She thinks she misheard him the first time.
The second one too. But he was actually shaking, and she realised too quickly that it was real.
It was all real.
His hand was trembling with the force of his words as he took hers in his own. Elliot pressed his lips to the veins inside of her wrist, and spoke the words very carefully into her pulse, which was drumming very loudly in her ears.
“Will you marry me?”
Oh my fucking god, she thought, cursing all the stars that had sent them here. Fuck!!!!
“What?” she stammered. Marry him. He wanted her to marry him.
“I know what you said.” She bit back, unintentionally. Adrenaline in her body betraying her heart.
Elliot recoiled, as if she’d slapped him across the face. That surprised her too, the juxtaposition of hurt mixed with what was previously a very happy man. Gods, she thought, what was she to do now?
She found herself closing her eyes and walking the busy streets of New York instead, with Elliot back at her side. It was easier to imagine this man proposing to her in a place more familiar to them, instead of out here in the middle of nowhere.
Olivia forced her lungs to take in huge gulps of air, and with her eyes closed, her hand moved across the sand and to his lap, forcing his big fist into her own, their fingers entwined as she raised them to her chest. She needed to be anchored by some force of his body, needed his knuckles to feel the ramming of her heart inside of her chest, robbing her of words and time and focus..
“Breathe baby.” He whispered.
Fuck. She thought. Fuck.
She loves him and she wants him and there will never ever be anyone else that measures up to him. Still, he cannot know this. She cannot tell him vocally, even though he’s seen the different shades of her very soul and knows where it rests when he isn’t looking. There is still this unexplained part of her that is scared.
Scared of Elliot knowing that it was always going to be yes. Scared of surrendering every known comfort to her. Scared of making any rash decisions based on the unnerving atrocity that this could be their last day together.
Scared if it is not.
Scared of losing him, of something happening to him, the world of blue taking him down, too. It is the kaleidoscope of her life story isn’t? Everybody leaves even when they don’t wish to.
“Liv.” He murmured carefully. She could feel his heavy gaze sinking into her body as she listened for a shroud of familiarity. She’s sitting next to him on the beach, in the middle of the night, and this is the strangest most defining moment of their life, together.
“Let me ask you something.” She says, suddenly. “Why do you call me baby?”
“What?” His eyebrows pulled in tightly. Just give me an answer woman, his features screamed and Olivia straightened her back.
“Ever since I woke up that day, sometimes you call me baby and I can’t imagine the other Liv..”
“You’re still the same Liv.” He interrupts.
“Why do you call me that?” she demands.
He sighs a small smile. Frustrated and annoyed and entirely transfixed by the motions with which her head works.
“It started off in the bedroom.” He said, so casual she had to blink twice just to reread.
Olivia cleared her throat, cheeks growing red. “In the…”
“Yea. It was a fucking thing.”
“Wow.” She shakes her head, covering her eyes. She isn’t embarrassed, not at all. She’s a grown woman and he’s a grown man and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. But still. This is Elliot, her best friend, her partner, and despite everything they’d ever been through, she can’t help going red every time she’s faced with another forgotten thing in the bedroom.
“It started off that way, but then I just kept going with it cuz I knew how much it pissed you off.”
Olivia rubbed her brow, thinking of ways to make light of the situation without revealing how truly embarrassing this was.
“You ever think about things you’ve said in bed and think.. wow I’m just so sorry to the entire feminist movement?”
“No.” he answered gruffly, annoyed with her. “I don’t actually.”
Olivia couldn’t resist the laugh. “Of course, you don’t.”
Elliot scrubbed his face. “Now you’re deflecting by using politics. That’s just great.”
“I am not.”
“If you don’t wanna marry me, just say no, woman.”
Elliot sighed very loudly, somehow patient and impatient at the same time. He watched her intently, so quiet that she could almost hear the seashells at their feet whistling with the winds. The blue of his eyes kindled a little under moon that shone above, and one slither of light seemed like just enough to illuminate all the good that he held inside. All the good that he had for her, even as darkness surrounded them at the edge of the sea. He was good.
“Would you still ask me to marry you if I wasn’t sick?”
“You’re not sick.” He denied, his voice low again. “And yes I would. I fucking would.”
“How do I know you’re not just scared?” Her eyes bore into his face, like she was willing it to melt.
Elliot blinked, unchallenged. “Have I done something to make you question my love for you?”
She sighed, blowing air that ticked her hair. She looked to the ocean and inhaled the nightly brine that foamed onto shore. It wasn’t that she was annoyed with him, on the contrary really, he was making it fucking difficult to think of anything except I love him I love him and just say yes. The more he confessed, the more she came to understand the sheer reality of their relationship.
He wouldn’t die for her. He would die with her.
He’s made this pretty clear.
Looking out to sea, she envied the ocean and how it had mastered the power to hide all that it contained. Herself and Elliot could never do that with one another, never hide behind the tide without the other already knowing where and when they would land. How he could adjust the dance so that her landing was soft.
Olivia looked back into his cool blue eyes, made more soft by the way he stared at her. “No you haven’t. I’m just thinking.”
“You need time?” he smiled, gently. He lifted his hand from hers to trace the shell of her ear, rubbing reassuring circles into her skin.
Save for his kids, she knew he had never felt more protective of anything and of anyone in his entire life, then in this moment. If she decided to walk right into the deep dark sea over there, he would follow her without pursuit. It seemed that he was unattached to life on this earth that way, except for maybe the one that hammered inside of her. She could pass the faceless bodies of her two sons and walk straight into the void, never to look back again, and Ellliot would follow her. Because that was them.
This is why she can’t say yes.
It’s also why she can’t say no.
So she settles for nothing, instead.
A moment later, Elliot shifted in the sand. “Alright.” He said, clearing his throat. “I love you. I want what’s best for you. If you’re not ready, say no and we can move on, together. Okay? Just say no baby, it’s alright.”
Her jaw grinded again at the pet name, but not even this could grant him some semblance of a response. For the first time in their partnership, she fell quiet, and the stillness of her silence felt just as commanding, just as merciless as her power of speech. She couldn’t help but watch him, drinking in his stoic profile, the way the thick cords of his neck pulsated and strained as he waited, waited. He was always waiting.
There was a life brimming inside of her, even as she was rendered silent. Elliot was as still as Elliot could ever be, so still she could probably hear the rhythm of that life inside changing course.
“Say no, Olivia.” His was voice low again, guttural, originating again from deep inside and vibrating into the wind.
God help her, she thought.
“Don’t tell me what to say.” She ordered.
“There you are.” He whispered, his voice reminding her of sandpaper. His dimples formed into a half-lit smug grin, and maybe they would be fine even if she said no. Maybe.
Except, she didn’t know how to. She wanted love and she wanted her memories back and she wanted her kid to be happy. But in the end she would always want Elliot.
“I’ll wait for you.” He told her, “Answer me tomorrow. Answer me in a years’ time I don’t care. I’ll wait for you.”
“You could be waiting a long time, El.” She looked back out to the dark sea and resisted the urge to let her voice break with the tide. She didn’t want to think about the burdens set upon them in the days to come, but it was hard not to when faced with total darkness.
It felt like they were trapped in this disociative limbo that seemed infinite, and yet somehow theirs.
“Hey.” She heard Elliot whisper, loud enough that not even the wind could hide him. He slid an arm around her shoulder and pulled her against the hard plains of his side.
“Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“I think you’re nuts.” She answered.
His laughter rippled over her in soft, vibrating sensations. They were sitting face to face, but in some quiet sensation it felt as though they were lying down on the soft carpet of white sand, and he was on top of her. Not in any explicit, sexual manner, but that was the power they each had over one another when she allowed herself to admit it.
“I meant tell me something new.”
She needed to know a few things.
She needed to know that he would stay if the unthinkable ever happened.
She needed to know if he would live a thousand more times without her? Would he choose to raise her son, without her. Would he love her breathlessly and apart. Or would he jump the bridge like she feared he would.
Olivia’s breathing is even now. She rests her cheek on her knees, staring up at him through her thick lashes as she hugs her legs to the chest. Days and hours could rush by where the company of him could just make her smile for no reason. Where time could feel so irrelevant.
And there is something both powerful and humbling in the way he manages to hold her gaze, the way he treads so carefully upon her walls, despite the sheer amount of desperation that fills his pupils as he wishes for his dreams to be fulfilled. He is always waiting, always eager, and watching a man like Elliot wait eagerly for anything is... humbling.
She wonders why she feels helpless about it.
“We’re partners.” She begins. “That will never change for us. We’d die for one another, right?”
“Yea.” He answers, as if this is obvious.
But would he live for her? She wants to ask him, but she’s scared of finding out and she doesn’t know what to do if his answer is no.
“I think I just need time.” In a way it is the truth. Her truth.
Elliot releases a heavy sigh. It’s not empty and it’s not exasperated. Just the right kind of relief that might come out of a man masquerading himself as a patient one when he is anything but. Elliot lifts a hand to cup her cheek and she closes her eyes. In this moment she chooses to love unafraid. In this love she is devoted to making it work in a way that must go beyond yes or no, because for now yes or no doesn’t exist; only him. Only he exists.
Elliot’s thumb brushes across her cheek, sweeping slowly back and forth. Her eyes close subtly, and she can hear the worn rhythm of his thumb rubbing soothing circles to the skin closest to her ear. She can hear the sea rising invisibly beneath them and the whales migrating a hundred miles at sea. She can hear the tide surging through the marsh and each wave hitting across the shoreline in light strokes. For some strange reason, she can even hear the repaired anecdotes of their history whispering softly back at them like the winds that ceased to overwhelm.
I’m your partner, for better or worse.
Better or worse.
She doesn’t realize until after that she has said it aloud. She feels Elliot’s thumb stop moving across her face and opens her eyes.
For a moment everything else is forgotten.
Most times the way he looks at her is jarring. Unfathomable to others fortunate enough bear witness. The way he stares at her is consuming, sometimes.
And all she sees is him, exactly as how he must see her. He looks into her, not at her. He sees all the parts inside of her that she refuses to even see for herself.
He is endlessly her equal.
He sees her.
Elliot smiles a tentative smile. And his next words come out stern and steady. “For better or worse.”
She exhales and knows she feels too much. Loves too much. Knows too much.
“I want you to read my letters.”
It’s not the answer he was looking for but this is nothing new. Elliot laughs, shaking his head as if she has muddled it with lifetimes of insanity.
“You’re trying to kill me, woman.”
Against him, Olivia laughs quietly, nudging her nose into his neck and letting the only scent known to her fill the small space in her lungs. There are not enough beaches in this world to dismantle the unique feel of him. His was a smell that had never faded, only dimmed down by the fierce absence of it. Now it was more intense and completely inescapable since that night they sought courage to do what their younger selves could not.
“I’m not trying to kill you.” Olivia answers, smiling a little. “I just want to remember saying yes to you, when the time comes.”
It’s not the sole-reason, but it is the truth.
Elliot shatters completely, his face contorting in a violent but quiet way, and she can do nothing but stare.
“You’re scared of losing me again, aren’t you?”
Olivia shakes her head. She’s scared of losing herself but she’s more scared of Elliot losing it with her. Still, she doesn’t want to tell him this, in fear of learning the truth.
“I just want you to read my letters.”
“Of course I’ll read your letters.”
“Tonight.” she demands, eyebrow raised.
“If that’s what you want.”
Olivia nods, releasing a heavy sigh. Looking back out to the dark ocean, and to Noah who had stumbled upon a nest of sea turtles in the distance, and Eli who had already started building a protective shield around them. It’s quiet here for endless minutes despite the world that turns around her, and it is safe too, because she feels no pressure in having to live up to the expectations it had set out for her since birth. Elliot has very little expectation of her in the same sense that this beach does. She can feel it in the way he pulls her impossibly closer, tighter against the hard plains of his chest, attempting to shield her too from the growing swells that threatened the shore.
Even as she is quiet, even as she dangled his proposal in her hand like it meant nothing, he would always protect her. Elliot was her protector first before he was ever her lover.
“Liv?” her name is gravel on his lips. She tilts her head to face him, only it is his mouth that steals her attention first.
“You’re my priority now.” he says, “My life. You gotta know that.”
Olivia closes her eyes.
He is the man she ran away from, who proposed to her on a carpet of sand that bore no footprints and whispered my lifeeven after I need time.
And she knows, god does she know how much of a mistake her silence is.
“I know.” Olivia tells him.
Elliot relaxes into the dry sand, the weight of his arm slung around her shoulder bearing no force into her body other than a heady desire to mold himself around her. Olivia presses her ear against Elliot’s shoulder, peering up at him. His entire face seemed illuminated against the dark sky that they had made, and it shone a torch on the dented expression he was failing to hide.
His wasn’t an ache to be known, it wasn’t an ache to be seen, he would always be found by her in the end. His was an ache to be remain here on the beach with her in his arms, an ache to keep her safe despite the growing battlefield. To stop the clock and spend the rest of the night in bed… An ache to be inside of her.
She blinks once and it’s like the seconds linger over them, the arms of the clock taking pause and time standing completely still. The world forgotten, empty of life except for that which pounds between them so fiercely. She recognizes the expression in Elliot’s face, the emotion in his defiant features. He really needn’t the power of speech for her to see him so fully.
He would always find a way back to her, she thinks.
Now it was up to her to do the same.
Elliot moves in, features darkening as he dipped his nose to kiss her face, fingers pushing into her scalp, he gathered her hair in his hands possessively while winding her curls beneath his fingers. His dark pupils told her that she belonged to him. She wonders when it was she stopped fighting him on it.
She knows what she wants and she’s not afraid to let herself have it anymore. His lips hover above hers and all she can truly feel is him breathing life into her.
It hits her there how close he is to having his world implode again. He’s been her rock lately, and he’s made everything and everyone around adjust accordingly to her needs. If it were up to Elliot, he would move heaven and hell to make sure she found neither.
Olivia reached for his face in her hands and closed the remaining distance between them. She made room for his tongue to plunge into her mouth. Their children were still off in the far distance, yet she refused to break away from him anymore.
Elliot moaned into her mouth, and she moved closer to him, tilting her face and the alignment of her body so that she could lean into him a little deeper, possess him as she feared he possessed her.
If anybody else was to ever kiss her again, all they would taste is his name.
Elliot exhaled into her mouth and inched his lips away from hers, his hands still hanging onto her.
His forehead slid languidly against her own, nose brushing with hers in gentle strokes. She wonders if he stopped on accord of their kids, but then his face contorts in a stabbing ache of pain that instantly upsets her. Elliot’s breathing seemed to match the slam of the ocean ahead and looking into his eyes now, she thinks he has sucked it all dry.
“What is it?” she rasps
His breath is ragged against her lips as he rumbles quietly into her.
“I just miss you already.”
It is a quiet haunting truth, and the agony lodged inside of his throat suggests that he doesn’t quite trust his own voice. He doesn’t trust that whatever he says won’t automatically make shit real.
He’ll miss the way she laughs when it’s just the two of them. The way she sips her coffee before sunrise and doesn’t protest when he steals her kisses. He’ll miss the simple things because it was the simple things that she forgot.
Olivia inhales deeply and allows the breeze of the ocean to carry her cheek as she kisses his own. She thinks about what his skin tone would look like pressed against her hand with a ring on her finger. His ring. She thinks about wanting that, and nothing else comes easier.
“I’ll find my way back to you.” Olivia tells him, and it is the one thing she believes in, the one thing. “I will.”