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She calls Elliot after two weeks.

He’s a bit difficult to pin down: undercover, though certainly not off the grid. Fairly accessible, all things considered, but Olivia rarely feels compelled to reach out. 

Truth is, she’s been a bit too preoccupied to think much of him lately. Of anyone, really, while she allows herself the space to process, understand, accept, and eventually heal from her own history. To recognize reality after decades of denial.  

The newfound clarity is draining, but she manages. Compartmentalizes when she needs and confides in a select few; appreciates her inherent ability to lose herself in routine but still, some days are just…hard. 

Days like today, when she’s flooded with the memory of what was while grappling with the possibility of what could have been. When she considers what her mother did and didn’t do. Couldn’t do.

Olivia ruminates over Burton, too: what they had, together, because she doesn’t see herself as faultless. She questions her own blindspots; tries to understand how her own experiences shaped her perception of and ability to reciprocate love. 

She reflects on victimization and manipulation. How the two work together and apart, each with their own set of complicated emotions that have tangled into a feeling of utter confusion. 

So much fucking confusion. 

But through it, or maybe despite it, she’s able to see that control was an illusion for her, then. 

That it still is, now.

Her overwhelm draws her back to Central Park: to the spot where she tossed that cassette. It’s hard to pinpoint a reason, but some small part of her expected solace — an ounce of relief — and is so, so disappointed to be met with an aching sense of isolation instead. To feel so fucking alone.

It’s discouraging, to put it mildly, but triggers can be unpredictable and moods complex, even if fleeting. Logically she knows this and sets her focus on the things she can control. She inhales, concentrates on the weight of her feet on the ground. Exhales, considers her outlets for relief. 

Ultimately settles on the familiar.

She swipes her thumb one, two, three times, across her phone screen, allowing it to brighten, then dim; quietly cursing herself for feeling so conflicted.

“Liv,” Elliot answers after the second ring. “Hey.” His tone stays neutral, though it is unusual for her to reach out directly; often looking instead to Bell for updates on their case since she’s the one who’s available. 

Unless this…isn’t case related. 

“You there?” he asks. 

And God, hearing his voice shouldn’t come as such a shock but it takes her back to a reality where she called over and over, cautiously optimistic that maybe this time he’ll answer.

Before her optimism turned to cynicism. 

Before that cynicism became resentment. 

But never, ever, did that resentment reach a point of detachment. 

It comforts her, remembering that.

“Sorry, I’m—yeah,” she blinks, recentering. “I’m here.”  

She sounds tired, so he treads lightly. “You okay?”

“I’m good.” She hesitates; glances over her shoulder, needing reassurance that she has at least some semblance of privacy. 

“Yeah?” 

“Yeah, I just—I don’t know. Wanted to…hear you.” An enormously vulnerable admission she regrets almost immediately. “To check in.” Cover it up, she thinks. Mask emotion by centering him: his voice. His well-being. Make it about him. 

“I’m alright,” he leads, placating her without elaborating. 

“Elliot,” she presses the heel of her hand to her forehead, silently willing herself to continue. “Can I—” but stops, self-aware enough to recognize that if he doesn’t — if he can’t — give her the answer she needs, it'll set her back. 

“Talk to me?” He poses it as a question, appreciating her reluctance. 

“See you.” Fuck, this is hard. “Can I see you?” 

Her cheeks redden as she quietly curses herself for sounding too timid. Too needy.

“Yeah, Liv.” He answers quickly. “I—yeah. Of course.” The logistics are a bit complicated but hell if anything will keep him from her when she’s made the choice to reach out. To need him, for a change. “Where are you?” 

“Oh,” she’s hit with relief, then realization. “I didn’t mean—not now , just—”

“Olivia,” he sighs. “Where are you?” 

“I’m walking.” Neither a blatant lie nor the whole truth.

“Walking.” 

She catches the worry in his tone; has an image of his furrowed brow etched into memory. “Through Central Park.”  

“Little late for that.” Warranted or not, he can’t help his protective nature. “Let me pick you up,” he offers, hopeful. “Take you home.”

“Too much traffic,” she dismisses. “Not worth it.” Backpedaling, because he’s giving her exactly what she asked for and maybe the reality of it — of him — is harder to accept than the idea.

“I’m already on the road.” 

“You’re not.” 

“You’re right,” he smirks. “Could be, though, if you’d let me give you a ride.”

“I’m a big girl, can take care of myself.” It’s her reflex to retreat. To downplay her own vulnerability. 

“Really blowing me off for the MTA?” 

“It’s probably more reliable.” She quips; assumes the lightness in her tone will veil any underlying bitterness.

“Harsh,” he teases. “Even for you.” Relieved, because despite the tension their banter feels comfortable. “Just—Liv, tell me where to find you.” 

The irony isn’t lost on her but, “Grand Army Plaza,” she mutters, rocking back on her heels. Eyes closed. 

“I can do that.” 

He probably shouldn’t. It’ll be considered an unnecessary risk and he’ll need an excuse.

Worth it, though. 

She hums an acknowledgement. Hangs up, grounding herself while reflecting on the past two weeks: the waves of heightened emotion, then emptiness. Intensity, then apathy. 

It’s been so heavy. 

She can find empathy for her younger self; confident that she didn’t ask — that of course, she didn’t ask — to be targeted, manipulated and, for lack of a better term, groomed. But she’s conflicted because fuck, it felt like love. Maybe it had to, or maybe it was. Either way, acceptance is proving to be far more traumatic than it is heartbreaking.

And it’s a challenge, being her own support system: treating herself with the kindness she’s earned and respect she deserves. She’s trying, but there are minutes, hours, days when that person is almost impossible to find. 

Days like today. 

Nights like tonight.

Olivia moves slowly, seeking purpose in every footstep until she’s back at the spot they kissed. Where she made the choice to trust Burton again — to lust after him again — because like it or not, he played a significant role in her history. She can’t erase him. Won’t downplay what he meant to her then, but can and will control what he means to her now. 

And in reality, he means very little.

Unlike Elliot who, despite her best efforts, means a hell of a lot. 

Who spots her in the dark; blinks his headlights to catch her attention, aware that he’s far too willing to risk his cover for a ride but needs to do something right because honestly, he keeps fucking up. Over and over. 

Needs to start earning the loyalty she’s graciously given him. 

“Hey,” she climbs into the front seat, offers a half-smile. “Thanks, for—”

For what, she wonders. For answering her call? Driving her home? 

For giving a shit?  

“Sure,” he cuts in. 

“Elliot,” she uses his name to remind him, once again, who he is underneath the persona of Eddie Wagner. “It’s good to see you.” 

“You too.” He glances in her direction. “You look…well.” 

Actually she looks overworked and sleep deprived. Worn, but who is he to speculate based on the little insight he has into her life these days.  

“And you, ” she’s unimpressed. “Are a terrible liar.” 

He sighs; decides to be truthful. “You look tired, Liv.” 

“So do you.”  

“Yeah, well,” he won’t argue. “I am.” 

“Makes two of us, then.” 

She sighs as he clears his throat, both trying to fill the awkward silence with something other than words.

“How’s…” she hesitates because so many topics are off limits. “Everything?” 

“Going okay,” he answers. “Think we’re close.”

Her eyes brighten, if only for a second. “Oh?” 

“Said I think so,” he clarifies, cautiously optimistic but unwilling to make promises he can’t keep. Afraid of disappointing her again. “Hope so.”  

“Sure.” Her light dims without fading completely. “And you? You’re being—”

“Careful,” he interjects. “I am.” 

“Good.” Olivia nods, somewhat satisfied. “Eli?” 

Elliot laughs dryly. “Not my biggest fan.”

“I’ll bet not.”

“He’s just—it’s a lot to go through, you know? For a kid.” 

She respects his maturity. Labels his ability to be objective as personal growth. “For anyone .” Decides to correct him anyway. 

“Fair enough.” He waits, hoping she’ll take the hint but she’s so goddamn guarded that he has no choice but to outright ask, “Liv, what’s going on?” 

She’s taken aback; surprised he’s being so forthright. “I’m okay.” Chooses to first reassure him. “Been a tough couple of weeks.” 

He glances in her direction, wordlessly offering support without prying. 

Olivia feels his eyes on her. “I’m handling it.” 

“I’m sure you are.” He’s careful not to overstep or question her autonomy. “Can still talk about it.” 

“I know that.” She wrings her hands; picks her cuticles. “But it’s complicated.” Is it, though? “There were some choices I made — thought I made. But, turns out, they were…never really mine to make.” She blinks, suddenly aware that she’s trapped in this fucking SUV with her own vulnerability. “God, that made no sense.” 

“No—no, it did.” He nods. “It does.” His demeanor, gentle. “What happened?”  

“Ancient history.” A deflection, because she’s unwilling and unready to share details. “Just been doing some thinking.” She shrugs. “Piecing things together.”

“Been doing some of that, myself.”

She angles her brow.

“What? Don’t look so smug.” 

She likes this version of Elliot: self-reflective, deep thinking, and at least marginally more patient. It’s oddly refreshing. 

“I should—” She reconsiders her words. “I want to acknowledge you.”

“Come again?” 

“You’ve made plenty of bad choices,” she adds coolly. “Have hurt me. Profoundly.” 

He nods, accepting. “I know, and I’m—” 

“Not looking for another apology, okay? You’ve hurt me,” she echoes. “You have, and I don’t know if I’ll ever…” afraid of saying something she’ll regret, she takes a slow, steadying breath. “But you…you’re safe, Elliot.”

“Safe.” 

“Yeah, you don’t just play the part.” An admission so raw and deeply reflective, though the context will be lost on him. “You’ve always made me feel safe.” Even in her darkest hours: the ones he still knows nothing about. “Because you are safe.” 

Confused and bothered, he pulls over. “What’s going on?” He lowers his voice. Finds her eyes. 

“I’d rather not get into specifics.” Her gaze drops. “But I’ve found some clarity recently,” bit of an understatement, she thinks. “And I just—I need to acknowledge you.” 

“So you’ve said.” 

Acknowledge feels like an awfully cold word and he’s unsure why she insists on using it. 

“To thank you,” she rephrases. “For being that person for me.” 

He’d like to tell her this isn’t something worth thanking him for but won’t invalidate her feelings.

He’d like to tell her she’s that person for him, too, but is hesitant. Intimidated, in a sense. 

“I hear you, Liv,” he says instead, reaching for her hand. “I hear you.”

And finally… finally, she’s acknowledged.