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Ouroboros

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The wind is chilly as it sweeps in off the Hudson river, and brings a slight smell of saltwater with it. The breeze tugs at the strands of Olivia’s hair again, tossing them against her cheeks and nose until she brushes them away for the tenth time. 

 

The night is beautiful despite the chill. The lanterns and candles on the assembled tables, mixed with the glow of the string lights that criss-cross over the patio above them, give the space a golden glow. Above them, distant and watchful, a full moon casts silver light across the rippling river water. 

 

The party is winding down, but Olivia can hear the voices of her squad punctuate the music every few minutes. Fin and Phoebe have received the well-wishes of everyone at some point or another throughout the evening, and now have simply settled at a table and collected their people around them. 

 

Olivia’s eyes drift to their table every so often, and she smiles. Phoebe is practically seated in Fin’s lap and huddled into his chest despite the coat that’s tucked around her. Carisi and Amanda’s chairs are pushed together; the ADA has one long arm stretched out across the back of Amanda’s chair and even from here Olivia can see the way the blonde is leaning into his side.

 

“They look happy,” Elliot says from beside her. He’s facing out toward the tables, his back propped against the railing. 

 

“They do,” Olivia answers, her voice matching the quiet tone he has used. 

 

She’s still facing the Hudson, but she has turned to the side to view her squad. One arm is braced against the railing - her empty wine glass perched off to the side, abandoned - and her chest is turned toward Elliot, but she’s still watching the table full of people. 

 

It makes her smile to see everyone so relaxed and happy. 

 

“You look happy,” Elliot continues, even softer. 

 

Olivia’s gaze moves to his face to find that he’s studying her. Even with the amber glow of the lights his eyes are too dark to be truly blue at this moment; the right side of his face is shadowed and outlined only by the weak glow of the moonlight. 

 

“I am.” 

 

It’s quiet here, between them, despite the bursts of laughter and conversation, and the relaxing strain of music that drifts across the space on the wind. 

 

They’ve always done this: existed in places that are obvious, and impenetrable. 

 

Created pocket universes between them, untouchable to the world beyond them. 

 

“Dance with me.”

 

Olivia’s mouth opens in wordless surprise. Elliot’s gaze hasn’t left her face since she found him watching her, and the way he’s looking at her is both achingly familiar and terrifyingly new. 

 

His focus on her is unwavering and unabashed. 

 

“You can dance?” Olivia asks, because she’s surprised, and because she needs a second to reason with her suddenly frantic heart. 

 

“No,” Elliot replies with a sweet smile.

 

Olivia laughs; Elliot’s head tips forward, almost shyly, as his smile widens. 

 

“I might step on your toes,” she tells him, because she can’t dance either. 

 

He shrugs and nods once to his feet, wiggling them when Olivia looks down at them. “Strong feet,” he teases. 

 

Everything in Olivia expands. Her heart, her lungs, her very molecules: everything is full of this moment, the impossible tenderness that rushes like an undercurrent beneath their gentle flirting … the subtle promise that his feet are strong enough to carry them both. 

 

“I’m willing to try,” Elliot adds. 

 

“So am I.” Her answer is hushed but certain, and as they stare at each other for another heartbeat Olivia can’t shake the feeling that something has happened.

 

They have promised each other something just now, a tender pact pillowed in pale moonlight and folded into the places only they can go. 

 

Her love is like a balloon that expands beneath her skin until, too full, it pulls her apart at the seams … or carries her, weightless, into his arms.

 

Olivia’s coat is still resting on her shoulders - she hasn’t bothered to slip her arms into the sleeves - and she slips it off now and releases it into Elliot’s waiting hands. He hangs it over the back of the nearest chair and then holds out one of his hands for her. The weight of his hand is familiar in hers as his fingers close around it. He doesn’t lead her far, just away from the railing and into a space that’s big enough to keep them from having to worry about the tables. 

 

She’s not thinking about her squad at the table, or the faces of the strangers that have gathered in pockets around tables and in circles around the patio; she’s not thinking about any of the moments that have led up to this one, or any of the moments that might come next. 

 

All Olivia is thinking about is the pressure and subtle heat of Elliot’s hand as it settles on her waist; the thickness of his fingers as his other hand clasps one of hers, and the curve of his shoulder beneath her other hand. 

 

They stare at each other for a heartbeat and then Elliot slides his hand from her waist to the dip in the small of her back and pulls her closer, into the expanse of his chest. 

 

Olivia doesn’t know who starts moving first. She thinks it’s Elliot. The music is still a gentle strain on the wind, unfamiliar but relaxing, and as they sway Olivia can smell his cologne. They’re not going to win any awards for best dancing but it’s nice, the way they move together with his arm a solid band at her back, and she hasn’t stepped on his toes yet. 

 

“You smell like flowers,” he tells her quietly.

 

Olivia’s smile is lazy and lopsided. “You smell expensive.”

 

Elliot laughs and draws their clasped hands closer into his chest; Olivia’s hand tightens subconsciously on his shoulder. 

 

“Is this what we do now, Elliot?” It’s not a question that she would have let herself ask yesterday, or the day before, but that weightless feeling in her chest makes it hard to concentrate on anything outside of this moment.

 

“What?” 

 

“Dance. Flirt,” and her voice drops on the second word like it’s a secret. 

 

Elliot’s expression is still open beneath her gaze. He doesn’t try to hide from her study of him even though leaving himself open to her means that she can see the way his brows draw down in uncertainty, and he rubs his lips together as he tries to work out a reply.

 

Of all of the frightening things they’ve faced together, this is somehow on another level. Olivia can’t say that they’ve never flirted before, because God knows that even though it hadn’t been blatant it had certainly been understood to be what it was, but this isn’t the same. It’s not just that this flirting is outright, without any of the hidden layers that once covered it - it’s that the ten years of absence leading up to this moment makes it feel new, somehow. 

 

All of that time apart has granted them a reset. They are at a crossroads, and for the first time, possibly ever, they are free to choose where to go. 

 

“And if it is?” Elliot probes carefully. “If I said that I wanted it to be?”

 

There are reasons to shut this down. There are hazards on this road, hurdles that will require time and hard work to overcome. 

 

But this is Elliot. It’s her, and him, and even though neither one of them can dance they’ve been doing just that for several minutes now. 

 

He’s getting an apartment in the city, and he’d listened to her about taking care of himself, and nothing that’s been truly worthwhile in her life has come without a fight. 

 

It’s a risk, but Olivia lowers her eyes to take in the subtle pattern of his tie and then, taking a breath, lifts her eyes again and cocks her head to the side and says with gentle teasing, “Well, you did say you loved me, so I guess nothing is off the table.”

 

The surprised bark of laughter that skips out of Elliot’s throat drowns out the sound of anything else. The blue of his eyes is still masked by the darkness but they glitter in nervous delight when he drops his gaze back to her face. She can feel people looking at them, but she doesn’t care.

 

Olivia’s lips curve up in a tender, shy half-smile that’s meant only for Elliot, only for this moment. Teasing him about something so heavy is a gamble. She knew that in the moments before she said it, but just for a second she had wanted it to be easy. Olivia has learned over the years that there can be moments of levity in the struggle. 

 

It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom all the time. It shouldn’t be, because sometimes the only things that have kept her going are moments like these, where the pressure and stress and weight of it all relents just enough to let in the joy. 

 

The laughter. 

 

“Clever,” Elliot says.

 

Because he laughed, and because his arm is so comfortable resting on her back the way it is, Olivia drops her head to his shoulder. The swaying of their bodies is relaxing; she closes her eyes and shivers as the breeze picks up the strands of her hair and sweeps across the back of her neck. 

 

In response, Elliot pulls her tighter into his chest. 

 

“I missed you,” he says into the hair at the crown of her head. 

 

In their years apart, Elliot recognized his missing her as something complete. It’d come over him wholly, all-encompassing: I miss Olivia

 

Since he’s been back, it’s been easier and easier to break it down into its individual parts. He’d missed her cleverness and witty comebacks; the sly smile that she gives him when she’s teasing him; the way her mouth flattens into a straight line when she’s pissed.

 

“You smell the same,” Olivia quietly offers.

 

I missed you, too , he hears.

 

“I thought I smelled expensive?” 

 

“Hmm,” she hums affirmatively against him, and then she raises her head to look at him. “But the same.”

 

Ten years, and she still remembers what he smells like.

 

Olivia shivers again. The night is stretching on and it’s a few degrees cooler now than it had been at the start of the evening.

 

“You’re cold,” Elliot muses quietly. “Let’s get your coat.”

 

She doesn’t want to stop dancing, but she is cold and it’s been a long week. Two glasses of wine and the comfort of Elliot’s arms have made her tired, have relaxed her just enough for her limbs to feel heavy and languid. She’s had a hell of a week and now all she wants to do is sleep. 

 

Olivia slips her arms into the sleeves of her coat this time when Elliot helps her into it. 

 

“Let me drive you home,” he offers.

 

She smiles. “I can manage, El,” she replies, the old nickname falling easily from her lips. “Besides, I drove here.” 

 

“You look exhausted, Liv.” Then, before she can make a quip about it, he gently adds, “Beautiful, but exhausted.”

 

She scoffs lightly but ignores the beautiful comment. “It’s been a long week.”

 

“I know,” Elliot agrees, even though Olivia isn’t sure that he does, really. “So, let me take care of you, Liv.”

 

It’s so earnest. The shadows on his face are softer now that they’re closer to the tables, and even though the years have left visible markers on him - on both of them - Olivia remembers this look being leveled at her countless times before, across messy desks and a darkened precinct. 

 

She remembers his quiet but insistent concern … and how long it’s been since she stopped hoping she’d ever be on the receiving end of it again. 

 

Later, maybe, that thought will hurt. On some other night, in some other place, that thought might wound Olivia with the bitterness she expects to feel now, and doesn’t. 

 

Now, Elliot’s concern warms her. It’s familiar, and welcome; it’s reassuring to think that despite his absence, she’s still someone he cares about.

 

Someone he has always cared about, as she has always cared about him. 

 

“Okay.”

 

Because he wants to take care of her, and she wants to let him. Because, like the way he’d laughed as he’d held her, it can be as simple as that in this moment. 

 

They say their goodbyes and no one spares a thought for the fact that she and Elliot are leaving together. There’s smiles and light laughter as they all wish each other a good weekend, and that balloon in Olivia’s chest swells impossibly. How can one body hold so much love, she wonders. 

 

It’s thoughtless the way she hands Elliot her keys, and the way he opens the passenger door for her without a word. That’s new - he’d never opened her door for her as her partner - but natural, too, and that’s just where they are now Olivia supposes. 

 

They are new, and familiar; timeless, and evolving. 

 

Everything and nothing and everything again, and Olivia closes her eyes as Elliot drives them across Manhattan. Her car smells like him now. She hopes that it lingers, that smell, that it digs itself into the leather and cloth the way it has dug itself into her. 

 

The way that Elliot has.

 

Olivia hopes that it holds his memory long after he’s gone, like she has. 

 

Like she did, because he’s back now and every once in a while she can hear the rasp of his palm against the leather of her steering wheel. She’s so calm in this moment, enclosed in this space with just Elliot and the soft sounds of the radio; anchored after worrying for so long that she’s destined to be forever unmoored. 

 

Her eyes are closed - just a minute, Olivia tells herself, a momentary respite - but the way she reaches for him is instinctive. She drapes her arm over the center console that separates them and extends searching fingertips into the space she knows he occupies and only stops when she can feel the fabric of his sleeve. Her fingers curl automatically: the pads of her fingertips trace the bend of his inner elbow. 

 

Olivia is asleep in seconds, her hand resting on Elliot’s arm and her head turned in his direction on the headrest of her seat. 

 

She dreams of knots, and numbers, and a story she read to Noah once about the great serpent, Ouroboros, who devours himself just to be born again.

 

She dreams of things that don’t end, and Elliot navigates their journey through the dark that Olivia can’t see, and her hand never budges from its place on his arm. 

 

He wakes her minutes after he’s parked and has time to sit in the quiet stillness of her peace, and when her eyes are open again she invites him up, and wraps her hand around the arm that he offers to her as they make their way upstairs. 

 

It’s peace, Olivia knows, that follows them into her apartment, into her bedroom, into each other. 

 

Nothing can begin without something else ending, and they are the world serpent, the Ouroboros - the oldest cycle, the endless circle, the end and the beginning of everything. 

 

Old, and new, and eternal.

 

They devour each other and are born again.