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Flaming hot red

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He finds her on the floor.

Confusion courses through him followed by fear, he finds her on the floor. She’s crying, the kind of tears that bleed through men when nobody is looking, subtle and silent, her sniffles are somehow still graceful.

Next to Olivia, an old tape recorder plays a classic Brazilian song, one that had led him here upon entering her apartment, one he doesn’t recognise, one he hates already if this is the kind of reaction it gets out of her.

She’s holy and far away on the floor, broken a little too, and he has never, not once in his goddamn life seen her like this before. Where her light and softness had only just begun to fix some of his selfish bullshit, he feels black inside again, his blood turned into an unholy kind of color, darker than the glass of pinot that haunts her side.

“Liv, what is it?”

Her head stays bowed, and the sound of his voice only makes her crouch evermore into a ball. She is a ghost of the woman he loves, once loved because he worries that he doesn’t know this woman. Unreachable, she’s not Liv.

He’s on the floor in an instant and of course the noble thing to do is to comfort her, but she’s trying to hide her tears, and he’s so afraid of breaking her that he just kneels, hands wrapping around the ankles of her curled up feet.

And he just watches… and she sobs again, and again while her arms wrap around her knees.

“Liv… please.”

He thinks and worries about her son. Where is her son? Where is he?

Down the distant and foreign hallway, a white door is left half vacant with a dim lamp peeking out. Without a second thought, Elliot is up and marching on his feet, searching, panicked.

Noah’s gold head of curls are just like his mother’s from where he sleeps, sweet puffs of breath lifting and exhaling under a well tucked blanket. Elliot breathes a sigh of relief. He doesn’t know her son, but he knows her, and he knows that if the universe decided to turn on her that way, he would never see her again.

Elliot closes the door for good measure, looks back at Liv to find her staring at him now. Mouth parted in surprise or shock at his protective heart, he doesn’t quite know what it is exactly she feels, too lost in the lifelessness of her face, grief… No. Trauma. She’s traumatized. What the fuck happened to her?

“I’m okay.” She answers, reading his mind like telepathy. She is the carbon copy to his soul. The better half of him, he knows this woman better than he knows himself. He doesn’t even like himself.

“No, you’re not.”

He knows this like he knows that water is wet, that blood is warm, that justice resides in her eyes and not a court of law. He knows because he’s just waltzed through her apartment unannounced, because this is his first time using the spear key she’d given him weeks ago, and he should’ve done it days ago. Should’ve checked up on her, made her answer his phone calls.

She’s been busy, he’s been busy. But there are no good excuses in this hellhole, only regret. He kneels again, taking her face in his hands, she flinches at the touch and he lets go. A little hurt by the rejection, he drops his hold but not his instinct.

“Is it work? Did something happen?”

She shakes her head, covering her face again. A hero in pajamas, she hides under a vale of clean and pure hands. Unlike his, there is no blood under her fingertips, only the dna of a hundred villains.

She bleeds elsewhere. In her heart, her chest, her mouth. He reaches for a tissue in his jean pocket, pushes it into the hand that folds, hopes she understands. If she refuses to let him dry tears, he’ll wait until she does it herself. He’s not going anywhere.

“What are you doing here, Elliot?” She sighs finally, resigned.

“That doesn’t matter now.”

She sniffles, face still sheltered. He can’t read her mind when she’s hiding and she’s so damn good at it, she gives him a run for his money. Even in trauma, Olivia outraces him.

“If Fin called you… I swear to god…”

“Fin? Why would Fin call me?”

“Please, Elliot…”

“Do I need to call somebody? Fin? Somebody..” That detective, what was her name again.. “Rollins?”

Her face shoots up, stopping him in his tracks, he already has his phone in his hands.

“No no. Don’t. That’s… just let me handle it. It’s nothing.”

He shakes his head, agitated, heart thumping. It’s not nothing and he wants to punch something. She’s been hurt, he can see it now, the way she twitches, rushing to slam the tape recorder off. The music has sickened her.

He thinks of Eli then, thinks of the way she rode into the night and saved his son once again, though Eli will never see it that way, it took Elliot all of a few days to reconnect the parallels, might take his son even less if he learned of better history. She saved him not once but twice. He thinks of his mother too, and while Bernie runs his life now, he’ll never forget the story of Olivia saving him from a lifetime of despising the woman he called mom, or the daughter who still loved him fiercely, despite genetics. That was Liv, always and forevermore the better half of him, the peacemaker of fate, his fate. As she looks up at him, begging for a little space and time, he sees his own face in hers again, the one he never stopped wanting at the same time he tried to obliterate it. The one who never gave up on him. Ever.

“I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”

She grinds her jaw, irritated. When he slumps against an opposite wall, head hung back, she tells him then.

It takes time, minutes, hours maybe, but she tells him everything.

He’s embalmed right there on the floor, injected with stay. His knuckles twist as she informs him of the man with the podcast, the story of him and her mother. It doesn’t take Elliot long to remember that soulmates aren’t always the ones you marry.

He’s quiet the whole time, rubbing his beard, listening, watching, her face is stained with the past. He thinks he can’t do this anymore but doesn’t have the heart to stop her. He sees darkness every day, evil of the most violent kind.

Now, now he thinks he’d rather watch Jon Kosta rip out a dozen more tongues than observe this woman crumble beneath him. Helpless he feels.

Without asking, Elliot chugs the rest of her wine when she mentions that this stranger wanted to marry her, that she thinks herself weak for falling into the charms and the fuckery.

“I feel so stupid.” She admits, ashamed and he knows she does. Knows because he’s heard this story at least a hundred times with her always beside him, never so reversed. Seats changed with 40 years of seperation, she’s the victim now and he the survivor. How the fuck did that happen?

He is a new man today, he realizes, a man unaccustomed to the pain of a warrioress. He can count the number of times he’s seen her cry just on one hand, and he used to admire this for all the wrong reasons. His was a selfish kind of love, patching her wounds so she could reattend to his. Now he worries that he’s the one who might have to do the fixing. Elliot is absolutely hopeless when in search of a first aid kit, knows only where the guns live.

“You were a child, Olivia.”

“You said it yourself all those years ago, it was an unequal relationship. With all the experience I have now, I still couldn’t see that, even when I was…”

She stopped, mouth parted, caught in the act.

“Even when what?”

Head tilted, ducts filled, she shakes her head. He sees it then, the shame, the regret. She’s been sleeping with this man, the one with the podcast, she slept with him, maybe even more than once. The truth as present in this wake as is the rage that soaks his veins. He suddenly feels limbless in this conversation, utterly powerless. He has no right to care, but he does. The mere idea of Olivia fucking someone else is all too consuming, makes him realize he’s been ignoring the fact that she’s a sensual human being with sensual human needs and ten years has done nothing to change this. They say absence makes the good hearts grow fonder. Bullshit. Fucking bullshit.

“When?” he asks, carefully, trying to mask his disappointment. She needs a friend in this place, not an Elliot. “When did you sleep together?”

“Does it matter?”

It doesn’t. But she’s just ripped his arms out at the mere image of her in bed with another man, the man she once called soulmate.

He’s been away from that old friend of his for far too long, the one named jealousy, that when it starts to creep its way into his chest, the impact is tenfold. Worse than it ever was before, he feels at once helpless and terrible at the wave of familiar emotions resurfacing. He doesn’t own her and he doesn’t deserve to, but he aches regardless.

“Have you recused yourself?”

She nods, silently ripping his legs out from under him, the truth confirmed. He can’t move now, imagining the worst possible scenario. Her chief finding out she slept with a perp, the press having a field-day if they knew, reputation tainted, he’ll lose himself forever if she leaves the force. It’s all that he has left in this hiding, the correlation of their jobs, seeing her across a stoic room on random coincidence, it’s all that is good about work these days.

“Stop it.” She tells him. “Stop obsessing over what is, what isn’t.”

She’s right, he thinks. She’s always right.

As he shuffles over, Elliot wraps an arm around her lithe shoulder, bringing her forward. Olivia is placid in his arms, like a child almost, leaning in to trust. She trusts him with all of the parts that matter and this is something that will never leave him, the lucky bastard.

Plucking the weight of bravery from custom, Elliot unclips her cape, letting her fall into him, relinquish. He wishes to hold all her pain like a medal badge, even if it eats him alive. At least then, she’d bury him knowing he was hers all along.

“Do I need to give you the ‘it wasn’t your fault’ talk?”

“No.” she burrows into his embrace, growing smaller, trusting. Christ, she is a miracle in his arms.

“No, I can do that on my own.”

He smiles fondly, “Don’t forget it.”

***

She comes out of the bedroom an hour or two later. He shifts from where he sits at the sofa, long forgotten case files that Bell needed her to sign left on the coffee table as he just stares up at her. He’s anxious and tired, refusing to leave until sleep takes the war away. Like always, the woman bleeds stubbornness like a river mouth.

“You’re still here.” She states, eyes dry, bloodshot.

“And you’re not sleeping. I’ve checked up on you twice already. What are you looking for?”

“Elliot, I’m a big girl. You don’t need to do this.” Rummaging through her cabinets, she pulls out a packet of valium, chugging two pills back with a bottle of water.

“You can’t sleep?”

“What do you think?”

Outside it rains heavily, the weight of crisis falling apart and all around them. This sanctuary of hers with photos of people he doesn’t know and prose he’ll never read; it protects them from the war outside. It’s all that he imagined for Olivia and more, this fondness she calls hers. A home, a safe haven, a suite of hidden rooms he has yet to explore.

Elliot is sober this time round but he has never felt more smashed. The core of her recent story has hit him square in the chest, and where she might be seeing grey colors for the first time, all he can see is red. Flaming hot red.

He takes one look at her across the room, leaning against the counter, forehead pressed against a nearby wall, she looks comatose, an overworked warrior in delicate slippers. Regardless, she still won’t sleep in her own bed.

He’s determined when he stands, guiding her back into her bedroom. He’s determined when he slides in behind, she under the covers in a faithful fetal position, he on top and beside her, still clothed in jeans and a dress-shirt. If she protests at his presence, he doesn’t hear anything. If she is afraid of this, he doesn’t see anything. Instead, she hesitates for a moment, guiding his hand to meet the cadence of a loyal heartbeat, his hand entangles her own across a soft duvet cover and he sighs for relief, for hope, for faith. She wants him here.

Pulling himself closer, her hair smells like Olivia when he nuzzles her shoulder from behind, apple shampoo and primrose. He’s suddenly reminded of all that he is running from.

Tomorrow he’ll feel guilt again; tomorrow he’ll return to throwing stones in murky waters, tomorrow he’ll fail as a father and a widow and a cop but tonight…

Tonight, he will be the man she believes in.

Her breaths grow shallow but he knows from experience she’s still conscious, doesn’t need the persistent lap of smooth lashes to tell him so.

“Go to sleep, Olivia.”

“I just can’t stop thinking about her.” She breathes, voice parched.  

“Who?” he whispers.

“My mother.”

Elliot pulls her tighter against him, trying to protect a shield from the crush of 40 something lies.

“She died thinking I hated her.”

“No, she knew,” he disagrees, convinced. Of course she did. Olivia loved everybody, in her own way, she loved everybody. Especially the mother. And the dead couldn't be lied to, Elliot knows this better than most.  

“You’ve devoted your life to fixing hers. She knew.”

“It’s not enough.”

Elliot breathes into her shoulder, his difference in opinion completely palpable. He doesn’t want to fight with her, knows that she feels his rage as strongly as the reigns that have brought them here tonight. Resigned, he clutches her hand instead, brings it up to her chest. “Go to sleep Liv.”

She expels a sigh, he inhales it.

“All my life, I had this twisted idea that love and hate could be the same thing. I really thought she hated me, you know.”

Yeah, he knows.

“And now you have the truth, and you can let it go.”

Even heroes need healing, he thinks soundly, for the first time that night.

In the silence, she rubs the skin on his thumb with her own, thoughtful, tired. The gravity of her deepest regret fades between their fingertips as she takes in his silence, his protectiveness, this intimacy, this truth. Body and soul this man belongs to none other than her. She might never know or she might’ve always known, but he cannot bear the brunt of asking, he wears too much guilt already.

When she nuzzles her nose into a pillow, succumbing into the darkness, Liv is asleep at last. The grip on his hand loosens along with her body as it sinks into solid arms. His presence, unplanned and certainly abnormal, even for them, has worked like a charm. She is asleep. They probably won't ever talk about this, and if they do, it might not be as warm as they are now.  

He misses her already, misses the intimacy of their one and only pillow talk, misses the symphony of her voice, even in its hollowness. He misses the floor in her hallway, he even misses the sadness. They’ve experienced a lot together but this is the closest they’ve ever been, the phantom of a lost decade desperately trying to catch up.

He won’t sleep tonight. He can’t sleep tonight.

Instead, he lies awake staring at a ceiling that weeps animosity and mirrors rage.

His mouth stains red and tastes of iron as he imagines all the possible ways to enact revenge, on her behalf, on his behalf. Revenge is consciousness, revenge is the cabin that houses him, revenge is the war that consumes him. He can’t think of anything else now, especially now. 

Beside him, Olivia sighs out loud and shifts to lie on her stomach. Her arms creep up to embrace the pillow that loves her head so fiercely and his heart fills with warmth, replacing the red. Even in sleep, she gives solace, love. All the good in the world rests solely over there, in the brace of that good woman.

He thinks of the man who robbed her 40 years ago, who took away the chance for her to not be a victim and squandered it with time. He’ll find him, Elliot. He’ll find the man with the podcast and shove him so hard he won’t know what fucking hit him.

Beside him, Olivia shuffles uncomfortably in sleep, she turns her head to face him and makes a library of new images to behold. She was so beautiful it engulfed him sometimes, ripped his entire fucking life apart. He’s seen her sleep before, in the passenger seat of a car, on a wooden desk, in the rest room back at the precinct, but never here in a brilliant looking bedroom with ten years between them. She’s free in every sense of the word, and she’s entrusted him with this vision of holiness. She might as well be naked with the level of trust that is embedded in this bed of hers.

She makes a soft hum in her sleep; a wail or a note, he can’t quite tell. This is a new verse he hasn’t heard before and he watches and he listens, encapsulated. Her eyes twitch, knuckles spasm and then she’s shifting her hand, stopping at the slump of his shoulder, she relaxes at the feel of him, keeping her hand bound to loyal muscle. Unwavering, attached, she owns him in every which way possible. She might even own the sea that separated them for too long.

He hates and he’s vengeful and he’s poisonous, this is no secret. But he loves her, and she’s goodness incarnated, and she’s half if not all of him, so he can be good too.

He thinks about this some more as he contemplates breaking a stranger man and his jawbone. He could be good too, if he tried hard enough. He could be good.