake, and she makes two fists, digging her nails into her palms to try and ground herself—

 

…clink…

 

—it’s not helping. Nothing is fucking helping, her vision is starting to fade out and she’s going to have a panic attack, right here on her own couch in front of him. And he doesn’t even know—

 

…clink…clink…clink……clink……

 

“Mom?”

 

Her son’s eyes fill her field of vision, slowly followed by the rest of his concerned face. His brow is furrowed as he leans in closer to her, trying to get her to look at him.

 

“Mom?” he asks, reaching out to hold her face between two small, warm hands, “Did you fall asleep and have a bad dream?”

 

She can’t speak yet, but she nods, still coming out of it.

 

“It’s okay. Dreams aren’t real, remember?” Noah says easily, crawling up onto the couch between her and Elliot, “It’s okay, Mom.”

 

Sweet, sweet boy.

 

“I know,” she says breathlessly, pulling herself together before she scares him, “I know, honey, I’m okay. C’mere, thank you.”

 

The conversation she never wanted to have with her son came after a string of nightmares a couple of years ago. After he’d heard her crying on two different nights, he’d finally asked her about it, and she had carefully explained that grown-ups have bad dreams too. Sweet boy that he is, that explanation had satisfied him, and he’d simply told her that she could sleep in his bed if she got scared.

 

She pulls him into her arms and he lays his head on her shoulder, one arm going around her neck to play with her hair, something he’s done since he was a baby. He instantly soothes away the panic, just by being her boy. She’s painstakingly careful about making sure he never feels like he has to take care of her, but she can’t deny how comforting he is.

 

“I’m okay,” she murmurs into his hair, hugging him, “Thanks for noticing that I wasn’t. Just fell asleep for a minute, had a bad dream.”

 

“We can have a sleepover tonight,” he hints, always trying to find reasons to sleep in her bed, “I think we should.”

 

She laughs a little, and the tightness in her chest eases at the mischievous grin on his face. “We’ll talk about it. Hey, they’re going to do ‘You Will Be Found’.”

 

“Oh! My favorite! Elliot, have you seen Dear Evan Hansen?”

 

Shit.

 

She’d almost completely forgotten that Elliot’s been sitting two feet away on the couch, watching this entire scene unfold. When she turns to look at him, he’s staring at her with a mixture of understanding and worry. He knows exactly what just happened, but he doesn’t know why, and the questions are written all over his face.

 

“Elliot, are you watching?!”

 

“Uh,” Elliot jerks his attention back to Noah, clearing his throat, “Ye—yeah! It’s amazing, bud.”

 

Satisfied that everything is as it should be, Noah slides back onto the floor in front of the coffee table, sucked back into the show and his popcorn.

 

Elliot eyes her for a few more seconds, and then gets up and heads into the kitchen, picking up her empty water glass on the way there. She closes her eyes, listening to the stream of water from the refrigerator, the hiss of two beer bottles being opened. He comes back and sets the water and one of the beers on her side table, taking a sip from the other one himself. Instead of sitting at the other end of the couch, he sinks onto the cushion right next to hers, draping his arm across the back of the couch.

 

It’s a gesture.

 

He knows, whatever it is, she won’t talk about it in front of her son, so he won’t ask. Instead, he’s offering her his proximity, which is everything. For twelve years, the most basic physical protection he’d offered her, was having her back; literally, being near her. Clearing rooms together, side by side in the box, just knowing he would come for her—

 

Unbidden, her throat clogs with emotion, because of what he’s giving her now, and what she’s needed for years. Part of her is still angry with him; angry that he wasn’t there, that he didn’t know. It’s irrational, because he’s not telepathic, no matter how in sync they are. He has no idea how badly she’s needed him since it happened.

 

How badly she’s needed her partner.

 

He’s close enough that she can feel his warmth, and slowly, her chest starts to loosen. Her hands unfurl, and her breaths come easier; her body remembers him, even when her brain tells her to be cautious about letting him back in. There’s nothing she’s consciously doing to calm down, and yet the waves of panic are ebbing further and further away the longer he’s close to her. She relaxes back into the cushions, and her shoulder bumps up underneath his hand where it’s resting against the couch. Instead of shifting away, she lets him open his palm and cup her shoulder, because it feels good, and safe.

 

Safe.

 

She hasn’t felt safe in so long. Not like this.

 

It’s been too many days, and weeks, and years of dealing with the rough patches by herself, and having him here, now, is overwhelming.

 

'When you’re broken on the ground, you will be found'

 

She’s heard this goddamn song blasting out of Noah’s room two hundred times, and it’s never made her cry until right now. Elliot doesn’t say anything when she sniffs, and closes her eyes against tears, but he carefully slides his hand to the back of her neck and squeezes; it almost breaks her, and that’s when she knows she’s going to tell him.

 

Painful and messy though it’s likely to be, she wants him in this with her, now. She’s tired, and he’s still here over a year later, and she can no longer think of reasons not to let him in, to deny herself the comfort.

 

She leans forward and rubs her face, elbows on her knees, and his hand slides in a slow circle over her back, just once.

 

“Okay?” he asks quietly, still not pushing.

 

“Yeah,” she whispers, glancing at him, “Just need a minute.”

 

He nods, brows furrowed, and moves his hand back to her neck.

 


 

When the show’s over, she tells Noah to say goodnight to Elliot and sends him off to take a shower, and then they’re alone for the first time all night.

 

He busies himself cleaning up for a few minutes, and she disappears into her bedroom to find a box in the back of her closet, and a folder she hasn’t touched in years. She doesn’t open it, because she doesn’t want to see, she can’t, but she carries it out into the living room with shaky hands.

 

Elliot’s standing behind the couch when she comes back, and she can hear Noah singing in the shower, and the whole moment is decidedly surreal.

 

“I can just, uh,” he gestures toward the door, “You know, if you wanna sleep.”

 

“Will you stay?” she asks softly, unable to keep the shake out of her voice.

 

He notices the folder, then, and he freezes, looking at her apprehensively.

 

“Liv?”

 

His voice cracks, and she can’t control the way she’s looking at him, because she knows what she’s about to do, how much she’s about to hurt him. His eyes are telling her he already knows; he knows something happened.

 

“Come sit,” she manages, swallowing, “Please.”

 

He stares at her for a moment, and then walks around to sit on the couch, following her with his eyes as she comes over and sits beside him, close, facing him. The folder sits on her lap between them, and for a few seconds he just stares at it, at her name on the tab.

 

“Something happened,” he rasps, still staring down at it, like it’s a bomb he’s meant to disarm.

 

“I wasn’t raped,” she breathes in a soft rush, because she knows exactly what he’s thinking and she doesn’t want him to think it any longer than he has to.

 

His eyes shoot up to meet hers, but his relief only lasts a second; she knows how haunted she looks, she sees it on herself in the mirror on nights like this.

 

“But, something happened,” he says softly, looking only at her now.

 

She nods a little, clears her throat. “Something happened.”

 

He reaches for her hand, and when his warmth closes around her fingers she realizes how cold she still is.

 

“And, it was bad.”

 

She closes her eyes and takes a breath. “Yeah. It was bad. I was kidnapped. Held for four days.”

 

The breath rushes out of him, and his lips part in shock.

 

Liv—“

 

“—just, don’t say anything, before you—“

 

She slides the folder into his lap, and for a moment he tenses as though its burned him.

 

“They let me take it,” she says softly, slowly getting her words back, “I don’t know who pulled those strings, but, they let me take my case file. I don’t have his, but, there’s plenty in mine. I wouldn’t be able to—I can’t say it all out loud—“

 

“—I would never ask you to do that. Look, if you’re not ready—“ he interrupts, shaking his head.

 

“—no, I’m just—“

 

She’s having a hard time breathing again and she stops for a second, slowing everything down.

 

“If we’re gonna do this,” she continues quietly, gesturing between them, “Then, it’s something you need to know. I don’t want you to have to know, but—“

 

She stops, and shrugs, eyes glittering with tears.

 

“—sometimes, I’m not okay. And I want you to know why.”

 

“Okay,” he murmurs, squeezing her hand.

 

She pulls herself together for what feels like the forty-seventh time, just as the shower shuts off.

 

“I’m gonna go get him settled. We usually read for a while,” she sighs, glancing down at the folder, “Read it, but, take your time. There’s, umm, there’s photos in the back, I wouldn’t—just, maybe don’t look at those tonight?”

 

He swallows, nodding, watching as she stands up.

 

“I’ll be back in a little while.”

 


 

“He wrenched the hangings shut around his four-poster, leaving Harry standing there by the door, staring at the dark red velvet curtains, now hiding one of the few people he had been sure would believe him.”

 

Their nightly Harry Potter chapter is always relaxing. She loves to listen to Noah read out loud for the first handful of pages, until he starts to get tired and asks her to take over. Truthfully, she’s pulled into the story too, lost in the escapism of it.

 

She looks down at Noah when the chapter’s finished, meeting his sleepy eyes. “Wow.”

 

“Harry’s in trouble,” he says, pressing his yawn deeply into her shoulder.

 

“You think so?”

 

She bookmarks their place and sets the book on her nightstand, clicking the light down to the dimmest setting.

 

“I mean, yeah,” he sighs, tucking himself under the comforter more, “He’s not even supposed to be a champion, and now Ron’s mad at him.”

 

“Maybe they’ll talk about it in the next chapter,” she suggests softly, running her hand through his hair a couple times.

 

“Maybe. Mom, did Elliot go home?”

 

She hesitates, wondering why he’s asking.

 

“No, not yet,” she murmurs, “We’re gonna talk a little more, and then I’ll come back in and go to sleep.”

 

“Oh,” he says sleepily, “Why didn’t he read with us?”

 

She raises her eyebrows a little. “Would you like him to?”

 

Noah shrugs, blinking up at her. “Sure. I like Elliot.”

 

He nearly takes her out with that, and she swallows hard around the lump that rises in her throat.

 

“Well,” she manages, clearing her throat, “Next time, we’ll ask him, okay?”

 

“Okay,” he says, yawning spectacularly.

 

“Okay, good night,” she whispers, leaning down to press a kiss against his forehead, “Love you.”

 

“Night…”

 

He’s almost asleep already, content with pizza and Harry Potter and musicals.

 

Every night that she puts him to bed this way, happy, safe, unaware of the horrors she faces, validates her. These days validate her more than any other days, the days she’s able to put her own struggles aside and care for him, to shield him from things he shouldn’t be worrying about, to allow him to feel like a kid whose mother is stable and secure, the way every kid should feel. It soothes her, knowing she’s done better, that she’s given him better than she’d been given.

 

She slides off the bed, crosses over to her dresser, and turns on the white noise machine she sometimes uses, when she’s alone in the apartment without him and the city is too loud and too quiet at the same time. It feels like another layer of protection over her boy, shielding him from the conversation she’s about to have even if he stirs in his sleep.

 

Her stomach twists with nausea as she leaves her bedroom and closes the door, pausing for a few seconds before she turns to go back to the living room.

 

Elliot is exactly where she’d left him, except her case file is sitting on the coffee table, closed.

 

He’s sitting with both elbows on his knees, palms pressed hard against his forehead. He’s tense, body language she recognizes easily on him, balanced on a razer’s edge. She knows he’s trying not to put a hole in her wall, which she appreciates, but it’s taking a lot out of him.

 

She swallows and eases back down next to him, watching him carefully.

 

As she watches, he scrubs his hands over his face and takes a breath, looking up at the muted television.

 

“You let Noah sleep in your bed?”

 

Olivia blinks, opening her mouth, and then closing it again.

 

“I—yeah. He doesn’t ask much, anymore. Why—“

 

“—we had at least one kid in bed with us for twenty years, I swear.”

 

She’s quiet, watching him stare across the room, realizing he’s not looking at anything in particular.

 

“They all do it?” she asks softly, letting him ease into talking to her.

 

He thinks, examining his hands. “Maureen, Lizzie, and Eli, the most. I think Kathy piled two or three in there some nights, when I was working.”

 

“I’ve slept in his bed, too,” she remembers, “Trying to keep him in there, when he was asking a lot. But…it was a phase. Shouldn’t have worried about it.”

 

“It smells like you,” he says softly, staring at the television again, “The bed. Comforts them. When they’re babies, first thing they learn is what you smell like, and it sticks—“

 

“El,” she interrupts quietly.

 

He closes his eyes for a moment, and then he turns to look at her.

 

Whatever her definition of devastation was before this, it’s nothing compared to the way he looks at her now, with red, wet eyes.

 

He’s devastated.

 

She expected anger from him, she expected things she doesn’t want, like pity, but she hadn’t expected him to be utterly destroyed. It hits her right in the gut, steals her breath, stings her eyes with the sharp burn of tears. He’s looking at her like he can’t breathe either, like all of her trauma is bleeding right into him, and this is the part she’s been terrified of, except she’d thought she would have to talk to him about it first. The statements in her file are sterile and without emotion, the way all statements are. They don’t give anything away; they simply state the horrific facts.

 

But, she realizes he doesn’t need her to tell him how she’d felt, because he already knows; he’s seen her held at gunpoint before, tied to a chair. What he’s just read is worse than anything they’ve been through together, because among other atrocities, she’d been painfully alone, for four days. He immediately realizes the sheer terror she’d felt, knowing he wasn’t out there, that he wasn’t coming for her.

 

He’s just found out that he left, and she nearly died.

 

“Liv,” he chokes, drowning.

 

She reaches for him instinctually, wrapping her arms around his shoulders, and they sink together.

 

He tugs her closer, right up against his body, holding her like he’s trying to keep her together, now that he knows why she’s falling apart. It’s not the hug she expected based on his reaction, but she realizes he’s setting his own part of the trauma aside to hold space for hers, and the relief makes her weak. He’s devastated, but he won’t put that on her.

 

One of his hands slides over the back of her neck, encouraging her to bury her face in his shoulder, and he leans against her temple.

 

I’m sorry,” he rasps, curling his fingers into her back, “I had no idea.”

 

“I know,” she murmurs, slowly giving him more and more of her weight.

 

“If I’d known—“

 

“—don’t,” she breathes, refusing to entertain the thought, “You didn’t.”

 

Trauma makes her honest, she’s noticed.

 

Her filter doesn’t work the same in these moments, and she can’t catch every thought before it slips out of her mouth.

 

“What can I do? Right now?” he asks, voice cracking on every other word.

 

“This,” she manages, laying her head on his shoulder, trying to breathe slowly.

 

Slowly, he shifts until his back is against the couch, and she curls into his chest without thinking about it, letting her body tell her what it needs. She needs this, and she’s needed it for years; it’s almost surreal, to be feeling this way and to finally have him here offering support. He’s never held her like this before, and now that she’s known this comfort she’s already worried she’ll never be able to let it go. He’s warm, and he smells like Elliot, and this should feel weird but it doesn’t. It feels like they do this all the time, like they’ve done it every night for years. She doesn’t stop to think about what that means, she just takes a breath and lets it be. Her eyes drift closed and her whole body relaxes, soothed by the pressure of his hand rubbing slow circles over her back.

 

Something about the safety of it is making her weepy, and she hates that, but she knows better than to fight it. The tears will either come now, or they’ll come later at the most inconvenient time.

 

“Earlier,” he asks, gently, “When you—“

 

“—it was your keys,” she admits quietly, without emotion, “The sound of them. He did that. Played with my keys, before he…”

 

He curses quietly, and she closes her eyes, focusing on the movement of his chest under her cheek as he breathes.

 

“I—I—“

 

The breath stutters and stops in her chest, and it’s all building inside of her, all the things she’s never been able to say, all the moments she’s ached for this. The force of it is choking her, suddenly, pressing out from her chest, her throat, rising and swirling and begging to be let out. She’s shaking with it, and she feels him hold her tighter, trying to keep her from splintering apart, like he knows exactly what’s happening.

 

He rests his mouth against her forehead, firm and warm. “Tell me. S’okay.”

 

“I wanted you,” she whispers, eyes burning with tears behind her closed lids, “After him. I wanted you. It surprised me, how fast I fell right back into missing you. I didn’t even—it hurt, how much I wanted to feel safe. You’re the only person who’s ever done that.”

 

It’s a release, to say it out loud.

 

To admit that she didn’t have it handled, that she still doesn’t, sometimes.

 

“As soon as we started investigating him, I wanted you. Something about him…even interrogating him, I wanted you on my six. He made me so sick. Two years, you were gone, but when I was in that room it felt like two minutes. It felt like the first day.”

 

It’s flowing quickly now, and she’s not going to be able to stop anymore, not until she’s told him.

 

“I was so fucking mad at you,” she hisses, slamming her fist down against his chest, “I thought I’d been through the worst of it, the anger. And then I missed you again and I was mad all over again. I just—even when things went sideways, I always knew you would come for me. And you always did. You never let anything happen to me. You wouldn’t. And then you left. And something happened to me.”

 

It feels good to tell him, to make sure he knows.

 

She realizes he’s sniffling quietly into her hair, and she stops to take a deep breath, slowly moving her palm up and down his side.

 

“Tell me,” he rasps, “It’s okay. I want to know.”

 

Tell me how much I hurt you.

 

She hears what he isn’t saying, but she’s said what she needs to say, what she has the energy for tonight. Sighing, she closes her eyes again, letting herself be comforted by his warmth.

 

“It’s not fair,” she whispers, still soothing her hand over his ribcage, “It’s not fair for me to be mad at you. You couldn’t have known.”

 

“No,” he agrees, smoothing her hair, “But I cut you off. You wanted me, and I cut you off.”

 

“Yeah,” she says sadly, letting out another deep breath, “You did.”

 

There’s another wave of tears pressing into her throat, and she lets him hold her while she lets it out, crying into his shirt for another few minutes. It feels like the only way to process it, this horrific thing that’s happened to her, this horrific guilt that’s now crept into his very soul. The only way to process it is on her couch, clinging to each other, anchoring themselves. It’s been a long time since she’s let go like this; it’s terrifying to do it, because sometimes it feels like if she starts, she’ll never stop.

 

But, part of her wants to feel the difference falling apart in his arms makes.

 

He soothes her in a way she doesn’t expect. Her catharsis is complete, because she’s safe, and when the tears slow, it’s true relief.

 

“Shoulda been there for you, Liv,” he murmurs into her hair, a few minutes after she’s stopped crying, “I’m so fucking sorry.”

 

She hums, eyes closed, focused on the movement of his hand over her back, the way his warmth is mixing with her exhaustion in a way that makes her feel like she’s floating.

 

“It is what it is,” she says softly, “You weren’t.”

 

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, and he really is, she can hear it in his voice.

 

Of course, he is.

 

“I don’t need you to be sorry, I need you to be here, now,” she murmurs, rubbing the material of his shirt between her fingers, “I need you to stay.”

 

He cradles her cheek and gently tips her face up, waiting until her eyes flutter open.

 

I’m here. And I’m not leaving.”

 

It’s hard for her to keep her eyes open, but she stares into his as long as she can, soaking in the promise she finds there. After a few moments he tucks her back against his chest, holding her again.

 

“Close your eyes a minute,” he murmurs, un-muting the television and turning the volume down low.

 

“Just a minute,” she sighs quietly, feeling like she could sleep the entire night.

 

It’s right before she drifts off, that she realizes.

 

“It’s lighter,” she whispers, barely audible.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“Nothing.”

 


A/N: I think there's one more heavier chapter and then we get into the fun stuff...I have this scene in a bar written already oooooh I love it, I can't wait to share it. Thank you for reading!

Chapter Text

“Close your eyes a minute.”

 

“Just a minute,” she sighs quietly, feeling like she could sleep the entire night.

 

It’s right before she drifts off that she realizes.

 

“It’s lighter,” she whispers, barely audible.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“Nothing.”

 


 

Five Days Later…

 

She’s warm and sleepy in his arms, and the sharp ache of it is something he hasn’t known before, this need to comfort her. He’s known shades of it, but not like this, not completely unencumbered by work, by his personal life; this is his personal life now.

 

It’s the second time this week she’s called him to come over, because she’s getting through it, therapy is helping, but she’s still having a hard time at night. That fact that she’s calling him at all is…huge. He’s finally earned enough of her trust back that she’s decided it’s safe to lean on him, and it feels like he’s been waiting their entire partnership to be this person for her.

 

The night she’d told him about her assault had been a breakthrough. Holding her afterward, he’d felt the last bit of resolve melting between them, re-forming into something new. They’re in uncharted waters, now, and he has his own ideas about where he’d like them to end up, but he knows better than to push her.  

 

What they’re doing tonight can definitely be described as cuddling.

 

Without thinking about it too much, he’d stretched out on the couch on his back while she changed her clothes. More than anything, he’s exhausted from a long week himself, and maybe on an unconscious level he’d wondered if she would let him hold her like this, if this is something they can do now.

 

He figures if she’s not comfortable she’ll shove his legs over and tell him to move, but she doesn’t. When Liv comes out of her bedroom, she pauses for half a second, and then crawls in between his body and the back of the couch, settling down against his chest with a long sigh. She curls into him and hums, closing her eyes, and he knows she’s exhausted, that she hadn’t slept well the night before, because she’d been texting him. His fingers drift into her hair and he picks up a piece of it, rubbing the soft, smooth strands between his fingers.

 

“I might need to borrow his Harry Potter books.”

 

She lets out a quiet huff of laughter. “They really pull you in, don’t they?”

 

“Yeah, and I’m coming in on the fourth one. I feel like I missed a lot.”

 

“You did,” she yawns, blinking slowly, “You should ask him to retell it for you, he would. Happily.”

 

“He’d act it out, I bet.”

 

“Oh, with props and costumes.”

 

Elliot chuckles, letting her hair sift through his fingers. Whether she’s aware of it or not, she keeps burrowing closer, and he goes to pull the throw off the back of the couch, but she stops him.

 

“You’re too warm, like this,” she sighs sleepily, brushing his hand away from it, “I’ll sweat.”

 

It’s not the first time he’s been told he runs hot, and he lowers his arm around her again, rubbing absently with his thumb.

 

“You wanna watch something?” he asks quietly, aware of how slow and rhythmic her breathing is already.

 

“You can pick,” she says softly, her way of saying she’s minutes from falling asleep again tonight.

 

“Hey,” he says gently, taking a breath, “What if I just, stay, tonight?”

 

It’s a push, and he knows it.

 

It’s dangerous to push her, but he genuinely thinks it would help her to get more than a handful of hours on the couch, and it just slips out. He’s no stranger to the way lack of good sleep messes with brain chemistry, and he just wants her to feel better.

 

When she tenses a little, and doesn’t say anything, he immediately backtracks.

 

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, rubbing her arm, “I just thought—forget it—“

 

“—it’s okay,” she breathes, rolling one of his shirt buttons between her fingers, “You’d do that? Just, stay? To sleep?”

 

“Course I would,” he says softly, turning to rest his lips against her hair, “If it would help. You’re tired, I can see it.”

 

She huffs out a laugh. “Thanks.”

 

“Hey, I didn’t say anything about anything,” he grins, letting her fill in the blanks, “I just know what your eyes looked like after a night of paperwork. You got the paperwork look, Benson.”

 

The cop-speak works, and he feels her relax against him again. They’re quiet for a few minutes, and he gives her the space, letting her stay in the new familiarity they’ve created.

 

“If you stay,” Liv starts, swallowing, “We wouldn’t be sleeping on the couch.”

 

He hums, resting his lips against her hair, hearing what she isn’t saying. “You trust me?”

 

Her breath catches. “I trust you with my life. You know that.”

 

“Okay,” he says softly, with finality, “Then we’re good.”

 

She tilts her head back to look up at him, and he’s truly not prepared for what he sees when he looks down at her.

 

“What are we doing?” she whispers, eyes filling with tears, “What are we doing?

 

Oh,” he breathes, brows furrowing, “I wasn’t—“

 

“—we can’t make a mistake, here,” she says, shaking her head, “We can’t. I can’t make a mistake, with you.”

 

“I would be a mistake?

 

It’s accusatory, but he’s not angry. She sits up to see him better, but he doesn’t move, keeping his posture relaxed.

 

“That’s not what I meant,” she sighs, rubbing her forehead.

 

“Okay,” he says slowly, watching her, “What did you mean?”

 

She tucks her hair behind her ear as she looks at him, and she really does look exhausted.

 

“I’m not gonna pretend anymore. I’m too tired,” she offers, vulnerable, “I’m not gonna pretend I don’t feel…this, whatever it is. But just because we feel something doesn’t mean we should act on it.”

 

“You’re scared of this,” he realizes, lips parting.

 

It’s not a question, it’s a statement.

 

He’s not sure why it’s never occurred to him that she would be scared of him, of them. Apprehensive, sure, but what he sees in her eyes now is fear.

 

“Why aren’t you scared of it?”

 

That question makes him pause, because he hasn’t considered that either. Maybe she’s thinking of things he isn’t, things he should be thinking about.

 

“I guess I’m not—I just don’t—“

 

He struggles to explain himself, scrubbing a hand over his face.

 

“We’ve been doing this thing forever, and since I’ve been back, it just feels…right. This feels right to me. I think,” he says carefully, breathing through the way his heart has accelerated, “I think…we owe it to ourselves. To see.”

 

She looks up, and the way she’s looking at him all of a sudden makes him nervous. Her eyes are big and glassy, staring at him with twenty-three years of raw feeling that she’s never let herself show him.

 

Elliot clears his throat, waiting her out, giving her time to think. She’s folded her leg up onto the couch in front of her so that she can face him, and he hesitantly lets his hand come down to rest on her calf, warm and intentional. She closes her eyes, and he can see her trying to absorb this.

 

“What are you afraid of?” he asks softly, trying something else.

 

She takes a breath, hyper focused on the warm presence of his hand, “I can’t—I can’t lose you. Again.”

 

It’s vulnerable, something that might not have come out if she weren’t so exhausted. But, for him, it’s a sign that she’s forgiven him for leaving in the first place, and it means everything.

 

“You won’t,” he says softly, the nervousness leaving him when the desire to reassure her comes in strong, “You won’t. If it’s not right, then, we just…we have to be able to go back. I need that, too.”

 

The fact that they’re actually talking about this makes her head spin a little. At the same time, the only way for them to move forward is to talk about how important they are to each other, first.

 

“If it’s not right, we go back,” she repeats slowly, like they’re making a pact, “How?”

 

Maybe they are, with careful murmurs in the quiet of her living room, tucked into each other on her couch in a way they’ve never been before. They’re quiet for a beat, absorbing what’s just happened, letting it sink in. It’s a safety net, there to give them the confidence to move forward, while knowing deep down they won’t need it.

 

“We just…do,” he says, shrugging, “We…I don’t wanna hurt you, Liv, and I won’t. Not again, not in a way where we can’t talk anymore.”

 

“I know you won’t,” she says, eyes softening, “If it’s not right, then…it’s not. But if it is—it could be—“

 

She breaks off, and their eyes lock.

 

It could be wonderful.

 

Magical.

 

Intense.

 

Everything .

 

He nods, staring back at her with the possibility in his eyes; the possibility of what they could be to each other, the things they could share, the life they could have, the possibility that they could be it. His gaze is hopeful, and warm in a way that makes her cheeks flush. She breaks eye contact and lets her gaze travel over his shoulders, the solid expanse of his chest, remembering how it had felt to lay her head there. She wonders, not for the first time, how it would feel without the barrier of their clothes between them; how the warmth of his skin would settle her, that it might finally soothe the cold that spreads through her chest after every nightmare, every flashback.

 

“Yeah. Just—“

 

Something changes in that moment, as they stare at each other.

 

It’s like they’re seeing each other for the first time, with the newness of it. The possibility of it, hanging there between them.

 

“—we just…see,” he manages, his thumb rubbing back and forth against the black fabric covering her leg, “I’m not asking you for anything right now that you’re not ready to give. We can take this slow.”

 

She visibly relaxes, resting against the back of the couch. “Slow would be good.”

 

“C’mere,” he offers, raising his arm, “Just…let me.”

 

Liv eyes him, and he watches her trying to decide if anything needs to change in this moment, now that they’ve had this conversation. But after a second she sighs and lays back down with him, close enough to press her forehead against his jaw.

 

It feels different, this time.

 

He holds her, now, because she’s given him permission, tightening his arm around her back. It settles her, and he feels it, and he wants to give her this always.  

 

“Still want me to stay?” he murmurs, drowsy with her warmth, “If it’s too much, I underst—“

 

“—I want you to,” she says softly, playing with his shirt buttons again, “It’s…doing this by myself is hard, sometimes.”

 

He shatters at her vulnerability, closing his eyes and turning to rest his mouth against her hair.

 

“You need me, you got me, okay?” he rasps, pressing a kiss there before he can stop himself.

 

“I know that, but, I—“ she whispers, stops, swallows, “I need time to really believe that.”

 

“We got time,” he murmurs, because they do.

 

“Don’t say you’d wait forever for me, or some corny shit like that.”

 

He chuckles softly, sees her cheeks lift in a smile, and picks up the remote again.

 


 

The Next Morning…

 

“Elliot slept over?” Noah asks, sounding confused, as he hops onto a stool at the counter, “Why?”

 

“Oh, you know,” Liv says casually, opening the cereal cabinet, “We were just talking, and it got too late for him to drive home. It’s not good to drive when you’re too tired, so he stayed here to be safe. Cheerios or Honey Bunches of Oats?”

 

“Cheerios,” he points, taking the box from her, “What’s he doing now?”

 

“He’s just getting dressed, I think, brushing his teeth. The same thing we do in the morning. Hey, c’mon, we’re a little late.”

 

He takes the milk from her and pours it over his cereal, picking up his spoon. “Does he want some cereal?”

 

“What kind you got?” Elliot asks, coming into the kitchen with them.

 

Olivia looks over and they lock eyes for a second, because this is decidedly domestic, and it’s very new.

 

“Well, the Cheerios are gone now,” Noah sighs, chasing a piece of banana around his bowl, “But if you’re faster next time I’ll share.”

 

“Good to know,” Elliot chuckles, rolling his shirtsleeves.

 

“Juice?” Liv offers, sliding a glass of orange juice toward him, “It’s good. We get it at this bodega that does it fresh.”

 

He smiles and picks it up, taking a sip. “Mmm. Pulpy.”

 

She grins and moves around him, and he leans against the back counter, watching her tip some milk into an empty travel mug.

 

“Where did Elliot sleep?” Noah asks, thoughtfully.

 

“In my bed, with me,” Liv says without hesitation, ripping off the band-aid, pouring coffee into her travel mug.

 

“Oh. Did you guys have sex?”

 

Elliot chokes on his orange juice, turning to cough and splutter over the sink.

 

“Jesus,” Liv mutters, patting him between his shoulder blades, and then turning back to Noah, “No, we didn’t. And remember before, when we talked about appropriate questions to ask in front of other people, and things you should ask when it’s just you and me?”

 

“Elliot isn’t ‘other people’, Mom,” Noah says, as if it’s obvious, through a mouthful of cereal, “He’s our friend.”

 

“Thanks bud, ‘preciate that,” Elliot manages, between coughs.

 

“You okay?” Liv asks him quietly, filling a glass with water.

 

“Why would he ask us that?” he whispers, looking surprised, “He’s nine.”

 

She shrugs, taking a gulp of water. “New York City public schools? He came home asking about it, I had to have a version of ‘the talk’ already.”

 

“Wow,” he sighs, shaking his head, “You’re a better parent than I ever was.”

 

She chuckles and pats his shoulder, handing him the rest of the glass of water and swiping his orange juice.

 

“Alright, Noah, you almost ready?”

 


 

Two Weeks Later…

 

It feels like they’re getting away with something.

 

Everyone else from the happy hour left hours ago, and they’ve moved into a tiny, circular booth in the corner.

 

She realizes they’re doing that thing where nobody else exists, where the conversation is easy and they’re finishing each other’s sentences, soft and murmured in the dim light. For the first time since he’s been back, she’s breathing. It feels like the world has righted itself again, sitting next to him like this, the way they have a hundred times before.

 

Vaguely, she realizes it’s not just tonight.

 

It’s the past two weeks, and the three before that, and the year before that; it’s every time he’s shown up for her, really shown up for her. It’s the dinners with Noah, the homework and bedtime reading, the two pm coffees and eight pm lo mein from that place they’d found in year five. It’s every promise he’s made her and kept, every honest conversation, every soft, restful night in her bed; it’s everything.

 

It feels good, and safe, and right.

 

And right now, the wine has made her pleasantly warm and the booth is comfortable and Noah’s at a sleepover, and Elliot keeps making her laugh

 

She lets her head loll back against the booth, tilting toward him conspiratorially.

 

“Your turn,” she says, sipping from her glass, tipping her head to gesture, “Them. Two olives and pinstripes.”

 

Olivia turns to him and watches his eyes narrow, assessing.

 

“First date,” he decides, smirking, “He’s an architect, she’s a dentist. They met on an app, having a drink first to decide if they want to have dinner or not.”

 

She raises her eyebrows. “Really.

 

As they watch, the man in the pinstriped shirt gestures and knocks over the martini with two olives in it, making his date push back from the table in a hurry.

 

“Oh yeah,” he chuckles, watching from across the bar while Pinstripes jumps up to get napkins, “He’s a wreck. Why? What d’you got?”

 

“Third date,” she counters, confidently, “And she likes him.”

 

“How d’you figure?”

 

She shrugs, watching Pinstripes hurry back over to Olives. “Just a feeling.”

 

They watch as Pinstripes pats down the table, shaking his head, handing a napkin to Olives for her skirt; after a moment, she tucks herself into his side, presses a warm kiss again his cheek, and it doesn’t take a detective to figure out that they’re already familiar with each other.

 

Elliot nods, tipping his head. “Alright. You win that one. My turn to pick.”

 

She grins as he looks around, trying to pick someone out for her, absently swirling his glass of bourbon. His eyes scan the room, and she watches him, instantly knowing when he’s found someone; she knows all of his tells, the dilation of his pupils, the flutter of his eyelashes.

 

“Her,” he nods, and she follows his gaze, “Green shirt.”

 

He’s picked a woman sitting alone at the bar, wearing a silky, emerald green blouse. Emerald is finishing a glass of red wine, picking from a bowl of bar nuts, surrounded by a semi-circle of paperwork in manila folders. Olivia narrows her eyes, watching as the bartender gives her a fresh glass of wine unprompted, and she nods in his direction. She watches for almost a full minute, taking in the set of Emerald’s brows, the tension in her arm as she moves it to write, the clench of her jaw while she snacks.

 

“She’s a regular,” Liv murmurs, sighing, “At least three times a week, two glasses of wine, or three if she’s had a bad day. She’s an accountant, maybe a broker, something where the paperwork is confidential but not easy to decipher. She’s—she’s lonely. She’s doing paperwork here, because she can’t bear to be in her office for one more second, but she doesn’t want to be home alone, either.”

 

She trails off and tips her head to look at him, smiling sadly, picking up her wine glass.

 

“Well?” she prompts, “You gonna argue?”

 

He meets her eyes for a few seconds, and then shrugs, shaking his head. “Nah. I think you nailed that one.”

 

“I always was the better detective,” she murmurs, into her wine glass.

 

He laughs, leaning his head back to rest against the booth, and she loves the sound so much that she can’t help but smile. She sets her glass down and leans back too, turning her head towards him and—

 

Her breath catches, because he’s closer than she anticipated, close enough to smell the bourbon on his breath. All of a sudden she’s even warmer because the heat radiating off of him is heady and overwhelming, slipping over her chest and shoulders, heating her face. Automatically, her eyes flick down to his mouth, the way they always do if he ends up this close to her. Even the memory of his wife is enough to make the typical alarm bells ring inside her head, telling her he’s off limits, that she needs to look away.

 

But he isn’t, anymore.

 

And then, for the first time, he’s even closer. Her whole body instantly responds to his proximity; every nerve ending fizzles to life like it’s anticipating him. A craving for him, for his touch, blooms inside her. Her body is pressing towards him for more, and she can’t stop it from happening.

 

His breath is on her face now, and it’s so, so much—

 

“Wait, wait,” she whispers, through uneven breaths, painstakingly putting a little space between them.

 

“Liv, I don’t—fuck,” he starts, scrubbing a hand over his face, “I’m sorry—“

 

“—no, no, it’s okay—“

 

“—I wanna take you out. For dinner.”

 

The words have a hint of a slur to them, but he doesn’t rush them. When she looks over at him he’s sure, she knows that he is; it’s not the alcohol talking, it’s him.

 

“Okay,” she says softly, surprising herself when she doesn’t have to think about it.

 

He blinks, like he’s not sure he’s heard right.

 

“Yeah?” he asks, smiling a little.

 

She takes a deep breath, nodding slowly. “Yeah.”

 

He nods too, looking down as he takes another sip of bourbon. “Okay. Good.”

 

They’re quiet for a moment, both pretending to be interested in the mix of patrons in the bar.

 

“Did you just ask me out like that?”

 

“Yeah,” he groans, pinching the bridge of his nose, “I didn’t—no idea how to do that.”

 

It suddenly dawns on her that he probably hasn’t asked anyone out on a date in over forty years, and she starts to laugh, trying to hide it by turning her face away from him.

 

“Are you laughing at me?”

 

“Mmm-mmm,” she manages, busying herself with a piece of lint on her black jeans, stifling her giggles.

 

“Seems like you’re laughing at me,” he says, elbowing her gently, “Maybe I’ll take it back.”

 

“No,” she breathes immediately, turning to look at him with a soft grin, “Don’t take it back. It was cute.”

 

Cute?” he says, like he doesn’t believe her, lowering his gaze, “Now I’m cute?”

 

She blushes, letting her gaze fall open so that he can see; her affection, her trust.

 

“Yeah,” she murmurs, nodding a little, blinking lazily, “I like you like that. I like you all the ways I’ve seen you so far.”

 

So far.

 

Something crackles in the air, then, as they look at each other; kindling that’s been waiting a long time for some fuel, finally getting a rush of oxygen. His eyes are warm, full of restraint, but relieved that he’s able to show her a shade of what’s under the surface.  

 

“I need you to know that I—I want…I want,” he sighs, resting his head lazily against the back of the booth, letting his eyes openly linger on her lips, her breasts.

 

Now the alcohol is making him brave.

 

She flushes again, trying to breathe. “El—“

 

They are both over fifty. He has no business talking to her like that, and her body has no business reacting to him this way.

 

It’s the most exhilarated she’s ever felt.

 

“M’sorry,” he rasps, closing his eyes for a moment.

 

“No, stop apologizing. It’s—“ She tips her head, looking at him with soft eyes. “—I know. I know that. But knowing it and hearing it are two different things.”

 

“Yeah,” he murmurs, reaching for her hand, “I just need you to know that. I do…just not like this. It shouldn’t happen like this.”

 

“No,” she agrees, smiling a little because he’s nothing if not traditional.

 

They both look up as the bar lights dim, signaling the transition from dinner to the late-night hours. There’s a live band that’s been setting up in the back corner, next to a tiny dance floor, on an even tinier stage, and there’s a small round of applause as they start their first song of the night.

 

“Music okay?” she asks, realizing they’ve never been in a situation where she’s gotten his opinion on live music before.

 

“Love it,” he grins, nodding toward them, “I like them already.”

 

A manager breezes over to their table and sets a bottle of wine down, half full.

 

“Finish it for us, Captain, on the house,” she winks, walking away before Olivia can object.

 

“Hey! Bring him a glass, he needs to help,” Liv calls, groaning a little, “If I finish that you’ll have to carry me out of here.”

 

She glances over and realizes he’s staring at her, an amused look on his face.

 

“You a regular, Benson?” he grins, watching her refill her glass.

 

“Used to be. That manager’s been here a long time,” she smiles, nodding, “Only a few times a month these last few years.”

 

“Back when your apartment was a little quieter?”

 

She turns to look at him, finds him eyeing her with soft, warm eyes, remembering the woman at the bar from earlier.

 

“Something like that,” she says softly, resting her hand between them, palm up.

 

He takes her invitation and closes his warm grip around hers, and she closes her eyes for a moment, absorbing the sensation. The music is mixing with the wine nicely, and she’s perfectly relaxed, wishing time would stand still for a few days and let her stay here. There are a few couples on the dance floor now, swaying in the soft lighting as the band’s singer croons smoothly.

 

“We should eat something,” she murmurs, smirking because that ship has sailed and they should’ve eaten hours ago.

 

“Let’s dance.”

 

She snorts. “Yeah, okay.”

 

“Oh,” he shrugs, hiding behind another sip of his bourbon.

 

The tone of his voice makes her turn to look at him, and when she does she sees the flush on his face, the way he’s averted his eyes—

 

“Oh,” she breathes quietly, “You were serious.”

 

He clears his throat, letting go of her hand to rub his palms over his thighs. “I was, but if you don’t want to that’s fine.”  

 

“I—um,” she breaks off and swallows, trying to remember the last time she’d danced with anyone, “I didn’t know you could dance.”

 

“I’m not Fred Astaire, but I can almost promise not to step on you,” he chuckles, sitting up in the booth, “But, we don’t have to. You’re hungry, so—“

 

“—no,” she interrupts, tipping her head, “We can—let’s dance.”

 

He freezes for half a second, blinking. “You want to?”

 

“Yeah,” she says, smiling gently at this nervous, slightly fumbling side of him.

 

She slides out of the booth, biting the inside of her cheek as her heart thumps, trying to contain a smile. A second later she feels his warmth behind her, and he puts a hand on her lower back to coax her forward through the bar, all the way to the back where the band is. He gently turns her around, and she meets his eyes for a second before he pulls her in close, takes her right hand in his left, wraps his arm around her waist, and then she’s in his arms. She wraps her arm around his shoulder, and lets him lead them into a gentle sway, realizing she’s a little breathless, that she needs to get her bearings.

 

The band picks through the first chords of a new song, something sleepy and romantic with a little twang to it.

 

And you asked me to dance, but I said, "dancing is a dangerous game"…

 

She gives up on finding said bearings and lets herself sink into it…all of it. He’s warm and solid against her, and she tips her cheek against his jaw, lips against his shoulder, breathing him in.

 

This is gonna be one of those things…

 

Her eyes drift closed, palm sliding over between his shoulder blades, and oh…it’s better than anything she’d imagined. Any time she’s been in his arms it’s been fast, or fraught, or emotional; but this is soft, and sensual, and romantic. This is being close just because they want to be, because it feels like they’re supposed to be. His fingers splay against her back, and she melts into him even more, realizing that it’s new, but it feels like she’s been searching for it.

 

Something quiets, inside her.

 

Takes one to know one…you're a cowboy like me…

 

The lyrics take her back twenty years, to when she’d looked into his eyes, seen his fire, and realized that they were twin flames. He’d been thirsty for justice and never met a rule he wouldn’t mind breaking, and he’s still that guy; he’s still her guy.

 

It could be love…we could be the way forward…

 

She turns and brushes her lips against his neck, soft and deliberate, stopping just short of using her tongue against his skin; she just wants more of him now, more of his softly spiced scent, the press of his breath.

 

He shivers and she stops, tipping her mouth towards his ear. “Sorry.”

 

“Don’t be,” he rasps, sliding his hand on her back, warm and slow, “S’nice.”

 

Eyes full of stars, hustling for the good life…

 

“I like this song,” she murmurs, containing her own shiver as his hand slips lower on her back for a few seconds, pressing.

 

He hums, letting his mouth graze her ear in passing, like it’s an accident. She knows it isn’t.

 

And the skeletons in both our closets plotted hard to fuck this up…and the old men that I’ve swindled really did believe I was the one

 

He presses a smile into her shoulder, and she knows he’s listening too.

 

“Don’t,” she grins, pressing a half-moon into his neck with her nail, “They weren’t old men.”

 

“Lotta poor bastards fallen in love with Olivia Benson,” he rumbles, nosing at her temple, “S’all I’m sayin’.”

 

“Yeah, well,” she murmurs, letting her fingers brush the back of his neck, “Love isn’t always enough. There’s a lot of different shades to it. I've always believed there's...more, out there.”

 

Elliot hums in agreement, and lets go of her hand to loop both arms around her waist; she cradles his neck in one palm and slides the other around his shoulders, lets him pull her into his chest and hook his chin over her shoulder.

 

And I’m never gonna love again…

 

Across the restaurant, unbeknownst to either one of them, someone points them out to his companion.

 

“Them,” he suggests, “Pretty brunette in the purple shirt, dancing with the bald, bearded guy.”

 

His companion narrows her eyes. “Married. Like, twenty-five years, easy. Give me a harder one, would you?”

 

I’m never gonna love again…

 


 

A/N: Song belongs to Taylor Swift, title is “Cowboy Like Me”. Thank you for reading!

Chapter Text

“—I wanna take you out. For dinner.”

 

The words have a hint of a slur to them, but he doesn’t rush them. When she looks over at him he’s sure, she knows that he is; it’s not the alcohol talking, it’s him.

 

“Okay,” she says softly, surprising herself when she doesn’t have to think about it.

 

He blinks, like he’s not sure he’s heard right.

 

“Yeah?” he asks, smiling a little.

 

She takes a deep breath, nodding slowly. “Yeah.”

 

He nods too, looking down as he takes another sip of bourbon. “Okay. Good.”

 


 

2 Weeks Later...Tuesday...

 

Olivia leans against the chain link fence and scuffs her boots against the sidewalk, hands shoved deep into the pockets of her coat. Sighing, she turns around and scans the field complex, watching from a distance as clumsy teenagers try their hand at a myriad of different activities.

 

The soccer field is empty now. They’d all filed into the locker rooms to shower and change after practice about fifteen minutes ago.

 

Eli knows she’s here to meet him for pizza, and fuck she’s nervous. She knows she shouldn’t be, she’s the adult and he’s the teenager; but he’s Elliot’s son, the Stabler child she feels the most connected to, and somehow the one Stabler child that she doesn’t know.  

 

Her inner monologue gets interrupted when she sees Eli jogging toward her, waving to a few of his teammates. His shoulder-length hair is wet from a shower, and he’s carrying at least three bags of various school and sports gear.

 

“Hey,” she smiles, holding her hand up in a wave, “Got enough stuff, there?”

 

“Hey Olivia,” he nods, slowing down as he gets closer to her, “Forgot to switch out my gym clothes. That’s what the extra one is.”

 

“Right,” she sighs, familiar with this routine, “Want to put all that in my car? I’ll give you a ride home, after.”

 

“Sure,” he shrugs, falling into step with her as they walk toward her SUV.

 

“You looked great out there today,” Liv says, nodding toward the field, “I got here a little early.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

He’s a little surly, but she’s expected that, and she’s been thinking of questions to ask him since they'd set this up. She does a little of this as they load his bags into her car, trying not to force anything.

 

“So,” she says, looking at him expectantly, “You know a place nearby? I’m not over here that much.”

 

He looks a little surprised, maybe expecting that she would make all the decisions.

 

“Oh, uh…yeah. There’s a place we go at lunch sometimes, like, a few blocks that way,” he points, shaking the hair out of his face.

 

“Lead the way,” she says, tipping her head.

 

On the walk over, she asks him a few questions about school, about what he likes to do outside of soccer. He perks up a little when Rome comes up, and he spends a minute or two talking about how much he’d loved the pizza there as they place their order at the counter and grab a table.

 

“How’s it been staying with your sister sometimes?” she asks carefully, when their pie comes, handing him a paper plate from the stack on the table.

 

He shrugs, holding his plate under the slice he grabs, looping the molten cheese back onto it. “It’s fine, I guess. Mo makes good food, I like that. And we like some of the same shows. Dad just works a lot, takeout gets boring.”

 

“I know he feels better having you stay there when he’s on an op,” she says, taking her own slice, “For lots of reasons. And I know he’s working on his schedule, so he can be home more. That’s important to him.”

 

Eli shrugs, taking a bite and using his hand to keep the cheese from sliding off. She lets the silence stretch on while they eat, trying not to pressure him to talk.

 

“Well, I appreciate you having dinner with me,” Liv says after a few minutes, reaching for the red pepper flakes, “I’m sure you have other stuff you’d rather be doing, but, I just thought—you know—“

 

“—I know why you did this,” Eli sighs, wiping his fingers on a napkin, “I know you and my dad are dating.”

 

This is exactly why she’d wanted to have dinner with the kid, to have this conversation. But now that he’s brought it onto the table, she doesn’t feel ready, not in the slightest.

 

Olivia shakes her head. “We’re not. Not yet. But, I think…I think we’d like to be. He asked me to dinner, but, we haven’t gone yet.”

 

Eli’s brows furrow, and he sits back in his chair. “Why? It’s not like you need permission from your parents or something.”

 

“Well, no,” Liv says, smiling a little, “But it’s still…it’s complicated. It’s not like we just met. We’ve known each other for—“

 

“—over twenty years, I know,” Eli says, rolling his eyes a little, “Even when my mom was here.”

 

Olivia stares at him, trying to get a better read on him.

 

“Eli,” she starts, carefully, “You know that your mom and I were friends, right?”

 

“I guess,” he shrugs, looking away from her.

 

She takes a breath and decides to just go for it. “Your dad and I never had an affair. We never even came close to doing that. I would never, ever, have done that to your mom. And neither would he.”

 

“But you wanted to,” Eli says directly, crossing his arms.

 

“No,” she says softly, shaking her head, “Listen, I’m always gonna be straight with you, okay? You’re not a little kid anymore, and you deserve to know the truth. And if I’m straight with you, you can be straight with me. Deal?”

 

He stares at her for a long moment, like he’s deciding.

 

“Yeah,” he sighs, finally, “Okay.”

 

“I did have feelings for your dad, back then,” she admits, swallowing, “And I know he had feelings for me, too. But we had this…partnership, and it was everything to us. When you’re a cop, feeling safe at work is just, it’s everything, and knowing your dad had my back, it made me a better cop. So, for that reason alone, we wouldn’t have acted on those feelings. But your dad also had you guys, and he loved your mom very, very much. He always went home to her, and I really did my best to make sure he always could.”

 

Eli blinks, stoically. “Did my mom know? That you liked each other?”

 

“I honestly don’t know,” Liv says, gently, “But, I know that she trusted me, and because of that we had an understanding. Your dad, he…he didn’t like to bring his work home. Some of the cases we worked were just, upsetting, and…dark. And sometimes, he needed someone to talk to, someone who understood. We both did. And your mom got that.”

 

Eli looks away again, clearing his throat, and she can see that talking about his mom is bringing up feelings for him.

 

“We don’t have to talk about her anymore, if you don’t—“

 

“No,” Eli says immediately, blinking back tears, “I like to. And with Dad…sometimes, it’s like she never existed.”

 

Liv closes her eyes for a second. “It’s hard for him to talk about his feelings. Especially when they hurt.”

 

“I just miss her, you know,” Eli says, embarrassed, wiping roughly at his eyes, “It’s fucked up, what happened.”

 

“I know,” Liv nods, blinking away her own tears, “I wish things were different.”

 

Eli looks up, eyeing her strangely. “But...if she were here, then you and Dad wouldn’t—“

 

“—that’s right,” she interrupts, making eye contact, “I don’t want you to think for one second that I wished for this. I would trade it in a heartbeat, if it meant she could still be here with you, and with your dad. During all those years, realizing what I felt for him, I never wanted anybody to get hurt. This is my worst nightmare, having to watch your family go through this.”

 

It’s the truth.

 

It would be a lie to say she’d never imagined being with Elliot. But always through divorce, not through this horrific pain, not through watching his children lose their mother, not through watching him have to process unimaginable guilt that he wasn’t able to stop it. She'd never, ever wanted it to happen this way.

 

It takes Eli a few minutes to absorb that, and she lets him think it through, busying herself reaching for a second slice of pizza.

 

“So,” he says slowly, nodding, “You and Dad haven’t been on a date yet. But you’re going to.”

 

She swallows. “Yeah. I think so.”

 

“If all that stuff is true, about you being best friends and stuff,” Eli says, brows furrowed, “Why do you even have to date? Can’t you just, I dunno, just get together?”

 

That makes her smile, and she laughs a little, watching the way it puts him at ease. “You’d think so, right? But, we were apart for ten years, so…when you guys first moved back here, we kind of had to get to know each other again. And we’re still doing that.”

 

“Did you still feel like he was your best friend? I have friends in Rome, still, where it kind of feels like that,” he asks, taking another slice.

 

“Yeah,” she smiles, remembering, “Sometimes. Some parts of him, and some parts of me, didn’t change at all. And those parts just…fit right back together. But, a lot happened to him while he was away, and a lot happened to me, good things and bad things. I adopted my son, I got promoted a whole bunch. So, we had to get to know all of those other parts.”

 

“You have a kid?”

 

“Noah,” she nods, not able to stop the grin that always spreads over her face when she talks about him, “He’s almost ten.”

 

“That’s cool,” Eli says, through a mouthful of pizza, “You seem like you’d be a good mom.”

 

With that, he relaxes with her, and the tone of the entire evening changes. Their dynamic is easier, lighter, more playful, and Olivia lets out a breath she hadn’t realized she’s been holding for months. He’s still a teenager, and she knows these conversations aren’t going to be a regular thing, but she hadn’t realized how badly she’s needed him to just not hate her; she cannot be hated by a Stabler child—

 

And he doesn’t.

 

He lets her pepper him with a few more questions about school as they wrap things up and she pays the bill, and they walk back to her SUV. He’s not overly chatty in the car, or as they walk into Elliot’s building, but it makes her smile because he’s so very much like Elliot.

 

“Hey, Dad,” he sighs, dropping all of his soccer and school gear in the entryway.

 

Elliot’s head pops around the corner. “Hey. How was dinner?”

 

He immediately meets her eyes, searching, and she smiles. “Good. New York pizza is still second to Italian though, apparently.”

 

“She’s gotta try it, Dad,” Eli grins, immediately spotting the Chinese takeout on the counter, “Oh, sweet.”

 

“Dude,” Elliot says, shaking his head, “Seriously?”

 

Eli’s already into a container of lo mein. “What? Pizza’s like an appetizer. Thanks, Liv.”

 

He waves and heads off to his room with the noodles, snagging an egg roll on his way.

 

“Any time. Goodnight,” she smiles, watching him go.

 

He waits until he hears Eli’s door close, and then he sighs and turns to her. “Well?”

 

“Well, what?” she teases, unabashedly pleased with herself for how well the whole evening’s gone.

 

Elliot grins, hands shoved in his pockets. “It was good. I can tell.”

 

“We, uh,” she starts, nodding, “We came to an understanding, I think.”

 

“Good,” he breathes, happy to see the ease on her face, “That’s good, Liv. Not that I had any doubts, but. He’s a teenager.”

 

“He is,” she smiles, eyes unconsciously drifting over his chest, “But, it was important to me. You know.”

 

“I know,” he says softly, catching the way she’s looking at him, “So…does that mean it’s my turn, now?”

 

Her pulse jumps a little, and she takes a breath, smiling gently. “Friday?”

 

“I think my calendar’s open,” he says slowly, teasing her, “You wanna stay for a few minutes?”

 

“I have to get home to Noah,” she says, letting him settle his hand against her back when they turn toward the door, “But, Friday?”

 

She turns around and his eyes immediately drop to her lips, before he catches himself and looks up again.

 

“I’ll pick you up,” he murmurs, watching the way she almost leans in.

 

She can feel his eyes on her as she walks away, and…Friday.

 

Yeah.

 

That’s gonna be a thing.

 


 

Friday night…

 

“Elliot!”

 

Noah runs to him, tackling him in a hug.

 

“Hey, bud,” Elliot chuckles, affectionately ruffling his hair, “How was your day? How was dance?”

 

“I’m working on half turns now,” he says proudly, “You look different.”

 

“Do I?” Elliot smirks, holding his arms out, “Probably the jacket. I’m usually in a tee shirt when I see you.”

 

“Hey.”

 

Olivia comes down the hallway carrying her shoes, and she watches him do a double take. His lips part, and he stares, drinking her in; it’s the exact reaction she’d been hoping for when she bought the knee-length, satin, forest green cocktail dress she’s wearing. It’s sleeveless, just tight enough to make her feel sexy without being uncomfortable, and it doesn’t cut low enough to show any of her scars.

 

“Hi,” she repeats, eyes warming when he still hasn’t spoken.

 

“Hey,” he manages, clearing his throat, “You ready?”

 

She uses the back of the couch for balance as she steps into her heels. “Mmm-hmm. Noah, let Lucy help you with your homework, okay?”

 

Noah narrows his eyes, looking between the two of them. “Are you going on a date?

 

They both laugh, and she gently grips his chin, traces his nose. “What do you know about dates?”

 

“A date is when grown-ups hang out by themselves,” he says knowingly, pressing his mouth into a line, “I know things.”

 

“Alright,” she chuckles, taking a few steps to sit on the couch so that she’s eye level with him, “Well, all you need to know, is that Elliot and I are going to go have some dinner. We won’t be too late. And I’ll check on you when I get home, even if you’re sleeping. Okay? C’mere.”

 

“Okay,” he sighs, leaning in to give her a hug, pressing his face into her neck, “Love you.”

 

She holds him for an extra second, mindful that he’s picked up on the fact that something new is happening, even if he’s not sure what it is.

 

“I love you, too,” she says softly, glancing up at Elliot over Noah’s shoulder, “Homework? Please? I think you only have one worksheet, right?”

 

Fine, Mom,” he relents, letting go of her to find his backpack.

 

They say their goodbyes to Lucy, and then they’re alone in her hallway. As soon as she locks the door, she turns around and he gently pulls her into a hug, brushing his mouth against her temple.

 

“You look…you’re beautiful,” he murmurs, and she feels his exhale against her skin.

 

He’s wearing cologne, something warm and familiar that makes her want to wrap herself in him, and not let go. But she takes a step back and straightens his collar, realizing up close that the shirt under his gray suit is a deep purple.

 

“You clean up nice, too,” she says softly, nudging him, “Ready?”

 


 

He’s being awkward, and it’s very cute.

 

They leave his car near her building, and take a cab across town to the restaurant. But there’s still a few blocks’ walk to get there, and he keeps bumping her hand with his without actually grabbing it. Finally, she loops her arm through his and steps into his side, holding onto him as they make their way down the sidewalk.

 

“Sorry,” he smirks, glancing at her, “I don’t know what the rules are, here.”

 

“Is there a rule book for a first date between two people who’ve known each other for over twenty years?”

 

He chuckles as they slow to a stroll, enjoying the walk. “I guess not.”

 

It feels good to walk with him like this, pressed into his warmth; but she can tell he's nervous, and she doesn't want him to be.

 

“You’re not gonna do anything that I would have a rule against,” she murmurs, turning into his shoulder, “So just relax.”

 

He turns and presses a kiss against her temple, warm and soft, like he’s been holding back from doing it since he picked her up.

 

“That okay?” he asks quietly, steering her across the sidewalk.

 

“Yeah,” she sighs, resting her head on him for a second, “This it?”

 

“Mmm-hmm.”

 

He opens the door and guides her into the restaurant, and immediately she’s hit with the scent of sesame oil and garlic. Of course, he picked Asian food; it’s her favorite and his, save for his hatred of raw sushi. She glances around as they walk up to the hostess, taking in the décor, the glossy floors and candlelit tables. As he chats with the hostesses and gives them his name, she realizes there’s a soft thunking sound coming from somewhere in the restaurant, and as they round the corner she sees where—the glossy floors turn into concrete at the back of the restaurant, and the entire back room is full of ping pong tables.

 

She grins at him as they’re seated, realizing that he’s waiting for her reaction.

 

“You sure you wanna do this, Stabler?” she teases, tipping her head towards the ping pong tables, “You realize what you signed up for?”

 

He laughs, reaching for the drink menu.

 

“I knew exactly what I signed up for—why do you think I brought you here? Game on.”

 


 

It’s the best first date she’s ever been on.

 

It’s comfortable.

 

It’s instinctual.

 

It’s a little jarring to realize how much of their relationship they’ve spent doing exactly this; hanging out, letting the conversation flow naturally, sharing food. It’s not so different from their night out a few weeks ago, really, except instead of dancing, they laugh and tease their way through several highly competitive rounds of ping pong.

 

The difference is that when he rolls up his shirt sleeves to play, she doesn’t stop herself from lingering over his forearms.

 

Because she’s allowed to look, now.

 

They settle into it easily, even more easily than she’d imagined they might.

 

Each time they make their way to and from their table in between games, his palm is warm and heavy somewhere on her body; her waist, her shoulder, the back of her neck.

 

And when the lights dim during their dessert, she catches him staring at her with all the warmth, and affection, and want, that they’d both worked so hard to suppress for all those years.  

 

And now, as he walks her upstairs in her building, it becomes very real that he has every intention of kissing her goodnight, and she has every intention of letting him. They’ve stopped talking, separately overthinking what’s about to happen, not even noticing that they’ve stopped talking.

 

The moment is incredibly surreal, which is probably why they both seem to temporarily forget how the whole thing works. As soon as it’s imminent, the nerves creep in again.

 

They shuffle a little as they near her front door, and she realizes her heart is pounding.

 

“That was fun,” she sighs, turning to him when they come to a stop, “That’s a great place.”

 

“Yeah,” he agrees, taking a step toward her, “I read about it in the paper the other day. Thought you’d like it.”

 

“I did,” she says softly, eyes flicking down his mouth when he takes another step closer.

 

He hesitates, like he isn't sure she'll let him, and she just falls and falls...

 

"I...can we—"

 

"Yeah," she whispers, smiling a little when he asks for permission.

 

Elliot swallows thickly and carefully reaches out to put his hands on her waist, following when she instinctually takes a step back to lean against her front door. Her breaths are short as she reaches out to hold his arms, feeling the muscles there through his jacket. They lock eyes for a moment, and then his drop to her mouth, watching her lips part slightly in anticipation. She realizes her hands are shaking as he leans in, the way he’d been that night in the bar; and then he’s closer.

 

He feels so much bigger in her space like this, it steals her breath; he’s broad, and his smell wraps around her in the most complete way. She closes her eyes and blindly reaches for his waist, because the hallway is starting to spin; he’s so much. He hasn’t even touched her, and already there’s a warmth in her belly that makes her want to peel their clothes off, to press her hips into his and finally know how they’ll fit together. Her heartbeat pounds in her ears, and his nose comes in to nuzzle next to hers, and they’re right there

 

They both lean in the same direction, bumping noses.

 

Then their hands collide, both trying to lift a hand to cup the others face.

 

She drops her purse and keys.

 

When she automatically looks down, he gets a mouthful of her hair.

 

And then they’re laughing.

 

He groans through his laughter and drops his forehead to her shoulder. “Liv.”

 

Olivia laughs harder, cupping his neck and leaning her head back against the door. “What’s wrong with us?”

 

It’s a beautiful release of nerves, and they keep laughing while she holds him, experimentally running her palm up and down his back. She has a lot to learn, she realizes, about the shape of him; the dips of muscle and bone, and the way each part of him fits each part of her. It’s so new, what they’re doing now. She knows his brain better than she knows her own, but his body…

 

Their laughter dies off when he turns his face into her neck, nuzzling gently. Her eyes slip closed as his mouth skims over her skin, his breath burning a trail there before he presses a kiss at the hinge of her jaw. When he pulls back to look at her, her eyes are still closed and he waits her out, letting his gaze travel over her face.

 

Her eyes blink open when he brushes her cheek with the back of his hand, and she takes a slow breath, soaking in the calm warmth of the moment.

 

“It’s just us,” she says softly, lulled by his soft touches on her face.

 

He meets her eyes, shaking his head a little. “No, ‘just’, here.”

 

She hums in disagreement, warmth in her gaze, and fists his shirt at the sides, pulling him closer.

 

“Just c’mere.”

 

This time he pushes the nerves away, cradles her face in both hands, and leans in to take her mouth.

 

Her first taste of him was never going to be mediocre.

 

But it’s…beyond.

 

The moment they start, the awkwardness melts away, and it really is just them.

 

It’s Elliot.

 

The man who had walked beside her for thirteen years.

 

He’s held her, fought with her, protected her, broken her, saved her…and now he’s kissing her.

 

His mouth is all warm skin and wonderful pressure, testing, savoring…until the heat envelopes them. Within a few seconds, she forgets that they’re in her hallway, what time it is, what day it is; the only thing she knows is him. He breaks their first kiss with a soft pop, and his air mixes with hers as they breathe shallowly, still close enough that she can only look at him through heavy-lidded eyes. She knows what he’s doing, giving her a second to process, but all she wants is more.

 

El…”

 

She breathes his name and sinks into him again, taking his top lip and gently sucking on it. He groans softly, and she likes that, so she does it again, tipping her chin and taking his bottom lip this time. It’s soft and wet, pliable between her teeth as she drags them over it, nipping a little before she lets go…and then he’s a wall of muscle pressing her into the door. With anyone else it would be overwhelming, it would be too much, too soon, too everything. But with him, with Elliot, it sends a rush of heat through her so fast her knees almost buckle. She’s instantly aware of the crush of her breasts against his chest, and the spicy warmth of his scent makes heat and pressure coil low in her hips. He’s using his hands to tilt her, pressing his tongue into her mouth, and the whimper that escapes her is completely involuntary. He tastes like bourbon, like the piece of chocolate cake they’d shared at the restaurant, and he’s everywhere now. His tongue retreats and she gives him hers, cradling his neck to keep him close, pulling a long breath in through her nose.

 

They’re messy, desperate and clinging, rocking, wet sounds and quick breaths. It’s unconscious when her hands pull his shirt free from his pants, slipping underneath and over hot, smooth skin; god, he’s going to kill her. She’s completely swept away by him—by Elliot—and maybe she should have known it would be like this, she should have been more prepared. But holy shit, she’s not ready for just how badly she wants him, now that she knows what it feels like to have him on her. The only thing she can focus on is getting him closer, getting her mouth on his skin, getting him inside of her—

 

She doesn’t even realize she’s playing with his belt as he sucks on her bottom lip, tugging on the leather, starting to tug it open—

 

Abruptly, he grabs her hands and gently pins them back against the door at her sides. She breathes out on a long exhale, sagging a little as he holds her there, trying to catch his breath, chuckling against her mouth.

 

Liv—“

 

Slowly, she comes back to herself, and when she does she grins too, laughing a little with the absurdity of it all; it’s absurd that they’ve never done that before. He still can’t breathe, and he drops his face into her neck, laughing softly.

 

Fuck,” he sighs, letting himself rock into her one more time.

 

He lets her hands go and she moans softly, gripping his arms, savoring a few more seconds before they have to stop. And they do have to stop, because poor Lucy is sitting in the living room behind the door, hearing god knows what, and Liv needs to give her a bonus and send her home.

 

“El,” she whispers, putting gentle pressure on his shoulders.

 

It’s like amputating a limb, trying to separate themselves, but they finally manage it and he takes a step back. She looks up at him, fingers pressed against her mouth, and sees everything she’s feeling in his eyes. They both seem to instinctually know that there aren’t any words for this moment, that this is bigger than either of them had been able to imagine.

 

He leans in and presses a soft kiss against her forehead, giving her bicep a gentle squeeze.

 

“G’night,” he says softly, finally turning to leave, “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

 

“Night,” she murmurs, watching him walk down the hallway.

 

He glances back before he turns the corner, and she bites the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling like a complete fool. When he disappears, she finally picks up her keys and purse off the floor, and turns to unlock the door.

 

“Hey,” she greets Lucy, stepping out of her heels, “I’m sorry I’m a little late. Did he get through all his homework?”

 

She turns to find Lucy staring at her with raised eyebrows, and she stops in her tracks.

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“Oh, you are so not getting off that easy,” Lucy teases, shaking her head.

 

Olivia covers her mouth, slinking over to the couch. “How much of that did you hear?”

 

“Enough. Even if I didn’t hear it, you look…kissed,” Lucy snorts, closing her book, “Nice date?”

 

Liv sinks down onto the couch with a sigh, still reeling, and shakes her head slowly.

 

Lucy watches her as she starts to pack up. “Wow. You’re speechless. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you speechless.”

 

“It was…it—I—“

 

She sighs and shakes her head, again, and Lucy’s gaze softens.

 

“That’s great, Olivia,” she says softly, smiling, “I’m happy for you.”

 

Liv sits motionless on the couch while Lucy puts her coat on, and she finally comes over and pats her shoulder affectionately.

 

“Just let me know when the second date is, I’m available,” she grins, turning to leave.

 

Olivia laughs, finally getting up to lock the door behind her.

 


 

A/N: Inspired by Ace restaurant, here in my beloved Denver, CO. I’ve had that kiss written foreverrrrrrr, I’m so glad you guys finally get to read it!

 

Chapter Text

She looks up at him, fingers pressed against her mouth, and sees everything she’s feeling in his eyes. They both seem to instinctually know that there aren’t any words for this moment, that this is bigger than either of them had been able to imagine.

 

He leans in and presses a soft kiss against her forehead, giving her bicep a gentle squeeze.

 

“G’night,” he says softly, finally turning to leave, “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

 

“Night,” she murmurs, watching him walk down the hallway.

 


Three Days Later...

 

Kissing him terrifies her.

 

Over the weekend, the more she replays the moment, the more scared she feels. Now, it’s not a question of whether this feels right or not, because being with Elliot is the most right she’s ever felt; the most comfortable, the most like herself, the most seen

 

He’s the most everything, and it’s terrifying.

 

Because everything she’s ever counted on, has ended.

 

The only relationship she’s ever had any security in, is the one she has with her son, the one she’s built and nurtured from the ground up. The only thing in her life that’s been made to last.

 

And the more right this feels, the more it’s going to hurt if it ends, and the thought makes her nauseous.

 

He’s been reaching out, and she’s texted back a handful of times, but she’s been letting his calls go to voicemail. On Monday, he’s pretty insistent that they meet for coffee, and it’s not that she’s avoiding him, but it’s a lot to process and she’s not sure if seeing him will help or not.

 

He volunteers to meet near her precinct, and so on Tuesday, she’s sitting outside in the sunshine while she waits for him. She tips her face up and closes her eyes behind her sunglasses, letting the rays warm her skin, taking a slow, deep breath. She’s down to her burgundy tank top, blazer draped over the back of her chair, and the sun on her arms makes her feel slow and lazy.

 

She feels him standing there before she opens her eyes, and she feels her body relax almost instantly, smiling in spite of herself. Her eyes blink open as he leans in, bracing his hands on the arms of her chair.

 

“Hey,” he says softly, pressing a kiss against her forehead, warm and soft, “You want hot or iced?”

 

She breathes him in, something minty and musky that tells her he’s been out and about in the city, chewing gum while he takes notes.

 

“Iced,” she says softly, lifting her sunglasses onto the top of her head, “But I can—“

 

“—I got it. You stay, hold the table.”

 

Elliot straightens up and goes inside, and she can see him through the windows, watches while he orders and then pulls his phone out while he waits. He’s in casual clothes today, jeans and some kind of blue utility shirt, sleeves rolled up, and she wonders what case he’s working.

 

He hadn’t kissed her ‘hello’, not on the mouth anyway, and somehow that puts her at ease. She’s not really one for PDA and knows he isn’t either, and it’s comforting to realize that maybe not everything is different, now.

 

She glances inside and watches him at the condiment bar, watches him set his own iced coffee aside and take the lid off of hers. He’ll take his black, but she likes one raw sugar, and a couple splashes of half ‘n half, and she watches him add exactly that without a second thought. She’s watched him make her coffee perfectly a hundred times, but this time it makes her feel warm and affectionate; all of a sudden, she’s wondering if he’ll bring it to her in bed, some morning in the not so far future, and that’s a new thought.

 

He comes back out and god, he looks good, grinning at her as he walks over to the table.

 

“Here you go,” he says, setting the drinks down.

 

Olivia smiles at him, watching as he settles down in the chair next to her. “Thank you.”

 

He sighs and takes a sip of his coffee, sitting back and angling his body to face her. Her phone chimes with a text and she picks it up, seeing it’s from Fin.

 

“Sorry,” she sighs, shaking her head, “Let me just answer this.”

 

“I get it,” he says easily, crossing an ankle over his knee, “Do what you gotta do.”

 

She can feel his eyes on her the entire time she types her response, and after she sends it off she looks up and meets his eyes.

 

“All good?”

 

“Mmm-hmm,” she hums, sipping her coffee.

 

“So,” he sighs, watching her carefully.

 

Her brows furrow. “So.”

 

“Scale of one to ten, how much are you freaking out?”

 

Heat floods into her face that has nothing to do with the sun.

 

She can tell by the way he’s looking at her that he knows, and there’s no point trying to lie, or downplay her feelings.

 

“I, uh,” she starts, playing with her straw, “It’s just a lot.”

 

He looks worried, and she feels bad, because that’s not what she wants.

 

“Liv, we can slow down,” he murmurs, shaking his head, “I know, the other night, we—when we kissed—we don’t have to do that again, if you’re not ready.”

 

Oh.

 

Oh, he thinks—that’s why—

 

She leans forward, looking at him seriously. “If you stop kissing me like that, we’re gonna have a problem.”

 

It takes him a second, but he laughs softly, and she can see the relief on his face.

 

“I don’t intend to,” he chuckles, shifting in his chair, “Not unless you want me to.”

 

She watches him affectionately, relaxing in his presence the way she always does.

 

“It’s not that,” she sighs, “I’m just…this is really—new, for me. And it’s a lot, not in a bad way, just in a way that’s kind of…overwhelming.”

 

He listens intently, focused on her. “What can I do?”

 

Olivia smiles a little. He’s such a protector, a fixer; he wants to right the wrongs and patch the wounded, comfort the crying and soothe the sick.

 

“Just, keep telling me we’re okay,” she says softly, meeting his eyes, “Keep being here.”

 

His eyes soften. “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

It’s like opening a window to let the breeze in, when he says it, and she feels her chest expand.

 

“I really need you to keep saying that,” she sighs, closing her eyes, “I need to hear that. Someday, I might not, but right now—“

 

He takes her hand, squeezes. “We’re okay. And I’m not going anywhere. This is—I want this. More than anything.”

 

She believes it more every time he says it, and she swallows hard, nodding.

 

“Just, don’t push me away,” he murmurs, letting go of her hand, “I’m not exactly the poster boy for communication, I know. But, if you get scared, just—“

 

Don’t run.

 

He doesn’t have to say it, and the look in his eyes tells her she’s not the only one with fear, here.

 

“I’m not,” she says quietly, shaking her head, “I was in my head a lot, these past few days, but, that wasn’t on the table.”

 

“Good,” he says, smiling gently.

 

They’re quiet for a minute, sipping coffee, watching the world go by.

 

“I, uh, I like your hair like that.”

 

She looks up at him, holding back a grin. “My hair?”

 

“Yeah,” he shrugs, sheepish, “It’s all…y’know, messed up.”

 

She can’t hold back her laughter at that, and god, it feels good to laugh.

 

“Messed up?” she laughs, raising her eyebrows, “Is this you flirting?”

 

“Gimme a break here, Liv,” he groans, rubbing the back of his neck.

 

“Absolutely not,” she says, still laughing, “I’m gonna need you to clarify.”

 

He chuckles, gesturing. “It’s like, kinda, messy. But on purpose. I dunno, just forget it.”

 

“No,” she soothes, grinning at him, “I don’t want to forget it. Look, why don’t you just say what you really mean? What you actually want me to know.”

 

“Okay,” he smirks, leaning forward, elbows on the table, thinking for a moment, “I was trying to say that…you’re pretty. And I like looking at you.”

 

It’s so very him, that it takes her breath away, and she knows he sees it.

 

“Better?” he asks, looking at her with dark eyes, holding her gaze, and then drifting to her mouth, over her bare arms.

 

She swallows, nodding. “Yeah. That’s—thank you.”

 

Her phone buzzes on the table again, and she sighs, picking it up to read the text from Fin.

 

“You need to go,” he murmurs, smiling knowingly.

 

“I have to go,” she sighs, reaching for her blazer, draping it over her arm for the walk back to the precinct.

 

They stand up and make their way out of the café’s fenced in patio, onto the sidewalk, and the urge to kiss him before they part is suddenly overwhelming.

 

So, she does.

 

Because she can.

 

Turning to face him, she slides her hand around the back of his neck and tips her face up to press her lips against his; his breath catches, and he presses his palm into her back, bringing her into his body. 

 

“Thanks for the coffee,” she murmurs, hovering over his mouth.

 

He hums, and they kiss again, soft and slow.

 

“If I call you tonight, you gonna answer?” he asks, still keeping her close.

 

“Mmm-hmm—“

 

Kiss.

 

“—promise—“

 

Kiss.

 

He grins into it, and it makes her smile too, because this is just…  

 

Kissing Elliot Stabler on a sun-drenched sidewalk, in the middle of Manhattan, feels like a dream she would’ve scolded herself for having about fifteen years ago. But he’s really here; he’s warm, and his beard is scratching against her face in the most tangible way—

 

She kisses him one more time, lingering, letting her hand slide down over his shirt buttons.

 

“I like you in blue.”

 

 


 

Two Weeks Later…

 

It’s two weeks before they can make plans to have dinner again, between work, and soccer games, and dance rehearsals. They meet for lunch a few times in between, coffee whenever they can, but it’s never long enough, never private enough, and by the time she has him all to herself again it feels like it’s been years.

 

It’s finally getting warmer, so she picks a tapas place with a big patio and they eat outside. He’s never had tapas before, so he puts the menu in her hands and lets her order them a bunch of things to share.

 

“You never made it over to Spain in ten years?” she asks, spooning lamb albóndigas onto her plate, cutting with the side of her fork.

 

Elliot shakes his head. “We never did. It took so long to settle in, and then I started working again, and it just never happened. Oh—“

 

His eyes widen at his first bite of the patatas bravas, and he points, looking at her.

 

“Right?” she says, nodding triumphantly, “See? How good is that?”

 

“So good,” he manages, mouth full.

 

“Wait, wait, here—you need some croquetas de pollo y jamon serrano…it’s this aged ham—“

 

The Spanish rolls easily off her tongue, and he smirks as he holds his plate up so she can plop a croquette onto it.

 

“I can actually pick up a little of that now, you know,” he grins, setting the plate down, “Italian lends itself well. English is definitely the odd one out.”

 

“You know, I’ve wondered how much Italian you picked up, I just haven’t gotten around to asking about it. Quanto italiano hai imparato?”

 

“You’re gonna pull out your Italian too, make me look bad,” he grins, setting his fork down, thinking for a moment, “Lo capisco meglio di come lo parlo, and my accent is terrible. I read more than I can speak.”

 

Her eyes light up when he speaks Italian in front of her for the first time. “I think that’s pretty common, being able to listen and read better than you can speak it.”

 

“It’s a part of my brain I wasn’t ready to use, that’s for sure,” he chuckles, pushing his sleeves up more.

 

He’s in jeans and a white henley tonight, and she’s always been soft for him in casual clothes, so she can’t stop looking. She’s thrown on a pale coral jumpsuit, just wanting to be comfortable, but he’s staring at her too. She keeps catching him, every time she looks down at her plate and then back up; he’s obvious about it, every time she picks up her drink and sips, watching her mouth, but she doesn’t mind.

 

Tonight feels…intimate.

 

Something about being past the first date milestone, past the nerves of kissing for the first time; they’re at ease with each other tonight, in a way they haven’t been yet, and she lets herself fall into it. She just falls and lets him catch her, with every look, every brush of his hand, and a little at a time, she feels the trust starting to build.  

 

After dinner, she insists on walking him to his door, a gesture that makes him chuckle and roll his eyes.

 

“Hey, partners don’t let partners walk home alone,” she quips, tipping her head against his shoulder as they meander down the sidewalk, her arm through his.

 

“Yeah, what about you?” he grins, giving her hand a squeeze, “You’ll be alone after you drop me off.”

 

“I’ll hail a cab,” she says, as if it’s obvious.

 

“Okay,” he chuckles, punching in the code to the outside door.

 

This time when they get to his door, they don’t hesitate at all, because it’s been two weeks of knowing what this feels like without being able to do anything about it.

 

She steps into his arms and kisses him, sighing as he fits his mouth over hers. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she lazily strokes her tongue over his, delighting in how easy this feels already.

 

“Do you wanna come in? Eli’s not here.”

 

Come in.

 

She definitely wants to come in…but are they ready for that?

 

She hesitates a little, biting the inside of her lip.

 

“Not to stay—I just—I wanna put my hands on you,” he murmurs, nuzzling in against her ear, “Maybe kiss your neck a little. And I don’t wanna do that in a hallway.”

 

Well, fuck.

 

Elliot leans in close, and she draws him into another slow kiss.

 

“Yeah,” she sighs, slipping her fingertips under his shirt, “Let’s go in.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

She takes his keys instead of answering, and turns around to unlock the door. He presses himself against her back, slipping his arms around her waist, and then they’re up against the inside of his apartment door. It’s dark and quiet, and he hums into her kiss, letting himself grip her waist in a gentle squeeze. 

 

“You gonna invite me in?” she teases softly, “We came in so we don’t have to stand in the doorway.”

 

He grins, resting his forehead against hers for a second, and then he nods and takes her hand. The air shifts, crackling, because they haven’t been alone like this yet; not in his new apartment, or in hers, not since they’ve been…dating.

 

They get as far as the kitchen before he lets go of her hand, turning towards the fridge.

 

“Want something to drink?”

 

“Sure,” she says absently, looking around as she steps out of her heels, “Place looks great.”

 

She hasn’t spent time here before, only a few minutes when she’d brought Eli home a few weeks ago. His apartment is decidedly masculine, but it’s warm and lived in; books on the bookshelf, framed photos on the TV stand, a couple of throw blankets on the couch.

 

“Thanks,” he says, uncapping two bottles of sparkling water, carrying one out to her, “The girls did it. They told me I wasn’t allowed to live ‘in squalor’. Little dramatic, you ask me, but I gave ‘em a few hundred bucks and they had a good time.”

 

She chuckles, accepting the drink he hands her, following him over to the couch. “Your first place was just temporary.”

 

He sinks down into one corner, letting her decide how close she wants to be, and she takes the middle cushion instead of the other corner.

 

“Yeah,” he sighs, looking around, “I mean I’m not here a whole lot right now, but, nice to come home to.”

 

She tucks her legs up and turns toward him, taking a sip of her water and propping her head up on her hand, elbow against the back of the couch. The way he’s staring at her…she can feel a flush creeping across her chest and up her neck. He’s waiting for her to make the first move, now that they’re on his couch.

 

“How’s Maureen feeling?”

 

His eldest daughter is newly pregnant, struggling with morning sickness. At the mention of his first baby, and his first grandbaby, his smile grows.

 

“Okay, I think,” he nods, rubbing his head, “You know, she’s just getting through those first few months. Actually, she told me the other day it’s been great to have Eli around so much. Carl’s been traveling for work a lot, she said the company is nice.”

 

“That’s great,” Liv smiles, watching him light up when he talks about his kids, “I’m so glad that’s still working out.”

 

“Fuck, me too,” he sighs, sipping his drink, “I felt…well, you know how I felt about it.”

 

Liv smiles gently. “I know. But, seems like it was the right thing.”

 

He sighs again, nodding slowly, eyes on her. She lowers her eyes and reaches out to set her drink on his coffee table, uncurling herself from the couch. He watches her while she gets up and closes the gap between them, slowly easing herself to straddle his lap, giving him time to stretch out and set his own drink on the side table. They take a second to get comfortable, for him to straighten out and plant his feet on the floor, and she smiles when his hands go right back to her waist. She doesn’t slide all the way forward into his lap, leaving a little bit of space so they can keep the car on the road, so to speak.

 

“Hi,” she says softly, leaning in to rest her forearms beside his head.

 

He swallows, lets her kiss him softly. “Hey.”

 

Their next kiss is longer, her hand cradling his face, little brushes of her tongue against the seam of his lips. 

 

“So, before,” she murmurs between soft, quick kisses, “You said something about, putting your hands on me. Were you gonna do that?”

 

His hands are big and warm through the cotton of her jumpsuit, and she’s dying for him to put them somewhere other than her waist.

 

He swallows hard again, smiles gently. “Yeah. I wanna do that.”

 

“So do it,” she whispers, letting her mouth fall open against his.

 

He groans softly, and she feels it when he gives himself permission; her breath catches as his hands move over her hips, firm and purposeful. His hesitation is adorable, and she understands it; they’ve spent so many years keeping themselves from touching each other, beyond what they’ve needed to do to in the line of duty.

 

She covers his hands with her own and gives him some encouragement, dragging them back until he gets the idea and rests them low on her back, then lower.

 

“Touch me,” she breathes, sucking on his bottom lip, “Want you to.”

 

He sighs and gives her a slow, lazy smile, sliding his hands down to squeeze her ass. She hums softly, dragging her mouth back to his ear, exhaling a warm breath over it. He shudders a little when she delicately rubs her lips over the soft, sensitive skin, dragging his hands over her thighs. Curious, she takes his earlobe into her mouth, sucking gently; he hisses, and it sends a flash of heat through her.

 

In one movement, he’s tugged her completely into his lap, and his mouth lands in the vee of her jumpsuit, beard scraping against her skin. She loses her breath, hands coming up to cradle his head as her entire body shivers; his mouth is hot, pressing a trail of slow, deliberate kisses up the column of her throat. Sighing, she tips her jaw up to give him more room, murmuring his name, trying to breathe.

 

“Fuck, you smell good,” he sighs, palming her ribcage, sucking on a patch of skin just above her collarbone.

 

The pressure makes her hips press forward, and they both tense up at the sensation; she squeezes his arms, and he groans softly into her neck, dragging his mouth there. Already, she can tell they’ll be a perfect fit, and she breathes through parted lips, sliding her hands over his shoulders as he kisses up the other side of her neck, warm and open-mouthed. She rocks a little, feels it in every part of her body, feels the way his muscles shift underneath her, feels the way it makes his teeth catch against her skin.

 

She slides their hips apart, and folds down into him, pressing her face into his shoulder, breathing him in. Taking a deep breath, he settles his palms against her back in warm circles, lying back against the couch, closing his eyes.

 

They take a minute or two to calm down, and after her heart slows she sits up and cradles his face, drawing soft patterns across his cheekbones.

 

“I want you so much,” she whispers, pressing a soft kiss against his mouth, brows furrowed.

 

He hums, nodding in agreement, resting his hands low on her hips. “Have for a long time.”

 

She takes a deep breath and sits up, feeling the texture of his beard on her fingers, tracing the lines on his face.

 

“I need to show you something,” she says softly, swallowing.

 

His eyes flutter open, and she knows he’s picked up on the nerves in her voice because his thumbs start moving back and forth against her, soothing.

 

“Anything,” he says, staring into her eyes.

 

She swallows again, nodding a little, trying to find the words to explain what she wants.

 

“I have scars, El,” she says gently, “From Lewis.”

 

He softens, sliding his hands around to her lower back, unconsciously anchoring her.

 

“Doesn’t matter to me,” he murmurs, fierce protectiveness in his eyes.

 

“I know that,” she nods, holding his gaze, “I know that. But I—I want you to see. Before anything happens. I just…don’t want anyone else in bed with us.”

 

His eyes tell her that he understands, that he knows she sees his guilt, whether it’s justified or not, and he knows she doesn’t want that with them when they make love for the first time. She’s not embarrassed; no, she wears her scars with the pride of survival. But she knows it’s going to be hard for him to see the physical remnants of her trauma, and she wants to give them a space for it.

 

“Okay,” he says softly, moving his hands on her thighs, “Now? Should we—“

 

“Just—“

 

She settles him with her hands, letting him know they don’t need to go anywhere.

 

His eyes don’t leave hers as she slowly reaches up behind her neck, working on the knot securing the halter top of her jumpsuit.

 

“Wait,” he says, sitting up a little.

 

She watches in amusement as he pulls the soft henley he’s wearing over his head, and settles back down. Her breath catches at the sight of his chest; she hasn’t seen him without a shirt in years, and while she’s been able to tell that he’s bulkier now through the fabric, his bare chest is…beautiful.

 

“Now we’ll match,” he rasps, watching her look at him, and she huffs out a breath, leaning down to kiss him.

 

He doesn’t want her to feel alone in it, which is such a warm, tender thing it makes a lump rise in her throat.

 

She lets go of her top and puts her hands on him instead, and jesus his skin is hot; he’s going to burn her alive, and she can’t even entertain the thought right now because tonight is not the night. He has scars too, lots of them, mostly thin and light, but her fingers go to the bullet scars on his shoulder. They’re puckered, like hers, and she stares at them for a moment; she puts her lips on them next, realizing she’s been aching to do it since he got them.

 

He gently cups the back of her head and closes his eyes. “Saved my ass on that one.”

 

“One of many,” she grins, softy rubbing her lips back and forth.

 

“Olivia,” he sighs, stroking her hips again, squeezing, and she can hear the heaviness in his voice already.

 

She’ll never get tired of hearing his voice wrap around the vowels of her full name. She comes back to his mouth for a kiss, a sweet, reassuring press.

 

“S’okay,” she whispers, even though it’s really not, but it still isn’t his fault.

 

It’s not his fault that the worst predator she’s ever come across came while he wasn’t with her, or that the same predator set his sights on her and succeeded in hurting her. It’s not his fault that she has scars but he doesn’t have the stories, it’s just…life.

 

It’s just the job. There’s no fault to what they do. There are just bad people in the world, and good people who are brave enough to put themselves in the line of fire.

 

She takes his hands and guides them up to the knot of fabric at the back of her neck, telling him without words that he can undress her. He stares into her eyes, swallows, and then works his fingers into the material, finally getting it to loosen and come apart. Her heart pounds as he peels the top of her jumpsuit down slowly, past her collarbone, revealing the tops of her breasts. Her strapless bra slips into view next, and that’s when he lets go of the material, breathing shallowly. He thinks that’s all, she realizes, but she tucks her thumbs into the fabric and pushes it down, past her ribcage, over her stomach, down to her hips.

 

The constellation of cigarette burn scars are visible first, and she watches his eyes flick to each one of them. They’re less obvious now, eight years later, but some of them have healed better than others.

 

“Not all of them contracted,” she murmurs, tracing her thumb over the cluster on her ribs, which are soft and flat, just faint rings of discoloration, “These did, for whatever reason.”

 

He watches her fingertip go to the top of her left breast, over a few that have healed like bullet wounds, pitted and puckered. She watches his face, watches his heart break in his eyes, gives him time to process the pain she’s been through.

 

“Any of them still hurt?” he rasps, clenching his jaw, trying to figure out how to take his anger out on someone who’s already dead.

 

“No,” she breathes, eyes glassy, “Not anymore.”

 

Tentatively, he reaches out to trace the two big vee-shaped scars low on her right side; he grasps her waist, running his thumb over them. Her eyes close at the warmth of his hands on her bare skin, and she sways into his grip, lets him steady her. She hasn’t been this vulnerable since before, baring herself in the lamplight of the living room; she’s always taken her clothes off in the dark that first time, let her partner see her in pieces. But with him…she wants him to have all of her, all at once.

 

“A coat hanger,” she whispers, eyes drifting open, “Twice.”

 

His lips curl inward, like he’s chewing on them, and he nods.

 

“It’s funny,” she says softly, focused on his face, “I don’t remember the pain of those, anymore. I remember the heat, but not the pain.”

 

“Our brains protect us,” he sighs, eyes moving over her, looking.

 

It’s exactly what she wants, she wants him to look, to see; she plans to give him her body, and she knows there’s no halfway with them.

 

“Yeah,” she agrees, swallowing, “There’s one more.”

 

He knows what’s coming, but he’s not completely ready when she reaches back to unclip her bra. He is all man, and the air rushes out of him, hands tightening on her thighs. He reacts like seeing her bare breasts will wreck him, and the thought of what it will be like to see him melt for her makes her ache.

 

The weight of her keeps the bra in place, for the most part, but she wraps an arm around herself for a moment just in case. With her other hand, she peels the left side back, folds the cup to reveal the side of her breast, until he can see the scar there. It’s almost a rectangle now, edges slightly rounded, no longer the explicit shape of a key. The skin there swirls and pulls, lighter in some places and darker in others.

 

“This one took the longest to heal,” she manages, through a shaky breath, “Third degree. This one, I remember.”

 

He nods, staring for long moments, drinking her in. Slowly, he draws his hand up to the last scar she’s shown him, gently rubbing his thumb over it. It makes the breath catch in her chest, because the look in his eyes now is pure respect; he’s not angry anymore, he’s proud of her, proud of her strength, proud of what she’s overcome.

 

He leans forward in slow motion, looking up at her. “Can I?”

 

“Yeah,” she whispers, eyes burning with tears.

 

There’s a gentleness in his touch that she knows others might not expect. To most people he’s a rough, gruff, angry man; passionate, driven to a fault…intense. He’s all of those things, truly, but he’s also so, so gentle. She’s seen it in the way he’s held his babies, stroked his wife’s brow, comforted vulnerable, broken victims. She’s felt it, then, and now, when his arms have held her, when his hands have cradled her face.

 

She feels it now, in the soft, reverent way his lips trace her scars. It’s somehow the most emotional, and the most erotic experience of her life, the first time his mouth grazes the sensitive skin on her chest. He’s on a mission to trace every single mark on her, like he’s paying homage; his soft brushes make her shiver and she closes her eyes, letting a few tears silently streak down her face. She cradles the back of his neck and lets him take his time, trying to breathe, trying to stay present because she wants to remember every second of them.

 

Oh…”

 

She can’t help but whimper on an exhale when he tips his head, nuzzling into the key scar; somehow, he seems to understand that she’s okay, that he shouldn’t stop, that her tears were inevitable. He presses a warm kiss there, careful not to let his beard rub too much, and then he draws her in close and settles his forehead against the swell of her breasts, breathing slowly. She holds him there, tracing circles with her thumb against the nape of his neck.

 

It’s profound, everything that passes between them while they breathe together. It’s the closest she’s ever felt to another person, and the vulnerability makes her hands shake; it’s terrifying, letting him in like this, but the safety of it settles over her body like a humid day, close and pressing. Baring herself to him is deeply comforting, breathtakingly right, and it soothes her like nothing else ever has.

 

He swallows, nuzzles his mouth against her skin, dragging open lips back and forth, slow and steady. She’s frozen in place, lips parted, breaths quick and quiet and shallow as he explores her. Her breath catches when his hands come up and cradle her ribcage, when he turns and lays his head against her, resting there for a moment. There’s a clock ticking somewhere, although she can’t be bothered to look for it; soft ticks, and the sound of their breathing fills the space while he closes his eyes, takes another minute against her.

 

When the warmth of his temple leaves her, she looks down, breaths deepening as his hands deliberately slide up, up, from her ribs to barely cradle her breasts. Her entire body contracts when his thumbs trace a careful path over her nipples through the fabric, just once, and then he’s unfolding the side of her bra that she’s folded back. He stretches the band behind her, and she covers his hands to take over, knowing he won’t be able to re-clasp it.

 

It’s powerful, having him respect what she’s asked of him.

 

When she’s finished, he sits up and cradles her cheek, pulling her into a kiss.

 

You’re so goddamn beautiful.”

 

She knows he means it.

 


 

A/N: For any Italian or Spanish speakers I’m so sorry if any of that was butchered, I used a restaurant menu and Google translate! Thank you all so much for your response to this story, it’s really overwhelming. I’m so glad you’re enjoying it, because I am too!

 

 

Chapter Text

When the warmth of his temple leaves her, she looks down, breaths deepening as his hands deliberately slide up, up, from her ribs to barely cradle her breasts. Her entire body contracts when his thumbs trace a careful path over her nipples through the fabric, just once, and then he’s unfolding the side of her bra that she’s folded back. He stretches the band behind her, and she covers his hands to take over, knowing he won’t be able to re-clasp it.

 

It’s powerful, having him respect what she’s asked of him.

 

When she’s finished, he sits up and cradles her cheek, pulling her into a kiss.

 

You’re so goddamn beautiful .”

 

She knows he means it.

 


 

Two Weeks Later…

 

Noah shuffles out of the dance studio, looking dejected.

 

“Uh-oh,” Liv mutters, setting her water in the console and unclipping her seatbelt.

 

Elliot looks up. “What?”

 

“Casting went up today,” she sighs, moving to get out of the car, “That’s not a good face.”

 

He watches her get out and walk up to meet Noah, giving him a little wave. As soon as Noah sees her, he’s holding back tears, telling her what happened; sometimes it just hits him, that Liv’s a mom now. He’s always known how wonderful she would be, how much love she has inside her, how strong her instincts to nurture are. Now, seeing her with her son—her son—is a privilege.

 

He sees her glance around at the other kids coming out of the studio, and walk Noah to a bench that’s away from the entrance. He can see them in the rearview mirror as she sits down with him and cradles his chin, and he can imagine her telling him that she knows he did his best, that that’s what matters. Then, Noah dissolves into tears, burying his face in her neck when she gathers him up into a hug. It brings back so many memories, watching her hold him, and rock him a little, memories of comforting his own kids through bad dreams and broken hearts.

 

Elliot pulls out his phone and looks through emails while they’re talking, glancing back every few minutes to check on them. While he’s skimming another useless department memo, a text pops up.

 

‘He didn’t get the part he wanted. First time he’s auditioned for the mainstage.’

 

He sighs, clicking in to answer her.

 

‘I figured. poor guy. take your time, I’ll be here.’

 

He looks in the mirror to watch her, sees her bend close to talk to Noah for a few seconds, and then move to text him back.

 

‘He’s embarrassed. He doesn’t want you to know he was crying.’

 

Elliot blinks, wondering where that’s come from. Noah still doesn’t know they’re dating, but as far as he’s been able to tell, he’s been slowly building some solid trust with the little boy. Of course he’d want his mom if he’s upset, but him not wanting Elliot to see his tears is something he’d like to approach.

 

‘ouch. can I come try talking to him?’

 

He climbs out of the SUV and peeks over the top, waiting until she looks over and makes eye contact with him. She nods and discretely waves him over, and he locks the car and starts toward them, taking a few seconds to think about what he should say.

 

Noah’s tucked into her side, sniffling and wiping at his eyes. When he sees Elliot coming over he hides his face in her shirt, so uncharacteristically shy in a way Elliot’s never seen before. Liv gives him a sad smile, bending down to murmur to Noah.

 

“Hey,” she says quietly, “It’s okay.”

 

“Hey bud,” Elliot sighs, kneeling down in front of him, “I just wanted to come and tell you I’m sorry today didn’t turn out the way you wanted.”

 

“Yeah, we were just talking about feeling very sad and very disappointed,” Liv says, absently rubbing his arm, “And how when we feel really big feelings, we might cry. And that’s okay.”

 

It’s very deliberate parenting, Elliot recognizes; identifying and naming emotions, openly and honestly. It’s wildly different from how he’d been raised, and different, even, than how he’s parented his own kids. But he admires her patience, and he’s tried to follow her lead as best as he’s able to.

 

“Oh, yeah,” he says, nodding in agreement, “Everybody cries sometimes. You can even cry when you’re happy. I’ve done that, happiness can also be a big feeling.”

 

He’s guessing, looking up at Liv to check, but she smiles at him and nods. “I’ve definitely cried happy tears, El.”

 

Noah untucks his face and peeks at him, skeptical. “You cried?”

 

Elliot’s face softens. “Oh, sure. When my kids were born, I was so happy that I cried. Every single time.”

 

“Really?” he asks, curious.

 

“Yeah,” Elliot says softly, smiling a little, “Hey, just because I’m a cop, that doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings. There were even times when, uh—“

 

He glances up at Olivia, meeting her eyes for a second.

 

“—there were even times, when your mom and I were partners, that I thought she was gonna get hurt. Or we had an argument. And that made me cry.”

 

“Oh,” Noah says, thoughtfully, relaxing more, “I was just…I really wanted to be in the trio. But I didn’t get that. I’m in the kids corps.”

 

“That’s awesome though,” Elliot breathes, raising his eyebrows, “I’m so proud of you for being brave enough to audition. I can’t wait to come and watch you perform.”

 

Noah leans forward a little, surprised. “You’ll really come?”

 

“Of course,” he nods, glancing at Liv again, “Mom will make sure it’s in my phone.”

 

“Cool,” Noah says, grinning.

 

Elliot sighs. “Alright. Well. It’s Tuesday. Do you think we should go have some tacos?”

 

“Yeah,” Noah agrees, nodding a little.

 

Elliot holds his arm out. “You wanna hug it out before we go?”

 

Instead of answering, Noah hops off the bench and steps into his arms, and Elliot hugs him tight. He’s never been one to shy away from showing physical affection to his kids, and he’s glad Noah’s comfortable enough with him now that he can offer a hug.

 

“Okay,” he murmurs, giving him one final squeeze before he stands up, “Ready?”

 

Liv stands up with them, and Noah turns around to get his backpack and his dance bag. Elliot turns to look at her, and freezes, because the look in her eyes is…he can see it.

 

It’s understood between them, at this point.

 

But it’s the first time he can see it on the tip of her tongue, like she wants to say it. She’s not there yet and they both know that, but seeing it in her eyes, right there on the surface, is so much. He’s not expecting it, on a Tuesday afternoon, after her son’s been crushed and crying.

 

He’s not expecting, while Noah’s talking about whether they should get guacamole or queso, to get this kind of confirmation that she loves him. It’s breathtaking, to see it in her eyes like this, and he doesn’t want to look away. He can’t.

 

“Guys?”

 

Noah’s standing between them, and they look down at him.

 

“What are you guys doing?” he asks, confused, “Can we go? I’m hungry.”

 

“Yeah,” Liv manages, clearing her throat, smiling, “Right there, we’re in Elliot’s car.”

 

Noah runs ahead, and she grabs his hand, squeezing it as they follow him.

 


 

Three Days Later…

 

Olivia looks in the bathroom mirror, and sighs.

 

She doesn’t consider herself to be someone who puts all that much thought into her appearance, day to day. These days her wardrobe leans toward mostly black and neutral tones, although, colors have been catching her eye more lately.

 

No, on the average day, she doesn’t think about it much.

 

One thing she’s always enjoyed, though, is dressing up for a man.

 

She knows that she’s beautiful. She’s always been on the receiving end of stares, and compliments. Even now, in her fifties, she feels confident most days. She carries a fuller figure now, but she’s always had curves, so it doesn’t make her self-conscious. Clothes still hug her in the right places, even if she has to try on a few more options than she did at forty to find the right piece.

 

All that aside, Elliot Stabler seeing her naked for the first time is a bit of a mind fuck.

 

She rolls her eyes and swipes on some mascara, because it might not even happen tonight. Yes, he’s coming over for takeout, and yes, Noah’s at a sleepover with Amanda and the girls. But it doesn’t mean they’re there, yet.

 

Except, lately, it’s all she can think about.

 

It’s distracting, how badly she wants him.

 

It’s unlike anything she’s ever felt before, and she’s been dating for over forty years. She knows what it is to be truly attracted to someone, the heady rush of it, the butterflies. But this, this physical relationship she’s developing with Elliot…it’s drugging. 

 

Maybe it's their history, maybe it's good chemistry, maybe it's trust, maybe it's everything; but he makes her shaky and flushed, and breathless, and desperate.

 

His touch does things to her body, things she definitely hasn’t experienced in the past decade, and on some level, never at all.

 

Hormones are a bitch, and they’d made themselves known for the first time in her last two relationships. She hadn’t always felt the way she’s used to feeling in bed, and she’d learned to work around it, done her research, fought to keep things pleasurable. Orgasms have been fewer and farther between, but with him

 

With him…she aches, and throbs just from his hands over her clothes. His mouth makes her warm and wet, when he sucks kisses against her neck, and slips his tongue in her mouth. Just the way he looks at her sometimes—

 

She blinks and takes a breath.

 

Fuck, she wants him.

 

Olivia slips her towel open and hangs it up, walking through to her bedroom. She decides she’s overthinking it, and tries to pick clothes quickly, choosing a pretty set of blush-colored lingerie. Beautiful underwear is something she wears for herself, now; it’s twenty-twenty-two, and she’s empowered, goddamn it.

 

But knowing someone might see it—that he might see it, is exciting.

 

The panties are simple cotton with some lace trim, but the bra is all sheer lace, and makes her feel sexy. After that, she snatches up a pair of black leggings and a flowy, cream-colored tank top, exiting the closet to get dressed so she can’t change her mind.

 


 

Ten minutes later, he’s knocking on the door and opening it at the same time, the way he’s been coming in for months now.

 

“Hey,” Elliot calls, kicking his shoes off by the door.

 

She breezes out of her bedroom, and the second she sees him she’s flooded with it; happiness, and security, and familiarity.

 

“Hey,” she smiles, meeting him in the living room, where he pulls her into a hug.

 

It’s been a few days since she’s seen him, not since taco Tuesday, and she feels it in the way he holds her. He does this no matter what, but she’s noticed the length of his hugs increases in parallel with their time spent apart. He always wraps her up in the most complete way, and she craves it, now, aches for it at the end of the day.

 

“Mmm,” he hums, nuzzling in and taking a long inhale, “You smell good.”

  

She chuckles, palming the back of his neck. “I was just in the shower.”

 

He steps back and looks around. “Where’s Noah?”

 

“He’s with Amanda and the girls, actually,” she says, watching his face, “They begged to have a sleepover, so. She offered to take them this time.”

 

“Oh,” he says, slowly realizing they’re alone, “So. Just us.”

 

“Yeah,” she nods, smiling a little as he steps forward.

 

Now that he knows they’re not censoring themselves for Noah’s sake, he cradles her face and kisses her. It already feels luxurious and hot, like he doesn’t want to stop, and for a minute, they don’t. She wraps her arms around him and gets his body up against hers, and sighs when he works his fingers into her hair.

 

But, he does stop, after a few moments, slowing down with a few soft pecks. Not for the first time, she wonders if maybe he’s not ready, yet. They haven’t talked about it, they’ve been letting things unfold organically, and he is recently widowed. She never forgets that as far as she knows, he hasn’t been with anyone besides his wife, and as far as she’s concerned the whole ‘sowing oats’ stereotype is a myth. He wants her, she can feel that in the way he touches her, but she’s not sure if he’s holding back out of apprehension, or respect, or something else.

 

"You wanna order food?” he murmurs, looking at her affectionately.

 

She can’t help but smile when he looks at her like that. “Sure, you pick. You want wine?”

 

“Yeah,” he says easily, walking over into the kitchen, “You have any more of that one we got, from that place?”

 

She rolls her eyes, but she knows exactly what he’s talking about. “In the closet, I think.”

 

Liv makes her way down the hall and opens the closet, bending down to look through the case of wine on the floor. As soon as she’s still, she can feel the way the blood is still moving through her body, warm from his kisses. She doesn’t want any wine, or dinner, she wants him. And it occurs to her that the only way that’s going to happen, is if she tells him that’s what she wants. She’ll be able to read him easily, and if he’s truly not ready, she’ll know. But if he is, and he’s waiting out of respect—

 

She abandons the wine and walks back down the hall to stand in the kitchen doorway, heart pounding.  

  

“El?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

He turns around, and freezes at the look on her face. The paper takeout menus slip out of his hands onto the floor, and she draws in a slow breath, staring at him with parted lips.

 

“Can we order food later?” she murmurs, shaking her head a little.

 

She barely gets the words out before he’s on her.

 

He gets to her in two steps and she catches him in her arms, sighing into his mouth. Looping an arm around her waist, he anchors her body to his and they sink into a kiss, backing into the wall. He catches them with his other hand to cushion her body, and presses her there, moaning quietly. She guides him with her palm, tipping to deepen it, whimpering in the back of her throat.

 

Liv.”

 

His groan is pained as he rocks his hips against her, like he thinks he’s going to have to hold himself back. He wants her. But he’s still not completely sure what she wants, and she knows him; he needs to be sure.

 

—shhh…”

 

She presses the shush against his mouth, rubbing her lips over his.

 

“Hey,” she whispers, pulling back until she can meet his eyes, gently squeezing the back of his neck, “I wanna do this. Do you?”

 

He stares back at her and she sees him relax, knowing he has her complete consent.

 

“Yeah,” he murmurs on an exhale, closing his eyes, pressing his forehead to hers, “Yeah.”

 

She can feel his breath on her lips, fast and aroused, and she knows hers matches, and they’ve just waited, and waited

 

Yeah.

 

He buries himself in her, then, presses her back into the wall and starts to lose himself in her body, right there in her hallway, and she feels it. She feels it in the way he slides his tongue into her mouth, and the way his hands find their way under her top, searching for her skin, trying to get closer. His thigh presses up into her core and he rocks her against it, groaning into her mouth. He’s everywhere at once, right away, and for a moment she can’t even reciprocate because it’s just an onslaught.

 

This is what it feels like, when Elliot has permission to touch, to suck, to bite

 

Her nails find purchase at his lower back, and when she drags them over his sides he jumps against her, grinning against her lips. 

 

Oh, she wants him on her.

 

She wants him on top of her, and under her, and inside of her—

 

She slides her hands over his shoulders and starts to push him, kissing him with hooded eyes, guiding him the short distance down the hall and into her bedroom.

 

As soon as they hit the threshold she slips her hands under his shirt and pushes it up, separating from him for a second while he pulls it off. He tugs at her shirt next, and she has a flash of insecurity as he slips it over her head.

 

What does Elliot Stabler think about lingerie?

 

She has her answer immediately, when his lips part and he sucks in a breath, and he’s pulling her forward until he can sit on the edge of her bed, level with her breasts. He pulls her between his thighs and looks up at her with dark eyes, and she can’t fucking breathe. Swallowing, he pauses, takes her in; her nipples are dark and puckered through the lace, and she knows he can see.

 

And then he starts to touch her.

 

In one moment, they go from being people who’ve never been this, to each other, who’ve never gone too far, or looked too long—to people who know what it is to wholly know another person.

 

They know everything about each other; all of the trauma, the history, what makes her cry, and what makes him laugh. They’ve given their whole selves, in a way that’s both frightening and healing; but this last layer has still existed. This last piece, sharing the warmth of skin, and the moans and sighs of pleasure; the breath and the murmurs and the slick slide of hard against soft. This will mean they won’t be apart again, ever; she knows that. When they cross this final boundary, they’ll be inseparable, truly.

 

It seems shocking, that something so monumental can shift in one moment. But it does.

 

He slides his hands around to cradle her ass, and presses an open-mouthed kiss to the swell of her breast. She lifts shaky hands to his neck and lets her breath come in deep draws, brows furrowing as his lips trace a soft path over her chest. She jerks against the scrape of his beard through the lace, and his mouth closes around her nipple, hot and insistent. He pulls it into his mouth and rubs with his tongue, and she collapses into him. She spreads her legs and sinks over his lap, and he pulls her up against his body with both hands, rocking them together in relief.

 


 

Her bra is pretty but it needs to come off.

 

All of her clothes need to come off.

 

He needs the smell of her skin and the soft, safe, perfect place between her thighs wrapped around him, and he’s never needed anything so badly in his life. She’s dropped into his lap and they’re rocking together already, a few minutes into this, and it’s already so desperate, so urgent; he needs to get her in his mouth, he needs to slide his fingers inside her and find out if she’s wet for him, and he needs it all at once.

 

She’s warm and responsive in his arms, gripping his shoulders as she languidly slides her tongue into his mouth. She’s making him hard, with her soft sounds, and her smell, and he exhales on a hint of a growl, shifting through the tingling stretch. The skin on her back is impossibly soft, and his fingertips make her shiver before he goes for the clasp of her bra, working it open. The straps slip over her arms, and then her bare breasts are in his palms and god, she’s perfect. She digs her nails into his neck while he exhales warm and damp over her nipples, tugs one into his mouth, feels it tighten and pebble against his tongue.

 

She slips her hand between them, and cups him through his pants. He almost bites her harder than he intends to when his body jerks, and he groans deeply, dragging his teeth over her nipple. He can tell she likes that, because her body tightens and she cradles him closer with her other hand, breathing deep and slow. He’d do it again, but her palm is pressing insistently between his legs, rubbing with strokes that make his breath stutter. He squeezes his eyes shut and rolls his neck, and she leans forward to kiss along his jaw, sucking at his pulse.

 

“Too much?” she murmurs, rubbing gently with her lips.

 

She’s still working him firmly, and he drops his forehead to her shoulder. “Not yet…god…”

 

His hand drifts down and holds her forearm while he pants into her neck, pulling her away after a few more seconds when it gets too uncomfortable with his pants on. He pulls back and meets her eyes, and everything slows down when they do that, always. Tonight, her eyes are dark and heated, and he can see her arousal in them; he can see how much she trusts him, how badly she wants him. Her hands come up and cradle his neck, thumbs brushing the curve of his jaw, and he cups her ass and pulls her snugly forward, until she’s right up against him and her arms wind around his neck.

 

Her breasts are soft and warm against his chest, and they instantly start to create heat where their skin is pressed together.

 

This, this, this.

 

He doesn’t realize he’s murmuring out loud until she sighs in the affirmative, in between the long, deep kisses they’re sharing.

 

He has a moment that’s overwhelmingly surreal.

 

Olivia is in his lap.

 

Olivia is kissing him, and letting him touch her, and melting into his arms.

 

His breath catches and he pulls back to look at her again, rubbing his thumb across her bottom lip, and there must be pure awe in his eyes because she reflects it right back at him.

 

I know,” she whispers, shivering as he trails his hands over her.

 

Even through her leggings, he can feel the warmth of her core, and he grips her hips, her ass, and drags her against him. Her eyes slam shut, and her forehead gently thumps into the bridge of his nose.

 

Please.”

 

He slips his fingers into the band of her leggings at her hip, and slides around to her belly, pushing his hand past her underwear and down to cup her. He’s barely touched her, but her breath catches and stops, and she pushes against his shoulders to lift up a little and give him more space. He watches her brows furrow when he rubs with his palm, giving her pressure right where she needs it. And then his finger slips between her folds, and it’s sending an intense wave of heat through his cock, because she’s wet for him. She’s wet enough to coat his fingers as he rubs her slowly, watching the way it makes her completely lose her breath, and it’s not enough.

 

He can’t see enough, there’s not enough space, and instinctually he stands up and turns around, taking her with him. She lands on the bed and bounces a little, gasping in surprise.

 


 

All six feet of muscle and bone are moving under her before she can take her next breath, lifting and moving and dropping her onto her back. The memory foam of her mattress catches her in its cradle, and then he’s on her; she opens her mouth for his tongue, opens her thighs for his hips, and he sinks down and covers her.

 

Ohh…safe.

 

It’s so, so safe, and she hasn’t known this kind of drowsy, easy, all-consuming want for a man before. It’s their first time doing this, and she’s completely relaxed. Her brain shuts down, and everything else goes away except for the parts of her that are wanting him, focused on his breath against her skin. His mouth is over her nipples again, sucking hard enough to make her throb, soft enough to tease, and god

 

She reaches between them and tugs on his belt, and he must need the space because he groans softly in relief when she gets his pants open, reaching down to adjust himself.

 

“Take them off,” she breathes, sliding her thumbs into her leggings, starting to push them down.

 

He brushes her hands away and shakes his head, nuzzling into her neck as he pushes them down himself. Her hips flex to help him, and because he’s found that spot on her neck, the one that makes her flush and squirm. He bites her there like a bookmark for later, dragging his teeth over her skin as he sits up and pulls her leggings and underwear off.

 

All of her apprehension from earlier melts away, when he looks at her.

 

His lips part and he just…drinks her in. Like he can’t believe it. She feels it when his eyes slide over her neck, lingering on her breasts, the full roundness of her hips, the patch of soft, damp curls between her thighs—

 

His eyes meet hers as he starts to push his own pants off, and instantly, her comfort with him extends into this new space. She can tell him anything, she can ask for anything—

 

And then he’s naked, and god, he’s beautiful. He’s kneeling, and she sits up to wrap her hands around his hips, tracing dips of muscle with her tongue, dragging her palms over his ass. He’s alive under her hands, muscles tensing and jumping, and when she wraps her hand around his cock he sucks in a breath. He’s perfect in her hand, smooth and warm and hard, and she strokes him a few times, watching the sway of his hips.

 

“I can’t,” he whispers, pushing her down onto her back, “I can’t, fuck.”

 

He’s cursing because there’s nothing between them now, and she gets it because it’s heady and overwhelming. It’s just his skin under her fingers, and the warmth of his chest, and the weight of his cock against her belly; the scratch of his beard against her neck, and his tongue tracing patterns across her collarbone while she moves and breaths and pushes up against him. He’s heavy, and his body naturally holds her down in the most arousing way, and all she can do is try to breathe, to squeeze and scratch at him while he sucks kisses all the way down her body.

 


 

She’s clawing at him, and it’s driving him insane.

 

She uses her nails to scrape, and press, sometimes hard enough to sting, and sometimes soft enough to make him shiver with goosebumps.

 

It’s one of a hundred things he’s learned about her, one hundred out of ten thousand things to discover.

 

When he scrapes her with his beard she shudders, and holds him closer like she wants more, like she wants him to redden her pretty golden skin with it and mark her; and he does.

 

When he teases her breasts, and sucks her nipples, she rocks her hips and breathes deeply, almost like he’s inside of her, like she feels it right between her thighs.

 

When he puts his mouth on her core she shakes and shakes, and makes the most perfect, stuttered, breathless little noises, clutching at his head, running her hands over her thighs. She helps him at first, nudging him a little here, a little there, but he’s a quick study and when he closes his lips and sucks at her clit the breath gets caught in her throat. She presses her legs open for him and sobs, soaking his fingers, fluttering and clenching and jerking. He rubs with his tongue and sucks some more, and she comes, moaning and gasping.

 


 

She doesn’t expect to come like this, and it feels so fucking good. It breaks over her like a wave in warm, throbbing pulses, and she holds the back of his neck to keep him there. He knows exactly how to pull her through it, and she sighs over and over, riding it out. He’s good at that, and it’s not until she feels him smiling against her belly that she realizes she’s said that out loud. He wipes his mouth against her skin and she doesn’t care; something about being sticky together makes it even more comfortable, makes her feel like they’re one night away from dirty talk and digging into the box of toys under her bed.

 

He crawls up her body, and she immediately pulls him into a kiss with shaky hands, whimpering into his mouth when he starts to languidly fuck her with two fingers.

 

Elc’mon…”

 

“Little more. Don’t wanna hurt you,” he murmurs, sucking on her bottom lip, hips flexing when she wraps her hand around him, “Jesus.”

 

He’s right.

 

It’s been a long time, and he’s going to be a delicious stretch, but a stretch all the same. He’s feeling comfortable too, because he nuzzles her ear and asks if she wants to use some lube, like he already knows she has a bottle, and she melts. They slide up onto her pillows, and he presses his fists down on either side of her, sucks kisses against her shoulder while she twists to fish around in her bedside table drawer. She finds what she’s looking for and he takes the bottle from her, slicking his fingers and pressing them back inside her, growling softly into a kiss. His fingers curl after a few strokes and she bites his lip, hard enough to sting, because she’s too fucking sensitive for that and he knows it, she knows he can feel it.

 

Enough,” she manages, breath catching, nails digging into his forearm.

 

She can see him losing himself to the idea of being inside of her; his eyes are hooded as he picks up the bottle again, and then lets her take it from him, staring down at her with furrowed brows while she makes him slippery, stroking as firmly as she dares. She wipes her hand on one of her pillowcases without caring, and tugs on his waist to bring him down to her.

 

“Like this?” he rasps, kissing her, nuzzling her cheek.

 

She knows what he’s asking, and she could get on top, control the speed and the depth. But she trusts him, and she wants him like this, covering her, cocooning her in and blocking out everything else. She reaches up to cover his chest with her palm, to make sure his heart is pounding as hard as hers is, and nods.

 

“Yeah,” she whispers, looping her arm around his neck to bring him close, pressing her words against his ear, “Just…slow. C’mon.”

 

He swallows and rests his lips against her jaw, and she flushes hot when she feels him there, guiding himself, slipping over her clit, lower and testing with gentle pressure. She wraps her arms around his back and opens her thighs more, tipping her hips up, encouraging. And then he’s pressing forward, mouth open and breathing against her fluttering pulse, pushing and rocking, meeting her when she pushes back. Her breath catches as they find the right angle and he slides in a little, freezing for a second. She slides her hands down his back and grasps his waist, finding the rock of his hips again and breathing slowly as he works his way inside of her.

 

She aches with the heavy pressure of him, burns with it in the best way. He feels big and full inside of her, and her breath quickens as he groans and slides deeper, and then stops again, rocking the tiniest bit, giving her a minute. They don’t have to talk, he doesn’t have to ask her any more questions, and she doesn’t have to tell him what she needs, now. They’ve always been able to communicate without words, and this is no exception.

 

He slowly kisses her neck and presses closer in the same way, letting his sounds of pleasure collect against her skin. She’s tight around him, but he knows he’s not hurting her, he can feel that, and he grunts softly with the next rock of his hips. She feels so fucking good, and he tells her so, feels the answering hum in her throat more than he hears it.

 

Without warning, she flexes her hips harder and he sinks in fully, knocking the breath out of both of them for a few seconds.     

 

She cradles his face and lifts him, encouraging him to rest his forehead against hers, and she feels his breath on her lips, feels it mix with hers. The back of his neck is sweaty and she rubs her fingers there, soothing, does the same to his lower back as she pulls and encourages him to rest against her. He sinks down slowly, rocks a little, grinds against her to make her breath stutter, and finally she feels him relax in her arms.

 

“Okay?” he murmurs, smoothing the hair away from her forehead with a shaky hand.

 

“Yeah,” she whispers, shifting, stretching a little, “You feel—god—“

 

“Look at me.”

 

Her eyes flutter open to meet his, and he looks completely overwhelmed by her, like he needs the anchor of her eyes or he’s going to drown in it; she feels relief that she’s not the only one, and she lifts her hands to his face, stroking over his cheeks with her thumbs. His lips part, and they rock together experimentally, and it’s so much that they both shake with it, involuntary sounds mixing together.

 

Olivia,” he sighs, trying to breathe.

 

“I know,” she murmurs, swallowing thickly, bringing him close again, “I know, I know, I know…”  

 

It’s not just a painful, ten-year separation.

 

It’s every moment before that; every moment that they almost slipped away from each other, through spilled blood or sharp words.

 

It’s every time they’ve needed to crawl inside each other and couldn’t, when they settled for the brush of hands, or a hug.

 

She squeezes her muscles around him, wanting to feel the thickness of him there.

 

Fuck.”

 

He groans into her neck, and his hips slide against her, and it’s everything she’s wanted. For weeks—years—she’s just wanted to be with him like this, to be wrapped around him and have him buried in her.

 

He takes a few gasping breaths against her jaw, like it’s hurting him, and she starts to rock her hips, realizing he’s trying not to move.

 

…is that…are you…

 

…you’re perfect…just…

 

…oh, fuck…

 

They find it in seconds, first in careful, slow movements, and then a little faster, a little harder when she whimpers and tells him she wants that. They’re perfect partners in this, too, and she marvels at the way the dips and curves and edges of them fit together, the way the breadth of his body doesn’t feel oppressive as it holds her thighs open.

 

He lifts a little higher into her, slides his palm underneath her lower back to tip her hips, and she sighs and nods, dragging her hands down to his ass. She fills her palms with him and it’s instinctual then; they’re not reading each other anymore, they’re not worried about being careful.

 

This is a thing they do now.

 

This is another way they can talk to each other, now, and god, they’ve needed this.

 

It’s so raw between them, always, and they’ve needed this.

 

When words fail, when it’s too much, or it’s too hard, when the day’s been too long, or too scary; she can drag him inside of her and just feel him like this, feel the relief of him. How they’ve gone so long without it…after tonight she’ll never understand.

 

His breath fogs heavy and hot against her neck, her cheek, her nose, and she’s never been so outside of herself and so present in the same moment. Her body is one throbbing pulse, just warm, and full, and sensitive, and with him. He keeps looking down at her in a way that makes her want to cry, brows furrowed, full of primal need, and love—that’s the only word for the way he’s looking at her, like he’s not close enough, still. She cradles the back of his head and wraps her legs around him, and it changes the angle enough that her back is arching, and she uses the leverage to bring him into her just that little bit harder—

 

His forehead hits hers with a grunt, and then he’s reaching for her hand, dragging her fingers into his mouth and then down between them. He doesn’t hide from her when his face twists, when he’s having a hard time not coming, and she drags her mouth over his and tells him it’s okay, that she’s there.

 

And she is, because the pressure on her clit is barely necessary at this point, not when she’s watching him come inside of her, groaning and gasping against her cheek. Her hips rise into his and her whole body tightens, and then relaxes, and then tightens again when he buries his face in her neck and brushes her hand away. The pressure of his thumb is just more, and she whimpers through a few more seconds, feeling his warmth inside.

 

His body is tight until she relaxes around him, and then they’re still.

 

He’s warm and heavy, and she holds him there, needing the pressure of him on her while she catches her breath, while the last wisps and tingles work their way out of her body. He takes a few deep breaths, one, long exhale, and then he’s kissing down her neck; slow and soft enough to make her boneless. She smiles a little at the noises he’s making, soft, raspy, satisfied growls, and she trails her fingertips over his back.

 

When he kisses her, it’s the same; slow, and lazy strokes with his tongue, wet when he sucks on her bottom lip. Her breath catches against his lips when he finally slips out of her, and he hisses.

 

“Sorry,” he whispers, blinking at her with drowsy eyes.

 

She hums and cradles his face, shaking her head. “Mmm-mmm. There’s nothing about that you need to apologize for.”

 


 

A/N: This is another cathartic one for me, had this written foreverrrrrr. I'll just say...I needed it. Thank you for reading!

Chapter Text

A/N: Reminder that this story does not follow the canon timeline past the end of S22!


When he kisses her, it’s the same; slow, and lazy strokes with his tongue, wet when he sucks on her bottom lip. Her breath catches against his lips when he finally slips out of her, and he hisses.

 

“Sorry,” he whispers, blinking at her with drowsy eyes.

 

She hums and cradles his face, shaking her head. “Mmm-mmm. There’s  nothing  about that you need to apologize for.”

 


 

5 Minutes Later…

 

He’s full of surprises.

 

In her experience, sex means different things, to different people, in different relationships.

 

With Brian, they’d often used it to escape, to get out some anger. Their chemistry had been familiar, but it’d never been all that emotional…it just wasn’t that deep. And then, right after her assault, it wasn’t anything.

 

With Ed, it’d been soft, and nice; a little vanilla, if she’s honest. Quickly, they’d moved to once a week, if that. But there was love in it, more than she’d felt in a long time, and she’d craved the closeness. 

 

She can’t wrap her mind around what’s just happened with Elliot.

 

It feels like a joke.

 

Like any moment she’s going to wake up, having dozed off in front of some romantic comedy where the main character is waxing poetic, saying shit like ‘I didn’t know it was supposed to be like this’.

 

But it’s not a joke, and she’s not dreaming, and she didn’t know it was supposed to be like this.

 

“God…your tits are fucking perfect,” he’s murmuring, dragging his mouth over her breasts.

 

They’re still wrapped up in each other.

 

He covers her nipple and she moans quietly, cradling his head against her as he sucks gently, keeps his teeth out of it because he can tell she’s sensitive now.

 

He’s still kissing, and nuzzling, and cuddling her—

 

He’s a cuddler.

 

Full of surprises.

 

As he dips his thumb into her belly button, she covers her face, shivering.

 

“What?” he grins, circling her nipple with his fingertips.

 

“Nothing,” she says, from behind her hands, “Just—you’re looking at me.”

 

“Because you’re beautiful,” he rasps, nuzzling her belly, biting a little, “So. Fucking. Beautiful.”

 

She uncovers her face and looks down at him, palming the back of his neck.

 

“Yeah?”

 

Yeah,” he sighs, shifting between her thighs, pressing warm kisses up the center of her chest, “Been thinkin’ about seeing you naked for a long time—“

 

“—that was definitely against policy, Detective—“

 

“—like you weren’t thinkin’ the same thing,” he rumbles, dragging his beard over her neck.

 

She grins and sighs, tipping her chin up to give him more space, moving the heels of her hands over his bare back in a long, firm stroke. The flex of the muscle under her hands is mesmerizing, and she closes her eyes, sinking into the drag of his mouth up and down her neck.

 

Now that they’ve starting touching each other, they can’t seem to stop.

 

The finally of it all, is just too much, and they’re not ready to be out of the moment, yet.

 

After a few minutes, she pushes against him, pushes him over onto his back and gets on top of him, running her hands over his chest.

 

“Look from down there, a minute,” she says softly, leaning down to kiss him.

 

He sighs and nods, grinning against her mouth, growling low in his chest.

 

She sits up and takes a few moments to look at him, letting her fingers play over the dips of his abs, tracing a vein running down his bicep.

 

“Now how is it,” she murmurs, leaning down to nuzzle his chest, “That you’re aging backwards.”

 

He laughs softly, breath catching when her thumbs trace his hip creases. “My knees would say otherwise.”

 

Humming, she sucks kisses across his chest, absently searching for his hands. They’re on her thighs, but she pulls them off and guides them up to the pillow, lacing their fingers together and pressing down with her weight. She pauses, staring into his eyes, watching his lips part as he relaxes completely…lets her.

 

“This what you want, next time?” he murmurs, rubbing with his thumbs.

 

She bites her lip and leans down to kiss him, ghosting her mouth across his to tease. “Yeah.”

 

And then she just wants to kiss him some more, so she lets go of his hands and props herself up on her forearms, resting the length of her body on him completely. He’s soft now, but she can feel him there against her, warm and sticky.

 

God, she’s missed sex.

 

Not just the act itself, but the before and after; feeling warm skin against her skin, the kissing, the breath, hands on her body, getting to put her hands on someone else. And now, she’s certain she hasn’t known true intimacy before this, before him. Because this, with him…this is addicting. This is wanting to bury yourself in someone else and live there, forever.

 

Between them, right up against her skin, his stomach growls, loudly.

 

She grins against his mouth, and they’re laughing, eyes closed.

 


 

They take turns in the bathroom, change into sweats, and order from a pho restaurant.

 

She’s uncorking a bottle of wine when he comes up behind her, wraps his arms around her and rests his chin on her shoulder.

 

“You good?” he murmurs, running his hands over her.

 

She hums, turning around to lean against the counter. “Yeah. Why?”

 

He shrugs, pointedly flicking his gaze down her body. “Just—wanted to make sure, you know. After.”

 

It takes her a second but then she gets it, and her face softens.

 

“Oh,” she says softly, reaching around to tuck the tag in on his tee shirt, “Yeah, I—I mean, I’ll feel it, I do feel it. But, not in a bad way. No, that was, with what we used—I’m good. Promise.”

 

He watches her intently, like he’s making sure she’s not downplaying. “Good. You can talk to me, about that. Whatever you need.”

 

“Okay,” she says, smiling a little, “I would. I will.”

 

He loops his arms around her and pulls her right into his body, and she melts into his kiss, breath catching.

 

It’s different, immediately.

 

His hands are sure, on her now; confident. They’re comfortable in this, now, comfortable enough to sink into it and let it happen without the fear of pushing too far. She sighs and lets him kiss the crap out of her right there in the kitchen, slow and hot, making the noises she needs to make, touching the places on him she needs to touch.

 

He takes, and she takes right back.

 

Jesus,” she whispers, when they break apart, breathing against his lips.

 

He clears his throat, nodding a little. “Yeah.”

 

Sliding her palm around to the back of his neck, she rubs her mouth against his one more time, sighing a little, and then forces herself to open her eyes and lean back.

 

“Let’s, uh,” she breathes, leaning on the counter, “Let’s pour some wine.”

 

He looks just as dazed, grinning as he turns to get the glasses.

 

An hour later, they’re on the couch slurping noodles, an array of condiments spread out on her coffee table, when her phone rings with ‘Amanda Rollins’ on the caller ID.

 

She smiles and sets her bowl down. “Probably Noah wanting to check in, I’ll put it on speaker. Hello?”

 

Heyyy.

 

Elliot’s brow furrows, and Liv grins. “Hey, Amanda, how’s it going with the kids?”

 

They’re fine, I stuffed ‘em full of pizza and put them in front of that new Pixar movie.

 

“Oh good. He being good?”

 

He’s an angel, per usual. But, how’s it going over there? He’s there, right?

 

She glances at Elliot, who raises his eyebrows in amusement. “Yeah, we’re just having dinner.”

 

Now?

 

“Mmm-hmm. Neither of us were that hungry earlier.”

 

There’s silence on the other end of the phone.

 

“Amanda?” Liv asks, checking to make sure the call hasn’t dropped.

 

“Did you fuck him already?”

 

“Amanda,” Liv hisses, dropping the phone as she fumbles to turn the speakerphone off.

 

But it’s too late, and he’s grinning like a Cheshire cat, settling back into the couch.

 

“You did! I hear it in your voice! Oh my god, how was it? I’m so happy for you. Did you cry? I feel like I’d cry.”

 

Liv gets the speakerphone turned off and holds the phone to her ear, laughing. “Are you with the kids?”

 

I’m hiding in the bathroom. You couldn’t even wait to have dinner?! Damn!

 

Elliot hears her screech and starts to laugh, deep and booming.

 

“He can hear me, can’t he?”

 

“Well, yeah, he’s right here,” Liv chuckles, covering her eyes.

 

Oh my god okay, text me. Was it life-changing? Holy shit, after twenty years. Okay, just text me.”

 

She laughs, rubbing her hand down her face. “Goodnight, Amanda.”

 

Goodniiiiight.”

 

Olivia hangs up the phone and avoids looking at him, face still flushed. Nonchalantly, she picks up her bowl and starts digging around with the chopsticks, crafting a bite of noodles. After a few seconds, she realizes he’s leaned forward and is staring at her with a shit-eating grin on his face.

 

“So,” he says finally, not letting her off that easily, “You gonna text her?”

 

“I’m not at liberty to say,” she says, shaking her head, “That’s privileged.”

 

He laughs, nudging her shoulder. “There was ‘girl talk’ that happened? About me?”

 

“I was nervous, okay?” she laughs, leaning away from him, “I needed to talk about it!”

 

“That’s okay, I was nervous too,” he murmurs, pulling her in to kiss her temple.

 

She chuckles, crunching on a few bean sprouts. “You were not.”

 

“Uh, Liv,” he says, eyes widening as he picks up his own bowl again, “Been with one person, until you. I was nervous.”

 

He says it so nonchalantly, and he’s not the least bit embarrassed, and she loves that about him.

 

“I kinda wondered about that,” she says, after a moment, smiling a little.

 

“What?” he asks, mouth full of noodles, “My number?”

 

She shakes her head. “No, I—I sort of knew that, it was implied anyway. I just wondered, how you felt about it.”

 

He finishes chewing his food, considering.

 

“I think,” he says slowly, choosing his words carefully, “For me personally…sex is special. And I wouldn’t want to have it with somebody I didn’t really care about—“

 

He doesn’t use the word she knows he wants to use, and she’s grateful that he hasn’t pushed her.

 

“—and I know that’s not…typical. Especially nowadays. I don’t judge anyone. Just me.”

 

Shrugging, he goes back to his food, picking up a few more jalapeños from the container on the table. She stares at him for a few seconds, just absorbing the fact that they’re sitting on her couch in their comfy clothes, talking about sex, and it feels normal.

 

He takes a breath like he wants to say something, and then thinks better of it.

 

“What?” she asks softly, smiling.

 

He brushes her off. “Just, stopping myself from being an ass.”

 

“Were you about to ask me how many?” she grins, pretending to be scandalized.

 

“I actually wasn’t,” he says, shaking his head, “Honestly.”

 

“Alright,” she sighs, setting her food down and turning to face him, pulling her leg up onto the couch between them, “Ask me. You get one.”

 

Slowly, he turns to look at her. “Seriously?”

 

“One, El,” she says, holding up her finger.

 

Smirking, he considers this, and then he grimaces. “You ever sleep with Porter?”

 

She rolls her eyes. “Oh my god. Why did you hate him so much?”

 

“Slimy bastard,” he mutters, turning back to his noodles, “Hey, you said you’d answer.”

 

Grabbing her wine glass, she gets up for a refill, stopping to press a soft kiss against his cheek.

 

“No, I didn’t,” she murmurs, giving him a reproving look.

 

He tries to contain his grin, and she rolls her eyes again, walking over to the kitchen.

 

“Wasn’t a bad kisser, though.”

 

Ack,” he sputters, making a noise of disgust through his bite of food.

 

“What would you have done if I’d said yes? If that’s your reaction to kissing?”

 

He chuckles. “I dunno. I was pretty sure you didn’t, I guess, is why I asked.”

 

She comes back into the living room and sinks onto the couch, sighing. “You didn’t answer me. Why did you hate him so much?”

 

“Just didn’t want you with him,” he shrugs, picking up his own wine glass, setting his bowl down.

 

“You never wanted me with anyone,” she says softly, tucking her legs up onto the couch.

 

Sighing, he settles his palm on her thigh, rubbing with his thumb a little.

 

“No, I didn’t,” he admits, eyes warm and dark, “And I…”

 

He trails off, shaking his head.

 

“You had no right to be a jealous asshole all the time?” she finishes, and it’s so blunt that he laughs, leaning his head against the couch.

 


 

They’re sleepy after the food, and the wine, and decide they just want to get back in bed and put a movie on. But cuddling turns into lazy kisses, and now they’re not really watching anymore.

 

“I just want you to know, that if I were twenty-five, we’d be on round three right now, minimum.”

 

His hand is underneath her shirt, rubbing a warm pattern up and down her back.

 

“We could go again if we really wanted to,” she grins, stroking the back of his neck, “We could rally.”

 

He gives her a skeptical face. “I dunno. I’m old, now.”

 

“I’m old, but I didn’t feel old, doing that with you,” she murmurs, shaking her head a little, “Did you?”

 

“No,” he says, eyes soft and warm, “Definitely not.”

 

“Maybe in the morning?” she murmurs against his mouth, “I’m not due to pick up Noah until ten.”

 

“Uh-huh,” he breathes, nodding, “That’s happening. Morning sex is happening.”

 

She grins into another kiss, gently scratching at the nape of his neck, and he growls, low and soft and raspy.

 

After a minute, she sighs and tucks herself into him, pressing her face against his chest. He tugs her the rest of the way into his body, and his warmth makes her drowsy. He hasn’t stayed over since her last PTSD flare, and she’s missed having him in her bed.

 

“I think,” she says slowly, considering, “It’s time to tell Noah that we’re…”

 

Elliot smiles at her hesitation. “Together. In a relationship.”

 

“Yeah,” she agrees, smiling to herself, “I think I should talk to him about it, alone. If that’s okay.”

 

“’course it is,” he murmurs, gently squeezing the back of her neck, “Whatever you think.”

 

“I want…I want to be able to do this. Just, have you here. If we want to. Or if we need to,” she says quietly, “Have to make sure we’re all ready for that.”

 

“You’re a good mom,” he says softly, pressing a kiss against her hairline.

 

She closes her eyes against the compliment, although part of her does know that to be true. Breathing him in, she hums softly, feeling the edges of sleep start to pull at her. She feels it in his body too, in how still he’s gotten, the way his breaths have settled.  

 

Then, she feels him take a breath to say something else, and then stop himself, and she rubs his back a little.

 

“You can say it,” she whispers, catching the material of his shirt between her fingers, “I’m…I’ll get there. But, you can say it, if you want to.”

 

“As long as you know it, I don’t need to say it,” he murmurs into her hair, “When you’re ready, we’ll say it."

 

She hums, nodding against his chest.

 


 

3 Days Later…

 

“Why are we having pizza on a Monday?”

 

Olivia looks up from her slice, meeting Noah’s curious eyes.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Mom,” Noah says, as if this is obvious, “You always make us have extra vegetables on Monday because we need to ‘start the week off right’.”

 

He puts her words in quotations marks with his fingers, and she stifles a laugh, watching him grow up in front of her eyes with what seems like every passing hour.

 

“Well, we have salad,” she argues, gesturing to the bowl of greens and cherry tomatoes she’s tossed together with Italian dressing, “That’s a vegetable. You’re complaining about pizza?”

 

“No,” Noah says, eyes widening, “I was just saying.”

 

“I just felt like pizza,” she shrugs, smiling a little, wondering not for the first time if she’s raising a future detective.

 

Noah shrugs, and takes a bite of his pizza, picking up a cherry tomato with his fingers.

 

“But,” she continues, sighing, “I also wanted to talk to you about something.”

 

“Did my teacher call?” Noah asks immediately, freezing.

 

She does a double take. “No…why?”

 

“Oh,” he says carefully, realizing he’s potentially given himself away, “No reason.”

 

“Right,” she says skeptically, giving him a look, “Well, we’ll circle back to that. No, I wanted to talk to you about—about Elliot.”

 

Noah’s brows furrow. “Elliot? Is he okay?”

 

“Oh, yeah,” she says immediately, “He’s fine. I guess I just wanted to know, what you think about him?”

 

“Elliot is cool,” he grins, nodding, “I like him.”

 

She smiles gently, tipping her head. “Yeah? What do you like about him?”

 

“I dunno,” he shrugs, chewing a tomato, “He has cool stories. He comes to watch me dance. He’s funny when he reads the Hagrid parts, in Harry Potter.”

 

She chuckles, nodding. “He does do a surprisingly good Hagrid voice.”

 

“You smile a lot, when he’s here,” Noah continues, still considering her question, “And I like that.”

 

“I probably do,” she agrees softly, setting her pizza down, “Elliot makes me really happy. I, umm, I really love him.”

 

She lets the words come out, trying not to think about it too much, and finds that it’s a relief. Something about it feels right, feels safe, talking about this with the most important person in her life, first.

 

“You love him?” Noah asks, eyes wide, “Whoa. That’s a big feeling.”

 

“Yeah,” she sighs, laughing a little when he reflects all of their conversations back at her, “It is a big feeling.”

 

In true nine-year-old fashion, Noah goes back to his pizza as if nothing’s happened, leaving her to digest things for a minute.

 

“The reason I wanted to know what you think,” she says slowly, watching him, “Is because Elliot and I are dating, now. I wanted to make sure that’s okay.”

 

Noah looks confused, chewing on some pepperoni. “What’s that mean? Like, when you ate dinner?”

 

“Yeah,” she shrugs, realizing they’re getting into the meat of it, “Eating together, and hanging out. It just means he might come over more, to hang out with us. And sometimes we’ll probably go out just me and him.”

 

She can see the wheels turning in his head, and she’s still not completely sure how much he knows about relationships and what they mean, considering she’s never been in one that he remembers.

 

His brows furrow. “Wait. Do you mean, like Elliot is gonna be your boyfriend?

 

“Uh,” she starts, not completely loving the word, but realizing it’s technically accurate, “Yeah, that—that’s right. Elliot is my boyfriend.”

 

“Do you guys kiss?” he asks, looking mildly horrified.

 

She shifts uncomfortably in her chair. “Well…look, since we always tell each other the truth—yes, we—we kiss each other.”

 

“Gross,” Noah shudders, stabbing at the salad on his plate with a fork.

 

Olivia watches him for a minute, holding her breath. “But, other than the kissing part…you like Elliot?”

 

Noah thinks, and then turns to her, looking as though he needs to tell her something unfortunate.

 

“Umm, Mom?”

 

“What?”

 

He leans in a little, stage-whispering. “Aren’t you too old to have a boyfriend?”

 

She stares at him for a second, and then erupts into laughter, reaching out to gently poke his ribs. “Who are you calling old?!”

 

“You’re not old, old,” Noah laughs, “Just kind of old.”

 

“Oh, kind of old, that’s way better,” she laughs, rolling her eyes a little, “Okay, well, what if I told you that anybody, at any age, can have a boyfriend or a girlfriend?”

 

He looks skeptical. “Are you sure?”

 

“I’m totally sure,” she says, nodding.

 

“Well,” he sighs, peeling a slice of pepperoni off his pizza, “I guess that’s okay. But, just don’t kiss, because that’s gross.”

 

It’s her turn to look at him with unfortunate news. “We might kiss occasionally, kid, I’m sorry. But not a lot. Deal?”

 

Noah looks thoughtful. “Are you guys gonna have se—“

 

“—nope,” she interrupts quickly, shaking her head, “We talked about this, that’s the one question I told you isn’t appropriate, remember? That’s for when you’re older.”

 


 

‘how did it go?’

 

‘Bring me coffee tomorrow morning and I’ll tell you. 7:45’

 

‘should I be worried?’

 

‘Nope’

 


 

The Next Morning…

 

“He told me I’m too old to have a boyfriend.”

 

Elliot chokes on his coffee, swallowing quickly to keep it from coming out of his nose as he laughs. “Oh, shit.”

 

“Yeah,” she grins, rolling her eyes and handing him a napkin off her desk, “Felt really good.”

 

They’re sitting in her office the next morning, having coffee and splitting a couple of pastries.

 

“So, other than us being too old, he didn’t freak out?”

 

“No,” she says, shaking her head, “Although he was pretty disgusted that we’ve kissed each other, so, we should probably keep that to a minimum.”

 

Elliot chuckles. “Got it.”

 

“But we talked a little more and I explained that you’re never too old to have a boyfriend, or a girlfriend. And then he kinda shrugged and said he’s fine with it,” she says casually, taking a sip of her coffee.

 

He pauses, staring at her. “Really? He said that?”

 

“He wants to know when you’re coming over next, because he has some questions for you,” she says ominously, breaking off a piece of the blackberry scone, “Probably wants to ask about your intentions.”

 

“Your kid is really something else,” he grins, eyes roaming over her face.

 

She laughs, popping the scone into her mouth. “Tell me about it.”

 

“Hey,” he murmurs, jerking his chin, “C’mere.”

 

She blushes automatically, looking at him from under her lashes. “Why?”

 

“Just do it,” he insists, tipping his head again.

 

Holding back a smile, she gets up and walks around her desk, slowly, until she can perch on the edge in front of his chair. Her breath catches when he reaches up and brushes his thumb across her bottom lip, tracing it a few times.

 

“Crumbs,” he says quietly, gravel in his voice, warmth in his eyes.

 

“Right,” she breathes, nodding a little.

 

He cradles her cheek, slides his hand down to palm her neck, running his thumb across the column of her throat.

 

Jesus.

 

Glancing out into the half-full bullpen, she grasps his wrist and pulls him up, into the corner of her office that’s shielded from the window.

 

“We can’t make this a habit,” she sighs, pressing herself close to kiss him.

 

He slides his hands around her hips and holds her there. “Why? I don’t report to you.”

 

She smiles against his mouth, shaking her head, cradling his jaw as she kisses him again, and again.

 

“I outrank you.”

 

“I’m older than you, I don’t think anybody’s gonna argue that you’re taking advantage.”

 

“Still,” she murmurs, ghosting her lips across his, “We should keep it professional.”

 

“What’s unprofessional about this?” he rasps, dipping to drag his beard up her neck.

 

She laughs, and then covers her mouth to muffle the sound, wrapping her arm around his shoulders.

 

His phone rings, trilling loudly from his pocket.

 

“Fuck,” he sighs, bumping his head on her shoulder, reaching for it, “It’s Bell.”

 

She gently pushes him away. “Answer it. Detective.”

 

He shoots her a warning look, stepping away to pick up the call. “Hey.”

 

Olivia walks back to her desk and opens her computer, logging in and getting all of her documents open for the day, clicking into her emails.

 

“Uh-huh. Yeah, you know, lemme—“

 

He catches her eyes and gestures toward the interrogation room.

 

“Sure, go ahead,” she says, waving him in.

 

He goes in and shuts the door, and then she can’t hear anything without the intercom turned on. She gets distracted with a few emails, losing track of how long he’s on the phone, not noticing when he starts to pace behind the glass, not able to hear when he raises his voice a couple times.

 

It’s not until he comes back out that she looks up.

 

The look on his face sends a lightning bolt down her spine, and she immediately straightens in her chair.

 

“What?”

 

He swallows.

 

“They want me to go undercover.”

 


   

A/N: TRUST MEEEE. All will be fine. This story isn’t a canon repeat, it’s a re-telling of canon in a softer, more EO-centric way. Thank you for reading!