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Here in the Silence

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Elliot doesn’t think that he has ever been so happy. Hell, if you’d asked him at any point in the last decade, he would have scoffed at the very idea that such happiness was possible. It’s not like he had been miserable, exactly, but whatever happiness he’d had before seems just so fucking narrow and pale compared to the day he is having now.

It’s all simple things, too. A day at the beach with all his kids, Kathy teasing him without the biting undercurrent that had characterized much of their marriage, the sight of Liv in a ball cap and an old shirt that he’s half convinced was his at some point. It had already been one of the best days he can ever remember having, and then James had called him Dad for the first time – and Elliot knows that he will never forget today.

He doesn’t even think it had been a conscious thing, really. Every time that James has addressed him since, he has called him Elliot again, but in the moment – when he had been spinning their Jet Ski to try and splash Dave and Logan, while James clung to his life jacket and shrieked with laughter – he'd called him Dad, and Elliot had very nearly pitched them both forward into the water, he’d been so surprised. Honestly, he’s not even sure that James had noticed he’d done it, and the thought that it had been an instinctual thing puts such a stupid grin on Elliot’s face that all his kids – and Liv – point out that he’s being weird.

And then there’s Liv. Jesus, he’s trying not to be pervy, but there have been at least half a dozen times – after lunch alone – that he’s had to flip onto his stomach to avoid making an absolute spectacle of himself. He’s quite sure that he’s burned his back, but he refuses to be the gross old man visibly pitching a tent at a public beach. Not to mention that he is surrounded by all his children, and that Liv herself would hardly appreciate it. Honestly, Elliot’s glad that she’s kept that stupid shirt on, because he really doesn’t know what he’d do if he could see any more of her skin. He’s a grown man – a grandfather for God’s sakes – but even just the sight of her legs – tan, and long, and bare – has made him feel all of fifteen years old again. It’s vaguely embarrassing, and he hopes desperately that no one else has noticed his preoccupation, but he’s really not all that surprised. Because he has always been so insanely attracted to her, and now that he doesn’t have his marriage to hide behind, the feeling seems to have intensified ten-fold.

The only thing that really helps him keep himself in check is the knowledge that Liv does not need – or want – him staring at her. He has agreed to keep things light, to keep his feelings to himself, and he knows that leering probably crosses that line. He reminds himself of this every time he feels his eyes lingering just a bit too long.

“Elliot, you’re staring.” Apparently, he is not being nearly as subtle as he’d thought, though, because Kathy has noticed without even looking up from her book.

“No idea what you’re talking about,” he says. She snorts and levels a disbelieving look at him.

“Oh, please,” she laughs. “I’ve seen that look enough from you to know exactly what’s happening here.”

“What look is this?” He asks. Because honestly, he’d thought he was doing a good job hiding it. Just how obvious has he been?

“I’ve always called it your “trying not to eye-fuck Olivia” look.” She shrugs, flipping the page of her book.

His mouth drops open. “You’ve always called it that? Just how long have I been doing this?”

“Give or take twenty years,” she shrugs, again. “I figured you knew.”

Elliot buries his face in his towel while Kathy laughs. He’d honestly thought he’d been subtler.

--

When the sun goes down and the temperature drops, Logan and Eli badger Elliot about a fire so persistently that he finally agrees to build one – even agrees that they will all eat their dinner out by the fire. James is far less vocal about it, but Elliot can tell that he, too, is pleased with the decision. Frankly, Elliot had been planning to make a fire anyways, but this way the kids feel as if they’ve had some sort of victory, and he hopes that this will translate into less badgering to let them camp out on the beach tonight. Because that’s just not going to happen.

Once the fire is built and everyone has settled in with their food, Elliot realizes that Liv isn’t anywhere to be seen. He hasn’t seen her for a good half-hour at this point, and – while he knows that she’s probably fine, and that he shouldn’t bother her – he goes looking for her anyways.

Ultimately, he finds her on the second floor, looking out the window in the back sunroom. She has put on a pair of shorts, but otherwise she is still dressed as she had been at the beach, minus the ball-cap. She is silhouetted in the last of the evening light, and he wants so badly to pull her into his arms, but he knows that would be unwelcome, and instead he clears his throat, intent on not startling her.

“Hey,” he says, quietly. She startles a bit despite his efforts, and Elliot momentarily feels bad, but then she shoots him a small smile.

“Hey,” she nods, looking back out the window.

“Food’s ready.” He tells her.

“Thanks,” she nods again, still turned away from him. He knows that he should leave her alone – that she likely just needs a moment to herself, away from everyone – but something seems off, and he approaches her instead, leaning up against the edge of the wall where it meets the window pane.

“You good, Liv?”

She turns to look at him, and the look on her face is one that he can’t decipher. Years ago, he had known all her looks – knew exactly how to react to any given situation with her – but time has erased some of that familiarity, and now Elliot is puzzled. Though the vaguely glassy look in her eyes doesn’t bode especially well.

“It’s stupid,” she says. Frankly, Elliot is just relieved that he hasn’t been blown off with an “I’m fine.”

“You hear half the shit that comes out of my mouth, right?”

She gives him a watery laugh and turns to face him. “Only half?” She jokes, though her voice is weak.

“What’s wrong?” He asks, just barely stopping himself from reaching for her.

“I’ve never been on a family vacation before,” she shrugs. “It’s nice, but it’s-” she pauses. “A lot.”

Completely unable to stop himself, Elliot reaches out and slings his arm around her shoulders, pulling her into his side. It’s friendly – an innocent enough gesture that she would have allowed even when they’d been partners – but he still lets out a little sigh of relief when she doesn’t push him away. She just sounded so sad, and there was no way he could do nothing.

“It is a lot,” he nods. “And I’m sorry if Kathy or Maureen harangued you into this weekend.”

She gives him a weak laugh, and he pretends not to notice that she is brushing tears from her face.

“Everyone’s really glad you’re here though, Liv,” he tells her. “I’m really glad you’re here.”

“I’m glad I came,” she admits. “I’ve never seen James so happy.”

Elliot smiles, because she’s right, James has had a smile on his face whenever he’s seen him. “Are you happy?” He asks. It’s maybe too personal a question – probably breaks their moratorium on serious topics – but he’s desperately curious.

“I’m-” she pauses. “Getting there.”

He nods. Realistically, that’s probably the best that he’ll get from her on this, but it’s good enough for now.

“Liv?”

“Yeah?”

“Is that shirt mine?”

Obviously surprised by the abrupt change in topic, she turns to face him, pulling away from him a bit and letting his arm drop. “It absolutely is not.” She laughs, startled. “Elliot, why the hell would I have one of your shirts? Where would I even have gotten it?”

“I dunno,” he shrugs. “But I swear that’s mine. Let me see.” He steps behind her, keen on checking out the tag, but she ducks away from his grasp, laughing.

“You’ve lost your mind,” she laughs. “I have no idea where I got this shirt, but I can guarantee that it’s not yours.”

“Is there a little bullseye drawn on the label?” He asks. He used to mark the shirts that he kept at the office, after Munch picked up the habit of just wearing whatever he found around the bullpen, during his second or third divorce.

Olivia narrows her eyes at him. “How the hell did you know that?”

“That’s mine,” he laughs. “It’s the spare shirt I used to keep at work.”

“Absolutely not,” she declares, peeling the shirt off to inspect the label. And Jesus, suddenly he regrets asking, because she’s standing there in just her shorts and bathing suit top and he absolutely should not be staring at her.

“Liv,” he grits out. But she doesn’t pay him any mind, because she is now inspecting the label of the shirt.

“Jesus Christ,” she huffs. “Of course I’ve been wearing your fucking work shirt the last ten years. Isn't that just vintage Benson.”

“Liv,” he grits out again. “Put that back on.”

She finally looks back at him, clearly confused. But then she must misread the look on his face, because her expression hardens and she juts her chin out.

“What,” she spits. “Can’t stand to look at me?”

“You can’t be serious,” he chokes out, voice strangled. Because fuck all he wants to do is look at her. Touch her. The only thing keeping any shred of restraint alive in him is that fact that she clearly doesn’t want that.

She is pulling the shirt back on though, expression hard, and refusing to meet his eyes. And what the actual fuck? Because he gets why she wouldn’t want him leering at her, but the look on her face is something else entirely. She looks almost embarrassed. And that just doesn’t add up. In the twenty some years he has known her, he has seen Liv in every imaginable state of undress – including barely a month ago when she’d been stabbed – and she has never been anything even approaching self-conscious. But then, he remembers her absolute insistence that he not look at her – not touch her – when she’d had her stitches, and while – at the time – he'd put it down to her being angry with him and working to re-establish a boundary, he now realizes that may not have been the whole story.

“Liv, wait.” He grabs her by the arm before she can make her escape, and he’s genuinely shocked to see that there are tears on her face. “What the hell’s going on?”

“Elliot, drop it.” Her voice is wavering and she’s still not meeting his eyes, instead focusing on a spot somewhere off to his left.

“No,” he says. “I won’t drop it. What’s going on?”

She blows out a hard breath, and finally looks up at him. And Jesus, she looks furious. Maybe he should have just dropped it.

“You want to know what’s going on?” She spits. “Fine. Here, this is what’s going on.” And then she’s taking off the shirt again, and Elliot feels like he’s got whiplash – he really has no idea what the fuck’s happening. But then she pulls down the neckline of her bathing suit and his heart sinks into his stomach. This is about William Lewis. Fuck. Of course she would feel self-conscious. God, he’s such an idiot.

“Liv-” he starts, intent on reassuring her, but she interrupts him.

“No, Elliot,” she grinds out. “You wanted to look? Look.”

And so he does. He figures that this may be the one time he ever has her permission to basically stare at her chest; and while he wishes more than anything that it wasn’t because of the trauma that she obviously still carries, he’s not going to waste the chance to look at her. What he notices first, before any of her scars even enter his field of vision, is that the skin on her chest is a few shades lighter than her face and arms. He supposes that makes sense – she had been wearing that shirt all day in the sun. The scar from her stabbing is still red and raised – lightly stabbed his ass – and he can’t help lifting his hand to run his thumb along it. He notices the way her breath hitches, but doesn’t lower his hand. The older scars that litter her chest are lighter, less angry, and he thinks that – from a distance – he wouldn’t even notice they were there. They don’t form any particular pattern, but he can tell what caused each one – the ridges of her keys still prominent, even after the wounds have healed. He slides his thumb down from the stab wound and across the ridges of key marks and cigarette butts, stopping only when his hand hits the edge of her bathing suit. There is a particularly nasty looking scar that disappears under the material, and he hooks a finger under the lycra, moving it just enough to expose what he now realizes is the mark of a coat hanger, long and slim, but still raised after the years that have passed.

Before he can think better of it, Elliot dips his head and presses a kiss to the raised mark, and he can feel the way that Liv’s heart is thundering in her chest. He drags his lips along the length of the scar and, just as it occurs to him that he should probably stop, he feels her hand come up to rest at the base of his skull. Not wanting to push his luck too much more, he lets go of the edge of her bathing suit, letting it slide back over the scar, and curls his arm around her instead, resting his hand at the small of her back. He straightens up, lifting his head until he is again at eye level with her.

“That what the shirt’s about?” He asks, voice hoarse. “The scars?”

She just nods, but she’s looking at him now, at least. He still can’t decipher the look on her face. He wonders if she’d let him kiss her.

He must be quiet too long though, because she tilts her head at him. “El?” He’s never been as good at hiding his feelings as he might like, and she has called him on it every time he has looked at her like this lately. Every time, he has changed the subject, intent on not making her uncomfortable. But he doesn’t want to do that this time – he needs her to know that her scars change absolutely nothing for him.

“I promised I wouldn’t tell you I love you again.” He says, quietly. “I need you to tell me whether or not to keep that promise, Liv, because I’m hanging on by a thread here.”

“Don’t.” She whispers, and he raises an eyebrow, because that could go either way. “Don’t keep the promise.” She clarifies.

He had intended just to tell her again how much he loves her, but the way that she is looking at him snaps the last of his already thin restraint, and before he even fully realizes what he’s doing, Elliot has pressed his lips to hers, sliding his free hand up to rest at the back of her neck. She presses forward into him immediately, and fuck how has he gone a decade without kissing her. She is still warm from being in the sun all day, and her arms snake up and around his shoulders, her nails scraping at the nape of his neck, and Elliot can’t help the groan that escapes him. He has just swept his tongue into her mouth, pressing her up against the picture window, when a startled voice from the doorway interrupts, like a bucket of ice water.

“Jesus! Fuck, sorry!”

Liv immediately wrenches herself away from him, flushed, with her hand pressed over her mouth, and Elliot has to remind himself that he loves his daughter – because in that moment, he thinks he could strangle her.