It was late evening on Christmas day - the worst Christmas day in recent memory - and the interviews with IAB and force investigation and her union rep were all wrapped up, all the paperwork submitted, and orders had come down that Olivia, Fin, and Rollins were to take the next two days off work, as a gesture of thanks for having sacrificed their holiday with their family, as a gesture of wariness from the NYPD's PR team, who - despite the fact that the victim was in this case a murderous fucking prick no one would miss - wanted to give the story time to percolate before they crafted the department's message around the shooting. Cop kills a civilian in a market in full view of a crowd of people; maybe she would be the hero of the story, or maybe she would be the villain, and the brass wanted to see which way the wind was blowing before they cast their support behind her, or turned away from her entirely.
So she'd come up here, to the darkness of the station roof on a cold December night, to try to gather her thoughts and settle herself before schlepping across town to pick Noah up from Amanda's. Amanda's mother - who was, by all accounts, a grade A bitch - wasn't exactly an ideal babysitter, but she'd raised two children to adulthood and any port in a storm, Amanda had said. It wasn't like they'd had a lot of options for childcare on Christmas Eve when they were called in. It broke Olivia's heart, not being able to spend this day with her son, and she was desperate to see him, but she didn't want him to see her like this. Frayed, and weary, and heartbroken. He was so young, still; there were so many things she didn't want to tell him, not yet. Let him be little, just for a while longer, she thought. Let him stay sweet, and happy.
She was almost ready to go. She was almost calm enough, almost resigned enough, and she had her phone in her hand, prepared to text Amanda and let her know that she was coming to get her son, when the door to the roof creaked open, the sound of it loud despite the endless bustle of the city below.
"Thought I might find you here," a familiar voice called out from behind her, low, and soft, entreating.
The breath caught in her throat and Achlys rose to his feet; he'd been lying on the ground beside her, resting, but he was on high alert, now, pacing between Olivia and the man who had intruded on her private grief, and it hurt, somehow, seeing her own heart so reluctant to let him draw near. Slowly she turned, and found Elliot and Alina stalking towards her, watched with her hands in her pockets as they drew near, as Alina went to Achlys, the way she always did, bumped his shoulder with her nose, an offer of comfort. No one else's daemon ever drew so near to Achlys, no one except for Noah's daemon Cybele who was still so little, still changing shape from one moment to the next, still eager to rest between Achlys's paws, comforted by his nearness. Only her; no one, no one else dared to touch him. No one but Alina.
"Heard what happened," Elliot continued, watching her from the other side of their wolves. He was wearing blue jeans and his heavy black coat, a black beanie pulled down to protect his bald head from the cold. He looked like he'd just rolled out of bed; maybe he had. Fin had only left perhaps an hour before; probably, Olivia thought, probably Fin had called Elliot from the car, and Elliot had come straight here. It seemed like the sort of thing they might do, those two men who were her closest friends. It seemed like something Fin would do, wanting to make sure that she was taken care of, and it seemed like something Elliot would do, wanting to be the one to stand beside her, but perhaps, she thought, perhaps that was only wishful thinking.
"I'm fine," she said, even though he hadn't asked. He wouldn't have been here, she thought, if he wasn't worried about her, and the last thing she wanted to do now was worry him.
The state of affairs between them had been shifting since the trial; after their cataclysmic coming apart on the roof he'd been watching her every moment they were together, staring at her in wonder as if he were only just seeing her for the first time. She'd called him to task for being a shitty friend, and though his first attempt at making things right had been a disaster, his second was smoother. That day in the hospital, waiting for Eli; Jesus, everything that happened in Jersey seemed so bizarre now. She'd gone to him, even though a part of her was still angry with him, even though a part of him was still wounded, because he was her friend, because Eli was just a child and they needed help, and she'd stayed because she wanted to, because in the light of day with thoughts of Angela Wheatley banished from her mind she'd wanted to be near Elliot. And he'd asked her, so sweetly, to come to his family's Christmas party, had opened up his life to her and made room for her in it. After what she'd revealed to him, the angry words she'd hurled at him, he had not withdrawn from her; he had held his arms open to her instead, and she had gone.
She had gone because she wanted to see his children, because she wanted to look in on Eli, because she wanted Noah to meet Elliot properly, because she wanted to believe there was a way forward for them, that there was a chance, however small, that they would not be broken by the sins of the past. She had gone, and baked cookies with Maureen, and watched Noah with Elliot's children, his grandchildren, and felt warmth seep through her whole body as she and Noah were enveloped by family. It worried her, just a little, giving her son a taste of family, not knowing when or if he'd ever be able to enjoy it again, but she had done it because she wanted to, and Elliot had walked her to her car that night, and ducked his head and shyly thanked her for being here.
She hadn't seen him since, and yet now here he was, coming to her when he felt she needed him.
"Like hell you are," he said.
Her lip trembled at the memory. He had always known when she wasn't fine, had always seen through her lies; other people did, too, she was certain. Amanda, and Fin, they'd hear her say she was fine and know she wasn't but they never called her out on it. Elliot did; Elliot knew her, and Elliot would not let her get away with hiding her heart from him.
"What are you doing here, Elliot?"
She knew - she thought she knew - why he was here. She looked at him, at the warmth of his blue eyes watching her in the darkness, and believed he had come because he cared for her, but in that moment she wanted to hear him say it. It mattered to her, suddenly, deeply, that she hear someone tell her that she was cared for. That she was more than the job, more than a murderer, more than a mother, that she mattered to someone else for her own sake.
"You were right," he said. "You've always been there for me when I needed you. Always. You need somebody right now, Liv. And I'm here. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere. You don't have to be alone."
She took a deep, shuddering breath, looked away from him because she was certain that if she maintained eye contact with him she would burst into tears, and never stop. There had been so many times, over the last ten years, when she had wanted, needed him with her, and he was nowhere to be found, but he was standing in front of her now, handsome and proud and strong, promising her always. She wanted his always. She wanted two strong arms to hold her, wanted to know that whatever challenges lay in store there would be someone beside her. She wanted someone to share the burden, someone to catch her when she fell. And she wanted, more than anything, for him to be that someone.
"Tell me what you need, Liv."
Tell us what you need.
A lump formed in the back of her throat at the memory, as she recalled his soft voice, saying I love you. His declaration of love had come ten years too late, had come at a moment where it could not be anything more than a wound, but the ground had shifted beneath their feet. For so long they had kept the truth of their feelings for one another to themselves, had hidden away the softest, most hopeful pieces of their hearts behind locked doors, the keys thrown away. For so long the truth - that he loved her, that she loved him - remained unspoken, for to speak it would be to unleash disaster on them both. But he had said it, finally. Had brought that truth into the light in a moment when his heart was cracked and bleeding and he was not strong enough to hide from it, and Olivia had been dealing with the fallout in her own heart ever since. He wasn't saying I love you now, but he was showing his love to her, just by being here, when everyone else had left her all alone. Actions had always been more important than words, to both of them, and his actions spoke of love.
"I need to see my son," she said. She was tired down to her very bones, heartsick and weary, and what she needed right now was to see Noah. To look down into his sweet face as she had done so many times before, and remember why it was she did the work she did. To remember why it mattered, to remember that the world was full of good things, things worth fighting for. That was what she needed. What she wanted, though, was Elliot.
He seemed to understand.
"Let's go get him, then," he said, and held his hand out to her.
For a moment she hesitated, staring at his hand, mulling over his offer. When it came to his son she did not hesitate to step into the fray, to be there for both of them, to make her presence known, but so far she had kept her own son shielded away from Elliot. The Christmas party marked the only time they had met, talked, interacted with one another, and as much as it warmed her heart to see Elliot treating her son so kindly, to see her son speaking to the man who for so long had been the center of her world, it worried her, too, because Elliot meant everything to her and Elliot had left. Leaving her, that could be forgiven, but if he walked out of Noah's life, she feared her own heart would be irreparably shattered.
But she wanted to take his hand. She wanted to cling to him, and let him help her, wanted to see Noah's face light up when he caught sight of Uncle Elliot. She wanted him to be with her, always.
At her feet Achlys shifted, leaned his heavy body against her legs, and when she looked down into his eyes she saw it. Saw her own yearning, and the reassurance of her heart. Just take it, Achlys seemed to say, and so she did. She threaded her fingers through Elliot's, and let him lead her away.
He volunteered to make tea while she tucked Noah into bed; her son was growing up, a little bigger, a little older, every day, but he was still small, small enough for Elliot to pick him up easily, carry him out of Rollins's apartment to the car, carry him up from the car into Olivia's home, and he had done it gladly, done it not just because the way Olivia looked at him while he held her son made his heart sing but because it had been so long since his babies had been small enough for him to carry, and he missed it sometimes, still. It felt good, sharing this with her, looking after her, looking after her child; she had done much the same for him, a hundred times over, and he was glad to pay her back in kind. He was glad to be here, puttering around her little kitchen; when he'd told her he meant to do this for her she'd looked at him skeptically, said you don't even know where the tea is, and he had reassured her. I'll figure it out, he'd told her, confident that he knew her well enough to find his way through this kitchen he'd never been in before, because she might have moved into a new apartment but she was still Olivia, and he knew how her mind worked. He was right, in that regard; he found the kettle and the tea and the cups exactly where he thought he would.
But the tea was ready, now, and Olivia still hadn't appeared, so he took her cup and drifted further into the apartment, searching for her, a little uneasy about wandering into her private space uninvited but more uneasy when he thought of her alone after everything she'd been through today. Killing a fucking white power terrorist on Christmas day; it was too awful to be believed, more horror than she ought to have to endure on her own. When things got tough she had a tendency to withdraw and he didn't want that, now; he wanted to be here, and he wanted her to trust him, and he wanted her to speak, and know that he was listening. He hadn't done a great job listening since he'd come home, but he was trying, for her sake, to be better than he had been.
In the corridor he found her, leaning in the doorway to Noah's bedroom. She'd changed into her pajamas and let down her hair, barefoot and soft and beautiful, so fucking beautiful that just her profile was enough to knock the wind out of him. She didn't seem to notice his approach; she and Achlys were staring straight into the room, watching, presumably, her little boy fast asleep in his bed, safe and well. Very gently Elliot reached for her, let his hand settle on her shoulder, and she did not startle or pull away, only sighed, very softly, and relaxed beneath his touch.
"When he was little, I used to just stand here and watch him for hours," she whispered into the stillness. "All night, sometimes. I was so scared for him. This world is so cruel and he's so little and I just want to keep him safe."
There had been nights, more nights than Elliot could count, when he had done the very same, when he had gone to his children, one by one, and stood over them, needing to reassure himself that they were safe, that whatever evil he had encountered during the day would not touch them in their home. It stirred something in his chest, thinking of Olivia doing the same thing with her child, thinking how Kathy never seemed to understand his fear and how Olivia knew the taste of that fear so intimately. She was a mother, and he was a father, and they were both cops, and they were both afraid. Maybe that shouldn't have been a comfort to him, but it was.
"He is safe," he said, squeezing her shoulder lightly. "You're a good mother, and your son is safe."
Her body trembled beneath his hand, and he heard her breath hitch, like she was trying, very hard, not to cry.
"Come on," he said. "You've had a long day. You need to rest. Let me keep watch tonight."
Everyone in his apartment was fast asleep; his mother would be up at the crack of dawn but Eli wouldn't stir until noon, and Kathleen had crashed on the couch. His family was well, and safe, and wouldn't miss him while they slept, but Olivia needed him, he thought. Olivia had been all alone in this apartment for years, with no one else to help her guard her child, no one to take over her watch when she needed to rest. He wanted to do that for her, now. He wanted to sit on the floor outside her door, wanted to keep guard with Alina through the long hours of the night, making sure that Olivia and her son were both safe. He wanted her to know that when he said always, he meant it.
Olivia must have been exhausted because she didn't even try to protest. She turned away, let him close Noah's door, let him follow along behind her as she walked on leaden feet into her own bedroom. It was a nice room; nice white coverlet, nice artwork on the walls, nice, unassuming furniture, so different from the clutter and explosion of colors he recalled from the bedroom in her old apartment, like the woman who had decorated this room was not the girl he recalled. Maybe that was true, but he loved her, still.
Olivia threw back her covers and slid beneath them with a sigh while Elliot set her teacup gently down on the bedside table. Her eyes fluttered closed as her head sank into the pillows, her thick, heavy curls framing her face like a halo. Without even really thinking about it Elliot reached out, drew the covers up over her chest and smoothed that hair back from her forehead, drinking in the sight of her; she was so fucking beautiful, and so fucking strong, and she had suffered so fucking much, and he made a silent vow, in that moment, that he would never, ever let anyone hurt her again, not while he drew breath.
"Good night, Olivia," he whispered, wanting to lean down and press a kiss against her forehead but restraining himself at the last moment. He turned to go, intent on closing her door softly and then settling himself down outside of it, but the wolves, it seemed, had other plans.
As he stepped away Alina shot him a reproachful look, and then she leapt gracefully from the floor up to Olivia's bed, stretched herself out over Olivia's belly and laid down like she had no intention of moving. His heart did not want to leave Olivia; his heart wanted, more than anything, to stay. Achlys, too, did not seem to want him to go, for he stalked away from the bed, silently placed his heavy body between Elliot and the door, watching him with eyes dark and intent. Olivia's heart didn't want him to leave, either.
He swung back around, thinking of calling Alina, telling her to get down, to please not do this, but when he looked at the bed he found Olivia looking back, running her hand gently over Alina's silver head. Olivia, and beautiful, lying in bed, stroking his daemon, her own blocking his exit; he swallowed thickly as the rush of need threatened to overwhelm him. Alina had done what he had not been brave enough to do, and laid down with Olivia, and he could not deny it, looking at her now, could not pretend for one second that he didn't want to be lying right next to her. It was as if his own heart had been laid bare, as if Alina had given voice to every thought in his head, and he was left defenseless in the face of her honesty.
"You don't have to go," Olivia said, very quietly.
"Then I won't."
He reached out, caught the edge of the door in his hand and swung it gently closed, and then he toed out of his shoes, feeling strangely self conscious as Olivia and Alina both lay there, watching him. He didn't want to slide beneath her crisp white sheets in the same clothes he'd worn out in the night, and so he unfastened his belt, slipped his trousers down off his hips, and then set about unbuttoning his shirt, Olivia's dark eyes on him all the while. There was something heady about it, undressing in front of her, knowing that he meant to go to bed with her, knowing that she meant to let him, feeling as if their lives were about to change, as if the very stars had realigned themselves just to allow this one moment for Elliot and Olivia to come to one another with their defenses down. It felt like fate; it felt like it was always meant to be, like from the moment they'd first met, the moment Achlys and Alina had first touched, their two hearts had been, always, careening towards this moment.
When he was stripped down to his briefs and his white undershirt he crossed to the other side of the bed, and Olivia reached out to turn off the lamp while he slid under the covers beside her. Alina rose, lifted herself off of Olivia and went to curl up at the end of the bed, and Achlys joined her there, jumped up and wrapped himself around her, silver fur and black forming a little yin yang at Elliot's feet, a perfect sort of balance. That was as it was meant to be, he thought; the two wolves deserved the chance to rest with one another, and maybe their people deserved that chance, too.
In the darkness, up close, he saw Olivia's eyelashes flutter, saw her lower lip tremble, as the weight of the day, and the weight of this moment between them, had settled heavily on her chest, as if she were fighting the urge to cry.
"I've been alone for so long," she told him, refusing to meet his gaze. The confession was heavy, and he knew it had cost her dear to make, and he knew what it was she was telling him. That she didn't know how not to be alone, anymore, that the thought of not being alone scared her now, that she worried, still, that love might not be worth the risk. Elliot knew better; every heartbreak, every grief, every wound of the last twenty-three years was worth it, for the chance to love this woman, and he would do it all again, every part of it.
"I'm right here," he said, reaching out to brush his fingertips against her cheek, turning her head gently towards him. "And I'm not going anywhere, Olivia. I'm right where I want to be."
It looked to him like she still needed some reassurance, and so he lifted himself up onto his elbows, leaned slowly towards her, gave her every opportunity to pull away while his heart raced in his chest. She didn't pull away, though; when his lips met hers she was ready for him, and he sank into that kiss with a feeling like relief swirling through him. It was a gentle kiss, a chaste kiss, sleepy and sad, but her lips were warm and so soft, and touching her made him feel as if he had, finally, found the answers to every question that had plagued him for the last two decades. The answer was Olivia. She righted every wrong, made sense of the chaos, settled his mind and warmed his heart, and when he kissed her she kissed him right back, like whatever he was feeling, she felt the same.
This moment was not a moment for passion, though, and so he pulled away, flung his arm out over her belly and laid his head down next to hers on the pillow.
"Sleep, Olivia," he said. "I've got you."
Now, and always, for all the rest of his days; he would have her back, would support her, would run to her when she needed him, would try, with all his might, to be the kind of man who deserved to share a bed with a woman as magnificent as her.
"I love you," she whispered.
He had told her the same thing once before, in a moment of unspeakable grief, when his life was spiraling out of his control, when nothing made any sense, when the only thing he knew, with any certainty, was that he loved her. He had clung to that one truth, though she did not speak the words back to him, though she had not once since his return voiced such feeling for him. She had been holding it in reserve, he knew, not because she wanted to hurt him but because she was afraid of it. Because she was like him, and she knew what their love had cost them, and she was scared of what it might do to her in the future. She had been afraid, but she spoke those words now, now when he held her, now when he had come to her, and pledged himself to her. It was a gift, he knew. She was taking a chance on him; she was believing in him. Believing that he was no more a monster than she was, believing that no matter what other people might say about the two of them, with blood dripping from their hands and wolves prowling by their sides, that they were good, and that they could be good, together.
"I love you," he whispered back, brushing a kiss against her shoulder. "I love you."
That was, he thought, the only thing that really mattered.
He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, and she did the same, safe beneath the warmth of his arm, and at the end of the bed Achlys lay with his head on Alina's belly, the two wolves at peace now that they were together, as they always should have been.