DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and its characters are the property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: In case it isn't apparent, cauchemar is French for nightmare. Large volumes of feedback anticipated… ;)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: 2.01 Wrong is Right

The Sum of Contradictions: 22 Cauchemar
By beurre blanc


"No, no, no, no, no…" Olivia's head twisted and rolled on her pillow, her fist pounding the mattress at her side, punctuating each word. "No, no don't. Don't!… Momma… no…" Her voice trailed off, and she was still for a moment, and then a soft childish pleading "Please don't." Alex, now wide awake, resisted the urge to reach out and rouse Olivia, instead choosing to observe. She was stunned by what she was witnessing: this was the third time she'd seen Olivia in the throes of a nightmare, and this one was by leagues the worst.

After a minute or so Olivia began again, "No, no, no…" each word longer than its predecessor, and quieter, yet each seeming to affect her more profoundly, until she was reduced to deep, wrenching sobs, and tears escaped her still-sleeping eyes. Finally she rolled onto her side, away from Alex, and drew her knees up to meet the arms crossed protectively over her heart. Alex bit her lower lip, and extended a trembling hand, debating whether offering comfort might paradoxically make things worse, by actually waking Olivia, and forcing upon her the conscious recollection of something which might otherwise slip quietly back into the hidden recesses of her psyche.

That a woman of such strength and resilience could be reduced to this sobbing child-like state by the inventions of her own subconscious spoke volumes to Alex about the terrors and phantasms Olivia had locked away. She was also aware - and mildly ashamed - of her feeling of disappointment that Olivia should carry this kind of vulnerability. A part of her wanted to believe Olivia was… invincible - that she was somehow strong enough to avoid being hurt by the things she saw every day. But Alex's sense of reason knew this to be a romantic fallacy, and her sense of justice railed at the circumstances which must have driven Olivia to take on the work that she did.

"Why do you do it, Liv?" she wondered silently, "what makes you want to see, and hear and smell and feel such relentless horror? What keeps you coming back?"

"I really don't understand why you chose the Special Victims Unit."

"I told you, Mom. I thought it would be a smart career move." Alex sighed.

"Yes, you did. Living victims, people who can vote, media opportunities - something about reaching a broader constituency?"

Alex smiled at her mother's extraordinary recall. "Yes, all of that. You know," she said wryly, "I can't believe I actually used those same words when I met with the Unit head for the first time."

Mrs Cabot gave her daughter a questioning look over the rim of her tea cup.

"It was just after the Morris Commission presented its findings. You remember all the publicity, don't you?" Her mother nodded. "Well, the Captain was understandably suspicious of my motives, and I needed to convince him that it was just as much in my best interests to have the unit succeed. At the time I thought I was presenting a great argument – in fact I think I actually believed it…" She paused for a moment, silently acknowledging the fact that her pursuit of the appointment as ADA for the Special Victims Unit really had had little to do with justice, and everything to do with sharpening the focus of the political spotlight upon herself. Alex glanced at her mother, trying to gauge whether her sly admission had been recognized, but Mrs Cabot remained impassive. "Now, when I think back, I must have sounded so naïve, I must have sounded like such a…" Alex shook her head ruefully, and chose not to elaborate.

"I believe you also told me that you were expected to fix problems caused by a lack of discipline with the unit's detectives."

"Yes. That was the reason the unit was under threat. But it turned out that the issue was not so much with discipline as with the relentless evil they deal with every day."

"The same evil you deal with now. Yes?"

"Yes, but it's not really the same, Mom. Most of the time, when cases reach my desk, they've effectively been sanitized. I'm shielded from the immediacy, from the sights and smells, the pervasive residue of panic and fear, the ultimate horror of violent death. Yes, I've been to crime scenes – the squad made sure I got to see some of the early cases 'first hand'," she grimaced at the memory, "and I see the photographs, but it isn't the same."

"And the discipline problems?"

"I think it was more a loss of faith in the system…" Alex lifted her cup and sipped.

"Meaning what?"

"Well, the case closure rate was so low. With no regular ADA, their cases were being dealt out around the DAs office, with nobody really to take ownership of them - nobody prepared to stick their neck out for fear of affecting their chances of being assigned to something more glamorous, like Major Cases. You see, SVU is a volunteer unit, and the detectives who work there have to request to do so. These guys are so dedicated. They work their asses off – pardon – they work incredibly hard investigating these crimes, and yet so few cases ever got to court, and even fewer resulted in successful convictions."

"I see." Mrs Cabot smiled gently and nodded. "That's the real reason you joined, isn't it darling? You could see that it was well within your capabilities to raise that closure rate – knowing that even a small rise would have a big impact both politically, and career-wise."

Alex gave a wry smile, and shook her head. "As incisive as ever, Mother. You still see straight through me, don't you?"

"Yes, sweetheart, I do." She paused, then asked gently, "So what changed?"

Alex sighed and set down her tea cup. She looked up at her father's portrait over the mantelpiece, and said quietly, "I'm no longer doing this for me."

After a pause she added, "I admire these people so much. The detectives I work with could never be accused of being 'nine-to-fivers'. Their skill, their dedication is… humbling. They have to be able to view a crime scene dispassionately, interpret initial evidence so they can begin their investigation, be fit enough and strong enough to chase down a perp – perpetrator – and yet be able to show compassion and empathy, to calm down victims, talk with them, even counsel them. Their victims are mostly women and children – terrified, abused, brutalized. They have to be able to gain their trust, obtain reliable information, generate leads." Alex's voice rose progressively, her emotional investment starting to show. "And they have to be tough, and clever, and hard-nosed enough to interrogate some of the strongest, sickest, most twisted and evil excuses for human beings, and not let up until there's a confession, or they have otherwise secured enough evidence for me to make a viable case." She paused for emphasis. "It takes an incredible person to be able to do all that. Detectives don't usually work with SVU for more than a couple of years. Olivia has been there for almost four."

"Olivia – she's…?"


Finally the attorney could no longer stand to witness such lacerating pain in the woman she loved, and she reached out, consequences be damned, convinced that no waking memory could prove worse, or be more painful, than the wrenching despair Olivia's nightmare had induced. She slid slowly, carefully, towards the detective's sleeping form, edging in close to her back, wrapping a gentle arm over her as she tried instinctively to create a cocoon of comfort, stilling the tremors, and whispering soothing platitudes into Olivia's soft dark hair.

"It's OK, Liv, it's all right, sweetie, I'm here." I don't deserve you, sweetheart. I could never be strong enough to do what you do. She kissed Olivia's shoulder, and nuzzled the back of her head. "Shhh, I'm here, don't cry. Shhh, baby. Shhhh…"

Shhh, baby, shhhh… Momma didn't mean it. Come here, baby… "NOOO!" Olivia's eyes flew open, and she flung her arms outwards, breaking Alex's embrace and shoving the blonde backwards across the bed. She sprang up, out of bed and across the room, turning her back to the wall, arms outstretched and terrified eyes wide and darting.

Alex lay still in momentary shock, utterly stunned by the force – the vehemence – with which Olivia had pushed her away, but as she gathered her faculties she realized that Olivia was still not quite awake, was still held in the terrifying grip of her subconscious.

"Olivia," she said softly. "Olivia, it's Alex. Can you hear me?" She got out of bed, and walked slowly across the room. "Olivia?" Comprehension at last began to make a welcome appearance on Olivia's countenance, and Alex let out a soft sigh of relief. She swallowed, throat dry. "Liv, look at me. Are you all right?"

Olivia fought the receding images, trying to extricate the impressions of Alex, blonde and beautiful, her body's memory of their nocturnal embraces, and the surging remembrance of affection, of love, from the intermingled traces of childhood memories, the pain of rejection, of maternal neglect and apathy, of the manipulative extremes of her mother's alternating affection and abuse, all fuelled by her mother's own nightmares, and the effects of the alcohol she used to suppress them.

Olivia shook her head, symbolically subjugating the last of the memories. "I'm sorry, Alex." Her voice was croaky, and thick with the residue of tears.

Finally satisfied Olivia was awake, and able to be reasoned with, Alex took the last two steps towards her, arms open, a tentative, welcoming smile. Olivia let out a wrenching sob as she was gathered into Alex's tight embrace, realizing almost instantly how unique a situation this was for her. Never before had she had someone to hold her like this, someone to embrace her with every bit of affectionate reassurance they could muster – and then some. Never had Olivia felt herself able to commit so completely to the comfort of another's arms and know she was loved without reserve, and her relief issued forth as an inarticulate flood of tears.

Alex held on as the sobs peaked, and began to subside again. "Shhh, sweetie. I've got you."

Olivia sniffed, and eased the pressure of her arms, leaning back so she could see Alex's face. "I love you Alex, so much," she whispered, returning to the embrace.

"Want to tell me about it?" Alex asked quietly. "Liv?"

Olivia's arms loosened again, and she took a small step backwards, withdrawing a little into herself. She reached for her robe.

"Liv, are you OK?"

Olivia looked up, wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand, and tied the robe loosely around her waist. "Yeah, I'm fine now." Her voice was stronger, posture more contained, and a tired but resolute version of her 'game face' began to dominate her expression. "Feel like a cup of tea?"

Alex couldn't hide her dismay at the speed with which Olivia had recovered her self-composure, and was now projecting this aloof, self-sufficient, unintrusive version of herself, leaving Alex feeling unnecessary, somehow. She tried again. "Liv, do you want to talk about it?"

Olivia looked at her, the last vestige of dependency lingering in her eyes, as she said quietly, "No, Alex. I don't."

The End

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