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Eddie was something of a letdown, in the end. All those muscles, and the dark, intense look on his face, and the heavy thickness of his perfect cock, and the days she'd spent drawing him in, watching the want flashing across his face, watching him leaning closer and closer, hooked on her line and reeled in nice and slow, all of it, all of him, had given her certain expectations, but when it came down right down to the moment of truth he didn't really deliver. Oh, it was fun, for a minute or two, holding on tight to his broad shoulders while he plowed into her, feeling him, all that power, that ferocious strength, but he'd never looked her in the eyes, and he was popping off too soon. She decided just to let him; Eddie was fun to play with, and he hadn't made her come but maybe he'd find some creative way to make it up to her, and really, who knew when he'd last had a woman wet and willing under him? Maybe it had just been a long time for Eddie Ashes, and maybe he'd be determined to set the record straight as regarded his sexual prowess, and maybe she'd enjoy his attempts to prove himself.

"Come on, baby," she panted at him encouragingly; he was close and she wasn't but she wanted to hear it, wanted to see it, wanted to feel him come apart, over her, in her, because of her. Snapping the self-control of a man like Eddie Ashes, bringing a man like that to his knees, made her feel powerful, in its own way. She wondered if he was enjoying himself as much as it sounded like he was, if she'd have him pussy-whipped, now, if he'd follow her around with those dark eyes fixed on her, if he'd be willing to fuck her anytime, anywhere she asked. Flutura wasn't some stupid, starry-eyed schoolgirl; she'd left all thoughts of love behind years before, and was much more concerned, these days, with pleasure, whatever pieces of satisfaction and fun she could find for herself, and she was beginning to think that Eddie Ashes would provide plenty of both, at least until she got bored.

His eyes were screwed up tight; he'd hardly touched her, hardly looked at her once this thing began. Kissed her, hard, with his eyes closed and his mouth open, sucked on her nipples until she mewled, but when he set about the business of fucking her he just planted his hands on the mattress, stretched himself out over her and grunted as his hips drove into her so relentlessly it made her toes curl. She reached for him, settled her palm against his cheek, felt the slick of his sweat and the scratch of his beard, and he groaned, and drew his hips backs, reached one hand between them to work over his cock, and she watched as he finished himself off, spurting across her belly like he was afraid of knocking her up when that ship had sailed for her years before and would never again be returning to port.

But as he came apart, still refusing to look at her, he sucked in one last deep breath, and a most unexpected sound escaped him.

"Oliviaaaaa," he groaned the name, his voice low and ragged and full of passion, his hips stuttering into the clench of his palm, the wetness of his release splashing against her skin, and her lips pulled back into a grin that more closely resembled a snarl.

Well, well, well, she thought.

He rolled off to the side, flopped on his back, panting, and his eyes were still closed, like he was trying to savor the moment. To savor the memory of whatever vision he'd conjured up for himself when he should have been focused on her instead. If she'd been a little younger and a little softer she would have been hurt, hearing him call another woman's name. Instead she was delighted, in a vicious, vengeful sort of way, just this side of pissed.

Who is Eddie Ashes? Everyone had been asking the same question from the moment he turned up. A man with no home, with no family, no ties of any sort, he was also a man who insisted that his word was his bond, a man so loyal he'd broken Luka's face and risked Kosta's wrath just to defend that loyalty. But how could a man be loyal, and how could his word matter so much to him, if there was no one in his life to receive that loyalty, to hear his word and hold him to it? All he had was Reggie, sweet stupid Reggie who was never gonna be a major player, and it wasn't like they'd known one another long. The girls had been whispering together since the party at Kosta's when they'd all got their first look at Eddie, wondering what sort of man he was, wondering whether he was as alone as he seemed to be, wondering whether he wanted to be. And Eddie himself had told her just the other night that he'd never married; didn't wanna cause nobody any pain, he'd told her, didn't really want kids. His answer had intrigued her, at the time; he didn't say he'd never found the right girl, or that he'd never been looking for one. He'd spoken of pain, and children, and she'd been wondering, ever since then, if perhaps there was a woman out there he'd wanted, a woman who wanted the children he didn't want to give her, a woman he'd let go for the sake of her own heart.

And now Flutura was certain she'd just found the answer to those questions.

She grabbed a corner of his sheet and used it to wipe her belly clean, and then she rolled over, pressed herself against his side, rested her chin on his shoulder and watched him, waiting for the moment he opened his eyes. But Flutura had never been particularly patient, and Eddie wasn't cooperating, and so she decided to break the silence herself.

"Who is she?" she asked, not even trying to hide her amusement.

Eddie cracked one eye open, confusion written all over his face.

"Who?" he asked.

He must have been completely lost, she thought. He must have felt so good - she must have made him feel so good - that he hadn't realized where he was, or what he'd done. That would have made her proud, if it had been her name he couldn't help but call out.

"Oliviaaaaa," she said mockingly, trying to mimic the sound of his satisfying groan.

For a man so fucking big he moved shockingly fast; he was on his feet in the blink of an eye, reaching for his underwear, turning his back on her and trying to dress himself. So much for post-coital bliss, she thought. Every line of his body was tight and taut with tension, and she could almost feel the anger radiating off him. Let him be mad, she thought. Flutura wasn't ready to leave just yet, so she just watched him, comfortable there in his bed.

"It's all right, you know," she told him. "I'm not angry, or anything."

The tattoo of Christ on his arm rippled when he moved, as if it had come to life, but it didn't scare her. She did not fear the judgement of God, and she did not fear the belligerence of this man; she had him wrapped around her finger, of that she was sure. After all, Eddie knew he was risking life and limb to be with her, knew that he was violating his sacred loyalty, and he'd done it anyway, for her sake. He'd not resist her long, she was certain.

"You can tell me, Eddie," she said in a wheedling sort of voice. "I want to know."

At the foot of the bed he'd managed to stuff himself back into his jeans but he hadn't put on his shirt yet, and she saw his shoulders slump, sagging as if in defeat. He must have known she wouldn't give up, but he must have wanted to talk about it, too, she thought. If he wanted to talk she'd let him; men always got loose-lipped after sex, and the secrets they revealed to her then were worth their weight in gold. Let him unburden himself to her, and she would say all the right words in all the right places, would be kind and attentive to him, and if he ever irritated her she would use the knowledge she'd gleaned here to wreck him.

"She's a ghost," he said heavily. There was a little bench near the door to the van, and he sat down there, kept himself apart from her, spread his legs wide and rested his forearms on his knees. When she'd found him here he'd been like a lion, fierce and proud and ready for a fight, and now he was just a sweet little pussycat, lost and shivering in the rain. She'd take him in, give him shelter, and then he'd be hers.

Flutura sat up slowly, watched his eyes dance over her naked her body, her tits. Appreciatively, she thought, but not as appreciative as she'd like. That made her frown.

"She's dead?"

That would be all right, with Flutura. Let Eddie pine over some dead bitch. It would explain the van, she thought, explain his isolation and his reticence to seek out a woman, if he was bound to grief.

"No," he said. "No, not dead. Just...gone. She' ever think about how if you had done just one thing differently, your whole life would have changed?"

If she'd never married Albi, if she'd waited around for another man, a better man, she might have a passel of children, now. She might be dirt poor and struggling to get by with grandchildren clinging to her ankles. She might have been happy, too, but she didn't waste much time on fairytales.

"Do you?" she asked him.

"All the goddamn time," he confessed. "Choices I've made, things I've done...people got hurt, on account of me. She got hurt. And she moved on. Found someone else, had a kid. She's happy, and I'm here."

"And you miss her, still," Flutura mused. "She's your road not taken."

"Always will be."

"Well, she's not the one in your bed right now," she told him, shooting him what she hoped was an enticing sort of smile. "You're lucky I'm not the jealous type."

It was a lie if ever she'd told one; her mind was already spinning, trying to work out whether there was some way to find her, Eddie's Olivia. To find out where she was, what she looked like. To find her husband, and her son, and her happy little life. That was information Albi might like to have, she thought. He might like to know whether Eddie Ashes had any weaknesses, and how to exploit them. And it might be sort of fun, if she did find the woman. Fun to see if she could make this Olivia twist, too. Flutura might not have loved Eddie, but she did have her pride, and he'd wounded it a bit, calling out someone else's name. He'd not been thinking of her at all while he fucked her, and that simply wouldn't do; if she was going to keep Eddie dangling on her string she'd need him focused on her, and if he wouldn't cooperate, well, then, she'd have to do something about it.

"Yeah," he said. "Lucky."

The conversation didn't really go anywhere, after that; he made it plain he had no intention of crawling back into bed with her, and his morose expression bored her. Flutura slipped out of his bed, flaunted her way through his home, trailing her fingertips against his chest and trying to stir some of that passion she'd tasted all too briefly, but the flames of his desire had been thoroughly quenched. By the time she stepped out of his van she was damn near peevish.

For the next week she deployed every weapon in her arsenal in a coordinated effort to make Eddie fuck her again. It wasn't that the first time had been so spectacular; it was just that she was certain he could be if only set his mind to it, and it amused her to make him blush, and she sometimes liked to start trouble, just to see what would happen. Eddie, he had trouble written all over him, but he didn't rise to the bait; every time she came around he found somewhere else to be, and she was getting tired of it. Who did he think he was, acting all coy? She'd had him falling apart before he ever even got started, and now he wanted to act like she was the desperate one?

Turning up at his van unannounced had worked out well for her the first time, and so she resolved to do it again. Albi was out, God only knew where, and the boys were laying low, and Reggie was home with his mama and that meant Eddie was probably home, too. Reggie was his only fucking friend in the whole world, and she figured Eddie would probably prefer drinking a six pack alone at his van to going out to some loud overcrowded bar. She knew the way, and she was grinning as she drove, because it was dark, and it was late, and poor Eddie must be lonesome, and she was going to make damn sure he took care of her this time.

It'll be my name he says this time, she told herself. I'll make him forget everything else but me. Maybe if she was on top, she thought, maybe she could bring him low, and make him look at her, and maybe that would make all the difference. Her mind was spinning with possibilities, want thrumming through her veins as she drove, and the promise of delight kept a smile on her face.

But when she pulled up to the van, he wasn't alone.

This motherfucker.

There was a woman, standing on the gravel in front of the door to the van, and Eddie was hanging out of it, and when they heard Flutura's car approaching they both jumped, looked at each other, guiltily, maybe, and then Eddie was moving, stepping out of the van, putting himself between the woman and Flutura's car. Like he wanted to protect this bitch, and Flutura didn't like that at all. She put the car in park but left the lights on, shining right in their faces, half blinding them and letting her get a good look at the bitch who was sniffing around Eddie.

The woman was past fifty, Flutura thought, but beautiful, still, with her shiny dark hair, her big doe's eyes, her soft pout. The clothes she wore were neat and professional and boring; Flutura had never had to work a day in her life, and she had always been grateful for that, because she was sure that if she had to wear a black pantsuit five days a week she'd perish from the misery of it. The sparkly golden blouse she was sporting now was infinitely preferable to the brunette's dowdy blazer. Under the blazer, though, this woman had hips and tits, a nice, thick figure that Flutura observed with the careful eye of a woman who'd spent her entire life playing the odds. Be the prettiest girl in the room, and if you can't, find her and take her down, that was Flutura's philosophy. And this one, she thought, this one would give her a run for her money.

But Eddie was probably carrying a fucking gun, and he couldn't see her behind the wheel for the glare of the headlights, and if she wasn't careful he was probably gonna fucking shoot her, so she slipped out of the car, plastered on the brightest, meanest smile she could manage, and made a beeline straight for him.

"Eddie, baby," she said. He looked like he'd swallowed a lemon, and that made her want to laugh; he deserves this, she thought. His woman was standing beside him, her pretty face expressionless, her dark eyes watching Flutura warily. "I thought maybe I'd come back for a repeat performance," she continued, wrapping herself around him. Eddie tried to take a step back but she had him caught. He kept his arms down at his sides, refused to touch her, tilted his chin up and away from her and hid his blue eyes from her sight, but she didn't let that stop her, just pressed herself hard against him, grinding her hips into his dick. "I didn't think you'd have company."

She glanced over his shoulder, watched the brunette carefully, but there was no flicker of annoyance on her face, no sign of hurt or discomfort. Whatever she was feeling, she wasn't about to let it show.

"You know what?" she said, and her voice was low, and warm, and velvety soft, and Flutura hated her for that almost as much as she hated her for the sweet shape of her ass in those black slacks. "You can have him. I was just leaving."

Good, Flutura thought. The woman had been outside the van when Flutura pulled up; maybe she'd never gone in. Maybe she'd wanted to or maybe she hadn't, but either way she was giving up without a fight.

Eddie wasn't, though.

"Hang on a minute," he said, and caught Flutura by the shoulders, and pulled her bodily off him with a strength that would have been sexy if he wasn't using it to get rid of her.

"We're not done here," he said to his woman, stepping towards her, his hand outstretched like he meant to grab hold of her, but she shot him a look that was pure venom, and he seemed to recognize that his touch wouldn't be welcome just now, and relented. He was a gentleman, that Eddie. Wouldn't put his hands on a woman unless she was willing, sweet to the girls at the diner, pining for his lost love.

Oh, shit, Flutura thought then, looking at the brunette. Is this her?

"Oh, yes we are," the woman said. "We're done."

She said it like done meant a hell of a lot more than just that she was finished talking; she said it like she never wanted to see him again, and that was just fine with Flutura. Maybe he needed to see his girl walking away from him one last time; maybe he just needed some closure. The bitch was too uptight for him anyway, Flutura thought. She was bland, clean in a dark sort of way. She'd probably never broken the law in her life. She probably lived in some sweet little two-bedroom in Manhattan with her man and her kid and went to church on Sundays, and she probably thought Eddie was as worthless as the dirt on the bottom of her shoes. Stuck up, that's what she was. How a woman like that had ever been involved with a man like Eddie, with his raggedy clothes and his busted down van, Flutura would never understand.

"Nice to see you, Olivia," she said as the woman started to walk away, and Eddie flinched like someone had hit him, and the woman whirled back around, her eyes flashing in the darkness.

"Excuse me?" the woman snapped. "Do I know you?"

"Oh, no, baby, but I know all about you. I know Eddie here's got a soft spot for you. Don't worry. He'll forget all about you in just a few minutes and I'll have him moaning my name instead."

It was petty, and she knew it, but life could be so painfully dull, and she tried to celebrate the little victories where she could. No doubt Eddie would be embarrassed at the memory, but a man like him, she thought he'd fuck best when he was angry, and she wanted to hurt his woman, wanted them both crushed beneath her shiny gold heel.

"Don't let it go to your head," Olivia said, her voice sharp and bitter. "He's got a short attention span, and he always fucking leaves." And then she was walking away, and Eddie was glaring at Flutura like he wanted to strangle her right there.

"Liv," he called rushing towards his woman, leaving Flutura behind. Liv, a sweet little nickname for the love of his life, but when his hand landed on her arm she spun away from him, and there was no sweetness in her at all.

"Don't fucking touch me," Olivia hissed.

She wanted to leave, and Flutura wanted that, too, wanted Eddie hurting and looking for comfort, so she stepped in then, sauntered towards him with a little extra swing in her hips, and Olivia watched her with an expression of open hatred. Whatever self-control had bound her in the beginning, she'd lost it. She didn't fool Flutura, not for a second. Olivia was hurt.

Good, she thought.

"Eddie, let her go," Flutura cooed at him, resting her hand on his shoulder possessively. "She's not what you need, baby."

He whirled on her, and his eyes were as hateful as his woman's, and that threw her, for a second, because Eddie, he'd never looked at her that way before. Like he loathed her. Like he was better than her. Like he didn't want her at all.

"You don't have any goddamn idea what I need," he growled. "Get out of here, Flutura."

There was no way in hell that was happening. Flutura Briscu didn't lose.

"What if I don't wanna go?" she asked, teasing. In the darkness his face was hard, and unmoved by her, by the swell of her tits spilling out of her blouse, by her fluttering eyelashes, by all her insinuations.

"Listen, sweetheart," Olivia said, and she made that word sweetheart sound like a curse, and maybe, Flutura thought, maybe she'd read the bitch wrong. Maybe Olivia did know how to fight. "You don't know what you're dealing with here. Do yourself a favor and go home to your husband."

"Or what?"

Just let this bitch touch her, Flutura thought. If Eddie's girl laid hands on Flutura, Albi would kill them both, and make it hurt.

"You know what? You want him so fucking bad?" Olivia snapped. "You can have him. Take him off my hands. Enjoy."

She was walking away again, and Eddie was chasing after her again. Rinse, repeat. Boring. Dull. Flutura was beginning to wonder whether a lackluster fuck like Eddie was even worth all this melodrama.

"Liv, please-" he was trying one last time, to stop her leaving. It was pathetic, really, the way he was still chasing after a woman who'd left him behind years before, who'd clearly chosen a cleaner life over him.

"Just let her go, Eddie," Flutura told him. "You don't need a bitch like that hanging around anyway."

And then, for the very first time, she was scared of Eddie Ashes, because when she spoke the word bitch his eyes went flat and dark, and he grabbed her by the arm, all but dragging her off to her car, his fingers digging in hard enough to bruise. She yelped when he grabbed her, surprised and hurt and pissed, but he didn't even seem to hear her.

"Get out of here," he growled at her, flinging open the door. "Leave, and don't ever fucking come back. I don't ever wanna see your face again."

You just made the biggest mistake of your life, she thought, looking up at him. He'd crossed her, embarrassed her, and chosen a boring broad in a pantsuit who didn't even want him over her. A slight like that could not go unaddressed. If he thought Kosta was dangerous, he hadn't seen anything yet. She was going to end him.

"Take your hands off me, or I'll tell my husband-"

"Yeah, you tell your husband," he said grimly, his lips curling up into a sneer she'd never seen there before. "And I'll tell him how I was here with my girl and you were making a fool of yourself and we'll see which one of us he takes it out on."

With those big hands on her shoulders he all but threw her into the car; he wasn't trying to hurt her, she knew, but he was trying like hell to get rid of her, manhandling her into the driver's seat like a cop throwing a suspect into the back of a cruiser.

"Eddie," his woman called out behind him, softly, warningly, and he took his hands off Flutura at once, a dog called to heel. He'd listen to her; not to Flutura, offering him everything he should have wanted, threatening him, cajoling him. Not to Flutura, but to her. Whatever hold that bitch had on him, it was unfuckingbreakable. Damn it.

"Leave," he told her.

And so she did. There wasn't any point in staying. Eddie wasn't gonna fuck her now, and she wasn't sure she wanted him to, anyway. All that power, all that anger, it was only fun if she could control him, and now she knew she never would. Damn him. He was right, too, about Albi; Albi didn't want to fuck her but he didn't want anyone else to, either, and it would be a slight against his honor, his wife throwing herself at someone as low down and worthless as Eddie, and he'd want to teach her a lesson about respect, and she didn't want to fucking hear it. If she was going to hurt Eddie, she'd have to do it herself, and leave Albi out of it.

She was certain she'd think of something.

They were quiet, watching Flutura's car drive away. Elliot's heart was pounding in his chest, fear and adrenaline and anger racing through him. How had everything gone so fucking sideways? Liv had come to him, for once, tired and worried about him, and he'd been so fucking happy to see her, so fucking certain this was a good sign, a sign that she cared about him, maybe as much as he cared about her, maybe as much as he wanted her to. He'd thought it was a step in the right direction but then fucking Flutura had ruined everything, because Liv knew, now, and he was certain she'd never forgive him.

"Are you out of your goddamn mind?" Olivia asked him softly, angrily, and he spun towards her, watched her cross her arms over her chest in the darkness, saw the hurt and the grief in her eyes, and felt a hole open up inside his heart, his entire being crumbling into it, shattered into nothing.

"I made a mistake," he said. He'd done a hell of a lot more than that; he'd risked his life, his job, his operation, Ayanna's reputation, risked losing Olivia forever, just for a fuck, for a chance to feel something that didn't hurt. But it did, Jesus, it did, it hurt so fucking much, because after he came he opened his eyes and saw the face of a woman he loathed, saw the face of the man he shot, saw his own loyalty, his own honor, his own word broken and useless in the corner.

"A mistake?" Olivia hissed. "That what you're calling it?"

"Look, it was a bad day." He was so frustrated he knew the words came out too hard, too sharp, sounding too much like he was proud of what he'd done. It wasn't pride he felt; it was horror, deep and thick and sweet and choking him, and it wasn't Liv he was frustrated with. She had every right to be angry; he hated himself, too, just now.

""This is exactly what we were afraid of," Liv was starting to pace, gravel crunching under her boots. "You're too raw, Elliot, and you're letting this job get to you. You're not Eddie fucking Wagner."

"I know that."

"Do you?"

The question shook him, more than he thought it would. Did he know that? Did he know who he was? Had he lost himself completely? Eddie, he'd be high after the robbery, buzzing after shooting someone, drunk on recklessness and looking for more, but what about Elliot? What would Elliot Stabler do, after a day like that?

You're Elliot, he told himself. Not Eddie. Eddie wasn't real - well, he was; Eddie Ashes was real and alive and out there in witsec somewhere - but Elliot was and what Elliot had wanted, after that god awful fucking day, when he'd been doubting himself and missing his kids and wanting, more than anything, to go home, was her. What Elliot wanted to do, what he should have done, after a day like that, was go to her. But he hadn't, and she hated him for it now, he could tell.

"I do," he said. "I know who am and what I want. I's like…" he was struggling to find the words, but he fought through it, fought through his own reticence and his own natural inclination to pummel his emotions with his fists because Olivia deserved that much, from him. She deserved the truth, and he wanted to give it to her, and he wanted her not to hate him, and he wanted her hand on his face when he came, not Flutura's. He'd taken on Eddie Ashe's life in a bid to run from his own, but he didn't want to be Eddie, any more. He wanted to be Elliot, and he wanted to love Olivia, and he wanted her to love him back.

"I got all this shit bottled up inside me and it needed somewhere to go."

She scoffed, that soft mouth of hers going hard, a sneer, almost, but she didn't fool him. Her mouth was angry but her eyes were sad and they cut him to the quick.

"Why her?" she demanded. "You need to get something off your chest you call me."

"I did," he told her through clenched teeth. "I damn near died and I called you and you didn't fucking answer."

That was the part that stung; he'd tried to do the right thing, but she hadn't been there for him when he needed her. Maybe he shouldn't have held that against her. He'd taken more than his fair share from her, the last few months, and he knew it, had taken and taken and taken, pulled her in and then spun her back out again and maybe it wasn't any wonder she hadn't picked up but if only she had maybe it would have been Olivia soft and wet underneath him and just the thought of it made him hard, and made him want to scream, both at the same time.

"So you fucked her?"

Why does that bother you so much? He wanted to ask her. Yeah, it was against regulations; UCs weren't supposed to have sex with their targets and if anybody found out there'd be hell to pay and another black mark on his record, but somehow he didn't think Olivia's concerns were professional in nature. But how could they be personal? He'd told her he loved her, showed up at her door and told her it will always be you and I, had reached for her just like she'd asked him to, and yeah, she'd been there for him, had picked him up off the floor, taken care of him, taken care of his kids, but when he got too close she pulled back, and he was starting to think she didn't want him at all. Maybe her anger now was proof that she did, or maybe she was just sick of having to clean up after him.

Maybe the time had come for him to find out for sure.

"You know what? Yeah, Liv. Yeah, I fucked her. And I was thinking about you the entire goddamn time."

He'd closed his eyes and thought of her, lost himself in the vision of her dark eyes, her deft hands, remembered the light, citrusy smell that seemed to follow wherever she went, remembered the sound of her laughter and the flash of her teeth behind soft lips, let himself want her, and just the thought of her had him falling apart in a second. Maybe she needed to know that.

She was standing maybe three feet away from him, and the night was dark but they were still in the city and so there was light enough for him to see it, to see the way she rocked back on her heels, the way her mouth fell open in shock for an instant before she closed it tight again.

It's out there now, he thought. He wasn't hiding from it, anymore, wasn't gonna stand there and pretend like he didn't want her, in every way it was possible to want someone. He wanted her by his side in the interview room and he wanted her underneath him in his bed and he wanted her holding his hand at a table with all their children gathered around it. He wanted her rage and her laughter and her tears, wanted her tongue and the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, wanted every broken piece of her with every shattered piece of himself and it was well past time he told her so, because he'd wanted it for twenty fucking years.

"That supposed to make me feel better?" she asked, and she meant to sound hard but there was a breathy quality to her voice that made him hopeful. Made him wonder if she was thinking about it, too. About her thighs soft at his hips, about his lips on her neck, about his cock driving inside her. Slowly, very slowly, he moved towards her, and she stood tall and proud, and didn't back down.

"Every minute of every day, I'm thinking about you," he told her, his voice low and full of heat. "Where you are, what you're doing, whether you're safe. If you're thinking about me. Wondering if you'll ever let me touch you."

He was close now, close enough to see the shine of her eyes, watching him in the darkness. If his words moved her she didn't show it, didn't let her lips part in want, didn't soften for him, didn't sway towards him, lulled by the alluring promise of his words. That wasn't Liv; Liv was hard, and fierce, and she wouldn't let him have her so easily. Nothing had ever been easy, with Liv.

"You think about whatever you want to," she told him coolly. "But you were fucking her."

"You telling me it should have been you instead?"

"Fuck you, Elliot," she said. "I'm tired of your excuses. I'm tired of you saying one thing and doing something else, and I'm tired of you reaching for everybody in the goddamn world but me. Either I matter to you or I don't. Either you want me or you don't."

Saying one thing and doing something else; was that what this looked like, to her? Was that what this was? He thought about it, for a second, thought about every minute of every day for the last twenty two years. Thought about divorcing Kathy and dating other people who weren't Liv, thought about going back to Kathy and the look on Liv's face when he told her Kathy was pregnant. He thought about Dani Beck, and Angela Wheatley, and Flutura fucking Briscu. Thought about all the times he'd wanted Liv, but reached for someone else, and thought about the fact that it had never occurred to him, before now, that she'd noticed. That it had hurt her. All those times, all those other women, he'd done what he thought he was supposed to, reached for the body that was there, and not the one he wanted. What Liv needed to know, he thought, was why.

"I want you," he said. "I want you so goddamn much it's making me crazy. But you don't want me, Liv. I'm no good for you, and every time I get close you pull back."

"Because you're a fucking lunatic!" she exploded suddenly, fiercely. "If you're gonna touch me I need to know that you're gonna stay and I can't trust you."

"Is that what you think?" he was grinning, now. She'd called him a lunatic and Jesus, he felt like one. Felt himself right on the edge of madness, something that felt like victory swelling in his chest, because even though Liv was angry, even though she hadn't seen it yet, she'd just given him all the reassurance he ever needed, and he was about to give it right back to her.

"You ever let me touch you, I'd never look at another woman again," he told her. "All this time, all I've been doing is trying to fill the space where you oughta be."

"You can't just say shit like that to me." Her voice was unsteady now, and he knew exactly why. She didn't want to hear it from him because she wanted it so fucking badly, and she thought that dream, that dream of them together, all their ragged edges slotting into place, the two of them bound up tight never to be torn asunder, was something she was never gonna have. He'd prove her wrong; he'd give her everything, if she'd only take it.

"You know what I want," he told her. "I want the same damn thing I've always wanted. What do you want, Olivia?"

If she'd just tell him, just give him some sign that all this time she hadn't just been helping him out of a sense of duty, that she just hadn't been giving him what she thought she owed him as a friend, if she'd just tell him that she wanted him, they'd be all right, he was certain of it. He knew who he was, when he was with her, and if she'd only be with him, he could stop running. He could stop looking for the comfort he was never gonna find anywhere else, could stop chasing a moment of peace and live in peace instead, if only he knew that she loved him.

"I want you to stop fucking around," she answered. "You want me? Prove it."

And that was a command he had no problem following. She was beautiful, gorgeous in the darkness, in her anger and her want, but she was always gorgeous. It was more than the beauty of her that compelled him, more than the strength of his body's reaction to her proximity; it was her strength, and her hurt, and the hope he carried in his chest, the hope that told him his hands had the power to heal her, if she'd just let him, and she'd asked him, to now, and oh, he was gonna. She needed proof that she was the one he wanted, proof that he would love her, and stay, and stray no more, proof that he could be the man she needed him to be, and he was gonna give it to her.

He reached for her, caught his hands in her hair and pulled her in hard, and she fell into him, ready, eager, still angry enough to let her teeth catch his lip when he kissed her. More than twenty years he'd been looking at her mouth and wondering, wondering how those soft lips would feel against his own, wondering how she'd taste, wondering what sounds she'd make when he caught her ass in his hands and hauled her up against him, and now he knew. Knew that she was warm, and soft, and full of fire, knew that she tasted sweet, knew now that she wouldn't just wait and let him take her over. Her tongue surged past his, heavy in his mouth, and his left hand tangled in her hair, felt the silkiness of it like he'd wanted to do for years, and his right hand clenched hard around the soft swell of her ass and she moaned. She was the answer to every question, the right to every wrong, and he was burning alive with need of her.

But he wasn't gonna fuck her standing on the gravel in front of the van, so he half-carried, half dragged her over to it, his hands never leaving her, not for a second, her mouth fighting to stay connected to his even as they moved. The brush of her tongue against his own just made him think of that mouth on his cock, and he groaned into her, and she laughed, drank down the sound of it and pressed him for more.

At the short steps leading up into the van he paused, dropped his hands to her hips and guided her in because it hadn't been that long since she'd been hurt, and the last thing they needed was for her to break her ankle right now. They'd never be able to explain this to Ayanna; Liv never should have been anywhere near the van, let alone breathlessly trying to kiss him while she stumbled inside it, and he didn't want his boss's displeasure - or anything else - to taint the beauty of this moment.

Liv must have noticed the change in him; once they were aside she turned to face him, and her expression was soft, and warm, and her hands were tender when they landed on his bare arms.

"It's always been you," he told her then, his hands still on her hips while he kicked the door closed behind them. "And it's always gonna be you, Liv, I swear to God." The words came out sacred as a marriage vow, and he meant them, meant them down to his bones, and he saw the way her breath stuttered, for a second, saw the way her eyelashes fluttered with the impact, and he knew then that she understood it.

"It's always been us," she said. Liv was like him; she didn't voice her feelings easily, didn't want to be vulnerable, didn't confess to the desires of her heart unless forced, and in that word us he heard everything he needed to. Heard twenty-two years of grief, twenty-two years of her watching him walk away and wishing he wouldn't, heard the promise of a lifetime spent making up for lost time, heard her say she believed, as he did, in them, and that meant more to him than love, more than anything else. Us was a vow, a bond, the thing they became when they were together, a single whole more powerful, more unstoppable, more beautiful than either of them could be on their own. Us was a promise that felt like godhood.

He reached for her and she fell into him and everything was moving, again; lips and tongues, wet and searching, his beard burning her mouth and her not trying to stop it, not for a second. Hands, tugging, pulling, until all their clothes were gone and they were still standing and he sank his mouth over one dark nipple while her hands clutched at his back, his ass, her nails scratching him lightly, like she knew already just what he liked, and the sounds coming out of her mouth told him that he'd found what she liked, too. She liked the swirl of his tongue over her nipple, liked the deep pressure of him drawing as much of her breast into his mouth as he could, liked his hands hard on her ass. He slid one of those hands between her legs and she was slippery, wet for him, soft for him, on fire for him, moaning for him.

There were a dozen different ways he could have her and he didn't think she'd complain about any of them, but he'd not changed the sheets since he'd fucked Flutura, and he wouldn't have Olivia for the first time in a bed where the memory of that ridiculous woman lingered. He could have picked her up, held her tight right there where they stood, but he wasn't sure how long they'd manage, and he wanted more of her than that. He could have backed her up against the bench or the door or laid her out on the floor, but there was a little window right behind her, and with the faint glow of the streetlights on the other side of it if he took her there he'd be able to see their reflections in the glass, and he wanted that. Wanted to watch not just her but them, to see it all, all of her and all of him from every possible angle.

In two short steps he had her there, spun her in his arms and pressed himself against her back, his cock nestling against the softness of her ass, and Liv, she read his mind, the way she always did, planted her hands on the glass so her fingerprints would linger, after, a reminder of this night, and he caught her gaze in their reflection, saw her eyes, dark and heavy with lust, and took a moment just to breathe in the sight of them.

Carefully he brushed her hair back from her shoulder, planted his lips on the soft skin he'd revealed there and sucked a mark into the crook of her neck while his hands rose up to cradle her breasts and she arched in his embrace. The pressure of his mouth and the sting of his teeth just made her moan; he'd half expected her to tell him to stop, but the sound of her voice told him she liked this, too, that she wanted him to mark her, to leave behind a memory of his own. One of her hands left the window, reached up to cover his at her breast, encouraged him to clutch at her harder, and when he did she shivered.

"It should have been you," he whispered when he was satisfied with the darkening bruise he'd left on her neck. "Every time, it should have been you."

"Make it up to me, then," she told him breathlessly, and he grinned, his teeth flashing in the reflection on the window.

He kept his left hand on her breast and reached down between her legs, dragged his fingertips through her wetness until he found her clit, and then he set to with a will, rubbing circles around and around the center of her pleasure while she shivered and bucked into the touch of his hand, widening her stance and giving him room to work between her soft thighs while he ground his cock against her ass.

"Yes," she panted at him. "Yes, come on."

For every woman he'd been with he knew there were men who'd had Olivia, men who'd touched her, fucked her, made her come, made her love them, maybe. And yes, he'd been jealous even when he had no right to be, had spent as much time resenting the men who got to have her as she resented the women who'd had him, and really, he thought, they were so fucking stupid, because if they'd just had this conversation fifteen years ago maybe he could have spent all this time between her legs, and happy, and none of those men and none of those women would ever have had the chance to haunt them. Then again, maybe not; maybe they hadn't been ready, fifteen years ago. Maybe it was always meant to be now. Maybe he'd just been working, all this time, to become the man she needed him to be.

"You're gonna come for me," he told her. It wasn't a question; he slipped his fingers inside her and dragged his left hand down to work her clit and the angle was awkward but worth it, worth it for the soft scent of her hair and the silk of her skin and the slick of her arousal on his fingers, for the sight of her hands, curled against the glass, the sight of her face in the reflection, flushed and tight from pleasure, for the clench of her cunt around his fingers, the sound of her panting for him.

"Promise?" she asked him, teasing, and he redoubled his efforts and in a second she was, bearing down hard against him falling apart right there in his arms. He felt it, felt the release take her, and wash away the pain they'd both been carrying for so long now, and he gave her a chance to catch her breath, drew lazy patterns over her clit with fingers soaking from her until he was certain that she was ready.

He took that hand and spread her wetness over his cock, and then he slid forward, and she canted her hips and let him, and they groaned together as he drove into the soft wet heat of her. Tight, she held him tight, like she was never gonna let him go, but he rocked his hips against her until he was so deep inside her that neither of them could draw in a breath, his hips flush against her ass, his eyes watching hers in the reflection.

All I've been doing is trying to fill the space where you oughta be, that's what he'd told her, and he wondered then if she'd just been doing the same thing, if every man she'd ever held had just been a placeholder while she waited for this, for him. He wanted that to be true. Maybe that made him a dick, but he wanted it just the same.

With his cock buried inside her he reached for her, caught her breast in one hand and slid the other gently up to her neck, felt her pulse thundering beneath his palm, watched in the glass the way she leaned back into him, watched her chest heaving, her legs trembling, her eyes fluttering closed. Watched himself holding her, watched himself inside her, and understood, maybe for the first time, what people meant when they said making love. Understood that they were making something here, something new, working together to forge themselves into one body. For so long now he had felt, on some level, as if they shared the same heart, the same mind; every thought he had she heard it, and every longing she dreamed of he felt it, but now that heart had slid together and their bodies with it and they were one, and whole, and he couldn't look away from the vision of them even for the instant it would take to blink.

"Please," she breathed when she'd had enough of standing still, and he watched her eyes open, watched her looking at them, seeing the same thing he did, seeing her hands on the glass and his hand on her throat, cradling the most vulnerable piece of her but not hurting her, protecting her instead.

"I love you," he told her, because she deserved to hear it, and then he drew his hips back, and slammed forward again, and she cried out, her voice throaty and deep, and they lost themselves in one another.

Harder and harder, faster and faster he took her, holding on to her throat, her breast, anchoring himself to her while her soft hair caressed his bare skin and his cock sank inside her, slick with her, falling into the tight clench of her heat with reckless abandon. She held herself still and open for him, steady for him, the way she always was, let the hurricane of his need for her break against the rocks of her unrelenting love of him and Jesus, nothing had ever felt this good. This wild, this fierce, this free, this right. This woman, in his hands, where she always should have been. He'd promised her that if she let him touch her he'd never look at anyone else again, and he'd meant it when he said it but now he knew that it was true, knew it in a way he never could have known until this moment. He was hers, now and always.

"Elliot," she gasped his name, not Eddie but Elliot.

This is who you are, he told himself as he fucked her, as he buried himself inside her again and again, felt her begin to clench around him. He was Elliot Stabler, and he loved this woman, and she owned him, and nothing in the world was more beautiful, more powerful than that.

He wanted to feel her come again and so he abandoned his hold on her breast, slipped that hand back between her legs, found her clit again and listened to the sound of her cries rising higher and higher, the sweetest song he had ever heard.

"I wanna feel you," he told her. "Let go, baby. Let go. Just let me."

And she did; she did. She let him, let him have as much of her as he'd given to her of himself, let him touch her, hold her, fuck her until she cried his name, and came apart around his cock. Sucking at him, drawing him in deeper and deeper, so tight he couldn't have withdrawn even if he wanted to. But he didn't, didn't want that, didn't want to be parted from her even for a second. He ground his hips against her ass and watched her falling apart in the window until his own satisfaction claimed him and he spilled himself inside her with a roar of her name.

He stayed right where he was, panting against her skin, listening to the ragged sound of her breathing, his eyes finally closed but the vision of them burned into the back of his eyelids. He dropped his head and kissed her shoulder, kissed her again and again until he finally started to go soft inside her, and she drew her hips forward and let him slide away. The loss of her heat made him frown, and he looked up, then, searched for her face in the glass until he found her eyes, and saw that she was crying.

"Olivia," he breathed, and turned her in his arms, anxious now, terrified now, scared out of his mind that he had finally been given a taste of everything he'd ever wanted and she was going to take it all away again.

He only had a second to take in the sight of her, the tears sparkling like diamonds on her lashes, the mark of his mouth on the side of her neck, the flush that painted her skin. Only a second, and then she had wound her arms around him, buried her face in the crook of his neck. He wrapped her up in his arms, held her tight and close, and waited, breathless, until she spoke.

"Don't ever leave me again," she told him, and relief surged through him, left him weak and relaxed and at peace. Those tears had frightened him, but he understood now. She was only scared, as he was scared, of losing the most precious thing in her life. But he didn't want to leave, and she didn't want him to go, and he figured that meant they were gonna be all right.

"Never," he promised her. "You're stuck with me now."

She laughed, a bit wetly, and raised her head, looked up at him with those eyes so dark and soft and warm, those eyes that had haunted him for years.

"Promise?" she said.


He sealed that vow with a kiss, and then took her at last to his bed, and held her there in the darkness. Nothing else mattered, not work or grief or Flutura or any of the rest of it. He was Elliot Stabler, and he was holding Olivia Benson, and he loved her, and he was never going to let her go. No matter what came next he would fight, every minute of every day, just to be with her. What God has joined together let no man put asunder.