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drowning in the unclear

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They go to the hospital, because Olivia thinks Elliot needs to, regardless of how many times he tries to appease her worry, tries to say that the wounds really aren’t that deep, that it looks worse than it actually is; but also because it’s where Ryan’s body isn’t, and right now, Olivia needs that. Doesn’t think she can stay there a minute longer and watch as friends and colleagues work the scene of another friend and colleague. Isn’t sure she can handle it. 

Ryan was a good man. Kind and sweet and good at what he did. Not someone who deserved to die like that, Olivia starts to think, but stops herself before completion. Shakes her head as if to rid herself of the thought and reaches her hand up. Presses her fingers against stinging eyelids until her vision blurs white. A stray tear falls. She can feel it: wet and warm as it trails down her cheek, catches on the corner of her lip, the taste salty and depressingly familiar. 


Elliot’s voice, low and gentle, soft in that way he gets when he’s trying to comfort her—and how ridiculous, a part of Olivia thinks, that she’s the one being comforted when he’s the one in the hospital bed. 

The other part understands that this is just the way things are: one falls apart and the other tries to hold them both together. 

“C’mere,” he says, and he shifts his leg, makes room on the bed for her to sit, and she goes because there’s no one there to witness it. Because there is something inherently comforting in his presence and she never doesn’t want that when she’s like this. 

The bed squeaks. The sheets ruffle. Olivia sighs a shaky breath and leans back slightly, like she can force herself to calm down if she just tries hard enough. Elliot watches, careful. She can feel it. 

There’s a bottle of hand sanitiser hanging to the side of the bed, and Olivia doesn’t see him reach for it, but she feels it when he chucks it at her. Only just manages to catch it in time. She looks at it, forehead furrowed, then looks at him. 

“For the germs,” he says, and he’s smiling softly. Trying to lighten her mood. “’m sure they have mouth wash, too.” 

And—God. He’s an idiot. And she loves him. 

They have issues to work through, she thinks. Conversations they need to have. But this is easier and it makes her mouth twitch like it wants to smile, so she guesses that can wait. (Wonders if they’ll ever get to it). 

“Asshole,” she says, and it almost sounds like thank you. He’s looking at her like he understands. 

Olivia uses the sanitiser. Squirts two pumps into her palm and rubs her hands together like she’s hoping to erase Stuckey’s existence entirely. It helps—maybe just a little, but after the week they’ve had, just a little will have to do. 

She chucks it back, after, and Elliot catches it without really trying, the pad of his thumb running along the twist of the lid, his nail scratching against the worn plastic lightly. Olivia watches, stares, breathes. 

He’s a hazard, she thinks. Prone to danger; like he just can’t help himself. It’s going to put her in an early grave—that all-consuming fear, that terror induced adrenaline. It happens too often and yet she still isn’t used to it. As if maybe that amount of fear just isn’t meant to grow familiar. 

It’s going to put him in an early grave, too. She looks at him now: propped up against the bed, chest bare and sheet pooled around his waist, his body framed under the too-bright light of the hospital room. His wounds are sealed, his chest littered with cuts and bandages, and she’s far, far too aware that he could have died tonight, too. That he almost did. That he probably would have, if not for her.

Like always, the blood lingers—sticks to flesh in that annoying way, a reminder of what went down. Olivia trails her gaze from his waist up, along every gash, sees flecks of crimson clinging to his skin, his hands, his ear, a spot beneath his jaw, and she thinks, I want to kiss you, but it isn’t a happy thought. It’s sad and subdued and she tries to swallow it down like doing so will rid it from existence and absolve them both of the guilt. 

I want him to watch. 

She exhales: a little shaky, a little wet. Heavy with the day’s events. She’d done what’d needed to be done—had saved his life in the process—and yet there’s something that still feels wrong. It’s not unlike what she’d felt a few months prior, after she’d pressed her body against his in a home that belonged to neither one of them and played another role that saved both their asses. In fact, it’s almost too close for comfort. All of it is: the hospital, the guilt, the desire, the fear.

Funny, she thinks, how it keeps happening. 

Only, not really. 

“Nice acting,” Elliot says then, as if he can read what she’s thinking. It wouldn’t surprise her if he could. “Almost bought it for a minute.” 

Olivia laughs: soft and breathy, nearly humourless. “‘s because the slaps were real,” she says, and this. This almost feels normal. Familiar. 

More like themselves. 

Elliot smirks at her, the expression softer than it usually is; gentled by exhaustion, medication, by another add-on to their long list of near death experiences. It makes her chest tight. Makes her want to reach out and do something

She doesn’t, though. She wouldn’t know where to start. 

“You owe me a drink for that,” Elliot says, half-joking, and Olivia arches an eyebrow at him. Thinks, me? Thinks, you’re the one who nearly died.

“Try again,” is what she says. She doesn’t miss the way he grins at her deadpan.

“Emotional trauma,” he tells her, and his voice is tilted like he’s teasing. “I should be compensated for having to watch you kiss Stuckey.” 

It’s a joke. Olivia knows that. But she also knows that there’s a truth to it: something masked and understated, something they don’t talk about in any way that makes sense; something she’s sure is going to drive her mad.

She wonders if he realises what he does to her when he does this. When he puts it out in the open without putting it out in the open. Wonders when it all got so complicated.

When she doesn’t respond, Elliot concedes. Shifts under her gaze and says, “We’ll both buy a round,” like it’s some sort of truce. Maybe it is.

Olivia smiles, just a little. “Not tonight,” she says. She isn’t sure she could do it tonight.

“Not tonight,” Elliot agrees, as if he’s thinking the same thing.

They settle to a silence, or at least something like it. It’s just the two of them there, but that doesn’t surprise her. These days, she’s usually the one left waiting by his hospital bed.

She’d asked him before if he wanted her to call Kathy, and he’d shook his head, said no in a way that made her think Kathy wouldn’t come even if he’d given a different answer, and she’d wondered when everything went to shit again. Had thought, weren’t you just working on this. 

Aren’t you always. 

Elliot lies back against the bed, and she watches as his chest rises, falls. A sign of life. She knows he’s waiting for them to let him go—knows he’s not going to stay the night, no matter what the doctor says. She’d find it irritating, the disregard for his own wellbeing, but she knows she can be just as bad as he is. Worse, even.

A bed is wheeled by, a nurse’s worried voice calling out orders, and Olivia shuts her eyes. Runs a hand through her hair and scratches at her scalp, like she’s trying to ease a headache.

A hand settles near hers: fingers, rough and warm, brushing against the sliver of wrist that’s left exposed. She opens her eyes. Looks down to find Elliot’s index finger hooked in the sleeve of her jacket. As if he’d wanted to grab her hand but stopped short.

“What about dinner?” he says when she looks back up. Meets his eye.

She’s not hungry. Neither is he, she guesses, but then she knows food isn’t really what he’s offering. He’s offering companionship. Comfort, or an attempt of it. Is saying, you don’t have to go home alone. Say the word and you won’t.

She thinks about her apartment and the emptiness that waits for her. Thinks about the dishes in the sink and the laundry she still hasn’t done; thinks about scattered case files and laying restless on the couch because she’s too tired to drag herself to bed. Thinks about staring blankly as early morning news plays across her TV screen, her mind somewhere else. Stuck on someone she’s never going to see again. On the fact that Elliot’s body could’ve easily been found right there next to O’Halloran’s.

None of it is particularly appealing.

“Okay,” Olivia says. Plain and simple.

Elliot nods, and she knows he’ll have to leave eventually—one of them always does—but she’ll have him until then, and maybe it’ll be enough.

Maybe it has to be.