AN: Comments welcome!

Chapter Two

She lifted her head to say something, to give voice to her thoughts, but he didn't look receptive. It could have been because she'd just called him a prude. It could have been that he really meant it when called her a slut. Either way, she didn't know how to end it. She suspected that she'd been right in the first place - the only was to walk away and leave it, him, behind. But she knew she was no more prepared to do so almost a year after the first time she'd tried. It wasn't just the imperceptible, inexplicable, almost suffocating tie binding her to Elliot; it was just as impossible to leave the job. She loved her job, despicable subject matter notwithstanding. The job was a part of her from the moment she'd been conceived. She'd be damned if she was going to let Elliot chase her away from the job she needed to do to survive. She took a deep breath and promised herself she could take as much as he could dish out. She'd been though far worse in her life than growing away from an old friend. She was strong. She was a survivor.

And that was when it hit her. He was as strong as she was and, without any validation from him, she believed his demons, whatever they were, were as hideous as her own. Unfortunately, they were both so strong it was killing them. He was waiting for her to crack, not so he could hurt her, but so he could crack too. She knew once he broke, should wouldn't have to worry about him attacking her and she suspected his thought process followed the same logic

She knew how to stop it. She knew how to fix it. She knew she was strong enough to break.

She met his eyes again, relieved to see that some of the anger had faded in the silence. "I'm sorry." Two tiny words seemed like nothing, but they were the foundation for everything.

He was wary of her change of heart. "For what?" There was a glimmer of hope behind the suspicion and she prayed to the god he believed in that it was really there.

"For everything."

Her apology was obviously the last thing he expected. He stared at her for a long time. So long she thought he wasn't going to accept her apology. And then his eyes came back to hers. "So am I."

She felt her mouth quirk up into an involuntary smile. "I don't want to do this anymore."

He nodded as he slid to the edge of the booth. "Let's get out of here."

Olivia followed his lead reluctantly. She didn't want to leave just then. Not when they'd made a pathetically tiny bit of headway. She wanted to sit there with him in a nearly comfortable silence and enjoy the feeling that had been missing for years.

As they walked, however, the same blanket surrounded them, allowing Olivia the peaceful quiet to revel in. She felt an odd mixture of novelty and familiarity; it seemed second nature for her to walk shoulder to shoulder with Elliot, but she still wasn't used to him living in the city, because they'd barely spoken the whole time he had.

Elliot was an old fashioned type of guy. He respected women, while thinking it was his job to protect them. He held doors open. He never pressed the chivalry with her and she'd always figured that was for two reasons - the first one being that he knew she could hold her own and then there was always the fact that, for the most part, she wouldn't stand for it. But for some reason, perhaps because of the newfound truce, she appreciated that he continued beside her after they passed the point where he should have turned to go home. She liked that he walked her home. She liked the idea that he wanted to stay with her as long as he could.

And as she turned to face him at her front steps, she was shocked to realize how very close she was to inviting him in. The surprise left her unable to move, let alone think for a moment. When she was finally able to process coherent thoughts once again, she noticed that Elliot hadn't moved or spoken since they'd arrived either. Olivia couldn't be sure it wasn't wishful thinking, or even if the thinking was wishful at all, but she thought she saw her confusion mirrored on his face, as though he'd hoped for a moment that she would invite him in. When his eyes settled on hers, she felt it again - that special zing that resonated deep in her bones, the one that had been there years earlier, the one that was much more dangerous since he was divorced. Their eyes held through a minute that was so charged it felt much longer and much shorter simultaneously.

Elliot was the one to break that time, looking down as he shoved his hands deep in his pockets. Still, he said nothing and made no move to leave. Olivia figured he was waiting for her to go inside.

"Good night." She spoke softly, afraid to break the spell they were under. Part of her wanted to stand there with him all night to reinforce their friendship. Part of her wanted to throw caution to the wind and invite him in despite her better judgment. But her legs followed her rational brain's command to turn away.

His hand closed around her wrist tightly, stopping her from even taking a single step. The physical contact spoke of his desperation, since barring imminent peril they simply did not touch each other. His voice echoed the fear as did his words. "Liv, wait. I want to talk to you." It wasn't that he was making some dramatic declaration of need or love, but for him, for them, it may has well have been. It had been a long time since they'd been able to expose their jugulars to one another and that was precisely what Elliot was doing. He was trying. He was testing to see if she would attack. He knew she could easily rebuff him by saying it was late and leaving him there.

But she didn't. She faced him again, careful not to pull her arm from his grasp. She wanted to hold that tether between them as long as she could. Her eyes searched his for an indication of what he wanted to her to say.

"I don't want to do this anymore either." His eyes slid from hers, darting wildly to look at anything besides her, and she was afraid in the quiet that he meant he was walking away from her.

His hand shifted, loosening form her wrist and lowering to her hand. When she felt his fingers entwine with hers, she actually looked down to see if it was real. Her eyes slowly rose to his face and found he was looking right back at her once again. The hard, tense edge in his expression she'd seen for so long was gone. He looked like Elliot - the man she'd missed so much. His voice was so soft that she had to lean closer when he spoke again. "Don't leave me."

Her initial impulse was to assure him that she never wanted to leave him again. But then she started to doubt that interpretation and decided he was trying to invite himself up. She'd been thinking about the same thing a moment earlier and she feared he'd read it in her eyes or that she'd given herself away somehow. The fear of looking stupid won out and she tried to keep her tone light. "You want to stand out here all night?"

He cracked a smile, telling her that he believed her fake confusion. Then his free hand, the one that wasn't still holding her, came up to brush against her face. She instinctively leaned into the contact, pressing her cheek into his palm and closing her eyes.

"I mean ever, Liv."

The honesty caused her eyes to pop open in shock, but she said nothing. She felt the same way; she didn't want to be separated from him, but she wasn't sure she'd ever find the courage to actually say it.

He stepped forward, taking back both of the hands he'd had on her. One of his arms found its way around her waist and pulled her whole body against his. The other hand held the back of her head, pressing her cheek to his. "I was mad when Kathy left, but I survived it."

Olivia, who'd spent her entire life trying to be emotionally unavailable, attempted to back pedal from the onslaught of emotion until she could get her feet back under her. "You survived just fine while I was gone." She didn't mention Dani because she knew that would only make trouble.

She felt his head shake next to hers. "Barely."

"But you did." Even though Olivia hadn't mentioned her name, it felt like Dani was there between them, despite the intimacy of their embrace.

He pulled back, looking her in the eye. "I don't know if it was your intention or not, but I learned a lesson. I let you go without a fight and I swear to God that will never happen again."

She couldn't help the smirk that appeared. "Isn't it a sin to swear?"

Elliot smiled back. "Considering that I'd kill myself if I ever lost you, I think God will overlook it."

"Don't say that." She put her hand on his chest, although she wasn't sure if it was to defend herself form anymore unexpected declarations or to reassure herself that he really was saying those things to her.

"Please, Liv, promise me." His hands moved to her cheeks, holding her still as his lips brushed her forehead. "I'll beg if I have to." His lips glanced over her cheek.

"You're already begging, El." She closed her eyes as the sensation overwhelmed any logical thought about just how dangerous physical contact could be with him. She felt him, smelled him, needed him.

"I know." His words were barely out when his lips closed over hers. His next words were spoken against her lips, so quietly she wasn't sure she heard them. "Is it working?"

She felt his tongue running across her lips, seeking entrance. She wanted to smile. She wanted to giggle. She wanted to swoon. The very idea, not to mention the feeling, of Elliot kissing her made her crazy. "Something's working." And then she opened her mouth to him.

Once Elliot had touched her, Olivia had hardly been exercising good sense and it had been a slippery slope after that. She wasn't completely sure she would survive if Elliot stopped kissing her; it was as if her lungs would only accept their shared breath - her own wouldn't suffice any longer. And still, perhaps because of all the time she'd spent as a cop, she knew what they were doing was quickly descending into something they shouldn't be doing in a public place.

"El?" She whispered his name, unable or unwilling to pull back long enough to say more. She wasn't even sure what she wanted to say, so it didn't really matter.

Somehow he caught her unspoken drift. "We should probably stop." He made no move to do so, however, as his arms moved around her back to pull her closer. "Or go inside."

Her heart was already pounding; his words nearly made it stop. She was afraid of either option. She was afraid to make the decision herself. But she loved that he was leaving it completely in her hands without trying to lead her in whichever direction he wanted. Reluctantly, she pulled back from the kisses that were more addictive than she'd ever imagined.

The last thing she wanted to do was send him home. She knew she could; she knew he wouldn't argue. He was watching her, hanging on the possibility that she might not send him away. She usually relished the power she could wield over men on her front stoop, but not with Elliot. It scared her to realize he held the same power over her.

She knew better than to think it was necessarily the best idea she'd ever had, but it didn't stop her from nodding toward the door of her building. "You want to come up?"

He stared at her for too long. Long enough that she started to panic. She was reeling, trying to figure out how she'd misread him, how she'd managed to misunderstand what seemed to have been painfully simple words.

Her mouth opened and closed repeated, flailing stupidly as her mind searched for words to fix the embarrassment she'd stumbled into.

But his smile managed to form before her preference for flight kicked in. His hand brushed her hair back again, once again revealing that gentle, nurturing side Olive had always suspected lay hidden behind the tough detective she knew so well. "Yes." He leaned in to land a kiss across her lips. "Yes, definitely."

It actually took her a moment to remember what her question had been. She smiled and took his hand as she led the way up to her apartment. Somehow, in the two or three minutes it took for them to get from the front steps to her door, Olivia had enough time to panic. Although she knew ostensibly his words in the bar had been said in anger, she couldn't stop thinking about them. And she couldn't stop thinking about the fact that she was proving him right by taking him to her bedroom precious little time after he'd called her a slut.

She turned in fear, in heartbreak, in obvious pain, and looked at him, knowing there was no chance he was going to follow her logic unless she explained it and knowing that bringing up their fight wasn't going to end well.

His hands found her face again, his concern pouring out of his eyes. "You know I didn't mean that, Liv. I was just mad."

She stared, wide-eyed, and tried to reconcile the idea that her partner really did know her that well.

His thumbs moved, wiping the tear that had only just started to fall. "I wasn't even mad. I was jealous. I saw you dancing with that guy and I wanted to keep you from leaving with him."

"I wasn't going to leave with him." Exactly as she'd figured, the mention of their words changed her mood and her ability to be open. She shifted her weight back on her heels, leaning back until Elliot got the message to drop his hands. She knew he believed his apology. She knew he'd only intended to rile her up into having a fight with him. But she couldn't help remembering all those insults her mother had hurled at her in drunken rages over the years and she couldn't stop herself from reacting the same way to Elliot's comment - she wondered if really, deep down under all the ingrained decorum and protectiveness, he didn't actually think she was easy. She had to stifle the snicker that threatened to escape at the idea that her partner, who she'd finally acknowledge truly knew her, had arrived at the same conclusion her mother had without knowing her at all.

Her shoulders sagged under the weight of the crushing thought that maybe they were both right. She shook her head at nothing in particular, willing herself to not lose it completely until Elliot was well out of earshot. "I'm sorry for leading you on, but it was a mistake and it's probably better that we end it here." She turned to her door, trying to fit the key into the lock while all of her energy was concentrated on not crying.

His hands closed around her upper arms, reassuring her despite the simple truth that she didn't want his reassurance. His face was pressed into her hair as he spoke. "Liv, please believe me, I'm sorry. I would kill anyone else for saying that to you."

She couldn't face him, but her hands stopped trying for the lock. She recalled the way she'd decided to be the one to give. She recalled the way her plan had worked well. She figured she might as well try it again since she was already broken anyway. "That really hurt, El."

"I know it did." His body leaned closer to her, holding her in as close to a hug as she would have let him at that moment. "And I'm sorry, baby. I'm so, so sorry. I was jealous and I wanted to hurt you because it hurt me to see you with that guy and I promise you I will never say something like that to you again."

"I wasn't going to leave with him." She hadn't intended to reiterate her statement, but it was the only thing that her brain could conjure up. She had never faced Elliot begging for forgiveness.

"I wasn't going to leave with Dani."

Olivia would have thought, given Dani's involvement earlier, that hearing her name would set off another chain of short circuits in her psyche, resulting inexorably in an even bigger fight. Her body was prepared for just that, turning on him so fast that his hands were still hovering where her arms had been a moment earlier.

But rather than the string of expletives that usually found their way past her lips at Dani's mention, Olivia found herself unexpectedly falling forward, throwing herself at Elliot's frame. Her face burrowed into the collar of his shirt without her permission as her arms wound around his neck. It was almost like an out of body experience for her. She felt herself shaking, sobbing, against him, but she didn't feel the emotion. At least, she didn't think she did.

His arms, slowed by utter shock, closed around her. He rubbed her back and told her everything was ok and shushed her and let her cry.

It was then that she realized she'd been waiting her whole life for him, for that comfort, for that love. Not the apology - she'd almost always gotten apologies, perfunctory and meaningless, from her mother, from various other men, from friends, from anyone who'd ever hurt her, even from Elliot. But the warmth and solace and empathy he was offering her was very different.

When she lifted her head, she knew the rough patch was behind them. She met his glance unabashedly. She wasn't ashamed to cry in front of him because she knew he wouldn't think any less of her for it. Offering a tiny smile, she cleared her throat. "I do want you to stay, but not like that, not tonight." Unintentional and unnecessary as it was, she realized it was the ultimate challenge, the real test of how well he could read her.

"Can I stay if I promise just to hold you?"

With a smile that was no longer tiny, she opened her door and motioned him in. "You passed with flying colors, El." She ignored his befuddled face and led the way to her bedroom.