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Mother And Child Reunion

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{no I would not give you false hope
on this strange and mournful day
but the mother and child reunion
is only a moment away}

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hi, mom.

I don't even know how I think this is supposed to work. I guess if I'm just going to talk to you silently in my head, I didn't have to come all the way out here to the cemetery to do it- but I'm sorry, I'd just feel crazy talking to a dead person aloud in public. At least this way, the only ones who know I'm crazy are me and you. If you can even hear me. I've never been able to really decide what I believe about the afterlife. Maybe you see everything I do. Maybe you can read my mind. Maybe you've got other things going on but you check in on me every once in a while, or maybe you're just asleep and oblivious. I honestly don't claim to have any of it figured out.

It's been almost six months since...everything happened. Since everything changed. And I know there's no wishing it away, but what I wouldn't give for just *one day* to go back to normal, to all the things I took for granted. So cliche, right? But sometimes cliches exist for a reason, because they're true. There's too many things I miss. Little stuff, big stuff- but more than anything, I miss feeling like I can handle it all on my own. I remember you telling me, even when I was a little girl, that I had to look out for myself because you can't trust anyone else to do it for you. That as soon as you start to rely on anyone but yourself, you're giving up your freedom. I feel like my therapist would say that was shitty advice. But even so, I've done a pretty good job of following it. Until now. These days, I'm terrified of being alone. Literally, figuratively. In fact, I think the only thing that scares me more than being alone is thinking that I can't rely on myself completely- or maybe at all.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[November 2013]

"With...Tucker."

"See, I knew that's how you'd react."

"Like how?" you ask, a tinge of annoyance in your voice. You keep talking as you turn away from him, getting yourself another drink. "I'm not being 'like' anything. I'm surprised, that's all."

"You hate surprises," he points out, back against the fridge with his arms crossed.

"Well, yeah, but. Okay. How about *you* tell me what you think about it."

"I would suck Satan's dick as long as I didn't have to do it at that courthouse."

"Riiight. When you put it that way, I guess this is a huge step up." He frowns disapprovingly, like he's the only one allowed to make jokes here. "Bri, I'm not saying it's bad. Tucker's got so many connections. If you get in good with him, you'll probably have a ton of options. I can think of lots of assignments that could be worse."

"What, like having to listen to Amaro spout his bullshit all day? Cause yeah, I'm with you there."

"Why are we even bringing Nick into this?" you ask a bit tersely, Nick being both your favorite and least favorite person ever since the other day when he saved your ass while you were...indisposed with Elliot. In any case, you had a whole mental list of departments you did *not* want Brian in, mostly those like Narcotics or Organized Crime that involved dealing with people who had way too much money and way too little fear of consequences. Your personal preference would've been Taxi Squad, but you decided you could settle for Transit Bureau when you found out they hadn't had anyone killed on the job in the last 25 years. "What I meant is...you're not going to be woken up every other morning at 3 AM to go stand over another body bag. This way at least one of us might have a halfway normal schedule."

"Maybe. Probably be a lot of UC stuff too."

Your face was a portrait of neutrality even as it felt like you had taken a punch to the chest. "Oh. Like...we're talking long term or...?"

"Might be. Not sure yet. But he promised me it wouldn't be for a couple months. I'm not going anywhere until the trial's over." Your facade must have been cracking, because he turned to face you and clapped his hand over your shoulder. "You'll be fine, babe. I know it'll be tough but you've been okay when I've been gone nights, yeah? You said so yourself."

"Yeah. I'm fine," which you were, for values of fine that equaled downing cup after cup of coffee to stave off the exhaustion you felt as you laid wide awake in a brightly lit room and waited for morning. "Besides...I guess it'll keep us from getting sick of each other, hmm?"

This attempt at humor was better received than the last. "So you're okay with all this? Seriously?"

"Seriously, hon. Are you hungry? That place on the next block has all you can eat shrimp cocktail during happy hour again."

"Oh *man*, you just said the magic words. Gimme a sec to get changed?"

You nod in relief, happy your ploy to end the conversation had worked. By the time he was ready to go, your usual mask was firmly back in place, and if he heard you crying in the bathroom that night once you were sure he was asleep- well, he never mentioned it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

But it's one thing to lose confidence in yourself, Mom, and it's an entirely different and entirely worse thing when other people feel the same way. I don't know what I hate more, that people don't trust me because of what I'm 'working through', or that they feel like they failed me when I needed protecting. Because if they feel guilty- they might as well just come out and admit it, that they never thought I could take care of myself in the first place. To which I say, fuck that. I didn't need anyone then and I don't need them now. It was all entirely on me. I got myself in it and I got myself out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[September 2013]

"It's always her, isn't it?"

"What the hell are you talking about, Mand?"

"Olivia!"

"Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!" Nick says snidely. You know you shouldn't be eavesdropping on a private conversation, but hey- if it was about you, didn't you have the right to know what was being said?

"I'm serious here, Nick," Amanda says. "Don't you ever feel like you're, y'know, enabling her or something? I get that you think she can do no wrong-"

"Oh bullshit. I don't think that at all, but I *do* trust her. Just because she's not her old self- I haven't doubted her for a second."

"That's what I'm saying, right there! I'm worried about her, seriously, just because she goes around pretending she's fine...one of these times she's gonna break under the stress and it'll be ugly. I see it coming clear as day. She's a gun ready to go off."

"And you know better than a doctor or psychologist...how, again?"

"I know it's not that hard to sit in front of one for an hour and tell them what they wanna hear! You can't tell me you haven't- sometimes I catch her just staring, like this," and you can picture the face Amanda's making even without seeing her, because it's the same one you see in the mirror sometimes, the one that catches you off guard because you never pictured yourself looking that empty, that tired. "Just *dead*. Like nobody's home. Scares the hell out of me. Then she goes and does crazy shit like today- she would've cracked that guy's head open if you hadn't held her back!"

"For God's sake, Amanda, I think you're exaggerating a little here. She got rattled, that's all. Everyone's been there and it doesn't mean they've gone insane."

"I just don't think you're helping by saving her from herself every time. Someday you're not gonna be able to and I'm afraid of what she'll get herself into then."

"Look, projecting your own guilt onto me isn't-"

"You son of a bitch." They both fall silent and you hold your breath as if they might hear you on the other side of the wall. Finally Amanda speaks again, soft and resigned this time. "It still keeps me up at night sometimes, y'know? I'm the reason this whole thing started."

"Mand. Stop, okay? I get what you're feeling, believe me, I feel it too, but you weren't responsible. Nobody blames you, not even Liv. Especially not her. If she blames anyone, it's herself."

"But why not me? That's what I don't get. How did I...don't you think she wonders about that too? I mean, why go after her and not me?"

"I dunno. None of us do, but it's not like- you can't volunteer in tribute or something, it doesn't work that way. You know that and she knows that. Survivor guilt...man. It's real, but you're never gonna talk your way out of it. You have to accept that just because you don't understand why something happened...it doesn't mean you were at fault."

The room goes silent again and you almost start to walk away before you hear a quavering voice. "There was all this blood, Nick. I can't get it out of my head. And that smell..."

"I know. I know," and there's a rustling sound, like he's reaching out to hug her. "I still have nightmares. Hell, I think we all do. Probably will for a long time...it's okay. Mand, it's okay. Everything's gonna be alright."

It feels like you're starting to intrude on a private moment, and you've already heard much more than you needed to, so you go to your desk and blink back tears as you scribble out a note telling Nick you had to run an errand and you'll be back soon.

In reality, you go downstairs and start wandering the streets in a daze, bumping into people passing by without feeling a thing, eyes trained on the sidewalk. An hour later, you look up to realize that you don't know where you are. Rain is falling from the sky in sheets and you're soaked through to the skin.

You push your wet hair behind your ears and keep walking.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Running away.

It seems so tempting sometimes. Maybe not on foot, but for months I fought the urge to just get in the car and drive until I couldn't anymore. To go someplace where no one knows who the hell I am and start over.

I didn't, obviously. I moved, of course, it took me all of ten minutes to realize that there was no way I could ever live there again. I even got rid of most of the furniture just so I wouldn't have to look at it in our new place.

Our. Now there's a weird word, Mom. I always told myself there's no way I'd move in with someone until there was an engagement ring on my finger, and we were nowhere even close to that point. We're still not. It's so far off my radar that it's not even funny. We've never really talked about it, but lately Brian's made a few offhand comments that make me wonder just how long he sees this lasting. Yesterday he said something about what we should do next Thanksgiving- my God, we haven't even gotten past *this* Thanksgiving yet! I held my tongue because I didn't want to get into it with him, I brush it off every time he says something like that and I think it upsets him but I just *can't*. It's not like I'm planning on breaking up with him, or even that I want to. He's been my rock and as much as I hate saying it, I literally don't know what I would do without him if he walked out the door tomorrow. But that doesn't mean it's love or that it's forever or anything remotely close to it. It's codependence and inertia, and yet still...he's the only person I've ever had who hasn't left me (yet), and I have no fucking idea what to do with that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[May 2013]

Lights.

You open your eyes to see the city's twilight skyline outside your hospital room window, lights turning on one after the other to illuminate the buildings and streets below as the sun continues to disappear.

A floral scent draws your attention away from the window. Yellow roses sit on the table next to your bed, doing what little they can to mask the smell of blood and booze and sweat and piss and smoke and. And more. You had managed to stay almost perfectly stoic until the nurse told you that you couldn't shower right away once the rape kit was done, that they were going to give you some sort of sedative so they could finish tending to your injuries. You started to cry, started to protest, but then you felt the needle in your arm and everything went still.

Now your head is impossibly heavy, even as it does nothing but loll to the side until your cheek rests flat on the pillow and your chin almost brushes your shoulder. The pain is still there despite whatever they put in your IV, albeit muted, like you've been tossed about on the waves in a stormy sea and then unceremoniously dumped onto the shore, bruised and battered and still feeling the rolling tide washing over you like a phantom.

You hear a sound, a muffled cough, and with great effort you turn your head to the other side to investigate the source. Brian's sitting in this straight backed hospital chair 'upholstered' with green vinyl, backlit by the fluorescent light above the sink on the other side of the room. It's not much, but it's bright enough for you to be able to see that he's been crying. Maybe he still is. He looks like he hasn't slept or eaten anything in days, not unlike yourself...and then it registers that, just like you, he probably hasn't.

Both of you regard the other silently, cataloging everything you see in case it would provide some sort of answer as to what the hell you should do next.

"I'm sorry," you mouth, dry throat too sore to produce any actual words. I'm sorry I put you through this shit. I'm sorry you have to see me like this. I'm sorry that we'll never be the same.

"No. Liv...don't apologize." He leans forward, letting you decide whether or not to close the gap between you, and you reach out to grip his fingers like a newborn acting on instinct. "Thank you. For coming back to me...shit. When Nick called me to say he was with you, I could've kissed that asshat. It was the best news I'd ever heard."

One corner of your mouth turns up in a half-smile, half-grimace, and you clutch his fingers a little tighter to let him know that you're listening.

"I know that...actually, I have no fucking idea what's gonna happen. I know things'll be different and I know it'll be tough but...I'll be there. For as long as you need me."

You try to focus on what he's saying, but the lights all seem too bright and you can't smell the flowers anymore, only the stench that clings to your skin. The tide is beginning to come in and the waves are lapping at your feet, the pain threatening to pull you back under.

"It hurts," you manage to whisper, and then the world goes dark again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

'You just never know when to leave well enough alone, do you, Olivia?'

Oh, how I remember those words. And I guess you're right, Mom, I guess I don't. If I did, I would be focused on getting my shit together instead of making things more complicated for myself. If I did, I wouldn't be screwing my (married) best friend. Not that I have- but at this point, I think he and I both know it's inevitable. Maybe not *smart*, but inevitable. We've always been close. I gave him everything I had for so long, and I would still do anything for him. So in some ways it doesn't feel like that much of a leap for things to turn physical. If anything, we've finally cut through the bullshit and started being honest with each other for once. It just feels right.

That is, until it doesn't.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[October 2013]

You drop your phone back down into your bag three times before you manage to get a firm grip on it, and it takes you two tries to find the correct number. This really should not be that difficult.

Feeling like you owed him after his quick thinking this morning when he got that surprise call from Brian, you volunteered to go pick up sandwiches from Nick's current favorite deli. Apart from making a tiny dent in the debt you would probably be repaying for the rest of your life, it gave you the opportunity to make a call without being spied on, harangued, or otherwise interrupted by the overly curious.

Several rings went by without any response on the other end, and it was about to switch over to voicemail when someone finally picked up. "Hey."

"Hey," you repeat, and in the background you can hear a child's voice asking 'Dad, why did God forget to make Adam and Eve any clothes?' and a woman admonishing him to be quiet, Eli, your dad's on the phone. Something twists in your stomach and for a second you fight back the urge to hang up. "I, um. Just wanted to check that you made it home okay. I mean, that things were okay at home. Because you said that Kathy..." and that's it, you're done talking, finished sentence or not- because seriously, what the hell are you doing? Maybe you should've actually planned out what you were going to say before you started rambling.

"Yeah. It's...I'm still here, she didn't change the locks," and you can't tell if he's trying to make a joke, if he's actually glad she let him back in...anything. You can barely even make out what he said above the din of plates clattering and Eli singing Joy to the World and Kathy calling out 'hon, where are you? It's time to eat.'

"I should...I'll let you go," you say quickly. "That was all I was going to ask and- you're busy. I'll talk to you later."

"Later, yeah, sounds good- I'm coming buddy, just hang on- okay. Bye."

You don't say goodbye back to him, but you don't think he would've heard it even if you did.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He texted me back a few hours later to say he was sorry, that it was good to hear my voice and that he had been thinking about me all afternoon and...you get the idea. Now every morning when I wake up, there's a message like that from him waiting for me, and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't the best part of my day. Neither of us are really that great at expressing emotion- well, other than anger, that one's pretty easy to get across- but he's affectionate in his own slightly stilted way. And I'm okay with that, because he knows that overly demonstrative people scare the shit out of me. But he tells me all these things that I wanted to hear so badly for so long- and that's scary all on its own. I'm still skeptical and he knows it. He says he can live with that. Every day he promises he's sticking around this time, and so far he's kept his word.

He's been this huge bright spot in...well, in the midst of a place that's not so bright. I smile like an idiot just thinking about it. But beyond that, I know it's not going anywhere. He's got his wife and family and who am I to interfere? I wouldn't ask him to give that up, and I wouldn't even want that for him. They're his whole world. 'No one likes a homewrecker, Olivia,' I can hear you saying, and once again you're right. No matter what the circumstances, I can't imagine there *not* being a part of him that would always resent me for being the reason his family fell apart. So he and I are friends, and we're having a good time, and that's all it's going to be.

Besides, I've got my own life too. I've got a job and a boyfriend and a trial on my calendar for the day after Christmas- where I get to be the star witness! Last Christmas I was drinking margaritas and getting sunburned. This year...we haven't even really talked about the whole holiday thing. It's hard to feel festive when I have to think about facing *him* again, about having to sit there in front of friends and strangers and God and *everyone* and be grilled about things that I've spent all my energy on trying to forget. More than anything, I'm afraid of breaking. I've got a lot to live up to. I mean, I've seen children on the stand who look their parents in the eye and testify against them without ever faltering. If *they* can do it and I can't...well. He got the better of me once. I have to prove to everyone that I'm not going to give him the satisfaction again.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I got to prolong my humiliation with a bit of a dress rehearsal in the form of a deposition. For an entire day, I had the privilege of sitting in a conference room that smelled like stale coffee and staring down a defense attorney with a giant chip on her shoulder. *He* wasn't there, at least, but after eight hours even that stopped feeling like much of a consolation. It was an experience I could've definitely done without, to put it far, far too lightly.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[November 2013]

Q: Now, do you recall at any time making a statement that could've implied you were willing to have sex with the defendant?

A: No. I didn't.

Q: No, you don't recall, or no, you didn't make that sort of statement?

A: No. As in no, I did not. Ever.

Q: You don't recall ever offering him any sort of sexual favors.

A: I wouldn't call it an offer.

Q: Then what would you call it?

A: He had asked me, quote, what was in it for him if he didn't fuck me. I told him I thought we could work something out. That (pause). That I would give him whatever he wanted.

Q: And so you don't consider that an offer.

A: Not when he had already assaulted me, and then continued threatening that he was going to rape me repeatedly and then shoot me in the head. I really don't.

Q: So what I'm hearing you say is that you made that statement under duress. You thought you were at risk of imminent harm.

A: Yes. I did.

Q: And during this particular exchange, did the defendant have any sort of a weapon on him?

A: Not on him, no. Not that I can remember.

Q: Within arms' reach?

A: I don't recall. I don't remember where any of them were right then.

Q: But according to your earlier testimony, you do remember that the defendant was, and I quote, extremely intoxicated at the time, correct?

A: He was.

Q: Got it. So let me make sure I understand this. You felt that you were at such an imminent risk from an unarmed, extremely intoxicated man that you had no choice but to offer to have sex with him. Is this what I'm hearing?

A: I was (pause). I had been drinking too. Although not voluntarily. We've been through this before. I was already badly injured, and I was afraid that- all I was thinking about was, um- whatever was going to keep me from being raped or killed, that's what I was going to do. I don't know how to explain it any better than that. So I guess, if you want a yes or no answer, I guess that's a yes. I did what I had to do.

Q: But this incident, this wasn't the only occasion where you indicated that you were willing to have sex with the defendant. Correct?

A: I don't know. But when there's a knife being held to my throat and I'm being told, quote, tell me you want it or I'll kill you- I don't consider that willing. I have a hard time believing that anyone, any reasonable person, would.

Q: Fine. Let's move along. Now, you said earlier that the defendant had threatened to rape you. But he never followed through on that threat, is that right?

A: That's right. He- he did not.

Q: So the two of you never had intercourse, consensual or not.

A: No. Never.

Q: And the defendant- it's still your belief that he's a serial rapist.

A: Yes. Absolutely.

Q: Then would you agree that it seems strange that a serial rapist wouldn't have raped you, given that he had the opportunity?

A: I don't- I'm not going to speculate on something like that. As far as I know, there were two times when he had attempted to and wasn't able- I can't really say. I couldn't see what was going on either time and I didn't feel anything so I can only guess what was happening.

Q: And yet despite this, you were still afraid enough of being raped that you offered him oral sex on multiple occasions as- what, as a distraction?

A: I already told you, I don't consider that offering. I was doing what I thought I had to in order to stay alive.

Q: And how many times would you say this happened?

A: Eight, ten, maybe. I don't know. I wasn't keeping track.

Q: So given that the defendant was only making verbal threats to rape you, and you're saying you didn't have any indication that he was even capable of following through- I guess what I'm asking here is, wouldn't you agree that sounds a little excessive on your part? More than was needed given the circumstances?

A: No.

Q: You don't think that seems like a lot.

ADA: She already answered that question. She's not going to again. Can we move along?

Q: Fine. Let's go back to- if the defendant is a serial rapist, as you're claiming, why would you be the one alleged victim who he *didn't* rape, for whatever reason? What makes you the exception?

A: I'm not the only one. I know that much from having read all the past police reports he's racked up, but I couldn't tell you why.

Q: So you've done all this research and still have no idea. None at all.

A: No. I can only speak for myself but- if I had to speculate. I think he was more interested in the humiliation factor than, uh, it's not about sex. It's a control thing, having someone fear you. I'd say that's what he wanted. It was just as gratifying to him to hurt me or, well, to try and get a reaction out of assaulting me sexually. I guess it was pretty easy to figure out how to get to me, and I (pause). I'm sorry. I, um (pause). I'm sorry.

ADA: It's okay, Olivia, you're good. I need to speak to my client in private- we'll be back in five minutes. Come with me, Liv.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You can hear Brian before you can see him leaning against the receptionists' desk in the lobby, talking to the woman sitting on the other side even as she appears to be taking a phone call. "It's fucking bullshit, is what it is!"

"Brian," Barba says quietly, announcing your arrival. He turns around and starts asking a dozen questions at once, none of which you understand, as you follow Barba into a nearby empty room. "We're on a break," he explains to Brian, who lets you lean against him listlessly while your forehead rests on his shoulder, your face hidden. "It hasn't been pretty. They've really been going after her."

"So what are you doing about it? Isn't that your job, making sure that doesn't happen?" Brian asks, clearly doubting the other man's lawyering abilities.

Barba, for his part, doesn't seem to appreciate the unsolicited performance review. "No, it's really not. In these sorts of proceedings, I can only object to the form of a question, not the content, unless-" He stops, trying another tactic. "I'm doing the best I can, but I can't stop them from asking something just because it's unpleasant."

"Yeah, I get that. I'm familiar with the legal system," Brian says snidely.

"We're aware. As I was saying- I can threaten to get a judge on the phone if it crosses over into completely irrelevant harassment. That's all I can do. They have pretty wide latitude, it's not like an actual trial where there's strict rules about questioning witnesses. But Olivia's holding her own, I promise, I wouldn't let them steamroll her."

You lift your chin up in acknowledgement when you hear your name but stay still otherwise, head ducked so you don't have to look at anyone.

Brian asks if you're thirsty, and you say no, but he hands you a bottle of water anyway. You wish it was scotch. "It's fucking ridiculous, you know?" he says, and you're not sure if the 'you' is actually directed at someone or if it's a rhetorical question. He likes asking them, even if he still doesn't seem to understand about (not) answering them. "If she got stabbed in the neck, no one would think of asking 'hey, did you *want* to be stabbed? Any chance you might've been giving off that impression? Maybe it was just a misunderstanding?' Fucking hypocritical."

You take a drink of the unwanted water simply to have something to do while Brian glares at Barba, as if he alone is responsible for all the world's injustices. "He knows that, Bri, it's not his fault."

"Oh, so what, I can't share my opinion with him then? Sorry, I'm sorry," he adds when you lean into him again, his hand rubbing your back gently.

"It's okay. Just be quiet?" He had insisted on coming along with you even when you told him it wasn't necessary, that it would just mean he had to sit around and wait all day. You were secretly so relieved when he said he didn't care, that he'd be there anyway, but you knew he had to be getting frustrated with not knowing what was going on and not being able to do anything about it. He was going to need a drink or ten as badly as you by the time evening came. If you actually made it through to the evening, that is. Maybe you shouldn't be so confident in that just yet.

You choke back a sob when Barba says the recess is over, desperately willing yourself not to cry. Once today's done, you promised yourself, you can break down as much as you want. All weekend, if that's what you feel like doing. But not now.

"You're doing good, babe. You'll be okay," Brian promises, kissing your forehead. "Won't be much longer." It's only 10:30, so that's debatable, but he just kisses you again and tells you he's proud of you and he'll be there waiting when you break for lunch. You nod because you don't know what else to say, you never do, he's so good to you and you don't deserve it and one of these days he'll realize that too. He'll see that you're too broken, that things between you are too broken, and he'll decide that it's not worth fixing. So you nod and force a tight lipped smile, and maybe it'll be enough to keep him from seeing the truth for another day.

As you turn to leave, the mask slips back into position- a poker face that would do any pro in Vegas proud. You sink your nails into your forearm as forcefully as you can without breaking the skin, careful to make sure that the half moon-shaped marks left behind will be covered by your sleeve, and the pain is enough of a distraction to keep you from running away as you head back into the conference room.

But just barely enough.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Oh, Mom...I wish this was all I had to tell you. Of course, it's not. There's always more.