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They’d agreed to work on their friendship, but life and work keep getting in the way. They’ve made plans a half dozen times since The Christmas That Wasn’t—lunches, dinners, an afternoon in the park with Eli and Noah—but every time they’ve been interrupted if not outright derailed before they’ve even had a chance to begin.

So when his name shows up on her cell phone less than five minutes after she’s walked in the door after a Friday from hell, she answers. When he asks her if she can come over for a while, just to talk, just to spend some time together—”Right now, before the universe gets a chance to foil our plans again”—she agrees.

She’s tired, and hungry, and wants a long, hot shower and her warm, soft bed, but instead she rallies, apologizing to Lucy (Lucy who is a saint, Lucy who is worth her weight in gold for her understanding and her flexibility) and asking if she can stay the night after all. She isn’t planning on sleeping over, but it’s already late and she doesn’t want to feel rushed.

She changes into her softest pair of jeans and an even softer sweater, kisses an already sleeping Noah on the forehead, and leaves again. By the time she arrives in Long Island City, her eyes are a little grainy, her limbs a little too heavy, but he has takeout waiting, and wine breathing, and he answers the door with that same boyish, flirty smile he’d had when he’d invited her to Christmas all those weeks ago.

She perks up with a little food in her, realizing after three bites of ziti that she’s ravenous, and they finally, finally have a chance to just… breathe. To talk. First about the kids (Noah has a recital coming up, Eli has been grumbling about an English project, Kathleen has a new boyfriend that Elliot has decided sight unseen is not good enough for her), then skirting around the periphery of work (they’d both had One of Those Days and neither really wants to talk about it; she wonders if he’d called her in part out of some desperate nostalgia for the way things used to be, when hard days would end with them together nursing twin beers in near-silence, or side by side in the car as he drove her home, idling too long in front of her building before he told her to blink her lights for him when she got upstairs).

There’s a lull, but a comfortable one. Elliot refills both their glasses of wine, Olivia stretches, twisting her back this way and that to ease the ache of an hour spent on a stool at his kitchen island after a full day of work. He watches her, and smiles, one of those warm, soft smiles that used to make her feel seen and cared for. Nowadays it has a slightly different effect, making her feel seen and cared for.

“Want to relocate?” he asks, and she agrees. Sheds her boots and curls her knees up onto the plush sofa cushions as she sips her wine and watches him flip channels until he settles on TCM, the volume down low so they can keep talking.

“So…” he begins, tilting his head and studying her with those too-blue eyes. “Tell me something.”

“What?”

“Something about you, something I missed.”

She frowns, mirrors the tilt of his head and shakes hers slightly. “Ask me something,” she urges, wanting him to take some damn initiative for once, but hoping he’ll steer clear of her love life this time.

He veers right into it instead, clearing his throat softly then asking, “How’d you meet Noah’s dad?”

Olivia’s brow furrows, her frown deepening for a moment before realization dawns. He thinks Noah is hers by birth, not by choice. Suddenly all his poking into her romantic past makes a little more sense. He’s trying very hard to look casual and not like the question has been eating at him for months: Who had Olivia loved enough to make a child with? Who was tied to her for the rest of their lives by the bond of parenthood? Who was he going to have to put up with, and keep his jealousy in check around, and not disparage within earshot of her son?

She smirks, sips her wine again, and tells him: “I arrested him for sex trafficking, rape, and kidnapping.” Elliot’s face falls comically, Olivia’s grin widening as she adds, “Noah’s adopted, Elliot. It’s just me.”

“Oh,” he sighs, shaking his head and laughing just a little at himself. “Fin told me you had a son; I asked about the dad and he told me I had to ask you.”

Olivia makes a mental note to buy Fin a whole dozen jelly donuts tomorrow.

“Took you long enough,” she points out. That conversation had to have been back in the spring, right after he’d arrived. Before he’d met Noah and given her that ridiculous letter.

Elliot has the decency to look sheepish about it, reaching across the space between them and hooking his index finger around her pinky before apologizing. Then he levels her with one of those open, interested gazes and urges, “Tell me how you became a mom.”

Olivia smiles at that, more than happy to oblige. She tells him everything—the case where they first found Noah, all the foster homes, the hearings, finding Ellie and then losing her. How stunned and elated she’d been when Judge Linden had taken a chance on her. Finding out who his father was, the anxiety of him making a move for Noah, and the relief at his death.

She talks and talks, and he asks questions and listens intently, and this, this was what she had meant when she’d told him everything had been one-sided. This is what she’d wanted to rebuild with him—the conversation, the knowing each other. There was a time when he’d known her better than anyone, and it had been comforting. Safe. The knowledge that there was someone in the world who knew everything about her and hadn’t shied away. Had had her back, always. Someone she’d known, too, like the back of her hand. Like breathing.

Until he’d just disappeared, the vacuum of his absence deafening in its silence.

She wants to know him again, wants for him to know her. Wants him to see her, and to stay this time.

“You’re a great mom,” he tells her, again, when the quiet stretches between them for a moment or two.

Olivia lifts her brows and lets them fall, sighing and telling him wryly, “Maybe not tonight. I worked til after bedtime, then left as soon as I got home to go meet a man for a late-night dinner.”

“Still a good mom,” he assures. “Also human. A cop. A captain. You’re allowed time for yourself.”

“So I’ve been told,” she smiles; it’s advice she’s never been great at taking. But tonight, she had. Tonight, she'd done something just for herself and it has worked out spectacularly so far. She feels the need to let him know, softening her smile and telling him quietly, “Thank you for tonight. It’s been good to talk.”

“I’m shocked the phones haven’t rung,” he smirks, and she laughs, nodding and warning him not to jinx it. A beat of quiet, and then he asks, “More wine?”

She’s tempted, sorely, but she’s already had two and half over the course of the evening, and she still needs to drive home. “I shouldn’t; if I don’t leave soon, I’ll fall asleep at the wheel.”

He looks at her, then, measuring and thoughtful. Cautious. His tongue peeks out to wet his lips, something she finds terribly distracting at the best of times, but even more so after an evening of wine and conversation. He clears his throat quietly and tells her softly, “You could stay. Here.”

Olivia’s brows climb slowly toward her hairline.

“I didn’t mean—” Elliot rushes to defend himself. “I just—I know it’s late, but I… don’t want you to go yet. So you could stay a while longer, and then sleep here. If you want. If that’s okay.”

It’s too soon for overnights. She knows that. Eli might be spending the night at Brett’s, but Bernie and Kathleen are both asleep in their rooms and she’s not sure she’s ready to Walk of Shame it in front of them on a Saturday morning. And she’d promised Noah pancakes tomorrow.

But she wants to. God, she wants to. She doesn’t want to go yet, either, wants to stay tucked away in this perfect, quiet, uninterrupted night with him and keep listening to the deep rumble of his voice, fall a little deeper into the blue of his eyes.

“I could stay a little longer,” she tells him, telling herself that she’s making up for lost time. That who knows when they’ll get time like this again, who knows when God or fate or whatever will allow them so many hours uninterrupted by kids or cases.

Elliot tops off the wine, emptying the bottle to half-fill both of their glasses.

For a minute, they sip in silence—a silence that is both comfortable and aware. As if the potential for staying coupled with the ticking clock of a little longer has made them both think of ways they could be spending the extra time she’s granted them.

She should say something, revive the conversation, anything but sit here slowly draining her Cabernet and dwindling her excuses. But just when she thinks she might, just when she’s resolved to ask him how Lizzie is settling into her new job, he stretches an arm across the back of the sofa, crossing the small space between them and brushing his fingertips against the soft fabric covering her shoulder. It’s nothing, really. Barely there, a gentle caress through a cozy layer of material, but it stills her breath in her throat and sets her heart beating double-time.

They don’t caress.

They never have. They have always very dutifully not caressed.

But that was before.

Before, when acknowledging this would have imploded too many carefully built structures—their partnership, his marriage, their reputations, his family. But now, well, now there’s nothing stopping them, is there?

Now it’s perfectly acceptable for him to be spreading his fingers across her shoulder, the blue of his eyes gone darker, more intense as he watches his own touch traverse its way toward her neck, his thumb coming to rest against the bare skin of her throat as she swallows, hard.

“This okay?” he asks, barely more than a whisper, as if he’s afraid to disturb the gossamer fragility of this moment, the moment just before they take that step from friends to more.

And this is that moment, she can feel it now, the loaded tension of it, the way the air has grown thick and heavy around them.

His eyes flick up to hers, seeking, a little hesitant, and she realizes she hasn’t answered him yet, that she’s been sitting here frozen like a statue from the moment he’d made contact.

There’s nothing stopping them now. Nothing but good sense, and taking things slow, and working on their friendship, and those things had been very important to her just a few minutes ago. But now his hand is sliding just that little bit further, his fingers warm against the back of her neck, and memories pop in her mind like fireworks, one after another. Every time he’d touched her just like that, every time she’d wanted him to, every time she’d wished that they’d been unburdened and he could have used that steady, sure grip to pull her close and kiss her breathless.

Her gaze drops to his lips and she is acutely aware that there’s nothing stopping her now.

There are perhaps a few reasons why they shouldn’t (yet) but absolutely zero reasons why they can’t (ever), and so Olivia licks her lips, looks him dead in the eye, and breathes, “Kiss me.”

Elliot breaks into a grin, smiling at her the way he had right before he’d invited her to family Christmas all those weeks ago. His hand tightens against her neck just enough to urge her forward while he leans in, and then they’re close, so close, noses bumping and foreheads touching. She sucks in a breath, the sound of it louder than she’d anticipated in the expectant quiet of the room, and they both freeze, hovering there with their mouths a scant centimeter apart.

He waits until she exhales, her breath warm and heavy between them, and then he closes the miniscule gap to brush his lips against hers. That first kiss is barely there, a whisper, and she chases it with one just the same, catching his top lip softly with both of hers. It leaves her bottom lip right here for the taking, he sucks gently at it as she pulls back, and she wants more of that, so she dives right back in, parting her lips, her tongue flicking out to taste him. He acquiesces with a quiet sound that shoots straight to her middle and then their tongues are touching; Elliot tastes like the red wine in the glass she is now gripping like a vise, and all she can think is that she wants more of him.

They are, as ever, in sync. No sooner than the thought crosses her mind, Elliot is leaning in harder against her, a low groan she can only describe as surrender breaking from him as those fingers at the back of her neck slide up into her hair, tilting her head just right so he can sweep his tongue into her mouth and kiss her deeply. He is only touching her right there, just that hand at the back of her skull, his mouth capturing hers with abandon, but she feels pinned in the very best way. There’s no escape from the sudden onslaught of him, and, God, she wouldn’t want one anyway.

Their breaths go ragged, one of Olivia’s hands rising to fist at the material over his ribs, the other still clutching hard at her wine (she should have finished it faster, she thinks, when she can manage to think at all).

She wants to get her hands on him, both of them, wants both of his hands on her, so she steels her resolve, dips her chin down just enough to gasp, “Wait!”

Elliot stills with an exhale that feels like resignation, loosening his grip on her hair and swallowing hard.

He’s expecting her to put the brakes on this, she’s sure, but all Olivia does is set her wine glass on the coffee table, then pluck his from his grip to do the same. And then she reaches for him, both hands cupping the back of his head and dragging him back to her.

They’re chuckling as their mouths meet again, back on the same page, giddy and greedy with the freedom to kiss each other, finally, to touch each other, finally. He slides one warm, broad palm up the outside of her thigh, then drags it back down to her knee and uses it to tug her closer. The shift puts her off-balance for a second, and she drops one hand behind her to steady herself; Elliot kisses her harder, setting her even more off-kilter and Olivia decides to just go with it. She lets that arm crumple, lets herself fall, lets Elliot follow her all the way down to the sofa cushions.

She wants to feel that man on top of her and there’s nothing stopping them now.

They shift to accommodate without ever ceasing the eager, heady kisses, ignoring the way their noses and chins bump as she bends her knee and he stretches out on top of her, and then oh God, oh God, she’s surrounded by him. There’s nothing else but Elliot—his broad shoulders under her palms, and his strong arms caging her in, and his hips pressed firmly against hers. He’s hard, she can feel the rigid length of him pressed against the seam of her jeans, and she wishes she’d gone for leggings. Wishes there was less between them. (It’s probably good that there’s so much between them, they really shouldn’t have sex tonight, they cannot have sex tonight. It takes her a second to remember exactly why, and when she does she wishes she hadn’t—they haven’t discussed what happened to her yet, and she thinks he should have a heads up before he sees her without her clothes on. But she wants a night to just enjoy him, to enjoy them, to kiss him breathless and not have to talk about trauma and pain and fear, so she banishes the thought and palms the back of his skull and kisses him harder.)

Elliot moans (she likes that, she really likes that) and rocks his hips against hers and oh. That feels… that feels really good. Really, really good. Maybe it’s that it’s been so long, or maybe it’s just Elliot, but the firm friction of him between her thighs makes her want to throw the whole no-sex thing out the window.

She won’t, she will not, but she wants to. She doesn’t trust her own resolve, but she does trust him to respect her boundaries, so she drags herself out of the kiss long enough to rasp a breathless, “No sex. Not tonight.”

Elliot doesn’t miss a beat, grunting his agreement and turning his attention to the side of her neck, dragging his tongue down the length of it and sprouting a path of goosebumps in his wake. Her breath catches; she’s weak for neck kisses, absolutely weak for them, and Elliot does not disappoint. He tastes his way back up with swirls of tongue, and soft sucks, and she goes from panting to gasping, her hips pitching up against his when he finds that so-sensitive spot just behind her left ear and plants a kiss there. He sucks lightly at the spot and she moans, tilting her head to give him better access.

His “Like that?” sounds way too smug, but then he’s dragging his teeth gently against that spot, biting softly at it, and she decides not to give a crap about his smug satisfaction. He licks to soothe the ache of his love bite and Olivia lets out a sound she’d prefer to pretend never came out of her—a little whine that bleeds into a throatier moan when he sucks, hard.

It sends a ripple of pleasure through her, her grip tightening in his shirt, and Olivia feels her nipples go tight and hard at the sensation. Their hips are rocking steadily now, a slow, lazy grind that’s making her even wetter than she already was.

His teeth catch her skin again and she realizes what he’s doing, wonders if he means to do it (he probably does, the bastard).

“No marks,” she gasps, his breath huffing out against her neck.

His voice is gravelly and wonderful, his lips tickling against her skin when he mutters, “Wouldn’t be the first,” and that answers that question. Definitely on purpose.

“I’m a captain,” she reminds him, as if that should be enough of a deterrent—she can’t go walking into her squad room with a hickey.

“Oh, I know,” he murmurs warmly, his nose skimming up her jaw before his mouth covers hers and she’s drowning in his kisses again.

However she had expected Elliot Stabler to kiss, it wasn’t this. He doesn’t kiss so much as he devours, his tongue wicked and clever as it dances against hers. Like he wants to possess her, like he wants to swallow her down and drown her in him. She’s ready and willing to let herself sink, to let herself be consumed.

She should be doing more, she thinks. She should be kissing him the way he’s kissing her, not just trying to keep up. Should be doing more than gripping the shirt at his ribs, his shoulders, and holding on for dear life under the onslaught of him.

If this is what kissing him is like, she’s going to lose her mind when he goes down on her.

The thought streaks heat all the way down her belly, makes her clit ache even more than it already does from the way he’s dragging his hard cock up against it through two layers of cotton and two layers of denim. She’s so wet, she can feel it, can feel the way the cotton of her underwear is sliding slick against her with every push of his hips. She can’t remember the last time she got this wet…

She needs to think of something else before she embarrasses herself, so she busies herself with exploring him. Unclenching her fists and dragging them down, running them up under his shirt, the thin material of his tank top the only thing separating her nails from his skin as she rakes them up over his spine. It makes him shiver, has him breaking their kiss to groan, “Liv…” in a way that makes her grin.

Oh, he likes that…

She does it again, scratches her way down, and he moans quietly and buries his head in her neck again, his hips rocking harder against her. Fuck. She noses into the space between his collar and his throat and returns the favor, tasting the salt of his skin, her nose full of the faded scent of his cologne. He takes her wandering hands as permission to do the same, skating one broad palm up beneath her sweater until he’s cupping her breast. She has a camisole beneath her top, but it’s thin, and so is her bra, and she wonders if he can feel how hard her nipple is beneath his palm. He must, because he drags his thumb over it, once, twice, then grasps it and squeezes.

Olivia’s breath stutters, her jaw dropping open on a moan as he pulses against her nipple again, again, again, quick little tugs that match the way he’s thrusting his hips against hers, and then his mouth has found that spot on her neck again and it’s all too much and not enough, a hot flush of pleasure rising beneath her skin. He is everywhere, everywhere, and it’s wonderful and overwhelming, and all of a sudden she is close, right on the edge, her skin prickling, her clit throbbing, and if she doesn’t stop this she’s going to come right here on his couch.

She gasps, “Stop!” breathes, “Stop…” one hand shooting down to grip his hip, hard. He stops, immediately, his hand slipping away from her breast, his brow pressing to hers as they both pant heavily.

“Sorry,” he murmurs, and he shouldn’t, he has nothing to apologize for, but she’s so close she’s dizzy with it, and she’s concentrating too hard on dragging herself back from the brink to answer him. “I should have asked before I—”

Olivia shakes her head, licking her lips (they’re warm and kiss-swollen and damp), her voice velvety and low when she tells him, “You didn’t—didn’t do anything wrong. I just need a second.”

He lifts his head then, looking down at her. The way he shifts wedges his hips impossibly harder against hers, and her lashes flutter. She sees the moment he realizes, the corner of his mouth tipping up in a satisfied smirk. If she wasn’t already so flushed with arousal, she might manage to blush in embarrassment.

“You close?” he asks, his voice quiet, private.

Olivia nods and shuts her eyes, takes a deep breath in, out. He drops a peck against her chin, her jaw, her cheek. Soft, barely-there kisses, like the first few they’d traded earlier. “Then why are we stopping?” he whispers close to her ear, and Olivia swallows hard.

“No sex,” she reminds him.

“This isn’t sex,” he points out, adding, “Trust me, I’m a good Catholic. I’m well versed in what’s not sex.”

Olivia snickers at that, feels his shoulders shaking too before he presses another warm kiss to the side of her neck. “You don’t think it’s crossing a line?” she wonders, and he kisses his way back to her mouth, presses another soft smooch there before she opens her eyes to meet his.

Elliot shakes his head and tells her, “I think dry humping on the couch still counts as taking it slow,” earning another snort of amusement. His smile fades into something more serious, more sultry, his gaze dropping to her lips as he adds, “And I want to make you feel good.” He kisses her again, slow and devastating, and then asks, “Can I make you feel good, Olivia?”

A little voice in her head whispers There’s nothing stopping you, and Olivia feels herself nodding before she’s even made the decision to acquiesce.

But Elliot needs more, urges, “Yeah?” so that she answers, Yes.

Maybe it’s the way she can still feel the blood pumping in her veins, or maybe it’s the way he’s looking at her, or maybe it’s just that he did her the courtesy of asking, but she wants this, and she’s going to let herself have it.

And just so there’s not a hint of confusion, she drags her hands up the backs of his shoulder blades and breathes, “Make me come, El.”

Her request absolutely breaks him, his brow furrowing as he moans, one hand reaching down to hike her knee up against his hip as he drags his erection hard over her, reigniting the fire she’d been trying to quench. Olivia gasps, her head tipping back, and all of a sudden he’s everywhere at once again. Grinding against her, quick and rough, his hand streaking up to grasp her breast again, finding her nipple and giving it a firm roll, his mouth on her neck, sucking kisses against that spot that drives her wild.

Now that he has permission, he is determined, and she is a live wire. It takes embarrassingly little time for him to ratchet her back up to the edge, her breath shaking as she feels everything draw tight, a trembling, “Oh God, El…” spilling from her lips.

He lifts his head then, and she’s sure he’s watching her but her eyes are squeezed tight, all her focus on the way bliss is looping from his tight grip on her nipple to the hot friction against her clit. “That’s it, baby,” he coaxes and oh, wow, did she not expect the impact of Elliot’s voice urging her on when she’s seconds from climax. She whimpers as he groans, “Let go, just come for me…”

And she does, fuck, she does, blinking her eyes open in time to see him give her an encouraging nod and breathe another, “Come for me, Liv,” before she slams them back shut as her orgasm rises up like a tidal wave and crashes over her. She feels it from the tips of her toes to the ends of her fingers, and suddenly there’s a hand in her hair again, tucking her face into his neck as she moans not-at-all quietly. He doesn’t let up, rutting down against her harder, quicker, drawing it out, making it last, until she’s fisting hard at the back of his shirt and whining at the oversensitivity between her thighs.

He pushes against her hard, one last time, a low groan ripping from his throat, his hips jerking once, twice, and then he goes still.

They’re both panting, gasping, sweaty underneath their clothes as their bellies press against each other again, again, again as they struggle to catch their breath.

Olivia feels golden. Like there’s stardust in her veins, sparkling and shimmering. Elliot presses his lips to her shoulder, the side of her neck, her cheek, her lips. She opens for him, licks her tongue out to tease his and moans quietly when he takes the bait and kisses her thoroughly.

That was… fuck. If that’s what a little grinding accomplished, the sex is going to be incredible.

When the kiss breaks, he drags his thumb over her bottom lip, then kisses it again for good measure, and lets his brow rest against hers.

“Did you…?” she asks, fairly certain that he’d managed to pop off at the end there, but not wanting to leave him hanging if he didn’t.

Elliot nods, swallows, and murmurs, “Couldn’t help myself when you did. You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to—”

“Yes, I do,” she cuts him off, because she’s wanted it just as long.

“Right,” he breathes, kissing her again, before clearing his throat softly and muttering, “I, uh… I need to get out of these pants…”

Olivia snickers, nodding, and taking one final opportunity to draw her palms up and down his broad, muscled back.

“Do you wanna stay?” he asks her, and she looks up to meet his gaze, so close it almost makes her cross-eyed, and so hopeful she can’t bear it.

She thinks of Noah, snug in his bed, and Lucy, sacked out on her sofa. Thinks of the pancakes she’d promised and the embarrassment she’s trying to avoid. Thinks of all the reasons she’d wanted to take things slow. Of the conversations they’ve yet to have, and the resolve she’d sworn she’d stick to when it came to Elliot and whatever this is between them.

“Yes,” she whispers to him, and then she lets them both down by adding, “But I should go. Noah either sleeps til ten or gets up at seven, there’s no telling on a Saturday, and I don’t want to have to explain sneaking back into my own house in the morning.”

Elliot pouts, but his eyes are warm, and it breaks into a smile almost immediately. “Alright,” he concedes. “I won’t force you into that conversation with your kid.” He kisses her again, adding, “I want him to like me,” before he draws back, slowly. She feels untethered for a moment, without the heavy, comforting weight of him on her, the sudden loss of his body heat making her shiver.

He must see it, or maybe he just can’t resist one last taste, because he pulls her in close and captures her mouth again, sliding his arms around her middle, his hands spanning her back. They kiss until she’s dizzy with it, until she turns her head away to suck in some much needed oxygen and his lips come to rest at her temple.

For a moment, they both just breathe, and then he presses his lips to her skin and murmurs, “Okay, my friend Olivia...” She grins, both at the memory and at him calling her a friend right after giving her a bone-shaking orgasm. “Let’s get you home.”