She was glad that it didn't happen after a particularly tough case. If it had, she might have second guessed, might have thought she just needed someone, anyone. She'd have thought she just needed a port in the storm, which he had been before.
But it wasn't like that, not this time. It had just been another day, really, mostly spent on paperwork and follow up. Just dotting the i's and crossing the t's, drinking bad coffee, interviewing a witness, a quick overpriced salad with Amanda for lunch. She'd actually left at 5 for once, said goodnight to Lucy, and helped Noah with his homework (and God help her, she'd actually had to think about some of those second grade math problems.) Dinner was delivery because why not? Then a bath for Noah and a chapter of Harry Potter read out loud, then she kissed his dark head and pulled his Yankees quilt up to his chin. He was already drowsy when she left the room, murmuring "luh you" back to her as she left the door open a crack.
It's barely after 8, she tells herself, refusing to do what she actually wants, which is crawl under her own covers and not move for a dozen hours or so. She has to do something, now that she has a little time. She thinks of trying to watch a movie, even though she'll be sound asleep on the couch in a matter of minutes if she does. She has at least four novels on the bookshelf she's been meaning to start "someday". Maybe one of those, a glass of wine...but then her phone beeps with a text message, and all other thoughts are driven out of her mind when she looks at it. He wants to come over, wants to see her.
This has happened more times than she'll ever tell anyone (though Rafi probably knows; the things Rafael Barba doesn't know or at least intuit is a very small list indeed), but not so many, really, in all. It's been a year, more than, since she's laid eyes on Brian Cassidy. They will sometimes go a month or so without any word at all, then one of them will drop the other a line or two. They make the occasional phone call. But still, a solid year since he's been in her home.
In her bed.
They never talk about it. If it had been any other guy, she thinks she'd feel used. She'd feel like a booty call in the middle of the night when a date didn't work out, when he can't think of anyone else to call. But with him she doesn't. That's not the way Brian operates, at least not with her. Sometimes when he comes over for a middle of the night rendezvous, they don't even have sex. Sometimes they just sit and talk, or sit in silence and watch TV. Usually, though, they end up in bed, and Olivia knows herself well enough to admit that is just as much her doing as his.
She's got about twenty minutes before he knocks on the door. She uses it to throw away the takeout containers, hang up Noah's backpack, scoop up the loose Lego pieces and Nerf darts scattering the floor. She considers changing, or putting on makeup (she's already washed her face and in the mirror she feels like she looks every one of her years and then some) but in the end she doesn't bother. When Cassidy finally knocks, quietly so as not to wake Noah, she knows why. It's because Cassidy never looks anything but happy to see her, no matter what she looks like. Cassidy never looks like he's thinking anything except that she's beautiful, and in a manner that is uniquely his, he makes her feel the same way.
"Hey," he murmurs, as if they saw yesterday. "Hey, Bri," she says back. She's not sure if he kisses her or she kisses him, but either way their mouths are pressed together in a kiss that is quick and dry, but warm. She's missed him. She's really missed him this time. She starts to lead the way into the living room, his hand in hers, but he stops in the entryway in front of Noah's newest school picture, framed and hanging on the wall. "Look at this guy," he says softly. "Man, he's big. Be eight in a few weeks, huh?" He reaches out and taps one finger gently on the glass, right over Noah's gap toothed grin. "He still crazy about baseball?"
Olivia attempts to wipe the surprise off her face at Brian remembering Noah's birthday. Of course he does. That's Cassidy for you. "Yeah," she says, smiling. "You should see his room. Bobbleheads, posters, the whole nine. Amanda got him some custom made quilt and pillowcase deal for Christmas. You should have seen his face."
"I don't suppose you managed to turn him into a Mets fan, huh?" Cassidy asks.
"No," Liv laughs. "He's Yankees all the way, sorry." She laughs again at Brian's sorrowful look, then pulls him into the living room to sit on the couch.
"Hi," she says again. He studies he for a second, in that Cassidy way of his. There's no other way to describe it. He just sees her. It's not because he loves her, though God knows he does, and (she thinks), probably more than she deserves. He just sees her. "Hi, babe," he says finally, in that deep voice of his. And he just sounds so settled, so comfortable, so happy to be right here, right now, right beside her, that she can't think of anything she wants to do besides kiss him. So she does, and neither of them are surprised at how quickly it gets heated. He skims his big hands up under her sweatshirt, groans into her mouth when he realizes there's nothing beneath it.
She pulls him in the bedroom without a word, and starts pulling things off of them both- her yoga pants, his black thermal shirt. She can't seem to get naked fast enough, can't undress him fast enough, making a sound of frustration when his belt doesn't come undone quickly under her shaking hands. "Shh, shh," he says quietly. "I got it. I got you. I got you."
He's been like this with her ever since the Lewis stuff (that's the only way she'll allow herself to think of it now, years later, "the Lewis stuff"). Sweet, careful, but knowing when not to be, too. Knowing when she needed to use sex to heal, to use him and his body and letting her do it. She threw up the first time, after, and he was there with a wet washcloth and his silence. She never told him how much she appreciated that, him not telling her things were fine or stuttering apologies. He was just there. He was there the next time, making her peak again and again while she writhed on the bed and just gasped "more". Bringing her there again and again, his jeans not even off, hard and aching but never stopping, never thinking of himself, not quitting until she was wrung out like a dish rag, limp and sobbing. Then he'd...after all this time, she feels soft and vulnerable thinking of it...then he'd bathed her in the tub and put her to bed, and she'd slept for a solid day and night with no dreams she could remember. He'd always been there.
When their clothes are finally gone, they fall back on the bed, quietly, his hands and mouth everywhere she wants them. Brian can be surprisingly verbal in bed, but seems to know when that's not what she wants, and tonight it isn't. They don't make a sound until the both reach the end, seconds apart, and then it's just a strained "Liv" on his part and a long, low moan on hers.
Afterwards he lies on his back, pulling her over to lie sideways against him, her head resting under his collarbone. He's still quiet, not even moving except to drop a kiss or two on top of her dark hair, then lazily stroke his hand up and down the arm she's thrown across his chest. She wants to fall asleep, in fact she's sure she will any minute, but she's not sure what to tell him to do. He's stayed sometimes in the past, has still been there when Noah wakes up. And it was no big deal, not then. Noah accepted him as mommy's friend Brian and that was that. Sometimes mommy's friend Brian would stay long enough to watch cartoons or take them to the diner down the street for breakfast, or even vroom some of Noah's toy cars around, and sometimes he'd just say good morning to Noah and have to leave. In the way of small children, this was not something Noah ever questioned.
But now, lying in the dark and trying to sleepily think things through, Olivia wonders if this is the beginning of the end. Noah knows a bit about dating now, about daddies and boyfriends and all of that. She doesn't know if she can still have Cassidy here in the morning this time, and also doesn't know if she can tell him to sneak out the door like a thief. If she does, is this the last time this will happen? She knows Amanda and Sonny would keep Noah for a sleepover with Jessie anytime. Hell, Fin would keep him for the night if she asked. But that's not how they work, she and Cassidy. That's not their thing, planning and forethought and involving other people. So in one way or another, this has to end now, tonight, at least this way.
Even thought they went years without being together, this way or any other, sorrow hits her like a fist in the heart at the thought of this being over. She thinks of him the first time, all those years ago. Decades, even. He was so different then. His baby face, all that hair, all that cockiness and swagger and insecurities peeking out from underneath. She reaches up, rubs her hand over his head that's close cropped now. She can feel him smile in the dark. That's different too, that smile. It's just a sideways jerk of his lips now, rather than the big Bronx boy grin she hadn't wanted to be attracted to back then. His eyes are the same color, but wary and lined before their time in a way they weren't before.
He's not that Brian, but he's still Brian. And to be fair, she's hardly who she was back then either, and he loves her anyway. She'd always thought she'd stood on her own two feet (God knows she'd had to, with a mother like hers), but maybe she hadn't, because losing Elliot had been like getting the wind knocked out of her. Only it wasn't over in a few minutes, it went on and on for so long that she hardly remembered when it wasn't a phantom presence in her life. Still, it had made her strong. She'd loved Elliot in a way that she'd never loved anyone, in a way she wasn't sure there was a word for, in any language she knew (and probably all the ones she didn't). She missed him so much it had been a physical pain, and when one day she realized that had ceased, she thought she was the toughest she'd ever been. Then, of course, the Lewis stuff.
It was after that that she'd realized the problem with always being the toughest one in the room. When you fell apart, there was no one to put the pieces back together, no one to pick up the scattered jigsaw of your mind and figure out what the picture should look like. There was just you, and God it was hard work by yourself. She wants Noah to be tough, to be resilient, yes, but not like her. Never like that. So maybe she shouldn't make Cassidy leave, maybe...
When did life get so complicated, though? All these little things, all these things that almost worked and didn't, all these men who could have maybe built something with her. Tucker, David, maybe even Elliot...in another time, another place.
The thing is, her brain whispers, is that there's just now.
It hits her in a stunning moment of clarity that feels like being high for a minute, and makes her almost as woozy. There is just now, just this life, no other times, no other places, at least not any she can get to. She'd broken up with Brian because she thought they only made sense in this one reality, when she'd really wanted some all consuming love that maybe wasn't even a thing, some soul mate, beyond time and space business. She could shake herself for being so blind. This is the only reality she will have, and the only constants that will make any sense at all are her work and her son and Brian Cassidy.
And maybe that was okay. Maybe it was even great. Maybe life as an adult was realizing that nothing was ever going to be what you thought, but maybe it was more than a lot of people got. And shouldn't she know that better than anyone? She, who had spent her life fighting for the injured, the soul-sick. For ruined children and for women who were nothing but empty shells. She who spent so much time diving into waves of other people's despair, trying to bring just one up above the water to breathe.
I should know better, she tells herself. I should know better than to turn away uncomplicated love.
Because that's Cassidy. That's Bri. Everything he is, is right out there to see. He loves her. There's no drama to it, no dark corners. He loves her and he will always love her. He'll wake up and make her pancakes on Sundays, he'll hold her hand in movie theaters and share his popcorn. He'll chase Noah around the park, he'll bring him to baseball games, he'll stay up until the wee hours of Christmas morning putting together the toys "from Santa". No one has ever been in her corner like Brian Cassidy, and no one ever will be. She'd pulled a gun on him, for Christ's sake, that time she thought he was an intruder. And more. And he'd still wanted to be here. He'd still never left. Every time he comes here, every time he calls just to check on her, he's offering it all, offering himself. To share the burden, to lighten her load, to be there.
She's not sure if she's strong enough to take it, but she'd like to try. Suddenly, all she wants is to try. She's not sure what she should say. If this were middle school she'd send him a note, see if he would be her boyfriend. Should she ask him to move in, or suggest they date again, or...but no. All in has to be all in, so she shoves aside her worries about Noah (somehow she knows that will be okay), and the job, and she just asks him.
"Yeah?" he mumbles in the dark.
"Will you marry me?"
There's a moment of silence where nothing seems to change, but she can feel him go absolutely still, except for his heart that pounds a bit harder under her cheek. He shifts back, craning his neck to try to see what he can of her face. "Yeah?" He asks again.
She wants to say something so he knows she's really in it, but all she can do is smile and say "Yeah," back to him.
"Well...shit," Cassidy says hoarsely. "Probably."
Olivia can't stop the laughter then. What are they doing, what the hell could she possibly be thinking of, and who but Cassidy would respond like that? Who but Cassidy. She loves him for it. "Good," she says, not really knowing what else to say.
"Cause I gotta be honest here, Liv," he tells her. When is he anything but? "I love you. I love you a lot. I never... I never thought of loving anyone like I love you. You gotta know it."
"I do, Brian-"
"No, but...just because you're it for me, it doesn't mean I'm it for you, you know? I don't...I know people think we don't make sense. I know YOU think we don't make sense sometimes-" he breaks off, fiddles with the bedspread, one blunt finger tracing the line of a flower. If you didn't know him, you wouldn't realize he was in the grip of some strong emotion. But she does know him.
"Do you want to marry me, Bri?"
"I don't know if there's anything in the world I'd like more than to spend the rest of my life looking at you, Liv. Every day, every night, with you? Goddamn, that sounds like the best thing I ever heard of. And if it would make you happy...there's nothing in this world I wouldn't do to make you happy. Don't you know that?"
"But if you...if we do this and then it's not what you want, and I have to look at you and know that, and see that...see it in your face that you wish we hadn't done it," he trails off. "I don't know if that's something I can do."
"Things don't have to make sense to be right," she chokes out, realizing for the first time how her own uncertain heart had broken his, more than once. "Things don't..." she takes a deep breath. Just let this happen, she tells herself, stop overthinking it. Take what you want. Tell him what you want. Let him love you. Straight up, rough edged, no bullshit Brian Cassidy, there for her and for Noah forever. She's kicking herself for thinking that being with him would be some kind of settling, and worse, for making him think it too.
"I love you, Brian," she says, and though she'd said it before she means it now like she never has. "I really, really love you, and I'd like to marry you. If you'll have me. So...would ya?'
She can feel him, looking at her in the dark. He's so still, even now, but she can feel and hear his breathing growing ragged, his control close to slipping.
"Please" she adds, half laughing.
"Did you even get me a ring? What kind of girl do you think I am?" He asks, teasing. But she feels the gulp underneath his words, the tears he's keeping back.
"Oh shut up, Cassidy," she says, smacking his shoulder. But she needs to be serious, needs to make him understand. "Not everything has to make sense, Bri. You know? I'm starting to think maybe the best things don't. I mean, Noah...and then you...and I just..." She's about a second from pleading here, though she's still shocked that they're here at all. Was it just a few hours ago that she was doing the voices in the The Prisoner of Azkaban for her son? How can that be? How can the path of your life change just like that? It would seem like it couldn't, but she knows better. She knows. She hopes he does too.
"Okay, Liv," he says, and she lets out the breath she wasn't aware that she was holding. "Okay. I'll let you make an honest man outta me," His tone, his words, are joking, but even in the dark she can see his eyes are serious. "Just like that, huh?"
"Yeah," she tells him, reaching for her phone to set an alarm, to make sure he gets up and moves out to the living room before Noah gets up. She's going to need to ease him into Mom's friend Brian hanging around for the rest of his life. She's worried, sure, but the idea just makes her happy under and above it all. Brian, forever, in her home, in her bed, in her life. They'll figure out all the details, eventually.
"Yeah," she says again, lying back down and closing her eyes. "Yeah, Cassidy. Just like that."