Disclaimer
They belong to Dick. But I bet he wouldn't let them do this

Author's Notes

Welcome to character assassination 101. Don't hate me, but I figure since Dick won't let them have some fun, someone's gotta do it. Read, review, and let me know what y'all think. Hope it doesn't suck.

Thanks once again to my girls who have put up with my obsessive need to complete this freaking thing.

Queens, New York City

"Oh, that's much better," Olivia calls as Elliot appears on the stairs. Dark denim sits on his hips; steel and fabric wage a silent war for control. It is a battle not yet completely won; the top button sits carelessly undone, resting against skin that remains bare in spite of her request for reprieve. Olivia has never been one for sarcasm, but in a moment when options are limited and her brain is a blank she thinks it best to use words, however mundane they may be.

He lifts the paper and sinks into the sofa beside her; long legs stretch and bare feet search for comfort on a table that is already congested with magazines and unopened envelopes. Olivia resists the urge to laugh as he flips automatically to the sports section. Typical. She has always wondered if men have a genetic predisposition to read about baseball and hockey, about football and car racing before moving towards the tragedy and sadness located within the headlines. Casey had told her once, as they sat in a bar somewhere in the East Village drinking beer sprinkled with lemon and lime, that it was a guy thing. Olivia had smiled in tacit agreement and they had drunk from bottles with long necks as they listed the male pursuits that mystified the women of the world. Soccer games. Hooters. Poker tournaments. Fight nights. Pornography. Pinups. And that was just the beginning.

She slides her gaze over denim and parchment, searching for sustenance from a soul that until now has refused her admission. She smiles as she watches him look for the results of last night's Yankees game, even though she knows he stayed up until two in the morning watching the replay on ESPN. He had called her between the second and third inning, had told her it was because he needed some information on a case they had closed a month ago. She had laughed and told him that it was because he had wanted to hear her voice, to know that she was there whenever he needed her. They both knew it to be the truth. Only one was brave enough to admit it. Olivia supposes that too, is a guy thing. Like refusing to read a map or accept that different routes can lead you to the same destination. Even if the neighborhood remains the same. Even if you have lived there forever.

Above her, the ceiling begins to creak under the strain of fragile footsteps and her attention is transferred as voices float down the stars and mingle with the sounds of summertime. The rustling of paper at her side reminds her of lazy Sunday mornings and family outings, of childish hopes and of imagined lives. Olivia shifts and stretches, placing the magazine that had never really been worthy of her attention onto the coffee table, tugging another out from the stack beneath Elliot's feet as she waits for Kathleen to come downstairs, laughing beneath her breath as she takes note of the title.

"You're reading Cosmo now?"

He doesn't look up, and she pretends she doesn't notice when his lips twitch in poorly concealed amusement, blue eyes faltering over baseball scores. "Shut up. It's Maureen's."

"Of course it is," her tone mocks as pages flutter beneath her fingertips like butterfly wings on flower petals. "What page is the quiz on again?"

"Two hundred and forty-five." His dark head snaps up and he sighs in self-derision as he realizes he has been caught. "Cheat."

"Sucker," Olivia laughs again as she lifts her head and allows her eyes to meet his for the barest of moments - a fleeting connection between ocean and earth - before she turns away beneath his scrutiny, hiding behind the pretense of engrossment. Fingers on pages falter before falling still on an article in a magazine only Elliot knows she hasn't bought since college. Hair that reminds him of butter and caramel falls around her shoulders as she dips her head and begins to read.

She knows he continues to observe; can feel the intensity of a gaze that has always had a gift for seeing through hurt and devastation, through fact and fallacy. Eyes that had always made her heart beat a little faster and given her a little more hope than she had ever felt entitled to.

Lines and phrases meet and meld inside her mind, comprehension an inaccessible ambition as curious eyes sketch soubriquets and patterns into skin that has begun to react to the heat seeping under the doors and through gaps in cracked window frames.

"Elliot, quit staring." The frustrated exhalation drifts from her lips and mixes with humid air. "I'm trying to read here." She twists away, an insentient move that she has completed a million times since they met; intended to save her from his scrutiny, to protect her heart from the possibility of allegorical annihilation.

Too late, she realizes her mistake. Exclusion is to Elliot as red flag is to bull. If she had been thinking clearly, she would have known he would see her action as a challenge, a truth to be discovered. He slides closer, peering over her shoulder and she prepares for battle. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Engage.

"One-hundred-and-one ways to – "warm breath that smells like coffee and a perfect summer evening dances in her hair and rests on tanned skin "-drive a man wild." His smile seeps into her soul as unshaven chin rests against shoulder.

Olivia had never been good at proximity. Like a moth to flame she would only ever allow herself to get so close before floating away on the breeze, away from the danger of being burned. She had always chosen to run before she was caught. Hurt before being hurt. Leave before falling in love. Problem was, when it came to Elliot her judgment was no longer objective or impersonal. She was being drawn into the fire, and she no longer had the strength to fly away.

She wonders what had possessed her to think that she could win the silent battle she had been waging with herself for as long as she could remember, why she thought she would be strong enough to venture into a world she had no business visiting and emerge unscathed. Sometimes optimism leads you into battles you can't possibly win.

The rules of combat had been well and truly altered and there was no one to blame but herself.

She shivers slightly as Elliot drapes a hand over her arm and runs fingers along dark lettering as he scans the list, faltering slightly at number seventy-seven. "You know, Liv," words vibrate in his chest and fall into rhythm with the beating of his heart as bare skin brushes against fabric. " If you needed advice, all you had to do was ask."

Olivia lets her hand move from the magazine page, turning her head; facing her beautiful demon. Sapphire questions hang with cerulean mischief in his eyes and she feels her lips curve in a smile.

"Thanks," the whisper escapes with her exhalation and she watches as twists and swirls of moisture form patterns on his skin. "But I do just fine on my own."

"Tease," he pushes against the sofa and moves away, picking up the newspaper once more.

Olivia watches him for a moment as she waits for her subconscious to stop calling her a hypocrite and her heartbeat to return to its regular cadence. Her gaze drops to the article in front of her, eyes searching for the number on the list that had piqued his interest. "Hey, Elliot?"

"Yeah?" He doesn't look up. She doesn't expect him to.

"Number seventy-seven. Is it true?"

"What? That men can orgas -"

"- Morning Daddy, how are you?"

Olivia jumps slightly, startled at the excessively theatrical greeting, smiling as she hears overly dramatic footsteps on the stairs. She knows it is a teenager's casual caution that an overheard conversation was about to be intruded upon and that their party for two was over for now. Children were many things. Subtle was not one of them.

Magazines scatter and drop like a waterfall of paper onto worn beige carpet as he stands. Delight sketches a familiar pattern amid the lines of his face as he leans in to place a kiss on his daughter's forehead. "Morning baby. I'm fine, how're you?"

"I'm good. Hey Olivia," Kathleen smiles. Blonde hair that is just like her mother's cascades along slender shoulders as she moves her head in greeting. "Guess I just slept in. Let me grab a cup of coffee and we can get started."

"Get started? With what?" Confusion and queries float across features that moments ago had been the epicenter of enchantment. Outside, the branch of a willow tree brushes against a window as ivory petals twirl and dip before scattering in countless directions as they dance with an invisible zephyr. His dark head moves in a mixture of denial and bewilderment. "And when did she start drinking coffee?"

Elvis may have left the building, but detective Stabler was well and truly in the house.

Olivia shrugs. "I told her I'd been taking some kickboxing and defense lessons. She asked me to show her some moves."

"You're gonna teach my kid to box in-" blue eyes rake along material surfaces as he waves a dubious hand in her direction, lips moving in redundant motion as he searches for an appropriate idiom " - that?"

"Uh, no. Not exactly," she unzips the lime jacket and tosses it onto a sofa that isn't hers as he collects their coffee cups and disappears into the kitchen. "Had to stop at the gas station on the way here, so I wore my workout clothes underneath."

"Huh. Didn't want to give the attendant a heart attack?" His comment filters from the kitchen like coffee through a percolator. The sound of ceramic and metal colliding causes her to glance in the direction of the kitchen and she imagines Kathleen searching for sustenance, probing through cupboards that remain relatively bare despite the illusion of domesticity.

"Not much chance of that," she calls back, words bouncing on the walls of a room suddenly empty. Her fingers reach for the button of her skirt and it gives way beneath the slight pressure, sliding down tanned legs as the accepted rule of gravity takes control. She reaches for the discarded cloth pooled at her feet, placing it over purple sofa cushions, wondering at the sudden lack of sound from the kitchen.

"Are you still alive in there?" her voice is loud in the unsullied silence. "Elliot?"

"I'm right here."

Olivia turns towards the sound of his voice. Black fabric stretches and skims her upper thigh and abdomen, meeting and matching with a tank top that hovers above midriff. Curiosity flares and dances across her features like the dying embers of a campfire as she catches the silhouette of her spirit leaning against the weathered timber doorway. He smiles as though he is the Sahara, and she his oasis. He tucks a red dishcloth into the pocket of his jeans as blue eyes complete a wordless assessment, scorching epithets of ownership into her heart.

Olivia tugs at a top that is suddenly too tight and sighs as invisible beads of moisture form and rest precariously at haphazard intervals on her skin. "What?" The utterance escapes her lips in a husky whisper infusing thick air with hope and instilling the promise of tomorrow into anaesthetized souls.
"Nothing" he jumps slightly as Kathleen brushes past him, coffee cup in hand and the moment is gone.

"You ready?" Kathleen looks from her father to Olivia and back again, questions clouding her face and coloring her eyes in a familiar shade of blue. She smiles when Olivia nods her affirmative. "Okay then. Follow me." ----------Sometime between morning and midday, as Olivia teaches Kathleen the difference between right hook and left, while Dickie shoots hoops into the burnt orange basketball ring in the driveway and Lizzie sits under the shade of a poplar tree drawing pictures of rainbows and butterflies on colored paper, Elliot appears, carrying a plate piled high and wearing an expression reserved for proud chefs and domestic gods.

"You guys want some cookies?"
In any other moment, she would think the statement strange, like an imagined sojourn into surreal world. But she knows this is Elliot adjusting to a new life, that he is looking for sand at the bottom of an ocean that has always been too deep.
"Jesus," sunshine and sweat has made her brave. "Who the hell are you? Betty Crocker?" "Quiet woman," the charade of wounded emotion causes Kathleen to laugh quietly as she surreptitiously steals a cookie that is peppered with colored chocolate from a plate that shines when golden sunbeams hit blue porcelain.

He pulls the dishcloth that still rests in his hip pocket and flicks it in her direction. Fabric slaps against flesh and an exclamation fills the air. Blackbirds and blue jays tremble with surprise at the sound as they sit on their shady perches; middle-aged men in navy blue wife-beaters, pruning trees in their gardens in spite of the heat smile with clandestine memories. They were in love once, too.

"Dammit Elliot, that hurt!"

He rests the plate on a weight bench that looks as though it has been left vacant for weeks, throwing a cookie that had broken on its sojourn from the kitchen into his mouth.

"This from a woman who kicks guys in the - " he turns to look at his daughter, remembers his role " – who kicks a guy when she's mad."
"You can say balls, dad," Kathleen says as she grabs another cookie, laughing at her father's expression. "I'm almost eighteen."

"Who taught you that word?" Father. Detective. Interrogator. Hats change and she is dizzy.

"Oh brother," Kathleen glances towards Olivia, incredulity painted across pale features as she blue eyes move in a circular pattern, a universal symbol of disbelief. "Help me out here, Liv," she pleads as her father fixes her with a stare usually reserved for perpetrators and defense lawyers.

As she looks at Kathleen, crumbs scattered over fingertips and rose-colored lips and a face that wears the expression of the besieged, Olivia is reminded of her youth, when she could eat cookies like they were carrots and roll her eyes in exasperation at trivial things. When her mother had told her that gender solidarity was just as important as knowing DaVinci from Donatello.

She gives in to temptation for the hundredth time in a day when the sun has not yet reached the top of the sky and brings her eyes up to meet his, silently asking a God she doesn't believe in for courage she hadn't realized she needed. We are women, hear us roar. "You're being an ass, Elliot."

"Amen, Olivia" Kathleen grabs the plate and saunters towards her siblings, escaping from a conversation and surfeit of emotions that have bubbled beneath repressed surfaces for too long. Olivia has always thought of it as one of life's mysteries, that the immature seemed to possess the wisdom of the aged while adults embraced foolishness with open arms. She should have run when she had the chance.

"Liv?" A cookie that was once whole is broken in two by strong fingers. Steam rises, chocolate melts, hearts burn and her eyes slide closed as he leans closer. "Come on, you know you want it." Another challenge. Game on.

"I want a lot of things," her head moves to watch his children as they sit in the shadow of a tree carved with the names of the folks who lived here before them. She wonders if this is what life is - cookies and laughter and contentment. For her, family had always been a fluid concept; one that she had never been sure even existed, despite romance novels and happily-ever-after movies.

Sometimes, on nights when she was too wired to sleep and too tired to care, she would wonder if she would ever have the chance to invite friends to family barbeques or play football with a child that had chocolate eyes and his father's smile, if the choices and sacrifices of her life meant that she had missed her chance.

"You're sure you want it?" Thoughts shift abruptly back to the present at the sound of his voice. She shivers as rough words in her ear bring recollections of secret dreams and unspoken aspirations. "Here? Now?"

Olivia doesn't look at him, for she knows if she does the game will be over and she will be lost. "Don't push it Elliot," she takes the cookie from his extended hand. "I could drop you right here."

He chuckles, following her gaze and lifting his head as he hears the sounds of a squabble glide along the pavement. Attention is diverted and she watches him walk away, muscles flexing beneath fabric that is worn with age and memories of seasons past.

"Liv? " Kathleen calls to her from the midst of the melee. "Can you teach me how to flip someone?"

Olivia moves her head in agreement, and Kathleen materializes at her side. She stands behind the teenager, draping a bare arm around her neck; a simulated attack that she hopes will never eventuate into reality. She moves Kathleen's arm into position and tightens her grip.

"Olivia," Kathleen curls her fingers around Olivia's forearm, as the move gains impetus. "Can I ask you a question?"

'Sure honey,' Olivia smiles as the teenager turns her head slightly, searching for eye contact in a position that would otherwise forbid it. Blue eyes that are too much like her Elliot's collide with her own, and for the first time Olivia is reminded that despite outward appearances, Kathleen is her father's daughter.

Olivia feels her feet lift slightly from the ground and she prepares for impact. Air that overflows with the aroma of lavender and daisies and the movements of summer are suddenly still as the words slip quietly from Kathleen's lips.

'How long have you been in love with my dad?'

--------
tbc?