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There is, and always has been, something about her hair. Something that draws him in, something that makes it impossible for him to think about anything other than that hair, and how it might feel to run his fingers through it. There was a time when he thought maybe it was just the color of it, thought it was just the allure of something different after a lifetime spent in the company of blonde haired women. And then she sheared it all off, and that was different, too, and exciting in its own way. Back in those days, the early days, the year before the towers fell and the years that followed after, when they were young and wild and owned the whole fucking city, her hair was short and sometimes he'd go to wake her in the crib and it would be sticking out in all directions and his hands would twitch, down by his sides, thinking about what might happen if he just reached out and touched it. Then she grew it long again, long and thick and heavy and when it swung over her shoulder, fell over those dark eyes, he wanted, more than anything, to brush it back, to let his fingertips glide across the tender skin at her temple, watch her smile in wonder as he tucked it back behind her ear.

The way she is smiling at him now, sitting on the island in the middle of his kitchen.

Her hair now is long and soft and gently curling, dark as ever but highlighted here and there in a way it never was before. It is heavy, still, thick and beautiful and shining like gold under the lights that twinkle just above her. Her hair is a river washing back from the movement of his hand, a river of silk against his skin, and it feels like nothing he has ever known, like something he wants to feel again, every day for the rest of his life. If her hair is silk her skin is satin, warmed by the touch of his hands, thin and delicate there at her temple, at her brow, and he is gentle with it, gentle as he tucks that fall of dark hair behind her ear, and there is something warm, and sweet, and innocent in her dark eyes.

Innocent is maybe not an accolade that can be ascribed to Olivia Benson; she is, like him, the wrong side of fifty now, a lifer on the job, and she has seen horrors that the human mind was not meant to comprehend. She has gone to bed with men, a number of men, a number he does not know. The beast of jealousy that lives in his belly wants to know that number, wants the full reckoning, wants names and dates, wants to know exactly how hard he will have to fight to banish the memory of them, but his heart is afraid of it. His heart knows how many women his hands have touched, and his heart knows that number is small, compared to hers, and his heart wonders if she will find something in him worth having, when she has seen so much. She has been touched, he thinks, in every way it is possible to be touched, and he wonders if the way he touches her will be enough.

But innocent, still, is what he thinks when he looks at her now. With her hair swept back from her face she is bare to him, and smiling. She is sitting on the island in his kitchen, and he is standing between her parted thighs, and her arms are looped around his neck, and the island is just tall enough that she has to tilt her chin down, ever so slightly, to meet his gaze. Her cheeks are flushed and her lips, her perfect, soft, warm lips are red, red not like her lipstick but red like her blood, plump and parted still from his kiss. He has done that, made her blood run like fire through her veins, left her watching him breathless, and hopeful, looking at him like she wants him to be good, to her, for her, and Christ, he wants to be good.

Kissing Olivia Benson is something he has been dreaming about for years, and before tonight it has only ever been that, only ever been a dream, but now it's real, and her hands are curling behind his head, her fingers dragging softly down his neck, and one of his own hands is resting on her soft, warm thigh, and shit. It's the sweetest dream he's ever had.

"Hey," he says, a little hoarsely. He's lost all track of time; how long has he been kissing her? When did he pick her up, put her on the island, or did she hop up there herself? He has no idea, and he is using this momentary break in the action to allow his mind the chance to catch up with his body, to see how far he has taken himself.

"Hey," she answers, and she is still smiling. Softly, sweetly.

Sweet. He'd never thought of her as sweet, before. His Olivia was all balls, brash and confident; his Olivia was in control of every room she walked into, of every relationship she had, the first to leave each of those men who threw themselves at her feet. But he knows, knows now and knew then and has always known, that if she was alway s the first to leave it was only because she has been left so many times, and was eager to avoid future heartbreak. Those men, she walked away before they had the chance to do the same to her. She was just protecting herself. She has, always, just been protecting herself. But she is with him, now. She is sitting on the island in his kitchen with her arms around his neck and his hand on her thigh and she is not running, and it is, he thinks, a gift.

It is also, maybe, a test. She is giving him a chance to show her all of himself, to show her what he can do, what he can be, if she'll just let him. She has given him the reins, but if he does not please her now, he will not ever get a second chance. He knows this, because he knows her.

And now he finds himself faced with what is, he thinks, the classic quandary of a first time fuck. Not that he's an expert, or anything, but still. There is the way he likes to fuck and there is the way she likes to fuck but neither of them knows yet how they like to fuck. Should he follow his own instincts, do what he likes, and see if she'll come along for the ride? Or does he play twenty fucking questions with his hand against her cunt trying to figure out what she likes?

It's possible he's overthinking this.

"Elliot," she says, and he likes that. He likes his name coming out of her mouth while her thighs are warm at his hips. His hand has drifted past her ear, is sinking into the glorious weight of all that hair, strands sliding through his fingers like water, and he likes that, too. He thinks she might like it, because when his fingers brush her scalp, when he spreads them out and cradles her skull in his palm, her eyes flutter closed, as if in bliss, as if in relief.

"You're so fucking beautiful," he says.

She is, she is, and always has been, so fucking beautiful. The most beautiful goddamn woman he's ever seen in his life. The models on tv, on the ads plastered to billboards and the sides of the buses in the city, they're all too skinny for his taste, and he's seen too many of them strung out on pills and starving to find any appeal in the aesthetic. Olivia is beautiful in a way that feels real, to him. He looks at her and sees a woman who has lived, who has eaten meals laughing with her friends and doesn't feel guilty about having a glass of wine with dinner, whose arms and legs are strong enough to protect her in a fight and soft enough to hold him. The wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and mouth remind him that she has lived as long as he has, that she has seen the horrors he has, and yet she still remembers how to smile. The wrinkles at her cleavage make him want to press his lips there, to learn the course of the creeks and rivers that wind across her skin with his tongue until she is as familiar to him as the streets of the city they love, the city that is their lifeblood, the city that gave them birth and made them who they are. She is beautiful the way home is beautiful.

When he says it she looks down and away, bashful, almost, like she doesn't agree with him but wants to take the compliment anyway, so he uses the hand at the back of her head to pull her back to him, and proves the truth of his devotion with his lips pressed once more to hers. If she will not believe his words maybe she will believe his tongue. He thinks she does, because her mouth opens under him and eager, they are eager, once again, falling into one another. His hand curls against her thigh and her hands curve over his shoulders and they wedge themselves close, closer.

Slowly he slides his right hand around her thigh, underneath it, down towards her knee, encourages her to lift that leg, to let her heel come to rest at the small of his back, to open her up that much more to the press of his hips, and she does, lets him direct her and does not fight him. Not, he thinks, because she needs to be guided but because whatever he wants, she wants the same. It's always been like that, between them. They have always known.

What he knows is this: she wants to be held. She wants his touch, the heat of him, the strength of him, must want it, if the way she is seeking him out is anything to go by, if the way her lips part under his and her tongue slides next to his own is to be believed. In his arms she leans back just a little, not to get away but just to see if he'll chase her, because she wants him to. She wants to be someone worth chasing, same as he wants to be the someone she'll let catch her. There isn't a lot of room for her to maneuver but her hips are rocking, just a little, seeking his, and he presses forward and he feels her hum sliding through her mouth and into his.

He wants to get the clothes off her, off him, wants them both bare and breathless, but to do that he will have to relinquish his grasp on her hair. This he does slowly, his hand retreating through the ocean of dark strands, feeling them fall away from his hand. His fingertips move as if in rewind, retracing the steps he took to get there, past the shell of her ear, along the line of her cheek, over the curve of her jaw. The pads of his fingers trail tenderly down the slope of her neck and he feels it, the hitch in her breath, the shiver that passes through her, when he pauses there.

The throat is a delicate thing. He can span hers in his hand. The Marines and a decade and a half working in SVU have taught him that a hand around a throat is lethal; one good, long squeeze, and that's it, game over. Everyone acknowledges the intimacy of other body parts, breasts cock cunt ass, but the throat, he thinks, might be the most intimate of all, the most vulnerable, because it's just there, and it is weak, and easily broken. Some people like that, he knows, the excitement of it, and with his fingers curling softly around the back of her neck, his palm flush to her skin, feeling the movement of ligaments and tendon and muscle as she swallows once, breathlessly, he thinks he understands it. There is trust in this, his hand around her throat and her not withdrawing from it. But there is power, and control, and threat in it, too. An abuser who has reached for his partner's throat in a fight is exponentially more likely to kill her; it is a line that once crossed cannot be found again, and he knows this, and will not ever unknow it.

His hands slides away from her neck, and they each draw in a breath, shallow and unsteady and in unison, like they share a single pair of lungs. He has broken her heart but he will not, cannot break her body, would cut off his own hand before he would ever use it to hurt her.

"Olivia," he breathes her name, low and soft and fervent as a prayer.

"It's all right," she says, like she knows what he's been thinking. She reaches for his hand, the hand so recently pressed against her neck, and draws it to her lips, kisses his fingertips and his heart constricts, flips over in his chest, tight and awestruck by her, by the tenderness of her. No one has ever touched him so reverently as this, so gently as this, and he thinks maybe that's because no one has ever known the limits of him the way she has. For everyone else he must be strong, and brave, and unbreakable, but he has shattered in her hands and she knows. That he can be vulnerable, that he can be uncertain, that he can be afraid. He's still fully dressed and yet he's never felt as naked as he does when she looks up at him through the thick fan of her eyelashes, dark eyes warm and full of care.

"I want…" he starts to say, but his voice trails off. What does he want? Everything, he thinks, wants her skin and her taste and her smell and her soft, wet heat wrapped around him, wants her lips on his knuckles and her eyes on his face just like they are now, wants her to hold him and never let him go. He wants to make her come and he wants to make her smile and he wants to make sure she knows that she is safe, here with him. He wants every one of her secrets, and he wants to give her all of his own in turn. He just wants.

"Here," she says, and threads her fingers through his. "Here," she says again, softer this time, catching his other hand. Palm to palm, thumb to thumb, they hold one another for a moment, and then she guides his hands down to the hem of her blouse and a lump forms at the base of his throat.

She wants, too, he thinks. I didn't know how to begin, he'd told her that night in December when she yanked the ground out from under his feet. That makes two of us, she'd told him, and he remembers how it felt, her saying that to him, the way it hit him in the chest, the realization that as much as he'd wanted a fresh start she'd wanted one, too. They have begun, now, have started to trust in one another, and she knows how to move forward and she is helping him move with her and Christ, he loves this woman.

While his fingers curl around her blouse her hands drift away from his, wrap around his wrists, a loose, gentle hold that is more about contact than control. With a great deal of care he lifts the fabric away from her, tugs it gently up and up, over her head, and she raises her arms, lets him pull it off her, lets him watch while that dark hair flows down her back, while she is revealed to him, at last. The heavy weight of her breasts is concealed beneath a plain tan bra, and that makes him smile, makes him think that she didn't plan on this, when she came over for a drink, because he knows her, and he knows she knows how to prepare for a date, and he is certain her top drawer is full of silk and lace but she didn't wear any of it tonight. She came here just to be with him, with no designs on ending up naked in his arms, but she is here, just the same, and strangely that reassures him. Besides, he doesn't want her made up and shaved and lotioned and plucked and smooth and prepared; he wants her just like this, just as she is. Perfect.

"Jesus," he says, because she is so beautiful just looking at her makes him want to pray, and she grins at him, a sharp flash of a proud smile.

"Good?" she asks.

"Very," he answers, and before she can say another word he winds his arm around her back, his skin on hers, his palm resting just over her ribs, and sinks his mouth over her breast. Soft, she is soft, and warm, warm and alive and beautiful, and she reaches for him, then, one hand catching his belt, pulling him closer, one hand curling over the back of his head, holding him to her.

"Yes," she breathes.

Yes, he thinks, mouths over the swell of her breast, nudges past the cup of her bra with his nose, seeking more, more, more of her. This is something he knows how to do even with his eyes closed, and so his hands find the clasp at her back, unfasten it, and then he is tugging her bra away and she is shimmying free of it and he has no sooner cast it over his shoulder than his tongue is on her nipple. That makes her gasp, soft and breathy, and he is hard for her, has been hard for her for the last ten minutes and probably, if he's honest, for the last twenty years. The delicate nipple between his lips is hard, too, and he suckles at it until she is reaching for him again, curling herself over him, pressing more of her breast into his seeking mouth and catching his ass in her hands, pulling him close while she pants wetly at the side of his neck.

"Fuck," she says, and I'm gonna, he thinks. The tempo between them is changing, growing faster, wilder, threatening to outpace them both. His heart is pounding in his chest so hard he can almost hear it, and her hands are eager, and if they're gonna do this then they're gonna have to do this.

With a wet, obscene little sound he pops her nipple out of his mouth and she raises her head like she knows what he's gonna do before he does it, and he grins at her. With both hands he catches hold of her, threads his fingers in her hair and pulls her head to his, lets their lips crash together, lets his tongue plunge into her mouth while her hands reach for his shirt buttons because she knows. Knows the only reason he's found the restraint to pull his mouth from her tits is that he wants to be inside her and they're gonna have to move things along if they're gonna get there before he comes in his pants like a teenager. There is the slightest tremble to her hands as she unfastens his shirt buttons, and that tremor makes him love her even more, if such a thing is possible, because god knows he's nervous and it's something like a relief, knowing she's nervous, too.

She wrenches the shirt from his back, and the movement forces him back from her just a little, but he doesn't want to stop kissing her and his mouth stays on hers, barely, lips parted, tongue dragging over her plump bottom lip. The shirt joins her bra behind him on the floor, and her hands are on his chest and his hands go seeking, dive beneath the waistband of her trousers to claw at her ass as best he can beneath the tight fabric.

Maybe it should feel stranger than it does, touching her like this. Maybe he should feel more uncertain. They've spent so long dancing around their feelings for one another, spent so long holding themselves back, pretending this desire doesn't exist, reminding themselves that it cannot ever be, and he'd always thought, before now, that he'd never be able to touch her, not really, that he'd never be able to silence the voice in the back of his head telling him he should keep his hands off her. In the moment, though, there is no strangeness, no reticence, no doubt. There is not even fear, though he knows that their relationship has changed, been changed, that after tonight - as of about ten minutes ago - what they were to each other has been left firmly in the past and a door has been opened to what they will be to each other. There is no more partners, and he's spent so long clinging to partners that he thought it'd be harder than this to let it go. Truth is, though, he's had her nipple in his mouth now, and he doesn't give a shit about partners anymore. He wants her skin and her mouth and the wet grip of her cunt and he knows already it'll be perfect, just like the rest of her. He wants to love her, and be able to tell her so, and he can't do that if he's her partner. Maybe later he'll regret it; right now, the only thought in his head is more.

Olivia keeps her nails short and round and neatly trimmed and painted in some pale color that only makes her skin look that much more tan, and she is dragging those blunt nails down the plane of his chest while her tongue surges in his mouth, and later he'll tell himself that was the moment he was sure that she didn't give a shit about partners, either. She wants to touch him; he hadn't put her hands on his skin. She did that, because she wants to.

Those hands make their way to his belt and he is still kissing her like the world is ending but he can't get as much of her ass in his grip as he would like so he resorts to reaching for her perfect breasts instead. Soft, she's so fucking soft, and there's so fucking much of her she spills over his fingers and when she unbuckles his belt he pulls away from her mouth with a wet smack because shit, he really wants to see this. Wants to see his hand, fingers pressing into the softness of her, her nipple hard under his palm, wants to see her hands, unbuckling his belt, and the sight of it makes his mouth run dry.

She huffs, a little, when she gets his belt undone but she can't reach to tug his pants down, and he tightens the grip of his hand against her breast and that huff turns into a wispy sigh, just this side of a moan. Maybe she likes that, pressure and the edge of his nails and the hint of pain but he can't bring himself to do more than this, more than just hold her, knead her a little, because he thinks of Liv in pain, even the sweet, delirious pain that leaves the kind of bruises he'd like to see after, and his heart constricts in grief. He's caused her too much pain already, he thinks.

"Help me out here, El," she breathes at him, and he laughs, dark thoughts momentarily forgotten.

"I'll do mine, you do yours," he says, dropping his hand and tugging on the waistband of her trousers where they're digging into the softness of her belly. They have always worked well in tandem, have always known what their roles are, have always moved in complement to one another, and now he thinks is no different. He shucks his pants and his briefs and his shoes, and Liv's boots hit the floor with a solid thunk, and he's tugging off his sock when she lifts herself up, shimmies out of her pants and her plain grey underwear and that makes him smile, same as her bra did, thinking she didn't mean to entice him and knowing she did anyway, but then he freezes just for a second, because they're naked.

Naked. Bare. She can see him, the ridges of defined muscles that mark the outline of his body, the butterfly tattoo a little too close to his groin that he got when he was young and dumb and that she has never seen before, the trail of coarse hair that curls around his nipples and then shoots straight down his chest, between his hips, pointing like an arrow that ends in the thickness of his cock, hard as steel for her. And he can see her, can see her collarbones and the swaying weight of her breasts, and the faint outline of old, faded scars that dot her skin and her soft belly and the thatch of curls at her center, dark and coarse, and he likes that, like that she isn't waxed and shaved, and it makes his mouth run dry, looking at her. There are her thighs, spread where she sits on the island. There is her hip. There are her nipples, and he's had them in his mouth, and shit, he's gonna have a stroke.

Those dark eyes of hers are watching him, drinking him in same as he is with her, but while this moment feels to him as if it has stretched into eternity only about three seconds pass between her pants hitting the ground and her reaching for him. Her palm lands right on that butterfly tattoo, covering it like she can feel the lines of the ink beneath her skin, and her fingers are perilously close to his cock and he snaps, then, pushes towards her, angles his hips and presses himself into her touch while his own hand slides between her thighs because he just has to know. With one look she can see how much he wants her, can see how hard his cock is, but he needs to feel her to know she wants him just as much.

And what he feels is wet, and hot, and slippery under his fingers. The movement of his body has brought his face close to hers again but he doesn't kiss her. Instead he hangs his head right next to her cheek, and she leans into him, her lips close to his temple. There is something tender in it that makes him want to weep, something comforting in the way she rests against him. There is something almost peaceful in it. There is something like coming home.

But she is so fucking wet and he can't help but slide one of his fingers inside her while his thumb goes searching and when he finds her clit she swears.

"Shit," the word slides past her lips, pretty as a song, and her hand abandons his tattoo in favor of just grabbing onto his cock, and he twitches in her grip, moans against her skin.

"You keep that up," he warns, tightly, and she laughs.

"What the fuck are we doing?" she asks him. It doesn't sound like she's afraid, though, or having second thoughts. It sounds like she's just caught off guard, and he can't blame her for that, because she just stopped by to see how he was doing and now he's got his finger inside her and he's not really sure, either, how they got from the front door to the island but the how doesn't really seem to matter so much anymore.

"I think it's pretty fucking obvious-"

"El-"

"I been waiting twenty years to touch you," he tells her. "Olivia, I've been in love with you so long I've forgotten what it felt like not to be. I just wanna come home."

Home. that word has haunted him, for the last ten years. For ten years he's been all over the world, running from himself. For ten years he's been trying to be happy wherever he's at, and longing, with all his heart, to go back to where he'd been. Home, for him, is a sedan with Olivia in the passenger's seat. Home is a yellow cab, and the press of bodies on the subway, and the blare of horns on a crowded seat, and greasy hot dogs off a cart. Home is her smile and the heat between her legs. Home is where the heart is, and his heart lives inside her chest.

The confession throws her off balance, he knows. He can see it, because she pulls her face back from his, just far enough so she can look into his eyes. And he lets her, lets her look, because her eyes, big and brown and beautiful, are his favorite eyes in the whole world, and he wonders if she feels the same way about his. If she is like him, if she has spent the last decade searching every pair of blue eyes she saw for some faint memory of him, the same way he has searched for her.

She's still got one hand on his cock but she reaches for him with the other, cradles his cheek in her palm in a touch so tender it makes him close his eyes for a second, draw in a deep, satisfied breath.

"I been waiting," she says, echoing his words. "For you to come home."

And she has been, he knows. There was that night in December she called him out over it, all the questions he hadn't asked her yet, still hasn't asked her. It's not that he doesn't wanna know, where she's been, what she's done - what's happened to her - because he does want to know but he is fucking terrified of the answers. Still, she has given him one of those answers, now. All this time she has been waiting for him to come home. All this time, she has been waiting, hoping, that he would. Ready, should that moment ever come. And now it has and he is here, standing between her bare thighs. What he wants to do now is make it up to her. What he wants to do now is prove to her that he's something worth waiting for. He knows already that she is.

They don't talk about it, what happens next. He doesn't ask and she doesn't either. There's no are you ready, or come here, or just like that. Instead he looks at her, and she looks at him, and he knows and she knows and his hips move forward at the same pace as her hand, guiding him towards her. Her thighs spread at the same instant he withdraws his hand from her cunt. Like a ballet, like they've rehearsed, and they haven't, but they don't need to. Not for this, not with each other. He wants to watch but he wants to touch her so he catches her thighs in his hands and rests his forehead against hers, keeps his eyes on the slow, steady progress of his cock and the way she brings him to her. Her hand is curled around him and she drags the head of him against her folds, soaks him in her for a second or two while they both hold their breath, hold still but shiver, anxious as a racehorse at the starting gate. The second he's inside her he's gonna lose it, he knows. The second -

"Jesus," the sound tears out of him like she reached down his throat and wrenched it out with her hands, because his cock is sinking inside her and she is clutching him so tight it makes his eyes water. With just enough of him inside her to keep him place she releases him; her hands fly to his ass and dig in hard and she ducks her head, buries her face in his shoulder. The silky brush of her hair and the ragged, unsteady wash of her breath against his skin make him ache. He's barely even in her, and already he feels himself on the verge of coming undone.

But he needs to move her; he's not gonna get much deeper, not like this. So he slides his hands under her ass, pulls her closer to the edge of the island, and she lifts her legs, locks them together around his waist and lets her hands drift over his back. Lets him angle her hips and press down, and in, and it's a tight fit and that thought is gonna haunt him for the rest of his life but she relaxes and he slides further, further, further. Just keeps fucking going until he's panting and desperate and he can feel her fluttering around him like she's already on the verge of coming just from this.

"Are you gonna-" he grinds out from behind clenched teeth.

"I'm just-" she gasps, breathless.

"Yeah," he says, because he heard it in her voice. She's overwhelmed, by this, and so is he. Overwhelmed by them, coming together at last, by the thought that this is him, inside of her, and she knows where he wants her and she's not moving so his hands leave her ass then, and he strums her nipple with one hand and thumbs her clit with the other and a sharp, surprised little cry leaves her, and then she is coming. Olivia is coming on his cock, buried as far inside her as it is possible for him to be. It is nearly the end of him, feeling this, the wet, tight, desperate grip of her around his cock, the shiver that passes through her, the way she pants and moans against his neck, but he takes a deep breath, and holds it, and closes his eyes tight, and fights off the inevitable as hard as he can until she relaxes, infinitesimally, and they both breathe out, relieved.

"Look at me," he says, and tangles his hands in that hair again, lifts her head, and her eyes have never been as clear and open to him as they are now. There is such hope in those eyes, such trust, such need, and for him, it is all for him. She has delivered herself into his hands, and she has been hurt so much, so many times, by so many people, has been abandoned and bruised, has mourned and picked herself up all on her own so many times, and yet she is, still, trusting him. Trusting him not to hurt her. Trusting him to take care of her. Trusting him not to leave. It is an earth shattering responsibility, her trust. He cradles her head in his hands but he is holding her heart, too, and her heart is a fragile, fearful thing, and he just wants to keep it safe.

"I've got you," he says, and her soft lips part on a thin gasp. "Always."

It is what Olivia has wanted all her life, what she has never had, it is the one thing he has wanted to give to her from the moment they met. She is his always, and he will be hers, if she'll let him. Nothing, not time or grief or the hurt they've inflicted on each other, not blood-stained hands or tear-soaked nights or unanswered phone calls or the love of other people, nothing has been sufficient to break the bond between them, and nothing ever will. It is them. It has always been them.

"You've got me," she says, affirming, offering.

There is the subtlest movement of her hips, then, as if she is seeking to draw even closer to him, and he groans, and begins to move, because it is impossible, now, to ignore the desperate calling of his body, begging to find release in her. He draws back, nudges forward, lazily, at first, just trying to find a rhythm he likes. Olivia's legs are still locked around his waist and she throws her arms out behind her, props herself up on her hands, and he can watch her breasts bounce and sway as her body meets his thrusts. Skin, he needs her skin on his own, and he reaches for her, catches her ribs in his hands. With every breath she takes he can feel it, her body expanding and contracting, and he thinks of something he heard once, and he'll never tell anyone where, but he thinks hearts are wild creatures, that's why our ribs are cages. He can feel the wild creature of her heart, battering its wings against the cage of her ribs beneath his hands, and he wants, more than anything, to set it free.

What restraint held him back before is gone now; she is too enticing, and he wants her too much. He just holds her steady, and his hips stop rocking and start pounding, and her whole body is trembling every time he crashes into her, and she is panting, and encouraging him, come on, come on, that's it, and she is tight and wet and shit, he never wants this to end. Just wants the clench and the slide and the wet of her, just wants to feel her molding around him. He is moving too forcefully, too quickly, to try to kiss her, but he leans forward, changes the angle between them so he's grinding against her clit with every pass of his hips, close enough now for his mouth to land over her breast. Lips open, tongue against her skin, it is not a kiss, exactly, is not a suckle, but it is the heat of him against the softness of her and the taste of her in his mouth and he likes it, and he hopes she does, too. His brain has all but shut down; he cannot speak, cannot spare the breath for it, but Liv finds the words.

"Come on, baby," she pants at him. Later he will tease her for that, for calling him baby, but he knows why she's done it. She's done it because she is lost in the moment, because she cares for him, because she wants him, because that is what she calls her lovers and he is one of them, now. He is one of her men, now, and by god he'll be the last one, if he has his way.

"Where," he gasps at her, because he has to ask, because he is close, now. He can hear the wet smack of their bodies every time he slams into her, can feel it from his toes to his hairline, the release roaring towards him, and she's too old to be worried about babies and he's been tested and he knows he's clean and if the tightness of her is anything to go by it's been awhile for her, and he trusts her, and she trusts him, and he knows where he wants to come but it is a decision he knows he cannot make alone.

"Inside," she pants at him. "Come inside me."

That alone is nearly enough to undo him. There are no barriers between them, nothing keeping him apart from her, and if he has to leave the warmth of her he'll cry but she doesn't want him to, either. She wants him to come. Inside her.

And he does; his hips pound against her feverishly and he groans, unable to stop it, and he's still got his hands at her sides, his thumbs brushing the underside of her breasts, and his head is hanging by her collarbone, and he has lost all finesse, is just racing for the finish line now. And she knows it, and finishes him off herself; she runs her hands over his head and whispers I want to feel it, and he comes with a roar, undone not just by the way she is holding him but by the thought that she wants to. He spills himself inside her, and he is inelegant but earnest in the way his body bows into her, the way the sweat-slicked skin of his cheek presses to her breast, and the way her hands are gently touching his scalp makes him think if he had hair she'd be threading her fingers through it. Bound, they are bound, now; or that's wrong, he thinks. They have always been bound. It's just that now they know it. Now there is no ignoring it, no gentle protestation, no misdirection, deflection, that can hide the truth of their binding. There is a piece of him inside her, now, and he wants to keep it there forever and she is not running away from him.

A small sound escapes her, then, while he rests in her embrace and she touches his skin tenderly and his cock slowly softens inside the molten heat of her and the slick of their release sticks their skin together. He thinks it might be a laugh, but when he raises his head he can see that there are tears in her eyes. Tears. She is weeping, and he swore, he swore to himself he wasn't gonna hurt her and he wasn't gonna take anything she didn't want to give him and he wasn't gonna do this and he's so afraid, for a moment, that he's done all the things he wasn't gonna do, that despite him trying, so fucking hard, to treat her gently he has still hurt her. Sometimes he thinks that's all he knows how to do, is hurt her. Even when he's trying not to, he just keeps bruising her. His hands were not made to hold delicate things.

"Hey," he says, reaching up to brush the tear from her cheek with his thumb and he is still inside her but this feels more intimate, somehow. He feels himself balanced on the edge of a knife, terrified of what she might say and yet needing to hear it, needing it more than his next breath.

"I'm okay," she says, her voice breathy and low, but he doesn't believe her, because he knows her, and he knows that she will swear she's fine even when she's breaking in half.

"It's just been so long since I was happy," she tells him.

Oh.

These are not tears of sorrow, then, or not tears of sorrow for what they have just done. If she feels sorrow now it is only sorrow for the woman she has been, the woman she had to become when he left, the woman who has not been happy for so long that just a taste of joy makes her weep. It is a sorrow he feels acutely, because he feels responsible for it. Whatever has been done to her has been done on account of him, because he was not there to stop it.

But he is here, now, and he will not ever, ever leave again.

"Will you let me," he asks her, looking deep, so deep, into her sweet dark eyes, "will you let me make you happy? Will you show me how?"

It is within his grasp, now, her happiness and his ability to make it real. Before it hung just out of reach, a fruit on the highest branch, and him unable to scale the trunk. They have sawed the tree in half now, though. Leveled the playing field. Razed every obstacle between them. Metaphors bounce round his head like a pinball in a machine and him in a daze, and he would have laughed, if he was not so fucking sorry.

"Just be here," she says, and he can do that. He winds his arms around her, and his cock slides out of her and they both sigh. Olivia leans her head on his shoulder, and he tangles his hand once more in her hair, and they find peace, there in the stillness of his kitchen.

"Welcome home," she says.