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sotto voce

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Now you know the price.

He closes his fist over the medals in his hand and until the points dig into his palm. He thinks of Bridget watching over a sleeping infant with the names of a dead man and the man who betrayed him. He wonders what stories he will be told about his father, if Frank Jr. will grow up with the image of his father on a pedestal or in a cage. Maybe both.

He knows Olivia has to have heard by now that the Brotherhood is done. It’s over. For now, anyway. He knows there are still sympathizers on the force.

Before Ayanna called in the 10-13, Elliot asked her to text Olivia. Bell had eyed him warily, knowingly, but she did it. 

Ayanna had asked if he wanted Olivia at the ceremony and he declined. He didn’t want her to see the heaviness he feels because she would take it on herself. This was his journey. His burden. He’s been respecting Liv’s space, but when they worked the Santos case as partners, just like old times , he felt it. The undercurrent that has always been there. The long looks and the knowing too much and the spaces between the words. He wants to believe he’s made it clear that he would like to move forward with their relationship but she’s been holding him at a distance. He gets it. He once put an ocean between them. At least he knows where she is now. And yet the gaping wound in his life that she left when he left has begun to heal and the remaining edges are jagged, raw and seeping. Everything she is, everything she means, is just within reach and so far away.

Complicated. It’s all complicated.

After he sends his mother to bed, he stands in the debris of his apartment and he calls her. 

His name is a breathy whisper on her voice when she picks up and it hits him straight in the gut. The recovering welts on his chest start to itch. 

“Hey.” He pauses, and he realizes he doesn’t know what he called to say. “I, uh, just wanted to tell you that I’m okay.”

A humorless chuckle comes through the line. “You’re a week late. Appreciated the heads up from Sergeant Bell, though. Fin heard it on the radio and called me right after.”

“It’s a long story, Liv.”

“I bet it is.”

He doesn’t know what to say after that. It’s awkward between them sometimes and he doesn’t know what to do with it. In another life, when he knew where he fit, he’d just show up at her doorstep. 

She breaks the silence first, tentatively. “You wanna talk about it?”

He reaches out for the memory. “Can I come over?”

She sighs and he holds his breath and hopes he didn’t push too hard until she answers, “Sure. Yeah. Come over.”


He has flashbacks on the drive. He remembers stumbling to her apartment, not having full control over his body, his mind overflowing with fragmented, urgent thoughts. Olivia. Home. Safety. Inevitability. He didn’t respect her space then. He didn’t respect her with the way half-spoken truths fell out of him in those early months of him scrambling to find his footing.

This time, he comes in clear and steady, knowing himself better than he ever has before. His knuckles tap lightly on her door. When it opens and he sees her, barefoot in hip-hugging jeans and a comfortable, loose white t-shirt, with her long, soft hair falling over her shoulder in a loose wave, his heart picks up speed the way it always has when he sees her in a new context. He has all of the different iterations of Olivia categorized in his head and files this one away.

He can feel his face contort into a grin when he greets her. He receives a small, controlled smile in return as she holds the door all the way open, a contradiction of messaging, though her voice is soft when she says, “Come in.”

He accepts her offer of coffee and on the first sip, another edge of the aching wound flares up because she still makes it the same way she did before. 

He follows her into the living room and takes a seat on the couch next to her, a respectful amount of distance between them. She pulls her leg up to tuck it under her body and he can’t remember the last time he saw her carry herself so casually. 

They each hold their steaming mugs like a shield or maybe a bible, like it holds answers and truths.

“I don’t know where to start,” he says, and he knows she’ll pick up every meaning of it. 

Her voice is gentle when she prompts, “Tell me about Donnelly.”

So he does. He tells her about the failed heist and the hit on him. About being made the leader of the Brotherhood before being made as an undercover. About the gunshots and the vest. He tells her about the arrests and the pursuit and Donnelly’s choices. He tells her about Donnelly stepping into the path of that train, an image that will live with him forever. 

And then he tells her about the ballistics and the confirmation and the combat cross.

She watches him the whole time as he alternates between meeting her compassionate gaze and looking down at his coffee mug. He lets the tears fall where they may.

“That’s… a lot,” she says when he’s finished. He doesn’t know when it happened but they have closed the distance between them.

“Yeah,” he agrees, his voice raw. He takes a few big sips of his coffee, cooler now. The familiar taste feels like a balm on his soul.

“I don’t think you need me to tell you that you did the right thing, Elliot.”

The weight that feels lifted off his chest tells him differently. “You know what? Maybe I did.”

Another quiet moment passes before Olivia speaks again. “I’m sorry about your father.”

Elliot scrubs a hand over his stubbled chin. “Thanks. It’s… it’s nice to get some closure there.”

“Closure.” Olivia sighs. “Yeah, closure is important.”

The mood shifts between them and he knows they aren’t just talking about him anymore.

He remembers something she told him months ago, outside the courthouse during Wheatley’s trial. “Liv, how are you doing?”

Her lips twist into a grimace. “That seems to be the big question, lately.”

He waits.

“I realized recently that I’ve been completely off balance this past year.”

A year. About as long as he’s been back in New York. The weight on his chest from earlier settles in deep again. “Yeah?”

Olivia presses her lips together and leans away from him to set her mug down on the end table. “Look, El, you’ve had a… a lot has happened to you. And you have a lot to process. We can talk about this another time.”

He reaches for her hand and pulls her back toward him. “This isn’t a one-way street.”

“Elliot,” she begins. She closes her eyes, takes a deep inhale and blows it out through her lips the way he’s seen her do with a gun to her head. “No one else in this world can hurt me as much as you did.”

His stomach churns and he takes deep, steady breaths through his nose that would make his counselor proud. “I know.”

“And I’ve been living in this space between being angry with you and forgiving you. This whole time. Noah and I were fine before, we were okay, and then you came back, and you’ve said things, and you look at me like… and I don’t trust it because I didn’t trust you.”

Elliot catches the past tense and clings to it. 

“Two years after you left, I was kidnapped and tortured for days and the worst of it was the feeling of helplessness. The worst of it was knowing that if you were around, you would have turned over hell and earth to find me.”

He closes his eyes to the onslaught of images that her words form in his head but he doesn’t speak. Not until he’s sure it’s his turn.

“I want to move forward, Elliot.” Her voice is a whisper now. “But I don’t know how to begin to get past all of that.”

Elliot sits with her words for a moment. He puts his mug down on the floor, away from his feet, and he wrings his hands in his lap. “Liv, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make it up to you.”

“I don’t expect you to.”

“Then what can I do, Olivia? Tell me.” He feels desperate. “If there’s a chance. Tell me.”

“You can just… be here.”

His brows furrow. “Be… here.”

Olivia’s mouth opens in a false start before she closes it like she’s reconsidering her words. “I’m going to try. To get past it. And we’re going to mess up. But I need to know that you’ll be here when I’m ready.”

Elliot shifts his body on the couch to face her and drags his finger along her cheek until she meets his eyes so she can see for herself that he means it when he speaks. “Olivia, I’m not going anywhere.”

“Okay,” she says softly. “Because I’m not ready yet.”

And then she closes the gap between them and presses her lips to his and they’re kissing and Elliot’s mind has never been more confused but his body, his body knows what to do. He kisses her back but holds tight to the floodgates because this has to be at her pace. He has to follow her lead. He has to show her he’s listening. 

It’s difficult. 

He shudders with the effort of holding back. Her right hand cups the back of his neck and he brings both of his hands to her face and gently holds her steady. Elliot pulls a deep inhale through his nose and pours out everything he can into a closed-mouth press until she tilts her head and relaxes her jaw just a little, just enough to let him in. He releases the breath through his nose and his tongue seeks entrance, seeks hers, and then they’re kissing for real and it’s electric.

Their tongues slide and push and her lips are as soft and strong as he expected. She tastes like the coffee they were drinking and it tastes like home. His heartbeat thunders in his ears. His hands slide back into her silky hair as she deepens the kiss. It’s both too much and not enough. He wants more but he isn’t sure he could handle it. His hands desire to slide, to explore, but he keeps them where they are.

He trusts that she can still read his body well enough to know the degree of his restraint.

He won’t stop until she stops but he is struggling for air. She pulls away, slightly, but presses their foreheads together while they breathe.

“I just needed to know,” she murmurs, “If this will all be worth it.”

“And?” He can’t keep from sounding a little smug, because he knows she feels it too.

“I think it will.”