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The Secrets & The Memories

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She’s been staring at the closed door for several long seconds, when “That went well,” comes from somewhere over her shoulder. She turns just in time to see Kathleen giving her brother a disgusted look.

Shut up, Dickie.”

“Kathleen –”

What, Mo? He makes zero useful contributions, then wants to –”

Zero? I tried –”

“Kathleen, you’re the one who –”

“Okay, guyshey. Why don’t we all take a breath?”

It comes out angrier than she’d intended, but this is not at all how she’d envisioned the night going. What exactly she had envisioned, well…she’s not sure. But this…it didn’t feel right. The entire evening had felt…God.

She’s been on a rollercoaster and she wants off. She wants her feet back on solid ground, hating the way her stomach lurches with the dips and turns, the whirlwind that had brought him back into her life – his family back into her life. The confusing myriad of emotions from the time before Kathy had passed, to replacing the cork in the bottle at the funeral. His softness when she’d met him at the park…the way he’d put so much of himself into the letter he’d given her. Then she’d seen him that night, wild eyed and strung out on adrenaline, grief…fear? Meeting him at Noah’s school had been yet another curve – genuine smiles and gently spoken compliments one moment, then hardened words and eyes telling her to stay away, denying her desire to help him the next.

Elliot’s confession tonight had thrown her yet again and she hated losing her equilibrium. She doesn’t even want to be here – in the middle of all of…this, whatever it is – not with the way Elliot had left things between them only to return to her life in such a violent way.

But when Kathleen had asked…

As she takes her place in the center of the cramped living room, each of the Stabler children cast their weary gaze upon her. She takes a moment to look each of them in the eye, her expression softening intentionally.

“Let’s not get at each other’s throats,” she warns gently. “Everyone is stressed. Okay? Everyone’s tempers are high. But going at it isn’t gonna help.”

“He doesn’t want our help. What are we supposed to do now, Olivia?”

It comes from Lizzie, who’s stood quietly in the corner since they’d all gathered about an hour ago and started discussing who would say what and when.

Olivia reaches for her, wraps her hand tightly around the younger girl’s forearm. “Elizabeth – honey – you’ve done what you can. All right? You all have. Your dad just…he wasn’t ready. And that’s not your fault. He’s…” She takes a deep breath and clears her throat, attempting to center herself for what feels like the thousandth time since she’d responded to the 10-13 mere weeks ago. “He’s working through…so many things right now. It’s gonna take him some time to find his balance.”

“He said we were drowning him.”

Dickie. Resentment.

Olivia sighs and faces him, keeping space between them as she reads his stiff body language. “It can feel like that sometimes. Y’know? When people want to help and you’re not ready – you’re-you’re trying to work your way through all of this sadness and grief and-and-and anger…while still trying to live up to what people expect from you and…there’s a pressure that comes with that.”

“Why did he say that he loves you? …Our mom just died.”

Eli.

His four siblings move in unison as they stare at their youngest brother…then cast their glances back to Olivia.

Flustered, she reaches for any words that can somehow explain what she hadn’t even paused to process yet herself. “He’s…Eli, he’s confused; he’s…not thinking clearly.”

“He said what he said, Olivia,” Kathleen counters wearily, without heat. She turns listlessly in the swivel chair at the desk, dejected.  

“And I wish he hadn’t,” Olivia replies almost instantly, sighing openly. Her mouth settles into a thin line of resignation as she stands next to Kathleen, her hand on the young woman’s shoulder. They exchange sad smiles before Olivia addresses the rest of the Stabler children…adults…children. Damn him for leaving her here – again – to deal with the fallout.

“You know that your dad and I ha- have a long…complicated relationship. But that’s…you guys didn’t…you shouldn’t have had to hear that.”

“What happened between you two?”

Olivia glances at Maureen, the younger woman's face open – sad, but…open, willing to listen…wanting to understand. She sighs. Where to even begin while maintaining some semblance of privacy…for herself…for their father.

It's not an excuse, but I thought I was making the right choice. That when I left things might be easier for you. For me. But I realize now that it wasn’t just my choice to make. And I’m so sorry for that, Olivia.

“I…I wish I could tell you, Maureen,” she admits mournfully, her voice wavering. “I really do, but…it’s not such a simple thing and your dad and I…with everything that’s been going on, we haven’t had a chance to discuss that.”

When Lizzie speaks, her voice is small. “It was like you disappeared.”

She didn’t disappear,” Kathleen counters, her tone defensive. “Dad cut everybody out – you know how he was back then.”

The statement hangs in the air for just a moment, its weight settling upon the room as far more is left unsaid.

Confused, Eli pipes up from the corner of window seat couch where he’s been slumped for several minutes, his elbows on his knees, long arms dangling loosely. “What do you mean ‘how he was back then’?”

I wasn’t in a good place. I don’t remember much of that year, but I know I was dragging so many people down. I couldn’t let you be one of them. I would never have done that to you.

I killed a child, Olivia. I shot her. And I don’t think it was the right call. I didn’t I still don’t know what to do with that sometimes.

Maureen takes a deep breath and rubs her hands across his shoulder blades in a way that’s meant to comfort him. “You were little – you don’t remember.”

Instead, the action propels him to his feet.

“I don’t remember anything. I don’t know anything. It’s like a whole different life you guys had,” Eli interjects, his voice rising with urgency as he gestures to himself, to his siblings – to Olivia. “I don’t even really know who she is, but apparently dad loves her and everybody seems to be okay with that.”

Eli.”

Olivia reaches a hand out to gentle her reproach. “No, Maureen – it’s…it’s okay.”

Eli spares Olivia an embarrassed glance with red-rimmed eyes, obviously upset with his outburst, but mind still spinning with all the information he’s been bombarded with in the last twenty minutes.

Olivia takes a step toward him, but still affords him his space. “You know I was your dad’s partner,” she begins softly. “For a number of years. Your family and I were very close during that time.”

“Then how come they never said anything about you?”

It stings, hearing that. Of course, she knew it already on some level…but hearing it out loud, that she’d been effectively erased from their lives once Elliot and Kathy made the decision to leave New York…

A gig came up, private security. It led to other things. I needed the work. My pension was locked up and our savings took a hit – the twins were going to college in the fall, Eli needed tubes in his ears and I didn’t have insurance. It sounds ridiculous when I list it all out now (so much of this does, Liv, I know that), but that’s how a has been from Queens ended up on the other side of the world.

Swallowing around the dry lump in her throat, she gives him a sad smile. “Your mom and dad – they made decisions that were the best for them, for their relationship and your family.”

“They had a rough patch, but…everything worked out okay.” Kathleen’s tone is deliberate and Olivia catches the glance she throws her way – just a millisecond, but enough to let her know that Eli likely doesn’t know about the separations, how close they’d come to an actual divorce.

Eli seems satisfied with that, but returns to his father. Olivia can read the concern in his voice, in his question, and it warms her heart, the love that his son has for him.

“But what was wrong with dad?”

He directs the question to Maureen and she supplies simply, “He…got sick.”

Unsatisfied with that response, Kathleen's voice is no nonsense when she clarifies, “He was depressed.”

Kathleen, we don’t – ”

“Maureen, when are you going to give it up? Just because he never saw a doctor doesn’t mean we can’t state the obvious. He slept all the time. He drank. He stopped speaking to anyone," she lists before adding for good measure, "He didn’t even go to Lizzie and Dickie’s graduation.”

As Kathleen reviews the various behaviors her father had exhibited so many years ago, Olivia casts a worried glance in the direction of the twins. She catches Lizzie’s eyes before the younger woman redirects her gaze. Dickie meets her stare head on and shrugs, brushing off the slight easily. But Olivia knew – she knew - how much his children meant to him and how he and Kathy had sacrificed, kept them all in good schools, even when it stretched them beyond his paycheck. To have missed that - an achievement for the family, as much as the twins...

I wasn’t in a good place.

“But he got better, right? Why’d he even get sick or-or depressed in the first place?”

“He killed a girl.”

Dickie’s words hang heavily in the apartment and Olivia is acutely aware of the blood coursing through her veins, whooshing behind her eyes, by her ears – she can feel the hot pulse of it.

Eli lets out an audible wheeze and stares at his older brother in shock. It’s painfully obvious he wants to question that statement but can’t connect his thoughts to his mouth, his lips struggling around silent attempts at words.

Olivia feels the need to interject, to maintain some sort of control over the turns the conversation is taking. If this wasn’t explained, and carefully, the view Eli had of his father – whom he so obviously loved – would become irreparably damaged.

“Her name was Jenna Fox, Eli. She was unstable. Her mother had been attacked and murdered and she opened fire in the precinct and killed several people…including a…a close friend of mine and your father’s.”

Her throat constricts, even now, a decade later, as she thinks of the way Sister Peg’s heart gave its last beats beneath her palms, the way the blood had seeped, warm and sticky, through her fingers. She remembers Elliot’s look of panic, the aftermath as he’d come out of his shock and shouted for a bus, frantically repositioning her body as he started CPR. She’d found him in the locker room two hours later, going at his knuckles and the backs of his hands with steel wool he’d found in the kitchen. The knees of his pants were still soaked with Jenna's blood. 

She remembers the hollow tone his voice had taken on when she listened to the recordings of his statement, weeks later when he still hadn’t answered her calls.

I wasn’t in a good place.

I wasn’t in a good place.

I wasn’t in a good place.

“His actions likely saved several people, but…it was very hard for him to deal with. And I think that, combined with the years of…horrible things he’d seen on so many of our cases…it was finally too much for him. He…he needed a break.”