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His voice is rough as sandpaper, and she can’t look at him. If she looks into the swirling depths of his eyes – if she sees the expression on his face – she won’t be able to keep it together. The last thing they need is for her to fall apart right now while she’s standing on an IED.

“Liv.” He’s stubborn. So incredibly stubborn. “Hey, look at me.”

It’s an eternity before she opens her eyes and drags them to where he’s standing as close as the bomb squad will let him. She’s pretty sure he’s inched forward though while they weren’t looking. His gaze hasn’t left her. Not since they both heard the whir and click of the sensor plate in the floor. When she realized she couldn’t move. Couldn’t shift her weight the slightest bit for fear of setting it off.

Elliot had point blank refused to leave; he’d planted his feet, legs spread wide, spine straight as an iron rod, and folded his arms behind his back. His mutinous expression daring anyone to try and make him go. Not giving an inch even when the captain of the bomb squad threatened to have him forcibly removed from the room.

Captain Russo and Elliot had been nearly nose to nose. Liv had noticed the dangerous way Elliot’s eyes squinted and his cheek twitched and knew they had about ten seconds before he started letting his hands do the talking for him. Thankfully, Fin had stepped in between them, managing to convince the captain to leave Elliot be, that all efforts to remove him would be futile and only lead to unnecessary violence. Not to mention further delaying their true priority and no more time could be wasted on pissing contests. Captain Russo backed down, realizing it wasn’t worth the trouble and set about clearing the rest of the room instead.

All other personnel had vacated the blast radius, even though Liv’s squad members put up quite a fight about leaving. Especially Amanda, who only caved when it became clear that the best way to help was to work the case and find the person responsible for the bomb.

Fin’s vehement promises to figure this out still ring in Liv’s ears, the words he’d swore to her before he forced himself to walk out of the room. But not before he shared a brief but significant look with Elliot. The two men holding a private, silent conversation that ended with Fin’s eyes narrowing and Elliot’s head giving the tiniest of nods. An understanding of what was at stake passing between them.

Liv suspects Fin is now supervising from the floor below as the bomb squad gets closer to disarming the makeshift device, no doubt making sure those boys don’t fuck anything up. Making sure that his captain is being taken care of.

“Hey, you with me?” Elliot ducks his head, trying to catch her gaze and keep her focus on him instead of letting her mind wander.

Despite the circumstances and the danger, she’s glad that he stayed. Even though she wishes he wouldn’t put himself at risk, if their positions were reversed, nothing on this plane of existence could get her to leave him – not one damn thing.

She gives the slowest of nods and offers a cracked whispery response that doesn’t belong to a captain of the NYPD. It belongs to someone who doesn’t want to die today; who doesn’t want the man she loves more than anything to have to watch.

Knowing him and his dumb ass, he plans on going with her. Partners for better or worse might as well be to death do they part because he is a man that cannot be moved.

They have too much to lose. They’ve lost too much already. It’s not fair. It’s never fucking fair. Why can’t the horrors of the day give them any reprieve? Let them have any peace?

Liv had been right about not looking directly at Elliot because the second she focuses on him, she notices all the little things that make her eyes prickle and fills her chest with lead. His irises – a deep, warm blue – bleed for her. His body trembles and quakes. She tries not to think about how triggering this must be for him.

His fingers flex and his wrists flick at his sides, and she knows he’s keeping himself from reaching for her. The vein pulsating in his neck proves just how monumental the task is. A muscle in his cheek jumps and his jaw clenches until his teeth have to be aching from the pressure. She knows what he’s doing, and he’s doing it for her, reigning in his emotions so he can try and keep her calm. Hold her steady just like he always has been the best at doing. The twitch by his eye tells her that his PTSD is wreaking havoc on his nervous system, but for her he’s holding on.

His feet shift forward and Liv shakes her head slightly, careful of sudden, jerky movements. “El, don’t. You can’t come any closer,” she protests.

“Like hell I can’t.” His nostrils flare, and he rubs a hand against his furrowed brow, gritting his teeth. “They’re gonna figure this out, I just wish they’d hurry the fuck up already.” The anxiety of waiting has always made him antsy.

His tone is perhaps overly aggressive, but Liv knows it’s only because he’s afraid. And she knows this because the fear in his eyes is also her own.

“They’re doing everything they can, El.” Her voice cracks against her will, and she hears the placating tone in her own ears. The resignation threaded through that he’ll no doubt be able to pick up on easy. Too easily.

His hands clench, and his chest expands with a harsh breath, eyes slamming shut as he wrestles with the instinct to rage. The itch in his bones that tells him to fight like hell to save her. Protect her. Liv can see that not being able to do something is splintering him apart.

He sniffles and shakes his head. “Yeah, well, it’s not enough,” he mutters, so low she almost doesn’t hear him at all.

She wishes so badly that she could reach out and touch him, knowing it would be better for them both if she could just press her fingers into the coiled muscle of his shoulders, if she could drain the tension from his posture. If she could tuck her face into his neck and breathe him in, feel his solid frame surrounding her, holding her together. But as much as she wants that right now, it’s impossible for them to touch. The only thing they can do is wait and pray.

She’s been standing on the sensor plate for a little over an hour, and it’s beginning to wear on them both. The bomb squad has swept the floor and the rest of the building for any other trip wires and plates, finding none. They’ve got a team inspecting the bomb below her feet, haphazardly taped to the floor below, but with it being suspended above their heads, it’s proving difficult for the bomb disposal specialist to get a good look at it.

The only possible upside is that there doesn’t seem to be any kind of timer, so they have some breathing room to figure out how to disarm it. The bomb squad captain is concerned that because there’s a remote detonator the odds of it going off at any given moment increases the risks ten-fold, but she’s been told not to worry about that. The bomb squad has everything under control, or so they keep telling her.

Disarming the bomb is not their only option though; Sergeant Bell has their suspect in OCCB’s interrogation room, doing everything in her power to break him. Get the guy to say where the remote detonator is and how to deactivate it, but he is predictably refusing to say. In fact, he won’t even admit to being responsible for the bomb or to any of the other crimes that he’s being accused of. Instead, he’s lawyered up and taken a vow of silence.

The suspect’s cavalier attitude had reportedly made Amanda come across the table at him and had taken Velasco bodily hauling her off and dragging her out of the room to keep any permanent damage from being done. Liv doesn’t want to think about what would have happened had it been Elliot in that room instead.

They are running out of options and plays. Their desperation growing with every passing minute that ticks by without a solution. Liv has another few hours before her legs will start to feel the fatigue of standing for so long, but she tries not to think about that just yet. She tries not to think about what happens when her legs do inevitably give out. She will stay standing as long as she can and hope it’s enough.

Fin’s voice crackles across the radios on their hips. “How are you guys doing up there?”

Liv can’t risk reaching for hers, so Elliot grabs his radio and brings it to his mouth, holding down the button and speaking into the receiver. “Hanging in there,” he says gruffly. “Please tell me that the bomb squad is close, Fin.”

A heavy sigh reaches their ears. “I wish I could, man, but-” Her sergeant trails off, and Liv’s stomach drops because it means he doesn’t want to say the truth.

Elliot must realize this because his entire body tenses, coiling up like a spring. “But what?” When Fin doesn’t immediately respond, a growl rises in his throat. “But what?” Elliot spits the words out like they’re acid on his tongue.

“They’ve gotten a look at the bomb and they’re not sure it can be disarmed,” Fin says, and the emotion coming through has tears welling in Liv’s eyes. Her sergeant, her friend of two decades, who never lets how he feels get in the way of what needs to be done, sounds like he’s seconds away from crying. “They’re not giving up, but it... it’s not looking good.” His staccato breaths filter over the line as he tries to get himself under control.

Elliot looks like he’s seconds away from hurtling the radio across the room. And Liv needs him to keep it together, because if he loses it then so will she.

Fin continues to speak. “Fuck procedure or protocol, I'll go have a talk with the bastard responsible and get that deactivation code myself if I have to. Whatever I gotta do. We’re gonna get you out of this, Cap.” Liv believes that if it really came down to that, he’d do it if it meant saving her. Fin cares that much. There’s no rule he won’t break. No line he won’t cross. Even if it cost him his badge.

“You two sit tight for now. I’ll radio back when I know something.”

“Fin.” Elliot mutters before the static cuts off, and in the name alone, he’s conveying exactly how he feels. How much this is truly fucking him up.

“I know, Stabler.” Fin’s response is nothing but solemn understanding, and it makes Liv want to scream and cry and curl up in a ball at the idea of how much pain this is causing. Watching the people that she loves being wrecked by the mere possibility of losing her is too much to handle. It makes her bristle with the need to fix this. To make Elliot quit looking like his world is slipping out from under him.

The radio goes silent, and Elliot’s arm drops limply back down to his side. Liv watches him, sensing that he’s resisting the temptation to pace the area where he’s standing.


His head swivels toward her, and it’s like he’s reading her mind. “Don’t.” He’s practically vibrating with how hard she can see his body is shaking. “Don’t ask me to go, Liv. Don’t fucking ask that of me because I won’t be able to do it. I can’t leave you.”

Liv feels as though her heart is physically cracking open in her chest. “You wouldn’t listen to me even if I did.” She waits a beat and then because she can’t help herself– “But if only one of us is getting out of this alive then it needs to be you. It has to be you.” She doesn’t bother keeping the desperation out of her voice.

He surges toward her, stopping just short of the safety marker, as if in physical defiance of her words. His breaths are becoming rapid, and his chest is heaving like he’s run a marathon. She can see the sweat gathering along his forehead and the strain of the day in every line of his pinched expression, and it’s obvious her words hit a nerve. “Damn it, Olivia. No. It’s gonna be both of us walking out of here or nothing. I’m not leaving without you.”

His jaw is set, and his mind is made up. Elliot will be an immovable pillar about this, no matter how much she tries to make him see reason. So, if she wants him to leave she'll have be willing to play dirty.

He inhales deeply, pinching the bridge of his nose and forcing himself to calm down. “But we’re not gonna talk worst case scenarios, okay? Let’s talk about something else. Get our minds off this for a little while. At least until we hear back from Fin with an update.” His request is reasonable enough, and maybe all this discussion about doom and gloom is not helping either of them keep their heads on straight.

“What did you wanna talk about?” For Elliot, she drops all the death talk because if it’s weighing her down, it’s gotta be doing the same to him or worse. It’s no use thinking about what neither of them can currently change right now. Besides, they could both use the distraction.

“Whatever you want, Liv.”

When she doesn’t start, he does. “Tell me about Noah.” Liv immediately softens at the mention of her boy. Her heart aches for him. For the reality that awaits him if she doesn’t make it out of this alive.

They talk about their children for what feels like forever, and it’s a welcome reprieve until her feet really begin to ache from not being able to shift her weight, even from foot to foot. She can’t stop the groan from leaving her lips, and it causes Elliot to pause in the middle of his story, frowning at her in concern. “You alright?”

“Just reconsidering my decision to wear heels today is all.” She grimaces to emphasize her point. Seeing the worry in his eyes isn’t helping. “I’m fine.”

Elliot narrows his eyes, biting the inside of his cheek as he studies her, not believing her at all. “You’re obviously in pain. What can I do?”

Liv shakes her head, trying to smile at him and knowing it’s falling short. “There’s not much you can do, El.” He’d do whatever he could for her, and it’s infuriating him that he can’t help her now. She knows him well enough to know that he can’t stand feeling helpless. Especially when it comes to her.

“I could say something to piss you off. That always distracts you.”

Elliot would do it too if it helped. Rile her up just so she’s thinking more about throttling him than the throbbing pain shooting up her legs. “That’s mighty gallant of you,” she responds, and what they’re doing could almost be flirting if she wasn’t standing on a bomb.

The smirk he gives her is half-hearted at best, and she sees his eyes flick to her feet and then shoot away like the reminder of her life hanging in the balance is too much for him to handle. He moves to the wall opposite her, leaning back against it, crossing his legs at the ankles and shoving his hands into his pockets, going for a nonchalance that she is sure he doesn’t feel.

Several moments of silence tick by.

“We never really talked about it, y’ know.”

Liv arches an eyebrow at him, taken aback that he’s choosing to go there. “We’re really doing this right now?” If his plan was to actually piss her off, it’s definitely working.

The wide-eyed imploring look he gives her reminds her so much of that day in the hospital that it makes sweat breakout across the back of her neck. “Right,” she mutters. “Anybody ever tell you, you got shit timing, Stabler?” Her voice is far shakier than she would like, but this direction of conversation has always made her nervous. It’s made worse by the fact that she cannot run from him, and he would never leave her like this, so they’re stuck.

Like she’d pointed out. Shit timing.

Elliot swallows hard, understanding that it’s a rhetorical question. They both know he’s always had piss poor timing. “You deserve the truth, Liv.”

“That’s okay, your letter broke it down well enough for me, thanks.” She can’t keep the bitterness out of her tone, and it shouldn’t matter, but even now thinking about the fact that he let his wife write that to her and then claimed it as his own? It had settled in her like a disease and refused to leave, and still, it eats away at her every time she thinks about that parallel universe where she was never second best.

Every time they get close to this forbidden topic of conversation, Liv wonders how many times they’ll chase ghosts that cannot be caught before they realize some things are better left buried in the past. Maybe she was always meant to love a man she could never have. It doesn’t matter that there’s no ring on his finger, she cannot shake the impression that he’s only here because his wife is dead, and he’s got nowhere else to go.

Elliot’s eyes darken and his lips press together in displeasure. She realizes it’s aimed at himself. “I fucked up with the letter,” he admits, lowly.

“Yeah, you did.” She’s not giving him an inch on that one. “You should have told me that you didn’t write it. The fact that you’d planned to give it to me knowing full well what those words would do-” Liv cuts off abruptly, inhaling sharply through her nose.

Elliot winces, biting hard into his cheek, hands turning into fists in his pockets. “You deserved closure.” He must realize how flimsy that sounds. How shitty of an excuse it is. “You deserved to be free of me.” It’s funny that he thinks that’s all it would take. As if she’s ever been free of him.

Liv grits her teeth, feeling the flood gates opening up and not caring if this guts him like it did her. He deserves to feel even an inkling of her pain.

“Yeah well, fuck you for that because that wasn’t closure, Elliot. That was you charging back into my life after ten years just to tell me that everything that had happened between us was a fucking lie.”

“You were my best friend, and you took that away from me,” she whispers, voice cracking painfully. “You left me like I didn’t matter. Then you give me a letter, written by your wife, telling me to move on. Acting like that one line from you erases all the others. Hate to break it to you, but who we might have been in a parallel universe doesn’t change who we are in this one, Elliot.” She’s nearly yelling now, but she doesn’t care.

“You made me think I was crazy for believing that you could actually-” Her voice halts before she can say the words, and a single traitorous tear slips down her cheek.

Elliot immediately pushes off the wall, hands pulling free of his pockets and extending toward her before freezing when he seems to realize that he still cannot touch her. Instead, his hands go to the back of his neck, clenching tightly. “Olivia.” Just the way he says her name-

Bowing her head, Liv breathes through the overpowering emotion that brims to the surface. Her hand presses into her chest, right over her heart, and for a long moment, she refuses to say anything at all to him.

“You aren’t crazy,” Elliot responds fiercely, tilting his head to make sure that he can catch her eye, and she almost refuses to meet his gaze just to spite him. “You matter so fucking much to me. Please believe that. What I feel for you-” His voice stumbles and drops off, but his face finishes the sentence. And she wants so badly to believe him, but she doesn’t know how. If she has it in her to try anymore.

“How?” Liv wonders, teeth sinking into her bottom lip, dark eyes pooling again, and she makes no effort to will them away. She lets him see it all. “How can I believe that when everything you do is so contrary? I wasn’t even worth a fucking goodbye. I called and you never answered. I went to your house. I talked to your neighbors. I left you messages until your phone went out of service. You just disappeared, Elliot.” Her voice is an open wound.

Elliot immediately shakes his head, eyes blinking rapidly to clear the moisture there. “I told you that if I heard your voice-” He seems to be a broken record about that.

“You wouldn’t have been able to leave,” she finishes for him, chuckling wetly. “I got that part. I’m just having a hard time believing that I could-”

“Hold that much power over me?” he supplies softly, his irises are blown wide and the darkest shade of blue she can ever recall seeing.

Liv sucks in a sharp breath, and her eyes slip shut, unable to continue looking at him. “This wasn’t a good idea. Let’s just drop it, okay? I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

His eyebrows furrow, and his jaw works hard, and she figures that dropping this is the last thing he plans on doing. “Why is it hard for you to believe you mean that much to me?” Elliot wonders softly, and now he sounds like she’s the one breaking his heart.

“I don’t know. Why is it hard for you to grasp that I don’t want to be anyone’s fucking consolation prize? Least of all, yours.”

His body recoils as if she’s slapped him. “You really think you’re a consolation prize?” The words come choking out, and he has the audacity to sound hurt.

“You’re only here because your wife is dead, Elliot. Don’t insult me by pretending you came back to New York to do anything other than hit the final nail on what we both know was clearly never going to happen in this universe.” Apparently, near death experiences bring out the brutal honesty in her, and she isn’t pulling any punches.

Elliot’s entire body deflates at her words and his gaze goes somewhere far away. She'd expected his temper to rise and flash over, but it didn’t. Instead, he looks as wrecked as a shored sailboat after a summer storm. “Kath never believed I could let you go. We moved halfway across the world, as if that would’ve made any fucking difference.” He releases a heavy sigh and digs into his eyes with rough knuckles. “I never reached out to you because I was afraid, and I think Kath was too because she knew the truth. Knew even before I did.”

“Knew what?” Liv asks, suddenly breathless and desperate.

“That I carried you with me and nothing was ever going to change that. Not ten years or 4,000 miles. Not a letter full of lies. Not even a wife I loved dearly. Nothing was ever gonna strip you from me,” he rumbles out, voice breaking. “I thought I was doing the right thing by walking away. It’s only taken ten fucking years and my wife dead because of my own mistakes for me to realize how much I royally fucked up.” Elliot grimaces and bows his head, clearly trying to compose himself.

“I was always coming back to you. I was always coming home. I’m so sorry it took me so long to figure that out.” He lifts his head, and she can see the fresh tear tracks down his face, the tears he makes no attempt to hide. “I’m here because I want to be, and I'll spend every minute of the rest of my life proving that to you.” His expression tells her that he means whether that’s the next 20 years or the next 20 minutes. "You're nobody's consolation prize, least of all, mine."

“Olivia, I-” Elliot is interrupted by the arrival of Fin in the doorway, along with two members of the bomb squad. Grim faces all around. A pit forms in Liv’s stomach.

Fin’s eyes carry a silent apology because he seems to realize what he’s obviously gotten in the middle of. “Liv,” her sergeant greets, his gaze moving between them. “Stabler.”

Elliot’s focus snaps back to the task hand, his posture tensing and his arms going behind his back. His face sets in determination for whatever information they’re about to be given.

“Bomb squad has a plan for this IED, but it’s a hail Mary,” Fin says, staying the doorway.

“What’s the plan?” Liv wonders, not having a fantastic feeling about this.

In the next breath, Elliot asks, tone clipped. “What kind of a hail Mary are we talking about here?”

One of the bomb squad members clears his throat from his spot next to Fin. “It’s a prototype device meant to destroy the bomb safely and effectively,” the young guy explains, weight shifting from foot to foot.

“Does it work?” Liv has a sneaking suspicion that there’s more to it than what they’re saying.

“What type of device?” Elliot tacks on to her question with one of his own.

The bomb squad guy swallows compulsively. “Theoretically, using high powered, localized water pressure to dismantle the bomb without it detonating.”

Elliot’s brows shoot up his forehead, and his arms drop from behind his back to his sides. Liv can tell he’s losing his composure. “Theoretically?” His voice jumps up an octave and his eyes move to Fin. “We’re entrusting Liv’s safety to a fucking prototype water cannon? You’ve gotta be kidding me! Hell no.”

Fin holds up his hands. “I don’t like it either, Stabler, but we’re all outa plays. It’s been three hours. The suspect hasn't given us shit. Russo doesn’t feel comfortable waiting any longer. We gotta do something.” Her sergeant looks at her. “Ultimately, it’s your call though, Cap. We can figure something else out if that’s what you want, but it’ll take some more time.”

Both options seem risky, but she isn’t sure how much longer she can stand here.

Liv bites her lip, her gaze flicking between Fin and Elliot, noticing the rapid rise and fall of Elliot’s chest and the pale sheen across his face. The white knuckles and shaking limbs. The anxious tick in his cheek. She locks eyes with her partner, and it only takes a second for him to understand what she’s about to do and his kickback is instantaneous.

“Olivia, don’t you fucking dare,” Elliot growls, and his chest is heaving now.

“The water cannon is my best shot?” she double checks, talking over him, and the bomb squad guy and his silent buddy nod in unison.

“Okay, do it,” Liv says, and then she glances at Fin and makes a decision. “Sergeant Tutuola, please escort Detective Stabler out of here. Even if you have to restrain him.” She does it before she loses her nerve and changes her mind.

Fin somehow must have known what she’d do because he nods quickly at the bomb squad guys and motions for a third who appears from out in the hallway. The torturous, anguished look Elliot turns on her causes a sob to clog Liv’s throat. The hot sting of betrayal in his eyes scorches its way across her body.

“Please, El, don’t make this harder than it has be. I’ll be okay,” Liv whispers, barely holding it together. “I’ll be right behind you.”

“No. Liv, no. Don’t do this. Please.” He keeps shaking his head quickly side to side. The tears falling freely now down his face. When it becomes clear that she’s not going to change her mind, he swivels toward the three men closing in on him and swings at the closest one.

Liv bites her lip hard enough to draw blood and slams her eyes shut so she doesn’t have to see him struggle to stay. Elliot will hate her for doing this, but there’s no reason for him to die too. One of them has to have a chance of making it out. She doesn’t want him witnessing this either, so she hopes he’s taken far away.

She doesn’t open them even when he completely loses it and starts yelling for her. Over and over again. Her words remain a mantra on her lips, hoping to soothe even though she knows it won’t help. “It’s okay, El. It’s okay.”

It’s several long agonizing moments of hearing him fight not to leave her, and she tries not to think of the irony. The one time he stays is the one time she needs him to go.

“He’s gone now, Liv, just like I knew you’d want,” Fin says, and she opens her eyes to see he’s stepped a bit further into the room. His expression is breaking her heart, but she knows he won’t voice his feelings. Won’t burden her anymore.

“Elliot won’t forgive me for that, will he?”

Fin shoots her a look. “Yeah, he will. He’d do anything for you. Besides, we both know he woulda done the exact same thing.” He shakes his head with exasperated fondness, cracking the smallest of grins. “You two are too much alike for your own damn good, I swear.” Fin sobers quickly though.

And because they don’t have much time. “Promise me, Fin. Promise me that if the worst happens, you’ll take care of my sweet boy. That-that he’ll know how much I love him, and that I didn’t want to leave him,” Liv says, unable to hold back anymore. It’s taking everything in her to remember not to move. She almost asks for Fin to call Noah, but that’s not the last memory she wants for her precious son, because if she heard his voice, she wouldn’t be able to keep it together. And if she got upset then so would her deeply intuitive boy.

Fin’s expression cracks, and he sniffles roughly. “I promise, Liv. You know I got your back and I’ll always have his. Noah knows how much you love him, and-and you’re gonna be the one to tell him again. Ok? We’re gonna get you home to your son.”

Because they both need it, she nods, giving a watery smile. “I know you will, Fin.”

“This isn’t goodbye, Cap. You hear me? So, I'm not saying sappy ass shit. Ain’t no one fucking dying today.” Fin scowls and jabs a finger in her direction. “I’ll see you in a few minutes. They’re gonna count down from one hundred once I give the all-clear, and I’ll be right outside. You’re not alone. I gotcha, ok?”

“Thank you, Fin.” Liv wishes so bad she could put her arms around him even though they’ve never been much for open affection. “I’ll see you soon.” Because that’s what he wants to hear, and she really doesn’t want to say goodbye either.

After one last lingering look and nod, Liv is alone in the room. A heavy breath escapes her lungs, and she shuts her eyes, leaning her head back. She waits for the inevitable and thinks of her son’s sunshine smile and Elliot’s strong arms and soft eyes.

Time seems slow as molasses, but Liv knows in reality it’s only been about twenty seconds. The unexpected sound of stomping boots down the hallway really shouldn’t have startled her, any more than the sudden appearance of a very sweaty Elliot, bending over at the waist, hands white-knuckled on the doorframe as he catches his breath. It’s obvious that he sprinted all the way back up here with no regard for anything.

“Elliot, what the hell are you doing here? I told you to go.”

Liv can see that he’s practically seething from the stunt she pulled with the bomb squad guys. “And I told you I was staying.” His face is still several shades too pale and there are still tear stains on his cheeks, but he’s not done fighting. He hasn't given up yet.

The softness Liv was feeling leaves just as quickly as it came, and the panic starts to rise because there’s no time left, and he needs to leave now. How the hell did he get past Fin? “Please just go. They’re about to set off the water cannon in less than a minute. El, please. You can’t be here.”

Elliot blinks at her. “No,” he says it like they’re discussing the weather.

Liv frowns. God, he vexes her like no other sometimes. “No? What do you mean no? I told you to leave, you stubborn son of a bitch.”

His shoulders shrug. “Then you oughta know I'm not very good at listening ‘cause I'm not going anywhere, and you can’t make me.”

You can’t make me. What are they thirteen?

“Elliot.” Hers is a warning.

“Olivia.” He throws it back at her, arching an eyebrow in challenge.

There’s a couple of tense seconds of silence where all they do is stare at each other and wait with bated breath. His eyes never leave hers. She doesn’t notice him moving closer because she’s too focused on his eyes. His mouth moves around the words without sound, but she knows exactly what his lips are forming as if he branded them on her soul.

I love you.

And just as she’s about to reciprocate, the floors shakes and crumbles beneath her feet, the pressure builds, Elliot shouts her name, and her world goes dark.

Liv breaks consciousness to the feeling of a familiar weight on top of her. Sturdy arms wrapped snugly around her, and her head tucked against a brick wall of a chest. A large, warm hand is tangled in her hair and the other spanning her upper back, rubbing up and down.

“Liv?” His voice, all rough and comforting, is in her ear. “Baby, talk to me. Tell me you’re okay. I need to know you’re okay.” If it wasn’t oddly comforting to hear him say it, Liv would probably kick him for that pet name.

His lips keep pressing against her head. “Please say something, Liv.” His hands are frantically all over every inch of her that he can reach. The longer she goes without answering the more alarmed and agitated he gets.

Liv turns her head away from him and coughs, feels his hand patting gently until she’s able to open her eyes to see that they’re both laying on the floor. His body covering hers, partially on top and to one side, and nearly wrapped around her like a damn koala he’s gripping so tight.

“I’m okay,” she mutters, coughing again to clear the dust from her throat.

Elliot sags against her, his breath hot across the side of her head. “Thank God.” Still, his hands continue to roam over her body, checking for hidden injuries and she lets him. Knows that she had to have scared the hell out of him. She takes a moment to let her hands wander too, only stopping once she’s satisfied that he isn’t hurt either.

Delayed realization has Liv sitting up quickly, eyes scanning the room until she sees the caved in floor a few feet away on the other side of Elliot’s frame. “What- Shouldn’t we be dead right now?” she gasps out in disbelief, the leftover adrenaline making her breathless, and her heart continue to gallop in her chest.

“The bomb didn’t go off, the floor caved in because of that fucking water cannon. They obviously didn’t think about that when they were cooking up that brilliant plan of theirs,” Elliot grumbles, glaring at the floor like he can actually see the bomb squad somewhere down below. She figures that he’ll no doubt lose his shit at them later.

Liv’s eyes slide over to him, just now noticing that he’s made no move to extract any of his limbs from hers. In fact, he seems very content on just holding her. It's only been a few hours since they touched, but she kind of never wants him to let go again. “And you pulled me out of the way,” she says, hand automatically reaching to touch his cheek, brushing along stubble she wishes he’d keep all the time.

“Well, yeah, Benson,” Elliot points out gruffly, with wet eyes as he leans into her hand. “Partners. For better or worse.” He turns his face, so his lips skim her palm, and his words feel like a renewed oath. One that will never break.

Their radios choose that moment to burst to life with activity. Fin and other unknown voices yelling for an update on whether they’re okay. Liv knows it won’t be long before the cavalry comes rushing inside and it’ll be hours before they’ll get a chance to be alone again. So, she decides to take her moment here and now and not waste another moment.

“El?” Her hand moves to the back of his neck, tugging him forward until their foreheads are touching and all she can see is him. “I love you too.” Elliot is smiling so wide that when she finally kisses him, she gets mostly his teeth, and they laugh into it together. They pull back only to dive back in again and don’t stop until they’re both breathless.

She speaks against his mouth. “Thank you for coming back.”

“I never should’ve left,” he whispers, and she knows he’s not just talking about today.

“You’re here now,” Liv counters, pressing a hand over his heart.

“And I'm never leaving you again. Where you go, I follow,” Elliot swears fiercely, as his hands frame her face, and his lips press a kiss to her right eyelid and then her left.

Looking into his deep blue, need you, eyes, this time, Liv believes him.