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Atlantis

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She's not sure what she expects, or if she expects anything at all.

It's been so long since she's allowed herself to feel anything but the crawling seethe of injustice that she has no idea what this is within her, if it's anything. Then again, it has to be something because she is having trouble breathing.

She's also having trouble holding her breath.

But she's trying. To hold her breath, that is. She's trying to keep herself together. She can't falter when she sees him. He can't think that she is a wreck of a person or that she can't stand on her own two feet. He can't feel guilty for what he did.

He had to leave her. He had to.

She gets that.

She has tried not to take it personally, but she battles that fight every day. Every day she pushes forward. Every day she misses the hell out of him. Every day she feels like she wasn't enough, because clearly if she had been, he wouldn't have walked away in order to find something better. He wouldn't have had to.

She hopes that he's found whatever it was that he'd been looking for, because Jesus, it's been eight months of working without him and enough is enough. Her patience, the smile she has plastered on, it's wearing thin.

She talks to herself a lot these days. She says things like he's happy and you want him to be happy. She tells herself that she was the best partner she could have been. She reminds herself that if she wants to be the person he thinks she is that she will give him the time he needs. That she will encourage him to keep doing what he's doing. Even if he is doing it away from her. Not with her. Without her.

Even if she doesn't know what Page | 7the hell he is doing.

Her hands grip the steering wheel. The sun is jarring, almost blinding -a little too brilliant- as she flies down the thruway. It's a Wednesday afternoon at two o'clock, and she's off for the next week.

A whole week. An eternity if he sends her home in a few hours.

She has a few things in a bag, but she doesn't know if she will be staying or going. She has no idea what to expect.

Which works out just fine, because living without expectation is a particular specialty of hers.

She tells herself there is nothing ahead, but truthfully, she doesn't care too much about what she's left behind either, and that means she's driving through the middle of some sort of purgatory.

She keeps driving. Eyes straight ahead. Breath tentatively held. The top is down on the Mustang, and she lets the sun pound against her bare arms. The simple, blue jersey dress she wears comes to just above her knees, and she has hiked it up as she sits to get some sun on her thighs. Her skin has been cold for so long, but right now the late June heat is seeping into her. Finally. She chalks up the lack of shivering to the weather and not to the fact that she is heading there. To him.

The wind whips her hair. It's longer than it had been when he'd last seen it. It falls just past her shoulders, and even tugged into a messy ponytail right now, strands lash at her face. Her sunglasses are aviators, and her Sig is in the glove compartment, as if she will need it out here. Of course she won't, but she brings it anyways. Maybe it's just the most tangible thing about her, the easiest thing to hold onto.

She doesn't have much to hold onto these days.

What she needs is the air. She is desperate for the thick, hot air that sinks into her. Her eyelids are heavy, lulled by the straightaway drive and the surprising lack of traffic.

The heat is relentless.

It is everywhere but inside of her. Her gut is still cold. Frigid. Even after the snow melted and the spring came, she hadn't warmed. She stays stuck in the ice of winter.

His winter.

Her foot rests a little heavier on the pedal as she drives. Behind her sunglasses, her eyes burn and she turns up the volume on the radio. For a little while it drowns out the rushing noise in her head.

Maybe it's the fear. Maybe it's the memories.

Maybe it's just because it's been too damned long and he had been devastatingly wrong.

She hadn't been just fine without him after all.

***

Eight months.

He stares out a hundred feet ahead at the Atlantic, the concrete pavement of the patio burning into the soles of his feet. At the edge of the water the seaweed is piling up, and the seagulls are swooping in on it, picking out whatever they can find for food. They squawk as they dive downwards, and he squints against the glare coming off the water as he watches a particularly aggressive bird indicate its territory.

He knows about this sort of thing. About claiming space. About thinking that there had to be inherent rights to something. To someone.

He thinks about having to let go in order to figure out what was actually his. He thinks about how it could take years for a life to change, or it could happen in just an instant.

His mom is gone now. She'd had a heart attack in the middle of the night early last November and she had never woken again. He'd gotten the call in the morning after a neighbor had found her and just like that, the choices he had to make had started to line up, until there was no more waiting, no more procrastinating, no more pretending.

He'd never said goodbye to his mother. He had never forgiven her, absolved her, understood her. But he knows now that he couldn't have given his mother those things because he had never learned to give them to himself.

It's been a long-ass eight months.

He misses the hell out of his partner. Olivia. He catches himself saying her name out loud every now and then, and these days there is no one to hear him. He sometimes stands under the spray of the shower and closes his eyes. In those moments he grits his teeth so hard he can feel the pressure of it in his temples.

He prays to God that he did the right thing by walking away. He waits for a sign but he's still not gotten an answer.

He'd left her just as the winter was rolling in, when the slush had already been thick on the streets of Manhattan. The failures had piled up in his chest, and the more he had looked at her, the more he had realized how little he had to give her, to any of them. If it had been up to him, he would have lived in the complacency forever, because it was easier than uprooting everything and everyone. But when he looked at her, at the way she still looked at him with a little bit of hope, of faith, of belief, he knew he couldn't just do what was easy anymore.

She needed something from him. He had to stay - to really stay - or to go.

He'd gone.

Leave of absence. Three words that said nothing at all, but that had one, singular result.

He had walked away from Manhattan. From his family. From his job.

From Olivia.

His mother had died and it had made him leave everything behind. His marriage had been the first casualty. His job, the second. The truth was that he'd even pulled back from his kids for more than a few weeks, because he couldn't be anything but sure of himself in front of them.

He'd asked Olivia to forgive him for leaving her.

He thinks she did.

He has never tried to forgive himself.

***

She remembers the house.

Of course she does. It had been his mother's, and she remembers everything when it comes to the details of his life. His face is more familiar to her than her own. Even now.

She kills the engine and sits back in her seat. She parked half a block down the beach, and she will trek across the sand to get to the bungalow-style home. Her head falls back onto the leather seat and she lifts her chin to the sun. She takes a deep breath and then decides what to do with it. Exhale, she thinks. Let this one go. There will be another.

She needs to get herself together, because she refuses to let him see her as less than she had been when he had left. He'll take on the responsibility of her in an instant, and she doesn't want that. She wants him to decide to come back on his own. When he's ready.

She doesn't want him to see that she is just biding time until he comes home. She presses her lips together and inhales again.

She holds onto this one.

She wants to be able tell him that things are good. She wants to say that after he left she managed to move on. She wants to tell him that she's found a rhythm that works with Fin, and that Munch doesn't seem to mind that she stole his partner. She wants to tell him that it is okay that he left, and that she understands.

She completely understands. That part is the truth.

It's easier to understand the leaving, and harder to reconcile why he had stayed with her for so many years. It's even harder still to comprehend just how much she counts on him coming back to her. Soon.

She ignores the small voice inside of her that has been cautioning her about coming out here. She knows it's dangerous. She knows that seeing him again will open the wounds, will make the need sharper. She knows that she is looking for signs that he is almost done with this phase, and that he is almost ready to be her partner again.

She is banking on all of this, even if she tries to remind herself otherwise.

Ahead of her, the waves roll in, and she listens for the sounds that announce each one of them. She hears the build and then the crash, and she pulls the rubber band out of her hair, running her fingers through the messy, tangled strands. She pulls off her sunglasses and twists the rearview mirror to face her.

She opens her eyes. Her face is pale, despite the last hour of sun. Her eyes seem too wide, her irises too monochromatic. She has no expression on her face, and if anyone were to characterize her at all, they'd say she looked exhausted.

She isn't crying. She hasn't in a long, long time.

He's her friend, she thinks. And he's happy here. When he had called her to ask her to come out, he had sounded so even. So unbelievably even. He hadn't fumbled over his words; instead his voice had taken on a soothing, confident cadence that had left her gripping the phone, as if she could hold onto the sound.

You feel up to a drive?

She closes her eyes now. She can do this. She can. She hadn't lost her composure as he had packed up his desk. So she can do this. They can do some catching up, if that's what they call it. At least she can catch up, so she is no longer left far behind.

Time has passed, she reassures herself. You're stronger now. She won't break down or break apart. It's just him.

She doesn't have expectations. She doesn't. She hopes maybe he'll make her laugh, because he is good at that, and if he does, then it was worth the drive. She ignores the small bag she has packed that sits in the trunk.

In case of emergency, she rationalizes. It's there in case of emergency. Maybe he will need her to stay a few days, help him pack up. Maybe he will decide to drive back at the same time as her.

The lies are hollow, even to her, and yet she is so willing to believe them.

She swings open the car door and gets out of the car. It'll take her a few minutes to put the top back up, and that'll give her the distraction she needs.

She doesn't think about who she will be when she makes the drive back home.