Like Breathing

It's telling maybe that beyond the blood and the anger and the fear, they also share the same disease. They share the same air after all, but they brush off colds on each other like paint rubbing off a hit-and-run. When it comes to the stomach flu, they show up the same night with plastic bottles of 7-Up and matching expressions of misery.

"Sorry," Elliot mumbles at her. "It was probably one of my kids."

Or the 56 different and random people they'd had contact with the day before. She doesn't tell him, it seems like too much effort, but she shrugs his apology off and goes to sit on her heels in the women's bathroom for a while.

He's sitting outside the door when she comes out again.

It's a cold night, and he can see his own sick breath in the air. Half of his 7-Up is languishing in the nearby garbage can, put there by his own stomach, and his eyes fight to stay open behind the wheel.

Olivia writes carefully in a small notebook, keeping record of their surveillance, the paper turned toward the single glow of light from the streetlamp. She has gloves on and it's difficult. He listens to her swallow.

Then he listens to her throw up as she drops the notebook and shoves the car door open. She isn't in time to climb out, just leans out and silently heaves onto the pavement. When she's finished she leans her head wearily against the door panel and takes a moment.

He reaches for her water bottle, unscrewing the cap. When she collapses back into her seat, he hands it to her. She sips and spits before closing the car door against the winter wind.

"Well," she says, voice a little scratchy. "This sucks."

He wants to laugh, because Liv can be funny when she doesn't really mean to be, and his stomach has stopped flipping around so much. Instead, when she tilts her head forward and rubs tiredly at her eyes, he slides his glove off and slips his hand onto the hot, bare skin of her nape.

She sucks her breath in and then seems to cave a bit. She makes a wordless sound that stirs up the worry in his gut.

"What?" he asks.

She hesitates, and that makes him worry more.

Then she says, "Your hand is cold." But her voice is relieved, pleased, and he knows her skin feels warm and feverish like his, and that his cold hand is a good thing.

And that makes his stomach flip in a way that has nothing to do with the flu.

She watches him through the car window. He's crouched down in the darkness of the alley, and she knows his shadow, the way his body moves. He's done throwing up, and his breath mists out all white into the freezing air. He's taking a moment, his forehead braced on his fist, the brick wall of a building holding all of him up.

It's not a job where you can just call in sick. Sometimes shit happens at the worst possible time and you have to be ready for it.

God, she just wants to go home and go to bed. She wants to take a hot shower and drive the cold from her fingers, then she wants to press ice to her eyes and take the heat from her head, and then she just wants to sleep. For a week.

He doesn't come back. When she looks, he's sitting down on the pavement.

No, no. It's too cold for that. She gets out and the biting wind feels good, then bad. It jolts her out of her fever a bit though, and the smoke in her mind clears. She lowers herself to her heels beside him.

"El. Come on." She puts a gloved hand on his arm, the other on his nape. She's surprised sometimes how she can feel all that pent-up power in him, even through layers of clothes. Even when he's almost down for the count.

"Don't think I'm done yet," he says, and his jaw is tight.

They haven't had anything except 7-Up and water for hours.

"Come on," she says again, and he lurches to his feet for her.

"Jesus, Liv, this is fucked," he mutters.

It is. "We should call Cragen, tell him how bad we are. He'll call it off for tonight."

He looks at her and finally nods.

And that's when the shots split the night, and the guy they were watching falls out the window.

She's surprised at how quickly her body responds when it has to. Even rolled up under the sickness and the fatigue.

At least the hospital is warm. And bright. And has clean bathrooms.

The suspect needs surgery, and they call Cragen who tells them to just hang out until he can find replacements. The flu is going around, you know.

The guy comes out okay and goes into recovery, and Elliot asks the doctor about the flu.

"Drink Gatorade," the doctor says.

"Gee, thanks, Doc," Elliot says

The Doc just shrugs and tosses his hands in the air. "What else do you want? We can't cure the stomach flu, Detective. It has to run its course. Try not to become dehydrated. Get some sleep."

Sleep. Right.

He gets the Gatorade anyway though. One red and one blue and that'll be pretty coming back up again at least. A splash of color. And when he gets back to the room, Olivia is practically sleeping already on the lone bench seat in the hallway.

She stirs when he sits down beside her, and he holds up the bottles. "Red or blue?"

"What the fuck?" she mutters, sleepily, confused, and he has to smile.

"Doc said to drink Gatorade. Replace the stuff you lost while throwing up, I guess."

She takes the red and grimaces as she sips. "Cragen says it'll be a few hours before he can get anyone here to relieve us."

And isn't that just fucking grand. The toll on his body is wearing him down, and the tiredness is tugging at his eyelids. He feels heavy.

"He's cuffed," he says, and his own voice sounds deep and raspy. "Find a place to catch a few winks. I'll watch him."

"If he's cuffed and out, you might as well catch a few yourself."

He shrugs and slouches back against the seat. It's padded and moderately comfortable. Not long enough to stretch out on. Maybe Liv could, if she curled, and he thinks about telling her to lie down while he sits on the floor.

Instead her head hits his shoulder and when he glances down she's already half out.


She makes some wordless sound, so soft he can barely hear it, and when he leans his head back it rests perfectly against the wall.

And that's how their back-up finds them three hours later.

She almost falls asleep in the car during the drive home. Her place is on the way to the station, so he stops, because sleeping in her own bed is a lot more attractive than sleeping in the crib.

She glances at him, and he looks like hell. He falls asleep at the wheel when he's tired. She knows this. All military guys do it. They learn to fall asleep fast when they need to.

"You can crash here, El," she tells him.

"Nah," he says. "I'll make it to the house."

She sighs, wearily. "Fuck you, don't be an idiot."

He's too tired to fight with her. He just looks at her, and there's something there in his eyes that makes her pause. And she thinks maybe she should be recognizing something, paying attention, but she's having a hard time figuring it all out.

"I have toast," she says, and it's almost amusing how much of an incentive that is.

He gets out of the car and follows her up.

In her apartment she turns the heat up and keeps the lights down.

He peels his layers off so slowly that it's almost painful to watch. She makes two pieces of toast and holds her fingers over the toaster and its heat.

He turns the TV on, and it's some early morning low-budget movie. She thinks she's seen it before. It has David Caruso in it, perfecting the art of wearing sunglasses.

She can only carry the toast and one glass of water, so that's all she bears as she sits beside him on the sofa.

They eat gingerly and share the water. The TV flickers in the darkness.

"Go to bed," he says when they're done. "I'll sleep here."

"Okay," she says, and she doesn't move. Her body feels like melted lead, too weak to hold her properly. She likes having the TV on when she's sick and trying to sleep. It 's… comforting.



She still doesn't move, feels her eyelids slipping shut, her head tilting.

The warmth of a blanket swallows her, and then all she can smell is Elliot and the cotton of his shirt, and he's warm, so, so warm.

And she feels his breath against her forehead as he breathes her skin, but it's his heartbeat that leads her out.