For lowriseflare, who is entirely evil for making me do this,
“You still dating that stockbroker?” he asks one afternoon. She has cramps and forgot her Advil. “What was his name?” Elliot continues, sticking the yellow copy of some form in his outbox. “Ridge? Ledge?”
She wants to say None of your business or Why don’t you go fuck a cheese grater?, but then he might respond and she’d rather live Advil-free for the rest of her life than talk to him right now.
So she says, “Cliff. And no.”
Elliot makes a noise that might be Huh or Oh or Good -- it’s too generic for her to decide.
She stares at him across the desk, her abdomen twisting so painfully she’s holding her breath, and wonders if he can hear her thinking, Fuck you. Just to be certain, she thinks it at the top of her lungs, and sure enough a second later he looks up.
The bullet barely draws blood. The raised purple bruise on her knee she got tackling a suspect a couple days ago both looks and feels a lot worse. But it’s an INCIDENT, so there’s procedure to be followed and they can’t go anywhere until papers are signed and statements taken. Elliot’s unbuttoned the top of his shirt and he’s fiddling with the knot in his tie. He lost it for a second when she was hit, running toward her and yelling, just until he realized.
Now he won’t look at her.
Finally she leans against the hood of the cruiser, pulls out her notepad and says, “Come on. Tic tac toe. We’re gonna be here for awhile.”
He hesitates but finally strides over. “I’m X.”
“Fine.” She pulls a blue ballpoint pen out of her pocket. Medium, not fine, because even though she likes fine he prefers the medium and after ten years she still orders them for him.
It isn’t until they’ve finished their fifth consecutive cat’s game that she looks at the haphazard mishmash of navy blue lines, Xs, and Os, and thinks, Shit. Yes. Exactly.
He knows things are more than a little out of control when he tears up over an Emmylou Harris song. He hates Emmylou Harris. He fucking hates country music period, with all its incessant crying and whining about the daddy who didn’t love you or your one true love who left you all alone with a six pack of Bud Lite. He only knows the lyrics to this song because when Kathy was pregnant with the twins, she refused to listen to anything but The Horse Whisperer soundtrack, and Elliot certainly wasn’t going to argue with her under those conditions. And he’s only stuck on this station because he was scanning when some asshole in a red Mercedes cut him off, forcing him to grab the wheel with both hands.
That’s not the point anyway. The point is that at seven fifteen a.m. on a fall Tuesday he’s sitting in rush hour traffic with a sick heavy feeling in his chest over some goddamn song lyrics.
He doesn’t switch the channel though. I used to be half of the whole of you and me / Now I’m the limit of all I am.
When the song is finally over, he twists the silver knob until it lands on classic rock and wipes the back of his hand over his eyes.
He doesn’t know if the words remind him of Kathy or Olivia.
The real bitch of it is he thinks maybe both.
He slams through the bullpen doors on Friday morning, forty-five minutes late. Another fight with Kathy, who walked out in the middle of the “conversation” and took Eli to spend the weekend at her mom’s. He’s sure the twins already have plans.
Olivia’s not there, her desk neatly arranged the way it was when she left last night, no coffee cup by the computer or coat thrown carelessly over the back of her chair.
She hadn’t said she wasn’t coming in, and for a second his mind does that thing where fifty horrifying scenarios play out in what seems like an impossibly small period of time.
He taps his knuckles on Cragen’s doorframe. “Where’s Liv?”
“Taking a personal day. Aren’t you supposed to be in court in ten minutes?” Cragen’s phone rings.
“Yeah. I’m on my way.”
He ducks into the locker room to find some deodorant; it’s not even nine and he’s already clammy. He fishes in his pocket for his phone and hits Olivia’s number.
“I’m fine. Why?” She sounds distracted, and he can’t identify the noise he hears in the background. A shower maybe?
“I don’t know. I just thought-” He takes a breath and glances down at his own knuckles where they bend around the grey handle of his coffee mug. They’re white. “Maybe you’d call.”
“I did call. I called Cragen.”
Screw you. No really. “Right. I’ll see you Monday.”
It takes all the energy inside him not to hurl his coffee cup against the metal wall of lockers, just for the satisfaction of watching it shatter into thousands of shards.
It’s a December Wednesday, almost midnight, and they’re not even close to being finished with prep for Alex’s case tomorrow. The suspect is a serial rapist who went close to two decades without being caught, and they can’t fuck this up. For some reason Elliot has the radio on to the all Christmas all the time station, but he’s looked so pathetic since the second she walked in this morning that Olivia can’t bring herself to turn it off even when she has to grit her teeth through the horror about the Christmas shoes. Her ass hurts from sitting in her chair too long, and she can’t stop being distracted by the ridiculous stuffed Santa skunk Fin has sitting on the edge of his desk.
She glances at Elliot, whose eyes are fixed at a point on his desk slightly left and above the paper he’s supposed to be studying.
Suddenly she stands up. “Let’s go. We need coffee and donuts now.”
“What?” His expression is the same one she imagines he might wear if she had just said, I’m gonna go screw Rush Limbaugh. Back in ten! The surprise on his face feels like a cut, like a bad incision with a dull instrument, and she’s reminded again that for as long as she chooses to keep doing this, the level of pain he can inflict without even trying will always hold the power to surprise her.
But it’s Christmastime and they have court in just over eight hours, so she only says, “We’re not going to get anything else done without sugar and coffee. My treat.”
“Okay.” He pulls his wool coat on and holds the door for her as they leave, and she hates herself for noticing when five years ago she wouldn’t have.
Outside it’s colder than she realized. She should have worn her heavier coat. She shivers, and without breaking his stride Elliot pulls off his wool tweed and slips it over her shoulders. She almost rejects it but the residual warmth hits her skin and she mumbles, “Thanks.”
“Yeah.” He walks faster, probably in an attempt to stay warm.
“I’m gonna look like hell tomorrow. We’ll be lucky if we can catch a few hours in the crib.”
He glances sideways at her, grinning. “Well you can’t look as bad as you did when you testified on the Williamson case.”
“Shut up,” she mutters, pushing at his shoulder. “I had the stomach flu.”
“I know. The judge put everything on hold three times because you were in the bathroom.”
“Please. That’s nothing compared to the time you managed to drive into a fire hydrant on the way to testify against Jason Ballard and we all had to sit there for an hour and a half.” She pushes her hands into the pockets of his coat. “I thought Alex was going to fillet you.”
“Well she put salt in my coffee the next morning. A lot of salt.”
“Seriously? You never told me that.”
“I drank it, too.”
“I’m sure you did. You’re such an ass.”
“I know,” he says, with more gravity than her comment required. “Sometimes I really am.” He pauses. “So are you gonna get the bar with that disgusting maple goo on top or the gross pumpkin muffin with the crystallized sugar globs?”
“Maybe I’ll surprise you,” she shoots back, smirking. “Could happen.”
He grins, knocking his elbow lightly into hers. “It could.”
Her throat scratchy from exhaustion and probably an impending cold, Olivia gazes at the Christmas lights sparkling in bright-colored strings all over the lampposts and considers all the things she does not know in this life.
What she does know is that this is what’s left, the occasional five minutes of unexpected magic when the last few years vanish like vapor and they can still be them, distilled.