Something to Hold Onto

Summary: Sometimes you have to let go in order to hold on. (LS)

Rating: T

Spoilers: Post-ep for The Road. References to Stalker and a few other eps.

Disclaimer: I hold no claim over anything related to Cold Case. This is just my way of having fun.

Authors notes: I've been writing fanfic for many years now, but this is my first foray into the realm of Cold Case. It's a show I've watched sporadically over the years, but only really became hooked on after reading fanfiction by Henebrey and oucellogal. I hope this does the characters justice. I actually haven't seen much of the end of season 4 or the beginning of season 5, so I've taken a bit of artistic license. These characters are hard to control and this ended up being considerably more of a romance than I'd originally intended. I hope you enjoy. Comments and criticisms are always welcome.

Thanks as always to my dear friend Joy, the queen of grammar and punctuation. Thanks for being the Toby to my Sam and for making editing so much fun.

It was dark again by the time she finally got home. Closing the door to her row house, Lilly leaned heavily against the solid wood, trying to summon up enough strength to simply take off her coat. Every ounce of her body craved sleep, but she knew there was no way rest would come easily tonight. Coming off a 24-hour shift was enough to leave anyone jumpy and over-tired, but Lilly was well beyond that; this case had taken her beyond that.

This case had cut her to the quick, had stripped her of what little armour she had left since the shooting all those months ago. This case had left her raw, bleeding the last of her strength into a puddle on the floor around her. Not even finding Brenda had helped all that much. Not even the elation of finding their vic alive, for a change, and reuniting her with her fiancé had been enough to stave off the exhaustion, the utter desolation she felt after six hours in a car with John Smith.

For a doer, he'd seemed fairly innocuous at first glance; a mousy little man, soft voice, beady eyes, not someone you'd give a second look to. But Lilly knew better than most never to trust the quiet ones. They were the ones whose secrets, whose perversions, ran deepest and John Smith turned out to be a textbook case.

After nine years on the job in homicide, Lilly had begun to believe that she'd seen every possible permutation of evil, but Smith had blown that idea out of the water. Sure, she'd encountered more vicious killers, more violent individuals, but Smith's evil was terrifying in its purity, in the sheer joy he took in breaking his victims' spirits. His evil was insidious, slipping through the cracks and eating at the very foundation that made you who you were. And despite her best efforts, his poisoned words had managed to eat at her, slipping through the walls she'd carefully maintained all her life, threatening to leave her lifeless and hollow. Worst of all, he'd done it in front of Scotty.

Ever since that night in the observation room, that night she'd felt the hot slice of a bullet through her flesh, she'd been determined… desperate to convince her partner that she was alright, that she was the same Lilly Rush he'd always known. She needed him to believe it. If he believed it, then she could too. Problem was, he wasn't buying it.

'Ya still havin' trouble sleepin'?'

Scotty's simple question had shot through her faster than the bullet, momentarily robbing her of breath.

He knew.

He could see through her mask and if Scotty could see, then everyone… Boss could see. For a split second, Lilly had panicked. No one could know she was vulnerable, that she was still having nightmares, that her heart would still kick up to an alarming rate when she walked into an interrogation room… that she was weak. If they knew just how weak she really was, they wouldn't let her do her job and she needed to do her job. Without it….

'Who are you when it's all taken away? No one.'

Smith's words ate at her mind like a parasite, threatening to overtake her completely. Suddenly needing to escape, Lilly launched herself from the door, nearly tripping over Olivia, who had wound herself around Lilly's legs in an attempt to convince her owner to feed her. With a sudden surge of adrenaline, she shucked her coat and strode purposefully into the kitchen, determined to force John Smith's voice from her mind, to silence the doubts and fear he'd set howling within her… to regain her life by resuming her routine.

It was the only life she knew how to live.

Scotty just couldn't hold still. He'd already circled her block three times and was rounding the bend that would make it lap number four. He wanted to write off his sudden need to walk to having been cooped up in a car for the better part of ten hours, but his choice of route made it hard to convince himself that was all it was.

'Certainly hope they appreciate everything you've given up to do what you do.'

Scotty knew better than most just what the job had cost his partner. Whenever he slowed down for more than a minute, he would be assaulted by the image of Lilly's glassy eyes staring up at him as she lay slumped and nearly lifeless against the observation room wall. He could still feel the sticky warmth of her blood bathing his fingers as he tried desperately to stem the flow. Casting further back, he could also remember her hollow eyes when she'd emerged from the 'woods' with George, the haunted look that had followed her around for days after squaring off in a dark attic with a serial killer who'd known her too well.

Lilly's eyes held so much. It was often the only way he could get a handle on what she was thinking … feeling. His partner wasn't exactly the sharing type, so Scotty had become an expert at reading what he wanted to know in the ever-changing blue of her irises. However, the more he delved deeper into her gaze, the more what he saw haunted him, teasing him with little glimpses into her life and fuelling a yearning to know more, no matter how hard her story might be to hear.

Scotty wasn't sure when his partner had left such an indelible mark on his soul. He wanted to convince himself that it was just a guttural reaction to having seen Lilly get shot, but he knew she'd found her way in long before that, years before, if he was going to be honest with himself. Things like this weren't supposed to happen with your partner. Sure, partners were like blood, but it wasn't normal to seek out reasons to be in her presence, to go out of your way to make her smile, to feel like the biggest ass on the planet when she flashed you a look of disappointment, to want to beat back the demons in her past just so you could see her eyes shine again….

Those eyes of hers just wouldn't leave him alone, from the faint glimmer of mischief at something unexpectedly funny to the intense blue flame that burned for justice every time they took on a new case. Still, what bothered him the most, what kept him up at night, was the way they would dim and their fire would die whenever one of her relationships would fail, when men like Kite and Joseph decided that she just wasn't worth the effort, when her sister ran roughshod over her life and he'd only made matters worse, or when she'd been forced to watch her mother drink herself to death. Whenever Scotty saw that darkness in her eyes, he wanted to hunt down whoever had put it there and beat the crap out of them, himself included.

That darkness was there now. There was absolutely no way he was going to sleep tonight. So he picked up the pace, channelling his frustrations into the pounding of his feet on the pavement. He'd already beaten the crap out of the guy and it hadn't helped.

'She wasn't looking for a way out anymore.'

The familiarity in Lil's words had scared the hell out of him. He knew she'd been playing a role, a version of good cop to his bad, but at that point the timbre of her voice had changed. Scotty had watched helplessly as Smith drew her into his trap. With practiced ease, the knife of his words had found their way through her shields, stabbing itself into the soft underbelly of her fears and insecurities. Scotty had sat, trapped by his seatbelt, as the light in her eyes had dimmed, leaving her looking as hollow and lost as the day he'd found her after her mother had died.

'She wasn't looking for a way out anymore…. If you're gonna shoot me, shoot me now!'

In the stale air of that cramped car, all Scotty could hear were her words the night of the shooting. He'd always told himself that it had been her way of alerting him to her position and the situation. Now, a solid ball of icy fear settled heavily in his gut.

What if she'd meant it?

'When hope is gone, dying is just a formality.'

Had Lil really gotten so low? Scotty came up to a stop, leaning one hand heavily against a lamp post, as the last few months ran like a reel through his mind. Sure, her mom had died and work was always tough, but had she really gotten to the same point as those women? Had she really been stripped of everything she'd held onto? Scotty replayed the time they'd spent together during her recovery, trying desperately to ferret out any hint that she'd been depressed. What about now that she'd recovered? Did she really feel hopeless?

'You see the world in a certain way… the way you want it to work. Makes a person weak… vulnerable….'

His heart tripped up a notch as Smith's words bored into his head. He had seen the world his own way. In his world, Lilly Rush was the strong, solid detective he'd always worked beside; caring, a friend he could depend on, but committed to her work above all else.

'Who are you when it's all taken away?'

Scotty felt like he'd been punched in the gut. Who was Lilly without the job? She'd never let him see, really see, despite his attempts to draw her out. Even when he'd visited her during her recovery, they'd talked about work.

'Everyone's got something to hold onto, that keeps them tethered to this world.'

Who was her tether? Her mom was dead, her sister useless, the squad … they only knew what she let them know. The realization bubbled up in his throat, threatening to drown him in the truth. Lilly held onto the job. It was the job and their victims that got her up in the morning, and since the shooting that hold had become a little more tenuous.

Sighing, Scotty turned his back to the post and slumped against the cool metal, scrubbing a hand through his closely-cropped hair. Last night in the car, he'd seen her slipping; he'd seen the fear in the cobalt blue of her eyes, her fear of her weaknesses being discovered. She was terrified of losing the one thing she clung to when her world swirled out of control around her. That realization galvanized him. Pushing off from the lamp post, he closed the distance to her front door.

The light from the hallway spilled into the bedroom, cutting a golden swath across her bed and the table beside it. The cats were fed and watered and Lilly had managed to choke down a bowl of yogurt in an attempt to stave off the hollow ache that had settled in her stomach. Now sleep called to her, teasing her with promises of much-needed rest. She just couldn't bring herself to walk into the room.

'What gets you out of bed in the morning?'

Lilly's eyes were drawn to her bedside table. It was empty. Brenda McDowell's case had been dealt with so quickly that she hadn't had time to bring a photograph home. The barren table seemed to mock her, reminding her of the weeks she'd spent recovering from her gunshot wound. It had amounted to her own personal hell to be stuck at home with nothing to occupy her mind, no victims to try and understand, no mother to take care of, nothing to distract her from dwelling on how pathetic her life had become.

Lilly had spent weeks waiting to find out if she would ever get her life back. Every morning she'd wake up convinced it had all been a dream. Only then would she roll over to her empty bedside table and the pain from the wound in her shoulder would rip through her body, shocking her back into the real world … the world where she had no purpose.

Her only visitors had been her colleagues and the homecare nurse the department's insurance had provided to help her get settled once she'd left the hospital. Jeffries, Vera and Miller had stopped by together a few times over their breaks. Vera would eye her cats suspiciously and try to foist food off on her. He kept insisting that she'd needed to put a little meat on her bones until Miller once suggested he donate some of his own. While Lilly had welcomed the distraction and the opportunity to laugh a little, their visits were always awkward, the conversation stilted by their avoidance of work-related topics. Lilly just couldn't help but feel a little like the latest charity case.

Stillman had only come to see her once. Recovering himself, their boss seemed to relish the time off and the opportunity to reconnect with his life. At the time, Lilly couldn't help the little bubble of jealousy that had lodged in her throat when he'd told her of his plans. She was glad he hadn't visited more often.

The only visits she'd truly enjoyed were those of her partner. Soon after her release, Scotty had made a habit of showing up on her doorstep every few nights with some form of take-out and his case notes. Despite his constant attempts to get her to sit somewhere more comfortable, they'd perch at her breakfast bar and spend his visits trading theories. He never stayed long, but those few hours together would buoy her spirits more than a million 'get well soon' cards.

They never talked about the shooting. Scotty seemed to know instinctively what she'd needed to get through those weeks. Each time he left, he would confess that he couldn't wait until she came back, quickly following it up with some smart-assed comment like needing something better to look at than Vera's ugly mug.

His unwavering faith in her return had lit a flame deep within that refused to be snuffed out, no matter how determined she was to ignore it. Watching Brenda's reunion with her fiancé this morning had caused it to flare even brighter. As she watched two people who'd never given up on each other, Lilly had allowed her mind one small moment to imagine herself in that scene … with Scotty.

She'd immediately felt ridiculous. Things like this didn't happen to her. The Ice Queen of PPD Homicide did not daydream about her partner. Still, on those nights when sleep wouldn't come, when her body kept her awake to stave off the nightmares that just wouldn't seem to abate, Lilly would indulge her heart and allow herself to remember the scent of his aftershave as he'd tentatively wrapped his arms around her the day she'd returned to work. It was a brief and awkward embrace, but the memory just wouldn't leave her alone.

'What gets you up in the morning?'

Sometime over the last few months, the answer to that question had shifted ever so slightly. She still woke up every morning searching her bedside table for an image of their latest victim, but Lilly'd also started to let herself wonder … hope even, that there might be something else out there worth facing the day for.

Scotty's rise to her defence in the car last night had only managed to build on that hope. The ferocity of his attack on their doer had stunned her. It had been violent and chauvinistic, but Lilly had marvelled at the realization that there was someone in her life who cared enough to fight off the monsters for her. Scotty had done just that by wrenching her out of the grasp of Smith's words, and in the few seconds before she'd pulled her partner off of their prisoner, Lilly had felt that little flame deep within burn just a bit hotter.

Now, standing at the threshold of her bedroom, self-preservation kicked in, dousing that flame with an icy wash of fear and resignation. She was being ridiculous, allowing her heart to read too much into nothing. Besides, even if there was something there, it would never work. Even if she ignored the monumental obstacle of Scotty being her partner, there was the simple fact that Lilly Rush just wasn't worth the effort of a relationship. After all her failed attempts, it was a lesson that had really been hammered home by Joseph. Joseph had been the guy she thought she could be with for the long haul, the guy she with whom she could finally break the cycle. Joseph had been good and stable, but true to form, her fear had held her back. She just wouldn't let him scale her walls completely and in the end, he'd grown tired of trying. Scotty would too, assuming he'd even want to try in the first place.

Lilly's eyes strayed back to the empty bedside table. She wished that they had another case open. At least then, she'd have something to focus on.

'Even those photos you cling to will fade away, like everyone fades away for you, and you will be alone.'

Lilly stumbled forward with the weight of the words, as another voice added itself to the cacophony in her mind. She'd thought that she had buried the memories of her time in the 'woods' with George, but now they bubbled unbidden to the surface, joining John Smith's words swirling around her in the dark, eating away what little foundation she had left.

She'd held them at bay all night, but now exhausted, all Lilly could do was lean heavily against her dresser as the onslaught mounted, each remembered barb shredding a little more of her armour. Whoever said names will never hurt you had obviously never gone toe to toe with a serial killer … twice.

'If only you had videos of your own. 'Course, there'd be no one in them, no one to show them to.'

She'd tried. Lord knows she'd tried to reach out over the years … tried to be happy … to not be alone. But every time she reached out to that flame of hope, she'd been burned. People inevitably let her down, so she'd started leaving them before they had the chance. Still, she tried; going from one failed relationship to another, a pattern she was starting to believe was genetic. Each time, she'd lost a little more of herself and she feared that soon there would be nothing left.

'She broke in a dark, lonely little room, just like someday, you will too.'

The darkness of her bedroom threatened to overtake her, the blackness suddenly a tangible thing, dragging her down into its depths. Lilly tried to draw a deep breath, only to feel it shudder and die in her lungs. She didn't want to be alone … she didn't. She just didn't know any other way to be. Maybe for her, there was no other way to be. Closing her eyes, Lilly let the relentless tide of darkness overtake her.

'You can't tread water forever.'

Suddenly, she was pulled back from the brink by a warm, solid hand on her shoulder.

"You o.k., Lil?"

Wheeling around, Lilly came up for air with a gasp. Blinking furiously against the sudden brightness, she was met by the sight of her partner haloed by the light from the hallway. Horrified at being caught with her guard down so completely, Lilly retreated a few steps, returning to the shadows, seeking refuge in the gloom while she tried to piece her walls back together.

"What are you doing here, Scotty?" Her voice was strained, as though she hadn't used it in a very long time.

"Your door was open, again. Y'a really gotta stop doin' that, Lil."

Scotty watched as she shrunk away from him, out of the light. It was too dark to see her eyes, but he could already feel the mask trying to slip back into place. He didn't have much time to reach her.

"Yeah, sorry 'bout that," she answered almost distractedly. "I guess I'm just tired … forgot to lock it,"

Scotty took a step forward, trying to close the space between them. He needed to see her eyes, to know that he still had a chance of reaching her, that she hadn't slipped beyond his grasp like she always did whenever things got a bit too personal between them.

For her part, Lilly felt trapped, backed into a corner, her wounds raw and exposed. Frantically she cast about for a way out, for anything to take his attention away from her, to give her a chance to regain some emotional ground before truly having to face him. Scotty, tonight, in her bedroom, had been the last thing she'd expected to deal with and Lilly needed time for her brain to catch up with her heart and keep her from saying something completely stupid. She tried to buy some time by asking her question again.

"What are you doing here, Scotty?"

"I wanted to make sure you're alright."

"I'm fine." Her response was quick, almost instinctual.

He couldn't help the grim smile that crept across his face. He'd known that this would be how she'd try to play it. Scotty watched as she took another step back into the darkness, her progress suddenly impeded by the bed behind her. He took advantage of the obstacle and followed her retreat, coming up just short of being able to touch her. Any other night, Scotty might have let Lilly get away with another brush off, might have let her pretend, like she always did, and left her to lick her wounds in peace. But tonight, he wasn't going to do that. Tonight, his heart was too full. He had seen things in her that he just couldn't let go of and tonight Scotty was going to push, in the hope that he might break through some of the walls she'd hidden behind for as long as he'd known her.

"You ain't fine, Lil." His breath hitched as he caught sight of a flinch she tried to hide. "I know you ain't fine, 'cause I ain't fine."

Lilly's shoulders slumped under the weight of his words. She expelled his name in a pained whisper as she tried to shrink away even further, almost physically turning in on herself, refusing to meet his eyes. Scotty wanted to reach out, to offer some sort of tangible support. He wanted it more than anything. Her hair, lit by the hallway light, glowed like a corona around her. Scotty fingers itched to run themselves through her corn silk strands, his arms ached to gather her up and shield her from everything that had ever brought her pain. Thing is, touching just wasn't something they did and Scotty knew that if he started now, it would only make matters worse. No, he was going to have to do this with words, which were not exactly his strong suit.

"Look, Lil, I know, y'a don't wanna talk, so just listen, 'kay?"

Lilly still wouldn't look at him, but he pressed forward, ducking his head in an effort to capture her gaze.

"You hafta know he's wrong, Lil. Y'a hafta know … you're so much more than the job."

Her only response was a half-hearted shake of her head.

"No … Scotty," she breathed. "I …"

Scotty reached out for her then, his fingers stopping just shy of her upper arms. He could feel the tremors that wracked her muscles as she fought to keep herself in check, to keep up the façade of strength. He'd left her for too long. The bastard's words had had a chance to take root in the darkness, to grow into something that threatened to choke out what light remained in her eyes. Scotty wasn't going to let that happen.

"Lil, you gotta believe me. Bastards like Smith, like George, they don't know you, they don't. They feed on fears. They find cracks an' they work their way in. They pick at you until all y'a feel is weak, but you're not." He was practically shouting. Stopping suddenly, Scotty blew out a breath and closed his eyes, trying to calm his racing heart. Fixing her again with his warm brown gaze, he continued, his voice soft, imploring, "You're not … 'cause they don't really know you."

Lilly glanced up tentatively through the veil of hair that had fallen over her eyes. She wanted to believe him. She really did, but he was deluding himself. They had known her. They'd know the parts of her that she'd never let anyone see … never let Scotty see. She had to make him understand.

"Scotty, you don't know … you don't know … me, really." She choked on the words, regretting not for the first time the walls she'd kept between herself and the only man she'd truly considered a friend. She forced the next words out in a whisper, "I've never let you."

Scotty truly smiled then; this he could handle. "No, see Lil, that's where y'a wrong. I do know you, I do." He finally made contact then, his fingers gently cupping her elbows, thumbs lightly tracing circles in the loose material of her shirt. "I know 'bout your mother an' your sister and how you've been sold out way too many times by the people who were suppos'd to love you. I know you have stuff in your past that you've neva told anyone and though I wish I could help make it easier for you, I understand why you don't talk 'bout it. I know how each new case takes a piece of you wid every victim's photo you take home. I know that no one in your life has eva been smart 'nough to realize what an amazin' person you are. And I know that while you're the best damn detective I've eva met, you're so much more than that to me. I know that I want to know everything 'bout you, Lil, the good an' the bad … I know that I can't imagine life wid you not in it."

Lilly's head shot up with his last breathless admission, her wide eyes meeting his in the dim light. The indigo depths of her gaze swirled with fear, but Scotty was certain that he'd detected a faint ray of hope and that gave him the courage to take this step all the way through. Reluctantly, he released her and ran his hand nervously though his hair, plowing forward.

"I know y'a probly don't wanna hear this from me, but we both know my timin' usually sucks and I'm crap when it comes to boundaries." His sheepish smile drew her in and Lilly hung on every word, her heart overriding her innate sense of self-preservation. That small flame had ignited into an inferno within her and she allowed herself to believe that maybe things could be different this time. Maybe she could change and let Scotty make it over her walls. He was halfway there already.

"I just can't stop thinkin' 'bout something Smith said … everyone's gotta have somethin' t'a hold onto." Scotty held her gaze, determined to draw her out of the darkness. "He was right 'bout that, y'know. That's what makes us human, but he didn't get it." Scotty sucked in a deep breath, knowing that what he was about to say would change things forever. He just wasn't sure which way it would go. "Having somethin' to hold onto doesn't make y'a weak. I know … 'cause I've been holdin' on t'a you, Lil for a long time now an' I've neva felt stronger."

Lilly couldn't move, couldn't breathe. She tried to speak, but her throat worked in vain, unable to produce any sort of sound. He couldn't possibly be saying what she thought he was. Sure, she'd daydreamed about it, but this was Scotty, her partner. She'd never honestly believed he could feel that way, never allowed herself to think he could possibly see her in any other light than the harsh fluorescent glare of work. Hesitantly, she searched Scotty's eyes, certain that her exhaustion was getting to her and she was reading too much into this, that she'd find only friendly concern or worse, pity in his gaze.

What she actually found there nearly knocked her knees out from under her. Scotty stared back with an intensity she'd never known. His dark gaze burned with a fire that mirrored the one that grew steadily within her. His eyes glowed with certainty and warmth and something she dared not put a name on. Her heart threatened to beat out of her chest, but she still couldn't force her lips to move.

Scotty's heart had stopped. He watched as Lilly slowly, carefully came out of the dark, inch by inch, still reluctant to leave the haven it had become for her. It was like watching someone on the edge of a diving board, waiting for them to jump, and Scotty was beginning to believe that Lilly wasn't going to take the plunge. She seemed frozen, her eyes still shadowed in fear he wasn't sure she'd be able to overcome, fear he worried he'd actually made worse.

She wasn't going to jump.

Lilly was still searching for words when Scotty's eyes shuttered suddenly, wrapping her in an icy chill that startled her with its force. She'd had a taste of the warmth he'd been offering and having it ripped away made the world seem that much colder. She'd been silent too long.

Needing to fill the void, Scotty finally spoke again.

"Look, Lil," he mumbled, unable to meet her eyes any longer. "I'm sorry. That was outta line, I know, but I just needed to tell you … I know it ain't somethin' you wanna deal with, 'specially from me. I just needed to get that offa my chest."

Lilly's heart screamed at her as he backpedaled. 'There goes your chance, girl! He's going to walk out that door. You keep wanting to change … this is it. This is your chance. Say something!'

Still, fear kept her rooted.

Scotty backed up a step, certain he'd long overstayed his welcome. However, he just couldn't help one last try.

"Lil, I … ah … know I've prob'ly fucked things up completely… so I'm … uh … gonna go, but you gotta know I'll still always be here … for you … if y'a need me. Remember, all y'a gotta do is say 'hey'."

Sighing, Scotty turned to leave, hoping beyond hope he hadn't just screwed up the best relationship in his life beyond repair, that he wouldn't come into the office on Monday to discover her desk empty. Suddenly exhausted, he forced himself to head for the door, to finally give up, go home and try to start to forget this whole mess. He was so deep into his self-flagellation that he almost didn't hear it. But, his heart was still listening and her tiny, broken 'Hey' stopped him in his tracks.

He'd barely heard it, but that one whispered word seeped into his heart, sending a pervasive warmth out from his core. She'd said it once before, but at the time it had been tinged with the fear and resignation of being trapped with a killer. This time, her voice was warmer, still hesitant, but with a distinct note of hope … even promise.

Heart hammering in his chest, Scotty turned and met what had to be the most beautiful sight he'd ever seen. Lilly had lowered herself to the bed, perching on the edge, hands grasping the comforter as though she was trying to keep herself from bolting. Her lips were curved into an uncertain smile, but it was her eyes that took his breath away. Her eyes were luminous in the golden light, shining with unshed tears and more open than he'd ever seen them. He was drawn into their depths, trying to make sense of all the emotions that she was pouring forth. It was like she'd made a conscious decision to flip a switch and everything that she'd held back all these years was now spilling into the room around them.

It was more than he could process in one night, but he latched onto the hope he still found in her indigo gaze, hope that she wasn't making a mistake, hope that this … whatever it was between them, was real … hope that things for her, for them, could really change. The enormous amount of trust she was bestowing on him at that moment was staggering and Scotty vowed silently to never betray her gift.

Lilly, for her part, was terrified, terrified that she was reading the situation wrong, terrified that she was setting herself up for more pain, terrified of losing her job if somehow this … thing wasn't a figment of her imagination. Still, she stared back resolutely, having dropped her mask completely. Her heart had won the battle and wouldn't settle for doing things halfway. So, she sat there letting Scotty truly see her for the first time, hoping that he would still recognize her, hoping it didn't send him running.

He wasn't running. In fact, he wasn't really moving at all. Scotty simply gazed back, his warm, dark eyes reflecting the hurricane of emotions that she knew was swirling within her own. The connection that arced between them was almost a tangible thing. Lilly could feel it growing, building, sparking like a current through a live wire. Before she could register the movement, Scotty had crossed the room and was at her side on the bed and suddenly she was drowning in his coffee-coloured eyes. It was too much. She'd never let go like this with anyone and her world started to spin as she realized just how big a risk she was taking. With Scotty, she was risking everything.

The fear must have crept back into her irises, because suddenly Scotty's warm hand gently cupped her cheek.

"It's okay," he whispered. "I'm scared, too."

She closed her eyes and leaned into his touch before she could stop herself, reveling in the simple connection that flowed through his calloused fingers.

Scotty couldn't help but sweep his thumb gently across her cheek, marveling at the softness of her skin. He could've sat this way forever, but his exhausted muscles protested loudly and he knew he had to break the spell. Leaning in, Scotty whispered into her hair.

"C'mon, Lil. Let's get some sleep. I don't know 'bout you, but I'm beat."

Lilly opened her eyes and smiled fully for the first time that night. It was breathtaking and Scotty suddenly had to suppress the desire to pinch himself, just to be sure he wasn't dreaming. He knew that despite this first, unbelievable step, he and Lilly had a long road ahead. He knew that just because her eyes shone tonight with everything they couldn't put into words, it didn't mean that tomorrow she wouldn't disappear back into the darkness. So tonight Scotty would be thankful for the sudden permission to touch her, to offer support through the strong grip of his fingers around hers, to remind her that she wasn't alone.

Kicking off his shoes, Scotty rose from the bed, encouraging her with a glance to follow. He'd taken so many risks tonight he figured he might as well go for gusto. Holding his breath, Scotty pulled down the comforter, maintaining Lilly's gaze all the while, watching intently for any sign that he'd taken things too far. She only smiled shakily as he slipped into the bed, before lying down next to him and settling her back against his chest. His breath returned in a rush as the warm length of her body pressed snugly against his own. If anyone had told him that his day would end with him sharing the warmth of his partner's bed, surrounded by the subtle vanilla scent of her hair, he would've told them they were nuts. Now, Scotty couldn't imagine a more natural place to be.

The voices that howled in her head, circling her thoughts like vultures on a carcass slowly died away, fading into the night as Scotty's arms stole around her, easing away the fear she'd always held so close. It should've felt weird, or wrong somehow, being there … like that, with Scotty. However, as her heartbeat slowed in time with his, Lilly actually felt settled, she felt right, for the first time in a long time. Sure, there was still a part deep down in the darkness that wanted to run, but that part was becoming smaller and smaller with every pass of Scotty's fingers over arms. Reaching out, Lilly grasped his hand, bringing it to her heart and letting him feel the racing beats even out as he held her tethered to this world. Settling deeper into his embrace, Lilly held tight, threading her fingers through his, as she finally let herself succumb to sleep. The night enveloped them in a blanket of peace and when the darkness finally yielded to the growing light of dawn, she never let go.