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Lucky Charm

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It’s still cold outside, but it’s not as cold as it once was.

Mid-March, and the city finally shows signs of the thaw. The coats are lighter, the hats are shed, the layers peel off skin that has been frozen and dry for too long. The sun is trying, it’s trying, it’s beating down on the ice-charred grass of the park, finding the dead and forgotten thistles of it, its incubating rays coaxing the dead back to life.

He sits in the park, waiting for her in the late part of the afternoon, elbows on his knees, fingers smoothing over the talisman in his hands. Again and again he turns the small piece over, wondering if she will show at all, if she will remember what he means when he says meet me at the bench or if she will give him what he deserves and ask him which one. Maybe it’s been so long she won’t remember the bench at all, or the park, or the days they used to come here, or even why she bothers with him at all.

He exhales hard, and he’s tired these days.

It’s been too much ugliness, too much loss. It’s been too much adjusting, too high of a cost every single day. There is no redemption in OCCB. His old unit had been brutal, but there had been light some days in SVU. Signs of recovery, of vindication, of empowerment and a sense of setting things on a better course, only sometimes, when they got the guy. There had been days when they’d see the power come back in the eyes of a victim, when they’d see that transition from victim to survivor to fighter, when Olivia would straighten her back, look at him, as if they’d done some good - and he’d feel like what he did made a difference.

But these days - these days - he cuts the head off a snake and there is another one, ready and poised to strike. These days it takes him immersing himself - body and soul - in the bullshit, and he’s losing the fight most days.

He’s losing her.

He can see it. He can feel it. Impossibly, there had been more hope in her eyes in the first months after he’d come back. But a series of UC’s, a string of shitty decisions, and she’s wary now not of his return, but of the fact that he could leave again. Her walls are getting stronger, higher. She’s good to him, she’s always been too good to him, but she’s good from a distance, from behind the fence she’s established between them. The safety perimeter.

He can’t lose her. It’s why he’s here. Because asking her to lunch, to dinner, to the loft, it’s not working. Rightfully, it shouldn’t. He’d walked out for a decade, and she has no idea he’d seen her face in his head every single day of his absence. She has no idea that he knows what this is, that he isn’t unclear, he isn’t lost, he isn’t confused or lonely or conflicted.

He’s known what this is for over a dozen years.

He’d known before he left. Maybe she hadn’t, but he had. He’d known why the just sight of her made the blood rush to his head, why his hands would ball into fists, why he’d look too long at her lips, why he’d thank the wind those days, for sending the scent of her towards him as they walked side by side.

He knows why.

He loves her.

He expels a breath, the anguish in him unforgivable. He has no right to feel pain, he’d left her. He shoves the small talisman in his coat pocket and straightens as he sits, planting his feet on the ground hard.

When he lifts his head, he sees her.

She is walking towards him, hands in her pockets, her cheeks slightly red from the lingering cold. He doesn’t take his eyes off of her, simply because he can’t. By God, she is beautiful. She used to be stunning, but the years have added an unforgettable presence, a command of the earth and air around her. She’s purposeful in her stride, but her soft dark eyes are locked on him. She looks concerned, and he knows why. He should have told her this isn’t about work, that he’s not in trouble, that he isn’t crumbling. Maybe he shouldn’t have left it ambiguous - but he’d needed her to come, and she’s a Captain now. If she’d known this was personal, she would have put it off.

“Hey,” she breathes when she’s standing a good  three feet in front of him. Her head cocks. “You ok?”

Just the sound of that throaty voice and he wants to scream. He wants to tug at her, to beg her, to bury his face in those wild curls that ramble down over her shoulders. He wants to feel the cold tip of her nose brush against his, wants to settle his mouth over hers and find fucking home right here in the middle of Central Park.

Instead, he just looks at her as he stands. “Will you sit with me a minute?” His own words are too soft, too somber and maybe even too ominous.

She flinches, glances at his eyes again, and then nods. “Okay.”

And she does. She sits, leaving him room to sit back down next to her.

“You remembered the bench.” He has to start somewhere.

“El-“ she starts, a warning for no reason.

He ignores it. They can’t be afraid of each other anymore. They’ve caused each other too much damage while trying to save themselves from it. “I’d find you here after the worst cases. You still come out here?”

She takes a deep breath, and the seconds pass. She stares straight ahead, at the crown of buildings that frame the park sky. “No,” she finally admits. “Not since-“

“Since I left.”

She shrugs, as if it’s just another thing on a list of things that have been lost.

“Why’d you’d stop coming out here?” He turns his head to look at her profile over his right shoulder.

She doesn’t turn to look at him. The sad smile that plays over her lips is given to the audience of barren trees and bundled strangers in front of them. “You used to bring me a coffee.”

“It wasn’t a coffee,” he grumbles in interruption. “A caramel capp with brown sugar is a dessert.

She lets her chin drop so she can look at her fingers in her lap. “Wasn’t the same coming out here if I knew that cappuccino wasn’t coming.” It’s said softly, wistfully, but without blame, as if she’s talking about someone else who had left her. As if the traitor isn’t sitting right next to her.

He reaches under the bench, between his feet, and pulls out the still warm coffee, the one that doesn’t have a name on it, because he’d simply told the barista 4015 when she’d asked for a name.

Olivia’s eyes widen when she sees it. She doesn’t reach for the cup, instead she reaches for him just by the way she raises her gaze to meet his. She just sits there, chest rising and falling, barely blinking. “Capp, brown sugar?” she finally whispers.

He can’t find a damn breath when she looks at him like this, so he can’t damned well respond. He gives her a half smile, still holding the cup.

She shakes her head a little, and she’s suddenly uncharacteristically demure. Her expression softens, her shoulders fall, as if she’s not holding the world on them anymore. “You saved these for the bad cases…”

“It’s been a bad year.” He holds it out her, urging her to take it.

She eyes it as if it could bite her. “I don’t drink those anymore, it’s sugar and I have-“

“Maybe you should again. Maybe -“ he presses it into her hands and is rewarded when she instinctively takes the cup. “Maybe these made things better.”

Her laugh is small, more of a melodic, wondrous breath.

He sits quietly, leaning forward again until his elbows rest on his thighs. He waits, and eventually she takes a sip of the sweet drink. It’s slow at first, as if she’s getting adjusted to the taste, as if she might not like it.

But then she takes another sip. Then another.

Then, “What’s this about, El?”

El.

He will never get tired of how she says his name. As if she’s wrapped herself around the letters, half possessive, half gentle. One syllable, and she tells him that he is hers, every time.

He reaches into his pocket, and pulls out the small stone. It’s barely bigger than a quarter, mostly flat. He’d found it almost fifty years ago, on the beach down at the Jersey Shore. It had been a rare vacation weekend with his mother, spent not far from where her beach house still sits, mostly unoccupied these days except for the weekends when the kids use it.

One side of the small stone is painted. He’d used acrylics, sat there next to his mother as a kid and painted rocks endlessly because in those rare, quiet moments they had understood each other. When he’d finished, his mother would seal the rocks, and he’d take them back to Queens and try to sell them at the end of the driveway. A couple bucks had made him feel invincible, as if the world would inevitably, one day, be his.

As if these rocks could one day lead him to absolutely everything. 

He holds it now, between his thumb and forefinger. She’s watching him, he knows she is.

“Painted this as a kid,” he says.

The smallest sound of amusement escapes her. It sounds like a tinkling bell of delight, a trinket of unfettered joy that she lets escape her lips. “A shamrock.”

It’s such a basic thing, the way she says it. As if she’s waiting for him to verify the obvious. As if she’s guessed, and she’s waiting to be told she’s right.

It makes him grin. He looks at her over his shoulder again. “Very good, Captain.”

She laughs then, loudly. “This city is a hotbed of crime at this very moment, and you brought me out here to show me your art project?”

She’s all sarcasm and teasing, but he can feel it. He can feel the anticipation in her, in them. She’s not mad he’s dragged her out here, she understands that he couldn’t tell her why, because she knows she wouldn’t have come. And yet, she wants to be here. He can tell by the way she settles into her seat on the bench.

She’s not going anywhere.

“Mom left this on the counter this morning. She still had it all these years later.” He can’t help the way his throat tightens, or how his chest becomes heavy with emotion. “How in the hell she still had it, I have no idea. She can’t find her glasses most mornings, but she knew where this was.”

When he looks at Olivia again, her eyes are softer than he’s seen them in the last year. She’s biting at the rim of her cup, not sipping, not moving. Her breathing steadies, she doesn’t flinch when a breeze lifts her hair. “Because she loves you,” she finally says, and it’s so quiet he could have sworn she hadn’t said it at all.

He nods once. It’s something he’s come to terms with over the last year: that love isn’t perfect, it isn’t unblemished, it isn’t all forgiving but it also bridges impossible gaps. “She left me a note.”

Still holding the small rock, he reaches into his pocket, pulling out the wrinkled paper from his jacket. He hands the note to her.

She sets her cappuccino down on the bench and takes the paper from him, unfolding it. He knows what she’s about to read, he’s memorized it already.

My boy, you once gave this to me. St. Patty’s Day when you were nine years old. Told me it was a “good luck Sham-Rock for your forever good luck charm.”

Time to give this to its rightful owner, don’t you think? Going out for a green beer or three with Lizzie. Don’t wait up.

Love, Momma

A smile starts to form on Olivia’s lips before she lifts her face. She’s still staring at the paper in her hands. He doesn’t think it’s the wind that is making the note shake.

He holds the small shamrock out towards her. “So whaddya say? Will you accept?”

When she finally looks at him, she is the sun in spring. She’s illuminating, right before his eyes. She is alight with amusement, with mischief, with disbelief and hope. “Figures the first rock I accept from a man and it’s this.” Her fingers pluck the small stone out of his hands. She tilts her head, almost flirting. “Your good luck charm, huh?”

She’s playful. The miracle of it is not lost on him. It makes him feel powerful again, as if he can do anything because she is sitting next to him. The weariness fades, the jaded veneer slips from its hold. “Well,” he shrugs, frowning as if he is reconsidering.”Most of the times I got shot it wasn’t your fault, so I guess…yeah.”

Her fist closes around the small rock and she laughs. She laughs like the luck of the Irish is real, like spring is around the corner, like leprechauns exist and the fucking pot of gold glimmers at her feet. She laughs and he is mesmerized, transfixed, because she is promise and faith and a whole damned field of four leaf clovers all at once. She is magic, and Jesus how he had ever lived away from the heat of her, he doesn’t know.

She laughs, and by the brand new sound of it, he thinks she knows that he is in love with her.

Her thumb slides over the childish shamrock painted in kelly green on the stone. Eventually, she puts it into her pocket, accepting it. Eventually, she quiets. Eventually, he remembers where they are, and he realizes she’s tucked the note away in her possession, too.

She settles back in, lifting her cup to her mouth. “A Shamrock. That’s very clever, Elliot. Did you paint Rockbands, too? Rockets?”

“Olivia,” he warns. “See what you do? Mocking my gesture.” He rubs his hand over his face, as if he’s had enough of her teasing, as if he’s tired when the truth is that he’s finally finding air. Here, next to her, he’s free to get the oxygen into his lungs again.

She stands then, and she’s no longer slow movements. She’s no longer the solemn Captain. She’s standing in front of him, and she tosses the seven-dollar cappuccino into the trash can to her left. “Don’t buy me coffee on Saint Patty’s Day, Elliot. Buy me a whiskey.”

He looks up at her, and he’s got this. Her brashness, the sass, the cocky tilt of her chin, the way she knows she’s all curves and danger and sex appeal, he can deal with this Olivia. He needs this Olivia. He wants the woman who once told the world she could handle him with every look, the one who wasn’t afraid of him, the one who was all dominant challenges and submissive blushes. The one who could beat his ass at pool and darts and who made sure the whole blasted bar knew it.

He stands, and he’s so close to her that his body almost brushes hers on the rise. “Don’t you have to work?” He doesn’t mean to sound suggestive, but hell if that’s the way it doesn’t come out.

Her eyes narrow, even as her skin flushes. “I’m the boss. I’d ask you if you have to work, but you’re still suspended.”

He grimaces, but the only pain he’s actually in is due to her proximity. “That hurts. Connolley’s?”

She straightens, as if that will make her taller. “Did you bring money you don’t want to take home?”

He gives her a disgusted look. “You won’t beat me. And don’t you make a shitload more than me now? Why do you want to take money from a poor man?”

Olivia rolls her eyes. “I’ve seen those suits, El. Private security treated you well. Drinks are on you.”

“This isn’t fair,” he grins. She’s so damned close, so deep into his space, their space, that he’s feeling indestructible. “I just gave away my lucky charm.”

She moves then, pivoting on her heel as she takes a step away from him, heading for the bar, absolutely sure he will go wherever she goes. “No you didn’t,” she says, now walking backwards, not waiting for him to catch up. “She’s right here.”

He follows then, moving fast. It’s not that he thinks she’ll change her mind or leave him behind. He moves fast for one reason only.

When he’s next to her, he’s sure the wind will play along and will send the scent of her into him again.

He’s Irish after all, and today, finally, luck might just be on his side.