“You seen Barba recently?”
Olivia is sitting in his kitchen, his kitchen, with her hair tied back and her coat shed over a random sofa like so many times before. She’s typing furiously on her phone when he mentions Barba’s name, and it shouldn’t surprise him, really, when she loses focus all at once, and her eyes lift to look up at him, but her head stays down.
“What?” She expels.
“Barba. You guys still…” his hands finish the rest of it, and Elliot is trying to be so gentle in this second, he wonders through her fury if she even notices.
“Not since the trial.” She says bitterly, goes back to her phone.
Jesus. “That was months ago.”
“Yea, well.” She shrugs, flicks a whispy bang out of her eye, and her face is clouded in smoke. He knows better than anyone not to piss her off in this kitchen. She’s been here countless times, as a friend, as a mother, as Livie, but sometimes when she thinks he’s not looking, she still peers around as if she anticipates his dead wife to walk through the door, and he wants her to stop doing that, so he drops it.
Minutes later, when he’s pulling mamas pie out of the oven and subsequently cursing the loud burn, he feels the heat of her gaze piercing purple into his back.
“Why are you asking?”
“Hmm?” Elliot is still nursing the red line on his thumb.
“Barba. Why’d you bring him up?”
“Just wanted to know ‘s all.”
“Have you seen him?” she blinks hard, and her knuckles twitch with anticipation.
“No.” he doesn’t want to have this conversation, but she does, and that matters more than his pride.
“The kids were asking about him the other day.” he explains.
“All of them.”
Her face falls modestly, like she’s trying to hide her disappointment, and the fall is so sudden he can’t catch her fast enough.
“Oh.” She murmurs.
“Wasn’t anything bad.” He rushes to share. “They were just… we were all having dinner, and the trial came up in conversation, and Lizzie asked how the two of you knew each other.”
“And what’d you say?”
“Just what you said the last time. He was your best friend, and now he’s not your best friend.”
“Jesus El! Lay it on thick much?” She glares at him.
“You… I don’t want them to feel guilty for anything..”
“They don’t.” he shook his head. “‘S not like that. They know he’s an adult; he’s made adult decisions.”
“Adult decisions.” She mutters, fist clenching some more. “And then what?”
He lets out a little laugh. “You should’ve seen their faces; they were…”
“Were what?” she pressures
Her mouth parted and the space between her eyebrows crinkled. “Relieved?”
“Yeah. I guess they thought you two were..” he used his hands again. “once upon a time.”
“Huh.” She let out a little breath. “Really?”
“Why is that so surprising?” he wanted to know.
“I guess ’s not. I mean they’re not the first to speculate.” She shrugged.
She looks at him then, mouth lifting into a smile that isn’t a full one, and her eyes are still a little sad, and he regrets ever having dug in this graveyard, but there was a point to it all, he remembers, the need for her to know overwhelms him.
“Liv. I.. I don’t mind if you two... make up. Ya know that right?”
He understands her anger, her emotions, her betrayal – just as much as he understood his own a few weeks back, but he really doesn’t want her at war with friends over him. In any case, she’d have no friends left at all.
“Yea El, I know.” The appreciation is there in her voice.
“But it’s not about you. I can promise you that.”
“Then what is it about?”
The phone twists again in her hand while she thinks, and her answer finally comes after a silent minute.
“Out of all the people in my life, I never thought he would disappoint me, ever, and yet he did, and he did it consciously, which is the worst thing.” Her voice was like sandpaper, and she still wouldn’t look at him.
“I begged him that day in my office, I literally begged him not to take the case, and y’know what he did?”
“He just walked out.” Elbows pinched on the bench; she tossed her hands in the air. “Just walked out, like six years meant nothing to him.”
Her heart is in her throat, and this is the most personal, most vulnerable she’s been with him since Simon, so he uses his time diligently, unwilling to take sides. He’s lived in the same house as Barba, he’s seen and heard and felt the agony of hurting the woman he loves; the consequences of it. He never expected to garner redemption for an attorney who represented his wife’s killer, but things are not so black and white anymore, and he can’t keep sculpting mountains for enemies.
“Maybe it was too hard. Maybe he couldn’t stomach it.”
“Stomach what, my side? never stopped him before.”
“No.” he corrected her; throat hoarse. “Your disappointment.”
She studies him carefully, and when she finally speaks, it is soft but with an edge. “That’s not my problem though, is it?”
“No. It’s not.”
And good girl, he thought.
It wasn’t her fault that men half in love with her, if not all consumed by their love, weren’t able to tolerate the fear of staying. The fear of rejection, the waiting game, or the inevitable agony of hearing I’m sorry, I’m not ready. It’s not her responsibility to bear the brunt of their pride of their offense, or in Elliot’s case, his guilt.
“Liv, I’m sorry.” He says again, confident this time so she doesn’t bear the brunt of it.
She sighs, but her smile is warm. “I know. Can we move on from this conversation now?”
He studies her carefully, never having to shy too far from the wall she is building, and he’s ready to take the hammer for her sake, when Kathleen and Lizzie come barreling through the front door.
His daughters are all giggles and warmth when they hang their coats. One hugs Liv while the other is already halfway through a story. Olivia for the most part is entirely delighted by the diversion.
Like always, his adult kids steal her attention for the remainder of the night, and he’s so absorbed in everything that she does here; the way she moves effortlessly in his home, how she laughs under the light, how she moves her salad in his direction once she’s done, and how she says goodbye to him later that night, like she knows it will never be the last.
It’s another two months later when Rafael Barba comes to Ayanna with a proposition.
He’s taken up Wheatley’s offer as a conciliary; and he wants to nail the son of a bitch for everything. It surprises Ayanna almost as soon as it does Elliot, and it means that under the strangest of circumstances; Barba is their new undercover.
It’s not safe. In fact, it’s just about the most reckless thing a man like him could do, but Elliot hasn’t the power to convince otherwise, so he bites his tongue and lets Ayanna do all the talking.
When she steps out of the room, Elliot keeps his arms folded and his gaze steady.
“So, you gonna tell Liv or should I?”
He knows what he’s doing, Elliot; his need to ensure the other man knows that he and Liv are… whatever he and Liv are, isn’t born out of jealousy, but born out of pure nature. He’s always been a possessive prick. He’s always wanted her other men to know, no matter how beautifully platonic they were, no matter how deserving they were; that nobody could steal his favorite toy without a fight.
Share maybe, but never steal.
Barba smirks knowingly as if he knows this, and exactly like her, his grin is not a full one. “I think it would be safer if she didn’t know at all.”
Elliot stills, and the impact is evident on his face. Out of any response, he was not expecting that.
“You’re going to lie to her?”
“It’s hardly lying if we don’t talk anymore.”
“Have you ever thought about trying harder, counsellor?”
“Did you try harder detective?”
That mutes him, enrages him even, so he bites his tongue and instantly looks to the door.
“How is she?” he hears Barba ask a moment later. Its soft and gradual but with an edge, and Elliot knows all too well the crazed desire to know what she is doing, how she is doing, if she’s doing much at all. How she could move on in life, without so much as a goodbye after such a disastrous ending, he would never know. He carried her around for years after his abandonment, thrived in some cities and lost in most, but Liv, Liv with Noah and Manhattan and loss and grief, alongside her army of a million survivors, she flew high and mighty. She’s still flying. And sometimes when he’s lucky, she lands right next to him.
“You see her often?”
Elliot nods only once.
“Why are you asking?” he wanted to know.
Barba shrugged his shoulders. “She deserves.. whatever it is she wants.”
And Elliot, Barba was trying to tell him, is what she wants.
She deserves a lot more than that though. She deserves to see redemption without having to ask for it.
“You should talk to her.” Elliot decides, voice a little rough. “Cause I’m not lying to her.” For anything, he thinks.
And that’s that.
Because a second later Ayanna bolts through the door with Jet following closely behind, and to either man’s pounding relief, this conversation is over.
It’s a day later when he gets to see her again.
Her text message had been sort of cryptic, obvious too, because she wanted him here in her home, and this time they’re in her kitchen.
Despite the liberty of intimacy, she hasn’t quite looked him in the eye since he arrived. He says goodnight to her son and listens with a hot mug in hand at their muffled voices down the corridor.
He always knew she would be, but it overwhelms him sometimes, just how incredible she is as a mother. Just staring at her with her perfect kid, listening to her with that perfect kid, he could do this forever and yet forever would never be long enough.
When she returns, she’s tying her hair up into a wavy ponytail, as though she’s preparing for war, but her face is fatigued in way she kept hidden when Noah was awake, and he wants nothing more than to reach out for her armor, pull it down.
“Rough day?” he expels.
“’s that obvious?”
She forgets sometimes, that he knows her better than he knows himself. He doesn’t know her like the others do, but he knows enough; he knows there are multiple layers of tiredness to her run down jade, he feels it in his bones whenever she is near, and this one, tonight, is born out of fear and pain.
“I talked to Barba today. He told me.. everything.”
And there it is.
From where he sits at the island, he has a perfect view of her cleavage as she leans across from him, but this time he redeems himself by not staring, by not giving in to the temptation of wanting. Now is not the time for that.
“He said you were gonna tell me if he didn’t.”
“Hm-hmm.” He nods, agreeing. “What else did he say?”
“He wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t about me.”
Elliot smiles at the disbelief in her expression.
“And what’d you say?”
“I said… good, cause getting himself killed isn’t gonna put him in my good graces.”
“I don’t want him to do this, Elliot.”
Her eyes beseech and pound, and she’s begging him this time, as if he has any power in the situation –
“I know you don’t owe him anything. I know he’s made things difficult, but with all due respect; your last two undercovers were murdered, Elliot.”
He blinks hard.
“I hate heroes. I hate it when my friends try to be fucking noble, as if..” she pauses.
He grins at the irony, the curse word, the way her face alights with rage and memory.
“As if what? As if they can’t fight the urge to follow in your footsteps?” He means it as a compliment, but she covers her face like he’s hurt her.
“That’s just about the most stupid thing you’ve ever said to me.”
He’d have to disagree, he's said a lot of fucking stupid things, especially in the last year, but that’s an argument for another time. Reaching across the marble tabletop, he takes her hands.
“I’m sorry.” He whispers, sincerely. She lets him rub her back into forgiveness.
“You’re worried about him.” He says a moment later. It comes out as a question, and she looks down at their joining, bottom lip hiding.
“I’m a little terrified, yeah.” She admits, voice below a whisper.
Sometimes, when he thinks about it, he wonders who on earth’s hell gave her a heart so big as Jupiter, who let her take responsibility for all of earth’s anguish, who let it go this far?
Sometimes, in moments like these, moments when she’s hurt and scared. He just wants to take a knife and kill whatever entity is responsible for making her care so damn hard.
Her heart is so fucking big, so soft, that it hurts her sometimes, and he doesn’t even know where to begin.
“Liv, I don’t want this either.”
He furrows his brows, offended that she would assume the worst.
“No.” he says, sternly. “I don’t. I don’t exactly like the man, but that doesn't mean I want him dead.”
“So, you agree with me then, that he’s not safe?”
“As long as Wheatley is free, none of us are safe.” His thumb caresses her knuckles because he needs her to know that she’s still in this too.
“You don’t need to like him, but just..” she stammers. “For me, I need you to remember that he was my friend before he was your enemy, Elliot.”
Elliot stiffens. When did he become a monster in her eyes?
“You think I’m not gunna go out of way to protect him?”
“I just don’t expect you to, El.” She shrugs, shaking her head a little.
He lets out a small breath, redemption, he thinks, as he releases her grasp, rounds the corner to find her in full armor.
Redemption, he thinks again, she has her hands on her hips, like she’s preparing for a fight, and its intentional when he throws her off guard, pulls her into his arms without ever asking.
“There.” He whispers. After a few uneven breaths, she molds into his arms, defenses dropping. He feels her nose dig into the crater of his shoulder, breathing him in, and he closes his eyes as he feels her warm palms claim his skin. This is all that matters. The outside world can thrive in hell, but this is all that matters.
“’s gonna be okay, alright?”
She nods into his chest, unconvinced.
“I just… if anything happened to him.” she shakes her head a little. “We’re not even talking, and I can’t exactly reach out cause he’s not even answering my calls.”
Elliot doesn’t really want to hear the rest of it; he feels like this is deja-vu in his worst fucking nightmare. This is Liv 4 months ago, quite possibly in the arms of another, and so he stands still and bears the anguish of her fall, this is his redemption after all.
To Elliot’s relief, Olivia doesn’t say much after that. Instead, she just stands there as he holds her pieces back together, for once there is balance.
“It’ll be alright.” He repeats, “He’s workin with us now. Nothings gunna happen. You hear me?”
She doesn’t ask him to make promises he cannot keep, but when she moves from his hold, her eyes are as deep as earth’s crust, and he breathes aloud when he feels the relief pass in waves. It means she believes him, sees him.
It means he’s got his work cut out for them too. It means he’s gonna have to work harder, try harder, to be a decent man, to protect the other more decent man, because that was what she wanted, and pride aside, that’s what she deserves.
It’s another month later when Barba is in his kitchen this time, the first for them, the first for anyone on the job.
Oddly enough this is not the slightest bit awkward, and he has Bell to thank for that. The two of them came together since the two of them work better, together. Apparently and according to Bell, Long Island is the safest place for the three of them to strategize, and apparently, Elliot’s apartment is the only place for it.
Fortunately, the apartment is empty when they arrive. Save for the absence of awkward unrest, tension is still high as a kite in this room, not for Kathy, but for Barba, who has already witnessed enough in the eight weeks he’s invested into the dark side. His reports are thorough and well-detailed, and sometimes when Elliot actually digs, looking a little deeper, he sees so much of Liv’s influence in this man that it’s kind of cruel.
She is everywhere, these days.
Every man she’s ever known, every man she’s ever loved, will always cling to the parts of her she gives so freely. Like sacred souvenirs, but like so many before and so many after, a souvenir is always just a memento, it’s not the real thing.
He feels like the luckiest son of a bitch alive.
The three of them are still debating Wheatley’s kids when he hears the patio door open from behind, and he looks up to see Bell arch a questioning brow, and then Barba stops talking, and everything goes quiet. If it weren’t for the way Elliot’s heart loses a few stable pounds, he might forget there was ever noise at all.
Because there she is.
With all her poise and skill, Liv hasn’t even noticed them in his kitchen. Her gaze is locked on her phone while she holds the door open behind her, and that’s when his son appears, taking the door handle for her, Eli lets it close before the howling wind takes them both. This is when she lifts her head to stare across the room.
Olivia’s mouth parts, her eyes soak in the view and then they grow wide into 5 second shock like never before. She swallows quickly, gathering her senses.
“Hii..” It comes out as a question, awash with surprise and inundated with fear for his teenage son. She steps in front of Eli, as if protecting him from the sins of sight, as if he needn’t another reminder of his mother’s losing trial, the nights that came after, and all the in betweens.
But Eli is taller than her, he sees everything already, and he clears his throat. “Hey dad.”
His youngest kid knows about this case, where they’re going, and what Barba is doing for them, so it doesn’t even come as a surprise, but Liv is nothing but a little stunned at this new… welcoming.
Elliot chooses that moment to move toward them.
“Hey bud.” He murmurs, eyeing the bags at Eli’s feet.
“Hey you.” He reaches out to her with every intention of grabbing her by the waist, like so many times before, but then he thinks better of it and brushes her arm instead. She’s still so discrete about almost anything these days, and they have guests staring at them, and not to mention Eli, who’s still the same boy who lost his mom over a year ago, but Elliot can’t conceal the urge to touch her, and she lets him, at least that’s something.
“Sorry, I would’ve called, but I didn’t expect you two till later on.” Elliot expresses, looking back at his son. “Practice finish early, bud?”
“Got cancelled actually. Rain was too heavy.” He shrugs, dragging his gears to the room. “We’re gonna get dinner, came to see if you wanted to join.” He yells out.
Liv is still looking behind Elliot’s shoulder when he stares back at her. He knows it’s stupid, and simple, like every other damn day, but she’s so fricken pretty in every possible way. Dressed in casual jeans and his favorite coat of hers, she has one of his grey scarfs tied around her neck, and it’s a thing they do, slipping into one another’s wardrobes. Her winter-wear smells so much better than his, but she seems to think otherwise cause she always wears his, and she’s just so goddamn pretty, he wants to kiss her stupid, but now is certainly not the right time.
“What’s for dinner?” he asks, trying to distract her from the stars behind, staring brightly back at her.
She lets out a quiet chuckle. “Eli wants pizza, Noah wants spaghetti; I just want a decent meal.”
She curls around him, brushing his fingers with her own as a more decent hello, its brief and warm but then she is retreating, open to greeting her unexpected guest.
“Rafa, hi.” She smiles, sweetly this time.
Nobody, literally nobody save for Olivia calls this man Rafa, and even now, even with months of silence between them, Elliot can feel the tides shifting, the storm ending, rainbows approaching. Something better on the horizon.
Barba leans back in his chair, pen in hand, he offers her a sweet smile in return.
Barba’s eyes flicker back to Elliot’s for the briefest of seconds, and just like everybody else outside of this sweet, chaotic bubble, Barba is somewhat surprised to see her in Elliot’s home too, like it’s her own.
“How’s... things?” Liv asks, leaning against the bench. Its awkward in every fathomable way, because the nervous rattle in her voice betrays her stoic demeanour, and quite possibly, she’s been waiting to ask this of him for weeks.
“Things are good.” he answers, calmly. “You?”
She nods. “Good.”
“Good.” Barba repeats.
Ayanna locks eyes with Elliot across the room, for three expert cops and one lawyer, silence has always been a little unbearable, but this is... beyond.
“’s that Olivia?!” a distant voice cries aloud.
His mother slams the front door, and four heads whip around to take her in. Bernie is sporting a red raincoat with yellow boots underneath, and her wispy grey hair is soaking wet, but this is the least of Elliot’s concerns.
“Hey Bernie.” Liv replies, warmly.
“Ah, it is you.” She sighs, pleased.
“Mama I thought you weren’t back till later on?” Elliot means well.
“Well, isn’t that some sort of way to greet your mother.” Bernie mumbles, looking back at Liv. “Poker night got cancelled. Please tell me you’re here for dinner.”
“Myself and Eli are actually headed that way. Noah’s waiting in the car. You're more than welcome to join us?”
“I’d love to.”
“Please.” She motions to the second door, and just like that his mother is leaving again.
“Mama, here, take a second coat.” He throws her his jacket.
“I don’t need..”
“Just take it.” and she does, skirting out the door.
He feels Barba and Ayanna staring at them from a far, but he’s too absorbed in the way that Liv, like always, seems to take it all in with ease.
Everything. Including Eli’s monthly spirals, his mother’s beleaguering need to be near her, his daughters who adore her, not to mention Barba and Ayanna who stare back at their domesticity, like they’ve never seen anything like it before.
If she notices, she doesn’t even blink.
“Ready?” Liv asks when Eli returns.
“Ready.” He nods, throwing an awkward wave to the two in the kitchen “Have a good night… working.” He mumbles.
Elliot holds the door, the rain is heavier now and Eli is the first to run off in a mad dash, but Olivia stops at once, looking over at Barba.
“See you later?” it comes out as a question again, like she’s searching for a promise.
“Of course. Take care, Liv.” Barba nods.
“You too.” She rushes to say, cheeks reddening.
Elliot has never seen this side of her before. Giddy maybe, flustered yes, but not this. She’s a nervous wreck. She wants her friend back; she doesn’t know how to go about it, and neither does Barba.
It doesn’t make Elliot jealous, not at all, it’s his bedsheets that adore her perfume, his hands that rub her shoulders when she’s tired, his lips that find hers in the dark, and even though they haven’t slept together yet, and things are still so new, he knows it’s coming. So, for the better part, he’s not jealous at all, curious though he is. He’s never seen this side of her before. It amazes him.
“Night, Ayanna.” Liv waves.
“Take care, captain.”
When she steps out of the threshold, Elliot is almost as tall as the door, and he shields her from curious view.
“Bring leftovers? I feel a little replaced.” Elliot jokes.
This is the third time in over two weeks that Olivia and his son have been out for dinner, without him. If it weren’t for the company, he’d be seriously concerned.
“Replaced?” she grins. “You should’ve thought about that before you named him Elliot junior.”
“If I remember correctly, you were fine with it after his birth.” He says aloud.
She rolls her eyes, but her smile is wide like the moon, and she dashes off amid thick rainfall.
“I’ll bring back leftover pizza!” She yells
“Spaghetti!” he sings, thinking of Noah.
“Whatever!” She laughs again. Its music to his ears.
I love you, he wishes to say, like the one-thousandth time before. But she’s already gone.