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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: "Loss" (5.4)
The Summary of Errors
In the distance, she hears the faint wail of sirens.
She doesn't move as the noise comes closer. Alex's white-gold hair is spread around her on the sidewalk and she looks angelic, Olivia thinks, angelic and pristine save for this blot of death staining her hands, soaking into the pavement. She's trying to hold her blood in, and it's not too hard anymore, because there's barely a pulse. The ambulance screams to a stop beside her, and the siren is piercing, slicing the air like a knife. Her whole body is throbbing to it, the pulse in her head confirming it: she's alive, and Alex is dying.
Stay with me, stay with me, stay with me.
She hears Elliot giving instructionsyes, she's still breathing, but just barely, he says, and she's pissed that he would say that, because she's fine, really, everything's going to be all right, but it's like she's deep, deep underwater, and everything she wants to say has to make its way through to the surface. Elliot says, "Liv? You have to stand back now," but she doesn't move, she can't.
Arms under hers. "Let them do their job," he whispers, his breath hot against her ear, and his voice is shaky, and he sounds scared. There's a little spurt of blood when her hands leave Alex's shoulder, like a farewell.
"She's going to die," she tells him. Alex's blood is wetter than water on her hands, and she can hear her voice breaking, and he doesn't say anything, just holds her. She can barely stand, and her knees hurt from kneeling on the cement, and she can't believe she's noticing that.
In front of them they're working on her, blood pressure 80 over 40 and dropping, time to get a drip going, can you get a pulse? And they're putting her in the ambulance and suddenly she says, "I'm riding with her."
Elliot spins her aroundshe almost falls over, she's a little dizzyand looks into her face, searchingly, like he's trying to figure out whether this is a good idea, and finally says, "Yeah, I'll tell them. I'll call the Cap. Meet you there."
She doesn't thank him.
Riding in the ambulance feels like every other time she's done it, the lump in her throat and the twist in her stomach the same as they are with every other victim, and she hates herself for that.
Olivia knows a lot about gunshot wounds by now, and she thinks, dully, that Alex is probably going to die, because there was too much blood. She doesn't think anything about that; it's a purely theoretical calculation, as though the outcome doesn't much matter one way or another.
Everything around her is separate from everything else. Her hands, which as she stares at them seem to mock her, covered in blood that's becoming tacky. The siren, surrounding her, like it's something that's always been there and will never leave, and she supposes she's intimately familiar with sirens anyway. Her pants have a little stippled pattern of dirt pressed into them where she was kneeling, and she stares at her knees, seeing nothing, thinking nothing.
The low, urgent voices of the paramedics, efficient, competent, trying to get her stabilized, and Olivia, Olivia knows it might be the last time she ever sees her, and she can't bring herself to look. The coppery stench of blood is so overwhelming she gags on it, and the paramedics don't turn around.
At the hospital, the doctors come out to meet them and take her away, and Olivia watches them go, running with the stretcher, shouting to one another over Alex's still, prone figure. She sits there, staring out of the back of the ambulance with Alex's blood all over her. I let this happen to her, she thinks, desperately. She's going to die and it's my fault.
The driver comes around the back. "You gonna get out?" he asks, not unkindly, and he repeats himself twice before Olivia notices he's there.
"Oh," she says, staring through him. "Yeah. Okay."
He's looking at her curiously. "You from Homicide?" he asks.
At some point Olivia seems to have put her badge on.
She looks at him blanklyshe's not dead, don't say "homicide" like someone killed herand then shakes her head. "I'm her," and now she doesn't know what to say.
Fuck it. "I'm her girlfriend." Because she was never ashamed of it, and because she might never get to say it again. It's the first time she's ever said it, and her voice hitches on the words, because "girlfriend" isn't quite right, it's not serious enough. She thinks that this is the only person she'll ever say it to, the only time she'll ever claim Alex as hers, and Alex is inside a hospital and she couldn't protect her and she's going to die.
He nods, a solid, acknowledging nod, and his eyes are sad. She strides into the ER like she's on duty, and no one's there, and this strikes her as odd, because she's never seen an empty emergency ward before. She walks to the nurse and flashes her badge and tells her she's looking for Alexandra Cabot. A beautiful name, she thinks, God, everything about her is so, so beautiful, so indescribably perfect, and she's thinking about the way her hips feel under her mouth, the way she smiles into a kiss, and not noticing the way the nurse is staring at her hands.
"over there," the nurse finishes. Her nametag says "Johnson," and Olivia hates her.
"That gentleman over there," she repeats. "He cleared the room. I don't think I can tell you where she is."
Olivia follows the nurse's pointing finger. It's Hammond.
She wants to kill him.
She begins to walk to his corner, very quickly. "You son of a bitch," she whispers, like she's shouting. "Is this payback? Are you happy now?"
Hammond sighs, but he doesn't have the grace to look guilty. "Detective Benson, they took her to surgery. I've just got people here to make sure no one tries to pull anything."
She's furious. "You're not her detail."
He just looks at her. He doesn't say, "Neither are you," although she thinks she would if she were him, just to rub it in, and that pisses her off. "I want to see her," she says. It's a statement, but it's really a question, and she hates that she has to ask him, this asshole; if he'd just been smart enough not to let the whole goddamn thing get fucked up, both his agents would be alive and she and Alex would be in bed right now, curled around one another and breathing together in their sleep, and none of this would be happening.
Hammond nods, which surprises her, and they get in the elevator together, and the walls are closing in on her. She pushes the "Door Close" button impatiently, three times like that will make it faster, and she stares at the bloody fingerprints she's smeared over the sickly orange glow of the light and pretends not to notice the way Hammond is looking at her, because the fucking Feds never let you know what the fuck is going on. Her stomach is a hard, twisted lump, and she feels like she's made from rocks and dread and anger instead of bones and flesh.
The ding of the elevator sounds like a gunshot.
The room is guarded by four federal agents who all look exactly the same. Suddenly Olivia can't see into the room anymore; everything is misty, and she realizes, startled, that it's her breath fogging the glass, that her forehead is pressed against the window, and she wipes the fog away, furiously. Alex is very still on the table, surrounded by a group of excessively busy people moving too quickly to count. Everything is green and sterile, and Olivia can't see any of her except her hair, and she smiles fondly at the thought of those bangs she hates, and then stops smiling, because it feels disrespectful.
The nurses somehow seem busier than they should, and then she sees them step away from Alex, and one of them is holding paddles, and her heart is in her throat. She's dying, Olivia thinks; she can't take this anymore, it was too much. All that blood.
One of them yells a word Olivia can't hear but that she knows is "Clear!" and then she watches the length of Alex's body arch off the table. She looks like she does when she comes, Olivia thinks, and that's when she realizes that she doesn't expect Alex to die after all.
Which is when the team looks at the monitor, and they all smile at each other, in a congratulatory way, and nod a little, and go back to work. Olivia takes a deep, shuddering breath and realizes it's the first time she's breathed since she saw her hair.
Hammond looks at her, and his eyes widen a little, like he's figured something out. "Let's go," he says, and he sounds like he's sorry.
Back in the waiting room, Elliot and Cragen are pacing around, and Cragen tells her Munch and Fin are on their way, and Liz Donnelly, and Olivia nods. Cragen and Elliot are both staring at Hammond with undisguised hatred, and then they look at Olivia and at her bloody hands and at each other. Cragen says nothing.
Hammond's face is inscrutable as he leaves them there. Fucking Feds.
Elliot sits down next to his partner. "How is she?" he asks. Cragen shoots them a look, and Olivia can't read anything in his eyes.
"Bad," she answers, simply, blankly. "She coded when I was there."
He sucks in a breath. "They got her back?"
She nods. Her hands are red with blood.
Munch and Fin arrive not long after, together. "We were almost at John's place when you called," Fin explains, a little too quickly, even though no one asked for an explanation, and Elliot looks like he might laugh if they were somewhere else. Munch looks as miserable as Olivia's ever seen him.
Cragen leaves for a few minutes and comes back with coffee, and they sit around a corner of hard orange chairs, everyone's sight lines parallel or at right angles to everyone else's, and Olivia thinks about how they're all staring past each other, looking off at their own things, their paths crossing but not connecting. They all look gray, she thinks, all washed out to become the shades of the dregs of the city, its mud and dust and diesel exhaust and rats and grime, and they're people who spend their lives dealing with shadows, and they've started to blend into them. Even the scarlet of Alex's blood on her hands is fading to rust.
The nurse doesn't look at them, and they sit together with their lonely thoughts in an ugly, empty room, five cops drinking coffee.
Liz bursts into the room like an avenging angel, as though, Olivia thinks, by the sheer force of her personality she can fix everything wrong in the world. She looks garish, like she felt the need to slap on some makeup but didn't have time to finish the job. Her bright red lips are awful against the muted, ghostly paleness of her skin, and she stops short at the sight of them, the glumness of the room, the cops, somehow deflating her before anyone says a word.
"How is she?" she whispers, and Olivia thinks she'll never hear Liz Donnelly whisper ever again.
Cragen turns his solid, resigned gaze to her and says, quietly, "It's touch-and-go, Liz."
Liz blanches a little and looks like she'd like to sink into a chair, join their vigil, but she's not the kind of woman, Olivia thinks, who will allow herself to sink into anything, and anyway she's clearly not very good at this thing, comforting, commiserating. She and Alex, Olivia thinks, are maybe more alike than she knew.
"Captain?" Liz asks, formally, and there's comfort, maybe, in the formalities of things.
Cragen nods courteously. This is good, Olivia thinks, that they have something to distract them, and there are four pairs of sharp, tired eyes on them.
Liz draws a breath, and she looks scared. "I'm going to go notify the District Attorney," she says, and Olivia wonders whether Branch even cares enough to be woken up at this hour, and then feels bad for thinking it. "Will youif anything changeswill you call?"
"Of course," Cragen says.
"Detectives," Liz says, by way of acknowledgment, and Olivia thinks her eyes linger perhaps a bit too long on her, and she wonders whether Liz suspects thingsit wouldn't surprise her, reallyand Cragen walks her out.
Four hours later, Cragen stands, in a final sort of way. "Munch, Fin," he says, "go home, get some sleep."
They look like they'd like to protest, and they're not on duty anyway, but Cragen says, "We need to catch this guy, and I want you on it in the morning," and the two of them exchange glances and then they leave. They want justice, or, Olivia thinks as she looks at Fin's stormy expression, vengeance. Munch grasps Olivia's shoulder and squeezes, gently, and it's like he anchors her back to the ground.
"I'm going back to the station," Cragen says. "I can keep IAB off your backs tonight, but they'll want you soon."
He looks at them, at the mask of Elliot's face, at the blood flaking off Olivia's hands, and says, quietly, "Olivia, however things turn out, I don't want to see you tomorrow." She looks up, and he tells Elliot to be in at eleven so IAB can take his statement, at least, and someone better call him once they know, and then he's gone, and they're the only ones left.
Elliot moves to take Olivia's hand, but she doesn't want to share Alex's blood with him, so they sit there, together and apart. Olivia counts the tiles in the floor, making squares out of them. Three squares on a side, nine tiles. Four squares, sixteen tiles. Five squares, twenty-five tiles. Multiplication tables, over and over, counting tiles, looking at the ugliness of them, the grime in the grout.
When the doctor walks into the room, Olivia knows she's dead.
The surgeon's eyes shift a little when she says it, like she's nervous, Olivia thinks. Or lying.
Olivia has to fight to keep from rolling her eyes when the doctor says they did everything they could. She hates that this is a cliché.
After the surgeon leaves, Olivia doesn't tell Elliot that she loves Alex, that she could have spent the rest of her life with her, because now that Alex is dead it's sacred. She'll never tell anyone. She'll keep it, hug it to herself, her own bittersweet reward for the exquisite hell that she knows will begin to dawn on her and her alone the next time she wakes up in her empty bed.
They sit back down, slowly this time. Elliot looks stricken.
"I never thought she'd die," he says, quietly, and that's all, and Olivia thinks it's funny, that Alex made people think she was immortal.
They stare at the floor together, and Olivia knows she should feel something, pain, loss, grief, anger, misery, something, anything, but she can't, she feels nothing at all.
Twenty minutes later he looks at her, out of the corner of his eye, and says, "Come on. I'll take you home."
Olivia doesn't want to leave, though, because Alex is only four floors away and she'll never be that close to her again, soon she'll be buried and gone forever, and she stares at her bloody hands and squints up at him. She tells Elliot that she needs to see her, and that's a coherent thought, she thinks, and that's something, maybe.
Elliot runs his hand down his chin, like he's smoothing a beard, and he looks like hell, and he looks like he'd rather say anything than this. "No, you can't," he says, gently. "Liv, uh, she's an organ donor. Her personnel sheet."
She stares at him. An organ donor. She'd forgotten. Of course she is, all the rest of them are too, and she and Alex have talked about it, even. They're cops, they know there's a pretty good chance, all things considered, that what they die of won't keep the rest of their organs from working, and what a shame to waste them. Except. Except they can't do that to Alex, they can't do that.
"Excuse me," she whispers, and runs to the bathroom.
On her knees in front of the toilet, she throws up, gasping for air. They're cutting her up, she thinks, and it's too much. Alex's gorgeous, delicate hips, the ones that arched beneath her so many times, the ones she could grab and press against a wall, against her own body, become left and right iliac crest, just bones. Breathe. Retch. Her heart, the one Olivia's broken on several occasions and tried to piece back together, torn out of her chest once and for all. Breathe. Retch. Her unspeakably beautiful eyes, blue as the sea, teased apart into nerves and sclerae and muscles and lenses, their corneas giving someone else Alex's sight without her vision.
She throws up until there's nothing left in her stomach. It's violent and ugly, like Alex's bloodstained teeth, her bulging eyes, the wet, gurgling noises she made when she was trying to breathe. Vomiting that starts in her toes and convulses her body, snapping her neck forward, blinding her.
When she's done, she stares at the contents of her stomach for a moment, the beer she drank at the table in the bar with her partner and her boss and her friends and her lover, the one everyone and no one knew. She stands and flushes the toilet and washes her hands. The blood stains the water, swirling pink in the sink's basin, but she can't get it out from around her fingernails, crusty and dull, and she thinks that maybe she doesn't want to. She stares at her ring, at the blood in the crevices and ridges of it, and at the necklace Alex gave her for her birthday, the single diamond nestled in the hollow of her throat, and when she looks at herself in the mirror, she doesn't recognize what looks back.
"I'm ready to go," she tells Elliot, when she walks out. Her mouth tastes like vomit, which is right.
He nods. He looks like someone has broken him and then put the pieces back together carelessly, so that the edges stick out in strange places.
They walk toward the doors, their strides matching because they always have, but it's a different stride this time, in the defeated way of people who have failed. Olivia thinks about going home to face her apartment, the Alex-shaped depression she knows will still be in her mattress, the scent of her lingering on her pillows and between her sheets. Her leftovers in the fridge. Her shoes kicked off near the door. Her lips outlined on the empty orange juice glass Olivia knows will still be on the kitchen table.
The air is chilly and it smells like dawn, and as they walk outside, Olivia allows a tear to slip down the cheek that's not facing Elliot. Put one foot in front of the other, move forward.
It's the end of September, and it's cold outside, and Olivia is brutally glad that everything else is mostly dead, this time of year.
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