DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and its characters are the property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Post-Loss, Post-Ghost, Pre-Lead
Olivia watched the IV slowly drip morphine into Eleanor's hand, grateful that it was keeping the older woman's physical pain at bay. She had seen too many doctors selfishly insist on Herculean measures that neither extended the length nor quality of life for terminal cancer patients, and Olivia was relieved that Eleanor's team of caregivers was more interested in their patient's comfort than in their own egos. For the past year, Eleanor had fought her disease with grace and good humor, but when it became clear that there was nothing more to be done, she accepted the inevitable with dignity and committed herself to enjoying whatever time and energy she had left.
Eleanor blinked awake slowly, struggling a bit against the morphine and the persistent tug of mortality before her gaze cleared and focused on Olivia sitting beside her.
"Olivia. How lovely to see you," Eleanor said, as if she were greeting her visitor in her penthouse instead of from her hospice bed.
"Hello Mrs. Cabot." Olivia smiled, reaching out to squeeze Eleanor's hand.
Eleanor rolled her eyes, feigning exasperation. "Humor a dying old woman and forgo the formalities just this once, Dear. Please. Call me Ellie."
Eleanor Cabot had been making this same request of Olivia for nearly two years, ever since they had first spoken at Alex's funeral. Olivia, raw with shock and grief, had made her way to the back of the chapel after the service to pay her respects.
"I'm so sorry for your loss Mrs. Cabot," Olivia said, looking into eyes the same color as her lover's. "Alex and I we worked together. Your daughter was an amazing woman."
Eleanor Cabot took Olivia's hand in both of hers, a familiar steely resolve apparent in her ramrod posture and cool, composed expression. "Thank you for coming "
"Olivia. Olivia Benson," Olivia replied.
As soon as Olivia said her name, Eleanor's face softened with recognition. "Olivia. Please, call me Ellie. Alexandra mentioned you often and fondly. She had a great deal of respect for you."
"The feeling was mutual," Olivia managed before her throat tightened.
They stood together in silence for another few moments until other shocked, shuffling mourners approached, then Olivia nodded her wordless goodbye, careful not to spill any of the hot tears pooling in her eyes, and walked away.
Two months later, right before Christmas, they'd met again. Olivia was standing at the foot of Alex's empty grave as snow blew around her, stinging her eyes, making her cheeks numb. Somehow this fake resting place had become a refuge of sorts for Olivia. And even though she knew that Alex was not lying under the granite stone that bore her name, this was where Olivia came to talk to her. When she heard a car door shut in the distance, Olivia looked up, then tracked Eleanor's movements up the slight grade to her daughter's grave. She knew from Alex that Eleanor, in her youth, had been a competitive equestrian, and the older woman carried herself with certainty and poise. But there was a leaden weariness in her step that Olivia now had in her own gait, and it made her wonder if the weight of sorrow could be measured in pounds.
"Hello Mrs. Cabot."
"Please, Dear. It's Ellie."
Olivia smiled a small, tight smile and nodded, knowing full well she would never call Alex's mother anything but Mrs. Cabot.
"That was supposed to be my plot," Eleanor said quietly. "Alexandra's the arrangements were made in such haste. I worry now that perhaps I didn't settle her affairs as she would have liked. There were so many questions I never asked her. Things I never imagined I'd need to know. I've still not been able to pack her apartment."
"I'll do it," Olivia said. "If you'd like."
"I wouldn't want to impose."
"It's no imposition. Really."
So Olivia had carefully packed Alex's books and CDs and clothes and stacks and stacks of yellow legal pads filled with her neat script, arranging for furniture to be stored and appliances to be donated, telling herself that someday, Alex would be back to unpack every item she had lovingly boxed up and put away.
Throughout the process of closing Alex's apartment, there had been several occasions that required Olivia to be in contact with Mrs. Cabot. But even after those details were resolved, Olivia and Eleanor stayed in touch. Not frequently, and never intimately, but consistently. And over time, Olivia came to count on the connection, albeit once removed, to the woman she had loved and lost. She liked to think that her presence was a comfort to Eleanor, as well. That having someone to share the burden of Alex's absence somehow brought the older woman a small measure of relief.
When Eleanor told her about the cancer and her prognosis, Olivia was stricken. She twisted with guilt and confusion, unsure about whether or not to tell Eleanor that her only child, though lost to her, was actually still alive. What were the risks? How would this small, isolated act of mercy for a dying woman put Alex in any jeopardy? In the end, though, Olivia maintained the lie she had sworn to keep, deciding that it would have been more cruel to reveal the truth, and dangle hope or possibility when there was almost no chance that Eleanor would ever see her daughter again.
During the last months of Eleanor's life, Olivia spent every Sunday morning at her bedside, sometimes talking, sometimes reading aloud, sometimes watching her sleep as the late winter sun grew stronger in early spring. Through it all she tried to remember as much as she could about their conversations and hours together, safeguarding her memories for the day when Alex would want to know how her mother's life had wound down while she was in exile. For Ellie was, indeed, winding down.
"I need to ask you something, Olivia," Eleanor said, turning slightly in her bed to face the younger woman. Though cancer had ravaged Eleanor's body, it had not diminished her presence one bit, and Olivia sat a bit straighter at the tone in Eleanor's voice.
"You and Alexandra. You were more than friends, weren't you?"
Olivia took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The question was not completely unexpected, but her mind raced, trying to assess the stakes, evaluate the potential outcomes. This was a conversation that Alex should have been present for. A conversation, in fact, that Alex should have initiated. And she and Olivia had gone so far as to actually make a plan for when the "right" moment became apparent. They just always figured they'd have more time.
"What do you think she'll say?" Olivia had asked, tucking a loose strand of hair behind Alex's ear, kissing her lover's temple. It was a rare lazy Saturday morning and they were spending it in bed, luxuriating in each other's company.
Alex just smiled and shook her head. "I haven't the faintest idea. But whatever it is will be memorable."
It was one of those moments when everything and nothing mattered, when it felt like they'd have forever to finish the conversation, and Olivia had been more tempted by Alex's smile, which she bent to kiss, than by the prospect of discussing Eleanor Cabot's imagined responses to their relationship.
Remembering that long ago moment, Olivia wished that she had pressed Alex further for an answer or an explanation, even though the point was moot. There would be no "right" moment after all. There would only be this one. Imperfect and bittersweet. And so finally, she just answered honestly.
"Yes. We were."
Eleanor nodded, a slow, sad smile turning up the corners of her mouth. "It had been my greatest sorrow, thinking that she died without knowing love. I'm so glad that wasn't the case."
"I loved her very much. I always will."
There was a long pause, filled only with the hiss of the oxygen tank. Then, "Thank you, Olivia."
"You're welcome, Ellie."
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