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the dichotomy of love

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They had been toeing the line like it was a game of chicken, lately. Dangerously close to getting burned with the fire they played with. 


The way he’d texted her constantly. Asked her about her days. Reached out and talked to her. Flirted with her. 


He was making the effort. He wanted to know what happened. He wanted to get to know her again. 


It’s what friends do, he’d tell her. 


Friends didn’t flirt with each other like he did. Act like school children with crushes, bringing one another coffees and lunch dates, excusing them for meetings or to discuss his kids. 


So she’d begun to fill him in on all the important things. They’d finally discussed her relationships, about Cassidy, about Tucker. He’d outright asked about Noah’s father, and had been surprised to find out he was actually adopted. She told him that she’d almost lost him, between Sheila taking him, and IAB investigating her for child endangerment. She’d trusted him enough to finally let him in and talk about the horrors of everything that happened to her too. About Lewis, about her scars, about her nightmares. She trusted him again, and slowly let him all in. 


And he continued to hold her heart in his hands. Shared with him the ghosts that haunt her in her sleep after confiding in him that she’d slept terribly again the night before. 


So he’d held her shaking body when she cried it all out, telling him about her latest nightmare until she could gain enough control of herself back when he’d finally spoken. 


Her eyes close in concentration as he whispers to her. The soft you’re so strong, I love you falling from his lips, and she wrestles with trying to fight back the tears she’s holding in. 


She needs him to stop it. 


“Please stop saying that.”  It’s not a question, but a statement. A demand. 


She hears how annoyed he is in his silence. She doesn’t even need to look up at him to see the frustrated look on his face. 


“Why?” He finally says after a beat with a drawn out sigh.


He's said it a few times now, and every time, it makes her heart race. Every time it sends her falling, plummeting.


“El,” She warns him, softly. 


“Can’t a friend tell his friend he loves her? Friends do that.”


God the way it makes her feel so, so wanted. She can count on both hands the amount of times her mother had said I love you to her. She thinks Serena had probably only meant it once or twice. 


And many men throughout the years had said it to her— I love you. It never seemed to hold any depth. Olivia Benson always had men falling over her, falling for her. 


She’d just never felt the same way until him.  


Even before he’d ever uttered the words, she’d felt it. 


“Not-Not friends like us. Not friends like we are.” 


They say actions speak louder than words, and she knows it’s true. 


In the countless years of late night coffee and take out. The way he’d insist she’d blink her lights, no matter what. In the way he’d chosen her instead of a member of the public, a child. And he’d do it again. She knows, because she’d choose him all the same. 


It scares her. 


Terrifies her beyond belief.


But it was exhilarating, too.


“You tell me you want me to be honest with you, and then when I am, you tell me to stop.” He’s frustrated, and she gets it. She would be too, if their roles were reversed. “Liv, what are we doing here? What is this?” 


“You’ve asked me that already, and I told you, we’re friends.” It's an excuse. She knows it. He knows it. 


“We’re not, though, no let me rephrase that, I don’t want to be.” He reiterates. She knows he’s over dancing around with her. He’s over the games of them ignoring what’s right in front of them. 


She swallows hard, thinking about her next question, thoroughly.


“What do you want to be?” She asks softly, but she already knows the answer. 


“I think you know.” He’s annoyed, frustrated, his patience was wearing thin 


She needs to hear him say it, though. 


Even if he’d placed the ball in her court. She’s passing it back to him now. 


She needs to hear him say it. 


“You have to say it.” 


“Really? You need to hear me say it?” He practically scoffs. “You know what I want, Olivia? I want to be able to pull you into my arms whenever I feel like it. Kiss you when I want, like when you’re sad, or happy, or just had a long fucking day at work. I want to be able to touch every inch of you, memorize every curve, every scar, every muscle twitch of your body as you come undone with me. I want to be able to tell you I love you-” she shudders again as he says it, she can see the fire in his eyes, hears the seriousness in his voice as he pauses and breathes loudly. “I want to be able to tell you that I love you without you wanting to fucking run every damn time!” She flinches at his tone, the way he had gotten so angry, so defensive of his love for her tonight. 


The way he wouldn’t let it go. Wouldn’t let her drop it or try to run. 


The way the feeling sent through her entire body. The way her chest felt full at just the weight of his words. 


Because when he says it, when he says I love you she feels it. She feels loved by him. It’s not just a comment in passing or a statement from him, ever.


She knows he means it, right now, and whenever else he’ll say it again.


She’s never felt like this for anyone before. 


She’s never felt so terrified, yet so exhilarated either. 


It’s like looking out of the window on the highest level of the Empire State Building, looking over the bustling city. It’s that feeling someone gets right at the top of the roller coaster as it tilts down and sends them careening downward. It’s the fear, like she’s had before, of staring down countless barrels of guns that were shoved in her face. It's the peace when she comes home from a long and tumultuous case and sees her son sleeping soundly in his bed. 


It’s a rush of everything.  


It pounds in her ears like rushing water. It courses through her veins. Shivers down her spine. Shakes her to her core. Makes the hairs on her arms and the back of her neck stand up, but warms her like a hug. 


It's electrifying. 


It is terrifying.  


She loves it. 


She hates it. 


And he doesn’t even get it. 


She’s never even come close to anything like this before. 


With Ed, god, he’d run himself off before she could begin to think of the lies to tell him, the cop outs. He’d mentioned retirement, for himself and she’d let him think that it was panic and a dig towards her. She’d let him think that it was that fear. The fear of him wanting her to retire. 


But it hadn’t been fear of that. It had been the fear that she could never love him. She thought maybe, maybe it could have been something. But she didn’t want it to be. She couldn’t. Not when her heart had already been given to someone else, what seemed like a lifetime ago. 


It had been so long at this point, and she’d accustomed herself to knowing that she’d never feel that way for anyone else except him, so Ed had let her go, without needing an explanation, and for that she was grateful for.


Brian had even told her. He’d said he loved her, said you’re the love of my life, Liv, but you’ll never bare your soul to me , because he’d known too. Even when she’d told him that she did love him he knew it was a lie. He knew, from the moment she had stepped out of that beach house. From the moment she had held her gun in his face. The look in her eyes. The sounds of her screams in the middle of the night. For him. He was right, she would never bare her soul to him, she would never be able to give him her heart because he had already taken it with him when he’d left. 


She thought maybe she’d come close, with Burton. She’d even said it, I love you, but looking back now, she knows it was nothing like how she feels now. She’d been a child back then. He'd manipulated her. Groomed her. Used her. That I love you had meant nothing. He hadn’t been her soulmate, no matter what she might have thought. Her’s was still years away from meeting her yet. 


The only person who’s ever come close to making her feel like she does now is her favorite little boy. She remembers the first time he’d ever said it to her, barely able to talk himself, his chubby hands on her face as he was kneeling on her stomach, his knees pressing into her as he squeezed her cheeks. Love Mama he had said and it made her heart race. She was loved and it felt like flying.


It was the very same now, except the polar opposite. Because her love for Noah, it exceeded every line ever drawn. He was her child. He was her son. The love she had for him was immeasurable. 


And it was much the same for him too. Yet vastly different, because she wouldn’t love her son in the same way she loved him. It was the same. But it was so very, very different. 


And that’s where the fear came in. 


He is her equal. He is her partner, not her child. 


The way she felt for him was not the same. 


“So why won’t you let me?” His tone is so soft again, so timid and careful, fragile. 


She just stares at him, unmoving. The air around them is thick, and her head is spinning, reeling, rushing. She feels dizzy. 


And he’s still, silently staring back at her, trying to read her, she knows. But she’s closed off, the door is locked, the walls are sky high. She is impenetrable. 


But he is determined, ever so. 


And his face shifts. 


His demeanor changes. 


His eyes soften. 


It is then that she realizes he knows. 


And her walls come tumbling down. 


And he picks up the key, unlocking that door, and he enters.


She greets him there. 


And he presents her with her heart he’d already taken. 


“I’m scared.” She reveals, and it feels like air rushing into her lungs. A weight off her chest. 


And before she can even say another word, he’s pulling her into his arms, disregarding the boundaries she’s tried keeping in place, and he holds her. 


And she lets him. 


“I am terrified of us because of the way I feel about you.” She pauses to take an unstable, deep, shuddering breath. “You are the longest relationship I've had with a man. You scare me, Elliot. This scares me. I've never had this life filled with love. I thought I’d known what love was before, and then you came along and ripped the ground right out from underneath my feet.”


His hands have now made their way into her hair, and as worked up as she was, it calms her down, he knows this, because he knows her.  


“You know Noah is the only person I've told I love, and meant it? And you know what terrifies me even more? The fact that I've felt like this, for you, for years. Even before you left. And I was so terrified that by me telling you how I felt it would ruin our partnership. So I had kept quiet. And then you left, taking my heart with you in the process. And even after you left me for an entire decade, even after having other relationships, I still love you. I still want you, Elliot. That is what fucking terrifies me about this. That is why I am so scared to let you in, to let you be able to do all that.” 


She can feel his chest leveling out beneath her palms as his ministrations in her hair simmer out. 


“I want all of that too, El. I do. I’m just scared to let you in completely.” 


“What more do I not know? You said you told me everything. I know about Cassidy, Tucker, Lewis taking you. I know about Noah, and Sheila. I know about your scars, the nightmares, the PTSD. What more is there to know? You’ve already let me in.”


She can feel her heart start racing again, because that was exactly why. 


She already had let him in, without even realizing it, again. 


Because loving him was so fucking easy, it was second nature. Like breathing. It was something she was meant to do, born knowing how to do it. 


“You really want this?” 


She’s giving him one last chance to leave, to bolt, to never come back. 


But he just pulls his hand from her hair and touches her chin, gently, tilting her head up as he looks in her eyes. 


“I want this, I want you, Olivia.” He tells her. “But I need you to make sure this is what you want, too. Make sure you’re ready. Because this is it, Liv. There’s no going back. I’m not running, I’m not letting you run. I’m not leaving again. We’re partners, for better or worse.” 


“Sounds awfully like a proposal there, Detective.” She jokes with him, patting his chest lightly. 


“Not yet.” He says without missing a beat. And it makes the butterflies inside her stomach flutter. 


A comment that would’ve scared her mere hours ago, should’ve sent her running far away, only made her swoon at the prospect. 


“What if it starts going wrong?” Her fear comes creeping back in, rearing its ugly head. 


“We won’t let it, I won’t let it.” 


“What if the boys hate each other? Hate us together?”


She’s looking for excuses now, stalling. 


“They’re going to get on each other’s nerves, it’ll happen. Siblings fight all the time. We’ll work through it. Noah loves me, and I’ll show him how happy I make you, or bribe him with ice cream.” He teases and she laughs lightly, hitting his chest playfully. 


“And Eli?”


She feels him take a deep breath against her before continuing. “I can imagine it’ll probably be hard for him, but we’ll work through it together. He just needs a support system, and you’ve already been there for him. What's the difference in being around whenever I need you, you and Noah coming for dinner more frequently, and sometimes staying over? Kissing you when I feel like it? I guess I’ll contain myself around him if it bothers him. But he’ll have to understand that you’re in our lives, and I don’t want you going anywhere.” 


He’s ready with an answer to absolutely everything, and she just feels her resolve fading more and more as she continues to hold his gaze through each question. 


“What if I’m too scared to admit I’m ready?”


He smiles down at her, and tips his head down. And she panics, because she knows exactly what’s happening. But he’s holding her steady in his arms, one hand on her waist, the other cupping her cheek as he leans down kissing her, taking the chance. 


Her eyes flutter close as his lips press against her. They’re soft against hers as he takes her bottom lip in between his own. His tongue sliding into her mouth, exploring her. 


She tastes him on her lips when he pulls back, leaving her breathless, and her lips tingling. 


“Are you ready to admit it now?” He asks, leaning his forehead against hers. 


She swallows hard, her eyes still shut as she tries to regain control of her erratic heartbeat. 


Yeah, she’s ready. 


She just nods her head, knowing her words would fail her if she tried, and he guides her lips back to his again one more time. 


“I’m ready.” 


And suddenly, she’s flying again. That fear she once had, is all washed away.