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: Through "Ghost".
Days Gone By
By Celia Stanton
The first time she goes to the graveyard by the little church on the hill, the level of pain she feels is incomprehensible. Not because the grave finality of the situation has finally settled upon her; she is a realist, and being entrenched in law enforcement for so many years made her quickly understand that the words she's dead are unique in that they can never be taken back or called a mistake. She has prepared herself for the cold reality of looking down at the marble slab, and ever the pragmatist, has tried to imagine what her reactions will be. Her discomfort has little to do with the fact that she's actually here, and that she's going to say hello and goodbye in the same breath.
She is distressed because she didn't know how to get to her own mother's grave.
So much life passed her by while she was away. So many birthdays, holidays, innocuous moments and second chances. As she sits in the Explorer, unseeing eyes trained on grey leather, she finds herself wishing that she could call this a nightmare, and that the morning sun would chase the darkness away effortlessly. But it is sunny outside the car, and the blackness still covers her like a low-hanging shroud.
When she looks up, sympathetic brown eyes are trained on her. Over the years, she's been able to catalogue the different tints to the detective's face, create her own cheat sheet of sorts. Today, Olivia is sharing in her pain, and wants to reach out, but knows her well enough to realize that the blonde needs to do this on her own terms and in her own time.
They sit in silence for thirty-nine minutes before she finally asks if they can leave. She never exits the car.
The second time she goes to the graveyard by the little church on the hill, Olivia drives again, as they both need the company more than she needs the directions. This time, she is able to stop her hands from shaking after twenty-three minutes, though it is with adrenaline and fear racing through her that she finally reaches for the door handle. The detective does not follow, but the blonde somehow feels her eyes follow her all the way to the edge of the plot.
It is cool on that second day, and white clouds are darkening with every step she takes. The wind begins to whistle behind her, tossing her loose hair and whipping it about her face. Though she is slowly becoming disheveled and bordering on unhinged, she strides toward the center of the hill, somehow honing in on her destination, able to pick the correct spot out of the sea of stone in front of her. She is a professional as she walks, a lawyer trained to right the wrongs of the world, even if they are her own. She hides behind the mask because it is too painful to just be a grieving daughter.
Her own name stares up at her, and finally, the stinging of the wind on her cheek moves briefly to her eyes before she tamps down the urge and reels her self-control back. She cannot help but think about how disappointed her mother must have been when she reached Saint Peter and realized that her beloved, only child was not there to greet her.
She kneels awkwardly in the grass and picks at some browning weeds as they push against the headstone. Her hand finds her mother's etched name and her fingers run through the grooves, as though touching something tenable will make her understand what she's actually doing. When the reality does hit her, she pushes herself up so quickly that her heel gets caught in the soft ground. She tries to turn and flee, but is caught momentarily in the undertow.
She does not look back as she all but races to the car. She does not say a word to Olivia as they drive away.
The third time she goes to the graveyard by the little church on the hill, when she does not move to leave the car, Olivia breaks the silence as she has not done before.
"I used to come here, you know," she says quietly, resting her hands on the steering wheel and looking toward the chapel. "When you were gone I knew you weren't here, but I'd talk to you anyway."
This is not what she wants, or needs, to hear. But there is something in Olivia's tone that keeps her in the car. "Did it help?"
"Sometimes," the detective replies, glancing at her sidelong. "I worked out a lot of things talking to you."
She has to find some levity in the situation. "Always need me to fix your problems, huh, Detective?"
Olivia does not smile back. "Do you want me to go with you?"
She shakes her head. "I need to figure this out for myself."
Olivia nods, understanding etched over her features like her mother's name is engraved in stone. "I'll be here when you're done."
Her approach is slow this time, and she does not stand near the plot when she finally stops walking. Instead, she sits on a stone bench a few feet away and watches as two robins hop around each other. The dance they do is one she knows well. She spares a glance over her shoulder at the SUV parked on the service road, and marvels at how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Before Velez, the attorney and the detective had skirted around each other, living parallel lives until one broke the stalemate and reached out. First, it was Olivia after the Plummer case. She followed after the Cavanaugh case.
She can't help but smile when she remembers the litany of excuses, the hollow reassurances that played through her mind when they spent time together. At first, it was ostensibly tied to the cases crossing both of their desks. Then it morphed into sharing meals because, hey, even hardworking public servants had to eat. Then it became late night phone calls and weekend errands together, until finally one asked the other to stay, and she never went home again.
When she woke up in the hospital after being shot, as it had been for so many days before, her first thought was of Olivia. When the marshals told her what had transpired, she did not panic. In fact, for the first time in what felt like eons, she knew exactly what to do. Her demand to see Olivia one last time was stubbornly simple and quietly emphatic, just like the lawyer herself.
The marshals told her to move on with her life, but she found for the longest time she could not. She could not sleep in the bed they provided for her; somehow, without realizing it, she'd become so accustomed to having Olivia's heady presence envelop her, that it was impossible to find respite unless she was camped out on the couch, with the fourth consecutive airing of SportsCenter breaking the interminable and unnerving silence.
It hurt to let go, but as the days bled into weeks and months, and then finally into years, it hurt even more to hang on.
She could not move on, but she did move forward. She sought out companionship, surprising herself in the choice of a male mate, but eventually realizing she would not find anyone like Olivia, so she'd save herself the trouble of trying. When they gave her another life after the Liam Connors trial, she didn't miss Emily like she had missed Alex, most likely, she realized as the plane touched down in Phoenix, because Emily had been a means to an end, and there was nothing holding her there. Not like now.
She sits on the stone bench for a little more than ten minutes before the birds fly away, and she leaves as well, the tense coil in her chest loosening for the first time in years.
The fourth time she goes to the graveyard by the little church on the hill, Olivia has picked up a bright bouquet of Gerber daisies for her to lay at the plot. When she asks if the detective would like to place them on the headstone herself, the brunette shakes her head and tells her silently that this is still her time with her mother, precious moments that the blonde has to interpret and utilize herself, without any input from a companion. The lawyer nods and this time, for the first time in this strange place, she smiles before she exits the car.
She places the flowers in front of the headstone, and she finds she is relieved when the cellophane covers her name, leaving her mother as the sole occupant of her thoughts. She finds herself speaking after a moment, her alto voice low and her words little more than a stream of consciousness. She finds herself apologizing to her mother, praying the older woman will find it in her eternal heart to forgive her somehow, though she knows that even if her mother could, the blonde would still kneel guiltily at the altar of unfixable mistakes.
She talks to her mother for fifteen minutes straight before the first raindrops begin to fall. As the torrent washes over her, she cannot help but think her mother is weeping her forgiveness with the angels, and offering her daughter's soul momentary purification so that they both may finally move on.
That night, she welcomes Olivia back into her home and into her bed.
The fifth time she goes to the graveyard by the little church on the hill, Olivia parks the car and they walk hand in hand, side by side, to visit her mother. There is relative ease in the way their steps fall naturally in sync, and for once, the butterflies in her stomach are not borne of fear, but this time of exhilaration. They sit together on the stone bench, and the blonde regales the detective with stories of her childhood, and how trouble always seemed to find her.
"Not much has changed," Olivia says with a smirk, and the blonde elbows her playfully in the ribs.
The tenth time she goes to the graveyard by the little church on the hill, she is frustrated and confused by an unnamed but still unwavering force. She's finally driven herself there, and all but leaps out of the car, gulping desperately for air and comprehension. She hears the squeaking of another vehicle's brakes after almost an hour, but does not turn as Olivia approaches. The detective sits on their stone bench and waits for her to finish picking at overgrown blades of grass before following her back with a barely audible sigh to their cars. They do not exchange words, for they've already said everything they needed to say in an ugly argument hours before, one that had not been bound by the confines of her office.
For the first time since her first visit, the blonde wishes her mother was actually there so she could rant and rave. She is desperate to hear her mother's wise voice tell her, in no uncertain terms, to grow up and get on with it.
The fifteenth time she goes to the graveyard by the little church on the hill, she is angrier than she can remember being in a long time. She lost a motion she had no business losing, and realized at some point during the day that the entire world, it seemed, was made up of idiots. Olivia does not come to her this time; she lets the blonde breathe by herself. She is almost dumbstruckor as dumbstruck as Alex Cabot getswhen she finds she misses the detective's input and comforting embrace, and wonders when she and Olivia became one in the same, when this dance they'd spent so long perfecting became a synced exchange of give and take. She's always been an individual, relying only on herself and her black-and-white law books to help her understand the shades of grey the world provides. Now she is trusting herself to another person. Not just her happiness, but her mind, body and soul. It is startling, but also frighteningly exciting. As she turns the ignition, now in a hurry to get back to the house that somehow, someway, became a home, she prays to her mother's soul that the deceased woman can somehow make the traffic between the church and their apartment disappear into the clouds that separate heaven and earth.
The twenty-first time she goes to the graveyard by the little church on the hill, it is after a Sunday service. It is her mother's birthday, and she found herself inexplicably drawn to the small parish her mother found after she was whisked into witness protection. Spring is long gone, and summer is fading just as quickly. As she approaches the plot, a warm breeze tickles the underside of her blouse, and she stops suddenly, letting the early September sunshine bask over her. Somehow, she knows it is her mother's hug, the final one they never got to exchange because life got in the way of their plans. Olivia watches her carefully, a protective hand at the small of her back, and then tilts her own dark eyes heavenward. Both women see the thanks in the gaze, and it warms them more than the rays of a thousand suns ever could.
The fortieth time she goes to the graveyard by the little church on the hill, it is Christmas Eve and O Holy Night is still ringing in her ears. It is insanely cold, and she desperately wishes they were in Phoenix, or in some location that has a Saint in front of the name. The snow crunches beneath her heels, and she can feel the moisture seeping through the leather. Her toes begin to tingle as her stockings become wet. She finds herself coming more and more to the little stone church, not just because her mother rests nearby, but because part of her is still searching for answers. Olivia teases her that she's always looking for something beyond what is actually there, as though everything in the world has further explanation and deserves more exploration. "You'd make a great detective," the brunette says, and Alex simply smiles and watches the way the white Christmas lights reflect in her partner's eyes before turning and setting a red poinsettia on her mother's plot. It is a stark contrast against the snow, and when she turns back, Olivia's eyes have changed completely. Alarm bells begin to ring in the blonde's ears. It seems as though the detective cannot move, and the blonde quickly puts a hand on her arm and guides her to the frosty bench.
The brunette takes a deep breath and pulls the blonde to her, murmuring an apology into soft hair. The lawyer shakes her head, waving away the explanation, and Olivia pulls back, cupping her cheek tenderly. "I still see you sometimes," she admits, unable to hold the lawyer's gaze too long, "lying there on that sidewalk."
"I still wake up in that hospital room," the blonde replies. "Part of me always will."
They do not say anything else, because they know implicitly what the other is going through, and any words they might find would not convey the depth of the unspoken understanding.
The sixty-first time she goes to the graveyard by the little church on the hill, she has made the decision to go back to SVU. As Olivia settles onto the bench, overdue paperwork in her hand, she kneels in front of her mother's grave, replacing the flowers from their previous visit with ones from her own little mound of dirt in the community garden. She tells her mother that while being a bureau chief had been her goal once upon two or three lifetimes ago, she realizes now that her place is with the victims. They are no longer a stepping stone to something greater; there is nothing greater. Every victim has a name, a face, a story, and they deserve any form of justice she can get them. She is slightly arrogantand hears Olivia's amused, agreeing snort behind herwhen she says there is no one that can do the job better than her. She can hear her mother's question before the wind has a chance to ask itwhat about you and Olivia? As she runs her hand lovingly and not the least bit hesitantly over her mother's name, she assures all three of them that it won't be an issue. It wasn't before, and it won't be now. They're a team, both in and out of work, and though it had taken quite a bit of persuasionand a few exasperated sighs on the blonde's partthey both know this is what's right.
The one hundred and fifteenth time she goes to the graveyard by the little church on the hill, it is the anniversary of the day she returned to New York. She spent it in the ER after an undercover assignment went badly. Olivia is in the car, sleeping off the pain medication. The car steered itself here, and the blonde is unequivocally thankful for the second time that day. She breaks down in front of her mother, falling roughly to the ground as she sobs. She nearly lost it all todayagain. It must be some huge cosmic joke, she muses, and looks angrily at the sky, then turns away disgustedly as her demand for answers is ignored. She wants to ask for guidance, wants to know how to proceed, but she realizes it is out of her control. She hates it.
She takes a deep breath, trying to calm her hitching chest, when she hears the car door open. She swipes at her eyes quickly, but cannot move as she tries to lift herself from the ground. Olivia's steps are slow, and the blonde curses herself at needing comfort when she should be comforting. The tears start anew at the gentle hand on her shoulder, and she leans back against Olivia's knees as she cries, covering her eyes with her hands.
She realizes later it is the first time she's ever cried while at her mother's grave.
The two hundred and twenty-fifth time she goes to the graveyard by the little church on the hill, there is a still-foreign ring on her left hand. Though they'd been committed a long time before, as Olivia said, it was time.
She's finally moved on. Not just forward, but on.
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