Children are messy. That’s something Olivia has always known, or at least had thought she knew. Noah is no exception, though he does get better as he grows older. Still, their home, her car—there are traces of him everywhere: stray jackets thrown over furniture, a toy brought and discarded in the back seat, a schoolbook shoved between her car console. She’s been meaning to get rid of the last two all week, though she keeps forgetting. By the time she gets home, it’s always the last thing on her mind.
So there they stay, and there they are when she meets Elliot for what has now become one of their semi-regular early-morning coffee dates. She’d asked him to come, had called earlier in the week and asked if he could run a name for her, had thought his guys might have better access than even she could get. From the size of the folder in his hand, she’d been right.
She’s halfway through thanking him, halfway through turning the conversation toward how he’s doing, if he’s settled in the new apartment, if the kids are okay, when she catches him staring. It takes her a minute to realise what he’s staring at, though she doesn’t yet realise why.
Her son’s book peeks out between the car seats, his name scrawled across the top of the page. Noah Porter Benson.
She trails off, confused, but Elliot doesn’t seem to notice. Instead, his gaze is fixed on Noah’s book—or, more accurately, on Noah’s name. Olivia watches closely, is fluent enough in Elliot’s body language to recognise the signs of confusion, the way his shoulders have tensed, the soft warmth he’d greeted her with morphing to a stiff coldness.
“Elliot—” she starts, but Elliot doesn’t let her finish. He shakes his head, snaps himself out of it; the furrow between his eyes fades away as he sniffs, rolls his shoulders.
“I gotta meet Bell in twenty,” he says. He tries to look at her but can’t—can’t hold her gaze, can’t quite meet her eye. His hand has already curled around the passenger-side door, is already pushing it open. “Don’t wanna keep the boss waiting.”
Olivia blinks at him. “Are you—”
“Tell me if you catch your guy,” he says, cutting her off. It’s half-hearted at best; he’s already out the door, already starting down the street, letting her watch him leave.
It’s starting to feel awfully familiar, that. So much so that Olivia momentarily forgets her concern and instead feels the anger creep back up to the surface. She’s kept it at bay for the most part, has felt it dissipating the more she and Elliot spend time together, the more they work on rebuilding what they once had. He’s left the pace up to her, and it makes it easier to trust him again, to fall back into that old familiarity, but then he does this, and it reminds her of why she’d been hesitant to begin with. The first time, at least, there’d been an excuse, a reason he’d left her in the lobby. But there was no obvious explanation for it this time. It couldn’t have been anything she said. He’d been fine until he’d seen Noah’s name—
And then it hits her. Her son’s name: Noah Porter Benson.
Olivia slumps against her seat, memories of a man she hasn’t thought of in over a decade rushing to the forefront of her mind. A sigh itches her throat and she shuts her eyes, shaking her head as her hand lifts to run through her hair. He couldn’t, part of her starts to think, but the other part reminds her that he definitely could. That—knowing Elliot—he probably does.
“You idiot.” It’s a whisper, spoken to the empty car, intended for her ex-partner. She wants to laugh, can feel it bubbling up inside her chest, pulling her mouth into a grin.
Of course he’d think that, she thinks. Of course he’d think he has a right to be angry over it, never mind that it’s not true. Why would she expect any different? Ten years, and that sense of entitlement hasn’t gone away. She’d known that the second he’d asked her to tell him his wife would be okay.
With a sigh, she pulls away from the street and onto the road, heads off toward the precinct. Elliot is a problem that’ll have to wait.
She lets it go on for two weeks, almost three. She’d intended to let it go on for longer, but she’d failed to remember how unbearable Elliot is when he’s brooding. It had been funny, at first, the way it was obviously eating him alive, the way she knew he wanted to ask, to know. She could see it in his expression when he watched Noah run off toward his school, when his gaze continued to drift toward the book she’d conveniently left in her car. He never does ask, and that surprises her—she’d thought he might, or might’ve at least made a comment on it, but the questions never come. Waiting for him to mention it drives her insane.
“Oh my god, Elliot,” she says, one morning, when he starts looking toward the book again. A laugh is caught in her throat, and it makes her voice thick, makes him look at her, confused. “What is wrong with you?” she asks, but there’s no heat to it. “Porter? Are you serious?”
It takes a second for him to catch up, and then his confusion deepens. Past that, though, she can see the defensiveness creeping into his eyes. Knows then that she’d read him right. “What?” he says, and his voice is too level, too calm. It gives him away.
“I didn’t have a kid with Dean!” The words are barely out of her mouth before Elliot has slipped entirely into defensive mode, his back tense and jaw clenched, and it draws the laugher out of her. “God, Elliot. How do you even—”
“What was I supposed to think?” he shoots back, too loud, agitated the way he gets when he’s proved wrong. It makes her want to laugh again, because—really—she can’t believe this is their life, now.
“Did you really think I would? After everything he did? After—” She breaks off, shakes her head. He’d known, more than anyone, that Dean Porter had managed to hurt her in a way few others could. Hell, he’d been the one to make her feel better in the aftermath. “Jesus, Elliot. After Rojas?”
There’s a beat of silence, a moment where she knows they’re both thinking of the same thing. Where they’re both transported back to that airport, his voice calling her name as she fell to the ground, his arms there to hold her when the reality of what could have happened—what almost did—overpowered their reason and pushed them together. She can still remember the warmth of his embrace, the way his hand had grabbed hers before it’d cupped her face, his concern, his fear—his love—so strong it’d only made it harder to catch her breath.
She drops her head back against her seat, tries to push the memory away, and fails. “You’re an idiot,” she breathes, but she isn’t mad at him. She can’t be, not when there’s an ache in her chest, not when the look on his face almost makes her feel as if it’s ten years ago, and there’s no reason for her to be angry with him. She can feel the memory around her, so vivid it’s almost tangible—the two of them, drowning in their own feelings, but still a team. Still partners. Still together.
Olivia shuts her eyes, takes a second to swallow down the emotion crawling its way up her throat. When she opens them again, she lets her gaze drift away from Elliot and out past the windshield, to the children milling around the school, to the parents saying goodbye. “He’s adopted,” she admits, softly, without looking at him. “Porter is a homage to his biological mother.”
Elliot’s oh is so quiet she almost doesn’t catch it. Olivia spares a glance in rear-view mirror and sees him swallow, follows the movement of his throat as he does. There’s relief, there, written into the lines of his body, and she refuses to consider what it means. She’s nowhere near ready to deal with that just yet.
Elliot breathes out, low and long, and waits for her to look at him before he speaks. “I told you they were wrong,” he says, voice just as soft as hers had been. His mouth is curled at the side, his eyes bright, clear; he looks pleased, looks proud, and it makes Olivia’s throat feel tight again. He was the first person to ever support her in her journey to be a mother, and she’s never admitted it to anyone—had barely admitted it to herself—but she’s always wondered what he would think, how he would feel, now that she’s accomplished her goal.
She smiles back at him, and if he notices her eyes are little wet, he doesn’t mention it.
She has been careful with this road they’re on, cautious not to give too much of herself too quickly, no matter how much she’s wanted to at times. Noah is the obvious example—for all that Elliot’s seen him, for all that they’ve passed each other by, Olivia has never introduced them. She’s been waiting for the right moment. Waiting for the trust to be there, steady and strong like it used to be.
As Elliot tells her, not for the first time, that she really is a good mom, Olivia thinks they might be there, now.