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Guilt

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He’s Catholic, he knows guilt. It’s become a part of him, ingrained into every single decision he makes. Sure, sometimes the guilt of one decision is more impactful than with another, but he knows how to deal with it. He’s had 60 years to learn how to handle his guilt, to not let it take over his life.

But now, with him back in New York, with Olivia finally in his reach after those 10 long years, the guilt eats at him. He can’t escape it. Not anymore.

It might be easier to handle the guilt if it were still focused on Kathy, on how she died merely because she was his husband. And sure, it still nags at him, catches in the back of his mind when he least expects it, but it’s not in the forefront of his brain. Not anymore. Now, his entire focus is on Liv, on his guilt towards her.

He came back, that assuaged some of it. Not all, not even a lot, but some of it. When he told her he loved her, even in the midst of a crisis, he felt some of the guilt at never telling her how he felt before slip away. And then he got to speak to her at the wedding, really speak to her, his heart felt light for the first time in a long time. Too long, really. Dancing with her made him forget his guilt in its entirety, at least for a while.

But now he’s been gone for three months, refusing to contact Liv, and the guilt is back. Sure, he’s doing it for her own good. Wheatley is out there again and he can’t have her in danger. Despite having a reason for it, however, he still feels that guilt at leaving her again so soon after showing back up in her life. He knew she hated him probably, would for a while. They hadn’t worked completely through their issues before he had to go undercover, wouldn’t get to for a while probably. And the knowledge that his second disappearing act would only multiply Liv’s issues with him tenfold was crawling under his skin, soaking his brain in that guilt he was finally slowly working through.

It’s manageable though, this guilt. He knows he can explain to her why he went AWOL, how important it is to keep her safe from Wheatley. Especially after her accident, her accident he was sure was thanks to Wheatley and his goons. Her safety meant more to him than ensuring she wasn’t angry with him, meant more than lessening the guilt he feels blooming in his heart.

The guilt becomes much less manageable when his mother speaks up. An offhand comment about what all Liv has been through in the years since Elliot left, commentary that Elliot doesn’t even comprehend, not at first. His brain gets stuck in a loop of wondering how his mother knows Liv, how she feels so comfortable talking about Liv’s life.

And then it registers. All the hell Liv had been put through - the kidnapping, the hostage situations, everything that had her name in the papers - his mother knew it all. And he didn’t know about any of it, not until it was too late, not until he couldn’t protect Liv from it all.

Suddenly, the guilt he could feel in the back of his mind softly like the tide kissing the sandy beaches of his childhood churned and crashed into him like a storm wave. He could barely keep himself upright, he was drowning in it. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, he realizes that he’d never known what true drowning felt like until this very moment, not even when he claimed he was drowning during that intervention all those months ago.

He doesn’t know how he got there, how he found Olivia’s apartment door. He doesn’t remember leaving his mother’s apartment, leaving Eli with her. He doesn’t know anything, nothing but the guilt that has his knees buckling, arms on Liv’s doorframe after he pounds on it. He just has to see her, has to look at her. When he sees her he’ll be okay, he can go back to his undercover job, he can breathe again. He’ll be okay.

Her face tells him everything he needs to know when she finally answers her door. She’s upset with him, angry. He went missing from her life once again, couldn’t even pick up the phone. But he can’t worry about that, not now. Seeing her face makes the guilt rise up inside of him even harsher, tearing him down.

He hears Liv say his name, once, and then he’s crumbling into her. He’s on his knees in front of her, and a part of him feels like he’s at the altar on Easter Sunday. But this is Liv, she’s more than that. More than that could ever be.

The soft spot she has for him, will always have for him, is apparent as she looks down on him. Her eyes are soft now, the icy edges still there, but he’s never been this vulnerable in front of her before. He’s never crumpled into her like this, eyes red and tear-filled.

This is a new Elliot. This is a new Olivia. This is a new partnership between them.

His hand comes up to touch her face. Some of it is in reverence, how could it not be, but part of it is that he needs to feel her, to know she’s in front of him and in one piece. He wants to see her, to burn this image of her into his brain but he’s fully crying now, eyes brimming with tears. Her arms come around him, clutching him to her, and she tries to steel herself. He doesn’t have to see her to know what she’s doing, he knows her too well.

But when he presses his face into her stomach, he feels the tension in her body slip away. She clutches him tighter, hold him closer.

“I didn’t know, I didn’t know.” Elliot’s voice is desperate, words garbled as he speaks through the sobs wracking his body.

He’s not looking for absolution, not here to assuage himself of the guilt that’s taken over his very being. Not from her. He’s done too much to her, put her through too much, that expecting forgiveness in its entirety is futile. He knows enough by now to know that the guilt will always be a part of him, he’s come to terms with it.

But when she uses the hand on the back of his neck to tilt his head up toward hers, he thinks maybe he doesn’t give her enough credit. Maybe he thought too little of her, too little of himself.

Because in the light of her eyes he sees it, just a glimpse. A glimpse of who she was - before. When they were young and on the job together, bright-eyed with hope and a fire in their souls that they shared.

The fire was here, even now, even when he didn’t think he deserved it. His hand settled on her cheek more firmly, fingers tangling in the strands of her hair that hung down between them.

And when the corners of her mouth twitched up into the ghost of a smile, he knew what salvation felt like, even a crumb of it. The guilt wouldn’t swallow him whole. It would be there, in the back of his mind, forever. There’s no way it couldn’t. But he wouldn’t succumb to it, not when he had so much to do, so much to make up for.

And it starts with her.