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Exhale

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A/N: I wrote this BEFORE 2x03 aired, this was my speculation. Originally posted on ff dot net.


Pounding on her door startles her out of sleep.

 

She sits up on the couch, heart pounding, and waits a beat—

 

—someone bangs against the door again and she jumps to her feet, moving as quickly as she can, boot permitting, to look through the peephole.

 

“Elliot,” she breathes, yanking the door open, “What the hell are you—you were supposed to call and check in three hours ago—“

 

He takes a step back, and instantly she notices several things at once, much to her dismay. The first is that he’s bleeding from a cut on his forehead, blood trickling down into his eyebrow. The second is that he’s unsteady on his feet, like he’s been drinking, or he’s concussed, though she’ll take the former over the latter. The third is that his eyes are red, and he’s looking at her like she’s water in the desert, desperate and pained.

 

“Come here,” she hisses, grabbing his arm and pulling him in past her, glancing in both directions down her hallway.

 

“Liv—“

 

She gets the door closed and bolted, and then pushes him up against it with her palm, stepping right into his space.

 

“My son is asleep,” she says softly, dangerously, “You will keep your voice down. Understand?”

 

“Yeah, I—yes,” he manages, holding his hands up, “M’sorry, Liv. M’sorry.”

 

The way he’s looking at her makes it almost impossible to be mad at him, all stormy blue eyes and sadness coming off of him in waves; she stares into his slightly unfocused, watery gaze, and some of the fight goes out of her.

 

“Jesus, Elliot,” she murmurs, shaking her head, “Come here, let me look at your head.”

 

“S’fine,” he mutters, brushing it off.

 

“It’s not fine, it’s bleeding,” she sighs, sitting him down on her couch, “I’ll be right back, don’t go anywhere.”

 

He nods and leans back into the couch, silently waving her away. She steps away long enough to text Ayanna that she’s got him, that something happened but she’s not sure what yet. She gets a first aid kit from under the kitchen sink, and pads back over to him.

 

“Sit up,” she commands softly, “El. Come on.”

 

But he doesn’t move, he barely even breathes.

 

“Liv,” he murmurs, covering his eyes, reaching for her hand, “Please.”

 

Her heart leaps into her throat at the tone of his voice; he’s never begged for her before, and his mouth is tight with emotion, and her brain starts whirring with all the possibilities, all the things that could have happened to him tonight.

 

“What?” she whispers, softening, giving him her hand, “Tell me what happened.”

 

He shakes his head, squeezing like he’s trying to reassure himself. “M’sorry.”

 

“Why are you sorry?” she breathes, officially worried about the state he’s in now, “Talk to me.”

 

“Shouldn’t be here,” he rasps, clearing his throat, dragging his hand down his face, “I was drinking.”

 

“I can see that,” she sighs, switching to the other side of him on the couch, “I need to look at your head, okay?”

 

She has to scoot in closer to really see anything, since he seems incapable of sitting up at the moment. The bleeding looks to have stopped, dried in a dark streak down his forehead, and she pulls a disinfecting wipe out of the kit.

 

“I’m just going to clean it up. Probably gonna sting,” she says quietly, cradling his cheek in her palm.

 

They’re quiet while she gently cleans the blood from his face, and she takes the time to try and get a better read on him. She forces herself to relax, gently rubs her thumb over his cheekbone, and watches the way his body relaxes in response. They’ve always fed off each other that way, instantly able to tell when the other is on alert, when something’s off, when something’s terribly wrong.

 

“Hey,” she murmurs, trying again, “Talk to me. What happened tonight?”

 

He’s less frantic, less confused when his eyes blink open this time, instantly finding hers. “My mother.”

 

Of all the things she’d expected him to say.

 

“Bernie?” she says, confused, “Is she in the city?”

 

“She called us,” he sighs, grimacing and pushing her hand away, “Told us she was dyin’, we had to come say goodbye. She’s fine. Fuckin’ fruitcake.”

 

“El,” she admonishes quietly, pushing his hand down, “Little bit left, stop. So, you went to see Bernie, and it didn’t go well.”

 

“Turns out,” he says, blinking slowly, smiling in a rueful, dangerous sort of way, “She really just wanted to tell me what a shitty job I’m doing living life. Bad father, bad widow, bad cop…”

 

He trails off, shaking his head, squeezing his eyes closed.

 

None of that is true,” she says firmly, stuffing the disinfectant wipe back into its paper packet, “You know that.”

 

“Do I?” he snorts, chuckling darkly, “I’ve been undercover over three months. My kids are takin’ care of themselves—“

 

“—your kids are adults,” she says gently, “All but one. And Eli’s just fine. They’re proud of you. They know how dedicated you are. So, how did this happen? Hmm?”

 

He sits up slowly and leans forward, digging the heels of his palms into his eyes the way he does when he has a headache.

 

“Went to a bar,” he admits, not looking at her, “Tripped on my way out, into a street light. Like a fuckin’ douche.”

 

“Okay,” she says gently, starting to uncurl herself from the couch, “Let me get some aspirin.”

 

“No, Liv,” he says suddenly grabbing onto her arm, eyes suddenly bright and glassy, “I need—“

 

Their eyes lock, and he stops, choking on his words as he stares into her soul. The naked, vulnerable look in his eyes makes it hard for her to breathe; suddenly she’s very warm, and his hand feels like it’s burning her skin through her sweater. The way he’s looking at her makes her want to burst into tears, or throw up, or both, for no reason other than the sheer intensity of it. It hits deep in her gut, between her thighs, in between her ribs, all of her most sensitive places, like her brain can’t absorb something that’s more animal than cerebral. He looks at her, openly, lips parted, and the pull of him is so strong that she can’t look away. It’s both achingly familiar and so brand new.

 

“I need—I want to talk about the letter,” he manages, finally, swallowing hard.

 

All the sensations change as hot, nauseating shock flashes through her.

 

“The—“

 

She chokes too, covering her mouth for a second.

 

“You want to talk about the letter,” she echoes, shaking her head in disbelief, “Right now? I have nothing to say about the letter.”

 

“Why?” he breathes, looking panicked, “Why?”

 

His panic is too much for her, too much when they’re connecting like that, and she stands up on shaky legs, trying to slow her breathing down. Pain shoots through her ankle, rooting her to the spot where she stands, and she shifts her weight, gritting her teeth.

 

“I—I wanted to talk about that months ago—“

 

“—I know—“

 

“—and you walked away—“

 

“—I—“

 

“—and you want to talk about it now? While you’re drunk, and bleeding on my couch? After you left me again?

 

“Liv,” he says unevenly, pressing a fist against his forehead, “I—everything’s fucked up, and I can’t—I—“

 

He reaches for her, using his strength to pull her in close, wrapping his arms around her stomach, burying his face in her chest so that she won’t see him cry. He’s warm and heavy against her, burrowing into her like he’ll float away if she doesn’t anchor him, and her balance is bad in this goddamn boot but somehow he’s steadying her too as he pulls her closer.

 

Her breath catches and she lets him pull her down to kneel on the couch, wrapping one arm around his shoulders, cradling the back of his head with her other hand. He’s sniffling, clearing his throat, and she closes her eyes, holding him in the shelter of her body. He’s hurting, and no matter what’s happened between them, no matter what he’s done, she can’t ignore his pain. His pain is her pain, she feels it so deeply that pushing him away isn’t an option; it’s not something she’s capable of doing, she simply doesn’t know how.

 

“—everything’s fucked up, and the only thing I know is that I love you. I meant that letter, I’ve loved you since—I love you—“

 

“Okay. Okay,” she whispers, trying to keep breathing, rubbing little circles against the back of his neck with her thumb, “Shhh. I know. Shhh.”

 

“Liv, I need you—“

 

“It’s okay,” she soothes, swallowing against her own tears, “I’m right here.”

 

He gulps and swallows, and she feels his palms splay open where they rest on her back, like he’s trying to get more contact.

 

Her head spins.

 

It feels like someone’s pressed fast forward on her life and she can’t figure out how to slow everything the fuck down. Not only is he back from the dead, but he’s looking at her the way he does, and the way he doesn’t, and disappearing undercover, and it all feels so very two thousand and ten, except it’s not, because he’s also writing her letters that make her want to strangle him and fuck him at the same time. He’s falling apart in her arms, clinging to her like touching is a thing they do, and maybe it would be, maybe it should be, but there’s no time to figure any of that out because he keeps giving her fucking whiplash and she’s had enough of that lately.

 

As if she isn’t dizzy enough already, he pulls back and looks up at her and jesus fucking christ…

 

She instantly drowns in his eyes; they’re soft and familiar, full of the unspoken, and for the first time it dawns on her that he might be telling the truth. The letter is folded and tucked away in her memory box now, deep in the closet, along with all the other pieces of him that she can’t bear to part with, but its contents are burned into her forever.

 

Her brows furrow as she stares back at him, breaths quick and soft, blinking the tears out of her eyes so she can see him.

 

“Are you serious?” she whispers, guarded, “Because if you’re not—I’m not waiting for you, Elliot. I don’t care how drunk you are, you can’t—“

 

“—I’m not drunk,” he rasps softly, shaking his head, “Drinking. Tired. But, not drunk.”

 

Slowly, he raises his hand to her face, brushing her hair behind her ear, cradling her cheek with a warm, callused palm. It cracks her open, the tenderness of it. It’s been too long since anyone’s touched her like she matters, like she’s a woman first and a cop second. With him it’s breathtakingly different, because thirteen years of restraint are there in his eyes, pouring out of him, telling her every single story. She covers his hand with hers and leans into his touch, closing her eyes, taking a few breaths to try and get everything to slow down.

 

Her eyes open again when she feels his breath on her face, and she’s not sure if he sat up or if she’s drifted down but they’re close, now. His thumb is tracing soft swipes against her cheekbone and she can’t fucking think with him this close to her, and she needs to be thinking because if she stops, if they don’t think about this—   

 

“Don’t you wanna know?” he rasps, eyes flicking between her eyes and her mouth, “Haven’t you ever wondered?”

 

Yeah.

 

Yeah, she’s wondered.

 

She’s also spent a lot of time trying not to wonder, trying not to think about how they could be, the way they would come at each other if they let themselves.

 

“Fuck it,” he whispers, closer now, but still, giving her the power, “Just, for once—it doesn’t have to mean everything. Not right now. Not all at once.”

 

At eleven pm on a Tuesday night, it’s too much, and she’s so fucking tired—

 

His breath catches when she kisses him, like even after all that he wasn’t expecting it. She slides her hands onto his neck, thumbs pressed into his jawline, and kisses him in a long, soft press. His lips are a little rough, but they’re warm and pliant under hers, yielding; he exhales.  

 

That’s what kissing him is.

 

It’s relief, and they both sink into it like a hot spring, exhaling, two halves of the same soul reunited.

 

In one fluid motion he slides to the edge of the sofa and she sinks into his lap, sighing into his mouth, lazily dragging her lips against his again, and again. It’s a dance they already know, instinctually, how to push and pull against each other. She can anticipate how he wants to corner a suspect, can play off of him without thinking, so she shouldn’t be surprised when their tongues move in sync, when he knows exactly how to hold her body so there’s no pressure on her ankle. It shouldn’t take her breath away when his mouth slides over her neck, and instantly finds the spot that makes her hips rock. He opens his mouth and sucks, hot and wet, on that spot, and she melts against him in a soft, moaning sigh, digging her nails into his neck.

 

Fuck,” he sighs, resting his forehead in the vee of her sweater, warm skin against warm skin.

 

She’s breathing slow and heavy, and her whole body is alive, and oh—it’s like that, she realizes.

 

They let the moment end naturally, and she cradles him against her again, leaning down to press her lips to the top of his head. He makes a low noise of contentment, and it stirs her protectiveness over him, makes her want to pull rank and pull him out of this damn UC.

 

“You need to come out, soon,” she murmurs instead, gently scratching her fingers between his shoulder blades, “You know that.”

 

He hums, nodding a little against her. “I know.”

 

“Okay,” she says quietly, satisfied for now, “Stay on the couch tonight. Be better than your van.”

 

He’s calmer now but she hasn’t forgotten the way he’d fallen apart in her arms less than twenty minutes ago, and there’s no way she’s letting him walk out into the night after that. She feels his resigned breath more than she hears it, and then he’s helping her off his lap, letting her push into him for leverage and support as she gets to her feet. He keeps his arms around her waist, steadying her.

 

“How’s your ankle?”

 

“It hurts like a sonofabitch, thank you for asking.”

 

He snorts, smiles for the first time all night, and it soothes her worry a little that he can still appreciate her snark.

 

“C’mon,” she murmurs, encouraging him back onto the couch, “You look like you haven’t slept.”

 

He lets her cradle him back into the soft cushions, holding onto her until he’s finally laying down, looking up at her with hazy, tired eyes.

 

“I’ve slept,” he counters, but there’s no fight behind it, and she can see that he’s not arguing with her, that he won’t fight sleep here in her home.

 

“Just, sleep more, okay?” she soothes, rubbing his jawline with her thumb, sinking down onto the edge of the coffee table.

 

Her fingers trail up to his temple and press in, rubbing in slow circles. His eyes drift closed under her touch, and his breath evens out after just a minute, evidence of his exhaustion.

 

What a fucking mess of a night.

 

Pressing her fingers against her mouth, she watches him…and smiles.


A/N: Thank you for reading!