There was something so sincere in the way he spoke to her, whenever he told her he loved her. Though she barely believed it most of the time, when faced with Johnny right there, opening his heart, Liv never doubted for a moment that he loved her. She hoped she gave him even a fraction of that feeling. Her lips curved in a soft smile as he reminded her of the disastrous day she had totally failed to pretend to be her own sister, too caught up in the man she'd already fallen for herself. "It's one of my favorite dreams," she told him quietly, brushing the tip of her nose to his. "You never did make me those hot dogs."
"I forgot all about them. All I wanted was for you to love me. It's all I've ever wanted, Liv. Just for someone to understand me and love me for who I am. No one ever did that before until I met you." It was a lot coming from Johnny all at once. He wasn't the type to open up much, to share what he was feeling. He'd spent too many years trying to hide his pain behind the jester's mask. Liv was the one person he didn't have to hide from. His expression changed, turning serious, needing her to believe him, to trust him. "I love you more than anything, Olivia. Please believe me."
"I do believe you, Johnny." She lifted her head, resting her forehead to his as she closed her eyes for a long moment, absorbing him into herself, his warmth, his fears, his confidence, his love, feeling his presence bolster the shuddering foundation of who she was. Soft brown eyes opened to meet his, honest and clear, never once offering him the lie his many past conquests had given him. What he saw in her eyes was the truth as she felt it, and as she said it now. "I love you, more than anything. More than anyone." She paused, knowing what she was about to say was God's honest truth but uncertain if he would believe her. "More than Lucy. You've never let me down, Johnny, and I don't believe you ever will. If all you want is for me to love you, then you have all you want. I loved you before you even knew I existed."
He felt that connection, too, that outpouring of love and trust he had wanted for so long. The admission that she loved him even more than she loved Lucy came as a shock. He knew how much she loved her sister, but he also knew Lucy had sometimes let her down, just as Sue had let him down. Did he love her more than he loved his sister? He couldn't say. His love for Liv was different than anything he'd ever felt before. It burned deep in his soul, and he knew if he ever lost her, it would destroy him. But there was one thing he didn't understand. "I don't understand, Liv. How could you love me before I met you?"
"Not before we met," she explained gently, easing the pad of her thumb tenderly over the high curve of his cheekbone as she smiled his smile for him. "Before you knew I existed, before Lucy told you she had a sister. We met in the Inn briefly ... Do you remember the night you happened to meet Lucy? You went for a walk in the park, and she used the toilets? I was the one who went into the park with you; Lucy was waiting to switch clothes in the loo. I fell for you that night, but I tried so hard to keep it a secret. I didn't want to get in the way."
"That was you?" he asked, arching both brows, wondering now how many times he'd been with Liv when he thought he'd been with Lucy. Had he been with Liv or Lucy when he'd gone to flame and flown off leaving her behind in the snow? Had he been with Liv or Lucy the first time he'd kissed her, when he tried to tell her he was falling for her? He was sure it had been Lucy he'd slept with first, before he'd realized she didn't love him. "You didn't want to get in the way," he repeated, wishing she had gotten in the way a lot sooner than she had.
She winced at the look on his face, guilt perfusing her expression until she couldn't meet his gaze any longer. For Lucy, that month was something she had shrugged off easily; for Liv, the guilt and pain of weeks of pretending were still there. "Nothing ever happened with me," she told him, moving to sit up, curling her knees up to her chest. "I ... I was supposed to play along and be Lucy, but I couldn't. I only pretended to be her twice; that night, and the day I told you what was going on. I wish I'd never agreed to that horrible trick."
"I thought I was falling in love with Lucy, but..." He trailed off. It was all in the past now anyway. Lucy had Steve now, and he had fallen in love with Olivia. None of it really mattered anymore, and yet, in a way, it did. "Lucy never loved me." He still wasn't quite sure what Steve had that he didn't, other than being the greatest hero that had ever lived, but he wasn't sure that mattered either. He wasn't in love with Lucy, and maybe he never had been. It was her sister he loved. He watched as she pulled away from him, knowing she'd get cold before long if he didn't wrap her up in his heat. He listened as she confessed her part in Lucy's plan, a plan he'd thought was cruel, meant to teach him a lesson he didn't really need to learn. "Why'd you fall for me?" he asked, cutting to the heart of the matter, needing to know the answer to this one simple question.
How could she explain that? It was such a simple question, demanding a simple answer that she did not have. But it broke through her self-recriminations, lifting her head to look over her shoulder at him, trying to ignore the chill of the air as she endeavored to give him her answer in a way he might understand.
"I think, maybe at first, it was because you seemed so much like me," she confessed quietly. "You tried so hard to come across as confident and sure of yourself, but every now and then I could see someone else looking out through your eyes. Someone shy and nervous, someone waiting for everything to go wrong, just like I always do. But it wasn't just that. You have such a big heart, Johnny, you care so much. Even when you were with Lucy, you made a place for me. You worried about leaving me out. No one's ever done that for me; Lucy certainly never thought to keep me from isolation. I fell in love with you because you made space for me; you didn't forget that I was there, or make a point of ignoring me or making me feel unwanted. I couldn't tell you exactly when I fell in love with you, Johnny. Just that ... every time I frighten myself now with the thought that you might leave, a little piece of my heart breaks. It's almost as though I can't breathe without you."
Whatever recollected pain Johnny was feeling seemed to evaporate in the face of Liv's explanation. He'd thought they were over this, that they'd put it behind them, but maybe there were some things that still needed saying. Maybe there was still a little healing left to do. "Liv, I'm not gonna leave you," he told her quietly, unable to hide the emotion from his voice. "Look, I... I'm not gonna lie to you. What Lucy did hurt. I thought she cared about me, but she used me. I don't know. Maybe I deserved it. It doesn't really matter now. What I do know is that I'm happy with you, and I... I can't imagine my life without you anymore. Whatever happened before doesn't matter. I never met anyone like you, Liv. No one ever took the time to listen to me the way you do. Not even Sue. I know I'm not perfect. I'll never be Steve Rogers, but I love you more than you can ever imagine, and..." He trailed off as his voice broke, not wanting her to know that he was close to tears.
"Stop it, you stop that right now," she burst out suddenly, twisting about from her curl to crawl over him, straddling his lap, filling his perception with herself as her hands crept to his jaw, soft brown eyes holding the blue of his gaze vehemently. "I don't want you to be Steve Rogers, I don't want you to be anybody but yourself! Johnny, Steve scares me. Why do you keep thinking I want him when I love you, I need you? He couldn't give me even the tiniest fraction of what you give me everyday. Please, sweetheart. It's your turn to believe me. Don't compare yourself to anyone else, even your hero. Because he doesn't hold a candle to you."
Johnny's blue eyes widened as she scolded him, crawling onto his lap and meeting his gaze, her eyes ablaze with passion. He felt the tears coming that would never come before, that he'd tried to hold inside for so long. No one had ever believed in him the way she did, not even his sister, and after a while, he'd even stopped believing in himself. "Then why... why do you keep thinking you don't deserve me, Liv? Don't you see you're doing the same thing?" he asked, desperate to make her understand how much she meant to him. "Don't you understand? I don't want anyone but you, and I want you just the way you are."
"Because you're the only one who's ever seen me and stayed," she confessed, and finally the tears she'd been holding back for his sake spilled free, wetting her cheeks as she sniffed harshly. "And I do understand, I do believe you. It's ... it's just hard. I'm the most insignificant person I know, Johnny, and it just got worse when Lucy told me about our parents. Whatever I feel about that, it won't ever change the way I feel about you. I promise, I'll never mention it again, I'll never even think about it again. I didn't mean to hurt you ..." Her voice trailed off into a squeaky little sob, one hand dropping from his shoulder to cover her mouth and nose, trying to hide the upset from him even when she was right in front of him, trying to protect him from her own confusion and pain in her own clumsy way.