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The morning is too early, the sky too bright for this; the aftermath of this particular brand of brutality. News travels fast and the NYPD grapevine isn’t as long as it appears, so she already knows the bare bones of what has happened by the time Ayanna calls.

Your partner, she says. Your partner was there.

Right there.

Ayanna doesn’t give her specifics, but she doesn’t need them to understand what she means.

He hasn’t called. He hasn’t asked for her, and that’s enough for her to know what he needs. 

He needs help. He needs someone. He needs a friend. She doesn’t dare begin to let herself think he might need her.

It’s dark in the stairwell where she finds him. The world outside is loud, warm, and garish while it’s cool and quiet in this concrete cradle.

He doesn’t look up at the sound of her approach. She hopes it’s because he knows the rhythm of her footsteps the same way she knows his, like the sound of her own heartbeat, and not because he has given up.

His shoulders are hunched beneath his jacket, his elbows pressed hard into his denim-clad thighs, and he holds the weight of his head in his hands. The heels of his palms cover his eyes, and she thinks he is trying to erase the images she can see all too clearly with her own. 

She knows about the way the body jolts, the visceral terrified reaction of the nervous system, the fight or flight, and the hysteria that comes with the total loss of control.

She wasn’t there. She doesn’t know what he saw, but she thinks it can't be worse than what she sees now.

He is coiled power brought to his knees. He is strength personified, knocked on his ass. Only one gladiator walks from the fight, and she isn’t sure how many more rounds he has inside of him.

She put him in. She can take him out.

She lowers herself onto the stair beside him and the chill of the concrete creeps through her slacks. She tucks her coat into her lap and folds her arms inward, holding herself the way she wishes she could hold him.

She watches him, listens to the steady purposeful measure of his breathing. She knows he is keeping the pace of air deliberately slow and steady as though he is afraid of what will happen if he loses his restraint. 

She isn’t, though. 

Her gaze falls to the glint of light that is the cross hanging around his neck. It matches the crucifix etched into the muscles of his left arm. She wonders if he knows his faith in God is the same kind she has in him. 

Blind, brilliant, and abiding.

She leans closer and presses her mouth his shoulder, to Jesus beneath the fabric of his coat and his Henley. She feels the way he nearly sinks, how his shoulders drop their tense hold, and his breathing changes.

Hitches. 

Stops for a moment before…

Liv.

She doesn’t know whether it’s her name he rasps or the demand he wishes he’d shouted last night to the man with the gun to his head, but before she can decide, she reaches for him. She pushes herself up onto the step above him to give herself leverage. She lets her coat fall across her thigh and his. He is big, and broad, and brave but God, sometimes…

She knows you just need to be held.

She slips her arms around his shoulders, his neck, his chest, as much of him as she can and she holds him close. He bows his head further and she wonders if she can get away with kissing the exposed skin of his neck, the muscles beneath the sinew. 

She wonders if that’s something friends do.

She rests her chin against his shoulder and tries to measure her breathing to match his own. I love you, she thinks. She wonders if he can feel it the same way she is sure he feels her heart beating beneath her breast against his upper back.

She thinks he must because suddenly his hand is on her cheek and his fingers are tangled in her hair.

She holds him. He holds her for moments on end.

She rubs her hand up and down the strong muscles of his back over, and over, and over again. She isn’t sure which of them started gently rocking, but somewhere along the line they began the soothing movement and now they move as one.

His fingertips are smoothing over her scalp, softly cascading through her hair, and she wonders if he knows how dangerously close she is to falling asleep right here.

At eleven minutes past eight on a Friday morning after a disastrous night.

“You’re gonna put me to sleep,” he says. He reads her mind. His voice is quiet with exhaustion. She wants to ask if he slept at all last night, but she knows better, so she satisfies herself with drawing a breath and kissing his neck. His skin smells like soap and aftershave, so she knows he has at least had a shower. She hears the sound of his heavy swallow, the low groan he makes in the back of his throat when he thinks she isn’t listening.

She wonders if he is conscious of it, the sound , and the way she has to press her thighs together to keep the ache that has begun between her legs to a dull roar.

She takes a deep breath and shakes her head ever so slightly. It’s hard to clear it when his fingers are tangled in her hair. She presses her mouth to his shoulder once more, biding herself time. 

She knows she could take him off this case in a moment, but she knows he will never ask, so she’ll have to. 

“I’m alright,” he whispers before she can inquire. 

“Like hell you are,” she shoots back and when he exhales her body falls, too.

“Gimme a little more time, Captain.”

She closes her eyes and her chin bumps against his shoulder when she nods. 

“You have people who care about you. People who need you,” she reminds him. “People who need you to be safe and healthy and whole.”

He nods and his chin bumps against her arm.

She watches his profile and she wonders if she is doing the right thing by letting him go.

“You have people who love you,” she whispers before she can over-think. She needs him to know. She watches the furrow of his brow, the way he draws his bottom lip into his mouth to worry it between his teeth. 

She wonders what it would be like to kiss it free.

When he turns to glance at her, she is close enough to find out, but instead he cradles her opposite cheek in his hand, raises his head and kisses her temple, once, twice, three times.

“Thanks for bein’ my friend.”