A/N: Title from E.W. Howe: "You can make up a quarrel, but it will always show in where it was patched."
"Liv?" Elliot's voice sounded unnecessarily loud in the otherwise silent bullpen. Depending on one's perspective, it was either too late or too early for the usual hustle and bustle of New York's finest doing their jobs.
Olivia's fingers stilled on the keyboard and she cast a wary glance her partner's way. "Yeah?"
She blinked at him dumbly, caught totally off guard by his unexpected apology. She could count on one hand the number of times he'd apologized in all the years they'd known each other. It wasn't Elliot being a jerk, it was Elliot being Elliot. Like her, he was too stubborn to admit when he was wrong – most of the time, anyway – and she'd accepted a long time ago that their arguments would usually end by silent, mutual consent rather than by genuine apologies.
Elliot rose from his chair and leaned in, weight on the elbows he planted on his desk, closing the gap between them literally and maybe, just maybe, metaphorically too.
"I was a bastard, Liv." Elliot's cool blue eyes pleaded with her not to get up and walk away again. To hear him out and give him a chance to make things right between them.
Olivia wasn't sure she was ready to have this conversation yet but if he was willing to talk, she'd listen.
"I was mad at myself and I lashed out at you," he continued. "God knows, you didn't deserve it, but I did it anyway."
The day in question flashed through her mind's eye on fast forward.
Gitano trying to kill her.
Elliot choosing her over a little boy who wound up dead.
Injustice and rage and hatred boiling over and Elliot railing against her in the middle of the squad room.
I can't keep looking over my shoulder to make sure you're okay!
That had hurt worse than anything she'd ever felt before. Learning she'd lost his trust. Learning he resented her.
But that had paled in comparison to the pain she'd felt just a day later when, in a heart-breakingly calm voice, Elliot had told her they couldn't be partners any more.
That was what she was dying for him to take back. It would never happen though, because in a way, he was right. She'd long ago lost the ability to be objective where Elliot was concerned. And she would never apologize for it. Not when that lack of objectivity had kept him alive until a sniper could line up a shot and take out Gitano without killing him.
She would never apologize for that.
"You don't need to protect me, El."
"Yes, I do." Elliot's voice was low, roughened with emotion. "Not because you can't do it yourself, but because you're my partner and my best friend. My job is to protect you, and I forgot that for a while."
"Do you still trust me to do my job?"
Her eyes warned that his answer mattered more than his apology. More than the angry words he'd shouted that awful day. Maybe more than anything else he'd ever said or would ever say to her.
"I never stopped, Liv." His eyes locked on hers, piercing her with the intensity of his gaze. "I swear to God, I never stopped."
Relief bloomed deep in her gut. Elliot's faith meant the world to her. There were times when it seemed his trust in her was all she had. She couldn't imagine a life in which Elliot didn't trust her anymore.
"Just so we're clear, El, I spend a lot of time looking over my shoulder, making sure you're okay. I don't think it's a bad thing."
"Neither do I." He smiled then. A real, honest to goodness smile, not the joyless quirk of his lips that so often masqueraded as a smile these days. "I need you, Liv. I'm not always good at showing it, but please, never doubt how important you are to me."
Olivia bit her tongue and nodded because what he'd said mattered, but it wasn't what she'd been aching to hear for so long now. Hoping he would misinterpret her silence, she held her breath and waited for his next move.
Elliot studied her in silence for several long moments. Then, apparently satisfied, he straightened up and reclaimed his seat.
The shift in his mood was as noticeable as sunshine breaking through dark clouds at the end of a rainy week. He was happier and lighter than he'd been in weeks, maybe months. He'd been so dark and angry for so long now, Olivia had trouble remembering a time when he'd been any other way.
She watched him dive back into his work with an enthusiasm she'd thought long gone and chewed the inside of her cheek, debating whether to raise the issue that was really bothering her.
She felt better knowing she still had his trust, but she needed to know that a month from now or a year from now, a case wouldn't go bad and convince Elliot that they couldn't work together anymore.
Elliot was the constant in her life. The one thing she could count on. He gave her stability and the threat of losing that made her heart hammer against her ribs.
But he was finally at ease for the first time in God knew how long, and asking him for a promise he couldn't realistically make wouldn't accomplish anything.
Deciding that she owed him these rare moments of peace, Olivia held her tongue and got back to work.
Elliot's fingers tappety-tapped away on his keyboard, blissfully ignorant of the unspoken words that slowly crushed her under their weight.