Elliot knows that he needs to focus – or, rather, he needs to refocus. Because Olivia is obviously in a great deal of pain, and the last thing she needs is for him to be leering at her. He tries to keep his attention firmly on finding bandages, inspecting her stitches, and – when the time comes to help her get dressed again – scrutinizing the contents of her bookshelf. But it’s a struggle, because no matter how much he knows that he has no right to look – that she will absolutely, justifiably smack him if his eyes even start to wander – she is right there, and she is beautiful, and she is completely naked.
He’s quite sure that standing in the shower with her has to have been some sort of creative punishment, drawn up by a vengeful God, with him specifically in mind. Because he has been thinking about it – dreaming about it – for more than twenty years at this point. But in all his dreams, she is uninjured, and relaxed, and receptive – she wants him there with her, in his dreams.
The reality, of course, is very different. Because Olivia had only called him into the bathroom in the first place under duress, and his presence in the shower with her was very obviously not her preference. He feels guilty about that, but there really hadn’t been any way around it – it had been a practical necessity.
So he’d kept his eyes up, focused on the task at hand, and tried – desperately – to block out the fact that he could see the bare expanse of her skin in his peripheral vision. He’d miscalculated when turning the water off though, and it was a goddamned miracle that he hadn’t moaned embarrassingly when he’d found himself fully pressed up against her. He knows that it is a moment that he will revisit later, when he is alone, regardless of the stinging shame that he feels – because his own sense of shame has never stopped his thoughts of Olivia. After more than two decades, he can’t imagine it’s about to start.
“You need socks?” He asks her, as she tries – without success – to tie up her hair.
“No,” she blows out a frustrated breath. “But would you put my hair up? It’s going to bug me.”
He nods, and takes the elastic that she’s been fumbling with from her. Only once he’s started does Elliot realize just how fucking intimate the whole thing is – pulling her hair out of her face and into a rough ponytail. He knows that he’s probably done a shit job – it's been some time since he’s had any reason to help anyone with their hair – but he’d spent years physically holding himself back from even just brushing stray hairs out of her face, so he’s a bit overwhelmed. The same thing had happened in the shower; he hadn’t realized just how much shampooing her hair would feel like something that lovers did. Definitely not ex-partners with a relationship that could – at best – currently be described as ‘tenuous’.
“El?” She prompts, and he realizes that he’s just kind of holding her head in his hands. Like an idiot.
“Sorry,” he clears his throat, stepping back. “Need anything else? Food?”
Her stomach rumbles then, and she blushes, but it breaks the tension effectively. “Yeah,” she nods. “Food’s probably a good call.”
“Come on then,” he calls, heading into the kitchen. “You have anything here? Or is it still just takeout menus and Hungry Man dinners?”
“Hey,” she gives him an indignant look over the kitchen island. “I’ll have you know that I’m a perfectly passable cook.”
“High praise,” he smirks. He easily ducks the takeout cup that she throws at him, but she is smiling still, so he doesn’t think it was done with any real malice. That, at least, is an improvement.
“Ass,” she huffs. “There’s pasta in the fridge that can be heated up. You’re welcome to have some.”
He heats up pasta for the both of them – because he is absolutely going to stay as long as she’ll have him there – and slides her portion across the island. She pauses, though, not sitting down, and he’s momentarily worried that she will rescind his invitation to stay.
“You mind eating on the couch?” She asks instead. “I don’t fully trust myself to stay upright on this stool.”
He barks out a relieved laugh, because eating on the couch with her honestly sounds like a perfect morning. And, if he’s honest, he’s not super confident in her ability to stay upright either. She is already swaying on her feet, and he makes a note to check the strength of her prescription.
“No worries,” he nods, grabbing her bowl and nudging her towards the couch. “Go sit down before you fall.”
“I’m not going to fall,” she rolls her eyes. But she still makes quick work of sitting down, so he guesses that she agrees with his assessment.
They eat in comfortable silence, and once they’ve finished, Elliot notices that Olivia is once again leaning on him. He’s not about to point it out, because he knows she’d probably stop if he did, but it makes him smile.
“Hey, Liv?” He asks, a thought popping to mind. “Where’s James?” Because he has been here since the previous evening, and James has been noticeably absent the whole time.
“Lucy’s,” she murmurs. “He stays there sometimes when I have to work late. Didn’t want him to see me like this.”
Elliot nods. That makes sense – he imagines that being a police Captain comes with many unexpected late nights.
“It freaks him out,” she continues. “Whenever I get hurt. So, when you see him, you will not use the word ‘stabbed’. I usually just say that there was an altercation.”
“How much do you get hurt at work, Liv?” He asks, concerned now. “I thought Captain was mostly paperwork and politics.”
“It is,” she nods. “I really don’t get hurt all that much, but ever since Lewis, James is-” she pauses, “sensitive. He’s scared I won’t come home.”
Elliot’s heart sinks at both the mention of her ordeal and their son’s reaction to it, and he is unable to stop himself from wrapping an arm around her. The painkillers must have really kicked it, he thinks, because she doesn’t pull away – she actually curls in closer to him.
“How old was he?” Elliot asks, knowing that there is no good answer.
“Three.” She whispers.
“Jesus.” He breathes out, eyes stinging. “Fuck, Liv. I can’t-” he stutters, trying to force his tears back. “I’m sorry. I should have been there.”
“It’s okay,” she says, picking at a loose string on his shirt.
“It’s not,” he insists. “Christ, Liv, it’s not fucking okay.”
She shrugs against him. “No,” she agrees. “But I’m okay, now. Mostly.”
“I know it doesn’t help anything,” he sighs, “but if I’d known, I would have been here.”
She is silent for a moment, still picking at the thread on his shirt, and then she says something that finally breaks Elliot’s tenuous grip on his composure. “I wanted you to come,” her voice is small, brittle. “The whole time he had me, I prayed that you’d come.”
And Elliot just loses it, choking out a sob and pulling her as close to him as he can manage.
She hadn’t expected it, Elliot’s breakdown. Or, at least, she hadn’t expected it like this. Because his go-to has always been anger. If he’d shouted, or broken something, Olivia wouldn’t have been at all surprised, but the fact that he has started crying and pulled her into his arms is a genuine shock. Because she has no frame of reference for this. It is completely new. This has never been how they’ve done things.
But then, they are not the same people they had been – not entirely. The Elliot of a decade ago would be fuming, trembling with barely repressed rage – and the Olivia of a decade ago would be watching him at a distance, not wanting to overstep her role. The lines have shifted now, though, and this new version of Elliot is just holding her tightly, his face buried in the crook of her neck. And it is all that Olivia wants, in that moment – to be in his arms. Once the loaded atmosphere has settled a bit, she knows that she’ll probably blame it on the painkillers, but this has – truthfully – been what Olivia has wanted for some time. More than twenty years.
“How can you even stand to look at me?” He asks, finally, breaking the silence. His voice is thick with tears and, even though she is still angry with him, it breaks her heart a bit.
She takes as deep a breath as she can manage, moving to smooth her hand over his side, in an attempt at comfort – because he will not like her answer. “Sometimes I can’t,” she admits. “Sometimes it’s too much, seeing you, and knowing everything you’ve been gone for.”
He is shaking, and she can feel the wetness of his tears on her neck, but she continues. “You were the most - the single most - important person in my life, Elliot. I have never loved anyone the way that I loved you – not before, and not since.” It is easier to say the words when she cannot see his face – does not have to see his reaction. “And no one has ever hurt me the way that you hurt me. Until William Lewis abducted me, I’d always held out hope that you’d come back. But when my face was all over the news and I didn’t hear a word from you, I gave up – I couldn’t think about you without remembering how much I’d needed you, and how you hadn’t come.” She takes a shuddering breath. “It never got easier – your being gone – but the giving up helped. Now, I’m just trying to get my head around the fact that you’re back; not when I needed you most, but out of nowhere. And so, sometimes I can’t stand to look at you, or be around you – because it just reminds me of when you were gone.”
Olivia hadn’t intended to share any of that with him, but – even if it is mostly down to her lower inhibitions – she is glad that she has. Because it is all true, and – if he really does want to be a part of her life as he has said he does – he needs to hear it. She cannot hold all of the hurt alone anymore; it just isn’t sustainable.
He doesn’t say anything, just keeps holding her, but she can feel that he is still crying. And Olivia finds that she feels badly for him. Because she knows that if he had known, he would have been there. Much as she has long hated him – or tried to hate him – as a defense mechanism against her own pain, she knows that, at the base of things, he is still Elliot. Still the man she had trusted with her life every day for thirteen years. Still the man she’d loved. And while she can’t defend his decision to up and leave without a goodbye, she knows that – however much she personally disagrees – he had done it for what he’d thought at the time were the right reasons. The fact that it had gone so spectacularly wrong was not entirely within his control, no matter how much she has sometimes wished to lay the blame squarely on him. Sure, he is responsible for his own bad choices, but the crueler twists of fate have been beyond both of their control.
And so, despite what her sober second thought might have thought about it, Olivia presses a kiss to his temple. “It’s not okay, El,” she says, “but what Lewis did to me is not your fault.”
“It is,” he insists, voice ragged, into the skin of her clavicle. “If I’d been here, Liv, I would have killed him. I wouldn’t have let him lay a hand on you.”
She just smiles sadly, tracing her fingers along his ribs. “There was nothing you could have done, El. He’d taken me before anyone even knew I was missing.”
“I would have known.” He croaks.
If they were having any other conversation, she would laugh at his stubborn vehemence. Instead, she presses another kiss to his temple. Just because she can – because she wants to.
“You wouldn’t have,” she shakes her head. “It took less than an hour, between when I left the precinct and when I was due to pick up James. He grabbed me right off the street; I didn’t even know it had happened until I woke up taped to a chair.”
Elliot’s grip on her tightens, and her stitches protest a bit at the movement, but Olivia has no intention of moving. Her stitches can open right back up for all she cares, she’s staying put.