She collected playlists the way she collected cassette tapes when she was 16 years old. Her own fucked up memory lane. Traveling down those windy roads only led to the bottom of a bottle of red. She curated the playlists like seasons throughout her life. She turned her headphones up too high as she sat on the floor in her hallway. She managed without the glass tonight, going straight for the bottle.
How had she gotten here?
How had she gotten so lost on her own path?
I'll use you as a warning sign. That if you talk enough sense then you'll lose your mind.
All roads lead to Elliot. All of them. She scoffed to herself. It fucking figures that in every single situation she had been in the past few weeks, she wanted him. Beside her. Home. But he'd never actually been hers to want. And she was so tired of trudging down this murky road. He wasn't sitting in his hallway drowning every sorrow she had left at his feet. She was. He was fucking some other woman and actively running away from her.
And I'll use you as a focal point. So I don't lose sight of what I want.
She thought sleeping with Burton would give her some reprieve from him. It hadn't. She stared at her phone sitting on her thigh. It was late. Too late to be thinking about texting anyone. Let alone someone she barely knew. And because she was who she was, she knew her demand would be met.
I've moved further than I thought I could. But I've missed you more than I thought I would.
She let herself stare through the screen. Disassociating was what she did best these days.
And I found love where it wasn't supposed to be. Right in front of me.
Her eyes focused again on the open text. Hi Jet. This is Benson. I need him at my place. Now. This was so fucking stupid. He wasn't hers to demand. But she wasn't wrong. She did need him. She knew it was only a matter of time until the path she was on led her to that beach house. And she couldn't go back there without him. Not while he was here. Not while he was accessible. Fuck it. She could be selfish for once. She was going to take this.
I'll use you as a makeshift gauge. How much to give and how much to take.
She hit send and moved to the living room, collapsing on the couch. She let her mind wander to images of them in the early years. Undercover with him. Sitting across the desk from him. Talking on the phone until one of them fell asleep. She rolled her eyes at the soft knock. If only it were that easy to summon him during the actual trauma. She stumbled to the door and didn't bother with the peephole. She felt him there.
"Ugh." She rolled her eyes at the beard still on his face. She had almost forgotten he wasn't actually Elliot. He was Eddie. Stupid fucking name. She opened the door wider and turned on her heels back to the couch.
"You okay, Liv?" He shut and locked the door behind him. She sunk back down and brought the bottle back to her chest. She laughed and shook her head. He kept his distance per fucking usual and sat in the chair he'd spilled his guts in a few months ago. "What happened?"
She scoffed. So much. So much had happened. "Do you remember the older man I was with when I was a teenager?" He narrowed his eyes and nodded. "Burton Lowe." She took a pull from the bottle. "I fucked him last week. It was weird." She watched his jaw clench and she smiled. The absurdity of it all. "Turns out, I wasn't the only one he sexually assaulted." She tipped the bottle to him and clicked her tongue. He moved to the couch. She saw his fists clench. He'd still bloody his knuckles for her.
"He wouldn't even admit it. 40 years later." She sighed. It felt like she was at his confessional. And he would give her the penance necessary to absolve her dumbass mistake. "It was so fucking stupid. How did I not see it?" She was more or less talking to herself at this point. She turned her body toward him and locked into his eyes. "I need you to stay with me tonight." She was staking her claim. Once and for all. If he didn't want her, he would have to tell her that.
He moved closer, pulled the wine bottle out from her grip and set it on the coffee table. She watched his arms reach toward her. It was all happening in slow motion. "Come here." He leaned into the back of the couch and he was waiting on her to make the move. She did. Of course she did.
And I found love where it wasn't supposed to be. Right in front of me.
She melted into his chest and wrapped her arms around him. He smoothed her hair down with his hand. It felt so natural. Like she had done this every night for 23 years. She had to remind herself it wasn’t. They'd never done this. But she was grateful for the comfort only he could provide. "You were 16, Liv. It's not your fault." His voice is so low and velvety she could fall asleep so easily. Let the alcohol induced numbness take over. But she was so afraid of the nightmares. Still.
She wanted to ask him about Flutura. She wanted him to say it out loud but at the same time she didn't know if she could handle hearing it. She decided to keep her mouth shut and let him hold her. She couldn't remember the last time she was this calm. Her hand moved to his chest. He was so edgy everywhere. She felt his heartbeat quicken under her palm. All muscle, literally everywhere. She didn't know how it was possible at their age. Her fingers absent-mindedly traced circles around the buttons on his henley. She was lost in her mind. Lost in the silence surrounding them.
"I'm so tired of feeling lost." She whispered.
"Yeah." He nodded. His response was immediate. And she let out a laugh because their thoughts were always on the same path. "I don't know how much longer I can do this. I can feel it reaching a breaking point."
She smiled. "Let's run away. We'll take the kids. And just go."
He laughed and her head bounced on his chest. "Sounds like a lot of paperwork." He took a deep breath. "I miss you." He rested his cheek on the top of her head.
"I'm going to have nightmares tonight." He tensed and she felt the emotions in her throat. Tears welling up immediately in her eyes, threatening to spill over already. She kept getting phantom sniffs of ocean air and she was fighting like hell to keep that part of her mind blocked but it was getting closer. He pulled her tighter into his side. "Do you really not know?" She readjusted her head so she could watch his eyes. He was tired. Maybe this was too selfish. Maybe he couldn't handle this. She started to panic and try to put distance between them but he tightened his grip and she relaxed again.
"A few months ago a file showed up on my computer with your name on it. Jet traced it back to Wheatley. Bell told me not to open it." He sighed and she could see his eyes glaze over like he was sitting at his desk staring at his computer. "I didn't open it. But I didn't delete it."
"I'm glad you didn't open it." She started. "I don't want you to find out from someone else." She took several deep breaths and let the quiet thrums of their hearts fill her ears. "It was a few years after you left." She felt her voice shift. She was now on autopilot. "His name was William Lewis. He… got me." He closed his eyes and his jaw clenched tightly. She'd have to travel lightly through this with him. "He was waiting for me inside my old apartment. And he got me. I let him get me." She leaned her head back down so she didn't have to focus on his reaction anymore. It was going to break her heart. "He had me for four days. Made sure I'd never truly forget him. There are so many scars. I have PTSD and nightmares. And panic attacks. They're not very often anymore." She blew out a breath. "But then Burton Fucking Lowe."
"He's dead?" His voice was low. She could feel him shaking slightly. His whole body, like his own voice activated the time bomb. She nodded into his chest and pulled herself into him tighter. Her hand moved up to the side of his neck and she touched him the same way she had last month on his patio. "Let's run away." He whispered and she smiled. He was the only one. Just the only one. She felt the familiar nausea creep up her throat when she remembered that fact coupled with she couldn't do a fucking thing about it.
"Can't." She whispered back.
"You have to stop blaming yourself for everything, Olivia." She hadn't heard her full name on his lips in a while. She scoffed. "You didn't let him get you, I know that much."
"I hesitated. I should've cleared my place. I knew he was out." It was part of her internal dialogue. The words played over and over in her head. It was the first stop on the path to the beach house. She felt his hand circle her wrist and his thumb rubbed her pulse point. It was the exact same spot that got sore when it was too cold outside.
"It wasn't your fault. Just like Burton Lowe wasn't your fault." His voice was more even now. His heartbeat had slowed. "You'd never blame a victim for decisions they made after they survived a trauma or assault."
"I'm tired of being a victim." She was so tired.
He nodded. "Yeah." His hand ran up and down her spine. He shifted and leaned forward to grab the wine bottle, keeping her against his chest the whole way. He took a few drinks before setting it back down. He pulled her up and wrapped his arms around her. He sat back and pulled her into his lap, cradling her body. He brushed her hair behind her ear and rested his hand on her neck. "You're also the best mom. The bravest, most compassionate Captain. The kindest friend." He rubbed his thumb across the scar on her neck. "The only woman that makes me want to bare my soul." Her head popped up and she searched his eyes. Her mouth was too close to his. She tried to remember if she'd let that Cassidy line that haunted her slip to him. "What?" He laughed at her reaction. "That can't be a surprise."
She rolled her eyes. She might as well not start holding back now. "Fucking Cassidy." His brows furrowed in confusion. "We were living together after Lewis. When we broke up, he told me that if I was honest, I'd admit I'd never bare my soul to him." She was lost in those ocean eyes. "You're the only one I've ever bared my soul to." Their breaths were mingled. One inhaled while the other exhaled and neither of them were willing to break the rhythm. Surely he wouldn't let her kiss him but it was all she could think about. She couldn't tear her eyes away from his lips. He didn't retreat. And the wine was not allowing her to either.
"Olivia." It sounded like a warning and her eyes shot up to his. They were dark and murky and troubled and dangerous. They were also trained on her lips. She brought her hand up to trace his beard.
"Eddie." The smirk tugged at his lips. “I hate this beard.” Her voice cracked through the lie. She didn’t hate it. It just wasn’t Elliot. It was dangerous. He was dangerous.
He laughed and shook his head. “No you don’t.” There he was. The arrogant, smug man that infuriated her and made her smile because he wasn’t ever wrong. He had every reason to be that cocky asshole she loved so much. But this was their game. And it was the first time he’d played it since he got back. It was give and take and back and forth and she fucking loved it.
She sat up in his lap and got up, standing between his legs. She watched his eyes travel the length of her body and it was her turn to take something from him. She pulled him up with her and forgot how much taller he was when she didn't have her boots on. Jesus. "You're not sleeping out here." She whispered before turning on her heels and pulling him toward her bedroom. She wasn't going to fuck him. Not while Noah was here and not while she still had her groomer in the back of her mind. But she was going to sleep with him and wrap herself around him. And let him slay her demons for her. Even if it was just this once.