Part Three

Part Three

Elliot was actually more of a stand-up guy than Olivia had ever given him credit for. She always knew his heart was in the right place, but she was the first to admit his temper usually got the better of him. So when faced with his wife's infidelity, Olivia fully expected Elliot to react with ire, well deserved as it might be, and to feel vindicated regarding all of his failings, since his devotion to his job was hardly a crime when compared with Kathy's betrayal.

She unhappily anticipated a sullen, grumpy, furious Elliot would be at her side for the foreseeable future, especially so during the brutal pre-divorce period while he was embarrassing both himself and his wife by revealing her adultery in open court. She wouldn't even have been surprised to face a sullen, grumpy, furious Elliot explaining how he'd decided to let it go and forgive Kathy out of an altruistic love for his children and a rather selfish inability to be alone.

So she was admittedly surprised a week later, when Elliot had shown up with more movies, to hear her partner's quiet confession that he'd talked to a lawyer and was filing for a No Fault Conversion divorce, the same type Kathy had hit him with several years earlier. Perplexed, she'd grilled him, only to discover the depth of the altruism inside of him. He'd told her that he didn't want to embarrass Kathy or to make his kids think they needed to choose sides. Instead of getting the faster, self-centered divorce by accusing her of adultery, he was opting to spend a year of being legally separated once again and keeping the divorce as civil as he could until it was finalized.

And after six months of turning if over in her head, she still didn't quite get it. Because if someone had screwed her over like that, she would have taken them to task, doing everything in her power to mortify them. Because she was the type to rip the bandage off in one horribly painful moment and so would have wanted the damn papers signed and filed and out of her way. Because she wasn't sure she could imagine the type of love that would allow Elliot to continue protecting Kathy after what she'd done to him.

Their loose plan for movies and popcorn had slowly become a ritual for them, as much of a ritual as they could commit to with their jobs. As often as they could spare an evening, which usually only worked out to once every two weeks or so, they holed up in her living room, never his newly leased place, with the shades drawn and their phones turned off, blocking out anything besides the evening's entertainment and the occasional pizza guy. They'd started with comedies, something that would keep their minds off reality, and slowly worked their way into others, eventually settling on every cop movie ever made. Sitting in the dark until the wee hours, picking so many holes in them that they couldn't watch without laughing, no matter how serious the subject matter.

They rarely did much planning for the evenings, knowing that nights off were to be snagged when they were available. It had only taken a few times for Olivia to recognize a slightly upsetting effect of their time together – she infinitely preferred spending her time off with Elliot to dating. For her, dating was a chore, and more often than not, a boring, disappointing chore that never actually got completed. She was forever having to cancel plans, having to beg forgiveness from someone she barely knew because there were criminals to be apprehended, while Elliot was more than understanding when things came up, because he was usually stuck working right along side of her anyway.

Then there was the dress code. Dates always meant dressing up, spending hours finding something with just the right mix of sex appeal and modesty that would interest her date without making any promises. It usually involved hose and uncomfortable shoes and shirts that she had to be careful about moving in. Her nights sprawled on her couch while Elliot hogged her armchair, however, were utterly relaxed. The man had seen her dressed to the nines and in her finest hooker gear and rarely gave any indication whatsoever that he noticed what she wore. In fact, while her typical ensemble included jeans or sweats, she had actually worn her flannel pajamas on one occasion, although she had been suffering through the flu at the time. All that Elliot noticed that night had been her raging fever and missed half the movie while trying to tempt her with various cures from chicken soup to popsicles to some mystery drink that smelled like garlic and onions which only made her want to retch.

But ultimately, it was the anxious tension and uncertainty inherent in dating that made her nights with Elliot seem like godsend. First dates, second dates, last dates, no matter how much or how little time she'd spent with the man, she was forever dealing with expectations and disappointments. When she liked them, she was never sure where to draw the line at the end of the night for fear of scaring them off by attacking them or running them off by convincing them she was a prude. When she disliked them, she dreaded the inevitable scene at her door while she tried to escape a kiss or a hug or anything at all that might encourage them to call back. There was no touching with Elliot, or at least, nothing that wasn't chaste or accidental. There was no worry about the end of the night; it would simply arrive with one or both of them passed out in their seats. The following morning was always relaxed and calm, the previous evening's peace having soothed away some of their stress.

Every once in a while and with an increasing frequency, Olivia's thoughts drifted someplace they weren't supposed to. When it happened it was usually towards the end of the second movie, when she was already well on her way to sleep, when Elliot was so transfixed with the plot that he wouldn't notice her intense stare, when she had already dosed off enough to have no hope of catching up with the movie, when she was too tired to censor herself.

It was then that she marveled at the man in front of her. And six months to the day from that fateful night, Olivia found herself in one of those states. Rather than the chair, Elliot was sitting on the floor, using the coffee table as his tray as he picked at the last of the pizza which was several hours cold. With his attention divided between the flickering television and the pizza, Olivia felt sure he wouldn't notice the way her eyes lingered on him.

She'd noticed the slight shift in his personality since that night, at least in his personality as it related to her. In the past, he'd always locked her out, made her pry the smallest piece of information out of him, declared his life off limits, refused to let her in. She hated herself for thinking something good had come from his pain, but she couldn't deny it either. She'd been there, witnessed firsthand the event which uprooted his life, possibly even influenced the night in as positive way as could be. And she imagined it was because of her presence that night that Elliot had, for once, decided to make her privy to the changes in his personal life.

Opening up to her about the divorce seemed to set off a cascade of changes in him. Or, she sometimes entertained, it had been the unprecedented level of intimacy they'd reached that night. She thought she might have passed some sort of unplanned, trustworthiness test that night, by not only supporting him through the pain, but also by not letting him make things worse, either by beating up Kathy's boyfriend or by burying the hurt in mindless sex. She'd prevented him from doing both and so, perhaps, earned a higher ranking in his esteem. But she seriously doubted he consciously realized it, and she knew he definitely hadn't intended to test her. She'd simply been there that night, in front of him, easy, available, damn close to willing.

The problem was that she didn't know how to deal with the feelings that night had stirred up, especially not in light of how much more time she was spending in Elliot's presence. She was determined to be the friend he needed, supporting him, being there for him, listening on the rare occasion that he wanted to talk. Unfortunately, it meant she had to ignore her own issues, the desires she knew she couldn't mention, let alone satiate. It seemed unfair that she was constantly being taunted by his proximity, so close yet so unattainable.

More than once, her sleep had been interrupted by wonderful, terrifying dreams. Dreams that sometimes started by reliving that night, when he'd touched her, really touched her, for the first time. Sometimes they started differently, yet always in her living room. Despite her best attempts to squash her feelings, her unconscious did as it wanted, as she wanted, in all honesty. She craved his touch and, although her Superego reigned supreme during her waking hours, her Id took over at night, trying to give her what she couldn't admit to wanting. Just the thought of how his mouth seemed to fit against hers, of how his hands seemed to already know just where to go, of how easily his touch could have convinced her to abandon good sense, set her cheeks burning and her heart pounding. That was why she refused, or tried her damnedest to refuse, to think about it when she was around him, because he'd know immediately that she was turned on and she had no reason to embarrass herself or make things uncomfortable for them both.

But there was nothing she could do those nights as she was losing conscious touch with the world, when he was right there, so close she could smell him, when her mind replayed the way he'd held her and touched her and kissed her, when she could practically see the heat in his eyes, eyes she realized with a guilty start that were fixed on her.

"Liv?"

"Huh?" She wanted to feign sleepiness, but he'd seen her eyes open and she knew it wouldn't fly.

"It may not be the best movie in the world, but it has to beat staring at me." He said it with a smile, trying to make a joke out of the fact that he'd caught her.

And it took quite a bit of internal strength for her not to dispute the utter inaccuracy of his statement. Instead of mortifying them both, she waved her hand toward the screen, searching the air for the name of the star and finding nothing but eyes so intense she could have sworn she could see their vibrant gleam in the dark room. She tried to shake off the memory of when he'd been so much closer. "Well, you know, he's really not my type."

She expected him to run with it, ignore her stare, go back to being relaxed, make some crack about how he wasn't about to rent movies based on her favorite actors.

Instead, his eyes held hers, pinning her in place. "And I am?"

Had they been characters in one of the dozens of movies they'd watched, he would have known the answer and delivered the question in a deep, emotional charged whisper as he moved to kiss her. But they weren't. So his tone and his playful grin revealed exactly how preposterous he believed the concept to be.

Feeling rebuked, even though she knew he hadn't intended it, she forced a smile at him and turned her eyes back to the television. Some poor soul was in the midst of being shot a purely gratuitous number of times and Olivia sadly considered the idea that she was pretty sure she knew how it felt to have her insides shredded. That she might be attracted to him was such a far-fetched notion to Elliot as to be both surprising and hilarious crushed her. It was bad enough that she knew she couldn't have what she wanted, she didn't need to be a joke as well.

With her gaze firmly affixed to the movie, she expected he would go back to it as well. His joking comment hardly deserved an answer. But a moment later, she felt his hand brush across hers, a move that normally would have sent shivers of excitement through her. Right then, however, it served only to underscore how very much in the dark he was regarding her thoughts. She went to pull away, wanting him to take the hint that she wasn't interested in talking, hoping to send him a wildly incorrect idea that she didn't want to be touched either.

But his hand closed around hers, keeping her from recoiling. "Liv, what?"

She glanced at their hands, desperately fighting the desire to revel in the warmth. She denied the urge, like she usually did. "What what?"

He moved then, turning around, climbing to his knees, resting his elbows on the edge of the couch, encroaching on her personal space in such a way that he was liable to wind up with Olivia cluing him in on why that was a bad idea, a demonstration which she fully intended to be physical rather than verbal. His hand remained closed around hers, insisting on keeping her grounded in the conversation, as though he thought there was a way she might escape it. "Something's going on, Liv. I want to know what."

Her eyes hesitated on him for a second before flicking back to the movie. She couldn't look at him, not when he was so close, not when she was feeling raw and exposed, not when she knew he wouldn't even give her the pleasure of being rude about rejecting her. No, if there was one thing she knew, it was that Elliot would be a total gentleman about refusing her, letting her down easy, promising her they'd always be friends.

The thought of the sweet way he'd try not to hurt her brought tears to her eyes, tears that Elliot, being so close to her, couldn't miss.

His hand moved to touch her chin, turning her back to look at him. "What's wrong?"

She'd been upset when he held her hand and, there she was, suddenly wishing he'd go back to that instead of letting his fingertips lightly press against her cheek. She shook her head slightly and shrugged as best she could while she was lying down. "It's nothing, El. I just need some sleep."

His eyes narrowed, a pained expression forming, like he was genuinely hurt by her lack of explanation. He studied her for a while before he started to smile. "Sit up."

She glared at him. Just because he'd gotten in touch with his feelings and decided to share them with her didn't mean that she'd had that same revelation. She wanted to sit there and contemplate the heartbreak that was her life and take some sort of comfort in his company, even while his presence seemed to torture her as well. "Why?"

He stood up, keeping her hand closed in his. "Just sit up, ok?"

With her stupid and improper joy at the physical contact hidden behind a mask of comically fake suspicion, she groaned and shifted into a sitting position, letting her legs brush by his as they moved to the ground. Frowning up at him, she yanked on her hand, but hoped he wouldn't let go. "There, I'm up. Can I have my hand back now?"

He lifted her hand, leaving her completely confused for only a moment, as he turned around and planted himself beside her, keeping her hand in his as he lifted his arm around her shoulders. He propped his feet up on the coffee table and used his arm to pull her into his side. His other hand slid under her knees, lifting them, guiding them across his lap.

She offered no resistance to his repositioning. She couldn't spare the energy to fight him, not when she was busy trying to come up with legitimate reasons why he was going so far out of his way to touch her as well as trying to think of a single reason why she shouldn't jump him.

He did, finally, release her hand, but it was only long enough to press her head down onto his shoulder. Then he took hold of her again, lacing his fingers between hers.

For a brief moment, she was fairly certain she'd died and gone to heaven.

His voice was soft, soothing and gentle, as he tried to wheedle an answer from her. "You know you can tell me anything, right?"

She didn't respond right away, instead trying to take everything in and lock it away for a lonely, sad night. She wanted to remember the warmth that radiated from him, the safety in his hold, the natural way it felt to have his hand entwined with hers, the gentle beating of his heart under her ear, the slow, even rise and fall of his chest that told her he was actually comfortable enough to fall asleep right where he was.

And for some reason, she felt secure enough to speak. "Anything? You mean that?"

She could hear the smile in his voice as he answered, a low rumbling in his chest catching a laugh but for their positions she never would have noticed. "Yeah, anything."

She decided he'd taught her a new kind of bravery that night, facing the destruction of something he held so dear and not falling apart. He'd built something else instead, something new, something, she hoped, better. Taking in a deep breath, she decided that he'd passed the trustworthiness test too and figured she might as well confess. "I think I'm in love with you."

He sounded so relaxed and unconcerned when he spoke that she wondered if he'd actually heard her. "Why do you think I come over here all the time?"

The unexpected question distracted her and she actually found herself wondering. She'd always secretly thought it had to do with the fact that she only had that one shy mouse while he had, she was sure in the few times she'd seen his apartment, a much more sizable cockroach infestation. But it was hardly the time to mention his need for an exterminator. And she didn't want to repeat herself, on the off chance that he'd misheard her and interpreted her statement to be something much more acceptable than it had been.

"I really haven't got a clue, El."

She heard the laughter that time, but she didn't have a chance to call him on the cruelty of laughing at her because he'd released her hand once again, using all ten fingers to force her chin up to face him. He was smiling, his whole face transformed with a lightness, an energy that she'd never seen before.

"I love you, Olivia. I want to be around you. That's why I chase you home on the weekends after I've spent all week with you."

Her eyes widened, his confession so thoroughly unexpected that she couldn't think, let alone respond. But his mouth closed over hers in that moment, indicating that he didn't really want an answer.

At least, not in so many words.