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we drift like worried fire

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Olivia is exhausted, bone tired. It’s the kind of fatigue that comes with the crash from the peak of an adrenaline high, like from handling unstable explosives and living to tell about it, and she figures that Dale Stuckey brandishing a wild-eyed stare and a nine-mil is pretty much the same thing.

She had allowed herself one glass of wine after work to relax  – any more and she would become morose – but she watches the clock tick upward and she can’t stop thinking about all of the different ways it could have turned out.

Her phone vibrates against the nightstand abruptly, startling her. She stabs at the keys until she sees the text message from Elliot. Can’t sleep , it reads. She drove him home to Queens from the hospital hours ago and it was quiet in the car the whole way there. There was nothing left to say. O’Halloran is lying dead on a cold metal table and they both could have easily ended up in there with him.

The flicker of panic in Elliot’s eyes when Stuckey turned to fire is burned into her memory. For a second, he’d thought it was over. He’d looked away, expecting the worst.

She considers ignoring his message because it reminds her of a conversation that took place a lifetime ago, back when she felt hope, maybe possibility, but the impulse doesn’t last. Same , she responds.

It’s only seconds before she receives his reply. I’m downstairs.

Olivia sighs. She doesn’t want to think about how he got here in the middle of the night because he shouldn’t be driving after that knockout blow to the head. She mulls over summoning the energy to get up and put on a sweater, jeans, boots, and her coat, and then she’s typing, Come up , before she realizes it. She arranges her pillows so that she’s reclining but doesn’t move out of her bed, not even when she hears his soft knocks.

A minute passes before Elliot lets himself in with his key and shuts the door behind him. “Liv?” he calls out quietly into the dark apartment. The sharp scent of coffee wafts down the hall.

“In here,” she says.

She can sense his hesitation from twenty feet and a wall away. Eventually, his soft footsteps come closer and closer until they’re at the entrance of her bedroom. The door pushes open softly and then he steps inside. “Sorry,” he says, confused, when he sees her. She’s wearing a white tank top with thin straps and a shelf bra but most of her body is covered by blankets except for her arms and shoulders. “I can wait out here if you wanna get dressed.”

“It’s fine.” Olivia reaches over to turn on the lamp and then sits up to face him. The bruises on his cheeks from her blows are starting to develop and she can see the bulge of bandages beneath his zipped department-issue sweatshirt. But he’s standing. Breathing. Alive. His hands are empty, balled up into fists in his pockets like he doesn’t know what to do with them. He must have left the coffee by the door. His eyes shift like he doesn’t know where to look. After a few moments, Elliot takes a seat on the floor at the foot of her bed, facing the door. She can only see the very top of his head resting against the mattress. She leans back into her pile of pillows and allows herself to feel calmed by his presence.

They’re silent for a while. She starts to feel drowsy, finally, before Elliot speaks. “You ever think that maybe you missed out on your true calling? You should’ve been an actress.”

She hears what he isn’t saying, which is that he wonders how much of what she said about him in that lab was the truth. “Stuckey’s a fool and I knew he had a crush on me so I used it against him.”

He barks out a gruff, humorless laugh, but she doesn’t go any further to appease him.

“How did we get here?” he asks after another minute passes.

This is why she stopped after one glass of wine. Because the thing about almost dying is that it makes you reflect on the way you’ve lived, and that never works out well for her, and apparently not for him either. She contemplates the different ways to answer, from sarcastic to literal, but she settles on, “I don’t know.”

“I mean, right here,” he continues, “where we can’t tell the good guys from the bad anymore, so we fight them both all day and night. I’m just so damn tired of fighting.”

She shifts, but says nothing. He’s dangerous like this, and so is she. He’s unpredictable and she doesn’t trust herself. They are too close to each other and not far enough from that lab to have any real perspective.

“I’m so damn tired, Liv, and I couldn’t sleep because I almost fucking died tonight but it wasn’t the tip of the barrel I saw when I closed my eyes, it was you. Goddamn you, kissing Stuckey.” Elliot pauses. He pushes himself up from the floor and sits down on the edge of the bed, turning to face her. “It wasn’t the gun. I can take the gun, I can handle the gun. It was you.” 

Dry lips and stale breath. Passive tongue. That’s what she remembers about kissing Dale. And thinking about Elliot tied up in that chair, how she would do anything to keep him safe. Right now, she’s thinking about how Elliot would kiss. He would at least meet her halfway. Of that, she is certain. “I’m tired, too,” she says.

His boots hit the floor, one and then the other.

Olivia’s training officer once told her, Everything you think you know goes out the window when you find yourself on the business end of a firearm. All of the training in the world won’t mean shit if you don’t have good instincts.  

Her instincts are telling her to ask him to leave.

He stands up and unzips his sweatshirt, and she’s drawn like a magnet to him, pushing herself up on her knees and moving to the end of the bed until they’re face to face, at the edge of a precipice.

“What are we doing here, Liv?”

She always thought that if one of them was going to slip, it would be him. He’s the one with the wife, the kids, everything to lose, and she’s never had anything to lose but herself. But he’s staring at her lips and not moving an inch, so it’s up to her to fall, if she wants.

Olivia reaches out and cups a hand behind his neck. “This,” she whispers, an echo of earlier and Elliot’s eyes darken in remembrance, but this time it’s different. This time it’s real.

His lips are soft and warm but the skin around his mouth is rough. He tastes like black coffee and his tongue slides against hers like she knew it would. His arms are strong, his grip is solid, and she’s never felt more surrounded by someone in her life.

He lifts her up off the sheets to pull her legs around him and sets her back down flat. He drags her up the bed and then crawls on top of her. She’s never been with a man who could pick her up like she weighed next to nothing and she doesn’t know how she feels about that, but now is not the time to ruminate, not when he’s kissing her and touching her exactly the way she’s always needed, like she can take it, like she won’t break. He runs his lips along her throat, pausing where there’s just a fiber of a scar left over, and she’s afraid he’ll stop there, but then he moves onto her collarbone and traces it to the strap of her tank top and back up. He drops a kiss on her shoulder, reverently, before coming back up to meet her lips again, shoving a thigh between hers to give her something to focus her rolling hips. She can feel him, hard and thick and long , against the sensitive top of her thigh as she pushes back against him. Three layers of clothing do nothing to contain the heat. 

Her hands skim all over his muscular torso, and when she feels the bandages on his chest, she remembers that he shouldn’t be holding himself up on his arms like this. She breathes, “Your stitches,” into his mouth and he grunts and flips them over until he’s beneath her and she’s straddling his hips, grinding into his lap. 

Her tank top finds the floor and he’s appreciative like she expected, because he’s spent a decade looking. And now he’s touching and licking and sucking and she has no idea how they’ll ever be able to speak to each other again after this, but that’s tomorrow, and this is tonight, because they made it out alive with only a handful of new scars between them. It seems like it hardly matters now if they add a few more.

Elliot’s lips and hands are territorial. He kisses her all over, everywhere he can reach from his position. He pushes her off so they’re on their sides and she misses the delicious pressure between her legs but then he’s reaching for the waistband of her shorts, pausing to meet her eyes to make sure he has permission. She grants it by pushing her hips against him, and then his fingers are sliding down, down under her panties, down through the patch of hair that she keeps neatly trimmed.

He teases. For all the strength she knows his hands have, his touch is featherlight. Her eyes drift shut while he traces down one crease of her thigh and back up the other. She groans and feels embarrassed about it for only a second because then a thick fingertip is dipping into her, spreading her wetness around before dipping in again, deeper this time, curving. He presses his palm down against her clit and grinds it, just enough. Olivia shudders and Elliot does it again, pulling his finger out before adding a second one to dip and grind again. 

“Jesus, Olivia.”

He slips his hand out and her eyes fly open, grabbing his arm to stop the retreat, and she has never felt so desperate for release in her life but he gives her that look that says trust me and she does, god she does. She lifts her hips so he can slide the panties and shorts down her body and then he’s pushing her onto her back again. The blue of his eyes are crystal clear even in the dim lamplight while he lowers his stubbled face between her legs and he inhales – he fucking inhales and she should feel self-conscious but she can’t because then he’s diving right in, laying it all out. Her first orgasm comes quickly. Elliot gentles his movements, dropping wet, open kisses on her labia and her thighs, giving her time to recover while exploring and investigating. She isn’t sure how long it is before her hips start rolling again and he reads her like a book. He zeroes in on her clit again with his talented tongue and presses her thighs into his face with his hands so that she can feel his rough cheeks on her sensitive skin and it’s just the right side of too much. 

By the time she lowers herself onto him, she feels wrung out from his desire. Elliot watches her like he can see right through her and she has to close her eyes against the scrutiny. She’s on top but somehow he’s the one with all the power, and it’s then she knows that this can’t happen again. He’s behind every one of her walls. 

Olivia starts to move, and in the slide she can feel every single inch of him and she gasps, she can’t help it. She leans forward and covers his lips with hers to keep her mouth occupied and when his hands don’t leave her skin for even a second, she knows she’ll be ruined for this for a long, long time.

His name is a whisper on her lips when she comes for the last time, grinding down on him, and it flips a switch in Elliot. There is something about the moment before a man comes that she loves. Some men groan their release. Some men are nearly silent. Some men spew filthy words. Elliot comes with a litany of praise and blasphemy. She wants to cup her hand over his mouth because it’s too much to hear. He loses control, he pulls her down hard and drives his hips upwards once, twice, three times, like he can’t get deep enough, and it would hurt if it wasn’t exactly what she needed. He releases her when he’s finished, brushes his fingers over her waist in an apology (she’ll have bruises tomorrow) and then it’s his turn to avoid her gaze.

They’ve seen all of each other now.

He shifts beneath her and she rolls off to let him escape. He moves quickly, getting up and getting dressed like there’s a fire alarm going off, but it must only be in his head because she doesn’t hear a thing.

“Elliot,” she says hesitantly.

He’s nearly frantic in his movements, unzipping and rezipping his sweater twice. “I don’t know what’s normal here. I’ve never done this before.”

She doesn’t know if he means having a one night stand or cheating on his wife, and assumes he means both. But whatever she is to him right now, she’s still his partner first. “You need to sleep. We’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow – the DA’s office wants us to go through every case tried on evidence that Stuckey touched.”

“I’ll catch a few hours in the crib,” he says, pulling on his boots. He laces them up and when he’s done, he sits still for a moment. “Liv, I just, I need to know that you’re going to be there tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. I need to know that you’re not going to take off without giving me some warning, because if there’s one thing I’ve figured out, it’s that I can’t do this job without you.”

He doesn’t wait for her response. He lets himself out and she remains, staring at the ceiling.

The exhaustion of everything consumes her. She doesn’t have a choice but to sleep.

A few hours later, Olivia wakes up and wonders if maybe she dreamed the whole thing, but there is proof in paper cups filled with cold coffee and tea.