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Come Back to Bed

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“So tell me what I did; I can’t find where the moment went wrong at all.  You can be mad in the morning.  I’ll take back what I said.  Just don’t leave me alone here.  It’s cold, baby, come back to bed.”  -John Mayer, Come Back to Bed

 

1. Peace Offerings

I was already situated on the front steps of his building when I sent the text message. I sat with my body collapsed into itself to preserve heat, the cold of the concrete already penetrating my jeans. His coffee and my tea were both perched between my thighs as I keyed the request for him to meet me downstairs. Then, I picked up my cup and sipped from the still slightly-too-hot-to-drink beverage, resting my elbow on my leg, my other arm crossed over my stomach to allow me to tuck that hand into the warmth of the space between my drinking arm and ribcage. That’s how I sit now, with just his cup of black coffee held between my legs.

The streets are actually fairly quiet - very much so by Manhattan standards, even at this ridiculously early (or late, depending on the severity of one’s insomnia) hour of a Saturday morning. I’m amused in some sort of way that my partner, a Brooklyn native and Queens resident for most of his adult life, is finally living among the same streets he spends his days protecting. For his part, he always found it amusing that I refused to be anything other than a Manhattan-ite. When we’d first met, I’d never given any indication that settling down and having a family was anywhere near the top of my priority list. In fact, I’m quite certain I told him it wasn’t. Queens was too suburban for me to still truly be considered a part of the City. And Brooklyn? Brooklyn was just…Brooklyn.

I need the bustle of Manhattan. I need the blaring horns and wailing sirens to drown out my thoughts at night. Solitude is far more tolerable when you’re never truly alone. When there’s always someone awake. When life goes on outside your bedroom window as you spread your body at odd angles across your mattress to justify owning a bed traditionally made for two people.

The City is my family.

I don’t have to wait long for his reply. Just long enough, in fact, for the heat of his coffee to have seeped through the thick denim of my jeans and warm my skin. Of course, my ass is nearing numbness even after these short minutes on the stoop. My phone hails me from my back pocket. I untuck my left hand, use it to hold my tea, and reach behind me with my right hand to retrieve my phone.

I flip it open, suddenly apprehensive of what the text may read. Of what the answer to my request will be. I say “request” because, as a cop, I hate asking questions I don’t know already know the answer to. Much easier to just state something as fact. To issue an order. A command. To ask forgiveness, not permission.

Fuck. Is that why I’m here?

He might have been sleeping. Jesus. Wouldn’t that just make me a bitch?

He might say no.

He might tell me to go home and go to sleep, taking care to point out that it’s a quarter to five and we’re not on call again until Sunday night.

Or, he might tell me to leave him the fuck alone after some of the things I said to him over the course of the Sennet case. The thought causes me to shiver involuntarily, despite my being what could be considered slightly over-layered for the somewhat mild November weather.

I take a deep breath, hold it, and use my thumb to press a button on my phone to open the text. The words squeeze the air from my lungs. I stare at it, my mind racing, my only movement the occasional blinking of my eyes. It’s only when I realize my tea is about to slip from my quickly weakening grasp that I shake my head clear and slowly close the phone, its LCD screen with its proclamation of “MEET ME UPSTAIRS” fading to black.

The buzz of the building’s door lock disengaging startles me and, for the second time in the past thirty seconds, I nearly spill tea on myself. The annoying hum continues to sound until I pick myself up off the steps and open the door, tea in hand and coffee held between my body and forearm. I step into the foyer, allowing the door to shut behind me, and pause. There is a hallway in front of me, as well as a staircase. My eyes drift to the stairs and it is then that it occurs to me that I have no idea where his apartment is. I’ve never been here. Any time I’ve visited him, it’s always been at his house - the house now belonging only to his estranged wife and their children.

I know the address of the building, sure. Any good partner would. And I know my city well enough to have been able to walk here without needing a cab to bring me. The apartment number, 318, I committed to memory the instant he told me. What I don’t know is the layout of this building or anything about what his apartment might be like…about how Elliot Stabler, when left to his own devices, would choose to live.

No sooner had this crossed my mind that my phone calls out to me again. I had dropped it into the pocket of my coat after the first message and it was easier to get to this time. The corner of my mouth lifts slightly when I read “TURN LEFT AT TOP OF STAIRS.” Replacing the phone and taking his coffee by the lid in my empty hand, I begin the ascent. My climbing slows drastically as I reach the final flight before the third floor, the clarity afforded my mind earlier now clouded as new anxieties flood in. Why does he want me to come up? What if he really is planning to tell me to leave him the fuck alone and he’s so emphatic about it he has to tell me to my face?

Christ. I brought coffee. Coffee! What the fuck kind of peace offering is coffee? After what I’ve said to him, I owe him nothing short of eternal apologies, me on the floor hugging his ankles like a child not wanting to say goodbye to a father leaving on a business trip. I owe him pleas for forgiveness, screamed at the top of my lungs.

I abruptly stop climbing and turn, my back falling against the wall.

I owe him anything he wants. Even if that means leaving him behind. Again. But this time not by my choice. By his.

I glance briefly at the stairs I’ve already climbed, then up at the half-dozen or so still left to go. I take another deep breath, steeling myself for whatever may happen.

I’ve done enough running.

I can’t turn back.

I owe him.

When I hook a left at the top of the stairs, I can see an open doorway several doors down on the right. As I make my way down the hall, a shoulder creeps into my vision. Further, and I can see almost half of him. Just a couple doors away, I see all of him, arms crossed, legs crossed, leaning back against the doorframe. A white tank top covers his chest, just concealing the waistband of a pair of blue-based tartan plaid boxers. My nervousness is temporarily assuaged by the internal remark that my partner is truly an Irishman.

It immediately returns as I approach, pausing at his open door.

“Morning,” he greets, though he is definitively neither bright-eyed nor bushy-tailed.

“Hey,” I reply, my eyes on his, because if I allow them to drift any lower, him yelling at me - if that’s his intention - will be even more painful. I’ve spent 8 years of my life trying to keep those thoughts about Elliot out of my head. No point in letting them in now, right?

He uncrosses his legs, but not his arms, and steps sideways into the hall, his physical cue for me to cross the threshold.

I brush by him and walk far enough into the living room to allow him to enter behind me and close the door. I stand still, my back to the door, a cup still in each hand, appraising my surroundings. The apartment is mostly darkened; only a single, low-lighted lamp emits a golden glow from a table in the far corner of the living room to my right. The eerie green glow of the digital clock on the microwave is the only light source from the kitchen, separated by a bar top from the living room. Looking straight ahead is akin to peering down a tunnel in a cave, looking for any hint of light that could mean a way out. I detect the slightest hint of light from somewhere down the left side of the hallway.

Just then, I hear the clicking of the lock and Elliot walks around to stand in front of me, hands low on his hips. His steady gaze is questioning, and mine has no answer. So instead, I proffer my right hand.

He looks down and takes the coffee cup from my hand. “Thanks.” Before I have a chance to say anything, he raises his other hand and gently releases my grip on my tea, taking it from me, as well.

My eyes widen and I’m pretty sure my mouth just dropped open. Elliot has already turned from me and begun heading for the kitchen before I verbalize my protest. “Hey!” I didn’t say it was a mature protest. I follow him; but, even with my long strides, by the time I reach the edge of the bar top, he’s already removing the lid from my tea, having just poured his coffee into the sink. I scoff, adopting a pissed-off stance - weight shifted onto one leg, arms locked across my chest, lips pursed and eyes leveled at him. He sniffs the tea once and grimaces before pouring it, too, down the drain.

“What is this stuff, Liv?” He peers down into the sink basin. “Is that a flower clogging my drain?”

“It’s tea. It was tea.”

“Didn’t smell like any tea I know of.” He opens a cabinet beneath the sink, where the trashcan hides, and pulls the waste bin out by its rim. He tosses the two empty cups and their lids before reaching down into the sink and using a thumb and forefinger to pluck the soggy bloom from my tea out of the drain. He lets it drop into the can before replacing the bin into its cabinet hideaway.

“It was herbal.”

He chuckles quietly. “Yeah, I’ll say.” He places his hands on the countertop behind him, resting his weight.

I’m at a loss here. “So, you mind telling me why you did that?”

“Because,” he starts, pushing himself back upright, “I am going back to bed with every intention of sleeping, so I certainly don’t need to drink twelve ounces of caffeine.”

Back to bed. He was in bed. Yep, that makes me a bitch. Sometimes, only on occasion, mind you, I hate being right.

“Jesus, Elliot.” I raise my hands shoulder-level in a gesture of surrender or exasperation, I’m not sure which. “If you were sleeping, why didn’t you just tell me to go home?”

He steps forward, putting his elbows on the bar top across from me. “And what would you have done if I’d have sent you home?” He has that irritating tone that implies he already knows the answer to the question and just wants to hear me say it. We’re alike that way.

I know he knows the answer and there’s really no point in lying. Hell, I can’t lie to him. I can’t. And he knows that, too. If I tried lying, he’d know my tells. Damn him.

I sigh, re-crossing my arms. “Probably lie in bed and either bury my face in pillows or stare at the ceiling, kind of wishing I had those little glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to it to make the insomnia more interesting.”

“That’s why I didn’t tell you to go home. Besides,” he straightens up and stretches his arms over his head, arching his back and rolling his shoulders. He steps around the kitchen bar and up to me, placing a hand on each of my upper arms. “I never said I was sleeping before, Liv. I just said I was going back to bed with the intention of sleeping.”

My head is downcast - I’ve been eyeing the carpet since he began to approach me. I look up at him from the corners of my eyes.

“Come on. You know me better than that.”

Well, I at least know him well enough to have made the correct assumption that he’d be awake to get my first message, so perhaps I’m not quite so big a bitch. What I don’t know about him is that voice. The one he just used. It was quiet, with a rich and rolling timbre that I swear I could feel resonate through my body. I’ve never heard that voice before. Not even with victims. That’s a comforting tone. A fatherly one. This one, while comforting, has a distinctly un-fatherly undertone.

I’d really like to hear it again.

I roll my eyes. “You owe me a tea.”

He laughs, releasing my arms. “Yeah, yeah. Whenever you want.”

That wasn’t the voice I was looking for, but at least he’s not mad at me. I don’t think. “So if I’m not allowed to go home and you’re going to bed, where does that leave me?” I inquire. Well, that just came out. I sure as fuck didn’t think about it before I said it. About the words or what they may imply. But, now that they’re out of my mouth, I’m thinking about it. Damn.

That’s just what Elliot needs right now. He’s going through a divorce and I’m saying shit that sounds like I might be flirting with him. And if a realization is supposed to hit like a ton of bricks, then let’s just say I feel like Wile E. Coyote huddled beneath his pitiful excuse for an umbrella as boulder upon boulder falls from the canyon walls above.

I just fucking flirted with Elliot.

He doesn’t answer. Of course he wouldn’t answer. I go and say something like that and he’s going to let me obsess about it. Stew in it.

When his hands again wrap around my biceps, I go numb. Well, every part of me goes numb except the inches covered by his fingers. Those inches? Those inches are on fire. Apparently, my body has also rooted to the carpet because he has difficulty turning me around without my almost falling over my own feet. I stumble through the hundred-eighty degree turn, which is okay, since his hands are in constant contact in some capacity as he guides me in the rotation. When I face the same way as he does, he gently nudges me forward, hands now resting on my shoulders. He walks me through the living room.

To the left: the door. To the right: the hallway.

He turns me to the right.

Chapter Text

2. Dressing for the Occasion

We turn our backs to the light of the living room and my eyes have to adjust to the darkness of the hallway. The glow from down the hall to the left is more prominent now.

Because we’re moving toward it. I still haven’t relaxed my crossed arms and I’m glad, because now I can hug my sides.

Just what the hell is going on here? I know what’s down that hallway. It has to be a bedroom. His bedroom. Elliot is steering me toward his bedroom. Why?

The times I’ve been steered to a bedroom, I’ve usually been drunk, first of all. Secondly, it’s always been for one reason: sex.

And yet, here I am, completely fucking sober, and Elliot is pushing me toward his bedroom. Did I miss something here? I said one thing, just one. That one-liner did not foreplay make.

If I’m being honest here, I’d say that the prospect of going to the bedroom at the end of the hall to spend the remainder of the morning hours screwing my partner’s brains out is a fantastically arousing one. But, how could that be what he wants? How could that possibly be on his mind? After the things I’ve said to him, that should be the furthest thing from his mind. Shit, I don’t even know if it’s on his mind at all or if it ever has been. Maybe it’s so far from his mind that it’s never even entered into the realm of possibilities for him. Maybe he’s going to…I don’t know.

God, I don’t know.

For the first time in a long time, I have no idea what Elliot Stabler is thinking.

My mind is still reeling when he directs me into the bedroom and I’m too cranked up to even satisfy the curiosity I had earlier about what this room in his home would look like. He deposits me by the door leading to his bathroom and leaves me to fend for myself against my raging apprehensions. My eyes dart back and forth, not really seeing anything. I hear drawers open and close and Elliot saying something like “Here,” before a hockey jersey hits me in the face.

I jolt back to awareness and clumsily snatch the jersey a millimeter before it hits the ground. Elliot is shaking his head and laughing. Again. What exactly does he have to be so happy about tonight? My night has sucked. The last five days have sucked. Royally. “Nice catch, Liv,” he teases.

I blink.

“You ready this time?” He sounds like he probably did when he was teaching Dickie how to block a shot on goal at the hockey rink.

I nod. Furtively, but I nod. What else is there to do, really? I snag the pair of gym shorts that fly at me, look down at the articles of clothing in my hands, then back up at him. “What’s this for?”

“For you to put on.” He says it so matter-of-factly, as if I should have known. He looks me up and down. “Unless you’d rather sleep in that.”

“Sleep?” I am so clueless right now.

“Yeah, Liv. Sleep. That’s what I’m here to do anyway. My bed has about three times more space than I require, so crash if you want to. The way I see it, you can’t sleep and I can’t sleep; so maybe if we try at the same time, our combined will to surrender to the Sandman will overcome. Your call.”

I look down at his bed. He wasn’t kidding. It’s huge. Definitely a king. California even, perhaps. Someday I’ll have to ask him why he bought what I’m pretty sure is a bigger bed than he ever had in his house now that he’s living on his own. I’d be spread-eagle and diagonal trying to use up all that space. Perhaps it’s simply a macho thing. Big everything. Big TV’s, big engines, big beds, big…nope, not going there.

I feel a flush creeping up toward my cheeks. This man is going to be the death of me, I’m sure of it. I chew gently on my lower lip, meet his eyes for a moment and duck into the solitude of the bathroom.

Solitude. Shit.

I close the door behind me, resting back against it, allowing myself to sink to the floor. I close my eyes and raise my head, still gnawing on my lip as I stare aimlessly ahead. Why is he being like this? Why?

Why so…so…so goddamned nice?

He should hate me right now. Throwing me out of his home. He should be the one requesting a new partner this time. I mean, no, he didn’t exactly welcome me back with open arms; but, then, I don’t know who would want to embrace the kind of awkwardness we’ve been trapped in since I came back.

We aren’t who we were and I don’t know who we are.

How did I go from longing to see him, hear his voice, while I was denied it for so long in Oregon to holding him at arm’s length? Well, more like forcing him to hold me at arm’s length as I continually lash out at him. Like Bugs Bunny, irritatingly calm as the Tasmanian Devil rages and taunts him, holding up a single gloved hand to keep him at bay as he whirls in a tornado of claws and fury.

I thump my head against the door softly. This is precisely why I need background noise. Curse tonight’s peaceful streets. My mind can simply not be left alone to think. That was the worst punishment for me as a child: someone telling me to go sit and “think about what I’d done,” not realizing that the sheer guilt and sense of failure I felt at having disappointed someone would be more than enough to ensure I thought about it for the rest of my life.

How can he even act like this isn’t going to be an entirely uncomfortable situation? We’ve been at each other’s throats for the better part of the last week. I’m in his apartment for the first time since he’s moved, in his place of residence for the first time since he became single. And he’s suggesting that I climb into his bed and try to sleep?

God help me, I want to climb into that bed. I do. But, he’s talking about sleep. I’m thinking of everything we could do but sleep. I’m pretty sure he really hasn’t thought past sleep. Why would he? I’m the bitch, after all. So I have to fight what I’m thinking, make it go away. Convince myself that I don’t want that either. I think maybe he just doesn’t want to talk about this case, doesn’t want to relive the way we treated each other, the way I treated him.

But he knows.

He knows I won’t sleep if I go home and he is still trying to protect me from myself by keeping me here. I’m fairly certain I’ve been in here wallowing for at least five minutes, yet he hasn’t knocked. He hasn’t called my name. He’s just waiting for me. Why the hell is he doing this? He doesn’t owe me anything (except a tea). I owe him.

A siren screams down the street outside his window and my eyes snap open. Thank God. Thank God for that. I heave myself off the floor and lay the clothes he tossed me down on the counter. I look down at the jersey and shorts, and have to stifle a laugh at the shorts. Nothing unusual about them—just your standard gym shorts—but there is no way those are going to fit without looking completely ridiculous. Now, my partner has quite a trim waistline, but he’s still a man, and even with the drawstring, those will probably barely hang on my hips. My eyes roll again. Well, I guess I don’t have a choice now. It’s either change or try to sleep in the bulk of my jeans, coat, hoodie, and the tight-fitting tank top layered underneath.

Or leave.

No, that is not going to be an option. That’s the last goddamned thing I need to do: reject his hospitality and quite possibly insult him. Again. No, leaving is not an option.

I toe off my sneakers and remove my socks, tucking them inside the shoes. I take off my coat and hoodie as one, folding them together and putting them on the countertop. My jeans follow and I stack them on top of the pile, placing my shoes on top of them, completing my neat little tower of discarded clothing. This leaves me in my tank top and a pair of hip-hugging lavender cotton panties. Just to test my theory, I pull on the gym shorts, cinch the drawstring and yep, I look ridiculous. They hover just above the top of my panties, the crotch hanging about four inches too low, making the length of the shorts hit just a couple inches above my knees. I look like a basketball player.

The shorts come right back off. Ordinarily, I’d have no problem sleeping in my underwear. And it isn’t as though my partner hasn’t seen me in every form of figure-hugging tank top I own. My partner, however, has never seen me in my underwear and this…this is not exactly the ideal situation to start that trend. I slip the cool material of the jersey over my head; and, as anticipated, it’s perfectly long enough to reach my upper thighs, concealing anything inappropriate.

I am now boldly emblazoned with the logo of the New York Rangers. And I’m ready for this. I think. Actually, I kind of wish a Ranger would just come body-check me into a wall and knock me out. At least then I’d be sleeping.

I step to the door and place my hand on the knob. I roll my eyes, blowing out a heavy breath that ruffles my bangs. I can do this. It’s just sleep. No fighting (yet). No sex (definitely not yet). Just sleep. We are going to sleep.

That’s it, insomnia is going down. Go, team.

I steel myself to open the door, but not before it occurs to me to grab my phone from my coat pocket. Call it a habit. Call it a cop thing. Whatever bed I’m in, my phone will be on the nightstand next to me.

The phone feels oddly reassuring as I hold it in my left hand. It’s a familiar shape and weight. Right now, it’s my touchstone. I slowly reach for the doorknob with my right hand, allowing my fingers to slip around the cool brass. I turn it quietly, swinging the door inward and open at a snail’s pace.

Elliot is lying on the far side of the bed, on his back, sheets resting lightly across his midsection. His tank top is gone. Fuck. I freeze momentarily. How is it he can be so unafraid of sleeping half-naked when I’m in the room, not to mention in the same bed, and at the same time be so concerned that I might be uncomfortable with my own state of undress as to offer me something to wear he knew would cover me up? Did that even make sense?

I think I find the gesture endearing. And hot. That gesture was sensationally hot. Jesus, I can only imagine that he’s just half-naked. After all, I can’t see the rest of him. No. No, no, no, no, no. Cannot go there. Or this is never going to work.

Now, I am not, in fact, uncomfortable in my own skin. Quite the opposite, really. That isn’t to say I’m used to or enjoy other people appraising my body…compliments are big pills for me to swallow. But, I’m generally not shy about how I look. That said, what Elliot has done perhaps speaks to the possibility that he does understand that there is a certain level of awkwardness about this whole situation and that I might just want to sleep under several layers of clothing as a result. So he gave me options. Heaven help me.

He doesn’t say anything when I open the door or for the several long seconds that I stand frozen in place. The side of the bed closest to me has the covers peeled back. The rest of the covers remain pulled up to the height Elliot has them settled over himself, leaving a good three feet of neutral territory between the two distinct sides. It isn’t until I step to the edge of the mattress that he turns his head to look at me. I swear I see a momentary glint in his eyes after he focuses in on the Rangers logo on my chest, apparently satisfied that I am displaying pride for his team. Then he looks up at my face and says simply, “You should take your hair out of that.” I assume he’s referring to my hasty half-ponytail. “It isn’t good for your hair to sleep with it pulled up.”

Okay, that one got me. I allow myself to laugh good and hard for a couple seconds. Elliot Stabler: Master Ice-breaker. Who’d have thought? My left eyebrow skyrockets as I stare him down with a smirk plastered on my lips. “Thanks for the advice, Stabler. Any more helpful ‘Cosmo’ tips you’d like to share?”

He shrugs and looks ahead again. “I heard Maureen telling Lizzie that once.”

Actually, I’m a bit thankful for the reminder. I normally don’t sleep with my hair up; but I haven’t exactly been following my regular nighttime routine tonight. I slip my phone onto the nightstand before unwrapping the rubber band from around my ponytail and tossing it next to my phone. I allow myself to tousle my hair one good time with my fingers and shake it out.

Now or never, Benson.

I slither my body onto the bed, stomach-side-down, reach behind me to pull the covers up to my shoulders and proceed to…bury my face in the pillows.

Chapter Text

3. Pillow Talk

Turns out my partner is nearly as big of a pillow junkie as I am. There are more rectangles of fluff on this bed than two people should ever require for sleep. I have three jet-puffed-looking ones piled in front of me, my head stuck somewhere into the middle. It’s pretty dark with my face pressed into the pillows, so it’s hard for me to notice when he turns the light out. I only know from the click of the lamp switch.

I’m trying to relax, really I am. Instinctively, I try to tune into the sounds from the streets below, which are still aggravating in their silence. Instead, all I can hear are the sounds of our breathing. For two people trying to go to sleep, we certainly don’t sound like it. People on their way to sleep are supposed to be taking slow, even breaths, inducing the state of relaxation necessary. Our breathing, on the contrary, sounds more like a series of repetitive sighs. It sounds like two people who are barely containing the frustration of trying to find sleep that isn’t coming.

This isn’t working. It isn’t. I’m not sure how long we’ve been lying here, but it feels like too long. I’m wide-the-hell awake. I can’t stop thinking about what this case has done to me, to Elliot, to us. I can’t stop fuming that I was lied to about something so horrific. Something that never even happened.

Valerie Sennet was never raped.

“Hmm?” he hums his request for me to repeat myself.

Apparently, I said that aloud. I sigh once more and speak into the pillows, a bit more loudly, but still muffled by the fluff. “Valerie Sennet wasn’t raped. She screwed some associate at her divorce lawyer’s firm. She dragged her husband through the grinder on a lie.”

He is silent and I find myself waiting to hear a round of the “I Told You So” chorus, even though I know it will never come. Elliot knows I’m too proud to have my misjudgments rubbed in my face. Just my acknowledging what actually happened is enough for him to understand I know I was wrong.

He is also too humble to ever do something like that. That is something few people assume about Elliot Stabler. He’s humble. Sure, he’s cocky in his mannerisms much of the time, doesn’t have a problem forcing his hand, and he certainly never backs down from a fight. But, he is not one to brag when he wins and he is skilled at the art of allowing praise and gratitude for his work roll off his shoulders like no big thing.

When he speaks, his voice is factual. “She died at a quarter past four.”

I raise my head, gathering my mountain of pillows in my arms, squishing them into something to prop my chin on. I stare straight at the headboard, illuminated by a wash of moonlight blue, and consider the magnitude of what he just told me. It goddamn pisses me off and I guess I can’t hide that because my voice cracks slightly when I vent my sudden insight. “She knew she was dying and she still lied right to my face. To my face! Unbelievable. Who does something like that?” I’m not yelling. In fact, I’m pretty hushed, but the pitch of my voice goes up in exasperation.

He is quiet for only a moment before responding this time. “When love warps into hate, there’s nothing you won’t do.” His voice is low and rumbling again, but is far more melancholy than when he’d used that voice earlier and it affects me in a profoundly different way. “That’s why I signed the divorce papers.”

I steal a glance in his direction, while he’s concentrating on the ceiling. Just as quickly, I turn back to the headboard, tracing the grain of the wood with my eyes. Two of my inner voices are warring right now. One of them really doesn’t want to tell him that I had a conversation with his now-officially-I-suppose-ex-wife in the park. The other is poking at my heart with a sympathy needle, telling me that if I were any kind of a friend I’d give him my honest opinion and hope it offered him comfort.

Stupid needle.

“El, Kathy doesn’t hate you,” I say softly. “I don’t think she ever could. She still cares about you, very much.” In my peripheral vision, I can see him furrow his brow.

“How do you know?” It’s an honest question, not intended to be rude in any way.

“She told me.” Oh boy, here it comes.

I hear the rustling of the sheets before I notice him shifting onto his side, propped up on an elbow. “When was this?” Again, neutral. Just curious.

I continue to study the wood-grain as I reply, “A couple days ago. She called me and wanted to meet at the park to talk.”

“About what?” His tone of voice: right down the middle.

I’m not entirely sure how to answer this without sounding like a schoolgirl who had a meeting with her friends in the bathroom to gossip about boys. “Well, um, about you, more or less.”

More than less. I brace myself, knowing he will probably be less than excited that his ex-wife called his partner to talk without him being any the wiser.

What I get is silence. A slight nod of the head and silence. No anger, no clenching of the jaw or narrowing of the eyes. Christ, when did Elliot become Captain Switzerland? It’s apparent he wants me to continue without provocation.

So, naturally, I oblige. “She wanted to know how you were doing. She was worried that you, um…you might not want the divorce. That you might not sign the papers. And she…” This part I’m not looking forward to admitting. I almost feel ashamed of it. I can’t quite figure out why, but I have an underlying current of guilt because of what she’d asked me to do. “She asked me to try to talk you into it.” There. I said it.

That got his attention, I think. It takes him a moment to contemplate this. I can almost hear the gears cranking in his head. When I turn my head to him, resting my cheek on my pillow mountain, I can see those gears in the whirlpools of his eyes. “What did you tell her?” he asks, with only the slightest tinge of hurt in his voice. So slight, most people would have missed it.

I don’t break eye contact as I answer, “I didn’t say anything.” The corner of my mouth twitches with a smirk when I add, “I’d be a pretty shitty friend if I tried to make that kind of decision for you.” I think the smirk was more ironic than anything, because I feel like a pretty shitty friend anyway after the last five days.

He rolls over to his prior position on his back, folding his hands over his torso. “I’d already made the decision, Liv.”

Now it’s my turn to wonder. We trade positions, as I shift my weight back slightly, so I’m almost resting on my side, supporting my head with the closed fingers of my right hand. I raise a single eyebrow, and I know he saw me. The glance in my direction was fleeting, but it was enough for him to see my confusion.

“I signed the papers a couple weeks ago. I think I knew I had to. Kathy and I haven’t really been in love for awhile. What’s sad is that the time we haven’t been in love blends so seamlessly with the time I thought we were that I don’t even know what was ever real.” He pauses, and I can’t believe he’s being so candid with me. “I’ve just been putting off bringing them by the house. It just made it seem so final…like I was losing everything. Everything but you and the job.”

That isn’t the first time I’ve heard that line, of course. And, last time, it caused me nothing but trouble. I was touched, don’t get me wrong. Genuinely touched. But, I knew then as I know now that the job and I are not the only good things in this man’s life. “You aren’t losing everything, El. So you live in a different place. Big deal. And I know you won’t see your kids as often; but, they’re still your kids, Elliot, and they always will be. They may not realize it now, but what you and Kathy are doing is a step in the right direction. It’s the best thing for all of you.”

“You think?”

He’s asking for my opinion as much as he’s challenging me to prove my point. Slick. Bring it on. I’m game. I’m wearing the jersey to back it up. “I don’t think. I know.” I sigh for emphasis. “Look, Elliot, the best of parents are always saying that they just want their children to be happy. What they don’t realize most of the time is that their children just want them to be happy, too. If two people aren’t in love, if they’re truly unhappy together, there is no reason big enough to warrant staying together. Not even the children. Least of all the children. Having parents who are miserable all the time does more damage than people think. A lot more damage than having happy parents in two separate households.” My tirade isn’t spoken in anger. It’s subdued and steady, just as my gaze on him has been while I speak.

His head tilts to the side, his eyes leveling on mine as an unspoken concession that I do know a little something about children with a miserable parent. Our locked eyes remain constant for nearly a minute, neither of us saying a word. That is, until, a new wave of guilt crashes into me. I used his divorce to attack him earlier this week. I used it as a goddamned insult. And now here I am trying to convince him he’s doing the noble thing. The right thing. For everyone.

Aren’t I the fucking hypocrite?

My sudden break from eye contact is all it takes for him to think something is wrong. He mirrors my pose now, and we’re face-to-face across the Egyptian cotton expanse between us. “Liv, what is it?”

I close my eyes and bite the inside of my lip, causing my eyes to water; but, at least it prevents me from crying.

“Liv? Tell me.” There. There it was. That voice again. Goddammit, now I might cry.

“Your divorce,” I whisper, not opening my eyes.

“Yeah?”

“I used it to…the other day…what I said to you,” I’m having a difficult time trying to put into words exactly what I did. I almost don’t want to define it so clearly. That would make it even harder to accept than it already is. I pinch the bridge of my nose with my left hand, squeezing hard for a few seconds. When I release it, I’m able to open my eyes, though I still won’t look at him.

“Hey, Liv, listen to me.” I don’t acknowledge him. He reaches his right hand into the neutral ground and places it palm-down about a foot from my face to get my attention. As a backup, he also turns up his voice volume and speaks very precisely. “Olivia, listen to me.”

It’s the use of my full name that catches me by surprise. My eyes snap up to his.

“It’s okay. We’re okay.”

As much as I love the way my name sounds when he says it, his simple dismissal of my actions is entirely unacceptable to me. I’ve been horrible and, dammit, he needs to tell me so.

I sit bolt upright, throwing the sheets off me, rocking onto my knees and sitting back on my heels, causing him to recoil only to be able to look up at me. “No, Elliot, it is not okay! It is far from okay! I mean, what the hell is wrong with you?”

I am officially yelling now. Now that I’m yelling, it seems like a good time to stand up, so I do. My hands gesture sharply in his direction as I rant, not quite flailing, but not entirely under control, and I give no thought to the fact that my gestures are likely causing the jersey to rise dangerously up my thighs. “How could you even let me say something like that to you and just walk away? I have been nothing but awful to you during this whole case and you’re telling me it’s okay? No, Elliot! You should be furious, you should hate me! You’re not exactly gun-shy; why didn’t you fight back? How could you not fight back?”

He lies there, absorbing my outburst. I glare at him, waiting for him to live up to my expectations, waiting for him to fight. Instead, in that voice that quite possibly may cause me to melt despite my anger, he explains, “Things change, Liv. I guess I just need…space to disagree with you so I don’t feel like it’s gonna cost me our partnership.”

Shit.

Shit, shit, shit. How could I have missed that? He’s afraid. It’s the last thing I’d ever expect from Elliot, and yet, it makes so much sense now. I did that to him. I walked away from him when he probably needed me most, because I didn’t think I could be strong enough to help him through his turmoil with the professional detachment of a partner or the platonic care of a friend and ignore the voices in my head that wanted me to never leave his side. “Oh, God,” I mutter.

He’s avoiding my eyes now.

“Oh, God,” I repeat. “You think I’m going to leave again, don’t you?” I sound almost meek, something I am not accustomed to at all. He doesn’t answer. “Elliot? That’s it, isn’t it? You think if you fight back, I’m gonna leave.”

He nods almost imperceptibly and my shoulders fall. “Are you?”

The question breaks my heart. “No, El, I’m not gonna leave.” I say it confidently, though my insecurity quickly rushes in, prodding me to nervously add, “Not unless you want me to.” I wrap my arms around my waist, waiting for his reply.

He turns to face me then, returning to the preferred position of the night, on his side, propped on an elbow. He spends a few moments reading my eyes, and I know he must see the uncertainty I’m feeling. “No, Olivia,” he starts, and I feel the timbre of that voice all the way over here, “I don’t want you to go anywhere.”

I hug my sides just a bit tighter and offer him the sort of tight-lipped, twisted smile people make when they’re happy about something but trying not to cry at the same time.

His hand again reaches into the neutral territory; and this time, he gently pats the mattress. “Come on, Liv. Come back to bed.”

So, of course, I do.

Chapter Text

4. Snuggling with a Porcupine

I walk carefully to the edge of the mattress and study the place my body had occupied just minutes before. Then, I turn my eyes up to his from behind the curtain of my bangs, suddenly understanding why psychologists suggest blue paint to people needing a calming environment. Taking a deep breath, I slide back into the bed, rearranging the sheets I’d hastily tossed aside until they drape into the curve of my waist.

He and I are face-to-face again, his arm still extended and resting in the neutral zone. Once I have settled, he smiles slightly and begins to withdraw his arm. Before he can, and before I have a chance to think about it, my own hand (the one not curled underneath the pillow my head rests on) jumps out and lands on top of his. His raising eyebrows and quick glance at our hands are the only hints of surprise he allows me to see before he turns his eyes back to mine, holding me captive in a way only his irises can. He slides his hand back toward his half, just a bit, taking my hand with his, until the two of them lie right on the center line. Eye contact unwavering, I manipulate our wrists until they are curled around one another so that I’m able to intertwine his fingers with my own.

Neither of us pulls back, and neither of us squeezes. We just hold on. Hands clasped together, resting in the middle of neutral territory, a poignant symbol of an unspoken truce.

I close my eyes, and listen again to the sounds of our breathing. The slow, even breaths of two people who are perhaps finally finding a state of relaxation.

When I wake up, I have no idea how much or how little time has passed. It takes a few blinks of my eyes to realize that something does not feel right. At all. I feel restrained, like I’m wrapped up in some sort of straightjacket, unable to move. Sure enough, there is an arm locked around my waist.

For crying out loud, I’m a cop. This should not pose a problem. High school wrestlers can get out of a hold like this.

So, why aren’t I moving?

I glance downward, noticing that there isn’t, in fact, an arm locked around my waist. There are two. His…and mine, holding his in place. Briefly, I think that this must be what it’s like to be paralyzed because my body is experiencing such sensory overload that I can’t feel anything anymore and am simply unable to move my extremities.

This creates a whole new set of complications. Not being able to move is making me try to identify the sensations that are causing my nerve endings to misfire. I can feel the veins that run across the back of his hand beneath my fingertips. I can also feel the underwire of my bra poking annoyingly into my side, reminding me why I never sleep in my bra. Then there’s that warm spot from where his palm is pressing against the thin, ribbed cotton of my tank top.

Wait. Against my tank top? I sneak another peek downward and roll my eyes in exasperation upon seeing that the jersey has managed to bunch its way up toward my ribcage. Did I do that? Shit…did he?

My brain is sending frantic signals to my body to get the hell up and out of this bed. My body is completely ignoring them. Man, that jersey had some length to it, too. Long enough to cover my…oh, God. I can feel the cool, smooth material of the sheets on my thighs. My very, very upper thighs. That means…

My brain is screaming now. Get your ass out of this bed. Now! This is your partner’s bed, in case you’ve forgotten; and, by the way, that’s your partner who is shrouding you with his body. Oh, and one more thing: your panties are showing. Goddammit.

I’m beginning to scare myself. Why should this be so overwhelming? It’s a very easy situation to remove myself from. Just get out of bed. It’s that easy. So…why the fuck aren’t I moving?

Oo, hold up, what was that? I think I just moved. I think I just…Jesus Christ, I just snuggled one of my shoulders back toward my partner. I snuggled. I fucking snuggled. Do you know why people snuggle? They snuggle to get closer. They snuggle because they…

Shit. Because they like being close. I like this. That’s why I’m not moving. Well, if I were scared before, now I’m fucking terrified.

His warm exhalation breezing onto the back of my neck at that second nearly causes me to jump out of my skin. Images of a cartoon cat who just had one of his nine lives scared right out of him come to mind; his white, ghostly spirit rising from its body, hair standing on end, legs sticking straight out, claws extended. But, still, I don’t move. Thank God. I have to be smooth about this.

I grip the hand I’m holding to my abdomen only as tightly as necessary to lift Elliot’s hefty arm. Somehow, I manage to get onto my back and essentially limbo my way out from underneath the arm I am holding suspended in the air. I set my feet on the carpet and slither my way off the edge, laying Elliot’s arm down in front of his body. I stand and, for a moment, I am quite frankly impressed with my stealth, as Elliot has not shown a sign of stirring in his slumber. Very slowly, I begin to back up, maintaining a level of silence that would make a Navy SEAL proud. I back through a doorway, closing the door in front of me, finding myself, once again, in the goddamned bathroom.

The breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding rushes out of me. I pace back and forth a few times and finally plop myself unceremoniously onto the toilet seat and hide my face in my hands. How did this happen? Seriously. How did this happen? I don’t remember rolling over to face the other way, and I certainly don’t remember backing myself up to Elliot.

I do distinctly remember that when I woke up just now, we weren’t on his side of the bed. We weren’t on mine. We were in the middle. The nonpartisan space. The space that didn’t belong to either one of us. I can only come to the conclusion that I couldn’t have been the only one who moved. He had to have moved, too. When did he do that? Why did he do that? Just what the hell does that mean?

And why is the dominant thought in my head that I really want to crawl back under his arm and stay there for as long as he’ll let me? I am not a snuggly person. I am not cuddly. I don’t hold people and I don’t like to be held. I don’t let my one-night-stands do it. I didn’t let the few men I had short-term “relationships” with do it. I don’t like it. It’s too close, too…intimate. I’ve spent far too many years perfecting the utilitarian skill of using up maximum mattress space to just to give it up and converge in only a small portion of it with just anyone.

I don’t cuddle. Bottom line.

But, God, I just want to go back to bed.

I’m suddenly struck by the urgent need to find out what time it is and, therefore, just how long I’ve been in bed with Elliot Stabler. I walk over to where my clothes still sit, neatly stacked, on the counter. I sort through them quickly before I remember I hadn’t been wearing my watch. Damn. I’m going to have to check my phone…in the bedroom. I almost make it to the door before abruptly heading back to my pile of clothes. I pull a quick Flashdance move, unhooking my bra through both shirts and, after some maneuvering, manage to produce it from one of the sleeves of the jersey. Turning back to the door, I square my shoulders, newly confident in my ability to be inconspicuous, walk to it, and pull it open.

Elliot remains exactly how I left him. His left arm is tucked underneath his pillow, the right still settled loosely in front of him. The sheets are low on his torso, leaving most of his bare chest visible. The reason I’d re-entered the bedroom escapes me and I’m more than a bit mystified at how peaceful this man is able to look when he’s asleep. The raging bull I’ve known for eight years is gone. The man I’m observing now is one that I’m unexpectedly afraid I’ve never truly known.

This Elliot Stabler is content. This Elliot I’m pretty damn sure I’d like to get to know better.

I close my eyes tightly for a few seconds, trying in vain to push those thoughts to the wayside. I can’t go down that road. I can’t. It isn’t fair to him. For Christ’s sake, the man is in the preliminary phases of divorcing his wife of two decades. I can’t be thinking like this. If I do, sooner or later, it’s going to show, and I just can’t unload that on him right now. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I-

“Liv?” His voice is throaty, a sanded edge to it from the haze of sleep. I don’t respond. Maybe he’s just talking in his sleep. His eyes are still closed, after all. He could be dreaming. Dreaming, and saying my name. Jesus.

No.

“Liv?” he repeats, and I hold my breath. This will pass. He’ll stop any minute. “Liv, I know you’re standing there.”

Busted.

“Stop thinking about it,” he mumbles, still never opening his eyes.

I open my mouth to try to protest, but he beats me to it.

“I know you’re thinking about it. Stop over-analyzing everything, Olivia.” He says it as though it would be the simplest thing in the world for me to do. “Just come back to bed.”

For the second time tonight, because I’m powerless to deny him anything right now, I oblige.

Chapter Text

5. Zone Defense

It’s not without trepidation that I approach the bed this time. He has yet to look up at me, probably because he knows that if he does there’s a good chance that I might barricade myself in the bathroom again. I do still want to lie back down next to him; but I’m also still entirely freaked out by the prospect of enjoying being held.

My emotions reach a compromise. I’ll get back into bed; I’ll just stay on my side of the bed and I won’t look at Elliot. Simple enough. I place one knee on the mattress, then the other, the pillow-top surface dipping only slightly under my weight. I turn my back to my resting partner, sliding my legs underneath the sheets. Gently, I settle myself down on my left side. Unfortunately, from this angle, I’m staring directly through the open bathroom door, the inviting cavern of solitude taunting me to go be alone with my thoughts.

It’s still easier than looking at Elliot. Facing him, I’d be able to see him even from behind closed eyes. Mind’s eye, imagination, whatever the fuck you want to call it. Facing the bathroom, my eyelids act as blinders, effectively cutting off the temptation to retreat. I’ve got this covered. My inner cheerleader - I never was one, but I figure everyone has a pom-toting ball of teenage energy living in her somewhere - chants, “De-fense! De-fense!”

Rule One of good defense: cover all your bases. Concentrate too hard on one zone and you leave another vulnerable. In my case, this means my back. No one’s got my back. Well, figuratively speaking, Elliot has had my back for eight years, which does me no good in my current situation when he’s the person I’m trying to block. The Rangers would not be happy with me.

He runs a forefinger through my hair, and when it reaches the end of the length he also uses his thumb to pinch a section of hair and gently tug on it. “Liv, get back over here.” Spoken as a command, I understand it’s only a request. Elliot would never command me to do anything he thought would make me uneasy.

So, I remember wishing earlier that I could have a hockey player body-check me into the wall. Wish granted, more or less. The combination of the feather-light tug on my hair and that incredibly goddamned sexy voice that just emanated from somewhere deep in his throat is enough to make me feel as though I’ve just been slammed against the Plexiglas. It’s enough to knock the wind out of me and breathing is suddenly excruciatingly hard.

The trouble with not being able to breathe is that it makes talking a bit more laborious. At quite the literal loss for words, I instead shake my head “no” in tight, vigorous sways.

Have I mentioned he hasn’t let go of my hair? I swear to God, I think he just started twirling a piece of it around his finger and I can feel the shockwaves wash over my scalp.

A few seconds pass. “You gonna tell me why not?” He has got to stop using that voice with me, because if he doesn’t, it might induce an orgasm I really don’t want to have in front of him right now.

I’ve learned that often the quickest way to shut a man up is to shove your tongue down his throat. Often. Not this time. So now I’m fucked. I shake my head again.

“Well, I don’t know about you, Liv,” he begins, and now there’s even a hint of laughter in the sandy voice he’s taken to so easily, “but I was sleeping pretty damn well until you got up.”

My answer falls right out of my mouth, bypassing the internal filtering process that would have ordinarily kept it contained. “That’s because you’re used to it,” I reason aloud, my voice hushed and a little lonely and I hope not betraying that I’m still a bit turned on by the fingers weaving through my tousled hair, loosening tangles as they play.

“Used to what?” He’s entirely unfazed. Asshole.

I don’t want to say it. I really don’t want to say it. Fuck, I didn’t even want to start this conversation. Don’t ask me to say it, don’t ask me to say it, please don’t ask me to say it.

He asks me to say it. Because it’s him and because it’s me, he asks me to say it. “Used to what, Liv?” Holy hell, one of his fingers just made contact with my neck.

I take a shaky breath and will the watery sheen on my eyes not to become actual tears. “Used to holding onto someone.” I blow my breath out through a small hole in my lips, as if I were trying to blow out candles. Or as if I were terrified of heights and just skydived for the first time and am desperately trying to bring myself down from the tremors of the adrenaline rush.

He chooses now not to question me further. And I know it’s because he wants me to elaborate.

“Christ, Elliot. Unless you were asleep in the crib, you probably haven’t spent a night alone in a bed in twenty years. You’re used to having someone to hold at night. You’re used to being able to hold a person like a security blanket.” Son of a bitch, that finger just traced up the back of my neck again. And I’ll be damned if that wasn’t on purpose. I don’t manage to completely quash the shiver that arises, my skin rebelliously flinching under his touch. “I’m not used to holding anyone, and I’m certainly not used to being held.”

“Mmhmm.” He murmurs just to let me know he’s listening to me.

Well, now he’s gone and opened the floodgate. “People don’t hold me, Elliot. I don’t let people hold me. Holding somebody is like the physical manifestation of some kind of deeper attachment and I’ve never wanted anyone to even think they were that attached to me. Or that I was that attached to them. I don’t want that kind of responsibility.” I pray I don’t sound as pitiful as I feel.

“What responsibility is that?”

“The having to be responsible for someone else’s emotions all the time. Shit, I have a hard enough time with my own; I don’t want the burden of having to consider someone else every time I do something. I don’t know if that’s selfish or just survival. But, I don’t want the burden of trying to fit into someone else’s idea of who I should be.”

He seems to ponder this for a moment. “Believe it or not, Liv, you’re never responsible for someone else’s emotions. Every person is responsible for how they feel. If you hurt someone’s feelings, you can apologize, but it’s up to that person to decide how to deal with that situation internally. Someone else can tell you how to feel or advise you; but, in the end, it’s always your own decision. Someone else may be able to change your mind, but no one can change your heart except you. And, as hard as they may try, no one…no one can turn you into someone you’re not.” I can’t help but think he may be drawing upon recent personal experience and now I feel bad for making him dwell.

I bite my lip, the pang of guilt hitting high in my chest.

“I don’t know if you realize it, Liv, but I’ve been holding onto you for the past eight years.”

I freeze.

“As far as me sleeping alone…for the past year or so, Kathy and I may just as well have taken a page out of the Lucy and Ricky decorating manual and gotten separate beds. That’s what it felt like we were sleeping in most nights, anyway.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know,” I manage to squeak out. What the hell just happened to my voice?

He must have sensed the change, because his hand immediately leaves my hair and his fingertips land so softly on my arm just below my shoulder that I hardly notice they’re there.

Actually, that’s bullshit. I am fully fucking aware that his fingers are on my arm.

“Hey,” he says, in that comforting way I hear him talk to hysterical victims, while putting just a tiny bit of pressure on my arm, asking me to lean back toward him so he can see my face. I give to the pressure, knowing full well that, if I don’t, it won’t go away. Like a horse pulling against his rope, I know that the uncomfortable, gentle force won’t let up until I relinquish to it.

I shift until I’m halfway on my back. Elliot has hiked himself up onto his elbow, leaning forward toward me, though still managing to stay anchored in the middle of the bed.  

I’m still not going to look at him. Until I have to.

“Hey, look at me.”

Nope. Not until I have to.

“Olivia…” his voice is almost a warning, though somehow entirely non-threatening.

No.

Not until…well, not until he says that. I roll my head enough so I can look up at him from the edge of my sight. The first thing I notice is how large his pupils are in the room that is still darkened despite the tint of gold from the early morning sun. A thought breaks through that we must have only been asleep for a few hours if the sunrise was still actively playing through the sky.

Then, my focus is right back on his eyes. And how astoundingly sexy they are right now.

“It’s not your fault,” he tries to assure me. “None of this is your fault. Do you understand that?”

I shut my eyes against the guilt and beg myself not to shed a tear. Not going to cry. Not going to cry. There is no crying in hockey, goddammit, and as long as I’m in this jersey, there is no crying.

I nod, though I fear my chin trembled.

It must have, because he calls me on it within seconds. “Liar.” I hear the grin before his voice smoothes back out. “Look, even if you don’t believe me, I know it’s true. I can’t make you believe me, so you’ll just have to trust me. Can you do that?”

Jerk. He knows he’s got me here. He knows I can’t say “no” to that.

So, I don’t say anything. I just open my eyes. And his lips curl into a smile.

We watch each other for a minute and he’s again the one to break the silence.

“You know, Liv, the only way to get used to something is to keep doing it.”

I roll my eyes and groan, turning back away from him.

“That’s too much,” I argue. “More than I can handle.”

“You scared?” he challenges.

I scoff.

“Are you?” he prods.

Bastard. I mumble, “Yeah, a little.” Understatement.

“Of me?” He actually sounds worried now and I can feel by a slight draft that the heat of his body has retreated from mine.

I flop onto my back in resignation. “No, El, not of you.” I turn my head and level my gaze at him and see that he’s lying in the same position I am. “I could never be scared of you, Elliot. Never.”

His head turns and his eyes meet mine. They appear hopeful, somewhat comforted.

“After all, like you said, you’re the longest relationship I’ve ever had with a man.” My tone is joking, but I’m completely serious, and he knows it. “If I were scared of you, I’d have kicked your ass eight years ago just to prove that I wasn’t scared of you and then run like hell in the opposite direction.”

He appreciates the attempt at humor and chuckles, aware that I probably would have done exactly what I’d just claimed I would have done. “Then what are you afraid of?”

The ceiling has suddenly become incredibly interesting in the midst of my sudden onslaught of embarrassment. “Myself.” I pause. “I’m afraid it’s more than I can handle. I’m afraid of getting used to it because when you’re used to something, you start to need it. When you need something, you rely on it. When you rely on something and then someday, it’s not there anymore…I just think that…I don’t think I could handle that.”

The sheets rustle as he again arranges himself on his side. “Hey, Liv?”

“Hmm?” That’s all I’m capable of. The rest of my energy is concentrating on my mantra. There’s no crying in hockey, no crying in hockey…

In quite possibly the most entrancing voice he’s used tonight, he tells me, “I’m not going anywhere, either.”

My eyes squeeze shut once more and out of the corner of my right eye, there goes a tear. Fuck. It had to be the right eye, the one closest to him. Double fuck.

His index finger is quick to swipe the offending drop of saline from my cheek. “Okay?”

I blink rapidly a few times to dispel the rest of the moisture in my eyes and nod. I make up my mind and roll to my side.

My back is to Elliot.

I think he was trying to sigh quietly, so I wouldn’t sense his frustration or disappointment, but he must have known it would be a futile effort.

I reach my right arm behind my body, hand open, fingers outstretched. I only have to wait a few moments before I feel his hand in mine. I close my fingers around it and start to pull his arm toward me, as though I were trying to grasp an extra blanket to cover myself with. It may not be a blanket I need right now, but warmth nonetheless. His body follows his arm across the median, through the neutral zone, until he is officially on my side of the bed. With me. I tuck my left hand under my pillow and use my right to wrap his arm around my waist, pinning it there with my own.

This time, I know how it happened. And I know why he moved.

He moved because I asked him to.

Chapter Text

6. Crunch Time

The next time I awaken, it’s slowly. My other senses begin the ascent to awareness several minutes before I ever open my eyes. First, I feel skin. It’s under my hand and cheek. I’m definitely not lying on a pillow anymore. My right cheek is resting on something else soft in its own way, but solid nonetheless. An arm? No, that can’t be it. The fingers of my left hand are splayed out and beneath them, I detect the ridges and contours of what I believe to be a ribcage. I can smell a trace of soap that had been rinsed off hours ago. There are fingers in my hair again and that is something I’m afraid I could get used to.

I’m pretty sure I know where I am, but it isn’t until my ears clue me in that I’m convinced.

Below the hollow of my right ear, a resonating beat keeps time for me. The more I focus on it, the better I can hear it and the easier I’m able to feel it. It’s so dominant to me now that even the siren wailing three stories down almost escapes my notice. Oddly enough, it’s more comforting to me than the hum and chaos of the early morning in the city. It seems fitting to me that Elliot Stabler should have a heartbeat strong enough to drown out the sirens I’ve deafened myself with for years.

The rise and fall of his chest is hypnotic in its rhythm. The fluttering of my eyelids against his skin must have given me away because seconds after I've blinked the slumber from my eyes, he speaks. I can feel that under my cheek, too. Like a technologically-challenged seismologist whose only tool of detection is to press his ear to the ground to listen for the rumbles of a pending quake, I feel the vibrations of his voice.

“You’re awake.” He’s not asking, merely stating the obvious.

I take a few moments to survey my current position before answering. Sure enough, just as the evidence had suggested, my partner is now lying on his back, his right hand tucked beneath his head. I’m partially curled over him, my right cheek on his chest, the fingers of his other hand running absentmindedly through my hair. My left arm is reaching across his torso, bent so that my forearm parallels his side, my fingers spread wide to hug the curvature of his ribcage. I’ve somehow managed not to tangle my legs with his, and they remain to the side. Close, touching, but not possessing. I, once again, have no idea how I ended up like this.

The question of how long he may have been awake as I lie sleeping on his chest is more than a little disconcerting.

I’m about to clarify that I was barely awake when my body tells me it’s time to get up. Actually, my stomach tells me it’s time to get up. I stifle a yawn and mumble “I’m hungry.”

He laughs so hard it practically bounces me off his chest. Irritated, I sit up, shoving him in the process. “What the hell’s so funny?” I dare him to answer.

He turns his sparkling eyes on me, the laughter subsiding. “I don’t know, Liv. Just figures you’d be the type whose first waking thought is of food.”

He’s still lying down and I sit next to his head, back to the headboard, stretching my legs out just a bit, my bent knees making a tent in the sheets. He is so wrong. My first waking thought was actually that his chest makes a fantastic pillow. The second was how fucking incredible his skin felt under my fingers. Third: how the Folgers people had it all wrong and the way he smells is the best part of waking up. Fourth: Fuck tea. I want a cup of coffee. Fifth: that if he never takes his fingers out of my hair, I’d be okay with that. I do believe after that I thought that I may never again battle with insomnia if only I could listen to the sound of his heartbeat in bed.

So, you see, he is so wrong. Food didn’t occur to me until at least seventh in line. “I resent that,” I counter, scowling at him.

He stares back up at me, a glint of laughter remaining in his eyes. I narrow mine at him in return. Our face-off is broken by the sound of my stomach growling. He purses his lips, trying desperately not to grin. He bites into his lower lip. His shoulders shake with the dammed-up chortles. When he can’t take it anymore (which isn’t very long, by the way, and I do fleetingly wonder – hope? – that his stamina is better in other situations), he laughs loudly, facing back toward the ceiling.

I roll my eyes, and cross my arms, leaning heavily back onto the headboard. When he’s settled down to just chuckling, I glare downward at him, asking “Are you finished?”

He nods. Just as I’m turning my head away from him, he roars at me, a low baritone vibration meant to mock my stomach. Also one of the sexiest things I’ve ever heard. I think my thighs just twitched. That’s it.

“Son of a bitch,” I say, trying to sound angry, though I’m starting to laugh. I whip a pillow out from behind my back with my left hand and, just as quickly, bring it over my head to whack him with it. His hands come up to block just a split second too late, and my cheerleading alter-ego does a mental victory dance that my reflexes were quicker than his. Cops think about those things. Almost anything can become a quick-draw competition. Even a pillow fight.

I swing my legs off the bed and head to the bathroom. Abruptly, I duck to one side and snatch the pillow that had been flung at the back of my head, sending laser eyes in Elliot’s direction before rocketing the pillow back at him and quickly retreating behind the bathroom door. I’m so on my game this morning.

For the first time, I’m in his bathroom because I actually have to use the bathroom. Go figure. When I re-emerge, fully awake thanks to a splash of cold water to the face (I could have used the full cold shower, to be honest, but I wouldn’t have wanted him to get suspicious), I find that he hasn’t budged. I pause with my hands on my hips, head cocked to the side and eyebrows raised expectantly.

He just watches me. Well, he looks at me. He looks me up and down. He’s looking at me in a way that makes me feel entirely worshipped and terrified at the same time. Then he grins at me.

Time out!

“I’m raiding your kitchen.” With that, I stalk out of the room.

I find my way out of the tunnel and take the minute I didn’t earlier to look around the living room as I wander toward the kitchen. The furniture is simple, tasteful. It’s reminiscent of a bachelor who’s lived with a woman before. It’s not the college dorm look favored by many young, party-going single men who still think they’re hanging with the frat boys. It’s also not the overly-decorated, contemporary look favored by the businessmen who think it’ll impress women.

It’s perfectly Elliot. On the coffee table are a few magazines. Corvette, Mid-America Motorworks and a Griot’s Garage catalog. I hear that ‘vette enthusiasts are fanatics for life. I bet that even after Elliot one day gets his dream ’65 Stingray, he’ll always be just as boyishly excited when he drives it as if it were still only a dream.

There are pictures of his children prominently displayed on bookshelves hanging along the far wall. I step up to them to get a better look. One is of Maureen at her high school graduation. Another is Kathleen with a horse at Central Park. That must have been the day she convinced Elliot to take her riding. He couldn’t get comfortable in his chair for the next two days.

There’s one of Dickie at a hockey game and Elizabeth playing soccer. None of them are pre-arranged poses. This doesn’t surprise me. Elliot would be the type to appreciate the memory-enhancing abilities of a picture that simply captures a moment in progress.

Maureen is tossing her cap into the air. Kathleen stands forehead to forehead with the horse she rode, a gesture of mutual trust and understanding. Dickie is in full goalie gear, smiling from ear to ear, several of his teeth blacked out by that disgusting putty kids enjoy so much at Halloween. Lizzie is in the middle of a group of players, the only one in mid-air, trying to knock down a header.

I find myself in awe sometimes of how brilliant my partner’s children are. They’re strong and resilient, and each so talented in very different ways. Elliot is beginning to realize it isn’t worth trying to convince me of his shortcomings as a father because I won’t cut him any slack. His kids are amazing and so much like their father in their own unique ways.

I cross into the kitchen, my stomach having reminded me of why I left the bedroom to begin with, which is nice because I was frankly having a difficult time remembering why I would do something so stupid. I’ve pretty much stopped caring what time it is, so the numbers 10:04 glaring in green don’t matter to me other than to explain why I’m so hungry.

I flip on a light and do a three-sixty, surveying the cabinets. I make my selection, walk to a cabinet, open it and am pleased to find I nailed it the first time out. The cereal cabinet. I can’t help but smile as I browse the boxes. Lucky Charms, Froot Loops, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, the quintessential box of Cheerios. Now, that’s my type of man.

And, we have a winner: there’s a box of Cap’n Crunch on the shelf. I pull it out and head to another cabinet where I successfully uncover the dishes. Two for two. Pretty impressive. And a little creepy. I snag a bowl and set it on the bar top, filling it with cereal.

I’m about to sit down on a stool when I get the feeling something is missing. It’s not the milk - I’d actually rather eat this dry. It gets soggy too fast. I scan the kitchen. My eyes fall upon the coffeemaker.

Oh, thank God. It’s been too long. I find the coffee without a problem and get a healthy pot going before retreating to my barstool. How the hell do I know this man’s kitchen so well?

I tuck a leg underneath myself and start popping cereal in my mouth. I’m a grown-ass woman and I eat the stuff like it’s trail mix. I think I’m reading the “fun facts” on the back of the box, but what I’m really doing is idly wondering what’s going to happen now that we’re done sleeping. That was the whole point, wasn’t it? Sleeping? My heart clenches briefly at the thought of going home anytime soon, which worries me. I can’t let myself get used to this, I can’t. I can’t get used to being here, at his home, because he’s my partner and he’s getting divorced and he’s not going to want to go there with me and if he did he won’t want to do it now.

I can’t pinpoint why that disappoints me in such a raw way. It shouldn’t. This shouldn’t happen anyway. It’s wrong in so many ways.

But then, so am I. And so is he. Can’t it be that, just once, two wrongs can make it all right?

I’m halfway done with my bowl of dry Cap’n Crunch when Elliot appears. As I was eating, I’d heard the toilet flush (to be expected) and the water running for several minutes. It wasn’t the shower, though, so either my partner has OCD where hand-washing is concerned or he was doing something else. He breezes behind and by me, leaning close to my ear as he passes, asking “How’d you sleep?” I use the word “breezes” because the rush of air he trails in his wake almost lifts a strand of hair from my cheek. The scent it carries tells me what he’d been doing—shaving. His aftershave is all-consuming and intoxicating and I wonder if he knows that if he wants me to come back to bed all he’d have to do is walk in that direction and I’d follow his scent like a rat hot on the heels of the Pied Piper.

The answer to his question, by the way, is better than I have in years, even if it weren’t for very long.

But, I don’t want to admit that.

He’s come to stand across from me at the bar and tilts the open box of cereal up to his eyes, visually confirming that I had, in fact, emptied it. In my defense, there wasn’t much left and I have a sugar cereal problem.’ve been looking down at the bowl in front of me and I gaze guiltily up at him from behind my bangs, pushing the bowl to the center of the bar with one finger.

He takes the offering, claiming a handful and popping individual pieces into his mouth like I’ve seen him eat peanuts at a bar on numerous occasions. I decide that the best course of action in this situation is to launch a counter-offensive. I turn his question around to him. “I don’t know. You tell me.” I lean forward, my arms crossed on the counter. “Just how long were you awake while I was out?” I raise a suspicious eyebrow for his benefit.

He shrugs. “Probably just the last half hour.” Jesus. The man watches me sleep (on him, no less) for a half hour and he says it like it’s nothing.

“Elliot!” My voice carries my surprise.

“Liv, if I’d wanted to go back to sleep, I would have. I just…wanted to watch you for awhile.” He reaches for another handful of the Cap’n.

I, meanwhile, am beginning to think that perhaps I chose the wrong captain this morning. I would have done well to track down the liquor stash and drown myself in Captain Morgan. I don’t generally embarrass easily, but he’s managed to do it again. I squirm a bit on the stool. It wouldn’t have embarrassed me at all if I had been drunk. Damn. I try to play it off. “That’s kind of creepy, El.”

He shrugs again. “Made me feel better,” he explains simply, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. “Besides, you’re not scared of me. Remember? So, there’s nothing to be creeped out about.” He raises his eyebrows, challenging me.

“Touche,” I respond, lifting the corner of my mouth. I shift my eyes left, noticing that the coffee has finished brewing. I drop off the stool and make my way around the bar to where the coffeemaker is. Elliot steps back to allow me to pass in front of him. I’d found a couple mugs earlier, figuring he’d want in on the coffee. Of course, so far as he knows, I’m not drinking the stuff anymore. Maybe he won’t notice.

“I knew you couldn’t give it up,” he declares triumphantly. It’s the closest he’ll ever come to an I-told-you-so dance.

I quickly finish pouring mine and hold the pot over the sink with an outstretched right arm. Looking at him over my right shoulder, I threaten “You want any of this or not?”

He puts his hands up in mock surrender, though his grin couldn’t be much wider. “Okay, okay,” he relents.

I fill a mug for him and turn toward him to hand it over, the bar top now behind me. I don’t quite realize how close he had been standing until I find myself between him and the bar. Rather tightly between him and the bar. Without any shoes on, he’s got me by a solid four inches. At this distance, that makes me about eye level with his clavicle, the splendidly enticing series of dips and valleys that connect his neck to his torso. Yes, my partner is still shirtless. No, I definitely don’t want to run my tongue across the ridges I’m staring at. Definitely not.

Trying to dissipate the sudden awkwardness, I hold the coffee out to him. He takes it from my hand with a warm smile and even warmer “Thanks.” It’s really getting hot where I’m standing now. Christ. I’m holding hot coffee in my hands, am standing well within range of Elliot’s body heat, and the smile he just shot me and the voice that melted out of his throat made me hot in a whole other way. The hot and bothered way.

He smirks down at me, which doesn’t help, but he breaks the silence, which…well, doesn’t really help much either, but it’s something. “So seriously, Liv, what gives with the coffee?”

“I don’t know, El.” It’s my turn to shrug as I take a sip, wishing it would hurry the fuck up and cool down because I’d really like to chug the whole thing right now even though I forgot to look for sugar. It’s been too long. Withdrawal is an ugly bitch. “Things change, I guess.” I mirror his words from earlier this morning.

“What things?” He must know this is about more than coffee. I’m not giving in that easily though.

“You first,” I challenge, forcing myself to initiate a staring contest we’ve perfected over the years.

“Me first what?”

“You tell me what things changed. You started this.”

“Did not.” Ah, the old juvenile did-not-did-too tactic. Nice try, El. I know how to play that one. He narrows his eyes.

“Did too. You said it earlier this morning…when I asked you why you weren’t fighting back at me.” I didn’t particularly want to rehash that, but I don’t allow my eyes to leave his. I think he knows I’ve got him on that one because he doesn’t answer. Eyes already narrowed, he inclines his head down toward mine. It’s a slight move, but with his height advantage it’s enough to make me feel crowded. I lean away, getting an idea when I feel the edge of the counter press into the curve of my lower back. Eyes steady, I reach to the side, place my coffee on the counter, then use both hands to vault myself lightly onto the countertop. Now he has to look up at me. It’s only a couple inches, but I’ll take it. Ha.

He follows my eyes as I do this, his own getting narrower. He understands exactly what I’m doing; so once I’m situated on the bar, he smirks at me.

I shrug one shoulder and give him an innocent curve of my lips. More literally staring him down now, I repeat my demand. “You first.” I leave my hands beside me on the countertop and wrap one foot around the other ankle to keep my legs together without having to press them inward. It had just occurred to me how high up my thighs the jersey had slid and I do actually have some sense of modesty. It isn’t as though I haven’t thought about getting Elliot between my legs; but, until a moment comes when I’m absolutely sure something like that needs to or will ever happen, it’s a much safer plan to invest in modesty. “What changed?”

He finally snaps the eye contact and it’s to take a coffee break. He’s frustrated – I can tell by the way he knocks back half of it in only a couple swallows. I follow suit, managing two small sips because it’s still too goddamned hot for me and I know that his must have burned his mouth at least a little on the way down. I reset my mug and he puts his next to the sink to his right, presumably so he can settle his hands on his hips, where I flat-out refuse to look at them. Hips mean waistband of boxers. Waistband of boxers means something very inappropriate. “I don’t really know, Liv. It’s kind of hard to define, you know?”

I nod. Boy, do I ever. “I know,” I assure him quietly. “Try. Please?” I need him to put this all into words, because maybe then I’ll be able to make enough sense of my own feelings to verbalize them as well.

He runs a hand over his head, letting it linger on the back of his neck for a few seconds. “I don’t know when things changed for me. I just know that something did. While you were away in Oregon…I don’t know, Liv…I was just…lost. I was lost. I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself. I guess because I wasn’t myself. Not anymore. So I tried to just change. Be different. Be someone new. Get by.” He’s been gesturing as he speaks. Not wildly so, but enough to disperse the nervous energy it’s obvious he’s holding in.

I want to vomit just thinking about what I’m about to say, but I can’t help but say it. My voice comes out only a wavelength above a whisper. “Is this about Dani?” My stomach feels like it’s punching itself to punish me for saying her name, for thinking of her.

His eyes are on mine in a flash. “No.” His voice is firm, strict. “No, Liv, this is not about Dani. It never was.” His gaze is intense on mine until he knows I understand that what it’s always been about is me.

Us.

My exhalation is shakier than I had hoped. I let my head drop back and breathe a few times, rubbing open palms against my thighs. My palms aren’t sweaty, but I feel like they should be and treat them as such. Still watching the ceiling, I tell him “When I was in Oregon, I didn’t want to change. I didn’t want to be this other person. But I had to be. The longer I was there, the more I started thinking that maybe this other person was a good idea, that I needed to change, that maybe there was something fundamentally screwed up about me that could benefit from being her.”

I pause the motion of my hands, leaving them to grasp my knees. “But even when I thought I wanted to, I couldn’t escape who I was, what I’d left behind…who I’d left behind. God, it was so hard,” I continue, rolling my head to the left, bringing my right hand up to rub my neck, more out of frustration that any actual neck pain. I switch sides, stretching to the right, sliding my hand around in front of me to now cup the left side of my neck.

Elliot hasn’t said anything and I need to see his face. Maybe it will talk to me. Maybe his eyes will tell me things I need to know. I don’t move my hand, just tilt my face down to look at him. The look on his face I can only describe as stricken and that terrifies me. What did I say? Shit. I must have the same look on my own face now. I don’t move a muscle, just say his name. “Elliot?”

He’s looking at me, but not really. His eyes won’t meet mine and are directed somewhere else. Somewhere lower that I can’t quite place. “Elliot?” I question again. “Elliot, what is it? What’s wrong?” I sound as worried as I feel.

His eyes don’t budge. “I can’t believe how close I came to losing you that day.”

Huh? What day? What is he talking about? “El, I don’t understand. What day?”

Silently, he reaches up with his left hand, taking my right gently by the wrist and moving it off and away from my neck. He holds my hand off to the side and his other hand comes toward my neck. My eyes are stretched wide as they follow his movements. When I feel the sensation of his finger tracing lightly across what I know to be the small, whitish line that marks my encounter with Gitano, I gasp. He does it again, with two fingers this time, allowing them to linger. At the same time he drops his hand from my neck, he releases my wrist and both of his hands fall on either side of me, gripping the countertop’s edge with white-knuckled force.

It takes me a couple seconds to remember how to breathe. My hands are motionless in my lap. “But you didn’t lose me, El. I’m fine, I’m okay. I’m right here.” The tremor in my voice makes me sound as though I’m trying to convince myself as much as him. Perhaps I am.

I don’t know if he even hears me. He’s gripping the counter so forcefully now that I can see every ridge and striation in his arms all the way to the shoulder. “Elliot.” I just want him to look at me. I take my hands to the sides of his face, trying in vain to pull his eyes up to meet my worried gaze. The tension in his muscles extends across his upper back and there’s enough resistance to prevent me from getting his head to budge.

My ankles drop apart and I decide not to try to change the angle of his head again; instead, I slide my hands around to the back of his head and, with my fingertips, gently pull him toward me. His forehead lands against my chest and I hold it there, settling my chin on his hair. Then, I close my eyes and breathe. I’m trying to calm him down, so the last thing I want to do is cry. I fight like hell to keep my breaths slow and even, but I can’t block the tears that begin to leak from my tightly closed eyelids.

We stay like this for a minute or two, neither of us speaking. His voice is pained when he finally does. “Jesus, Liv, I was so scared. I was so fucking scared. I was terrified that I was going to lose you.” As he talks, my tears start falling faster and I pray that when they drop off my jaw they’ll miss his head so he won’t know they exist. “Then it hit me. After that happened, it hit me that losing you would be the worst pain I could imagine.” I know he means with the exception of his kids. That’s a given. “I realized that if something had gone wrong and you were in the hospital and something had happened to Kathy the same day that I wouldn’t be able to leave your bedside for hers. And that make me feel like a fuck of a husband. What kind of husband thinks that way? It was wrong, I was wrong. I was wrong and I didn’t care because being right wouldn’t have mattered if I’d lost you.”

Controlling my breathing is a near impossibility now and the strain of it causes my chin to tremble. Dammit. He immediately pulls his head away from me and looks straight into my eyes. I swipe the tears away with my hands before he has a chance to. I don’t want him to think about me crying right now. I just want him to listen.

“When you had that gun to your head, I knew I could never do anything to endanger your life. I couldn’t because I couldn’t handle the guilt. I couldn’t because I couldn’t lose you. I would have had him turn the gun on me before that could happen.” I’m starting to sound a bit hysterical now, the words are rushing out and I am constantly wiping fresh trails from my cheeks. “I wanted to scream at you to let me handle it. I wanted to scream at you that I loved you too Christ fucking much to lose you and that if you said one more goddamned thing to endanger yourself and we made it out of there I was going to beat you until my hands hurt and then kick your ass until my feet hurt just as badly. And I knew what I was thinking was wrong, I knew I shouldn’t have let those feelings get in the way and that I shouldn’t have been feeling them at all. You were married, you were my partner, and it was wrong; but, Jesus, El, I didn’t want to live if I lost you.”

He studies my face, waiting for me to calm down. After struggling for a minute, I get myself under control, connecting my eyes with the ocean blue of his, allowing my inner turmoil to drown in them. “So,” he begins, a hint of a smile lurking on his lips, “you were wrong, huh?”

I narrow my eyes at him. I’m defensive, but only weakly so. “No more than you were.”

He nods slowly and his voice is low in its admission. “Yeah.” He leans almost imperceptibly closer. “I was wrong.”

“We were both wrong.” I find myself unable to move.

His head keeps closing in and I see his eyes drop to my mouth for a second before flickering back up to mine. “Right. Both wrong.”

“Alright.” It’s all I can say because he’s so close now that his next word is essentially breathed onto my lips in a deep, hushed near-whisper.

“Alright.”

His progress toward me has been agonizingly slow until this moment. This moment, when he quickly closes the rest of the distance between us, capturing my upper lip between his, skimming his tongue across it before releasing my lip to check my eyes. I’m sure they told him all he needed to know, but I’m of the belief that actions will speak louder at this point.

I wrap my hands behind his head where they’d been just a few minutes before and tug his mouth back to mine, molding my lips to his. I mimic his motion with my own tongue and that was all the pretense necessary. Our mouths open to the other, tongues languidly stroking. It’s not frantic or fevered. It’s exploratory and cautious. Like our relationship.

As slowly as our mouths introduce themselves, his hands find their way from the counter’s edge up the sides of my legs to the tops. He wraps his long fingers around them and starts sliding his hands leisurely up my thighs. His body bumps into my knees as I pull him closer, and I can feel…him…beneath his boxers. I lift my legs up and apart, a motion practically instinctual at this point. So is his instantaneous step forward, bringing him standing between my legs, where I can’t believe I finally have him.

His hands are nearing the angle of my hips and thighs and my skin is burning where he has touched. When his hands pause, so does his tongue and he breaks away from my lips. I try to follow his retreating mouth, but he stops me by dropping his forehead against my own. “Olivia?"

Christ almighty. That voice. That spontaneous orgasm voice. You know, giving in to that orgasm isn’t sounding like such a bad idea anymore. I pull back to gaze down at him.

“I’m glad you weren’t drinking that herbal shit. Coffee tastes good on you.” He grins, his eyes glinting at me.

I glare at him and lean in, trying again to chase his lips down. He avoids me, forces me to lock my gaze on his. “By the way, I love you too Christ fucking much to lose you, too.”

And I’m crying again, tears silently blazing undiscovered trails over my skin. Damn him. I’m trying to stop, but my mouth is begging me to sob.

Like hell I’m going to sob.

I do the only other thing I can think of. I kiss him and, this time, he lets me. Just once, and not gently, but slowly enough to let my lungs stop contracting so hard. Once more, I mimic him, placing our foreheads together. “Elliot?”

“Yeah?”

“Take me back to bed.”

I can feel his smile all the way up in the creases of his forehead and he laughs. When he returns his eyes to mine, I smile right back at him, as widely as I have in I can’t remember how long. He runs his hands down until they hit the backs of my knees and he pulls me forward until my torso is pressed up against him. I keep one hand in place behind his head and wrap the other around his neck, kissing him as forcefully as I can manage.

He hooks his hands underneath my legs and lifts me off the counter. I don’t even have to latch my legs around him, his hold is so tight, which is good because I don’t think I have enough muscle coordination to do it anyway. We make it through the living room somehow and when we reach the intersection this time, I know he’s turning right.

Right. Finally.

Chapter Text

7. Stripped

I’m honestly glad that Elliot is as good of a navigator as he is, because he’s essentially doing this blind. I’ve taken over his entire field of vision, when he actually manages to open his eyes anyway. I can’t keep my hands still. They roam around the whole of his head – behind his neck, cupping the base of his skull; holding the smooth skin of his cheeks in place, so I can have better access to his mouth, supporting his strong jaw, where I can feel the muscles that are working to kiss the hell out of me flex and release.

Oh, God. Release. My body is aching for it, screaming for it and the mere thought of it causes me to tighten my thighs around his body and hike myself further up against where he holds me low on his hips in reflex. He groans into my mouth and my ass bumps into a wall. I guess I distracted him. Oops. And I’m not the least bit fucking sorry.

He drops my left leg to run his hand along the wall to get his bearings back and I quickly compensate by holding tightly to his hip with the back of my left knee until I feel him again grab a hold of my thigh. I somehow break my lips from his because I have to get them on the neck I’ve been caressing for the past…however long. Who the hell cares?

I throw my arms haphazardly around his shoulders and latch my open mouth onto the jugular region of the right side of his neck, allowing my hands to skim the planes and plateaus of his upper back. No one ever said that going for the jugular always has to be a bad thing. About death. I’m of the opinion that having his strong pulse underneath my lips and tongue is quite possibly the most enlivening thing I’ve ever felt.

The invisible haze from the scent of his aftershave surrounds me and I fear I might pass out, which would be absolutely unacceptable in every way imaginable. It’s a risk I’m willing to take. I inhale deeply as I run my tongue up one of many muscular indentations in his neck, feeling his warm and ragged breath at my ear.

“Fuck, Liv,” he’s able to grunt out.

I can only think “That’s the point.” But I can’t say anything. Instead I just murmur an agreeable “mmhmm” against his skin.

He turns to the left and one of my knees hits the doorframe as we start to cross into the bedroom. I hardly feel it, though I’m sure it’ll leave a bruise. “Sorry,” he mumbles. He’s been pressing kisses to my shoulder, even through his jersey, and I know he must be pissed that he has far more skin exposed than I do. I know he wants to put me down and I know he wants this jersey to come off; but, if he puts me down, my height will drop considerably, which means I won’t be able to reach his neck like this without a bit of a struggle.

Thinking as quickly as my brain will allow, I reach out with my right hand and grab the doorframe as we pass. He doesn’t know and keeps walking, causing my arm to jerk the rest of my body backward and I have to secure myself to him by tightening my other arm around his neck.

Even then, I’m yanked back hard enough to tear my mouth from his neck. I look down at him and grin. I was right before…those eyes, the ones that turn cobalt when his pupils dilate, are the most magnificently sexy pair of irises I have ever seen. I stare at him, my grin widening, until he understands. It only takes seconds and I let go of the doorframe as he presses me up against the wall next to the open door. We stare at each other a few more moments, and my lungs welcome the reprieve to catch my breath. The rest of me wants the reprieve to go fuck itself…so I can fuck the senses out of Elliot Stabler.

He is, fortunately, as impatient as I am – God bless Irish tempers – and, taking an instant to readjust his grip on my legs (which incidentally causes what is now undeniably a hard-on to crash into my pelvis, drawing a low moan from my throat), he shoots a glance down at the jersey, commanding, “Off.”

He pushes me against the wall with his lower half and I have to strive to remember what it was I needed to do. Balancing on his hands and bracing on the wall, I drop my hands from him, crossing them in front of me and grasping the bottom hem of the jersey, which has bunched itself up around my waist. This mesh shirt has been mighty good to me. Maybe I’ll ask him later if I can keep it. Don’t worry, Rangers, I’ve got this one covered – just call it a breakaway.

I yank the jersey over my head in one fluid movement and immediately try to bring my lips to his. He dodges my advance, shaking his head in a teasingly scolding manner. He lifts his chin to gesture at my tank top before telling me, “That, too.”

I glare at him through the narrowed slits of my eyelids. He’s not getting the upper hand quite yet. Besides, I’m fully aware that between the white tank and my bra-less, very much aroused breasts, I may as well be in a wet T-shirt contest. That’s all he’s getting right now because I intend to take full advantage of the time I have to explore his body while his own hands are occupied keeping me propped up.

This is a one-on-one. A game of trying to outsmart and outmaneuver the other. It’s a dance we do with carefully crafted expertise at work, so it may as well apply in the bedroom. Move one way, duck the other. Charge, retreat, break, shoot, score. I twist my lips wryly at the more than appropriate analogy. I press my hips into his, successful in securing my advantage when all he can do is groan and drop his head against my chest.

He can hold it there himself this time. I have other things on my mind.

I find his hands where they grasp my thighs and I fleetingly wonder if I’ll have bruises from his fingerprints later as I start at his wrists and run my hands up his arms. I curve my fingers around the contours of his forearms, flatten them and allow them to mold to the rounded forms of his biceps, over his shoulders and down his triceps. I squeeze lightly just above his elbows and let my hands roam back up to his shoulders. Jesus Christ, this man has incredible arms. Fascinating arms. Arms that bear the scars of his career and the inky brands of his convictions. I’ve seen his arms many, many times; but I’ve never really known them. They are arms that have protected me for years, arms I’ve trusted my life to, yet arms that I’ve only ever felt around me before now when I was lying on the traffic-worn tile of a bus terminal bleeding from what turned out to be a superficial slice on my neck.

They are arms now relinquishing their hold on me, his hands sliding up my thighs, over my hips, forcing my legs to drop and me to set my feet on the ground. As I lower, my hands, still on his shoulders, are now stretching my arms upward. Convenient for him, it turns out, because his hands keep right on going, trailing fire up my sides and over my ribcage, sliding under my tank top as they go. He hooks his thumbs on the hem and continues to raise his hands. I anticipate his timing and my hands lift from his shoulders at just the right time, letting him pull the top off and fling it behind him before I release my arms limply to my sides.

My eyes have been locked on his through this process; but, as his hands start to drift back toward me, I close them, frankly expecting him to go straight for the breasts. He doesn’t. Bastard. He settles them on my waist, strong fingers urging me closer. I didn’t think we could be much closer, but I was wrong. I stumble a step toward him, wrapping my arms around his neck as far as I can manage, dragging myself up to his mouth. The friction of his rigid chest against my already hardened nipples is enough to make me hiss a sharp intake of breath before I crash his lips to my own. His tongue is eager to stake its territory in my mouth, though I’ve known for years it’s only belonged to him.

The very tips of his fingers trace the dip of my spine and it’s enough to nearly make me shatter then and there. As it is, my panties are becoming proportionately uncomfortable with the increasing wetness between my legs. I swear I’m beginning to throb and my hips are desperately seeking his; but goddammit, those four pesky inches have him placed a bit too high. His hands are just starting to come around to my breasts…breasts can wait. I struggle to wrap one of my legs as high around him as I can, hoping he’ll take the hint.

We’ve always been better at non-verbal communication. He reaches down and picks up one of my legs, then the other, hoisting me up, dragging my body up against his in all the right ways. My head drops to his shoulder and I try to swallow the moan threatening to leak from between my lips. He walks over to the bed, sliding his hands up and over my ass to hold my waist as he turns around at the edge of the mattress. When he falls back onto the bed, I land on top of him with a glorious slam against his bulging erection. I cry out something completely unintelligible and, whatever it was, he apparently understood it because he responds by holding my hips and thrusting up against me once.

I feel my eyes roll back into my head and I have to blink several rapid times to reestablish some sense of awareness. I’m a grown woman, for Christ’s sake. Teenagers who still don’t want to go all the way have orgasms with their underwear still on, not me. I have got to hold out because, Lord, if I do, I’ve got a hell of a ride to look forward to. His hands have made it to my breasts now, supporting their weight on the crook of his thumb and forefinger before brushing his palms up and over them. I groan and fall forward onto him, bracing myself on my hands above his shoulders. He tightens his abs, curling his upper body off the mattress enough to get one of my nipples in his mouth. He hooks his hands under my arms, holding my body steady so he can continue his ministrations. His tongue laves on one, then the other, sucking, nipping, licking and my head is screaming at me that I’ve got to touch him. I can’t. If I do, I’ll have to move my arms and I might just drop as dead weight on him, my muscles rendered useless.

Fuck that.

I sit up, dragging him with me with a death-grip on his triceps. He sits up, scooting farther up the mattress with his legs outstretched, knees slightly bent so when I go to sit back on my heels, I instead fit perfectly into the “V” of his thighs and hips. My fingers snake behind his neck and I sweep my tongue over the roof of his mouth. He slants his mouth over mine and I can’t tell where his lips end and mine begin. I’m wrapped up in making love to his mouth, constantly arching my back to try to pull myself closer to him, inadvertently rocking our hips together each time I do. His fingers tangle in my hair (God, how I’ve missed them there) and I press myself down onto him reflexively.

His head jerks back from mine as he draws a sharp breath. “Jesus, Liv. You are an evil, evil woman.”

Oh, he has no idea.

I grin at him and, never breaking eye contact, drag my thumbs into the waistband of my panties. With minimal effort and movement, I wiggle my way out of them, toss them aside, then take him again by the backs of his arms and twist our bodies so that he lies directly on top of me, cradled between my thighs. It was sweet of him to think I might want to be on top and, with any other man, it probably would have been true. With any other man, this would mean nothing and I’d prefer to be in complete control.

But this is Elliot. Elliot, who is anyone but any other man. Elliot, whose passion for many things I have witnessed over the years. That’s what I want directed at me. That’s what I want to take control of me. I reach down and snap the waistband of his boxers against his skin. He winces only slightly before I give him the same command he gave me earlier. Turnabout is fair play. “Off.”

He raises an eyebrow at me. I return the favor. He stands at the foot of the bed, his retreating body sending a rush of cold air over the wet skin between my legs. I bring my knees together, closing my legs, blocking myself from the cold. I’m wondering what the hell is taking Elliot so long. I direct a glance at his boxers, which remain firmly in place, and scowl.

He’s just standing there. His left forearm is crossed over his stomach, the elbow of the right arm resting in his cupped left hand, his right hand rubbing over his chin and jaw in an almost contemplative manner.

“What?”

He doesn’t answer. My heart races faster than it already was and I clench my thighs tighter together, feeling suddenly and completely naked. Stripped. It’s as I start to move my arms to cover my chest that he speaks, halting me.

“Don’t.” The hand rubbing his jaw temporarily makes a stop sign before returning to his cheek. “Just…let me look at you.”

My mouth, which had been hanging open loosely, closes as I swallow hard. This is a no-no for me in the bedroom. I don’t just let men look at me. Either the lights are going to be off or I’ll keep them busy enough to never give them the chance. I think, though, that I just really didn’t want any of them to see me. This man standing in front of me, however…shit, he already knows me inside and out. He already sees me and he’s seen me at my best and my worst. His eyes tell me to trust him, so what else can I do?

I fold my hands on top of my stomach and watch him watch me. He leans down and takes my ankles, gently coaxing me to lower my legs and pry the imaginary magnets on my knees apart. My feet slide along the bedspread just a bit, my legs dropping open slightly. I remind myself to just keep breathing and I’ll be okay. He straightens up and resumes his earlier stance. This is like watching a really fucked up live interpretation of The Thinker sculpture. His hands drop to his hips without notice and he sighs heavily. “El? What is it?”

He shakes his head in what I’m reading as disbelief. I know the feeling. I’m lying naked on my partner’s bed. Seriously.

“You…” his lips move silently, searching for words. “You’re beautiful, Liv. You’re fuckin’ beautiful.”

Whoa.

Big pill to swallow. Big pill. Not going to choke. I point a wobbly finger at him, gesturing sharply. “Off,” I repeat.

The boxers fall with no further ado and I’m taken aback by how amazingly Elliot Stabler, in his entirety, is sculpted. Perhaps my Thinker metaphor wasn’t too far off, because the planes and ridges of his body are each so well-defined they easily could have been carved by an artist who had the utmost appreciation for the male form. I smirk lazily at him. “You’re not so bad yourself, Stabler. Come here.”

The come-hither motion I make with the same pointed finger may have been overkill, but either way, he’s climbing back onto the mattress – onto me. I scoot my heels back toward my ass, allowing my thighs to drop open and give him a place to settle. His face hovers inches over mine and I can feel the tip of his cock teasing at my entrance. He’s braced on his right forearm next to my head and his left hand twirls a section of my hair around his fingers.

“I meant it, Liv. Every word. You,” he drops a kiss on my forehead, “are,” on the tip of my nose, “beautiful.” He places his lips on mine, for just a moment.

I tip my chin up, whispering against his lips. “Thank you.”

He kisses me lightly before whispering back at me. “You sure you want to do this?”

I nuzzle my nose quickly up against his. “Never wanted anything more.”

His tongue sweeps into my mouth at the same instant he pushes himself inside me, effectively swallowing my gasp of surprise. God, it’s been too long since I’ve done this…and goddamned well worth the era of circumstantial celibacy. I arch my back up off the mattress, trying to pull him as far into my body as I can. I push up off my heels, shoving my pelvis up to meet his. It is hardly ladylike; but then, Elliot knows I’m no lady. He’s big, but somehow not bigger than I’d expected, and…well, let’s just say that not all parts of my body seem to be on board with getting him as deep as possible.

I circle my arms up under his so I can grab onto his shoulders from behind for leverage. We’re only about three-quarters of the way there and my grasp on him is just in time because when he slowly pulls the length of himself out, my vision gets starry. When he drives back in, his motion is deliberate, with measured strength. He manages a bit deeper, and I really do think I might just pass out. I dig my nails into his shoulder blades, dropping my head back to a pillow. “Oh God, El.”

He lowers his forehead to mine. “I know.” He does it again, and sweet heaven above, he’s as far in as he can go.

Jesus Christ.”

“I know.” And again.

What I know is that I – this – is not going to last very long. And I’ll be damned if I’m not going to get every bit out of it that I can. This tortuously slow pace can wait for another time. I throw my left leg over his waist, pulling him as close as I can. “Just let go, El. Please, just let go.” For the first time in my life, I know what I sound like when I beg. I catch the flash of worry on his face. “I’m covered and I trust you.”

He exhales hard, closing his eyes and brings his left hand down to grab the back of my right knee, stretching my leg upward. The pulling on my hamstrings is tight, but bearable. Definitely bearable. I let him hook that leg high up on his arm and holy mother of God.

I have nothing left to do but continue to grasp at his shoulders, his back, his neck – anything I can reach – as he drives into me relentlessly now. We’re both sweaty and my hands keep slipping and I’m constantly having to readjust them with the way he is roughly rocking my body back and forth. Then his mouth is by my ear and he’s using that voice. “Come for me, Liv. Come for me.”

I don’t know if it was the rumble of his voice or the quick swipe over my clit (when did he get a hand down there?) that sends me flying, but it’s all over for me then. My right leg drops from his shoulder, catching in the crook of his arm, my left leg no longer able to keep its hold around his hips and I plant my foot on the bed, arching up into him as I cry out his name, clinging desperately to his back as he rides out the spasms with me. I’m shaking all over and I don’t know how my fingers have any strength left to grab at him, but it’s either that or let go and I’ll be damned to fucking hell if I let go. Not now. Not ever.

His own release is not far behind mine and the tension I could feel building in his body is liberated fast and hard. If I had thought mine was over, I was wrong. As his final adamant thrusts hit me somewhere I’m not entirely sure I knew existed, I buck up against him and he muffles a loud groan against my shoulder as I feel an unfamiliar warmth spread throughout my body as the tremors subside. It’s new to me, I realize, because Elliot is the first man I’ve ever let do that to me…with me. There just was never any point to it before. Why bother taking the risk with men I hardly knew? I’m a sex crimes cop, for crying out loud. Condoms came as a prerequisite for sex with me.

But this? This, oh God. This is Elliot. And I don’t know why I’m even thinking about any of this or anything at all other than the fact that my partner just fucked me on his bed, I had not one, but two earth-shattering orgasms and he came inside me not sixty seconds ago.

He hasn’t spoken. Then, neither have I since I screamed his name like a prayer to a personal god. I run a hand over the back of his head, where it still rests on my shoulder. I feel him press his lips against the side of my neck in response. When he starts to push himself up, I pull him back down. “Stay,” I request, turning my head to kiss him gently as he lies back down on top of me.

And he does.

Chapter Text

8. Age is Just a Number

The next time I come to, it has nothing to do with awakening from sleep. Lying here on my back, covered by Elliot’s muscular body, I’m returning from an entirely different state of unconsciousness – the type that causes temporary blindness and loss of all rational thought. The type that plays out as a flash of almost spiritual enlightenment. The type that results from a soul-quaking orgasm, the ultimate in- and out- of body experience. Marvin the Martian called. He wants his Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator back. Well, someone kindly tell Marvin he’s a few minutes too late…that Earth-shattering ‘Kaboom’ he’s been waiting for has already happened. Twice.

I can smell him first. Him and us. The deliciously seductive scent of his aftershave is still prominent, accentuated now by his heated skin. The scent of what we just did is unmistakable and, frankly, quite delicious in its own way. I draw my lips in to moisten them and their taste is of the salt of his skin, the bitterness of coffee and the smallest lingering of sweetness from the Cap’n Crunch. The echo of my own heart beating, which had been practically pounding in my ears when I fell into oblivion a few minutes ago, has faded and I’m now more aware of the deceleration of our combined breathing. Like a referee with his head ducked under the black drape, all I can see is my own private replay of what my partner and I just did broadcast on the screen of my closed eyelids. The muscles of his back are taut beneath my fingers, even in this state of relaxation.

He is all I can feel. He’s on me and…Christ…still in me.

I’d been rather enjoying my leisurely ascent to awareness up until this point; but the feeling of him resting inside me is like an acute onset of a sensational affliction. My thighs tighten of their own accord and the muscles holding him in me insist that he stay there.

And just as soon as I’ve come to and my muscles have announced such, Elliot tries to lift himself off me. In response, I immediately lock my arms in their current positions, my right wrapped around his shoulders and my left around to the side, letting me cradle his head against me with that hand. He falls back against me with an ‘oomph.’ “I don’t remember telling you to move,” I mumble into his shoulder.

“Forgot how strong you are,” he mumbles back.

I laugh to myself. True enough, I can kick many an ass, but I know that if he’d had slightly better leverage, there’s no way I could have held him. I could have held myself to him and he’d have ended up just lifting us both. Ass kicker or not, if Elliot and I ever got into it, I’d be going down. Hm. Going down. That has possibilities. I make a quick mental note before replying, “Yeah, don’t you forget it again.”

“C’mon, Liv. I must be crushing you,” he reasons.

True again. Six feet of solid muscle isn’t lightweight. If I’m going to sustain crush-force injuries, though, I’d rather they be from him than anything else. “No, El,” I argue, “if you were a car, you’d be crushing me. I’m quite comfortable, thanks.” Using the hand on his back, I lazily run the smooth tips of my fingernails down the canal of his spine. Almost instantly I can feel him begin to harden again. I can’t help it, I laugh. Aloud this time. “Jesus, Elliot!” I goad him. “Aren’t men supposed to slow down after forty?”

I can feel the vibrations of his answering growl through his lips on my shoulder. He adds a gentle push of his hips for extra emphasis before propping himself up on his elbows, hovering over me. “You callin’ me old, Benson?”

I glare at him, daring him to prove otherwise. I even spread my legs a bit wider around him because, really, what else am I supposed to do? Let’s look at my current situation, shall we?

I am naked. I am in Elliot Stabler’s bed. Put the two together and you get that I am naked in Elliot Stabler’s bed. By the way, he’s naked in his bed, too. He’s naked, I’m naked, we’re in the same bed, and he’s lying on top of me, with the beginnings of a glorious hard-on. Have I mentioned that his dick in still inside me? It is and it’s getting hard again. So, seriously, what the hell else am I supposed to do?

I’m going to concentrate on the unbelievable sensations I’m still reeling from and not think at all about the fact that I just fucked my partner. No. Rather, I believe I’ll think about the fact that I’m about to do it again. With a raise of an eyebrow, I claim “I just call ‘em as I see ‘em.” I wiggle my own hips beneath his.

His blue eyes flash at me and he calls me out, because that’s what he does. “You say that as if you’re not walking that line yourself. Takes one to know one.”

Now, I’m not insulted. I’m not. I’m hardly more of a spring chicken than he is and I happen to think that we both look pretty damn good for our age, if I do say so myself. So I’m not insulted. But, he doesn’t need to know that. Then where would the fun be?

I regard him with false fury simmering in my eyes and reach up to one of his arms. Where I pinch him. Hard. It’s enough to make him leap back with his upper body, just as planned. I quickly pull out from underneath him, effectively pulling him out of me. I try to ignore the feeling of instantaneous emptiness and swing my feet off the side of the bed, standing just in time to avoid the hand that comes grasping for me.

I turn to stalk off and grab the discarded jersey where it’s landed somewhere near the foot of the bed, but the first step I take with my right leg almost sends me to my knees. Yikes. Guess our little tryst stretched my hamstring a bit more than I’d thought. My leg buckles slightly under the weight of my body and I fight hard to press it straight. I have no intention of exposing my weaknesses in this game. Let him figure them out for himself. I can walk this off. Just walk it off.

“You look a little sore.”

Bastard.

“How’s your arm, El?”

He laughs. “It was doing fine until you pinched it. That was mean.”

I’ve made it to the foot of the bed and turn to face him, my hands on my bare hips. He’s twisted his torso around to watch me. “You called me old,” I pout. “That was mean.” I bend down to snatch up the jersey, while he mocks me from the mattress.

“Aw, poor baby,” he teases.

I spin away from him and go to put the jersey over my head, wondering how far he’ll make me take this lovely charade of annoyance. I have my answer when his arms lasso their way around my waist while my arms are raised. Damn, he’s good. I didn’t even hear him move.

“Oh, no. You’re not getting away that easily, Liv.”

He slides his arms back so that his hands hug my waist and…my feet aren’t on the ground any more. Holy shit. I feel like I got body-checked again. Only this time, there’s no wall. I was on open ice. My body is being lifted up and back in a swift, snappy motion. My first thought is an instinctual fear that he’s going to drop me, which is what inspires my grabbing onto his forearms with a bit of a death-grip, jersey be damned and discarded to the floor. I do believe I may have screamed. But just a little. More like a shriek, really. My second thought, which followed almost immediately thereafter was that if I could trust anybody in the world never to drop me, it would be Elliot.

I don’t know how he did what he did, but he’s managed to haul himself back up to a lying down position, his head on a pillow, taking me through the air with him until I land squarely on top of him, our bodies flush against one another, my back against his chest. We both have our feet on the mattress, knees bent, only this time it’s me who’s cradled between his legs. His erection is hot and hard where my ass landed on it. My hands are still clenched around his forearms, even as he releases his hold on my waist, wrapping his arms around me. Okay. Now I can relax.

I allow myself to melt onto the contours of his torso. Fuck TempurPedic. Lindsay Wagner can keep her Sleep Number. This is by far the most comfortable thing I’ve ever lain on. I’ve never really been one for firm mattresses, much preferring something I can sink into and nearly drown in; but the ripples and ridges of his abs and chest seem to be made for the curves of my back. My head has landed high on his shoulder, where I feel it pressing against the base of my skull. I turn toward his cheek, bringing a hand up to the cheek farthest from me, using it to gently turn his face toward my own. I kiss him softly, then murmur against his lips, “You’re pretty strong for an old man.”

I couldn’t resist. My lips stretch into a smile, still touching his. Game back on.

“Oh, you’re gonna get it now,” he growls at me. He takes my hand from his cheek and grabs my other hand, as well, laying them palm-down on the mattress next to our bodies. He bends up and forward slightly, taking me with him, until he can reach my thighs where they are situated between his own. A hand on the underside of each thigh, he lifts and maneuvers my legs until my feet are planted on either side of him. Now, in a manner of speaking, he’s back between my legs. Heaven help me, I love him there.

Holding my waist, he lowers our upper bodies back down. As he does, I catch myself on my elbows, my back hovering just above him. I know now exactly how I’m going “to get it.” And I am nothing if not impatient because if this is punishment, I’ll happily stay in the penalty box for however damn long I can. Shut the door and lock me in. I lift my butt from where it still sits on his erection and squirm around, trying to position myself just right.

His left hand immediately leaves my waist, his arm wrapping low around my hips, forearm locking across me like a lap bar, stilling my movement.

Fine. I can make this a game of hand-eye coordination. I throw my weight against his arm, vaulting off my hands to make a desperate reach between our legs, hell-bent on just grabbing him and getting this show on the road.

Just as quickly, he snatches my rogue arm with his right hand, firmly returning my own hand to its prior place on the mattress. He presses it there until I quit trying to pull it from underneath his grasp. Releasing it, he places his right hand back on my waist, the flexing muscle of his left forearm applying constant pressure against my stomach until I relent, allowing myself to stretch my torso out along his chest. Satisfied with that, he slides his arm across my front until his left hand, too, settles on my waist. He shows more finesse in his tactics than I would have expected, making my prior squirming seem a bit ridiculous and clumsy, as he holds my hips still and finds his own way to me.

As it turns out, I have definitely not recovered from our earlier escapades, evident by the way I want to collapse as the length of him presses its way inside my body. Reflexively, however, I do just the opposite, bolting nearly upright, my hands scrambling to find solid ground again. What they find is Elliot and they plant themselves where they land, palms on his ribcage, fingers wrapping down their respective sides.

My head drops limply back, my eyes rolling up at the sheer intensity of the sensation. My legs are already shaky again and as I force myself to lift my head I can actually see visible quivers in the taut muscles of my thighs. I lower my gaze the slightest bit and, holy shit, I can see him moving in and out of me. The sight of it and the feeling of it are together a formidable combination.

Talk about a power play.

I whimper and know that there is no possible way I can be much of an active participant in this sexual confrontation. As it is, it’s taking a monumental effort for me to even stay supported on my arms, my hands doing their best to slip off his chest and I find myself in a perpetual dance of readjusting them in vain.

I try to shift my weight a bit to hold myself up like a big girl, but I only succeed in twisting myself to the side as my right hand loses all grip on Elliot, slipping off his ribcage to the mattress and, well, fuck, this is a whole new angle. The groan that bursts from my lungs is a sound I didn’t know I was capable of making and when it lets loose, he adjusts the position of his feet on the bed just slightly and uses our new geometry to his full advantage, the tip of his cock hitting hard against the one place inside my body that is practically guaranteed to send me crashing.

If men don’t believe the G-spot exists, then Elliot Stabler just became the ultimate myth-buster.

His voice is ragged beneath me. “Jesus, Olivia, you’re so close.”

No shit, Sherlock.

“You’re so close, baby.”

Okay, so maybe it was the way he just called me “baby” that shoved me off the cliff or maybe it was the hand he sneaked around in front of me that branded my clit with the stroke of two strong fingers that made me jump off it willingly. Either way, there are three things that exist for me in this moment: the sky, me falling through it and Elliot – the parachute quite literally behind me, there to ease my fall and ensure that when I land, I’ll be safe.

Land, I do – hard against his chest, my right arm finally and completely failing to hold any of my body weight, my elbow buckling, the nape of my neck slamming into his shoulder. As hard as I land, his body absorbs the impact with remarkable efficiency. The shockwaves ripple up my spine, my back arching sharply, and Elliot takes the opportunity to snake his arms back around my ribcage, securing my trembling body to him in a tight embrace. My left hand is quick to latch onto a forearm and I’m too far gone to even marvel that he doesn’t make a peep when I dig my fingernails into his muscle with no regard to how deeply I’m embedding them into his skin.

When he comes, just as my own tremors begin to subside, it’s still such a new sensation to me. There’s a warmth I haven’t known before – one I could find myself getting used to. I wonder, though, if the feeling would have been so warm with any other man.

Then, I realize I don’t want to find out.

His fingers dig sharply into my sides, the force of his final thrusts causing a second wave of contractions through my body while my head lolls helplessly back over his shoulder. Something between a moan and a whimper crawls up my throat, barely escaping between my lips. Elliot’s lips are on my shoulder and, I can feel, pressed tightly together. I fleetingly wonder if he’s resisting the urge to bite my skin.

The movement of his hips begins to wane, his fingers lifting from the craters they have dug into my skin, and he uses the broad palms of his hands to smooth over the ten reddened marks left by his fingertips. As softly as they skim down my sides, his palms almost seem abrasive to the overly-sensitive nerves beneath the surface of my skin, and the muscles along my sides twitch and strain as they try reflexively to avoid his touch. The tension in his lips relaxes against my shoulder before their touch disappears altogether and his head lowers back to the pillow. I bring my hands up to cover my eyes for a few seconds, because even the dim lighting in the room – we still haven’t opened the curtains – is enough to scald my retinas in my hyperaware state.

His breathing is a bit quicker to regulate than mine and I use the rise and fall of his chest as it gently lifts and lowers my body to time my own breaths. Once we’ve synced up, I let my hands slip from my eyes and tangle my fingers with his, pulling his arms across my abdomen and covering them with my own.

He presses a kiss to my temple and I sigh in contentment. “You’re amazing.”

His lips are still teasing my skin when I reply. “You called me ‘baby’,” I mumble.

I feel his answering hum more than I hear it.

We stay this way for a minute, neither of us speaking, his warm lips soft against my temple, which I gladly lean into him. I’m the first to break the silence. And I don’t even say a word.

My stomach grumbles.

I bite my lip, pretending it never happened. From the way his lips shift on me, I can feel he’s doing the same thing. Only I’m pretty sure he’s not biting his lip trying to ignore what happened. I’m willing to bet he’s trying not to-

He bursts out laughing.

Jerk.

“Fuck,” I mutter, and struggle to get up. He, however, is having none of it. The vice his arms have created remains locked around me like a bear trap and I’m forced to ride out his laughter with him.

“Still hungry?”

I ignore him.

“C’mon.” Another kiss on my temple. “I’ll make you breakfast. A real one.”

He loosens his grip on me to push himself up and I catch his arms before they let go, holding them around my body. “Not yet,” I tell him, burrowing the back of my head deeper into the recess of the side of his neck. I turn my head to the left, placing my forehead against his jaw. He drops a kiss there, too, letting his lips linger and I close my eyes once more, waiting for the rest of my senses to normalize. It’s a long ascent, but so worth the climb.

Chapter Text

9. Panic Button

My persistent stomach allows me only a few precious minutes of peace before commanding, once and for all, that I get up and feed it. Ugh. I don’t want to move. I really don’t. The heat rising from Elliot’s body beneath mine is warming the length of me better than any electric blanket I’ve ever owned. My muscles are pleasantly exhausted, though I’m not sure they’ll remain pleasant once I attempt to reuse them. The post-orgasmic haze has filtered through my head, but even in my newfound clarity I don’t know if I’d be capable of processing any thoughts deeper than those of basic needs.

Food, hydration – both in the plans. Shelter – got that taken care of. Reproduction – shit.

Yes, my brain is definitely able (and willing, I might add) to process all thoughts of sex. More specifically, it’s rather enjoying processing the fact that I’ve just had it twice and the prospect that it could happen again.

Again. Good Lord. If that ends up happening (I’m fighting right now to not begin squirming at the idea) it’d be the first time in my life I’d ever had sex three times in a day. I lift my head from where it has been tucked safely against Elliot’s neck and stretch to see the clock beyond him on the nightstand. I confirm that, yep, there are still plenty of hours left in the day. So, if three happens this early on, and I’m still around, God only knows what kind of ridiculous stats we could wind up posting by tonight.

I press my lips together to contain a whimper and quickly hide my face in the side of his neck again. He places his chin just above my forehead. The whimper I’m smothering is courtesy of the enticing thought of Round Three…or would that be the third period? Well, but there are only three periods in a hockey game. Meaning it would essentially be game over after three.

Screw that. I’m ready for a double-header.

Double-header.

Christ, even that sounds dirty now.

Anyway, that whimper I’d been trying to smother at the thought of…whatever it would be called…has turned into a stifled giggle because “double-header” is funny and I think I’ve only just realized that the sex I’ve just had and the sex I’ve been thinking about having again has been with Elliot. Elliot. El-li-ot. It’s funny and slightly traumatizing all at once. But before I have a chance to start churning over all the quite possibly life-altering details, he slides his chin from my hair down over my forehead until his cheek rests there.

I can feel his jaw working against my brow as he asks me quietly what was so funny.

I delve my face further into him and mumble “Nothing” against his skin.

“Nothing, huh?” he mumbles back.

I shake my head.

He takes a finger from each of his hands, arms still wrapped around me, and presses them into my sides, wriggles them just beneath my ribs. My upper body lurches at the tickle, but his grip holds me tightly to him.

“Alright, asshole,” I scold him. I disengage my arms from his and my hands are now firmly planted on the mattress, propping me up and off his chest. His arms slide lower around me, parting until his hands are left resting on my hips, allowing me my slight evasion.

“So, what was so funny?” he repeats.

I look at him over my shoulder. “Elliot, we just had sex.” When he stays silent for a few seconds, I add “Twice!”

He grins lopsidedly at me and his fingertips playfully press into my hips. “Really? Hadn’t noticed.”

I glare at him.

“Okay, okay. We had sex. How is that funny?”

My jaws works silently for a moment as I try and fail to find words to explain myself. “Because, El, it’s you. And me. It’s us. We had sex. With each other.”

He’s just watching me and that sets my mind to reeling and just as quickly as the thoughts pop into my head, they’re coming out of my mouth. “I mean, do you not realize how crazy that is? How ridiculous? You’re my partner – we’re partners!” I pause for only a second as something else occurs to me. I put my feet down on the mattress on either side of him, scooting them closer to me as I raise my upper body to sit up straighter. I feel the muscles of his lower abdomen tighten under my – Christ – my very naked ass to support my weight in its newly concentrated form. I tilt my legs in until my knees touch and bury my face in my hands, my voice muffled in my palms as I continue. “Oh God, we’re partners.” My hands slide up my face until I can rake my fingers through the tousled strands of my hair. “Of course, we won’t be much longer as soon as someone finds out about this.” When my fingertips meet at the back of my scalp, I let them stay there and drop my forehead to my knees.

With that, one of his hands is immediately on my back, his torso curling up as he props himself up on his other elbow. The toughened but smooth skin of his hand slides slowly up my back to my right shoulder as he speaks, his touch feather light. “Liv, no one needs to know until we want them to.” He gives my shoulder a slight squeeze, purportedly for reassurance. Which would have been fine had I ever been assured in the first place. Hard to be reassured without having been assured to begin with.

Besides, does he really think I’m going to buy into this bull? Surely, he knows me better than that. Surely, he’s thought this through. My partner’s a logical man. But maybe this isn’t my partner talking to me. Maybe this is the man I’ve just slept with talking to me. Maybe this duality of his character is something I’m going to have to get used to.

Get used to? God, I’m thinking like this is a done deal, that we’re going to keep doing this, that we’re going to be together and try to stay that way. Christ, who am I kidding? It pretty much is a done deal, as far as I’m concerned. But who are we kidding? There’s no way in hell we can keep this a secret. No way in hell that we can be together and be partners. Elliot has to know this. He has to. Maybe this is just locker room talk. The good ol’ “We can do it” talk, when guards have been let down and helmets have come off. Maybe Elliot leaves his game face at work and this is how he is when he doesn’t have to convey with his eyes to every person he crosses paths with that fucking with him would be a very bad idea.

No. I don’t believe that. We always wear our game faces. Especially when dealing with each other. We always have. That’s just how we are. All that stuff we rambled on about in the kitchen was just a momentary lapse. Right? I can’t be the only one starting to think that not only is fucking with him a bad idea, but that perhaps simply fucking him may have been a bad idea in its own right, can I?

I whip my head around to glare at him. “Elliot, you can’t possibly believe that – we’re detectives. We work with other detectives.”

He shrugs a casual shoulder. “Which is why we’re perfectly equipped to be able to handle this. We know how they think. Besides,” he cracks a smile with one side of his mouth, “they probably all think we’ve been doing this for years…so how much stronger could their suspicion really get? It’s a built-in cover.”

I groan, once more smothering my face into my hands. “You’re not helping.”

“Sorry,” he offers.

I speak, my breath moistening the skin of my palms. “Oh God, oh God, oh God,” I chant, starting to rock back and forth. “I can’t believe I just did this. How could I let this happen?” I keep muttering into my hands, hardly noticing that Elliot has suddenly sat up, causing me to land on the mattress, never losing my posture of embarrassment and slight humiliation. I don’t know what he’s doing behind me, but I feel him tugging and yanking at the sheets and as soon as the words “I can’t believe I had sex with my partner” escape my mouth, I find myself being lifted slightly and deposited onto the lap of Elliot’s Indian-crossed legs.

I raise my head to see that the cream-colored flat sheet has been pulled up and over Elliot’s crossed legs. I’m not sure at what point he became aware of my growing sense of insecurity, but it’s apparent that he has. The sheet is now acting as a barrier between my ass and his…lap. The rest of the ample material is bunched up behind my back, and he lifts it with both hands, wrapping the sheet up under my arms, only releasing it when I’ve brought a trembling hand to hold it in place just above the center of my breasts. I immediately miss the warmth of his skin and work the sheet with my hands until my front is covered just the same but it drapes down low on my back, resting below my hips.

Elliot’s arms circle around me, holding my sheathed waist securely, his chest pressed to my back. “To be fair,” he begins, briefly releasing his left arm to use his fingertips to brush my hair back behind my shoulder before propping his chin there, “I had sex with my partner, too.”

Touche.

“I mean, what’s with all this ‘I’ business, Liv? I can’t believe I just did this. I can’t believe I let this happen.”

Okay, now he’s mocking me. And I don’t sound like that. Not that…whiny.

“For the record, you didn’t do anything. You didn’t let anything happen. We did this, we let it happen.” His voice is quiet at my ear, the vibrations in his throat drumming against the back side of my shoulder. He turns his face toward my cheek and bumps his nose there lightly. “And we will handle this together.”

I snort. “In case you forgot, Einstein, I’m not particularly skilled at hiding that sort of thing. Come on, it took you all of…what? Five seconds to figure out I’d slept with Cassidy? And that was back when sex wasn’t such a rare commodity. So now…now…one of the only times I’ve slept with anybody in God knows how long, it’s with you and you think I’ll be able to hide that?”

He presses his lips to the top of my shoulder, muffling a laugh there.

“Oh, this is so not funny,” I groan.

I feel his top teeth scrape lightly against the skin his lips had occupied a second earlier. Just as quickly as they sink in, they’re gone. “You’re the one who laughed first,” he reminds me before kissing the flesh marred by his teeth.

“Yeah, well, I’m not laughing now!” I don’t yell, but the pitch of my voice rises almost uncomfortably.

“Olivia, you’re panicking.”

Thank you for that insight, oh Amazing Seer of the Obvious. “Of course I’m panicking! Why in the hell aren’t you panicking?” I start to struggle a bit in his grasp, trying to push myself forward and off his lap, not really thinking that my ass is kind of in a compromising position to be wriggling around.

His arms instantly close tighter around me, keeping me securely against him. He hooks his chin over the shoulder he’s been attending to, keeping our cheeks pressed together and my upper body anchored to him. He flexes the muscles of his arms, every part of them from shoulder to wrist squeezing around me. Not tightly, just enough to make we well aware that, for right now, he has me and he doesn’t want me to move quite yet. His chin lifts slightly for him to mutter in my ear, “Liv, if you’re panicking about us having sex, you probably shouldn’t keep squirming your ass around in my lap.”

I resign to stop moving and he hooks his chin again. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t really trying very hard to get away. But, of course, he knows that. I blow a heavy sigh upward through my lips, fluttering my bangs from my forehead momentarily.

His arms relax and I mumble an apology. He takes a deep breath, his chest inflating against my back. “The only thing that could make me panic right now, Olivia, would be you running away.”

Goddamn him. Just…just…goddamn him. This is not as simple as he’s making it out to be. Making it out. Making out. Christ. This is not as simple as he’s making it sound, dammit. It’s not. It’s not.

He must have the sense that I’m on the verge of scampering from his lap like a cat whose been held hostage by a three-year-old, because he doesn’t give me the opportunity to say anything in response. He runs his hands from my bare shoulders down to my elbows and gives each of them a squeeze. “Look, why don’t you go take a shower? I’ll go make something for breakfast. Even though it is…” he pauses and lifts his chin from my shoulder to turn and look at the bedside clock, “well, even though it’s basically lunchtime.”

I laugh lightly despite myself. “A shower? You saying I’m dirty? Do I smell bad?” I bite my lip and try not to laugh louder because I’m imagining the look on his face right now and wish I could see it. He’s probably terrified that I might be being serious. But, once again, he surprises me. He doesn’t worry or apologize. He plays along.

He pushes his nose into the hair behind my ear. I hear his gentle inhalation and feel the hum he makes against my scalp. “Mmm, no, I think you smell fantastic. And,” his lips are next to my ear now, “I kinda like it when you’re dirty.”

“You’ve never seen me dirty, Stabler.” I want to blame the fact that the words come out of my mouth before I can rationally stop them on his teeth having grazed the crest of my ear immediately after he said the word “dirty.” But I can’t. I want to pass off the definitively lower octave of my voice as an attempt to stay in tune with his. But I can’t. I just said it. And I just said it like that.  

He makes a humming sound. “A promise of things to come, I hope.” There is a pause that gives me enough time to crack a grin. “And, by things, I, of course, mean you and me.”

“Oh God,” I groan, with a roll of my eyes.

Elliot presses a quick kiss to my temple and manages to negotiate his way out from underneath me. He stands, walking to the foot of the bed where he can swipe his previously discarded boxers from the floor. I take the chance to admire the firm roundness of his ass because, panic or no, I mean, he’s standing right there. Often times, I am nothing if not an opportunist. Being a cop will do that to a person, too. All those endless hours trapped in a car on stakeouts…when the moment presents itself to grab a bathroom break, trust me, we’ll take it. I’m sure the Rangers understand opportunism….the five-hole is open and so, dammit, that’s where you’re gonna stick it.

Great.

Holes. Sticking it.

I really do need a shower. A cold one now.

My fist clenches a bit tighter around the sheet as I watch Elliot and his newly-clad lower half disappear out the bedroom door and down the hall. My eyes remain on the open doorway long seconds after he has gone. Long seconds after I hear his voice hollering back at me to call him if I need anything. As they fall away, I allow my eyes to slowly track around the room I now find myself alone in.

Elliot’s bedroom. Alone. In Elliot Stabler’s bedroom. I shudder gently to clear my head of the anything but unpleasant visual.

The walls are painted a muted sage green – the color is saturated, but not the least overpowering. It creates a perfectly natural backdrop for his furniture. All hard oak – solid, I’m sure – thick, sturdy, and therefore entirely well-suited to my partner.

Christ, now I’m comparing him to his furniture.

I scoot over to the left until I’m closer to the bed’s edge and swivel around so that my legs dangle off the mattress and I’m again looking into his bathroom. Funny, it’s starting to appeal to me as somewhat of a haven right now. There’s a shower in there. Showers are good. Showers are places to relax. Places to not think so much. Places to not freak out.

Just like that, my toes touch the soft fibers of the carpet and I hop down, but the sheet fights back, still tucked somewhat securely under the mattress. I pause. The bathroom is so close, and it’s not like he’s in the room to stare.

But, he could be. Jesus, he could be walking back down the hall this very second. He. Him. Elliot. My partner. The one I just had sex with.

Mind made up, I release the sheet from my clutches, the cool air rushing over my heated skin, and, inspired by Fred Flintstone at the Bedrock bowling alley, I hightail it into the bathroom on my tiptoes, closing the door behind me.

Chapter Text

10. Sonic Death Monkey

Alone in the bathroom for the fourth time since I walked upstairs in the wee hours of the morning, I’m beginning to find it somewhat less scary. Still convinced that the shower ought to be the least stressful of all locations in the room, I beeline for it. I slide open one side of the double glass doors running along the track attached to the rim of the bathtub. I step inside, closing the door behind me, turning around to face out the doors, finding the distorted view of the bathroom they afford me to be comforting…so I immediately reach to the side and crank on the water, disappointed when I’m not hit with a reality-inducing shock of cold water. Instead, I have to bend down to pull the little knob that would redirect the water flow to the showerhead. The blast sprays me directly in the back with the way I’m bent over and my lungs contract sharply upon contact with the chilly water.

My body yields to the cold faster than I care to admit and I’m soon using a shivering hand to twist the knob well past the center line that indicates “warm.” My skin begins to tingle as the hot water sluices down over it. My arms hang limply at my sides as I stand in the spray face-first, letting the water hit me straight in the forehead above my closed eyes. I don’t move for at least a solid minute, and only then to turn around and give my back the same warming treatment, sweeping my hair over one shoulder to grant the water access. I drop my chin to my chest, noticing that the skin on the tops of my thighs has pinked up a good bit already.

It doesn’t occur to me until I’m already drenched head-to-toe that I don’t even know what I can wash up with. I raise my eyes, investigating my tile and glass surroundings. Chest-height on the wall opposite the showerhead, set into the corner, is a shelf with a fairly new-looking bar of soap. I reach for it and tilt the green-and-white swirled rectangle toward me to inspect.

Figures Elliot would be an Irish Spring man.

Well, it’s there if I need it, anyway. I’d just rather not use it. All those damn bars dry my skin. But I don’t expect to find any body-wash lying around. I’m sure Elliot would frown at the idea of a man using a gel to lather up his body – even if they do make the stuff specifically for men nowadays. He’d probably worry about friends like his best bud Aidan Murphy never letting him live it down. It’s just too…”metrosexual” for him.

Then again, I’d bet Murphy himself is metro enough to use it.

And Elliot does have three daughters. God only knows what kind of influence they could have.

On that note, I turn back to the spray, focusing my attention on the stainless steel caddy hung from the neck of the showerhead. I perch carefully on my tiptoes and use the fingers of my right hand to inspect the bottles there. A fairly large bottle of a two-in-one hair formula is the most accessible, front and center.

A voice in the back of my head laughs at how a bottle that size must last a man of Elliot’s hair abundance years. My lips lift into a smile. Then another voice checks the first against the boards of my realistic brain and offers up the idea that maybe the whole bottle hasn’t been for him. After all, he has been living in this place for a year now…who knows who else could have been a regular overnight guest? Besides, the voice adds, that milkmaid of a partner he entertained while I was in Oregon has an awful lot of hair. The first voice rationalizes that Elliot, even during those two years, the one at home and the one in his place, was technically still married and wouldn’t have ever cheated on his wife. The second retaliates by pointing out that he’d actually only just signed the divorce papers in the last day or two – hadn’t even filed them – and yet, here I was, naked and in his shower after his having fucked me.

Twice.

I resist the very strong urge to go totally Ally McBeal on myself by joining in the debate between the voices in my head…out loud…opting instead to swap the hot water back out for the cold for the three seconds it takes to clear my head. After that, I grab the bottle of Suave, not the least bit surprised that Elliot is the economical type, and squeeze a healthy blob onto my palm. I rub my hands together and start running my fingers through my hair, concentrating my fingertips on my scalp. Shampooing is relaxing, I remind myself. I work the pads of my fingers in small circles over my head. Shampooing is calming. I turn my hands into more of a claw-like shape, letting my short nails graze my scalp. Shampooing is soothing.

What is not soothing, calming or relaxing is the thought of not having been the only woman in this shower during Elliot’s time here as a tenant. And I’m starting to think that the furiousness with which my nails are scratching my head…and this is just a guess…is directly proportional to the time spent thinking about Dani Beck or any other woman being in this shower.

Shit shit shit.

Happy thoughts happy thoughts happy thoughts.

I blow a breath through my lips and ease the pressure of my nails on my scalp, trying to concentrate on the hazy view of his bathroom through the doors, further distorted now by the fog coating the glass. Out into the bathroom, along the wall, I can see where my clothes from earlier in the morning still remain folded on top of the counter next to the sink. For a moment, there is part of my brain that tries to trick me into thinking that those are clothes I laid out ahead of time for when I got out of the shower. I mean, I remember taking those clothes off and putting them there…Lord, do I ever remember that.

And it’s because I remember that that I have no real explanation for why I’m now witnessing a vision of myself standing at the counter, stark-ass naked and beginning to dress in the clothes I’d “lain out” there earlier. Only I’m not dressing in the jeans and hoodie I’d been wearing this morning. Instead, the vision of myself is putting on something that looked suspiciously to be like an outfit for a night out. I know that outfit I’m seeing myself with…definitely for a night out.

Upon shimmying into a royal blue dress with a sheer overlay, the hem of which skims above my knees, the last few inches of fabric being nothing but the cool, sheer material, my pseudo-holographic self zips the back of the dress to her waist, leaving the rest of the garment hanging down over itself. I see her lean over the counter toward the mirror to apply makeup, top half clad only in a black strapless bra. Suddenly, there’s a pseudo-holographic Elliot emerging from the closet behind “me,” somewhat damp-looking with a slate blue towel tucked low around his hips.

My nails are digging a bit harder into my scalp again.

Elliot walks up behind me then, placing his hands on my sides just at the height I’ve zipped the dress to, the thumb and a couple fingers from each hand resting on the bare skin above it rather than the material itself. I watch as I meet his eyes in the mirror, a smile playing on my lips as he bends his head to kiss the side of my neck, my shoulder…

Ow! Christ. If I don’t lighten up with my fingernails, I’m going to draw blood. I back up to the water spray, closing my eyes tightly as the suds rinse down over my face, hoping that once the visions are out of sight, I won’t be as disturbed or as turned on as I had been just a few seconds ago. Disturbed because those images had seemed almost normal to me…or at least like something that could be normal. Turned on because…well, they were just hot. Unfortunately, what I see instead when I close my eyes is a montage of scenes that only accentuate the visions I’ve already had.

Elliot shaving.

My fingers work to smooth through my hair, squeezing the shampoo out.

Elliot getting dressed.

As my hair rinses some more, I run my hands down over my face, my heart starting to beat faster.

Me, under Elliot’s watchful gaze, makeup not quite done, bent over, one leg lifted at a time as I use my hands to slip my feet into a pair of slender, silver stiletto sandals, whose straps wrap and criss-cross up and around my legs a couple inches above my ankles.

It can’t just be the steam making it harder to breathe in here.

Me, standing in my heels, shrugging my arms into the sleeveless dress, reaching behind my body to zip it the rest of the way up until it stops just below my shoulder blades. Elliot’s hands stilling mine when they go to fasten the single button behind my neck that holds the sheer fabric covering my upper back together. Doing it himself.

Me planting a kiss on Elliot’s cheek after sliding gloss over my lips, leaving a healthy print there for him to grimace about.

“El?” That was out loud. I said that out loud. Perhaps “said” isn’t the way to describe it. “Called” seems more appropriate.

The two of us, back in for the night, standing in front of the mirror, his arms wrapped around me from behind, his chin on my shoulder as I remove my earrings.

“Elliot?” I shout his name a bit louder this time, feeling the start of a panic. Here I am, visualizing things I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t be seeing myself in a relationship with him, shouldn’t be imagining myself co-habitating with him – living with him for Christ’s sake. I’m not supposed to think of being a part of his life that way, care about who he may or may not have slept with, dated, invited to stay overnight, worked with, kissed, fucked, looked at a certain way, touched – oh God, touched – and, just why the fuck does he have such a big bottle of shampoo?!

“Elliot?” I practically yell it this time.

“Yeah?” I hear him respond, his voice volume indicating he was probably in the hallway. “Liv?” Closer now. “Olivia?” Still closer. He’s obviously moving quickly. “You okay?”

I say what I mean. “I’m freaking out,” I holler. Can’t say I wasn’t being honest.

I hear Elliot’s worried “Jesus” seconds before he knocks on the bathroom door.

My panic subsides only long enough to determine that it’s funny Elliot just knocked. It’s his bathroom. Granted, I’m naked and in the shower, but Lord, now he can honestly say it’s nothing he hasn’t seen before.

“Liv?”

“It’s unlocked,” I inform him, figuring that would be a more subtle way to imply that knocking wasn’t necessary. I’m still standing in the water with my eyes squeezed tightly shut, so I’m mildly surprised when there’s a light rapping on the shower doors. I bite my lower lip and open one eye to peer at Elliot. His own eyes are downcast and looking away and my heart instinctively flutters a bit at the polite gesture. “You can look, you know.”

He smiles. “I’m not, for my own protection as much as yours. If you’re still panicking, I’m gonna have a hell of a time trying to be helpful with a raging hard-on.”

“A raging hard-on might help.” Fuck. I can’t believe I just said that. “Shit,” I mumble, covering both eyes with the heels of my hands.

He’s silent for a few seconds. “You want me to come in there?”

I shrug a shoulder half-heartedly. “Couldn’t make it any worse.”

The blast of cool air that rushes in with the opening of the door coaxes goosebumps to the top of my skin and my nipples also tighten accordingly. Great. That won’t make this any more embarrassing at all. Two big hands gently encircle my wrists, fingers pressing against the pulse points until I give and allow my own hands to be drawn away from my face. Apparently, Elliot didn’t fully buy into my insistence that his joining me in the shower wouldn’t be detrimental, because when I open my eyes, I see that he’s stepped into the spray still wearing his boxers. I raise an eyebrow and nod toward his shorts. “What’s the deal with the boxers?”

His hands slide from being cuffed around my wrists to holding my own, thumbs tracing patterns across the backs of my hands. “I don’t trust myself when I’m around a naked you.”

“Elliot, today’s the first day you’ve ever even seen me naked,” I remind him.

He seems to consider this. “Like I said…I don’t trust myself when I’m around a naked you.” He offers a hint of a smile. “Now, you wanna tell me what’s going on?”

Sheer blue dresses, stilettos, lip gloss, shaving cream and faces of unknown women flash through my mind. I roll my eyes and stare at his collarbone. “It’s stupid,” I mutter.

“Doesn’t matter,” he tells me as he turns me around with his hands on my shoulders. I’m facing into the spray now and he reaches over me to angle the showerhead so that the water hits my chest, not my face. With the same hand, he grabs his oversized bottle of shampoo. His left arm reaches over my left shoulder then and, with his right, he squeezes some of the pearly soap into his palm. “Tell me anyway.” He rubs his hands together and smoothes them both down the length of my hair.

“It’s just…I came in here and…” I start and then stop to take a breath.

“You came in here and what?”

I can’t answer him now. I can’t, even if I had the words. I’ve just been rendered essentially speechless. The pads of Elliot’s fingertips are working almost rhythmically over my scalp, massaging and sudsing. His thumbs press into the base of my skull as the very edges of his trimmed nails rake through my hair and any vocalizations I may have been on the verge of making die in lieu of the weak moan that slips between my lips. The moan is accompanied by a near-immediate dampening between my legs that has nothing to do with the water cascading down my body. I can actually almost feel his low chuckle vibrate through his fingers. He’s supporting most of the weight of my head at this point, I think, because the muscles in my neck are losing their strength, dropping my head back toward him.

His upper arms stay at his sides, his elbows bent, bringing his hands to chest height so they can continue to work on my hair. “You came in here and what, Liv?” He wraps my longer hair around one hand, twisting it to squeeze out excess suds before returning to his ministrations.

“I started seeing things,” I murmur.

“Mm hmm…like what?”

I’m starting to regret calling him. If my skin weren’t already pinking up from the hot water, he’d probably be able to see me blushing with embarrassment. Then again, I can’t be completely sure that the flushing can only be attributed to those two things…the fact that Elliot is washing my hair might be playing a big part. I decide to just concentrate on that and start talking. Whatever comes out, comes out. “Me. In your bathroom. Getting dressed."

“Doesn’t seem too far off. Unless you’re just not planning to get dressed after you get out of the shower. Which, by the way, I won’t argue with.”

“No, Elliot. Not like that. Not just dressed. Like dressed up. Like we were going somewhere. Going out.”

“So, I was there, too?” His hands leave my scalp, which continues to tingle in the absence of his fingers. He reaches above me again, this time to detach the wand of the showerhead. It’s the first time I noticed that he has a detachable showerhead and, to be frank, that stirs up a whole new set of fantastical possibilities.

I nod as he starts running the water spray through my hair, holding the wand close to my head. “It’s just that…Elliot, it was like I was seeing something that we do…all the time. It was like watching some alternate universe. It was weird.”

He uses the fingers of his left hand to smooth through the strands of my hair while the water flows through it. “I don’t think it’s weird. Maybe it will be something we do all the time.”

That’s what’s weird!” I insist.

He doesn’t say anything for a second. Instead, his left hand spreads on the back of my skull, gently pressing to get me to lean forward. As I do, he chooses to speak. “What were you wearing?”

The abrupt directional change in the conversation causes my head to try to pop back up, but Elliot’s hand is firm at the base of my neck. He’s flipped my hair over, running the water through the underside. “What does that matter?”

“I just wanna know.”

I blurt it out. “A blue dress I haven’t gotten to wear in ages, sheer at the top and bottom with silver heels.” I pause and he probably thinks I’m done talking. So did I, but why spare the details? “They’re totally impractical, by the way. All strappy.”

He laughs.

I scowl. “Why is that funny?”

“You really do have an overactive imagination. These visions were that detailed, huh?” When I don’t answer, he replaces the showerhead and turns me around to face him, my head still hanging forward. He holds my hair and tips my head back upright and I know I look like Cousin Itt. He takes the cascade of hair in both hands and flips it back, but it doesn’t sit right. I don’t realize at the time that this was intentional on his part. My wet hair forms a sort of fold at the front and he takes his hands, scooting the fold forward until it hangs over the crest of my forehead. Then, he cracks up.

“The hell did you do?” I bring my hands up to my head, gingerly feeling my dampened ‘do and trying to visualize what I must look like.

“Use that imagination of yours.” He grins. “Picture you…as Betsy Ross or something. You look like you’re wearing a powdered wig. Just not…powdered.”

“You ass.” I don’t even bother to correct my new style as I snag the bottle of shampoo with my left hand, squeeze some into my right and reach up, rubbing it vigorously over the top of Elliot’s head before he can stop me. I manage to produce a thick enough lather with just the one hand and smirk victoriously at him. “And now you look like you have more hair than you’ve had in years.” I draw the last word out for a good second or two.

He places his hands on his hips. “Maybe I should get a hairpiece.”

Now it’s my turn to laugh. “Please don’t. You’d look ridiculous.”

“But, at least I got you to smile.”

True. I have to give him that one. I lean forward again and shake my hair loose. Unfortunately, this gives me a close-up view of the shampoo bottle still in my left hand. I slowly raise my head, and use the fingers of my right hand to rake the Cousin Itt strands back and away from my face.

Elliot must notice what I’m sure is a somewhat stricken look on my face. “Okay, what’s wrong now?” His voice is a loud sigh.

I study the bottle in my hand, weighing it, deciding it wasn’t a new bottle. I turn it over a couple times and can feel Elliot expectantly watching the top of my head. “How many have there been, El? Since you moved out,” I manage to get out.

“How many what?”

“How many women, Elliot?” I say the offending word as I snap my face back up to look at him. I must have caught him off guard because his upper body draws slightly back from me. “How many women have you been with?” I really don’t know if I want to hear the answer to this question. So, instead, when he tries to answer – or at least say something – I cut him off and keep pressing. Illogical, perhaps, but it’s what I do.

“Liv, I…”

“How many, Elliot? I mean, come on, you’ve been separated for like two years. There had to be someone. Or how about just since Gitano? Just while I was gone, huh? ‘Cause I know this,” I hold the shampoo to his face, “can’t all have been for you.”

He stays frustratingly calm during my tirade, taking one hand and using the tips of his fingers to gently lower the shampoo from his line of vision. He blinks at me, silent and unfazed.

I stare back, undaunted.

He narrows his eyes in an attempt to glare at me, but I can still detect the flecks of humor in the blue. “Was that a crack about my voluminous hair?” He pats the remaining suds on his head.

My mind is still reeling through a filmstrip of faceless women (and one milkmaid) and I really don’t want to smile, but one corner of my lips twitch of their own accord and I try to look away before he notices.

He takes my chin between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand. With his right, he removes the bottle from my grip. “I saw that.” He smirks. Using both hands, the bottle still in one, he turns me by the shoulders until my back is to him, then turns us both until he is standing closer to the showerhead. I can hear the bottle being set back into the hanging caddy and a few moments later, I hear a flip-cap or some other kind of bottle-top being opened. And then closed. Then, the slippery sound of Elliot rubbing some kind of liquid between his hands.

I guess I should have been expecting it, but I still jerk a bit in surprise when his hands land on my upper arms.

“I don’t know if you’ll believe me if I tell you,” he muses, his hands rubbing down, up, and around my arms.

“The rational side of my brain might believe you,” I respond, recollecting that little voice that spoke so highly of Elliot’s fidelity and its likelihood even in the shadow of a crumbling marriage. The scent of…coffee?...chocolate?...lime?...all three?...assaults me, his hands pressing, squeezing, sliding as whatever he squirted into them cleanses my skin.

So he does have shower gel.

Taking a deep breath, I decide I rather enjoy the fragrance. Smells like something I might have chosen.

I. A woman. Shit.

His hands slip over my back, the pads of his thumbs rubbing firmly up either side of my spine from the curve of my lower back to the nape of my neck, causing my back to arch and curl in response. “Are you using the rational side of your brain right now, Olivia?”

He has a point. Rationality has been getting its ass highsticked all over the place today. Put it on the injury list.

He may have a point, but it’s not like I’m going to surrender another one to him. I gave him the one about getting me to smile. No more freebies. “So you’re saying it isn’t rational for me to think that whatever it is you’re currently slathering all over me isn’t a product that you yourself purchased or use on a daily basis?”

“No, no, that’d be rational,” he concedes. “Wrong,” he clarifies, “but rational.”

I snort, twisting away from one of his thumbs as it catches on a knot in my back. “Yeah right.” I go for the tactic we always use when trying to crack a bullshit alibi. Question it. Over and over. “Where’d you buy it then?”

“Place in SoHo.”

“Called?”

“Lush.”

“For real?”

“Google ‘em, if you want to.” His hands slide down over my hips now and he must be squatting down because they soon continue to travel the length of my legs.

“Smells good…what’s it called?”

He answers again with no hesitation. “Sonic Death Monkey.”

I try to choke back a laugh and spin around to stare at him at the same time, nearly slipping as I do so. Elliot’s hands are quick to grab my thighs to steady me. “What?”

I’m standing where he’s facing my side now, still squatting down. He doesn’t bother to look up at me as he repeats himself. Instead, he uses both hands to press and knead into my right leg, his thumbs easing the ache my hamstring is still clinging to. “It’s called Sonic Death Monkey.”

He stands and moves to grab the bottle of…Sonic Death Monkey. “Anything else you want to know?”

“Yeah. What’s in it to give it that smell?” As his hand wraps around the bottle, I add, “And no looking at the bottle. That’s cheating.”

He turns to me and rolls his eyes, holding the bottle of dark chocolate colored liquid out to me. I take it from him and he keeps his now-empty palm open, nodding toward it. “If you’ll please…”

I pop the cap and squirt some of the gel into his waiting hand, involuntarily making a face at the thought of being washed with something that looks like mud. Then I remember it also looks like chocolate and the thought of being washed down in chocolate…goddammit. Determined not to think that way even as Elliot squats back down, lathering each of my legs with renewed vigor, causing my Kegel muscles to contract each time his fingers or thumbs meet the sensitive skin of my upper inner thighs, I rotate the bottle in my hand until I can read the ingredient list.

“You ready to check my answers, Detective?”

I shoot him a tailor-made scowl.

“It’s a cacao base. Hence the chocolate smell.” He pauses, presumably to see if I’m satisfied with the answer or want more details.

I want more details.

“There’s also ground coffee in there. Good stuff, too. Not like Munch’s. The citrus smell is from the lime and mandarin orange juices. Personally, I smell more of the lime. Whole thing kinda wakes you up, don’t you think?”

Needless to say, he’s right about everything he listed. “Oh my God, I slept with a gay man,” I deadpan.

“Gay man, huh?” He stands, turning us again until I’m facing into the water and pulls me back against the solid wall of his chest. His arms begin to snake around my body, the left closing around my waist until his hand can hold my right side. His right hand spreads wide over my abdomen. His lips tickle the back of my right ear as he leans in to speak. “How many gay men you know who can make you come in under two minutes with only their fingers?” His voice has suddenly turned from conversational to devastatingly sexual. Predatory.

I strain to filter the shudder out of my own voice at the sound of his. “Can’t say I’ve ever slept with one before now, El.” Oh, he is going to kill me. Annihilate me. I’m doing the equivalent of waltzing up to a pride of lions, seeking out the alpha male and calling him a pussy. “Besides, can’t say I’ve ever slept with a straight man who could do that, either.”

“Got news for you, Liv,” he growls into my ear, raising goosebumps over my body in spite of our (quite literally) steamy surroundings. I’m so concentrated on the rumble of his voice right now and how it alone is causing my body to instinctively start preparing itself for the erection I desperately want him to have but which his mysterious new sense of self-control seems to have kept at bay, that I don’t really notice how his right hand has begun sliding lower. I’m waiting for that voice to tell me its news. “You just did.”

Chapter Text

11. Chinese Handcuffs

Wait. I just did what? My brain speeds through a replay of the last several seconds, trying to figure out what I just did. Elliot’s hand, meanwhile, has reached the juncture of my thighs and I feel fingers beginning to slip over the rise of my pubic bone. Shit. Um…wait. I told him I hadn’t ever slept with a man who could make me…um…and he said…I just…

Oh.

The realization hits me a split second before his middle and ring fingers slide over my clit, through the increasingly wet skin between my legs and push up into me. My breath catches in my throat before he slides them back out slowly, never lifting them from my skin until they again reach the small collection of nerves already missing the attention. He doesn’t deny them long, pressing and rubbing small circles around the nub itself, only sweeping directly back over it on his way back to my slit. My body clenches at his fingers, but he does the same thing again, drawing them out, rubbing, circling, pressing, sliding them in.

He takes his time, completing several more reps of his routine before he hooks the two fingers inside me, digging the fingertips into the spongy tissue along the ridge just behind where the fingers entered. His hand starts moving more rapidly then, concentrating pressure on the front side of my walls, his palm dancing and grazing over my clit with his increasingly quick motions.

My muscles start to tighten, my knees to weaken. My breath hitches, but continues on, however raggedly. I notice from how my back is pressed into him that his breathing is laboring, too, so it’s apparent I’m not the only one enjoying this.

Either that, or it’s because he’s doing all the work.

The tension in my body begins to near what I’m sure is a breaking point and just as soon as I think that (because I’m pretty sure I didn’t say anything) his fingers desert me and slow their pace dramatically as he again starts toying with my clit – sliding over it, around it, taking the raised nub of it between the insides of his working fingers and squeezing them together tightly. He lengthens his strokes again, slipping all the way down until just his fingertips would enter me before leaving.

If he asks, I’m going to deny that the rolling of my hips that is aiding in the sliding of his hand is intentional because, really, I’m pretty certain it’s instinctual and consciously uncontrollable. And when my pelvis tips just a bit too far back, my ass meets what is now a solid mass between his thighs. Guess he is enjoying this, too. When my bare skin makes contact with the front of his boxers, he sucks in a sharp breath next to my ear, inching the lower half of his body away from me. “No fair distracting me,” he scolds, his cheek pressing tightly to my head just behind my ear.

“What?” I try to sound like a smartass, like I’m teasing him, but somehow my prankster image is devoured by my inner seductress in the guise of a low and breathless voice. “You saying you can’t perform amidst distraction? Can’t make the shot when you need to?” I roll my eyes, though he can’t see it. “Lord, and you’ve had my back for eight years? Great.”

“I can perform amidst any distraction.” He’s growling his words at me and I can’t help that my right hand responds by sliding down his right arm until I’m grasping at his wrist, his fingers, anything, trying to urge him along. He stops abruptly, turning his hand over to grab mine, his left arm releasing its cinch around me, grabbing my other hand. He draws both of them upward, manipulating them behind his neck until I clasp them together there. He chastises me as he does so, informing me that, while distraction was legal, helping was not. This was his challenge to meet, not ours.

And here I thought from our earlier discussion that there is no “I” in “TEAM.”

That reminds me of the one and only time I’ve heard Elliot use that particular phrase. Dickie had called him at the station one day, relaying details of that afternoon’s school hockey game. We both had our hands full of papers and files, so he’d put the call on speaker. Poor kid got a scolding about being some kind of a puck hog (though I know El was secretly proud of the hat trick his son had scored). When he busted out the “team” saying, he received silence on the teenager’s end of the line. Munch was the one to break the silence, calling out, “Yeah, maybe not, but there’s a “ME!” The grin was evident in Dickie’s voice as he responded with thanks to “Detective John.”

Elliot’s one hand has taken up its methodical torture again, and as much as I’m trying to concentrate on the small ripples of pleasure he’s coaxing every few seconds, I’ve got the word “team” stuck in my head now and after being reminded of the existence of a “ME” in “TEAM”, it occurs to me that there is also a “TEA,” my temporary beverage of choice.

Oh, dear God, there’s also a “MEAT.”

And an “EAT.” Well, “EAT ME”, even, if only they’d allow for the re-use of letters.

My newfound anagram knowledge shoots a laugh from my lungs and I try to clamp my mouth shut and not let it escape, but just as I do, Elliot’s fingers re-enter my body, my lips part to let loose a gasp at the pleasure, instead releasing the rogue laugh.

He doesn’t bother to ask why I’m laughing now. Instead, he takes to working the fingertips of his left hand rather furiously against my clit as their right-handed counterparts manipulate their way in and out of my body. The sudden onslaught of sensation makes me choke – quite literally – on my laugh and I force a couple coughs from my lungs to clear them.

My fingers, still laced together behind Elliot’s neck, start to slide apart and the more desperate they become to grasp onto something, the harder it seems to become to keep them clasped to each other. I give up, letting them slide apart until they are clinging to the back of his head, the nape of his neck, whatever I can reach. The tightening in my lower back is almost uncomfortable, the slight trembling of my abdominal muscles almost ticklish, my body starting to rebel in a way that tells me to just let go. I’m pulling his head down toward my shoulder now, a side effect of my trying to use his thick neck as leverage to stretch my body taller against him, trying to escape the mounting pressure assaulting my muscles.

I want to stomp my legs and scream, I want to let my knees buckle and moan, I want him to stop – God, I don’t ever want him to stop.

But I think what I really want is to hold out for longer than two minutes. Just because.

And, of course, Elliot knows that.

He doesn’t resist my pulling his head down lower. As soon as his lips are level with my ear, he starts speaking into it, just a shade above a whisper – the shade where the unique tone of his voice is present, only hushed. “C’mon, Liv. You know you want to. I know you want to. I can feel it.” His breath is still hurried, his words escaping on the harsh exhalations. “Olivia,” my name sounds like a warning from his lips, “we’re getting close to the deadline…”

I’d like nothing more than to tell him that’s his problem, but my lungs seem to be constricting with the rest of my body, preventing the use of speech.

“C’mon, Liv…come for me…c’mon, baby…”

Okay, actually, I’d like nothing more than to obey his every word.

“C’mon, baby…come for me, Liv, c’mon…” His low rambling words of encouragement accompany the pace of his fingers remarkably well, I think, and it’s the last coherent thought I have before my body begins a complete and methodical self-destruction in his arms.

My rebellious muscles have no intention of letting his fingers go anywhere, the contractions so strong Elliot has got to feel like he has his hand stuck in one of those Chinese handcuff things. And yet, somehow, he still manages to move his fingers just that much more to cause my knees to finally buckle, his forearms pressing against me to hold my failing body to his chest. When it becomes evident that my legs have little intention of helping to support my weight, he lets his left hand take a break from its work, the thumb of his right hand relieving it while two of its other fingers remain trapped inside me. He snakes his left arm around me until his hand drops onto my right shoulder. I grab it there with my right hand because I don’t know what else to do and it seemed the back of his head was no longer big enough for both my grasping hands. One of them had to go. “Keep comin’, Liv, that’s it…Christ, you’re so tight, Liv.”

I’d like to laugh, really.

“You have any idea how good you feel?”

Only how good he’s making me feel.

“How wet you are?”

A pretty good idea, yeah.

“C’mon, come harder for me, baby.” His warm breath in my ear soothes the tickle caused by the vibrations of his voice. “I gotcha…just let it happen…I’m not gonna let you fall, Olivia.”

Yeah…too late. I think I’ve already gone and fallen. And I’m relatively sure there was nothing he or anyone else could have done to stop it. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.

Oh, God. That commercial.

One laugh from me and Elliot shoves a third finger into my pussy…Jesus, did I just think the word “pussy”? Fuck, I better not have said that. I don’t know that I’ve ever used that word in that context before.

Man brings out the porn star in me, I suppose.

Regardless, any moans, hums, words, or even other rebellious laughs are lost in the monumental effort it takes for me to just keep breathing. It’s hardly as rhythmical as his fingers or even the contractions and spasms he’s continuing to coax at his will. It’s a series of un-choreographed gasps which don’t even pretend to aim for the formation of anything coherent. My hips buck against his hand, every muscle along the length of my spine tightening and I’m thinking this can’t be possible. I can’t be having an orgasm like this with nothing but my partner’s fingers inside me. I’m thinking I’ll never again take his hands for granted. I’ll promise to appreciate the beauty of his scarred knuckles, and how it is that even skin toughened by years of work and war can still be smooth. I’ll swear to doctor every cut, scrape, bruise until they heal to my satisfaction.

Just when I’m thinking this can’t possibly last any longer, he presses into and rubs over my clit a few times and every ounce of energy I have left is burned with the rippling of this last set of contractions. Despite the way I collapse back into him, the core of my body is reluctant to let him go and feels the emptiness when he manages to withdraw his fingers, wrapping his right arm around my waist, the spray of the shower rinsing away any trace of me on his hand.

He kisses my temple. “Sorry, Liv. No gay man can do that.”

My lungs are beginning to meet their oxygen quota. Enough for me to speak anyway. “You cheated.” Not that I really care; but still, he’s not going to win that easily. I’m not going down without a fight. Going down…shit.

I can feel him smile above my ear. “Really? How do you figure?”

“You were talking to me.”

“So? I only used my fingers. I can’t touch you with my voice, Liv,” he says pointedly.

“You’d be surprised,” I mumble.

He asks “What was that?” even though I’m pretty sure he heard me. My silence is enough of an answer to him. “Hmm,” he hums, the vibrations from his lips pulsing into my skin, “good to know.” He squeezes me tightly with both arms and it’s then I become acutely reminded of the presence of the other part of my partner I enjoyed having inside me so much. He’s still hard – harder than I can remember ever feeling him before, however few times that may be.

My hips tip back, causing my ass to bump conveniently into his dick. It has to be instinctual because, really, at this point my muscles are too fatigued to be operating on much else.

“Liv,” he cautions.

“I can’t help it.” Well, it’s the truth.

His thighs tremble slightly behind mine. “Try,” he grits into my ear, “or you’re really gonna be panicking by the time we get out of this shower.”

My muscles quiver a bit deep down in my abdomen, putting aside their exhaustion. Panicking? Who’s panicking? What’s there to panic about when you’re engulfed by the presence of six feet and a couple hundred pounds of absolutely undeniable man? Apparently, such a presence has the ability to demolish the remaining rational thought epicenters in my brain and replace them all with simple biological necessity.

With need.

I let go of his hand and manage to turn to face him, the slickness of my wet skin compromising his grip just enough to allow me to slip around in his arms. I wrap my own arms around his neck, resting our foreheads together. “I’m not panicking now.”

“But you will be.”

“You know, it’s probably unavoidable no matter what we do or don’t do.” Preferably do.

“Don’t wanna make it worse.”

“I want you to make it better,” I drawl. As I speak this time, I slither my hands down his back until my fingers fit beneath the waistband of his drenched boxers and I can let them rest on the curve of his ass.

His hands are quickly around my wrists and he holds them down gently to my sides. “I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing here, Liv.”

Were we talking? Shit, I don’t even know. Even my vocal chords are running on instinct, I guess. The most prominent thing I’m aware of at the moment is that Elliot’s dick is hard as a goddamn rock, that every muscle where I want that dick to be is clenching with some insane desire to be filled and that I think I really just want to get laid. I try to twist my wrists from his grasp. “Who needs to talk?”

We do, Olivia.” He gives up fighting my wriggling wrists, opting to do as he’d done earlier – take my hands and manipulate them to lock behind his neck. I don’t protest, sliding my arms more fully around him, bringing our torsos in contact. Jesus, he’d never even touched my breasts in the shower and my nipples are aching as they press into him as though he’d been sucking on them for hours. Elliot raises his arms outside mine until his hands frame my face, which he tilts up to look at him. “You listening?”

I nod and try to concentrate on his eyes. I need a focal point. They can be it.

“The shampoo is mine. It’s big because I’m cheap and it’s economical and I have to balance out what I spend on that damn shower gel, which, by the way, Katie bought me for my birthday last year because she thought the coffee and chocolate smell would somehow make me less of a son of a bitch. I liked the smell, I started buying it.”

My brain battles between processing what he’s telling me and the sensations of being this close to him.

“Olivia? You hear me?”

Those who don’t understand, repeat. “The shampoo is yours, Katie bought you the Sonic Death Monkey.” My eyes have drifted from his, settling on their new focal point: his lips.

He rolls his eyes. “Liv, look at me.”

I blink a few times and shake my head rapidly, turning my gaze back up to his.

“You asked me how many there had been. How many women.”

Well, shit on a log, that’s a sobering thought. I did ask that, didn’t I? Why did I ask that? My fingers are now well past the point of becoming pruny and the hyper-sensitive skin on my wrinkled fingertips picks up every nuance of his skin as I bring them down over his shoulders to rest on his chest, where they can feel every one of the sparse hairs there. My eyes leave his again, opting to stare at where my fingers lay against his pectorals. I can’t look him in the eye when he tells me whatever he’s going to tell me. If I look him in the eye, I’ll know if he’s being honest and, depending on his answer, I may want to wish it to be a lie.

I remember too late that I can detect a lie on Elliot’s voice as easily as I can in his eyes.

“Not one. There wasn’t anyone, Liv. Not until you.”

His voice is honest, but I can’t bring myself to believe him. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I still remember all the justifications I’d thrown around regarding his fidelity and unlikelihood to break even the shakiest of vows, but all I can see is the man in front of me. The solid wall of man, built in every way possible for the act of sex, whose architecture I’ve somehow been blessed enough to experience firsthand. And the sight of that man makes it practically impossible to comprehend that, in two years, not one other woman managed to weasel her way into his bed. Because I know they would have tried.

I scoff. “Yeah right. You haven’t had sex in over a year until today? With me?”

He drops a kiss to the edge of my hairline. “Believe it or not, Liv,” he murmurs against the skin there, “there are other ways for a man to…take care of…his sexual needs.”

Holy fuck. My partner may or may not have just suggested to me something about his masturbatory practices. Good thing I haven’t let slip anything about my own. He’d probably be scared off by the insane number of times he’s helped me along via fantasyland.

His lips remain at my hairline. “You were there, you know. With me. All those nights.” His hands have shifted slightly back, his fingers weaving into my wet hair. “Not exactly noble for a man whose wife just left him, I know. But, God, those nights, when I was alone, you were all I could think about. All I wanted to think about.”

And that sent a whole new wave of moisture crashing between my legs. The words come out before I can stop them. “I said your name.”

He’s silent for a moment, wondering. “What?”

“I said your name,” I repeat, eyes still locked on my hands. “In Oregon. In the hospital, while I was out, I said your name. I didn’t know. One of the group members told me.”

“Whoa, whoa, wait. Hospital? Out? The hell are you talking about? Why didn’t I hear about this?” He pulls back away from my head, trying to look down at me.

I inch forward the tiniest bit, inclining my forehead toward him until his lips again meet my hairline. “It’s not a big deal, El, really.” He starts to say something and I cut him off, again silently insisting that he keep his mouth at its present location. “Look, we were at a rally and I kinda got knocked out by this prick of a cop. I was out for like an hour or something. The other girl who got in a brawl was in the bed next to mine at the hospital. She asked me who Elliot was. Supposedly, I’d said his name in a bit of a questionable fashion while I was in la la land.”

“Were you moaning it?”

“I don’t know.” I shove him, just a little. “She just asked me who Elliot was and said I’d been calling out his name in my state of unconsciousness.”

“So, you didn’t just say it. You called it out.” He sounds proud of himself.

While I’m in the mood to admit stuff… “I dreamed about you. In Oregon.” I clarify that I’m speaking about my time in Oregon, since I’ve had my share of dreams starring my partner here on the East Coast as well. But, the less he knows about that…well, the less crazy I’ll sound. It’s probably ridiculous for me to try to take anything slow right now given that I’ve already slept with the man twice and he only recently withdrew his fingers from my body. “I didn’t have anything familiar there. So, in my head, I brought you.”

He hesitates briefly. “I thought you’d gone to get away from me.”

“Fat lot of good that did me,” I huff.

He kisses my forehead again and we stand silently for a handful of seconds.

I break the silence. “El?”

“Yeah?”

I drum a forefinger against his chest absentmindedly. “If you hadn’t signed your divorce papers the other day,” I feel him bristle, his body bracing for pending discomfort, “would I still be here right now?”

He ponders the question and I prepare myself to hear what I feared all along – that, given the option of fidelity, Elliot wouldn’t stray, even for me. “You know, Olivia, I think…I think that whatever made this happen this morning, whatever pushed us to that point…I think that it was bound to happen. Would it have been in the pre-dawn hours of today? I don’t know.” A pause as he settles his chin atop my head, his hands dropping to encircle my upper arms. “But I do know I’d have still asked you to come upstairs. I’d have still wanted to make things right with you, to just have you here…where I could do everything in my power to make sure you’d never want to run again.”

I sigh and tuck my head farther under his chin, laying my right cheek flat against his chest between my hands. “What if this case had never happened? What if Valerie Sennet had never not been raped?” I can’t help that my summary of the case sounds more than a bit bitter in my voice.

“Gitano would have still happened,” he points out.

“And if it hadn’t?” I counter.

He draws back to gaze down at me with furrowed brows. “Why are you suddenly so concerned with the what if’s?”

I don’t bother to lift my head, though I know he’s looking at the top of it. “Because, Elliot, the what if’s are what define the inevitable.” Frankly, I’m impressed by my own profundity. “Something’s only inevitable if it would have happened regardless of all the what if’s.” I’m thinking there’s not a way around my logic.

I forget that I’m dealing with the new contemplative Elliot. Ha. He could be his own line of action figures. Contemplative Elliot, Angry Elliot, Concerned Elliot, Cop Elliot, Sex God Elliot…

“What if I’d never met you, though?” he muses. “How could I have fallen in love with you then?”

Chapter Text

12. Pavlov and the Python

Anyone who thinks love doesn’t have a sense of humor, talk to Elliot Stabler’s water heater. It knows all-too-well the comical side of romance. Just as El’s words – that he’s in love with me, not just that he loves me like we’d said in the kitchen earlier…which, let’s face it, could mean any number of things to any number of people or two totally different things to he and I…but to be in love with…that’s something everybody understands and I…he…I don’t even know where I was going with this. But when he said it and I began to get it, the water raining down on us turned into a bit of a wintery mix.

It hits me in the back first, Elliot catching more of a secondary spray as it bounces off my body. He immediately grabs me securely around the waist with his left arm and leans quickly forward – almost dipping me ballroom-style in the process – to shut off the water. My hands leap from his chest to his shoulders, the tips of my fingers digging in as I start to drop backward. The mental image of Elliot in some Latin dancing outfit makes me want to laugh again…that of slow-dancing with him makes me want to throw him on his bed and mambo…horizontally.

Instead, I find my body no longer in contact with his – the cold water, lack of his body heat and breeze from the sliding open of the door combine to leave me with a hell of a chill. Within seconds, he’s leaning back over the threshold of the tub, draping a fluffy slate blue towel (like the one I’d earlier envisioned around his hips) across my shoulders. He wraps it around my arms, holding it together with one hand at the front of my chest. He tugs on it gently, urging me to step over and out of the tub. I do, and he places his other hand between my shoulder blades – to guide me, perhaps, as he’s done for years with a hand on my lower back as we walk. I’m actually quite appreciative of the support at the moment since my legs have yet to regain much of their strength. He pulls me to stand in front of him, vigorously rubbing his hands up and down over the towel that covers my upper arms before reaching around to give my back the same courtesy. I find it somewhat amusing that he’s trying to dry me off when he’s the one standing there in soaked boxers.

As he reaches for my back, the towel falls open in the front and I take the opportunity to sneak my hands out from beneath the looped cotton and stick my thumbs underneath his waistband. I use them to stretch the elasticized fabric away from his sides and begin shimmying and peeling the wet tartan plaid down. I have his hipbones and the ridges that carve them from his torso exposed before he notices and stops me.

Tries to stop me, anyway. He gets my name out of his mouth and I – or my pesky instincts – make the impromptu decision that we don’t really need to talk anymore right now. He said what he said and my brain needs to process and refine that information. But, can I honestly be expected to think about that objectively when I already know with complete certainty what is underneath all that Irish cotton?

Nope.

Before he can say anything more or do anything to stop me, I hastily shove the boxers over his ass, careful to pull the waistband away from his front side as to not get hung up (no pun intended) on the ridiculously perfect cock now pointing at me. As I stare down at it, I can see that his boxers are stubbornly clinging to his still droplet-covered skin above his knees. Unfortunately, I’m worried that if I squat down to remove them completely, my decidedly uncooperative leg muscles may simply refuse to let me return to standing. A shame, too, because eyeing the rigid and veined surface of it – really seeing it for the first time – my salivary glands are reciting for me the benefits of squatting down despite my weakened quads and getting him into my mouth.

This is bad. Very bad. It would not be a good thing for me to develop a Pavlovian reaction to seeing Elliot’s dick. Well, not so bad, perhaps, because if I’m seeing it at all, I must be on the right track already. But, still. Seeing him at work? Having him sit at his desk across from mine, reclining in his chair, legs spread wide…Jesus. Pavlov sucks. Oh God, I shouldn’t think the word “sucks” right now.

Pavlov is an asshole. He’s an asshole and temptation is an evil bitch. Temptation may be a bigger bitch than I am.

At this rate, my staying on the pure side of things is looking less and less likely, if my ability to resist temptation where my partner is concerned is any indication of my natural tendency toward the Dark Side.

Yep, temptation is an evil, evil bitch. And right now, temptation is sitting between Elliot’s thighs and goddammit I have to get something into my mouth now.

I opt for the something that will prevent the collapse of my legs – his tongue. Gracelessly, I throw my arms around his neck, using my biceps and forearms to drag myself up toward his lips, latching onto them with a sort of fervor I’ve never felt before in just wanting to kiss someone. I’m on my toes now, the bastard not even leaning over an inch. He doesn’t want to let me have my way. That’s fine. Elliot can want whatever he wants because I’m pretty sure that Elliot’s dick and I want the same thing. And, one way or another, we’re going to get it. I shove my tongue between his lips so at least he can’t argue anymore.

Somehow, he still tastes like coffee. And yet, he’s far superior to any caffeine jolt I ever remember having.

I seem to recall non-verbal being the better mode of communication to use with him (despite his sudden desire to want to talk), so I resurrect the tried and true tactic of hitching a leg up and around him. My body is flush against his now, his erection hot against the lowest part of my abdomen thanks to my usage of tiptoes. He’s at least kissing me back now, his thick hands tangling themselves among the strands of my tousled wet hair. That’s fantastic and all, but I was sort of aiming for getting his hands to my thighs to pick me up.

Worked the first time.

Damn him.

Now I remember why I spent as much time as I did rock climbing. For moments like this, obviously. Using my forearms for leverage behind his neck and upper back, I carefully lift my left leg (the one not already locked around him by its knee) from the ground. Elliot pushes a grunt into my mouth as I leave him supporting the entirety of my weight rather unexpectedly. I proceed to basically climb up the façade of the rock wall that is the body of the man in front of me, pressing my left foot into the side of his leg to use as a step, letting me disengage and readjust the grip of my right leg even higher on him. Locking that leg as tightly as I can, I use my left foot to catch the waistband of his boxers and press them farther down his legs before I hoist my left leg quickly the rest of the way up to be level with the right.

I’ve got myself exactly where I want to be and, really, after a circus act like the one I just pulled, if he doesn’t get the hint, all hope is lost.

Just in case he doesn’t realize that a score is imminent at this point in our little game, I stack my offense, pushing my hips against where I may or may not have accidentally gotten his dick wedged between his abdomen and my own.

That breaks his lips from mine. “Christ, woman,” he grumbles against my cheek.

I don’t take the time to process that he has now not only called me “baby,” but “woman,” as well. Indeed, my brain seems to still be rather focused on that pesky biological need for sex. I groan. “I swear to God, Elliot…” I use the best threatening mean-cop voice I can muster given the situation. The situation being my now incessant grinding along his shaft.

“Olivia.” He tries just saying my name. Such a trooper this one is. He’d have been such a good little Boy Scout. Too bad I’m not really into the Scout type. I’m more into the hockey player type. I think he’s saying something else, but I’m not really hearing it. Frankly, I’m too busy wondering if Elliot ever played hockey. I’ve never asked him. I bet he’d have been great at it. With his thighs, he’d have been rocketing over the ice. Okay, so I don’t know what his thighs were like as a young man, but now…to see him on the ice now…holy…

Olivia.”

That time I hear him. I just don’t care.

“I’m coming without you in about ten seconds,” I force out among hastened breaths, my forehead falling to his shoulder.

“Like hell you are,” his voice growls, his head turned to the side of my face to allow his lips to grit the words directly into my ear.

Worked like a charm. And I wasn’t even lying.

I’ve got my legs locked at the ankles, my thighs not trustworthy enough to squeeze around him and hold on successfully. Though perhaps “locked” isn’t the most accurate term because when his hands grip my waist to pry me away from him, he breaks the connection at my ankles with little resistance. My hands slip from the wet skin of his back as he tosses me onto the counter behind me, stepping the rest of the way out of his wet boxers. My ass slides along the surface, which is dewy from the humidity of the shower. I don’t have the time to think about if I’m going to slide right into the mirror or even sideways into the sink next to me and/or how to prevent that from happening – Elliot’s hands are behind my knees before thinking is an option, and he’s stepping toward me as he yanks my legs. I’ve only just barely caught myself with my hands before he has my knees at his hips, and then he’s letting go of my legs and grabbing my hips, his fingertips pressing deeply into my skin.

It happens so quickly I don’t have time to worry about the possibility of whacking my head on the mirror if I risk lifting my hands from the countertop where they’re currently planted just behind me. But my fingers are tingling with the need to touch him and I decide to risk it anyway, hoping my abs can hold me away from the mirror long enough to let me reach forward. I haul myself up, managing to slip my fingers around his arms just above the elbows before he’s shoving himself into me.

No pretense, no warning, no more teasing and definitely no more of this “pushing himself up into me” business. Nope. This is shoving. We’ve done the pretense, the teasing and the slow and gentle. This, apparently, is what is left.

I’m game.

My fingertips dig into his triceps and I cry out something unintelligible. It’s more of a moan, really. Is it possible to cry out a moan? He doesn’t waste time establishing a rhythm, his thrusts driving and forceful, but not in any way hurried. Still on a bit of a high from our shower, I can already feel a near burning sensation low in my abdomen. A different burn from the one in my legs after we’ve been chasing a perp for far too long. This one is rather pleasant. This one isn’t telling me to please, for the love of God, stop. This one tells me that these particular muscles are physiologically programmed to never be too worn out to do their job.

After about a minute, he starts moving the tiniest bit faster and my head drops limply back, basically dangling from where it thankfully at least remains attached to my neck.

I moan again as my fingers slacken on his arms, sliding their way down to his forearms, but not quite to his wrists, where they finally regain enough control to close again. My head does, in fact, whack into the mirror as my upper body lowers with the descent of my hands down his arms. Some damsel part of me might be put off by the fact that Elliot does nothing to voice concern over my audible contact with his mirror, but the damsel is easily overwhelmed by the nymph, who, for one, appreciates the look of concentration on Elliot’s face and the fact that he hasn’t said a word to me since depositing me on the countertop – an obvious difference from our prior three sexual encounters.

And the nymph just really wants to get laid again.

Sound the airhorn, the nymph wins.

In as chivalrous a gesture as I’m assuming a man in his position can manage, Elliot moves his hands even lower on my hips – more to the sides of my ass, really – and tugs me gently further toward him until my head and upper back are lying safely flat on the counter, the danger of me falling backward removed. Of course, when he does this, the thick length of him hits that much deeper inside my body…and it hits something that feels really fucking good. Some random sound akin to a groan tears from my throat and I swear it originated from somewhere as deep inside me as he is right now. He’s supporting my hips with his hands where they otherwise dangle in midair off the edge of the vanity. I press them down into his fingers and my hands now grab the edge of the counter so hard I know my knuckles must be snow-white and I’m arching my spine up and off the slick surface beneath me.

It seems now that every time he pushes into me, he pushes some form of vocalization out of me. Though, really, at this point, him pulling out before he pushes in feels just as good, the friction he’s creating putting every nerve in my body on alert and I try to actually clamp down on him to just keep him in me and end the torture of movement. When I clench my muscles around his cock, though, I start to get a bit lightheaded because God that torture feels good.

There’s a slight chance that his hips are crashing into me at their current pace because the word “harder” just escaped from my lips.

I press my eyes shut because I can feel them beginning to roll back and I am so not going to pass out having an orgasm. That’s about the point I’m at now…and for the first time in our sexual relationship, I’m the one to announce the proximity of my own orgasm. “Jes-…” the name of the deity dies on my breath and I drawl out another moan. “I’m gonna come.”

My hips suddenly drop the tiniest bit as he lets go and catches them in a heartbeat to readjust his grip on my ass. Something rumbles from his vocal chords, but I don’t think it was anything in the form of language. Well, perhaps it could be considered a language…the type big cats use to communicate with each other. I’m not even so sure the sound ever left his mouth. It just lodged itself in his throat, stirring and growling there enough to get my attention. My legs dangle uselessly, powerless to even close around his body. The muscles that surround him inside me start to flex and it tickles. My toes begin to curl, then flex, then point, then cramp up and son of a bitch that hurts…enough to make me swing my left leg back as hard as I can manage until I can whack my heel repeatedly on the cabinets below the vanity to try to alleviate the cramp. Pointless, really, because the spasm travels quickly up into both calves, then both thighs – that’s a hell of a cramp – and my hips buck up and almost out of Elliot’s grip. “Oh, God,” tears from my lips and I can’t…I can’t hold on.

I think I should be able to just open my eyes and watch his face as I come. To hold his eyes. I want to. But I can’t. I know I started this. I’m damn sure prepared to finish it. Mostly. A voice in my head screams that this is still crazy, that I’m not ready to venture into this with so little contact with him. I need to know he’s with me. I need to feel that I’m not alone in this. In any of it. In this moment, I need my partner to have my back. To protect me. To shield me from his own intensity.

I need more of him. To feel more than him in me, more than his hands on my ass and his arms in the grip of my fingers. The overwhelming urge to bury my face in his neck and feel as much of his skin against mine as I can washes over my brain and I know I have one shot at this because my body is about to relinquish all semblance of voluntary movement to the power of an oncoming orgasm. I fight against my quivering abs to throw myself up at him, managing to grab a shoulder with one hand, my fingertips digging into the flesh there until my grasp is secure enough to get my other hand to his other shoulder.

Elliot’s arms wrap around my lower back as the waves of contractions cause my hips to roll and snap relentlessly against him. In an instant, I’m like a python around him, arms and legs slithering to capture him from all angles – over his shoulder around his neck, under his arm around his back, hooking to a hip, hanging below a hip to wrap around the back of a thigh, my mouth wide against the rise of his shoulder to his neck, my teeth gently sinking into his skin. Strange, really, because I’ve never been a biter. Seriously, I haven’t. Even now, it isn’t as though I have the desire to chomp down on him like an alligator and not let go. It really is more like a snake that’s bitten into its prey, periodically injecting its venom through a systematic bite and release…bite and release. Subconsciously, I may be trying to actually leave something behind on his neck…some sort of reminder of me, a sign that this is really happening. Hopefully it’s something he can live with, nothing he would consider poisonous, because short of scrawling “Olivia was here” across his freckled Irish chest with the closest available Sharpie, this seems like the best option.

My light gnawing on his shoulder is fairly in sync with the rotation of my hips, every limb of my body now clinging to Elliot as though my simple survival depends on it.

Truth be told, I think it does.

I’m not really sure Elliot even feels the scrape and pressure of my teeth through the thick skin that shrouds his body. I swear this man must have the hide of a rhino or something.

But just then, his arms leave my back and, hands on my ass, he hoists me up as close to him as possible, my breasts crushed against the rock face of his chest. He settles his hands low on my hips and, God, he’s moving my body up and down along the length of him, forcing my already grinding hips and contracting muscles to allow his continued thrusting and I know that no rhino has skin as smooth as what I’m rubbing against right now. My clit drags along the expanse of skin between his navel and the base of his shaft and a whole new tidal wave crashes through my body. My teeth bite down harder than I’d intended and Elliot’s responding growl makes my jaw slacken immediately and I opt for simply pressing my face into the side of his neck. My fingernails dig trails wherever they touch him and my lungs burn with the effort it takes to contain my scream.

For whatever reasons, my impending orgasms have been the only ones to warrant conversation. Up ‘til now.

“Fuck, Liv,” he manages to grit out. “Ah, fuck, I’ve gotta come.”

Don’t know what he wants me to say to that, really, because I’m already way ahead of him in that regard…I’m sure I’ve had a handful of them by now, but they’ve all kinda blurred into one cascading scale of wavelengths. Not to mention I’ve been rendered speechless. Again. I nod against his neck, the smell of his aftershave still intoxicating despite the rinse of the shower water, and I try to concentrate on just actively riding out the remainder of my own sexual upheaval.

Whoa, whoa, wait a second. He’s slowing down. He’s slowing down. He is slowing the fuck down. Really? His strokes are longer, slower, still just as deep. And he’s still mumbling something about needing to come. I’m wondering what the hell he’s waiting for. The muscles in his lower body tense underneath my legs and I know he’s holding back.

“Christ, you’ve gotta get off me, Olivia.”

Did I just become spontaneously dyslexic or did he say get “off me”? Because I know in this situation, those two words should be reversed.

I hold tighter to him.

“You’re gonna have to take another shower.” His hips keep moving – of their own accord, I’m sure – and his voice strains.

The man picks this moment to worry about sex being a messy thing.

“Do I feel like I give a fuck, Elliot?” I snap at him, the words rushing out between two hurried breaths, my mouth lifting slightly from his skin so he can actually hear me. I tighten my arms around him and pull my body against him an impossible bit more and continue to roll my hips into his.

“Liv…”

At this point, I’m simply not getting enough air to my lungs to complete a full sentence in one breath. “Elliot, you ass.” I breathe. “Just…” Breathe. “…come already.” Breathe. “I want…” Breathe. His fingers tighten on me. Breathe again. Oh Lord, I’m never gonna get this all out. I sneak my left hand up to the side of his face and lift my lips to his ear, using my hand to press his ear against my mouth. If I manage to get all these words out, I want to make sure he hears me. I take as deep a breath as I can. “I want you to come inside me.” The words are no more than a mist in my exhalation. You’d think I’m saying them in my dying breath.

So much to the contrary.

And then, I just hold on.

I hold on until my body decides to stop rebelling against my voluntary muscle control. I hold on even as his remaining powerful thrusts threaten to break my grip on his skin. I hold on until he stops moving within me and slides his arms around me once more, securing my body to him. I hold on while he drops a kiss on my shoulder. I hold on until Elliot comes to his senses and turns back into the man I know and…love.

“You’re welcome,” he whispers gruffly against my skin.

That man I know and love? He’s a jackass, by the way.

I raise my head, my eyelids heavy and manage to raise a tired eyebrow at him. “For what? I don’t remember thanking you for anything.”

He turns and bumps his forehead lightly into mine. “After that, I think you should.”

Such an ass.

I rub my nose against his slightly. “How do you figure?"

I feel the rise of his body as he shrugs. “I gave you what you wanted…” He’s grinning now. I can feel it in the creases of his forehead against mine.

“Yeah well.” I place a quick kiss on his lips and lean back away from him, putting my hands behind me until they reach the countertop. I’m reluctant to let go with my legs and detach myself completely from him so I pull against the counter until he steps forward and allows me to perch on the edge of it. I let my legs relax on either side of his hips and regard him with satisfied eyes. “You’re gonna have to get used to that.”

He raises his eyebrows.

“I always find a way to get what I want.”

He laughs at my false bravado. I think we both know somewhere in the backs of our minds that, when it comes to each other, we’d each always give more than we’d demand, even to our own detriment. But, bravado’s more fun.

“And right now,” I run a finger down his chest, “you know what I want?”

He cocks his head sideways.

“Breakfast.”

He rolls his eyes at me. “Yeah, yeah.” He kisses my forehead. “You gonna be okay if I leave you alone?”

I’m honestly not sure, but I smile slightly and nod. My plan is to just make it out to the kitchen as soon as possible.

“Alright.” He props my chin on a finger and kisses my lips this time and I let my tongue dart out to get one last taste of him before he pulls away from me, swipes the pool of wet cotton off the floor, tossing it in the hamper on his way to the bedroom door.

Just before he reaches the open doorway, I snap an imaginary bullwhip with my right hand, complete with the appropriate sound effects. I know he’s choking back a laugh because I see the muscles in his back tremble just slightly. He shakes his head, hiding his smile from me and closes the door behind him.

Chapter Text

13. Satisfaction

I stare at the closed door for several long seconds (or was it a couple short minutes?) after Elliot’s departure, during which time I hear the scrape of a dresser drawer being opened and closed. I can only assume he’s finding a dry pair of boxers. Or perhaps a pair of jeans. Or maybe the black track pants he goes running in when it’s cold out. I realize I have no idea what to expect in that kitchen. The man could be fully clothed by the time I get out there. Or half-naked. I drop my gaze down next to me at my own pile of clothing, a sink away from me on the countertop. I cross my legs at the ankles, suddenly feeling, once again, a bit over-exposed.

I contemplate my stack of clothes, knowing full-well that three of the garments I’d worn earlier this morning were lying somewhere on Elliot’s bedroom floor. Retrieving them would mean leaving the safety of the bathroom wrapped in a towel. But, do I need them? What does a woman wear into her partner’s kitchen for breakfast after having sex with him for the third time? Technically, we might be up to three and a half if you count that little stunt of his in the shower.

I count it. It definitely counts.

Well, I’m not going out there naked, that’s for damn sure. I eye my jeans wearily. I’m in no way the commando type of girl. I don’t even want to imagine the chafing from running down a suspect on the streets with nothing between me and a pair of pants. No, thank you. Come to think of it, I can’t really fathom that Elliot is a boxers kind of guy when we’re working. Support, and all. That would be like me going for a run without a sports bra. Bouncy. Bouncy balls. Ha.

Guess this means I’ll be venturing out to find my discarded panties. Great.

I slide gingerly off the edge of the countertop until my feet touch the floor, easing myself into a standing position, all the while not letting go of the counter until I’m sure my legs are functioning properly. Elliot was right, I could probably use another shower. The thought of ice cold water is, admittedly, not very appealing. I’ve just been warmed up in the best of ways. I walk over to the tub and step back in, a thought having just occurred to me. Detachable showerhead.

I grab the showerhead by its handle, releasing it from its holster (I have no idea if that’s what it’s called, but I’m a cop, so I’m going with it), crank on the water and direct the flow to the showerhead. I have to bite back the squeal that wants to rupture from my lungs when the cold water hits me between the legs. This is not what I had in mind when I first became aware of the detachable showerhead earlier. This is decidedly unsexy.

Silently cursing Elliot’s water heater, I spray myself off as quickly as possible, shut off the shower and re-hang the showerhead, my fingers trembling with an involuntary shiver at the blast of cold. I hurry out of the tub and swipe the remaining dry towel off the rack on the wall, wrapping it around myself. Holding the towel together above my breasts, I slowly open the door, peeking out to see if the bedroom is empty. Finding it so, I push the door open the rest of the way, straighten up and step cautiously into the bedroom.

The drawers of the dresser are all closed, leaving me with no hint as to what Elliot may have grabbed out of them to put on. Standing just outside the threshold of the bathroom, I survey my surroundings. The bed is now a rumpled mess and, I admit, I’m tempted to straighten up the bedding, but that will have to wait until I’m more securely clothed. I scan the floor, spotting the jersey, just a heap of blue fabric at the foot of the bed. I have to step to the edge of the bed, passing my discarded underwear on the way, and peer around it to find the spot where my tank top landed. Holding the towel with my left hand, I gather all three items in the fist of my right, making my way back to the bathroom.

I bump the door closed with my hip, and deposit my gathered clothing on the countertop next to everything else. I puff a sigh from my lips, still at a loss for what to put on. This can’t be that difficult. It’s not like I’m faced with putting on the multitude of pieces of a hockey uniform. It’s just clothes. Okay, let’s get this done. I let the towel fall away into one hand and promptly hang it back on the towel bar. The fact that Elliot tossed his in the hamper occurs to me, and I step hurriedly over to rescue the clothes in the hamper from its dampness. I can’t help but think boys are gross as I reach into the hamper to swipe the towel away from what would otherwise turn into a mildewy situation. I hang it up next to the other towel and return to stand in front of the countertop containing my clothes.

Let’s start with the basics. We’ve established that I’m not a commando girl. I swipe my panties from the counter and scowl at them as I go to put them on. Well, those will have to go in the laundry. I toss them back on the vanity.

I now have nothing figured out beyond this. Shit.

Do I put my bra back on? It occurs to me that Elliot hasn’t even seen the bra yet, not that there’s anything particularly special about the simple white satin and lace design. Is it presumptuous of me to not put it back on? And, what about tops? The hoodie is comfy, would cover everything, and yet still offer the ease of access of the zipper. Oh my God, this is breakfast. This isn’t like trying to dress for the night you’re hoping to sleep with someone for the first time. Goodness knows, we’ve done that. Three and a half times, I believe we’ve established.

I roll my eyes, growling at myself, mind made up. I slip my arms through the straps of my bra, hastily fastening it behind my back, reaching then for the jersey. I pull the jersey over my head, the blue fabric cool against my skin. I assess my appearance in the mirror, satisfied with my decision. Turns out, the hoodie wouldn’t cover everything since my commando hand has been forced. But, that jersey will.

Truthfully, I was leaning toward the jersey, anyway. After all, it’s the only one of the garments in front of me that smells like him. Because it’s his. Elliot’s. I roll my lips, lightly chewing on the bottom one. Well, aside from the damp hair, this is basically what I looked like when Elliot kissed me for the first time.

My hair has already started to lift into waves as the water has evaporated from it. I run my fingers lightly through it, separating the strands. I don’t normally leave my hair like this. It tends to become a bit fuller than I prefer to have to tame for work. I have no idea how Elliot will react. Or, being a man, if he’ll even notice the difference.

Only one way to find out.

Figuring I’ve stalled about as long as I can, I steel my nerves, straighten my shoulders and put my hand on the doorknob. Taking a deep breath, I turn the knob, open the door, and step out of what has become my locker room.

I make my way down the hallway as quietly as I can manage, pausing as I near the living room. I can hear utensils scraping against glass, cabinets closing, and Elliot’s bare footsteps as he moves about on the kitchen’s tile floor. The earthy aroma of freshly brewed coffee drifts down the hallway to meet me.

My partner makes a hell of a cup of coffee, I should mention. It’s far superior to Munch’s motor oil brew. I realize that, to most, the act of scooping ground up coffee beans into a filter basket doesn’t require much skill. Somehow, though, there is an art to it. And Elliot has perfected it.

I allow my left shoulder to brush against the wall of the hallway, keeping contact with it as I step into the living room, the wall guiding me around the corner. I step to the edge of the breakfast bar and bend forward at the waist, just enough to allow me to peer my right eye into the kitchen.

Elliot stands facing the sink, a bowl in one hand and whisk in the other, beating what I can only assume are eggs. He is bare-chested. He sets the bowl down on the countertop and turns away from me to retrieve something from the spice cabinet. As he steps toward the cabinet I can see that, indeed, he is wearing his black track pants, the elastic hanging low on his hips. He has picked out whichever spice containers he needed, and begins to turn back to his work at the counter. Immediately, I suck in a breath and duck back behind the wall.

The scraping of utensils picks up again. I pull my lower lip between my teeth. Then, I hear, “Olivia, I can hear you breathing.”

No, he can’t. Really, he can’t, because I don’t think I’ve resumed normal respiratory activity. Have I?

A handful of long seconds pass.

“I’m not going to judge you by your clothes. Or my clothes. Whatever.”

Seriously? Elliot Stabler, Goddamned Mind Reader.

I bite into my lip a bit harder, then purse my lips and shake my head at myself. I’m going in the kitchen. Into the arena. Here I go. Any second now. Son of a…

I stride toward the end of the breakfast bar, am about to round the corner when the front row seats suddenly become more appealing than stepping out onto the ice. I slide sideways into the same stool I’d enjoyed my Cap’n Crunch from earlier. No Plexiglas to safely separate me from the action, but the bar does the job well enough.

I watch silently as Elliot again sets down the bowl and whisk. This time, however, it’s to grab a clean mug from a cabinet and fill it with coffee from the pot. He stirs a spoonful of sugar into the steaming liquid before lightly setting the mug on the bar in front of me.

He hasn’t said a word. But, he was looking at me when he set the coffee down, not at the countertop. My own eyes had tracked the mug (also emblazoned with the Rangers logo, by the way) through the air to the bar. I sense his eyes on me, and when his hand doesn’t immediately leave the mug, I glance up. The instant I catch his gaze, his hand falls away from the coffee mug.

I offer a small smile with a turn of my lips. “Thanks.”

A slight nod is his acknowledgement. And now, we’re just looking at each other.

I wrap my hands around the mug, relishing the warmth seeping through the ceramic.

Elliot blinks as he watches me. I know I’ve blinked. Yet, here we are, just watching each other, not saying a word. Well, isn’t this a bizarre staring contest?

I drum my fingernails lightly on the mug.

Elliot raises his eyebrows, only slightly.

I smirk, because twisting my lips is all I can do not to laugh.

He grins.

I’m the one to break eye contact, rolling my eyes with a smile, because the laugh is simmering in my throat. “What?” I ask.

“Well?”

I furrow my brows momentarily. An idea occurs to me, and I lift the mug to my lips, blowing across the surface of the coffee before taking a sip. As I set the mug back down, I comment, “It’s still perfect.”

He seems satisfied, and returns to his culinary work.

I continue to observe, and nurse my coffee. He has a pan out on the stove, bread arranged on a cutting board. He’s a more organized chef than I’d expected. I have a guess, but I ask anyway. “So, what’s for breakfast?”

“French toast.” I notice he has his own mug of coffee sitting off to the side on the counter, and he picks it up to take a swig before starting the process of mixing a variety of ingredients into the now beaten eggs.

I lean forward on my elbows, craning my neck to try to see what he’s got in his hands. There’s a skinny brown bottle, whose shape I recognize as belonging to what is likely vanilla extract. Milk, a reddish-brown powder I’m guessing is cinnamon, and salt. Salt? I scan the counter quickly before settling back into my stool. “You’re missing something,” I inform him.

Elliot continues his work, using the whisk to mix in his additions. He looks up at me, declaring, “I’ll have you know that this is a proprietary Stabler recipe.”

“Is the proprietary part the salt? Because that’s weird, El.”

He feigns hurt, but defends himself confidently. “It’s not weird. It’s delicious. A little hint of salt with maple syrup? Can’t beat it.”

I shrug. “I can make it better.”

“I don’t think so, Liv.”

“No, really. I can.” I turn sideways and hop down off my perch, walking into the kitchen without a second thought this time, heading straight for the spice cabinet. I pry around amongst the various bottles and tins before I find what I’m looking for. As I turn back to Elliot, he quickly pivots on his heels, placing his back to me, whisking away. Unscrewing the cap of the container in my right hand, I cross the tile in a couple long strides until I’m directly behind him. I stand on my tiptoes to peek over his shoulder and, in one swift motion, reach around his arm with my right hand and shake the contents of the bottle a couple times into his “proprietary” egg mixture. I retract my hand almost as quickly and replace the cap.

Elliot turns to his right, resting his left hip against the counter. He lowers his head, glancing at me in an admonishing manner. “Pretty sneaky, Benson.”

“Who’s talking?” I respond, to which he raises his eyebrows. “Don’t pretend you weren’t staring at my ass when I was digging through your spice cabinet.”

He grins.

“You’re pretty sneaky yourself. Just maybe not as sneaky as you think you are.”

“Guilty.” His grin widens.

“What?”

“Aren’t you going to put whatever that is back?”

I shake my head, and my eyes roll of their own accord. “You’re awful.”

He lifts a shoulder. “Just tryin’ to keep a clean kitchen.”

“Sure.” I smile. I have a bit more self-awareness as I step back to the spice cabinet this time, knowing exactly where Elliot’s blue eyes are directed. My bare legs are on full display, though the jersey is long enough to barely keep my bare cheeks out of view.

I put away my spice of choice and leave the kitchen, sliding back up onto the barstool.

Elliot brings the mixing bowl up toward his face, lowering his nose to it as I take a long sip of my coffee, hoping it’ll drown the little butterflies flittering around in my stomach. Ah, he’s playing food detective.

“So, what was that, anyway?”

“Nutmeg,” I answer simply.

“Nutmeg? Really?” He seems dubious.

“Hey, it makes eggnog taste awesome. Why should it not do the same for something else sweet and eggy?” My logic is hard to argue with.

He watches me for a moment, and I can see the gears turning in his head, trying to find a reason to dispute my eggnog theory. Then, he moves his work area across the kitchen, and clicks on the heat on the stove before beginning the task of bathing bread in egg. “Alright, I’ll take your word for it. We’ll see.”

“It’ll be the best French toast you’ve ever had, I guarantee it,” I assure him. My coffee has cooled enough to allow for sipping without the pre-emptive blow, and I let a long drink slide down the back of my throat. I swallow slowly and deliberately, which has nothing to do with my front row view of Elliot’s backside. He’s always been able to pull off track pants in a sexy, non-gym-rat way. Actually, he’s always been able to pull of any kind of pants with unintentional ease. They have a way of just resting right there where his lower back curves into his butt.

My partner has a really nice butt.

My next gulp of coffee is a bit larger.

Elliot steadfastly moves about his tasks, dipping and flipping slices of bread in the bowl, and I watch as the first slice hits the pan with a sizzle that rips through our silence. He seems content to not say a word.

I, however, am on edge. I try to keep my mouth otherwise occupied by constantly sipping at my coffee. My mind is tossing conversations around, sure there must be something to say. This is far too…comfortable.

“So, this famous Stabler French toast…” I lead in.

Elliot throws a brief glance over one shoulder before flipping a few slices of bread in the hot pan, inviting me to continue.

“Do you just break out this cherished family recipe on special occasions or what?”

He flips the first three pieces of French toast out of the pan onto one of two waiting plates. His shoulders shrug as he reaches for a nearby bottle of maple syrup. The syrup disappears into the microwave above the range. Elliot’s fingers dance across the keypad and over the Start button, whirring the microwave to life. More slices of bread hit the searing Teflon.

“You know, Sundays after church, holiday mornings, sometimes the kids’ birthdays,” his voice trails off. Suddenly, his eyes are on mine again, over his shoulder. They glint across the kitchen. “When I’m trying to impress a girl…”

I snort, and immediately cough when a few drops of coffee hit the wrong spot in the back of my throat. I set my mug down until the nagging few coughs subside. Elliot’s eyes narrow only slightly with concern, but the glint quickly returns as soon as he realizes I’m okay. This glint is a little less seductive, a little more amused. “Right, like you’ve had a lot of chances to do that over the years.”

“Touché.” The microwave beeps. He flips the bread in the pan, walks over to the small pantry, and retrieves a bag of powdered sugar. Untwisting the tie, he sticks a spoon down into the bag and sprinkles a healthy dusting of powder across the plated toast. The microwave beeps again, just in case he’s forgotten it’s done its job. Elliot pops the door open and snags the bottle of syrup, aiming it down toward the sugared French toast on the plate. The amber liquid drools and drizzles from the bottle, and Elliot keeps pouring until he’s satisfied. He sets the bottle down and, with the same hand, retrieves a fork and knife. With his other hand, he picks up the plate by its edge, carrying it toward me.

The plate settles in front of me with a soft “clink” against the countertop. He lays the fork and knife next to it. Then, he just stands there.

I look up from the plate, which, I admit, looks just as appealing as those that came out of some of the best diners we’ve frequented over the years. Elliot watches me silently.

I smirk at him. “Are you really going to stand there and watch me try this, too?”

He grins.

“You’re going to burn yours.”

He seems momentarily torn between the satisfaction of watching me take my first bite and the fear of overcooking his perfect French toast. I know this. I saw him take the tiniest nip at his lower lip.

I narrow my eyes, only slightly.

His eyes narrow a bit more than my own just before he turns to go attend to his breakfast.

Score for me. Yet, even in victory, I find myself waiting for him. Even as the intoxicatingly sweet aroma of maple syrup begins to make my mouth water, I wait. I bide my time while he plates his own French toast by slicing mine. I’ve just about finished when he breezes behind me and slides into the other bar seat.

“Well?” he inquires in a cautiously eager voice.

I spear a square of syrupy bread and lift it from the plate, resting my elbow atop the bar as I glance to my left at him. The look on his face is an indistinguishable combination of pride, expectation, and apprehension. I use my lips to pull the bite off my fork and, as the flavors settle over my tongue…oh…my…God.

“Yeah?”

Must have said that out loud. Elliot now wears a small smile, his eyebrows raised.

I take another bite. “Remember that hole in the wall diner where we caught a 3am breakfast after a stakeout like four years ago?” I steal another bite as he pauses to recall the glory of those 3am French toast and eggs.

“Oh, that place,” he acknowledges. “Food was incredible.”

I swivel my stool to face him more directly. “This is better.”

I swear I notice his chest puff out slightly and his shoulders set a bit. Ah, such a proud peacock is my partner. “Glad you like it.” Then, before he’s even taken a bite off his own plate, he’s up and out of his stool again, grabbing my coffee in his left hand, lifting it up and over my head as he proceeds around the bar back into the kitchen. His own mug, which sports a red “USMC” on the side visible to me, still sits where he’d left it on the counter, and he fetches it to set next to mine by the coffeemaker. The other side, I now see, displays a gold Eagle, Globe and Anchor.

I’m beginning to wonder if Elliot stores hints of everything he holds dear to him on his coffee mugs. Perhaps there’s one in the cabinet that says “NYPD.” I wouldn’t be surprised to see a “#1 Dad” or “World’s Best Dad” or something of the like. A Kelly green one? Maybe one with a clover or a leprechaun or some other stereotypical Irish symbol. I make a mental note to rummage through that cabinet sometime, see if I can’t discover something about Elliot he’s been hiding all these years.

I continue to eat while he fills both mugs because, quite frankly, I’m finding it difficult to stop. It’s really, really good. Elliot was right about that little bit of salt in the egg mixture. Every so often a hint of salt hits my tongue, breaking through the sweetness of the maple syrup, and it’s something I can’t believe I haven’t thought to do before, given my penchant for eating salty and sweet combinations of all kinds.

Elliot, of course, is rather familiar with my appetite for such things. My lips curl up as I remember an afternoon at work a few years ago when he cheerfully presented me with a small cellophane bag from a candy store that contained a few pieces of chocolate covered bacon. It has since become one of my favorite odd indulgences.

My eyes track Elliot as he swings back around the edge of the bar, his right hand settling the Rangers mug next to my plate. I know my lips are still a tad curled, and I allow them to stretch a little more as I turn my head up to him and say “Thanks.”

I go to return to eating, when his voice stops me. “Liv, you’ve got…”

I look back up at him, eyebrows raised, to find him motioning toward the corner of his mouth. “What?” I ask.

“It’s just a little…” his finger taps on the edge of an upper lip.

Oh. Must be syrup. I open my mouth to acknowledge my understanding, when his right hand swoops down beneath my chin, tipping my face up to his. His mouth quickly covers my own, his tongue running smoothly along my upper lip. His lips release mine after mere seconds, but return just as quickly, our tongues meeting this time, however briefly.

He straightens up, and smirks at me. “Got it.”

I draw my lower lip between my teeth, doubtful. “Was there ever anything there?” I glare at him.

He doesn’t answer. Just shrugs a shoulder and takes a sip of his coffee, his blue eyes grinning at me over the edge of the mug.

I’m suspicious, but don’t really care either way.

I return my attention to eating, and Elliot finally does the same, though I can’t say with absolute certainty that his attention is entirely focused on his food. I feel the glances skirting my way as I polish off the rest of the French toast on my plate. I sense eyes on me even as I close my own to savor a long drink from my mug. I let a sigh escape my lungs, and lean into the back of the stool, taking my coffee with me, cradled carefully between my hands. My eyes are still resting. I take another sip of coffee, settling impossibly further into my seat. Another deep breath, and I am so strangely content right now. My appetite is finally satiated.

His eyes are still on me. I know it. I can almost feel a scald on my skin from the intensity of a gaze I cannot see.

I continue breathing, slowly. He hasn’t said anything.

My skin verges on itching now.

A hum of only the slightest annoyance accompanies my sigh. “What, El?”

“I’m trying to decide whether to be insulted or proud right now.” His voice is low. Serious, but not menacing.

“About?”

“The fact that you have the same look of satisfaction on your face right now after eating breakfast as you did after having what I had thought was a pretty good orgasm.”

Chapter Text

14. Weighing the Options

My lips slide into a wry smile, and I suppress a chuckle. “Given that you were responsible for both those things, I’m failing to see the conflict of interest.”

I’m greeted by his silence and take another sip of my coffee. Next to me, I hear him huff out a frustrated breath. I’d put money on him chewing his lower lip right now. It’s odd, the degree to which I am entirely unbothered by my situation. Slouched into the back of Elliot’s kitchen stool, wearing his Rangers jersey and not a whole lot else, reveling in the warm mug of caffeinated goodness in my hands, my mind swirling in the ecstatic haze of sex and really good food.

“Alright, Liv,” he starts.

There’s a pause, presumably giving me time to look at him. Eh, it can wait.

“Phenomenal sex,” another pause, “or breakfast food?”

My eyebrows furrow as I consider my choices, a frown forming. I eye Elliot sideways, turning my head just enough to allow him to see my facial expression. “I thought we were talking about orgasms here. Sex and orgasms are two different things…both can be had without the other.”

Blue eyes glint at me. “Not with me, they can’t,” he growls.

I can’t help it, I recoil my head in surprise, blinking at him with wide eyes. I know he hasn’t forgotten. “Excuse me, El. The shower?”

Goddamn, this man is a purebred Cheshire Cat. The grin that spreads across his lips is positively devilish, flashing white teeth my way.

“I stand corrected. One of those can be had without the other.”

I nip at my lower lip to keep from smiling.

“So, phenomenal orgasm,” he stresses the word this time, holding out his right hand, palm-up. “Or, the most delicious breakfast food you’ve ever had?” His left hand is now also outstretched, palm-up. He alternates raising and lowering each hand, mimicking a scale.

I allow my eyes to drift down to his hands, watching them metaphorically weigh my options. I consider saying something about a Grand Slam working for both categories; but, what I just ate is far superior to a [breakfast] slam and I’ve already told Elliot as much, so there goes that argument.

I haven’t said anything for several long seconds. Elliot’s hands come to rest level with each other. I turn my eyes back to his and Elliot’s eyebrows raise expectantly.

“Liv?”

I snake my tongue out just enough to wet my lower lip before drawing the same lip into my mouth with my teeth. I purse my lips, trying to contain a full-blown smile, managing to give up just a slowly widening, closed-lip smile. I raise my own eyebrows, just a bit. “Put your hands together, Stabler.”

I wink.

Fuck me sideways, I just winked.

Oh well, it’s done now. I watch as Elliot looks down as his hands, deciphering what I just said. I watch just long enough to see his eyes widen and his jaw slacken. By the time he looks back up at me, I’ve settled back into my seat, taken another sip of coffee, and allowed my eyes to slip closed, the mask of contentment washing back over my face.

“Olivia.” I can’t tell if it’s a statement or a question. Either way, it was meant to get my attention.

I ignore him.

It’s not long before I hear the few big swallows it takes for him to presumably finish off his coffee, followed closely by the clink of the ceramic mug being set on the countertop.

“Olivia,” he tries again.

I relent this time, opening my eyes, setting my own mug on the countertop after a final quick sip. I lift my arms above my head, hands linked together, and stretch my back and shoulders. My peripheral vision catches his gaze as it lands on my thighs, the jersey riding up the slightest bit as I stretch. I turn up the corners of my lips and look over at him, his eyes snapping reflexively up to mine.

“What?” I sound as innocent as I can manage. Just as I’m lowering my hands to my lap and he’s opening his mouth to say something, I’m saved by the ringtone.

My phone rings just once before I’m able to swipe it from the bar top and flip it open as I raise it to my ear, my thumb instinctively finding the call button. Elliot’s eyes widen imperceptibly more and his mouth opens, caught trying to say something before I answer the phone. “Benson.”

“Hey…Liv…” The man on the other end sounds confused. Caught off-guard.

And this isn’t my fucking phone.

I suddenly wish I’d had about 3 more mugs of coffee, because I am not mentally coherent enough for this.

“Murphy?” I pray my voice didn’t crack with a squeak when I said that.

The laugh that rushes from deep in Elliot’s chest threatens to burst out, but his lips are so tightly pursed together, it escapes as more of a snort as he claps a hand firmly over his mouth. If looks could kill, the one I’m shooting him now would have sent him to the morgue in an instant. But, they can’t, so…

I flip him off. One good, strong bird, flying high.

He holds his hands up beside his head, a gesture of innocence.

Aidan Murphy is quick to answer. “That’s me. So, Liv,” my name is tinted with a hint of sarcasm and amusement and I hate the man on the line just a bit right now. “What’s new?”

I feign a sigh of exasperation. “Nothing much. Is that why you’re calling me, Murphy? To ask me what’s new?”

“Well,” he draws the words out for a couple extra beats. “No, I didn’t call you at all. I was calling Elliot. So, I ask again, what’s new, Sin?”

There’s really no point in telling him to stop calling me that. He won’t. I know it. So does he. “Oh, shit!” I exclaim. “I must’ve grabbed El’s phone instead of mine when I left the precinct last night.” Elliot raises an eyebrow at my excuse and I can’t do this with him watching me.

I slide off the stool and wander into the hallway. “I was so exhausted, I didn’t even notice.” I hear Murphy rustling around with something on the other end. There are a few touch-tones audible. “He must have mine.”

No sooner had those words left my mouth, my phone trills loudly from Elliot’s bedroom. I’m mere feet from his open doorway and hastily walk to the opposite end of the hallway, back into view of Elliot, whose face reveals he could hear my phone ring even from where he sat. Murphy, not one to hold back a chuckle, laughs full-on into the phone. “You gonna get that, Liv?”

I can feel the flush creeping up into my cheeks. “I hate you,” I grumble into the phone and proceed to stomp over to Elliot.

Murphy makes a kissy sound into the mic. “Aw, love ya, girl. I’m proud of you. You’re one sin my Catholic friend over there won’t be atoning for.” He laughs again.

I roll my eyes and shove the phone into Elliot’s chest forcibly enough to almost knock both him and the stool over. “Here. Talk to your friend.”

I don’t even wait for him to take the phone from my hands before hurrying into the kitchen and heading for the coffee. He fumbles for a couple seconds before finally getting a secure hold on the phone and bringing it up to his ear.

“Murph?...yeah, hey…I know…yeah, she’s here. We had a really rough case this week.” He stands, running his free hand through his cropped hair.

I refill my mug, scanning around for the sugar, keeping an ear trained on Elliot’s side of the conversation and trying not to keep both eyes trained on the way his track pants hang lazily off his hips.

“…she died early this morning. Turns out the whole thing was a lie.” He’s pacing now and, when his circular path brings him to face my direction, he crinkles his brow, then brings up a hand, gesturing toward a cabinet near the refrigerator.

I follow his direction, finding a small canister of sugar in the cabinet. The spoon he’d used to stir the coffee earlier is still on the counter. I run it under some water in the sink, drying it with a paper towel before dipping it into the sugar and dropping my yield into the Rangers mug. He’s back to pacing.

“Yeah, I know…shit’s crazy, Murph. Divorce blows.”

My hand immediately stills the stirring process, my breath catches, and my stomach feels about a foot lower than it should be. I look up in time to see his back straighten rigidly. I’m trying in vain to comprehend his words, but now trying harder to stir a literal whirlpool into my coffee, hoping it will suck me down into it so I can just disappear.

“No, I know it’s not the same, man. They hated each other.” He’s talking to Murphy, but his eyes are now intently focused on me as I see him take the first stride in my direction.

New goal. Grab coffee and go…somewhere.

My locker room. The bathroom. I can make it.

As it is, Elliot is dangerously close now to rounding the corner of the bar to enter the kitchen. Jesus, that took him, what, maybe 3 steps? I tap the spoon a couple times on the rim of the mug.

“It was for the best, Murph. Pretty sure you knew that before I did.”

I drop the spoon unceremoniously onto the countertop with a clatter. I take the mug in my hands, turn around, and have nowhere to go.

Elliot had swiftly closed the distance between us and was closing the last precious foot of space just as I turned to walk, effectively stopping me in my tracks. I start to yelp with the surprise, and it’s Elliot’s single index finger being pressed to his lips that silences my exclamation. “Yeah, you know how it is,” he says from behind his finger.

Had I managed any forward momentum at all, Sir Issac Newton would have ensured that my partner would have very hot coffee all over his very bare chest right now. Instead, I turned into a wall of Elliot, not able to take a step in any direction.

Except backward. I slide a foot backward on the tile, stepping with it. Elliot follows. His eyes have stayed locked on me and I feel like I’m caught in some fucked up tractor beam designed to keep me from running. They soften now, his lips pursing slightly in a “shhh” formation.

I take another step back. He follows. One more. My lower back bumps the countertop.

Still, he follows.

“Yeah, the kids are alright.” He takes his free hand, the right still holding the phone to his ear, and gently tries to release the coffee mug from the grip of both of mine. He manages to wrench it free of my left hand, but my right refuses to let go. “She’s good, too.”

I know he means Kathy.

I’m definitely not good.

Elliot’s left hand is encircling my right wrist now, pulling it off to the side until he is setting the mug down on the counter. He’s actually prying my fingers from the mug’s handle now, the strain evident in his voice when he mumbles “Mmmhmm” into the phone. When the last of my fingers falls from the mug, the curve of the handle is immediately replaced in my hand by his own fingers intertwining with mine. They curl over the back of his hand entirely of their own volition and I find that I can do little but stare at our tangled hands as he holds them up between us.

Elliot, for his part, is not watching our hands. His eyes are boring into the top of my head. “Yeah, Murph. I’m good.” He squeezes my hand. “You and I both know it was for the best.” He releases his hold on my hand then, drawing it toward him until my palm rests on his chest. He covers it with his own and presses it into place, silently asking me to keep it where he’s placed it.

Which is, incidentally, right over his heart.

He gives it a gentle squeeze and I flinch when his hand touches my face, his forefinger supporting my chin, his thumb resting below my lower lip. Undeterred, he lifts with his fingers until slowly, reluctantly, I’m pulled back into the traction of his eyes.

“I don’t regret anything.”

How the fuck is his heart beating so calmly beneath my fingers? I can practically feel my own pulse in my ears, my heart throbbing insistently against my ribs far quicker than I deem necessary.

Anything.”

Oh Christ, tell me that’s not a tear. Not a tear, not a tear. I’m not going to cry. I’m not crying.

Trusting me enough to keep my own head turned up to his, the knuckle of his forefinger dabs the corner of my eye. Dammit.

His fingers don’t return to my chin. Instead, a jolt of energy shoots across my scalp as he takes a wayward wave of hair and gently tucks it behind my ear.

“I know, Murph. I won’t…I mean, I’ll try…I know, you’d kill me…yeah, I will. I’ll see ya next weekend. Bye.”

I hear a beep signaling the end of the call before Elliot reaches his right hand between our bodies to place his phone back on the bar, where I wish I’d left it to begin with, then planting his hand next to me on the countertop behind me, effectively pinning me in.

“Murphy says he’s sorry.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Bullshit.”

He shrugs. “Yeah, yeah it is.”

The totality of my embarrassment strikes me all at once. My right hand slides from his chest and joins my left in covering my face. “Oh my God…” I mutter into my palms. A semi-hysterical laugh follows.

He must take pity on me. A low chuckle leaving his own lips, he brings his left hand to the back of my head, his long fingers weaving their way into my hair. He’s stepping mindbendingly closer now, not even pulling me toward him, just using his own proximity and the barrier behind me to draw me against him. His right arm snakes around my waist.

My face is now buried in my hands against Elliot’s chest.

No point in a double burial. I feel his chin perch on the top of my head just as I shimmy my hands from between my face and Elliot’s sternum and wrap my arms around him, linking my hands at the center of his back.

“I tried to warn you.” I feel the vibrations of his voice against my skull. “But, damn, you were on that phone like white on rice.” He laughs.

“Shut up,” I grumble. My hands have dropped apart.

“At least it wasn’t Cragen,” he reasons.

“Oh God, don’t even say that.” I tip my head forward until the crown of my head is pressing into the wall of his chest, his hand still resting in my hair, my own hands sliding across his back until they rest on his hips, my pinkies playing along that impossibly low-slung waistband of his track pants. “You think he would have believed that I took your phone by accident?”

“Guess we’ll never know,” he murmurs.

“I hope we’ll never have to know,” I add, knowing full-well that the day will come that we’ll have to find out something along those lines, but I’m doing my very best to push those thoughts aside for the time being.

I do this, it seems, by slipping my fingers underneath his waistband until they are curved around the lowest reaches of his hips.

I feel his skin twitch at the contact, but his hands make no motion to stop me. No motion to urge me on, either. They stay the course, one in my hair, one wrapped around me.

“Why were you so eager to grab the phone, anyway? What were we talking about?”

I can’t see his barest of smirks. I can’t even feel it against my head. But, I know it’s there. Fucker knows exactly what we were talking about. And, for reasons I can’t explain, I don’t feel the need to be saved by a ringtone or bell or anything else for saying what I did.

My hands are sneaking forward, and I feel the curves of his body sloping away from them. My fingers follow, and Jesus, if I move them just a few more inches, my hands will be undeniably in my partner’s pants and on his naked ass.

I retreat as best I can, which isn’t much, as I’m still pinned between Elliot and his kitchen counter. “I believe you were asking me to make a choice, El.” This causes him to take just a small step back so he can look down at me without craning his neck too hard.

I use my left hand to pull his right arm from my waist. “Something about,” I maneuver his hand to a palm-up position in what little space exists between us, the back of his hand resting in the open palm of mine, “a phenomenal orgasm or,” I loosen the fingers of his left hand from my hair, causing the rogue waves to curtain my face, and I turn that hand palm-up and hold it in my open right hand, “the most delicious breakfast food I’ve ever had, I believe it was.”

I curl my fingers around his hands from below and mimic his movements from before, raising and lowering his hands in the style of a balancing scale.

My thumbs trace faint patterns along the skin of his hands they are able to reach. I raise my head slowly, my hair partially obscuring the right side of my face. Elliot’s jaw is clenching, the muscles at the back of his cheeks jumping visibly. But, he’s looking right at me, his eyes simply waiting for mine.

“Do you remember what I chose?” Was that my voice? That’s my voice when I’m drunk, only not slurring. Just low, slow, and unabashedly sexy.

His Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows. “You, uh,”

Holy cat’s got your tongue, Batman. He’s goddamned nervous. And I love it.

“You didn’t choose, Liv.”

“Sure, I did.”

He bites his lip.

“Secret option three: put,” I bring his hand scales level, and his eyes cast downward, darting between his hands. “Your,” I turn his left hand so his palm is facing inward, and his eyes jump toward the motion. “Hands,” I follow suit with his right hand, immediately drawing the attention of his gaze. He now looks primed to start up a round of applause. “Together.” With that, I press my hands toward one another until his palms collide, his hands now trapped between mine, his darkening blue eyes staring silently at them.