"Remember your virtue, redemption lies plainly in truth.
The self is not so weightless, not whole and unbroken. Remember the pact of our youth.
Where you go, I'm going. So jump and I'm jumping since there is no me without you."
- Achilles Come Down, Gang of Youths
Trigger warning: references to suicide, Lewis storyline/sexual assault
The gym is dark and quiet. The place is empty at this hour of the night and in that solitude he feels safe. The air is warm and heavy, sickly stale with the smell of sweat.
He breathes in, breathes out and throws another punch.
The floor beneath his feet is slick with his own sweat, falling on the surface of the canvas like drops of rain, but he can't stop.
His body, his physical strength, his fight is the only thing he has left. He can only make himself faster, stronger, not better.
He pummels the bag over and over and over again. His knuckles are bleeding through the tape, but his hands are numb.
He can't feel it. He can't feel much anymore.
His mother had gone to bed and he'd waited. He'd waited up for his kid.
"He's a good kid, Mama."
He is, isn't he?
He slams his fist into the bag again and again.
He doesn't know anymore.
His son lied to his face. More than once, twice, three times.
He has always tried for the benefit of the doubt with Eli. Something his kid's brother and sisters never got the benefit of, but now he wonders if he has been too lenient.
His son had come in at a quarter to eleven and flatly denied he'd taken the pills once, twice, three times before he told the truth.
He slams his fist in the bag.
He didn't raise his son to be a liar. He isn't sure he raised him at all.
He locked up the apartment [threatening his son with house arrest for the rest of his days] and ran.
He'd run blocks and blocks through the dark. His feet pounding against the pavement, his breath searing through his chest. He isn't sure what he is running from, except he knows he can't elude it because it follows him everywhere he goes.
It's a weight around his ankles, a noose around his neck, a ghost grasping his shoulders pulling him, dragging him down.
He fights harder.
Punches, jabs one blow after another, over and over again.
His blood is mixing with his perspiration on the floor of the ring.
He tilts his head, stretching his neck and he remembers. He remembers the feeling of her palm against his pulse point.
She'd reached for him tonight.
God help him.
She is the answer to every prayer he has ever prayed and yet she can't be. She can't be the resolution.
He doesn't deserve her. This he knows.
He has frightened her with all that he has, all that he holds inside of him. He reaches for her too easily, so automatically.
She is everything he wants. She is all he can't have because she is Heaven and he is surely destined for Hell. They aren't the same anymore. He has taken life again and again while she gives.
He can't touch her with blood dripping from his hands. He has washed everyday for the last decade, but the stain is still here.
Blooming red, raw, new each morning.
He has spilled others. He has spilled his own. He remembers hers appearing beneath her fingertips on the filthy floor of a bus station.
She still has a scar and God help him the way he wants to touch her, to trace her skin with his fingers, with his mouth.
He wants her, needs her. She is the one thing he can't have. He can't let himself touch.
God help him.
The way he wants her.
She is a daring dichotomy. She has always been his Achilles heel and his greatest strength. The one thing that always brings him to his knees and pulls him up to stand all at once.
The way he needs her.
It's messy and ferocious, uncontrollable and frantic, and yet so fucking gentle.
So unbearably tender.
The way she touched him tonight...his world stopped and began again in the darkness of her eyes.
His fist cracks against the surface of the bag and he withdraws with a low groan.
His body can't fail him.
It's all he has left.
He hears the jingle of the bell at the door and he closes his eyes for a split instant. He swears to God he locked it behind him. He wonders who it is, who he will have to pretend for at this hour. He is playing a dangerous game with fire, and guns, and blood.
He is keenly aware of all he doesn't know.
He grabs the towel from the rope and tosses it to the floor.
The place is dark, dim, and he isn't about to call out. He knows whoever has come can see him, but he is blind. He thinks of his gun tucked safely beneath his button down some ten feet to his left, sitting on a bench. He wonders if he should move toward it or use his fists as protection. He wonders if there is anything left of him worth protecting. Olivia seems to think so. He wonders if she is right. He wonders if she is wrong. He wonders…
He would recognize her voice anywhere. An ocean apart, a decade away, a pseudo-life in which he is a criminal, she is a cop, and they have never met and yet...
"Whaddya doin' here?" His voice is rougher than he intends, but she has scared him. He is scared for her. They are alone, but if someone shows up…
He'll never let anyone touch her.
She doesn't speak, simply stares up at him from the floor below the ring. Her hair is tied back from her face in a ponytail and he wants to wrap his fingers up in the silky strands. Her skin is devoid of makeup and she looks nothing like a captain in the NYPD. She looks soft. She looks tired. He watches her dark eyes skim over him, over his body. He swallows hard beneath her scrutiny before he realizes he has been doing the same to her. She wears a loose black t-shirt, the opposite of his white tank, and matching yoga pants that cling to the curves of her perfect body in ways he can't begin to let himself think about.
He struggles for a breath as he watches her watching him. Something flickers behind her brown eyes when she looks at his broken knuckles, but she doesn't flinch as though she understands sometimes it is necessary to bleed.
"I couldn't sleep," she says matter-of-factly as though they are standing in his living room and not in the den of murderers he has found himself a part of.
She takes a step toward the ring and rests her elbows on the surface of the rope.
"Heard you were giving lessons." Her voice is velvet and he can't have heard her properly.
He can't have.
"What kinda lessons?" He asks, his voice too low. She gives him the smallest smile and sweeps her ponytail over her shoulder in a very uncharacteristic move and he realizes.
She is flirting with him.
She is playing a role. The same way he does every day of his life. She thinks she recognizes the danger she has just put herself into, but she doesn't.
Now that she is here, he can't let her leave. Not without him beside her to protect her.
"Teach me to fight?" She poses the question. He feels her gaze travel over his body again until she meets his eyes. He has no idea what she is doing here, but he wonders whether she knows that if she can't sleep tonight, he may never sleep again.
He shakes his head.
"Who's a pretty girl like you gotta worry 'bout fighting?"
He watches the slightest shutter of her eyes as if she travels somewhere else for a moment before she returns back to him. He wants to know where she went.
He is half-joking with her, trying to give her an out, a chance to change her mind, but now he feels like he is missing something.
"Monsters," she replies simply. She plants her palms on the canvas and deftly lifts herself up into the ring. He wants to reach for her, to grab her hand, to pull her toward him, but he doesn't; so she does. She reaches up and grasps his hand to pull herself up, to stand on her feet.
She looks up at him and in her dark eyes he sees what she is trying to tell him.
He knows she doesn't reach for monsters.
She stands before him and this close he can see that the dark t-shirt she wears isn't black. It's navy blue. It's old and worn and probably soft against her skin. It's too big for her and there is the shadow of a worn decal above her left breast as if the t-shirt once relayed a message.
She stands still while he moves around her, like the Earth orbiting the sun. He circles her once, twice, on the pretense of sizing her up, but really he is trying to get close enough to whisper in her ear. His surveillance has paid off and he knows the only camera in the place resides in Kosta's office.
They're safe, at least for this moment. Still…
"What are you doin' here?" He rumbles again. An errant wisp of her hair falls from her ponytail and he clenches his fists so he doesn't try to brush it away from her face. She turns to look at him as he makes his way around her one last time. She smells like spearmint, like toothpaste, and he tries not to think of her getting ready for bed and then lying awake thinking of him.
"Show me how to throw a punch," she requests.
He shakes his head because she knows how to throw a punch. She doesn't need his instruction, but she is here, and she is asking.
He mulls over her words in case there's a hidden meaning he is too dense to glean from them, in case she is trying to tell him something veiled but important.
If she is, he can't find it and he prays she'll take pity on him and just tell him what she needs.
"I want to learn," she says. He shakes his head again. He has no clue what time it is and he wonders if he hit his head harder than he thought. He wonders if he is hallucinating.
The woman who, mere hours ago, told him she wants him to come home [when he isn't sure what he has to come home to] is standing in front of him, waiting on him.
For him. With him.
He swallows hard as he stands before her. She is strong, steady, stable while he feels all chaos, confusion, calamity.
"You ever done this before?" He asks, taking a step back and dragging the towel across the floor with his foot.
He watches her nod, before she stretches her arms across her chest, above her head.
"I've taken a couple self-defense classes in my day," she replies off-handedly and he fleetingly wonders why.
He doesn't think she took them when she walked by his side for more than a dozen years. He tries not to think that she didn't need to protect herself when he was around. He was her shield, her defender, her protector.
She was his armor.
Not for the first time, the glaring gaping black hole of the last ten years looms before him and he can't catch his breath.
He doesn't know anything.
How come?" He asks.
He asks her because she hasn't called him by his name and he hasn't asked for hers. After all, he is Eddie Wagner here in this place and she is an outsider. He thinks it is easier to talk to a stranger than it is to talk to someone so achingly familiar.
"I have my reasons," she replies vaguely, as though there are a whole host of circumstances he knows nothing about. He feels like there is a veil between them, a curtain he wants to pull across and rip down all the unknown that shrouds them.
She looks at him as if she knows what is happening inside his head and she shakes hers. She pulls her scrunchie from her hair and lets the rich strands fall gracefully over her shoulders. He knows she can feel his gaze boring into her, but she surprises him when she speaks again.
"I got into trouble once," she elaborates, sweeping her dark hair back up into her messy ponytail. She speaks in a detached way, as if she still thinks they are playing pretend.
He knows better.
"Twice," she corrects and he stares at her.
He wants to ask her what the fuck she is talking about because he needs to know. He needs to know, but he also senses he needs to let her tell him. He can't push her, pry, or pull. If there is one thing he has learned from Kathleen, it is that the grief of others is not his to mourn, their anger is not his with which to burn, their experience not his to have.
He has his own.
"Take your stance," he tells her and she gives him the slightest smile as if she is proud of him for shutting up and standing down.
O Captain, My Captain.
She is the only person to whom he acquiesces. He thinks she knows. He hopes.
Her stance isn't bad.
Heel and toe in line, knees slightly bent, feet a little wider than shoulder width apart, back heel raised, elbows down, hands up.
He could recite it in his sleep so he does, for her.
"Keep your hands up no matter what," he tells her, stepping closer. "Gotta protect your face…"
Her beautiful face.
"Gotta protect your head."
She nods in understanding, adjusting herself as he takes her in. She is too tense, one punch and she is down for the count.
He circles her, moves to her right side.
"You gotta stay loose," he whispers. She gives an exaggerated shrug then lets her body sink, as if to illustrate his point.
"You exhale as you throw a punch."
He listens as she breathes out.
She punches, he slips.
"You tense at impact then bring your fist right back." He grasps her wrist with his palm, pushing her fist back toward her body. "Always go back to your guard."
She nods. It makes sense. They've always been told never to let their guard down. He wonders if it's healthy to have such a command ingrained into their psyche.
It is fight or flight with no room for anything else.
"Relax your shoulders," he tells her, brushing hers with his hand and she does. He watches the rigid way she holds herself disappear.
She punches, he steps back.
"Tuck your elbows in close," he whispers, reaching for her and pressing her arms closer to her body.
"Wanna protect yourself."
He wants to protect her. He wasn't there to protect her. She had to protect herself and she couldn't.
She punches, he ducks.
"Keep your chin down," he whispers, stepping closer and touching her elbow with his hand to remind her to keep her hands up before her.
He moves to stand in front of her.
"Eyes up over the top of your fists," he tells her. Her dark eyes widen in understanding, framed by her sooty lashes.
"You always want a clean line of sight. You always wanna see what's coming."
He catches the way her eyes fill for an instant, the way she nearly flinches as though he has thrown an unexpected jab her way. He doesn't realize what he has said, what has happened, but he knows she didn't...
"I should've seen it coming," she whispers suddenly. He watches the way her eyes widen as if she hadn't meant to speak the words aloud. But she did, she has, and now that he has heard them he can't forget.
He rasps her name into the silent stale air between them, but she shakes her head defiantly. He knows it's because he has broken their unspoken rule of their play pretend.
He ignores her.
She ignores him, adjusts her stance, raises her fists before him. Nearly eye level, just the way he has taught her.
"I'm fine," she whispers, protests, assures. The words crack against his skull like a fist, breaking through his repulsive reverie.
"Can't do this." He growls, stepping back, away, out of her space.
She surprises him when she follows.
"Can't or won't?" She goads abruptly.
He throws a glance at her over his shoulder and suddenly she is too close. He feels like he can't breathe. He needs space. He needs a moment. He needs some air, but more than that he needs...
"Shoulda seen what coming?"
He needs to know.
She inhales sharply and shakes her head. "You're not ready," she says.
He gives half of a mirthless laugh and glares at the floor beneath his feet. Ten Godforsaken years apart and she still thinks he isn't ready. Maybe she's right. Maybe he is...
"Neither are you."
"What's that supposed to mean?" She bites back. There is fire in her dark eyes and he knows better than to rile her, but she has riled him, and God forgive him it feels good to spar with her again.
Toe to toe. Ever evenly matched. Across their desks, across the bullpen in another life.
It feels natural, familiar, satisfying in ways he can't explain except he has been exiled from himself for more than a decade and tonight she feels so much like home.
He turns toward her abruptly and she nearly collides with his chest. He reaches for her, her waist beneath the bulk of her too big t-shirt. He steadies her even as she glares at him, off kilter and angry while he glares right back.
"Means I ask, you don't wanna tell. I don't push you. We don't talk. You ask, I don't wanna tell. You don't push me. We don't talk."
"Insanity," he whispers, understanding coming quickly.
"What?" She pushes against his forearms and he lets her go.
"Leen always says repeating the same behavior over and over expectin' a different result is the definition of insanity."
Mental illness runs in the family, after all.
She shakes her head once, twice, three times as if she is trying to clear it before she speaks again.
"We have to fight," she says cryptically.
"We have to fight?" He repeats, confused.
Now, he is frustrated and he needs her to tell him what the hell she is talking about.
"You have to fight," she says again and before she can continue he cuts her off.
He doesn't have much left.
She ignores him as if he hasn't spoken at all.
"You have to fight for yourself. You have to fight for your kids. You have to fight for me and I have to fight for you."
He exhales into the space between them and clenches his jaw. He doesn't want to do this here, now, tonight, but she is right and he is angry.
The ten years apart loom murky and gaping and pitch black before them.
He doesn't know. Neither does she.
He doesn't want to live in the dark anymore.
"You think I didn't fight every single day for ten years not to come back here?"
She throws her hands in the air in exasperation and he knows they have only just begun.
"Oh yeah, I'm sure you tried really hard not to leave your wife and your fifteenth century palazzo," she retorts.
He almost smirks because she has no idea. She has no fucking clue about the hell he has endured without her, before he remembers she has a hell of her own.
"What would have been so bad about being here with me?" She asks, her tone tinged with pain.
"If I'd stayed, what woulda happened?" He pushes.
"Where would that have left us? Where would being here with you have left us? Left you and I, Olivia?"
He has to hear her say it, so he doesn't think it's all in his head.
"Together," she cries.
"It would've left us broken!" He answers, shaking his head. She doesn't see it, she doesn't know.
"You would've hated me. You would have regretted it. Regretted me. It had to be a clean break."
He repeats the mantra he has spoken to himself every day for the last decade of his life.
"You don't get to tell me how I feel," she warns. "You have no idea…"
"Tell me you wouldn't have left when I did, if I'd told you I was leaving?"
She answers his question by ignoring him.
"So you let Cragen tell me?"
"I let Cragen tell you because if I'd seen you one last time, if I'd heard your voice…" He stops to swallow hard. He understands there is no going back. She is asking, he is telling.
He remembers it all too well.
"You and I both know what would have happened," he tells her. His voice is too low, his tone too dark.
They would have. He knows. They would have fallen into bed in a tempest, a raging, alarming, suffocating storm and it would have been the end.
She never would have let herself live it down. He never would have let himself, how he'd made her feel like the other woman when she was, is, always will be the only.
She inhales sharply into the silence between them and he knows she can see it all the same way he can.
"We would've fucked," she asserts and he winces because the word is irreverent in reference to her and the opposite of everything he has always wanted for her, with her. He hates the way it sounds, but he knows she is right. It would have been fast and harsh and unsettling for them both and he would never have forgiven himself.
He doesn't deny her.
She isn't wrong and she needs to know.
"What's so wrong with that?" She asks flippantly.
He tosses her a look because she is baiting him, but if she wants to know, he'll tell her.
"I never would've forgiven myself."
She rolls her eyes bitterly. "For fuc-"
He cuts her off. He steps closer, she steps back. "For making you feel like the other woman when you're the only-"
Her palm collides with his cheek, her slap echoes in the empty space, but he barely feels the sting. He has just taught her how to throw a punch and he considers himself lucky.
"I let Cragen tell you 'cause that fucking prick Tucker threatened your damn job if I didn't get the hell outta the way. I wasn't 'bout to jeopardize your career, your life. I was already losing my mind, I wasn't gonna have you lose everything. I wasn't gonna have you lookin' over your shoulder making sure I was okay."
Her eyes are wide now and she takes a step back, two, three.
There is something there, something he doesn't know, but he can see it in her expression, hear it in her voice.
He doesn't understand why she keeps asking and he thinks she can tell.
"I dated Tucker," she says, divulges. Her cheeks flush with embarrassment or anger, he isn't sure.
She shakes her head as if she can't believe what she is hearing while he can't either. He closes his eyes because he can't fathom a world where she would let Ed Tucker...and yet he never thought he would have to fathom a world without her by his side.
"He changed," she says and he can't help the way he nearly scoffs, the way he wants to roll his eyes because men like that don't change.
"He told me he changed," she corrects herself quickly. He sees the way she starts to tremble before him and he wants to reach for her. He wants to...
"He watched me grieve for years," she whispers so quietly he wonders if she realizes she has spoken aloud.
"Grieve what?" He asks.
"You," she answers breathlessly and he clenches his jaw.
"I'll kill him," he rasps.
"He's dead," she replies quickly and he feels like he can breathe again. He is going to hell for breathing easier upon knowing the man's fate, but he has to try for her.
He has no right to be angry, no right to judge, to speculate because he left her.
[Against his will, his conscience, his heart] He left her alone, for a decade, for her own good.
He pauses. Inhales. Clenches his fists then lets them relax.
"He was good to you?" He asks, asserts, hopes, prays and she nods, but he knows she can see through him.
His poker face has never fooled her.
He bites down hard on his bottom lip and shakes his head because he has no claim to her, no divine right.
He never has.
"See?" He starts, his voice is too low. His throat is too tight. "You were better off without me."
"You don't know anything," she counters bitterly.
And he bites back.
"You're damn right about that because we don't fucking talk," he replies hotly.
"When are we supposed to talk?" She inquires sarcastically. She steps forward and he holds his ground.
"You scare me to death leaving that voicemail making me think you're dying, or you're leaving, or you're going on a suicide mission! You tell me you love me again and then you hang up and you didn't answer when I called back."
He has an explanation. He was already back here by then, in Kosta's office while his phone was vibrating in his pocket...
"You show up at my place at two in the morning, on death's doorstep for all I know, dosed with God knows what and high as hell and you want to talk to me! You throw that fucking letter in my face when I lived for months believing…"
He holds up his hands as if he can ward away what she is about to say.
"How could you believe a word of that 'cept what I wrote?" He demands.
"Because I've always believed you!" She cries. "How the hell was I supposed to know you didn't write it when you told me you did?"
He doesn't have an explanation. He doesn't see how she can't recognize it in her bones by now.
"When are we supposed to talk?" She asks again scathingly. She steps closer, he steps back. She moves closer still and he knows she is going to scorch him with what she has left to say.
"You show up after ten years of nothing to walk into my awards ceremony with your wife on your arm and say what exactly? Hand me that fucking letter and leave for the rest of our lives and pretend that's some kind of closure for us?" She gasps, nearly sobs and he sees it all so clearly.
The mistakes he has made.
She shakes her head. She isn't finished.
"All those years. You could've been dead for all I knew. I could've been."
He shakes his head. It's inconceivable. He would have known and followed her into the dark.
He can't listen to her talk this way.
"Sometimes I wanted to be!" She snaps.
"Sometimes I did, too," he retorts.
The common confession hangs in the sudden quiet of the chasm between them. He watches her try to catch her breath as he struggles for his own.
He feels like he has gone ten rounds with a prizefighter, both of them blindly throwing punches in the dark. There has been no bell to sound the beginning and end of each round.
No referee to mediate.
Brutal truths, the purse to win.
Olivia takes a deep breath, steadies herself on her feet, and he can tell she is ready to go again.
He braces himself for impact, but she starts slower this time. She steps toward him and he doesn't step back.
"Your wife dies, your kids are struggling, you dive headfirst into work without taking a second to breathe and now you're in so deep I can barely find you."
He wants to tell her that he is standing right here, but she is right.
He is lost.
He may be back, but he hasn't been here.
He has been gone.
"I know you better than anyone, but everyone keeps trying to convince me I'm wrong," she presses desperately. She gazes up at him with a pleading expression as if she is begging him not to prove everyone right.
"You're not," he rasps suddenly. "You're not wrong."
He catches the way she nearly sinks in her stance as if his words have released something she'd held taut inside of her for too long.
She stands before him, watching, waiting. He owes her an explanation.
He thinks of Rita.
He remembers the way she sobbed, the way she clung to him as if he were her lifeline. He wonders if he will ever see her again, if he will ever get to tell her how she rescued him, too.
"I saved that little girl tonight and for the first time in ten years, I felt like myself. I felt like I did something right, like I saved someone."
He shakes his head and bites down hard on his bottom lip.
He hadn't been able to save Kathy. He hasn't been able to save his kids.
"You saved me," she whispers and when her tears spill down her cheeks, his vision of her blurs.
"What are you talkin' about?" He rasps, his voice grates against his throat.
He watches the way she surveys him, sizes him up as if trying to decide whether he is strong enough for this. She must think so, because she speaks.
"You have to listen to me. You have to hear me when I tell you," she explains softly, slowly.
He nods ever so slightly. He will do anything she asks. He isn't sure what he is agreeing to, but all at once he is afraid.
Olivia looks down at the distance between them and he wonders if she sees the years apart, the Atlantic ocean, or if she sees two feet, twenty-four inches and the way he can't but clench his fists to keep himself from reaching across it.
"You have to listen to me. You have to hear me when I tell you," she repeats deliberately and he isn't sure if she is echoing for him or for herself, but he has to listen.
He has to hear.
She shakes her head and holds up her hand, stopping him instantly.
"I'm alive," she says quietly, but he can't guarantee he will be for much longer. He hears the way her voice quakes beneath her façade of calm. He sees the way she nods to herself as if she is assuring them both of her existence.
He knows she is alive. He knows because if she weren't, he wouldn't be walking.
He can sense he is on the precipice of learning something terrifying, he is standing on the verge of the monstrous.
"I was taken and I was tortured for days," she whispers in one breath and he can't.
He can't breathe.
He doesn't know if he is still standing or sitting or when the room began spinning. He feels his stomach turn and he wants to retch, but he can't stop listening because she is talking.
He promised her he would listen. He promised her he would hear.
"He took me and used me," she confesses in a sharp whisper and before he can ask, she answers.
"He didn't rape me."
He can't speak, so she does.
"I wanted you," she breathes, her voice is agony. "I needed you, but you never came." She sobs aloud into the silence and the sound is like a gunshot to his chest.
He looks at her and he sees, he realizes what his absence has done.
Abandonment. Neglect. Relinquishment. Disregard.
The last ten Godforsaken years.
He left her to keep her safe, stable, and whole.
His worst nightmare came to fruition and he hadn't even realized.
He didn't fucking know.
If she thinks he didn't come to her...If she thinks he knew…he has no right to defend himself, but he needs her to understand...
He shakes his head, starts to try to tell her, but he can't. He thinks she must read his mind, his expression, his inner torment because she speaks again.
"I know that now," she whispers.
Now. Not then.
She didn't know and he thinks it doesn't matter that he didn't either.
He should have.
He should have fucking known. He should have felt it. He should have sensed it. He should have called. He should have come. He should have been here.
Has their immediate inexplicable connection waned to the point he hadn't realized she was nearly -?
If he had known he would have come. If he had known, he would have helped. If he had known, he would have killed...
If he had known, she never would have been left alone.
This is his fault and he will spend the rest of his days atoning for his sins.
"I'm so sorry, Olivia." He can't help the way his sob tears from his chest.
"Don't do this," she admonishes fiercely because she knows him still. He almost wants to laugh and cry and scream because a decade apart and she still knows everything.
She is his other half, his best friend, the one to whom his soul is tied.
She knows everything he doesn't say.
"I asked you to hear me. I asked you to listen because I need you to know this isn't your fault."
"Stop," he whispers, his voice a razor against his throat.
He can't let her.
She can't absolve him of this trespass, this transgression, this turmoil.
"Listen to me," she demands, her voice rising angrily. "I fought back and I survived."
He closes his eyes against the burn of his tears. He wonders which is worse, the unspeakable reality she lived through or the horror film playing beneath his eyelids.
He is proud as hell of her, sick to his stomach, shaken to his core.
She survived. She survived alone. He wants to reach for her, to touch her, the miracle that she is, but he can't. He can't let himself touch her ever again. He doesn't deserve her. He doesn't deserve...
"You survived without me," he chokes.
"I survived because of you," she cries, pushing hard against his chest. He is dazed, disoriented, as if he has taken a blow to the head and he can't stand any longer.
He sinks to his knees before her.
The posture is becoming familiar.
He shakes his head. No.
She can't try to comfort him, give him credit for a moment of the life she lives. He hasn't done anything except cause her pain. Even when he is trying to protect her, he has hurt her.
He left her alone. How could he have helped her survive? He wasn't here.
"Your son…" he protests because surely her child gave her something to fight for.
"I didn't have Noah back then. I had you."
Here. Now. Always.
"You have me," he growls, vows. If she wants him, she has him, but he doesn't see anything in himself worth having.
He tries to tell her, but she is already shaking her head.
"Do me a favor? Stop the self-deprecating shit and don't try to tell me what I want," she snaps.
He recognizes this.
This bold, brazen, beautiful tone of her voice. She has made up her mind and he has never been able to deny her. He looks up at her, perspiration on her golden skin, errant strands of her hair falling from her ponytail.
She is a vision, a miracle.
"What do you need, Liv?"
"I need you to start saving yourself."
He whispers before he realizes he has spoken the question aloud. The inquiry sounds childish. He has no right to ask anything of her, but he doesn't understand. It's unfathomable. She is incomprehensible, why she would want him after all he has done, all they have endured...
"Because I love you."
He nearly falls against her.
His hands find their place against the curve of her waist and he can't help the way his knees almost give out beneath him. She is the only thing holding him up.
He thinks she always has been.
She loves him and the knowledge simultaneously weakens and fortifies him. He feels stronger than he has ever been with the knowledge that he is powerless without her.
Her dark eyes are alight with the gentlest flicker of emotion. Even in the low light, he can tell that her face is more flushed than it was a moment ago and he thinks she looks adorable. She is embarrassed like a little kid, but she doesn't shy away. She isn't leaning back, moving apart.
She is standing, she is staying.
She renders him speechless. He doesn't have words, so he does the only thing he can.
He presses his mouth to her stomach and kisses her there. He feels the way her body contracts with the sharpness of her inhale. He feels her hands fall to his shoulders to steady herself as she steadies him. Her fingertips press against his skin and he isn't sure whether she is shaking or he is, but they are trembling together.
He hears her swallow into the silence, feels her run her fingers absently over the nape of his neck as though he is familiar territory. Her hands move from his back to his bicep and suddenly she is reaching for the hem of her too-big t-shirt.
"What are you doin?" He rasps. He catches the way she nearly smiles as if she has caught the irony of him finding his voice while she is undressing before him. She shakes her head wordlessly, pressing her palm against his shoulder before she pulls the fabric up ever so slightly to reveal her perfect golden skin of her stomach.
"I need you to see," she whispers, looking down at him as he determinedly gazes up into her face.
"See what?" He rasps.
He doesn't see anything except her.
She reaches for one of his hands wrapped securely around her own waist and she tugs. He lets her lead. She takes his hand in her own and brings it to the exposed skin of her stomach. He is pliant as she guides his fingers. He knows his hands are rough with callous, and tape, and his own dried blood. He doesn't want to touch her bare skin, but she is urging. There is something she wants him to understand.
His fingertips find what she has been searching for. A scar, two, three marring her gorgeous skin...he wants to tug her shirt upward, settle her horizontal, map her entire precious body with his eyes, his fingers, his mouth.
He thinks there will be time later, God-willing.
He looks up into her face. Her beautiful face. Her dark eyes are nearly welling with tears and he shakes his head. If she thinks this makes her less, makes him want her less, she is out of her mind.
"I love you," he whispers. He has never meant anything more.
She nods and his world ends only to begin again.
She lets the fabric of the t-shirt fall over his hands holding her and he kisses her again. Her stomach, her sternum through the soft cotton. His beard scrapes against the fabric and she gasps suddenly enough to make him stop.
If he has hurt her -
He feels the way the crescents of her fingernails dig into the skin of his shoulders and he looks up to meet her gaze in the instant the door opens.
The bell rings. The round is over.
He holds her.
He sees the way Olivia closes her eyes at the sound of the name that isn't his. Reggie's voice carries in the empty space. He turns his head ever so slightly and catches sight of Reg. He isn't alone. He has two giggling, obviously inebriated women with him. One on each arm.
"Hey Eddie!" Reggie calls again before he stops short. "Oh, sorry man! Didn't realize you...you two carry on!"
Eddie and his girls stumble off to a secluded corner and he can breathe again.
He thinks he can feel Olivia's bare skin flush beneath his palms and he knows she realizes what it looks like.
In the darkness, on his knees, his mouth pressed to her body, his hands buried in her clothes…
"Let's get out of here," she whispers, brushing his rough jaw with her fingers.
She is his home, but he has to get her back to hers.
She helps him to stand, pulls him to his feet and he shakes his head as he rises.
He thinks it's been the fight of their lives.
Two decades, ten years, tonight.
Outside the October air is cold.
It bites through his black button down and he knows she must be freezing.
"Where did you park?" She asks and he stares at her because he almost forgets. He almost forgets everything except that she loves him.
Olivia holds herself against the chill of the late hour and he knows his expression must betray him because she gives the softest laugh.
If he seems dazed, it's because he is.
"I don't have a car," he answers. He remembers. "I ran here."
"You what?" She asks incredulously.
He shrugs and even in the dark he can see the way she rolls her eyes in exasperation. He has to start to think. He has to start to take better care of himself, for himself, for her.
She has given him a reason to live.
She reaches for his arm and tugs him along with her while she moves across the empty street and half a block away.
"Get in," she commands when they reach the SUV and he nearly smirks.
He stands across from her beside the passenger door and waits.
Beneath the streetlight, he can see her illuminated before him. The slight cool breeze tangles in her hair and she brushes it away from her face. She turns slightly so that her navy t-shirt she wears is bathed in light and he sees it.
The shadow of the decal, long worn off, but the numbers are still readable.
She catches him looking and she glances down, glances up, and tries not to smile.
"You're wearin' my shirt."
It isn't a question, but she nods nevertheless.
"My partner's shirt," she answers softly and he can't help the way he grins. God knows he doesn't deserve a minute of this, of her, but he is so grateful.
He'll prove it to her. All of it.
"No more secrets, Liv," he whispers. "You wanna know, you ask. I'll tell you. I'll tell you anything. The truth."
It's a two way street, this new uncharted territory, they'll navigate together.
She nods, stepping closer and he wonders if she misses the warmth of his body the same way he misses her.
"Can I ask you something?" She whispers and he nods. He wonders if she is acquainting herself with the way freedom feels.
"Course you can."
He watches her glance down at the space between their feet, wrapping her arms around herself while all he wants to do is reach for her.
He has to wait.
"Did you-" she starts. He bends to try to catch her words. She seems flustered, hesitant, but he wants to know. He wants her to know.
"Ask me, Liv."
She looks up at him and the expression in her dark eyes is unsure.
"Did you sleep with her?" She breathes. Her tone aches and he swallows hard because he knows exactly who she is talking about.
He has hurt her again.
"No," he shakes his head and she watches him closely. "No. Eddie almost-" He stops himself.
He promised her.
He isn't Eddie, but he has to take responsibility.
"No. I was gonna…" he starts because it's honest. "I was gonna, but I couldn't 'cause I kept thinkin' and I told her I-" He looks away because it is his turn to be flustered. He isn't sure she wants to hear…
"I told her I had a problem and I couldn't…"
He prays to God she understands his problem isn't a recurring one.
He watches the corner of her lips lift in the slightest smile and he wonders if it's in relief or amusement. She steps closer, closer, and rests her forehead briefly against his chest. He can't see her face, but he can feel the way she exhales.
"What were you thinking about?" She asks.
She looks up at him in the dark. She is close enough that if he bent he could kiss her, but he can't.
He won't. Not yet.
He has to earn her.
"You said you were gonna, but you couldn't because you kept thinking…" She reiterates and he curses beneath his breath. She will be the death of him. He hopes she knows.
Honesty. His vow.
She won the first round. He, the second.
Her eyes widen in the dark, but she isn't running away. He doesn't see fear there. He sees hope, affection, maybe the slightest hint of a coy smile.
She shivers suddenly in the cold.
"What are you waiting for?" She asks, gesturing toward the car.
He has been waiting for her to ask.
He gives the handle a gentle tug. "Door's locked," he quips and she laughs aloud.
Equal as ever.
His shower is hot and then quick and cold. When his phone chimes at a quarter after one, he says a prayer.
I'm home, He reads.
He is, too.