DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and all characters are
property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was mostly written before Loss aired as a kind of "how would Alex leave" type thing. Since it's nothing like Loss, I'll mark it as an Alternate Universe. 'What if' if you will.
This is dedicated to all those people out there who've had to struggle through long distance relationships at one point or another.
And thanks be to my own long distance girl, Heathers, for sticking with me through it all and being a great beta and cheerleader.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Pieces of Us
"i wake up late
blame you for fate
vexed and glorious as ever
i want you here
blame you my dear
vexed and glorious as ever"
My ears were ringing. The silence in the hallway was normally a welcome escape from the constant traffic outside. Being out on the street as much as I am, the honking horns and the barking dogs start to get under my skin. I need the time to recharge; time to just sit on my own and think about everything or nothing. The silence was something I needed every day like some people need a cigarette. But now it was deafening.
I pushed the key into the lock on my door and pulled it back out again just to break the silence. I didn't really have any other reason. The sudden appearance of Mr. Sheldon down the hall surprised me and I shoved the key back into the lock, pushing my way into my apartment. Like I was afraid he'd be witness to my neurosis.
The apartment was dimly lit and I stopped. I clutched my keys in my hand like they were the reasons for my sanity and closed the door. It smelled like her. That soft floral scent. lavender, I think it was. She told me she bought it once because a friend told her it'd help with her insomnia if she used it before bed. She liked it so much she just kept using it regardless of the time of day. I must remember to thank that friend. It helped my insomnia, too.
The only light shone in from the street and from that side lamp she always left on. It started a couple years ago when I'd be working late, far past her bedtime. She'd leave it on for me, 'Because it's always nice to know someone's at home waiting for you.' The irony of the situation didn't pass me by. In fact, it tripped and fell flat on its face right in front of me. Because the sad reality is:
No one's here anymore.
I started to feel that shallowness in my chest again; my throat constricting. I took a deep breath and pushed myself from the door. I dropped the keys on the table beside that lamp and walked into the kitchen. The smell followed me everywhere. My hand found the back of my neck, rubbing like there was a headache brewing and I bowed my head. I froze, realizing my earlier idea of waiting on the dinner dishes to give me something to do later wasn't such a brain wave after all.
I made chicken parmesan; one of her favorites. Despite the day we had managed to spend together and the dinner I had prepared, it was impossible to shake my mood. And she knew it, too.
"You're awfully quiet," she said.
I poked the food on my plate, not really feeling hungry. That familiar tightening in my chest had been nagging me all day and managed to wedge itself between the forced smiles and deep, calming breaths. I refused to look up at her and I knew she wouldn't stand for it. I could feel my throat beginning to close.
"Olivia. Look at me."
My eyes closed in a last ditch effort to handle my nerves. I lifted my head and nearly lost it all. If there was anything I hated doing, it was hurting her. And the look in her eyes was nothing but hurt, their intensity dimming, the blue turning a little grey. That, if nothing else, drove itself straight to my gut and I felt like the wind had been knocked from my lungs. I couldn't help the tears from welling, but I would be damned if I let them fall.
She pushed her plate away and left her chair, kneeling beside mine. The light touch of her hand on my face made my eyes close and when they opened again, I could feel a tear slip, grazing my cheek as it fell. I didn't stop her when she leaned in and wrapped her arms around me, burying her face in my neck. I'm not sure why it took me a minute before I lifted my arms to curl them around her. My eyes fell on the front door beyond the kitchen before they drifted to the packed bags on the floor and I closed my eyes again as my head lowered, pressing my lips against her shoulder.
I shook my head of the memory before reaching for a small glass in the cupboard above. If anything was going to help me now, it was going to be stiff and on the rocks. Grabbing the bottle from the next cupboard, I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand.
"Jesus Christ," I whispered, finishing the drink and pouring another. I was a grown woman, surely this shit shouldn't be bothering me like I'm a sixteen year old who's lost her girlfriend to the star quarterback. I had survived worse and never shed a tear. It shouldn't have got to me.
But it had.
The couch cushions gave under my weight as I sat down. I grabbed the remote and pointed it at the TV, but didn't push a button. I sat there, staring at the black screen like there should be something. This was what I did every time I came home and. something was missing.
I looked over my shoulder and I swear I saw her sitting there, all wrapped up in the case reports on her lap, tapping a pen on her lip and pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose. She sat by that lamp she left on all the time and sometimes she'd lift an eyebrow at the papers before looking at me.
"Aren't you missing the first period?" she asked.
I smirked at her and turned the TV on and without lifting my gaze, pushed a few buttons blindly before hearing Madison Square Garden roar to life in my living room. She finally broke the staring contest and returned to the work in front of her.
"Impressive," she said blithely.
I slumped back into my corner of the couch and set the remote on the arm. Like any other Saturday night, I continued to look in her direction, or maybe shifted a little on the couch, sending a few papers to the floor. Sometimes it lasted until the third period, but eventually she'd smirk and pile everything neatly on the floor by her feet before lifting them onto the cushions and resting her head on my stomach.
I blinked and the ghostly image faded. I stared at the empty corner of the couch, half expecting her to reappear. Half wishing it would be real. And I realized that I had suddenly fooled myself into thinking this was all an elaborate dream. That really, she'd be home any minute, walk through that door and set her bag down by the coat rack. That she'd sit next to me on the couch and hold out her hand. I'd give her my drink and return to the kitchen for another glass.
"Fucking moron," I mumbled to myself. I lifted the glass and pressed it against my forehead, blindly searching for the power button with my thumb.
The TV splashed light over my living room, displaying the surprised faces of couples being exposed to their newly renovated bedrooms. It occurred to me that I never watched this channel and I wondered briefly why I had even subscribed to it. The answer came as fast as the question and I watched, as if it would bring her back. As if I developed a sudden interest in home décor so I could explain it away.
"Boston?" I repeated for the second time.
She didn't say anything to me for a long time. I started to feel like maybe I had done something wrong, like I had done something to drive her away. All the insecurities ran to the forefront, collecting in my chest. I watched her packing up her office, moving from desk to credenza to bookshelf, so smoothly like she had practiced it. I couldn't decide if she felt guilty, or if I was just bothering her.
"I can't do it anymore, Liv." She turned to look at me. "Win or lose, there are twenty more cases waiting and I just started to wonder what the point was anymore."
Where had I heard this before? "So you're quitting?" She gave me That Look. I knew I had hit a nerve, but it was the truth.
"That's not fair."
I barked a laugh. I honestly didn't know how else to respond. "And leaving me is fucking fair," I spat out and I suddenly felt the weight collapse my lungs. Before I could reign them in, the tears began to fall. I didn't want to fucking cry, I was pissed. How the hell could she leave me after four years? Just up and go like it didn't matter. Just because she couldn't hack it. God, it pissed me off. The fact I was so affected by it just made it worse.
I could see her start to move around her desk and I didn't want her comfort, despite the fact that I needed it. I clenched my right hand into a fist and felt the energy in my body. I didn't even realize I had done it before seeing her flinch and stop dead in her tracks about three feet from me. My hand throbbed as I pulled it away from the frame of the door. I could have commended myself for finding the item least susceptible to damage.
I turned and left, nearly running down the hall from her office.
That was a month ago.
I twirled the glass in front of my face, my eyes falling briefly on the faint bruise between my knuckles. I wasn't sure if I had broken anything. I never did go to the doctor. I didn't really care anyway.
I apologized that night and she forgave me. Whether she was really forgiving me or thanking me for taking it out on the door and not her, I still didn't know exactly. I was still pissed off, but knew it was completely out of my control. She was going to do what she was going to do. That's what hurt most, I guess.
I mumbled some kind of curse at myself again and turned the TV off. I didn't feel like watching someone paint a wall and for some reason felt like it would be a kind of disrespect to change the channel. Ridiculous. I walked past the side lamp and looked at it for a long time. I didn't understand why there was a debate in my head about whether or not I should turn it off. I was home, after all and. well no one else would be coming after me.
I left it, though, trying to think up another reason for it other than leaving the state of my apartment as close to what it was when she was here last. That maybe it would keep her as close to home as possible. I chuckled at that. Home. It doesn't seem to mean much of anything anymore.
I walked into the bathroom and squinted at the fluorescent light that reflected off the white walls. I set the glass down on the sink and leaned against the vanity, staring at myself in the mirror. I couldn't remember the last time I looked that bad.
I ran a hand through my hair and rested my hand on the back of my neck. I looked like I hadn't slept in days which I guess wasn't completely untrue. My nights had been fitful ever since she'd bought her ticket. Every time we went for a trip somewhere, the tickets would sit carefully on the dresser in the bedroom. I never saw her ticket this time, though. She didn't keep it on the dresser, but thoughtfully stashed it somewhere else. I didn't bother looking.
I turned on the faucet and splashed my face with water. I didn't want to go to bed. I didn't want to be without distraction, to be alone with my thoughts. I realized that I had in fact been alone with my thoughts for the better part of four hours now. But everything was worse at night, in the dark, by yourself. With nothing to prevent your mind from wandering, with no one to bring you back to reality, to tell you everything will be okay. No one to wrap their arms around you and hush you to sleep and no one to make you feel safe.
There was work the next morning at seven. There were cases to solve and people with far worse problems than mine. But that night. at one in the morning. my problems were the worst in the world.
I walked into the bedroom as if there was a host of party goers hiding behind the limited furniture. The moment I did, I just. stopped. Everything stopped. My feet, my lungs, my heart. I felt like I suddenly needed to support myself on the dresser a few feet inside the door.
She sucked in a deep breath, grasping gently at the headboard. My hands drifted with purpose, smoothing her skin. I could feel the goosebumps appear. She stretched under my touch and I could feel her muscles shift.
I cursed myself because all I could think about was her leaving; about it maybe never happening again. I replayed what it would be like to say goodbye and whether or not I'd be able to keep the tears at bay in my head over and over.
She must have noticed my attention slip because she was suddenly pulling at my arms. "Come here," she said. I crawled up and pressed my body against hers. My arm went instinctually around her waist. She released her grip on the headboard and stroked my face lightly. She smiled. "It'll be okay."
I watched her face for a brief moment, reveling as her eyes shifted slightly. "Will it?" I asked, my voice quiet.
"You don't think we can do it?" Her face changed slightly to one of disappointment.
"Alex, we have a hard time going out to dinner when you're here." I couldn't help the pessimism. Part of me thought I said it because it was true, but the rest thought I said it because I wanted to hear her reassurance. It wasn't an unusual thing for me to do, but I could tell she was hurt.
"So that's a no," she replied. I could feel the arousal in the room begin to seep out the windows.
"It's not a no," I said, backpedaling. "It's just. Alex, I would do anything for you, you know that." My eyes fell to her chest, my fingers drawing a pattern between her breasts. "I just don't want us to have unrealistic expectations."
She nodded at me, stilling my hand with her own. I watched her pull my hand away, holding it gently against her breast. We stared at each other for what seemed like forever. "Then I guess we should make this count," she said softly.
I didn't resist when that same hand came to rest on the back of my neck and pulled me toward her. God, her lips were always so soft; her mouth so warm. I didn't think I could ever tire of kissing her. My entire body relaxed; she just had a way of making nothing but the present matter. She could take all the death, all the hurt and all the stress and make it all disappear. It was a magic that made me wonder how I'd ever do without.
She pulled away and whispered in my ear, "Don't think about it."
It didn't cross my mind again. I took my time, despite my own frustration. Slowly and carefully, my lips covered her skin, burning every inch of her body into my brain. With the small side light illuminating each and every one of her features, we spent the next several hours there. I consciously held myself back, ignoring my body's desire. She was right - it needed to count. I wanted her to remember me, to never forget how we were together. And I could tell by the way my name fell from her moaning lips as she came that that moment would never leave her memory.
It never left mine either. I stared at the bed sitting the middle of my room and could almost see us there like some kind of twisted home theatre. The familiar twinge between my legs lifted my mind beyond the haze. We spent the entire night in bed that night, never wanting to leave each other's arms. Now irony and I were becoming fast friends.
I noticed as I walked up to the bed that I had left my shoes on when I returned from the train station. I kicked them off haphazardly and stared at them. I still can't explain why I bent over and picked them up, placing them neatly beside the night stand.
I slipped under the covers fully clothed. It felt strange wearing anything in bed let alone jeans and a t-shirt, but I couldn't bring myself to take them off. My head hit the pillow, but my eyes refused to close. I stared across the empty expanse of the right side of the bed, looking at the still-wrinkled sheets and trying to remember how I ever did this on my own before. My hand slid out from under the covers and came to rest on the slightly depressed mattress. I splayed my fingers over the chilled sheets.
It still smelled like her. It was starting to become comforting in my misery. I smoothed the sheet under my hand and rolled onto my back, imagining that she was just in the bathroom or finishing up a report in the living room and would be right in. That I'd be able to wrap my arms around her and listen to her breathe until we feel asleep. I could feel my eyes drift shut and my mind disappear down that path I'd been trying so hard to keep it from.
She was gone. I was lying alone in bed for the first time in I couldn't remember how long. There was nothing. And for the first time in a very long time, I could feel it. The loneliness, the emptiness, the desperation sat on my chest, pushing me further and further into the mattress. I couldn't breathe anymore. My throat was so tight it started to hurt, but I didn't want to let it out. I didn't want to be weakened by this. I was in my 30s, a grown woman, a detective in the NYPD, a survivor beyond anything and I was going to be damned if I let this get me.
I knew if I took a breath it'd be over. I knew if I thought about her face, her skin, her touch, her voice, I. couldn't do it anymore. My hands found their way into my hair, gripping the strands with a ferocity I hadn't known before. I could feel my face warm as my mouth fell open in a silent scream. I rolled onto my side like I would every time this happened, but this time there were no arms to hold me. There were no hushed words to soothe me. There was no comfort anymore.
I curled my body under the covers, feeling the tears soak the pillow case beneath my head. I couldn't stop once it began, my own pathetic voice reverberating off the walls. Reaching over, I grabbed her pillow and pulled it under my head. I buried my face, inhaling the lavender she wore every day. I don't ever remember stopping. In fact, I don't really remember anything beyond that breakdown.
There was a lot I needed to relearn. It was going to take a while to get used to not buying an extra meal on my way home, or not calling anyone to tell them I'd be late. Most people would figure this would be liberating. I only found it frightening.
"You're going to have to tell me how terrible your new ADA is," she said, looking up at the clock on the wall.
I smiled faintly at our clasped hands. It was fifteen minutes until the train's scheduled departure and despite my own prayers, it was on time. I would have been happy with an extra ten seconds. I looked up when she squeezed my hand. How on earth I ever won the heart of such a stunning woman, I'd never know, but she smiled at me then like she never smiled at anyone else.
I returned the gesture as best I could. "I'll do my best to give her a hard time," I replied.
She looked at the clock again and then to trains waiting just outside the doors. It was my turn to squeeze her hand and she sent me a worried glance. "Are you going to be okay?" she asked.
I probably took longer than I should have to answer. I really wanted to tell her the truth. I wanted to get on my knees and beg her to stay. I wanted to throw a tantrum on the cold tiled floor of the train station, completely disregarding either of our reputations.
But I didn't.
"I'll be okay," I told her. I lifted our hands and brought them to my lips. I kissed her fingers gingerly, stroking them with my thumb. "Will you?"
I watched her eyes avoid mine, staring at the floor behind me when she took a long, shaky breath. She glanced at the clock again. "I don't know," she said softly. Her eyes never left the ticking hands even though I was sure she knew what the time was. I watched her swallow and take another breath.
"Alex," I said. I pulled her hand onto my lap, tugging her away from her self-imposed staring contest. She looked at me, her expression had done a complete one-eighty. Her blue eyes welled slightly and she licked her lips. I looked at her seriously. "I love you," I told her. "And I'm not letting two hundred miles change that."
The loudspeaker boomed to life, indicating the next departures. A good number of people in the various waiting areas got to their feet and started toward their platforms.
"Shit," she exhaled. I watched her stand and look off toward her intended platform. After four years, I had finally learned to see past the walls she'd put up to protect herself and I knew that was why she wouldn't look at me.
"I should go," she interrupted, turning to face me. I could see her eyes beg me not to make it harder than it already was. I knew she didn't mean anything by it, she just wanted to deal with it on her own. I had to respect that.
I nodded and got to my feet. "You have everything?" I asked.
She glanced at the floor, making note of the two smallish bags sitting next to her feet before leveling her eyes with mine. "Not everything," she replied.
I stared at the ceiling in my bedroom, my hands clasped over my stomach. Every now and then, my eyes would chase the headlights of passing cars across the stucco. They burned horribly. It felt like I'd been up for weeks and never blinked. I rubbed them compulsively because I couldn't bring myself to get up and wash the salt my tears left on my face. I knew even if I did go to the bathroom, I'd be disgusted by the series of red rings that must have been decorating my features and to be honest, I was already feeling pretty low. I didn't need to be dragged deeper.
I'd need to go to work soon. I'd been trying to fall asleep for hours after I had managed to collect myself. I was so tired, but I couldn't sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, the pain and desperation were waiting. I was surprised at my lack of reaction to the phone suddenly ringing. The noise cut through the silence in the bedroom and hurt my ears. But I calmly reached up to the bedside table and felt blindly for the receiver.
I pulled it to my ear. "Hello," I said, my voice thick and monotone. I lifted my free hand and rubbed my eyes again, pinching the bridge of my nose.
"Did I wake you?"
My eyes opened and I was suddenly wide awake. "Uh. no," I said, staring at the strange shadow on the bedroom wall. I rubbed my eyes again.
I heard her sigh. "Good. I can't sleep."
I cleared my throat and squinted at the digital display on the clock beside my bed. It was 3am. "Where are you?"
"The Hilton," she said.
"What happened to your apartment?" I was confused because she, the Ever-Prepared, had everything worked out weeks in advance of her ever setting foot within Boston's city limits.
"It's not ready, they had some problems with the installers."
There was an oddly comfortable silence that fell between us. I'm not sure what her reasons were for calling, but I was content with just listening to her breathe. Just knowing she was there on the other end of the call was enough of a comfort. My chest started to tighten again.
"Olivia." she started.
My fingers found the bridge of my nose again and held it gently. "What?" I said softly.
"I miss you."
I didn't say anything for what seemed like hours. Every breath I took was uneasy and was difficult to control. I felt a tear slide down past my temple. Just when I was positive I had cried every ounce of water from my body, there it was again, ready to take over.
I sucked in a breath. "God, I miss you, too," I whispered. I couldn't hide the tremble in my voice, but was thankfully able to control the rest. I wasn't sure why hearing that had such a profound impact on me. I knew she loved me and I knew that leaving wasn't an easy thing for her to do, but having her say that made me feel like maybe I wasn't over the deep end this time. Maybe this actually meant something. "When are you moving in?" I asked after finally getting my heart to slow.
"Friday at the latest," she replied.
I couldn't understand why I was suddenly anxious. "I've never been to Boston," I said, my mouth dry. "Want some help?"
"What about work?"
My heart sank a little. "If I'd just be in the way."
"No," she said quickly. "No. I'd like that."
We talked for a long time about how strange it was to be alone again; about how to deal with the emptiness. It felt good to hear her voice. Part of me ached to touch her. I could feel her there, but just out of reach. Her arms around my waist, her face nuzzling my neck against the cold wind outside. It all felt so real, if I just closed my eyes.
I was already awake when my alarm went off, but I didn't move. It was a week before she left and I couldn't stop thinking about what it would be like without her. I must have ignored the alarm long enough because I could feel her roll over with a plaintive groan and turn the intrusive noise off. She was silent for a few moments before:
"Liv." Her voice was thick with slumber and muffled in the sheets.
"Yeah," I replied. I stared out the window, studying the brick mortar on the building next door.
I sucked in a long breath, stretching as I rolled over toward her. I always got up an hour or so ahead of her to go running before work. Sometimes she'd join me, but usually she waited until I returned before heading out and she nearly always refused to get up any earlier than humanly possible. If there was one thing that she cherished more than her job, it was sleep.
I slid across the mattress and leaned into her back. My arm wrapped around her waist and I heard her hum softly, relaxing into sleep again. I closed my eyes and kissed her neck, inhaling the faint scent of lavender that put her to sleep every night. This is what I'd miss the most. Not the laughing, not the dinners out, not the late nights in the squad room, I'd miss the brief moments of complete warmth and serenity.
My hips shifted against her of their own accord and I slipped a hand under the tank top she wore. I rested my chin on her shoulder. "Come with me," I said quietly.
It took her a moment to answer. "What?" she murmured.
"Come to the park with me."
She groaned, trying in vain to bury her face in the crook of her elbow. "I'm so tired," she whimpered.
"Come on, you're leaving soon, who knows when we can do this again." She rolled onto her back and pouted unconvincingly. I knew she'd cave, but I figured I should sweeten the deal. "I'll buy you beignet," I added hopefully.
Her eyes opened and I could feel my heart quicken slightly. "Because that's what I need," she stated simply. "French pastry."
The disdain in her voice made me smile. "That's what the running's for," I told her. I gave her a quick kiss before slipping out from under the sheets. I pulled them to the foot of the bed, leaving her chilled and exposed. She grumbled as her legs swung over the side and touched the carpet.
"There better be coffee involved in this negotiation," she said, slouching slightly.
I stopped in front of her and held out a hand. I could almost feel her body radiating heat from the bed. "As always," I replied, pulling her to her feet. I knew she was trying to hold onto the ornery façade, but the smirk that lifted the corner of her mouth betrayed her completely. "Come on," I said. "If we hurry, we can get them while they're still warm."
I blinked a few times, my mind clearing back to my darkened bedroom. "Yeah?"
"Are you going to turn off your alarm, or just let it go until the batteries die?"
"Oh." The buzzing of my alarm finally registered and startled me. I looked at the clock over my shoulder. 5am. Rolling over, I turned the alarm off and sat up, the phone still clutched to my ear.
"Are you running this morning?" she asked. I could hear her rustle around her bed sheets.
I didn't really want to. "I think I should," I said anyway. It would probably do me some good to get out and run the old circuit.
"Okay." I could hear the disappointment in her voice and it stung. "I guess-"
"I'll call you this afternoon, okay?" I interrupted her. She needed to hear it from me this time. And really, it was about time I stepped up and started being the strong one. We said a short goodbye; something that was a common occurrence for us. Short equals less painful. At least that's what we tell ourselves.
I hung up the phone and stared at it for a few minutes. I couldn't really get over how badly I wanted to hold her and reassure her that everything would be fine. The truth was I really didn't know if everything would be fine. That maybe I was the one who needed to be reassured.
But I knew that I wouldn't give up for the sake of making my life easier. They say life is never without suffering and for someone who sees the worst of it every day, it's no longer a scary shadow lurking in the corner. It's a necessity. It makes everything else seem worthwhile. And if there was anything in this life worth suffering for, it was her.
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