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Elliot finds her outside, pacing back and forth, seemingly unaware of his presence. 

“Figure you might need this,” he uses her coat as an excuse to cut the silence. “Cold night.” 

Olivia startles, though she could have predicted he’d follow her. “Not that cold,” she says, straightening her posture, unclenching her jaw. “Feels good, actually.” 

And in a way, it does. Well above freezing but cold enough that each breath combats the burning in her lungs, keeping her present. Allowing her body to stay here while her mind battles irrepressible memories filled with sweat, heat and fire. 

“Noah?” Her first priority, always.

“He’s good, Liv.” Elliot’s lips curl into a grin. “Think my guys are probably ready to adopt—” he bites his tongue; hopes he didn’t strike a nerve after only recently learning of Noah’s adoption. “Sorry, I—that came out…wrong.” 

“It’s fine,” she dismisses him with a flick of her wrist. “Would rather you didn’t dance around it.”  

“Sure,” he acknowledges. Rocks back on his heels. Glances up, then down. “You okay?”

His tone relays concern without coddling, and she thinks if circumstances were different — if they were protected by the four walls of her apartment — maybe then, she’d talk. 

Maybe. 

But they aren’t, and it’s likely for the best.

“I will be,” she answers honestly.  

Elliot stuffs his hands in his pockets. Resists the urge to reach for her. “You want to talk about it?” he tries, because they’re friends and this is what friends do.

“You know,” she slips on her coat, clutches it tightly in front of her chest. “I really don’t.” 

A half-truth, but she’s too exhausted from, overwhelmed by, and sick of her own demons to address them in front of an audience. Even an audience of one. 

Especially an audience of one.

“All this—is it too much?”

Oh

He assumes her discomfort is his fault, and for a moment she wishes it were because how simple, to be overwhelmed by him. Only him. 

“No,” she sighs. Finds his eyes. Re-centers. “This? It’s nice, Elliot. I’m glad everyone’s together.” Her words hold a particular weight after the week they’ve shared. 

“Me too,” he exhales, relieved. “They’re really happy, you know. That you could make it. Could both make it.” 

A genuine sentiment, but she senses him clamoring for answers. Desperate, because it hurts him not to understand. It hurts her, too. 

“I don’t like vodka,” she says, unwilling to delve deeper while almost…almost hoping he’ll pry. 

But he doesn’t. Studies her instead; notices her fingernails digging into her palms, the warm flush in her cheeks despite the cold. “So, not a fan of the punch, then.”

“I didn’t drink it.” Olivia defends. “The smell.” Truly in no mood to elaborate or explain that while taste is an obvious trigger, smell can often be worse and more difficult to avoid. 

“Sit for a minute?”

“I’m fine,” she snaps, arms crossed and guard raised.

“Yeah, well,” he sits; clasps his hands and leans back. Grimaces because he’d forgotten how uncomfortable these chairs are. “Maybe I’m the one tired of standing.” 

She’s hesitant but eventually follows suit, taking a seat across from him. Busies herself by tracing lazy patterns along the bistro table between them.

“Liv.” Tension grips his shoulders. “Should I be asking questions?” 

Should he? 

“Probably not,” she flattens her palm against the cold metal.

“Alright,” he’s unsatisfied. “Can I?”

She mocks the absurdity of his question, “You can do whatever you want.” 

“Olivia.” 

“Elliot,” she scratches her forehead; feels goosebumps prickle the back of her neck. “I don’t know how to do this.”

It’s…well, it’s something. A start. 

“Try and be a little more specific?”

His patience is welcome but makes little difference. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to—I don’t know, cope? With this—” her voice breaks. Fuck. “Part of myself. With you.”

“Not sure how you expect me to respond to that,” he bites, wounded. 

She’s enticed by the flicker of his temper because maybe she wants a fight. Craves the distraction. 

“Oh, I know better than to expect anything. Stopped doing that a long time ago.” Ten years, to be exact. “Go inside. Be with your family,” she stands, turns her back to him and hopes he’ll take the hint. “Tell Noah I’ll be right in.”

Tempting, but her tone signals defeat: laced with both apathy and apprehension. Scares the shit out of him.  

“Take a breath,” he softens. 

“My God, just—”

“Take a breath, Olivia.” He takes a tentative step forward. Waits in a space of stillness and uncertainty.

Seconds pass in silence. “I’ve changed, you know.” Olivia speaks quietly. “Things happened, and I’ve—in too many ways,” she shakes her head, blinks. “Some…more obvious than others.” 

A simple explanation for something so complex. 

“So have—”

“No,” she interrupts because hell if he tries centering himself in this conversation. “I’m telling you,” she shifts her weight forward, eyes narrowed and razor-sharp. “Things happened.” Her words are cutting and precise. “And I’ve changed.” 

It's not the time nor place, but, “Tell me?” he tries. 

“Because I called you out? Or because you’re actually interested,” she darkens. “Hard for me to tell.” 

Elliot holds steady. Focuses on her, only her. “Probably deserve that,” he says. “Been selfish.”

“Your words, not mine,” she quips. 

“Might as well say it. Know you're thinking it.”

“Wish I didn’t have to.” 

He’s left with two options: retaliate or settle. “I don’t want to fight.” Chooses the latter. “Not after this week. After everything with Eli…” he trails, glancing toward the house. “Not when you’re hurting.”

The acknowledgement both surprises and warms her. “I don’t want to fight, either,” she exhales; sits back down and rests her head in her hands. “But sometimes, I wish we could stay here. That’s all.”

He arches his brow.

“In this illusion,” Olivia explains, lifting her neck and meeting his gaze. “Where I’m still the same person.” 

“Nah, I don’t want that,” he dismisses. “Don’t want to move backwards, and don’t think you really do either.” 

A last ditch effort to protect him. Protect them. “It gets dark, El.” 

“Listen to me,” he drags his chair in front of hers; tentatively reaches for her hand. “I’m in this with you.” 

Her thumb brushes over his knuckles. To him, it feels like forgiveness.

“You gonna be okay?” 

“Yeah,” she clears her throat, regaining composure. “Need a few minutes.”

“Okay.” His eyes offer reassurance as he gently presses her hand. “I’ll be inside, then.” 

“But we’ll talk.” It’s a promise. “Soon. We’ll talk.”