DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and its characters are the property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
SPOILERS: 3.18 Guilt, 3.21 Denial, 3.22 Competence and 3.23 Silence.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Sum of Contradictions: 25 Pontification
By beurre blanc


Alex stood, picked up her briefcase, and began to walk toward the door of Donald Cragen's office.


She turned back, looking at him expectantly through dark frames.

"Would you care to join me and the rest of the squad at Chauncey's this evening?"

She thought briefly, then said, "I'm sorry, Don, but I really need an early night." She turned and opened the door.


She paused, holding the handle, as he approached.

"Alex," he said quietly, "after the last few cases, my team needs a break, some time to relax and have a laugh or two." He paused, then added, "You're part of that team, Alex. Join us."

As she opened the door and exited the office, she considered her response. "So everyone will be there?" God, Cabot, could you be a little less obvious?

"Elliot and Olivia have already headed down there to get a booth. Detectives Munch and Tutuola," he said pointedly, "will be joining us as soon as they finish their backlog of DD-5s."

Munch waved a hand dismissively, while Fin merely grinned and tossed the last of his forms onto the pile in his out-tray with an uncharacteristic flourish.

"I don't know if it's just me, but what is it with mothers in New York City lately?"

"Care to elaborate, Counselor?"

"I was just thinking about the last few cases. First there was Grace Rinato – what a piece of work – then Rebecca Tolliver, and then there's Lara Retafian, Darius' mother, just last week."

"I don't see the link," said Elliot.

"Well, Mrs Tolliver has pretty much swaddled Katie in protective cotton wool from the day she was born, Grace is an outright monster who killed two of her own children, and Mrs Retafian had no compunction in using her son to extort money from the Catholic Church. It seems like there aren't any normal mothers out there any more." Alex's voice seemed unusually reedy, and Olivia hid her concern with a sip of beer.

"You know," said Fin, "you wanna play that card you gotta include Grace Rinato's own mother. Ol' Rose didn't do such a good job with Grace, now, did she?"

"God, that woman's a psychopath! That's hardly her mother's fault."

"Why not? It's all gotta contribute – absent father, inexperienced mother, illness, no support."

"Ahh, the old nature-or-nurture argument," offered Munch, enjoying the spectacle of his partner trying to take on their ADA.

"Yeah. Who's to say? She might nevah had any problems had she been raised in a different environment."

"You're kidding, aren't you?" Alex's disbelief was obvious. "She has a personality disorder of the highest order. Maybe her mother could have handled things a bit differently, but surely she's not actually responsible for the person her daughter turned out to be?"

"Why not?"

"Oh, come on, Detective, are you suggesting that Grace should claim no responsibility for her own actions? She's almost fifty years old, for Heaven's sake! Every step of the investigation she either lied, or blamed someone else – it was her mother's fault, Claire's fault, she didn't do it, Claire did it, Claire lied about it, it was the baby's fault. She knew her actions were wrong, but she chose not only to murder her children, but systematically to cover her actions up, or simply to lie about them! Now that's hardly Rose's fault!"

"OK, everyone, simmer down," interjected Cragen. "Look, Alex, I get Grace Rinato – she is an out-and-out psychopath," Cragen held up his hand to prevent Fin interrupting him, "regardless of what you reckon about Rose, but I don't get how Katie and Rebecca Tolliver fit into your assessment."

"Well, Rebecca is the opposite extreme – her 'caring' for Katie has served to make a child who was already predestined to have a certain level of need life-long utterly dependent upon her. She fought so hard not to relinquish control over her daughter that she couldn't even see the harm she was doing."

"But she was doing that out of love."

"Perhaps. I think she also couldn't bear the thought that Katie might not be entirely dependent on her. It would lessen her sense of martyrdom."

"And instead she has two children to raise."

"Yes, but only one of them has Down's syndrome. The other will grow up to become a normal, independent adult," she paused for effect, "if she lets it. It seems Katie has always had a greater potential for learning and development than Rebecca has ever admitted, and this baby, regardless of its parentage, should have every opportunity afforded it too. Granted it is starting out life in a unique situation – one parent has Down's syndrome, and the other is a rapist – but this baby will also receive boundless love and support from its mother, and deserves every chance," she jabbed her index finger into the table's surface for emphasis, "to grow up and live a fruitful life."

Elliot's eyes flicked to Olivia's. Does she know? The responding No, and I don't want her to beamed silently back at him.

He took advantage of the momentary silence to ask, "Anyone for another drink? I'm buyin'."

Orders came in simultaneously, Munch and Cragen grateful for Olivia's sake that Elliot had changed the subject, while Alex, unaware of the reason for the sudden tension at the table, announced she was taking a bathroom break. She stood and looked expectantly at Olivia, however the brunette declined to accompany her, instead offering to help Elliot with the drinks.

Alex looked nonplussed for a moment, then headed for the sanctuary of the bathroom.

As Elliot made his way to the bar, his own internal debate broke through.

"You still having issues with Alex?"

Shit. "No. Why?"

"You seem a little… off your game tonight."

She looked at him quizzically.

"You've been a bit quiet. Then when Alex got up all warmed up and started pontificating…"

"Pontificating?" she said incredulously. "I bet you can't even spell pontificating." She pulled a face as she said the word, then burst out laughing.

Elliot smiled broadly. "Yes, I can. Amazing what you learn when you have to stay back after school writing lines."

"What – 'I shall not pontificate while the teacher is talking' kind of lines?"

"More like 'I shall not repeat what Brother Peter said to Brother Lawrence about the headmaster' kind of lines. Even if I agreed with Brother Peter – he was a pontificating old goat!" He paused to place their drinks orders. "Now, Liv, don't change the subject. Why are you so quiet tonight? Was is just because Alex won't let anybody else get a word in edgeways, or is there something more to it, 'cause man, she really doesn't hold back letting you know what she thinks!"

No, she doesn't.

"Kiss me, Liv." Her challenge was implicit. In front of these strangers, right here, right now, right away.

Olivia stared at Alex, watched her leaning slowly inwards, but made no effort to meet her, even half way. She waited, immobile, feeling the pervasive sadness of the last few hours lapping at the edges of her consciousness again, like the inexorable return of the tide. "What did she do to you..."

"Kiss me." Olivia felt the request repeated softly against her lips, felt the tightening of Alex's arms around her, breast to breast, Alex's heartbeat against her own. And even as she finally surrendered her lips to the woman in her arms she felt her mood begin to dull, flattening, graying, and fraying at the edges, and she failed in her effort to commit.

"Liv, what's the matter?" the attorney whispered as she pulled slowly back. Alex wasn't sure exactly what had distracted the detective, but she was damned certain that she disliked the feeling she was the only one with any vested interest in their embrace. She looked at Olivia, seeking an answer – any answer – spoken or otherwise. What she witnessed was another torrent of emotions flashing across the detective's face, accompanied by the realization that despite the revelations of the last hour or two, Olivia was still trying desperately to package up her vulnerability and hide.


Olivia turned away, closing her lashes in a bid to obscure her inner struggle, betrayed again by the tears which could no longer be contained. Arms still around her lover's waist, Alex gently tightened her embrace, trying to shield and to soothe, giving in to her instincts to comfort and protect the person most precious to her.

Olivia's hands on Alex's upper arms, breaking their embrace, and firmly pushing her away, was so unexpected it actually caused Alex physical pain – her heart clenched forcefully with disbelief, the discomfort so immediate she felt like she was tipping backwards, and she stumbled to regain her footing. Olivia was looking into the distance, refusing to meet her eye, and her words were almost lost in the rushing sound that filled Alex's ears.

"I think I should walk you home."

Alex nodded dumbly. Her mind was spinning, racing, trying to process and evaluate a flood of disparate notions - wondering why Olivia would reject her, suffering an acute sense of embarrassment and failing at having instinctively chosen the wrong approach, and even distractedly cataloguing the force of her own visceral response, recognizing an answering echo in her memories of Olivia's conduct the night after she successfully arraigned Roy Barnett.

Olivia set off slowly, hands in pockets, contained, leaving Alex to walk beside her, just out of contact, adrift.

The blonde's thoughts began at last to coalesce, and she was able to make a deliberate shift away from herself, and her self pity, and concentrate again on the wounded and vulnerable woman at her side, giving in to Olivia's clear need to indulge in apparent self-sufficiency.

After a few moment's silence Alex said quietly, "But your place is closer."

Olivia looked up from the path in front of her, and across at the blonde. "I don't think I'm going to be good company tonight, Alex."

Alex tried for equanimity. "I know that, sweetheart, but you do need to eat, and I'd like to be sure…" She paused until prompted by Olivia's echoing "Sure?" "…sure you're home safely." She left the rest of her fears unspoken, but still sensed Olivia tense again in response. Alex closed her lips against any further revelations, and they completed the journey in strained silence.

Over the next hour Alex remained solicitous, ignoring Olivia's sharp responses, abrupt silences, increasingly accusatory stares – of the I don't know why you're still here ilk – but she was eventually forced to acknowledge her patience was being exhausted. Try as she might, she had been unable to re-establish any form of physical or emotional intimacy, and even innocuous attempts at conversation were frustratingly forestalled, each forming another nidus of regret and discontent.

"Earl Grey." Alex's hand trembled slightly as she held a mug out towards the detective, and she spoke in an effort to cover it up. "Not really strong enough to keep you awake," she added unnecessarily, wincing at her own hoarseness.

Olivia took the mug in both hands, and looked up briefly, just long enough to allow her mumbled thanks to register. She sipped, and closed her eyes, sighing, but offering no more.

Alex's throat felt suddenly constricted and raw, her eyelids burned, and frustrated tears threatened. That's it – I've had enough. "I think I'll get going now," she said, setting her own tea on the table, untouched.

Alex had already reached the hall stand and was gathering her coat and purse when Olivia appeared in the doorway, expression resigned, yet unrepentant. The ADA turned away until she felt she had mustered enough resolve to keep the hurt in her heart from appearing on her face, then walked back to Olivia - who mutely accepted a brief peck on the cheek - turned again, and departed in silence.

Standing in the quiet entry to her apartment, Olivia lifted a hand to her cheek to wipe away a tear that was not her own.

"Liv?" Elliot waved his hand in front of her unfocused eyes. "You still in there?"

Olivia weighed her options quickly.

"I've been thinking about my own Mom a bit lately. It's been over eighteen months now, but somehow things got stirred up. Perhaps Alex is right about the bad mother thing,-" she knows damn well she's right "maybe these recent cases have just made me a little edgy."

Elliot picked up two new pitchers of beer and Olivia grabbed iced water and a couple of fresh glasses.

"So," she said, as they turned back to the table, and she noted Alex's continuing absence, "you wanna come share this unexpected depth of vocabulary with the rest of the team?"

The End

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