A/N: I don't even know what this is anymore. I started it as one thing, and it completely turned into another. Oh well. I hope you enjoy!
Olivia took a shaky breath that only partially filled her lungs with the crisp night air. The floorboards beneath her feet shifted slightly as she stood still, as if accustomed to her weight. She squinted from the artificial light of the fluorescent lightbulb above her and of her cellphone screen as she held it before her and paused before she pressed "Send" on the text message that she would decidedly regret as soon as she had.
Elliot lay with his eyes fixed on the seemingly endless void that was his bedroom ceiling. His bare chest rose slowly then sank more quickly as he expelled a sign of exasperation at the images and words that appeared to form a continuous loop of a film playing in his mind tonight, the old hauntingly familiar film that reminded him of everything he yearned for but still refused for himself...
The sudden bright glow of his cellphone screen caught his attention as it lit up the dark room from where it lay on his nightstand. He felt his heart race as he reached for the phone, an old habit conditioned from the fact that he was always expected to be on call. A different kind of urgency caused his heart to continue to hammer against his ribcage as he saw her name on the screen.
"Meet me downstairs?"
It was a question, not a statement. This was an insignificant recognition, perhaps, but still something told him that this encounter would be different than the last time.
Olivia shifted her weight from one foot to the other as she waited another moment at the door. How long had she been standing there? She couldn't recall exactly, but by now she guessed he wasn't coming.
"Leaving already?" he called as soon as her foot had dropped from the bottom step to the ground.
The gold of her necklace glinted in the lamplight as she turned back to face him. His lips curved into a grin as he looked down at her. Olivia did not return his smile, but her features softened as she met his eyes.
"Guess not," she replied more softly than intended.
"Come inside," he offered, meeting the softness of her voice.
Olivia's eyes widened as he turned back to the door. She had expected them to sit together on the steps as they had the last time. Something about the inside of his apartment at this time of night presented an intimacy that nibbled warningly at her the back of her mind.
"Have a seat," Elliot said as he sank onto a stool in the kitchen.
The line of Olivia's lip thinned as she shook her head, her tousled hair shaking slightly at her shoulders. She hadn't had her hair down the last time she was here, but Elliot preferred the natural way it looked now, and he ached to run his fingers through the silky strands.
"I won't stay long," she said simply, dropping her gaze to the floor.
"Why not?" he wanted to ask, but he held his tongue.
Elliot watched her expectantly but patiently as she appeared to be struggling with what she wanted to say. The light seemed to fade from her eyes as her courage faltered before him.
"I'm sorry," Olivia said quietly at last. "Maybe I shouldn't have come."
She smiled softly at him, but the sadness in her eyes made the expression look painful and bitter instead. Elliot's eyebrows knitted together in confusion as she turned away slightly and wrapped her arms protectively around her body. He rose from the stool and approached her slowly. Olivia took a sharp intake of breath as she braced herself from the nearness of him.
His warm hand on her elbow felt like a heavy blow and a soothing balm all at once. She didn't know whether she wanted to pull away or lean further into his arms.
"Why did you come here tonight?"
His words were not accusatory, but they stung her still.
"I don't know," she nearly whispered.
Elliot's hand was still on her elbow, and it burned like fire on her skin. She needed it to stop, but she wanted more.
"Why did you come here?" he repeated, his voice lower and warmer this time.
She shrugged, partially in response to his question but also to pull herself from his hold on her.
"I missed you," she answered hoarsely. More words she regretted tonight...
His eyes searched her face as she squinted her eyes shut for a moment, as if bracing herself for impact. When Olivia opened her eyes, the muscle in Elliot's jaw was working itself, as if he was struggling to either hold back or let go.
"Then it doesn't make much sense to leave already," he said quietly, brushing his fingertips down her arm.
Olivia pulled away slightly and attempted to ignore the shiver that spread from his touch and surged like wildfire throughout her body.
"I can't," she began, then faltered.
"You can't leave?" Elliot teased, flashing her a cocky grin. "That's what I was hoping for."
He stepped toward her. He was too close now, much too close. His body heat and warm scent were tantalizing her senses, begging for physical contact as if it were a drug. He reached for her again, but she pulled from his grasp before he could touch her. Before he had time to react, Olivia was heading for the door.
"I'm really sorry," she said suddenly, turning back to him when she was out of his reach.
"Why are you always running?"
His voice was thick with a mixture of sadness and a bitter anger that startled her. His eyes flashed with what was once intrigue but was now danger of a different sort. His fist itched to slam violently into something, anything to make him feel something he knew was real, because this... he didn't know anymore what was real and what was an unattainable tease. The moment Olivia's gaze dropped to the floor and she shook her head almost imperceptibly, he knew she wouldn't answer him.
"You come here and say you miss me, and then you run the moment I try and get close to you?" he spewed, his eyes becoming darker and his speech becoming more rapid with every word. "You know what I miss, Liv? I miss us. This, whatever this is, whoever we're trying to pretend like we are now... this isn't us."
Olivia was still avoiding his gaze, but he saw as her eyes grew large and glazed. She looked to him as though she were enduring physical pain, but surely it could not come close to comparing with the sharp ache he felt in his chest, the enduring pain that he could never seem to fully relieve.
"When did we get like this? When did it happen?"
Olivia shook her head quickly. He had to stop. She needed him to stop talking before she broke completely. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself again, as if trying to hold back in case she finally shattered. Elliot took a small step toward her but regretted it when she winced. She heard him release a sigh, but he did not attempt to move toward her again.
"I'm not going to try and make you stay," he said evenly, almost too calmly. "You know me better than that. But I want you to stay."
"You should get some sleep," Olivia said at last, her voice small.
"Are you listening to anything I'm saying?"
"Elliot," she whispered, almost pleading with him.
Her lips were trembling now, and her eyes had a wild sheen to them. He wanted to hold her but refused to frighten her again.
"Liv," he spoke soothingly, "you can leave if you want, but you're more than welcome to stay."
"Can I sleep here?" she asked timidly. "Just on the couch, I mean..."
A warm smile spread on Elliot's face.
"Of course," he answered without hesitation. "Let me get you a blanket."
He was back in a matter of moments from the hallway storage closet, but part of him half expected her to have disappeared in that matter of time. He tossed a pillow on the couch for her and handed her a soft fleece blanket.
"Thank you," she said, sinking down onto the couch. "Elliot?"
"Will you stay with me for a little while?"
"You're not going to run again are you?"
His tone was not accusing or bitter this time, perhaps because he was simply thankful for her choosing to stay. Olivia shook her head, looking ashamed. Elliot sat down gently beside her, as if being careful not to make any bold or sudden movements that might frighten her away. He took the blanket from her and draped it over her body. He was surprised when she lifted the corner of the blanket to let him underneath as well, but he accepted the invitation gratefully. She was hesitant as she reached her arms around him, absorbing the warmth of the blanket and of him. Elliot's breathing was shallow at first as Olivia rested her head into the crook of his neck, as if too hard of a breath would have chased her away.
"Is this okay?" she asked, barely over a whisper.
"Perfect," he replied, resting his chin on the top of her head.
"I had a dream about you tonight," Olivia whispered.
Elliot felt her body tense, and he knew she was beginning to confess as to what had brought her here tonight.
"Oh? Do you want to talk about it?" he asked, careful not to pressure her.
She shook her head and bit down on her lip.
"It wasn't a good dream..."
Elliot nodded understandingly as she nuzzled her head further into the comfort of his chest. He knew those dreams well. Too often he had awakened in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat from the fear of unspeakable dangers that had come to him in the form of far too vivid dreams in which Olivia had been threatened or injured, or worse... The dangers had always been toward her, never him; he knew he wouldn't have been has wholly terrified if they had been toward him, but his dreams had chosen her as their target and had left behind a trail of ice cold fear that had followed him even long after the sun had risen and the nightly shadows had been chased away. Even now he felt the grip of fear from the memories he had of those nightmares. It was this empathetic understanding that led him to tighten the protective hold of his arms around Olivia now.
"I know it's silly," she continued quietly, "but I had to know you were okay."
Elliot shook his head and gave her a small, understanding smile.
"Not silly at all."
He smoothed her hair with his hand, allowing his fingers to run gently through her silky waves. Olivia felt her eyelids become heavy and her eyelashes flutter as Elliot's warmth soothed her and made her drowsy with a deep sense of peace that she had not known in far too long.
"Lie down," he instructed, guiding her head to the pillow when he recognized she could fight sleep no longer.
He smiled as she whimpered slightly and tugged at the hem of his shirt.
"Don't leave," she whispered sleepily without opening her eyes. "Sleep here."
Her eyes fluttered open languidly to meet his gaze. She fought hard to keep her eyes open, but the weight of slumber was quickly overtaking her again.
Elliot nodded, praying she would not regret this when she awakened, as he lay down behind her and placed an arm protectively across her waist. The warmth of her cradled into him soothed him in a way he hadn't expected, in a way he hadn't realized he had needed. Soon he would join her in slumber and, for the first time in months, they would both have a restful night, void of the terrors that typically haunted them at night and which were all too real during the day.
Morning would come too quickly, but like the nightmares that left their mark of fear hours after they had ceased, their night of peace would leave them refreshed and comforted for long after and would somehow make even the following days seem more bearable and content. They would marvel silently in the days to come at how much a simple night could change so much, could mean so much. The nightmares would return for both of them eventually, but the comfort found in each other would be enough to chase away the fear and bring about a new hope to withstand the night.