Chapter Two

Something was wrong.

Olivia was pretty sure that during the final week at the police academy all recruits had a device secretly injected into their brains that informed them when something was wrong. She'd never had the ability to recognize a bad situation until she'd graduated, and she'd been in enough of them during her formative years to know that she'd never once had any sort of internal warning whatsoever.

Of course, waking up to discover that someone was holding you down in your bed was pretty much going to raise a red flag for everyone on the planet, secret devices notwithstanding.

Several possible heart attacks later, she came to grips with the fact that no one was actually holding her down in her bed. It was just that with her sleep had also come the requisite muscle tensing that always followed car accidents. She didn't even remember the car accident anymore, but she knew she'd been in one. There was nothing else on Earth that hurt quite like that.

And, judging from just how extensively her body was affected, it must have been a pretty nasty crash.

And, judging from just how horrible her stomach felt, she knew she'd opted for aspirin rather than medical care.

It was moments like that when Olivia really questioned her sanity. She doubted many people could recognize the symptoms of self-treatment of car accident related injuries. She doubted it was something many people attempted more than once, let alone enough times to recognize the syndrome. If her arms had been within her ability to move, she would have called Huang and demanded that he sign her into Bellevue.

It had only been a few moments since her panic had awoken her, but her heart rate had slowed enough that she was about to drift back off into the happy oblivion where she was not acutely aware of every jarred inch of her body.

But the alarm bells rang again in her head. Something was still wrong.

Very, very wrong.

Her eyes darted around, hoping she was just developing anxiety disorder, because the thought of getting up, finding her gun, and handling whatever the wrong turned out to be seemed overwhelming. She wasn't actually sure she cared that much about whatever it might be to do anything about it.

Her heart nearly stopped when she saw it, realizing that it didn't matter where her gun was because she'd never get to it in time. Instinctively knowing that she couldn't possibly move fast enough to defend herself.

There was a dark outline in the doorway of her bedroom.

A tall, thick someone standing there, staring, knowing she was defenseless, blocking any possible escape.

She wondered if it was possible to actually be scared to death.

"You left your front door open."

She jumped at the sound of his voice, forgetting until it was too late that jerking like that would cause hideous shockwaves of pain to roll through her. "Fuck, Elliot, you scared the shit out of me."

"You're lucky I'm the only one who decided to come in." His shadow didn't move from her doorway and she figured he was expecting her to get up.

Silly man. Perhaps it had been too long since he'd had his body scrambled by an SUV blender.

She saw him move, the arm that had been folded across his chest stretched out to rest on the far side of the doorjamb. And suddenly, she was there again, in those arms, inhaling the deliciousness that was the scent of him, knowing once and for all that he cared.

Really cared. All their fighting and issues aside, all the doubts that she ever had as to how he actually felt for her vanquished, she knew he cared. Elliot Stabler cared about her. Not about his partner. Not about the person watching his back. Not about having to find a new rhythm with someone he didn't know if she ever left him for good. Her. He cared about her.

Because he simply didn't hug people.

Unless he cared.

"What are you smiling at? I just told you that you left your door standing wide open while you were completely unprepared to defend yourself, considering that I was standing here for a half hour before you even noticed, and you're lying there, grinning like an idiot."

Was he mad? He kind of sounded mad. His words sounded mad. But it didn't matter.

He cared about her.

She giggled.

She really wished she could have seen the look on his face at that moment, but he was still in the shadows. And she was lying on her bed giggling out of the sheer glee that was meaning something to Elliot.

He finally moved out of the darkness, walking across the space to her bed. She was on the side closest to the door; she hadn't been capable of taking another step when she'd collapsed there earlier. He stared at her for a moment; his face still masked by shadows. And then he sat down.

He probably expected that she would shift over. She expected that normally, had normally ever included a circumstance where Elliot was sitting on the bed she was lying on, she would have shifted over. But the fact that he was there, in her bedroom, on her bed, meant that it wasn't normally.

And there was no possible way she could be convinced to move away, not when that would mean losing the point of heat on her leg where his hip touched her.

Not for all the fucking money in the world.

No longer hidden, his face revealed concern, worry, in his furrowed brow and tensed jaw. "Are you ok?"

She looked up at him, letting all the emotion she felt for him reflect on her face for the first time in a decade. She figured it was too dark for him to really see. Besides, it didn't really matter.

Because he cared about her.

It would be ok for him to know that she cared about him too.

If he didn't already, which was asking a lot, since she pretty much felt like she walked around with a flashing neon sign over her head everyday that said "I'm in love with my partner."

She swore she could still feel his arms gathering her up, pulling her against him, claiming her body as his for that moment. She nearly giggled again.

Because hugging involved arms and holding involved bodies and there had so been body contact during The Hug.

She smiled. "Yeah, I'm ok."

He nodded, turning away from her to stare into the darkness. There was something emanating from him, hanging in the air between them, trying to get out. Some words that he couldn't find.

It bothered her.

"What's wrong?" The lighthearted tone of her giggling was gone; her voice was once again the same one she always used with him. She knew her words would usually have been accompanied by a tiny brush of her hand to his shoulder, just a little something that might encourage him to speak, but there wasn't a chance of her reaching up that high.

His snort broke the silence and she sincerely wished she had some idea of what the hell had happened the day before.

She bit her lip as she thought about it. Her analytical mind returned from the sabbatical it had been on, informing her that too many things were amiss. He'd touched her. She'd been in an accident. He was in her apartment. He'd been staring at her sleeping for a half hour. Fuck, he was sitting on her bed, talking to her in the dark. What the hell was going on?

She tried to sit up, but only got her head an inch off the pillow when the pain was too much. "Elliot, what's wrong?"

He shook his head ruefully, his eyes finally searching for hers. "After everything that happened today? Are you kidding?"

She tried, she did, but the bits had grown even fuzzier with sleep and she was no longer sure which parts had happened and which were remnants of a dream she couldn't remember. And she knew telling him that would only make his day worse.

He noticed her aborted effort to get up, fresh concern sweeping down his face like a theatre curtain. "Liv? What's the matter?"

She shook her head – well, she turned it slightly to each side once. "No way. I asked you first."

His eyes fixed on something off to her left; his face taking on a lost quality. "I should be home with Kathleen and the twins." He raised his hands and then dropped them again like he'd forgotten what he wanted to do with them in the first place. "Or at the hospital with Maureen."

For a moment, her blood ran cold. "Maureen's in the hospital?" Was it possible that it had been Maureen in the car, not Kathy? It would certainly explain why she'd been so scared that Elliot would be crushed. But if his child, grown or not, had been injured, she wasn't sure how that equated into him giving her a hug.

And then she had a crushing, heart breaking thought.

Maybe The Hug, her glorious new reason for living, had been the dream.

While the reality was that something she'd done had injured his firstborn.

Oh, god, she should have stayed in the hospital herself. He'd have a harder time killing her in the hospital.

His eyes darted back to hers. "Yeah, she's with Kathy. And EJ."

Oh fuck, she gave up. She didn't have a clue anymore. Maybe it wasn't one screwed up day. Maybe she had some far-reaching amnesia that had erased years from her life. She idly hoped they hadn't been good ones. "EJ?"

Elliot was looking at her as though she'd grown a second head, which might go a long way to explain why the hell her neck hurt so friggin bad. "EJ. My son. Elliot junior. You coached Kathy through labor? You got to hold him before I did? Any of this ringing any bells?"

She was thankful for the low light which hid her furious blush. The snippets were back, now with Elliot's words explaining some of it – the baby in her arms, Elliot cradling his son, her terror that something would go wrong while she was somehow responsible for Kathy and the baby. At least she could rule out the possibility that she was completely insane.

She bit her lip and decided she'd go for broke. Elliot was already in her bedroom, clearly concerned. What was the worst that could happen?

"There was an accident, right?"

Elliot nodded. "You were taking Kathy to an appointment because I couldn't."

Ok, so she had been driving, like she'd thought. "Was it my fault?"

His mouth fell open in shock. "No, jesus, Liv. Did you think it was?"

She tried to shrug, but just wound up grimacing.

His hand lifted from his side with an ease that, for the time being, Olivia envied. But when his hand landed on her face, gently brushing back her hair, her brain stopped functioning altogether. "A drunk driver ran a red light, Liv. You didn't do anything wrong."

She couldn't say anything. She was busy. She'd never before, save The Hug, tried to imprint a moment in full detail in her memory banks. She wanted to remember everything about what was happening. The feel of his hip, pressing a bit harder against her leg as he leaned. The sensation of his hand as it slowly, possessively, moved down from where he'd pushed her hair back. His fingers skimmed over her ear as his thumb caressed - she decided there was no other word for it - her cheek, back and forth, even daring to brush the corner of her lips. As his hand moved lower, his fingers curling around her neck, his thumb traced over her jaw.

Her eyes closed of their own accord, perhaps to help with the mental recording.

She felt herself shiver and knew he must have as well.

"Kathy's ok, right?" She knew on some level that mentioning his wife was a bad idea, but she had to know. She had to cross off the possibility that he was in some strange grief process over losing his wife.

"Kathy's fine." His hand didn't move. It stayed locked in place against her neck.

She decided she liked it there. "And the baby's ok?"

"He's fine too."

She tried to breathe, thinking that holding her breath was the reason for the lightheadedness. But even a full breath did little to make her feel less tipsy. Clearly his hand had magical powers. She wouldn't mind being dizzy for the rest of her life. Not as long as Elliot never stopped touching her.

She smiled at him, liking that her partner was touching her in a grossly inappropriate fashion and, oddly enough, not even the least bit uncomfortable with such an intimate gesture. "Elliot junior, huh? Just what the world needs."

He snickered. "That's what you said the first time I told you."

She clenched her jaw, realizing she'd given away a bit too much regarding her memory issues. "Sorry. I'm a little slow tonight. See, I was in this accident…"

"Yeah, I know."

He pulled his hand back, turning away to face the wall. She wanted to cry.

"I was scared to death."

Why was he telling her how scared he was regarding the welfare of his wife and son? Why did he have to turn away from her? Had she been too obvious in enjoying his touch? Wasn't part of the reason he touched her that he'd wanted her to enjoy it? Was she hallucinating?

Maybe she'd made up the idea that he'd touched her. Maybe she'd wanted it so badly that she'd imagined his hand touching her face. Maybe she'd wanted him to hold her so badly that she'd imagined that too.

She forced out words, trying to pretend she wasn't devastated while simultaneously thinking it was high time she got Huang on the phone. "They're fine. You don't have to worry about them anymore."

"Fin came to get me. He said there'd been an accident. He said Kathy and the baby were fine when I asked him what happened. And he just kept saying they were fine, over and over." He hesitated to swallow hard. "I thought he was trying to avoid telling me that something had happened to you. I called Cragen and asked for you." He closed his eyes for a moment before meeting hers again. "And then he put Kathy on."

In an effort to keep her brain quasi-functional, she thought hard about the day, trying to block out the feeling of loss that accompanied the idea that his body wasn't touching hers anymore. "I might have put Kathy on the phone." His eyes searched hers, trying to decide if she was telling the truth. "I guess I figured you'd want to talk to her." It sounded plausible. As plausible as something could sound to someone who wasn't sure if the man in front of her was really even there.

Because it was entirely possible that this Elliot, this man who'd uncharacteristically walked into her bedroom and touched her, this man who'd held her close outside his wife's hospital room, this man who seemed so very different from the man she knew, wasn't real.

He didn't say anything as he studied her face. His hand moved and she nearly whimpered that he'd chosen to rest it on the bed next to her shoulder instead of on her skin. But then it wasn't just his hand that was resting on the bed, it was his forearm.

And then she realized that his forearm was resting on the bed to help support his weight as he leaned over her.

And for fuck's sake she could feel his breath on her face.

The idea that she honestly wasn't sure if she was hallucinating or not scared her. She squeezed her eyes closed, hoping he wouldn't see the tear that seeped out anyway.

He saw it. He must have. Because his fingers moved, wiping at the moisture. His voice was soft, scared, vulnerable; it did nothing to convince her he was real because she'd never once heard him sound like that. "I don't know what I'd do if I lost you."

God, he was good. Or, at least, her imaginary version of him was good. His words brought more tears to her eyes.

Suddenly the need to know overcame the pain of her sore body. She lifted her hand, very gently finding the fabric of his shirt. It wasn't enough; it wasn't solid evidence. She pressed harder, finally feeling the hard muscle of his arm and the warmth that seemed to burn through the light cotton.

His eyes held hers, the curiosity apparent to her before he could find the words. "Liv?"

"Are you real?"

She half expected laughter, a smart ass remark.

Something that would smack so undeniably of Elliot that she would have no choice but to believe.

But, in keeping with the perfect man that her fantasy Elliot seemed to be, he found no humor in her words. His weight shifted as he supported himself on his right side, freeing his left hand to snag her right, which had only just fallen from his arm. His fingers closed around the back of her hand, lifting it to his chest and pressing her palm against him.

"Do I feel real?"

She felt the warmth of both his hand and his chest. She felt the way his thumb rubbed against the back of her fingers. She felt the solid plane of his body.

But nothing to suggest that he was any more real than any of the un-Elliot like things he'd been doing in her head that day.

She was about to respond, to say as much, wondering if arguing with a hallucination would serve any purpose. Not that arguing with the real Elliot ever got her anywhere anyhow.

But then she noticed something, perhaps the very thing he'd wanted her to notice.

Beyond his chest, beyond his warmth, beyond what she could touch.

She could feel.

His heart pounding. Fast beats, slamming hard, revealing the fear he was hiding so easily.

He wasn't just answering her question. He was opening himself to her.

Even more than by hugging, holding, touching.

He was as terrified of her rejection as she was of his nonexistence.

She nodded, responding way too late to his question. "You are real."

And then she got the Elliot response she'd been looking for. One side of his mouth turned up in a grin. "As far as I can tell."

They both laughed for a moment, but it quickly died out. Olivia figured he too had realized exactly how close they were, even more than when he had moved himself there. When they had laughed, allowed their bodies to shake slightly, the whole length of their torsos came in contact.

And then she realized something had changed. It wasn't that he'd realized how close they were; it was that he'd decided to move them closer. His arms weren't entirely supporting him any longer.

A good, reassuring, comforting part of his weight was spread across her body from her hips to her chest.

His face was much closer to hers, leaving her nowhere to look but his eyes. With his arms free, he was able to move his hands, letting them rest on either side of her face, only barely touching her skin. His eyes held hers, just staring, as though he was having as much trouble believing what was happening as she was.

There was a long, silent, heavy moment between them before he smiled at her, eventually letting out a shaky breath that danced across her lips.

Looking up at him, she felt the need to confirm what she'd thought was the truest memory of the day because with everything else so foggy, it seemed slightly deranged to think any of it, especially something so wonderful, had sunk in clearly.

"At the hospital, did you-" Her mouth went dry suddenly and she feared that by asking she'd somehow burst the bubble of her incredibly realistic, though entirely implausible, dream. "I mean, everything's so and I can't really remember and it seemed real but-"

One of his hands moved to her mouth, two of his fingers pressing lightly on her lips. "Shhh." Once he was content that she was finished trying to be coherent, his hand moved back to the side of her head. "I held you."

There was something about Olivia that very few people knew. She had been a cheerleader. For a whole week in high school. Before she'd gotten kicked off the squad for spending the practices making out behind the bleachers with one of the football players. She hadn't really cared at the time because her reasons for trying out had consisted of getting to spend time with Aaron and the attention that her tiny little skirt would get her. Aaron had turned out to be a jerk, since his interest died out when she no longer wore the flippy little skirt. And the flippy little skirt only served to garner the wrong kind of attention – because it was always jerks like Aaron who liked it.

Despite her short-lived cheering career, some part of it must have really made an impression.

Because at Elliot's words, the vast majority of her internal organs performed the back handspring she hadn't mastered in the week she'd cared enough to try.

Really.

She was pretty sure they vaulted across her bedroom doing an array of gymnastics that would have made the rest of her ex-squad jealous.

Or maybe she should have thought better of the aspirin on an empty stomach.

Either way, she was turning inside out. And she decided it was because Elliot understood the difference between hugging and holding and had chosen the word on purpose.

She smiled. "Just checking."

And then his face was moving closer.

But damn it, he must have been dizzy too because his lips missed hers by a long shot. They fell against her forehead. Then her temple. Then her cheek. Then even lower on her cheek. Then her jaw.

And then it seemed he was finally getting his balance because they seemed to be headed to her lips.

They stopped just short of her mouth and she wanted to groan. But she didn't appear to be breathing so she waited instead.

His eyes were on her lips. He wanted to kiss her. Clearly, he'd come into her apartment, climbed on top of her and kissed her everywhere but where she wanted. But he didn't move closer.

"El?" Her internal mantra started up, chanting "don't be a dream" over and over and over again.

He shook his head and met her eyes again. "I really want to kiss you."

Once again, her cheeks were burning. "I'm not stopping you."

He took a deep breath while his fingers slid over her face softly. With an unhappy sounding growl, he pushed himself up and returned to his previous position beside her with only the faintest hint of contact. "Yeah, I know. You didn't stop me earlier either."

Another series of possible heart attacks followed by an internal back handspring back tuck left her feeling like she'd just been in another accident. Good god, she thought, tell me I didn't forget that.

His chuckle told her she'd spoken aloud. "No, no not that. I meant about holding you." He looked away for a moment, as though he was rethinking every bit of the intimacy, including what he'd said to her. "You didn't resist when I grabbed you and I'm not sure that you would ever just let some guy grab you like that under normal circumstances."

"You're not some guy."

Didn't he understand that by touching her he'd totally eradicated any semblance of normal circumstances? The words were meaningless in the universe where Elliot touched her. Did she have to spell it out for him?

He nodded. "No, I'm not. Any other day and I'm pretty sure you'd have beaten the crap out of me for even thinking of grabbing you."

"It's not any other day." But even as she said it, her voice grew softer. She recognized backpedaling from a guy.

She hated it, but she recognized it.

She nodded slowly, pretending that she was coming around to his thinking rather than having an internal meltdown. "You're probably right."

He reached out, finding her hand and folding his around it. "I still want to kiss you."

She was tempted to say she still wasn't stopping him, but she didn't want to face a hard, undeniable rejection. He deserved credit for being nice, for making it seem like he wasn't rejecting her. So she said nothing and wished it didn't hurt too much for her to get up and walk away from him.

He let go of her hand and she let it flop back against the bed as dead weight. Her eyes were locked on the ceiling above her bed. She couldn't look at him anymore, not when she was liable to cry, not when her tears would mortify her, not when he would feel bad. It wasn't his fault. He'd had a bad day and he'd done something stupid and god only knew the sort of stupid things she'd done in the midst of bad days that she wished people hadn't held against her.

At least she would always have the feel of his arms around her, the memory of his hands on her face, the knowledge that he'd kissed her – even if it wasn't on the mouth. It was something she could think about in the dark, when she was alone, when she was lonely. At least he didn't hate her.

She jerked when his fingers pressed against her chin, turning her face toward his. She didn't even feel the pain in her muscles as his fingers played over her mouth.

"I think you have a concussion, if not a massive head injury, Liv, and I'll be damned if I'm going to kiss you when you might later think it was some sort of assault."

Her mouth fell open in shock at his words.

For one brief second, his fingers slipped forward, bumping against her teeth, glancing against the very tip of her tongue.

Was he implying what she thought he was? Her eyes narrowed at him before realizing that his attention was still fully locked on her mouth. She started to smile. Poor guy would probably be up all night and quite uncomfortable because of that little contact.

If he was right about her head, she'd probably be out like a light and spared the physical torture of ruminating over the idea of his fingers being in her mouth. She swallowed hard and felt very, very sorry for him.

Eventually he pulled his eyes back up to hers and smiled. "As soon as you can accurately recount twelve continuous hours, I'm going to try to kiss you." He shrugged at her. "And if you decide at that time that it's a bad idea, you can stop me."

He turned around, taking one of her ankles in his hands. She was about to ask him what sort of kinky thing he was up to, but the sudden rush of cold air told her he'd simply pulled off one of her shoes. A moment later and his hands were on her other leg, freeing her of the second shoe. "Go to sleep, Liv."

Walking around to the far side of the bed, he lifted up the blanket. She wondered how he was going to rationalize sleeping in her bed when he was so worried about what she'd do when she was in her right mind.

But then he folded the blanket over her, warming her the way she'd been too tired to bother with herself.

His hands were on her wrist next, loosening the strap on her watch and setting it on her nightstand.

Then he withdrew to the doorway with a sigh. "I'll wake you in an hour to make sure you're still ok." He pulled the door halfway shut. "I'll be on the couch if you need me."

Apparently Elliot was as used to her self-treatment of car accident related injuries as she was and was taking it upon himself to make sure she survived her own stupidity once again.

He pushed the door back a little more. "Hey, Liv, I just want you to know – you know before you're back to being you and I'm too scared to say it – I-"

She grinned at him happily and then cut him off. "I know."

And she did.

Because she loved him too.