Elliot slips his arm snugly around my waist, as we walk out of the precinct house and onto the sidewalk. I grin at him. "Do you know how long I've waited for you to do that? Get your hand off my back and put your arm around me?"
He kisses my cheek and ignores the question. "Do you think they know about us?"
"Cragen's not telling. But a rumor's gonna start, soon." Sometimes police precincts remind me of high schools. Gossip and rumors go around just as fast as they do in a high school. "And you wait till Munch picks up that - he's never gonna let us live it down. I have a neighbor like that - maybe I should swing Munch an introduction. Think he could make her the fifth ex-wife?"
Elliot laughs at that. "I thought it was three."
"Whatever. Why the hell are we talking about Munch's ex-wives?"
"I don't know. So what do you wanna do? Go get something to eat? Get a drink?"
"I'm starving." He admits, hugging me a little closer to his side.
We step into the little corner diner we've been eating at for the last couple of weeks. We both order burgers and fries. I've been eating like a rabbit for too long. I can give myself one treat. "You know." I comment, leaning back in the booth, as we wait. "I used to work in a place just like this, when I was a kid."
He takes my hand, which is palm-down on the table between us, in his. He shakes his head, looking at my nails. "Kathleen?" He asks, rolling his eyes.
I grin. Saturday morning, he brought Kathleen out to the house. And I just happened to be there. I'm spending a lot of weekends and days off with him. At first I protested, because I felt like I was cutting in on his time with the kids, but they don't seem to mind me being around. She and I got to talking and she convinced me to let her do my nails. She painted them black and I can't believe he's just noticing it, now.
It's a little strange, but I'm getting used to it. "Yeah. You should see my toes." I laugh, softly.
"Do I want to?"
"No. Probably not. They're purple."
"I have gotta keep you away from my kids. First it was Lizzie and the pink toenails, now you've got black fingernails. They're trying to turn you into a teenager again." He muses and I laugh.
"They're great kids, El. And you know, Kathleen's a smart girl. I don't think you have to worry about her. You've taught her how to think."
"Only a woman who's never had kids can say that." He protests. "You worry about then whether you need to or not. Especially in this screwed-up world. But you know, I'm worried they've got the real you held hostage somewhere. Saturday night, you and Maureen were having a conversation about Brad Pitt's butt. That's not you."
I grin. His 'baby girl' came out to see Dad and while he was in the kitchen, we started to talk about some random girl stuff. I work in a male-dominated field and I don't get to see the few friends that I have who aren't male very often. So I was glad to have some girl chat, even though Maureen's a little less than half my age. He heard us laughing and came in to check it out.
"Brad Pitt's ass? If I hadn't known any better, I would have thought you were drunk."
"Hey." I poke him with my toe. "I'm entitled to a little fun. Who says I have to be serious all the time?" I know he's used to seeing me like that. Serious, no-nonsense and ready to shove my foot up his ass, if he doesn't listen to me. But I don't want to be like that, all the time. I want to be able to relax and have fun with him and those kids.
"So are you coming to hang out with us on Friday?" He's got the twins again, this weekend.
I shake my head, as the waitress sets down our food. "Saturday morning, I'm going shopping."
"Shopping?" He raises an eyebrow. "I know you women don't do that alone - who's your partner in crime?"
"You're taking my daughter on a shopping trip?"
"It was her idea." I protest.
"It was. She saw that picture that Don took of us at the Christmas party - the one you've got in the living room. She liked my dress. Then she suggested a shopping trip."
"You two are gonna rob me blind." He groans.
"Casey might join us."
"Why does this keep looking worse by the minute?"
"Shut up. I've got my own bank account, El." I kick him. "The only that's gonna be robbing you blind is your baby girl."
He grins. "Liv, I like this side of you. You're relaxed."
"I'm happy." I reply. And for once in my life, I am really happy. His kids have accepted me, instantly. I know I'll never take Kathy's place - she's their mother and she gave birth to them - but if I can help or do anything for them, I'll do it.
Saturday morning rolls around and I'm just finishing a quick breakfast, when my buzzer rings. I swallow the last bite of cereal, dump the bowl in the sink and go to it. It's Maureen, as expected. "I just gotta run and brush my teeth - you can make yourself at home." I tell her, disappearing into the bathroom.
When I step back out, she's looking at the photos in my living room. "That's you and Dad, huh?"
"Yeah." I look at the framed photo she's talking about. Elliot and I, at the first precinct Christmas party we went to as partners. "God, am I ever glad I cut my hair." I comment, shaking my head.
"It looks good. It does." She persists, looking at me. "This is"-
"My Police Academy photo. I'm your age in that one." I turn as the buzzer rings again. It's Casey, this time.
"Hey, Liv." She adjusts her ponytail, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. It's a change, because I'm used to seeing her in a suit. I don't know when she suddenly decided to use my nickname, but now she's a little more friendly.
I turn to my partner's daughter and make the introductions. Casey shakes her head. "I should have known. You look a lot like your father." She tells Maureen.
I think we hit every shop that we can afford in Manhattan. We even go into some of the higher-priced ones, just for the sake of daydreaming. We try a few things on that we'd never be able to afford, just for fun. Six hours later, Casey's going home to work and Maureen and I are headed out to Queens.
"So what's my credit card bill gonna look like?" Elliot asks Maureen, as we sit in the kitchen and the twins watch cartoons in the living room.
"Dad!" She lightly punches him. "I didn't buy much. But you should get Olivia to show you the dress she bought."
All eyes are on me, suddenly. "Okay. I'll go try it on for you." I pick up the bag that it's in and go into the bathroom. I shed my jeans and my sweater and pull the dress out of the bag. The few dresses I own are dark colors. So I bought this, after Casey poked me for about five minutes.
It's simple. Nothing fancy about it. A straight skirt that falls just above my knee and thin straps over my shoulders. But I love the color. It's a bright shade of red. Not something I'd usually wear, never mind try on, but I had two people with me who insisted.
I step out into the kitchen and I see Elliot's eyes widen, for a minute. "Liv . . . " He trails off, looking at me. I spin for him and he gets up to kiss me. "You're gorgeous." He whispers, in my ear.
I grin and kiss him on the cheek.
When I've changed, I discover that the kitchen's empty. I cut through the living room and past the twins. I take a peek at what they're watching. A cartoon that has something to do with a bright yellow talking sponge. A talking sponge?
I join Elliot on the couch on the other side of the room. He's buried in the paper. I give him a poke. "So what's the big deal with the talking sponge?"
"Sponge Bob?" He grins at me. "Believe me, you get sick of him after a while."
I shake my head. "A talking sponge? What kind of people are creating kids' shows today? We had normal shows."
"Where'd Maureen disappear to?" I question, settling against his side.
"She left her phone in the car."
His oldest reappears and takes the chair in the living room. Lizzie promptly abandons her brother and joins her older sister in the oversized chair. This is what I've wanted since I was a kid. A family. So they're not my kids, but I can join in.
Later, when Maureen's gone back into the city to study for a midterm and the twins are in bed, Elliot and I settle in on the couch. "Liv?" He questions, as I lean my head against his shoulder.
"What made you buy that dress?"
"Casey." I respond. "It's not something I'd usually wear, but Maureen spotted it and they made me try it on and Casey poked me till I bought it."
"It looks great."
"You need to wear some color. So I'll get Casey to poke you to death, if I have to."
I laugh, quietly and lean over to kiss him. "You don't like the way I dress?"
"I love the way you dress. I just hate that it's mostly dark colors. Are you afraid of wearing color or something?"
"Will you wear something besides black or blue? Huh?"
"Deal." I grin at him and stretch out my bare feet. "See? I told you they were purple."
He rolls his eyes at me and I laugh. "You're changing." He murmurs.
"I know. I'm happy. I really am."
(A/n: I'm glad everybody liked this. And this is the end.)