I Choose You
The mouth of the beer bottle was a frosty kiss on Scotty's lips as he poured yet another swallow of the chilled amber liquid down his throat. The cold of the glass seeped through his gloves; the chill of the late-autumn air bled through the double layers of his favorite gray hoodie and the heavy Phillies jacket he'd thrown on over it. But none of that could compare to the icy numbness in his heart.
He sat in a lawn chair on the roof of his building, the city lights twinkling before him like dozens of tiny stars, the cars swishing by on the brick streets below, echoing the slosh of the beer in the bottle as he lowered it to his lap and twirled it absently in his fingers.
He'd only brought out one chair this time. No need for a second one. Not tonight.
No, on this night, it was just him. Him and his beer and the traffic and the cloudy night sky. He wondered where Lilly was. What she was doing. Who she was doing it with. Trying like hell not to wonder. Loving her. Hating her.
He supposed this would be more or less the permanent state of things, after the way they'd left them the other night at Jones's. He'd made his position perfectly clear…but so had she. And the last couple nights as he'd sat here on the roof mulling it over, he'd been forced to face stark reality. Though leaving had been the least painful course of action for him, his doing so had undeniably hurt the woman he loved. And in that back room, he'd seen just how deep the wound ran. He'd seen the depthless pain in her eyes, heard her hurt, angry words. He, the one who'd do anything to remove all the scars on her heart, had inflicted a deep one of his own.
Self-preservation had come at a price. A steep one.
"Thought I might find you here."
It took Scotty a second to realize that the voice wasn't just in his head, but actually there. Behind him. Off to his right. He turned around just to be sure, and there she was. Lilly. Wrenchingly beautiful in a pool of lamplight. That blue woolen scarf wrapped around her neck, the escaped blonde wisps from her ponytail signifying another long day.
His heart soared and sank at the sight of her. Annoyed, he cuffed the ridiculous organ and locked it in a holding cell of extreme caution. What the hell was Lilly doing here? What did she want now?
"I should give this back to you." Only when she lifted her right arm slightly did he notice the ebony fabric draped over it, an almost seamless blend with the black overcoat she wore. It was his tux jacket. The one he'd given her to wear the night of the Blue Ball. He'd forgotten all about it until just now.
Apparently she'd remembered, though. And here she was to give it back. To sever the final tie between them.
Unable to bear the sting of salt in his self-inflicted wounds, he turned away. "Thanks. Just, uh…put it down somewhere." He'd tried like hell to keep the snarl out of his voice, but he wasn't sure quite how successful he was.
There was a long pause; he pictured her blinking, wounded.
"Wouldn't want it to get dirty," she finally said.
Shrugging, Scotty studied the toes of his sneakers. "I gotta get it cleaned anyway." Cleaned, so it won't remind me of you anymore. Good luck, Speedy Kleen. Ain't gonna be that easy.
There was another pause, one that stretched on for so long he wondered if she'd left his jacket after all and slipped, ghost-like, into the night.
But the quiet shuffle of shoes on the concrete told him she was still there.
"We, uh…we found Ellie King's body. Her car."
Scotty lifted the beer to his lips again and watched a taxi roll to a stop on the street below. "Figured you would."
"Bottom of the Schuylkill. Just like Bridget told us when she confessed." Lilly's shoes scraped against the cement again. "Thought you…might wanna know."
"Appreciate it, Lil, but do I really gotta remind you I ain't Homicide anymore?"
"So, what, you don't care?"
"I can't care." Finally, he turned to look at her and saw his own hurt and anger reflected in the bottomless pools of her eyes. They stared at one another for a long moment before she lowered her gaze to the ground and hugged his coat closer to her.
"Look, Scotty. Saccardo's gone."
Scotty gave a bitter chuckle and turned his attention back to the cityscape. "Thought you said he was plannin' to stick around."
"He was," Lilly replied. "But now he's not. Stickin' around, that is."
"Can't say I'm surprised." Scotty took another gulp of beer. "So where's he off to this time? Goin' back under?"
"I don't know." There was a strange lightness to her voice. A smile, almost?
Behind him, she pulled in a breath. "Eddie's not just on a job. He's…gone for good."
"So...what? You need a shoulder to cry on?" He turned to glance at her over his shoulder. "'Cause I can't, Lil. You know that."
"Scotty, I ended it with him. This morning. I—I ended it because…" Her blazing eyes locked on his. "Because I want to be with you."
Scotty's stupid, optimistic heart flung itself against the walls of its cell. He ordered it to quiet down as he took a moment to study Lilly through the fine mist that had begun to swirl in the air. A siren wailed in the distance, barely audible over the pounding of his pulse in his ears.
"You sure it's me you want, Lil? Or do you just not wanna be alone?" He gazed back into the beer bottle. "I can't be your second choice. Can't be the one you settle for."
"Scotty." The plaintive desperation in her voice drew his attention and threatened his carefully-constructed defenses. "You told me I deserved someone I couldn't let walk away from me. Remember? That night in the office, after we went to the classic car expo…you said I deserved someone I couldn't stand to be without. And—and that's you." A tentative smile. "It's you."
"But it's not just me who deserves that. You deserve it, too. You deserve to have someone who doesn't want to be without you for a week…a day…even an hour. Someone who can't breathe without you, remember?" Her eyes were shining. "Scotty, when Eddie left the night of the ball, I was sad…and then I wasn't. Because you were there." Her fingers caressed the fabric of the tux jacket, still draped over her arm. "But when you left? It didn't matter who else was there for me. You were gone. You were gone, and I couldn't breathe."
Scotty was stunned. Floored. Even his overly enthusiastic heart was frozen in place. Because here she was, right here in front of him, saying words he hadn't even dared to dream of her saying. Words he'd ached to hear, from the only person he ever wanted to hear them from.
But this soon? This soon after she was giving it a go with Saccardo? This soon after she'd shattered his heart?
Scotty cleared his throat. Blinked suddenly stinging eyes. "Lil…that night in front of the museum, when we were waitin' for that witness that turned out to be Saccardo? I was gonna tell you…how I felt about you. I was gonna tell you…"
"Scotty…" Tears filled her eyes, and he had to look away lest he lose his battle with his own.
"And then when he whisked you off to the shore, and you came back the next mornin' sayin' he was gonna be around, that you two were gonna give it a chance? Lil, my heart just…it broke. And I don't know if I can—"
"Your heart broke?" Her shrill anger jerked his attention back to her face. "You wanna talk about a broken heart? Scotty, what the hell do you think you did to me when you left the squad?"
The hot tear pooling in the inner corner of his right eye was the only respite from the cold. Even if he could've found the words to answer her, the thickness in his throat wouldn't have let him speak.
"But...I'm here anyway." Her voice was suddenly soft. Tender. Closer.
Surprised at the sudden change, he brushed away the tear, swallowed hard, and looked up. She'd crossed from the doorway to the corner of the rooftop, his coat in her hands, her eyes suddenly, inexplicably radiant.
"I'm here. You broke my heart, and yet…here I am. Giving it right back to you. I'm standing here, holdin' it out, and—and maybe you'll break it again. I don't know." She took a shaky breath. "And my head wanted me to run away. To find someone who didn't have the power to hurt me. Someone I could keep on the outside. But—but my heart was too damn stubborn. My heart wanted you."
Draping his coat over the railing, she spread her hands wide, then let them fall quietly to her sides. "So…here I am. I'm here, because it's you, and—and I love you, Scotty. No matter what happens…I love you."
Her words broke him. Obliterated all his defenses. He couldn't protect himself from her now if he wanted to, and now there wasn't a reason. Because she'd just said she loved him. And if he couldn't believe her words, he could believe her eyes. Her smile. The soft, ethereal glow on her face. All of it crumbled every last barrier between them.
Slowly, he stood up. The beer left his hand, though he couldn't remember setting it down. At the edge of his consciousness he heard the lawn chair fall to the ground. But all he cared about was getting to Lilly.
"Goddammit, Lil," he whispered when he reached her. Then he cupped her face in his hands and kissed her.
Wrapping her arms around him, she responded with a quiet little sob against his lips. Her slight frame shuddered as he deepened the kiss, poured into it all the words he couldn't articulate, and the moan she gave in response turned his knees to liquid. Her soft hands gripped the back of his neck. Her long fingers trailed through his hair. Every place she touched felt like it was on fire, and every place she hadn't touched grew more and more eager for a turn.
At length, she broke the kiss and pulled back, her long lashes wet and glossy. Tears streaked her gorgeous face; with a murmur of sympathy, he thumbed them away.
"Scotty." Her voice was thick, her breathing shallow. "You can't leave me again." She raised watery eyes to him, eyes that spoke volumes as to what it would do to her if he did, and how unsure she still was that he'd protect the fragile, battle-scarred heart she'd given him.
Scotty looked deep into her eyes, willing her to trust him. To believe him. "I won't, Lil. I can't. Because I tried livin' without you, and—and I couldn't take it." He reached up to brush a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "I love you. So damn much. And knowin' I hurt you? Knowin' I caused you that pain? It's killin' me."
She gave a quiet sniffle and a small smile. Encouraged, he drew her closer and leaned his forehead against hers.
"I know my word probably doesn't mean much to you right now, but if you'll give me a chance, I swear to God I'll do whatever it takes to prove to you that I ain't goin' nowhere. I can't, Lil. Not again. Never again."
He would've said more, but she stole whatever words remained when she captured his lips in hers. The forgiveness, the promise, the love in that kiss was beyond anything he'd ever felt. Beyond anything he could've ever even imagined.
The tender ecstasy of her kiss, of her embrace, was marred on the very edges by a frustrating inability to feel the warm satin of her skin beneath his fingertips. The silk of her hair playing over the back of his hand. What the hell? He wasn't cold anymore, that was for sure. Had he gone over the line to numbness?
Oh. Gloves. The goddamn gloves.
If it weren't for the seriousness of the situation, he probably would've laughed at himself. As it was, he tore his lips away from Lilly's with a furious growl and ripped off the gloves with his teeth, then joyfully, greedily returned his mouth to hers. His delighted fingers, freed from their fleece-and-leather prison, skated over the delicate arc of her cheekbone. Beneath the edge of her scarf. Then up through her ponytail to tug at the elastic that contained it. Her hands were already there; her feather-light fingertips raised goosebumps as they brushed against his skin. Then she gave a gentle yank, and her glorious hair spilled out over his hands.
Scotty moaned into her mouth, what little remained of his restraint utterly lost in the flood of his love for her. Gradually, he moved to kiss the ridge of her jaw. Her neck. That delicious little spot beneath her left ear. He reveled in the sounds of pleasure she made. Sighs. Fragments of words. His name.
And then he unwound the scarf from around her neck, his lips traveling down the smooth center of her throat to the heated hollow at its base. That secret place where her scent pooled, where he could drink her in, where his lips could caress the delicate curve of that little notch, where his tongue could draw a low, lusty groan from her…
…and where that diamond necklace, he realized with a start, once resided but no longer did.
It was true. Saccardo was gone. And now there was nothing to stop him. She was finally, fully, his.
Scotty nearly exploded with joy. Frantic fingers fumbled with the buttons of her shirt. His name floated past his ear on her breathless moan. Nothing was stopping him now. Nothing. Nothing…
"Scotty," she gasped as she pulled away.
Well, okay. Except that.
Heart pounding, he looked up at her, but her glittering, deep blue eyes didn't seem to be telling him to stop. Her lips were wet and swollen from their kisses, her cheeks flushed, the tip of her nose slightly pink, her panting breaths puffed up around her face…God, she was beautiful.
She gave a sheepish smile. "Scotty, I—I'm freezing."
He wasn't. The fire of love burned so hot he wasn't sure he'd ever be cold again. But Lilly was shivering, and he'd be damned if she suffered one more second on his account. Besides, she deserved far better than the cold concrete floor of a damp, drizzly rooftop.
Relieved, he broke into a grin. "I can fix that."
"Yeah?" She smiled.
"Oh, yeah." His grin widening, he picked her up in his arms and smothered her surprised laugh with another kiss. Grabbing his tux jacket from where she'd draped it over the railing, he covered her with it, then maneuvered her across the roof and down the narrow little stairwell to the hallway outside his apartment. Reluctantly setting her down, he fumbled with his keys and jammed them blindly into the lock, then shouldered the door open and brought Lilly into the cozy warmth, kissing her all the while.
The moment the door shut behind them, she pressed him against the back of it and took over. Nimble fingers popped open the snaps of his coat as greedy lips continued to ravage his. Her hands slid beneath it to his shoulders; a second later it fell to the floor. She made quick work of his hoodie, too, tearing it off over his head and sending it to lie on top of his coat.
Kissing her hungrily, he unwound the scarf from around her neck and slid her coat from her shoulders, then guided her, legs tangling, to the bedroom, where he pressed her to the mattress and looked down to find her beaming.
"Warmer?" he asked.
Mischief sparked in her deep blue eyes. "Getting there."
Those were the last coherent words either of them spoke for quite some time.