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Objects in the Mirror

by cgb

[Story Headers]

For Mikee's birthday. Happy birthday you die-hard, girl freak you!

*

She's long sighted so she puts her glasses on before applying make-up in the bathroom mirror. She has a set of disposable contacts and sometimes she wears them but today she's in court and she's all too aware of the affect a bespectacled blonde has on a jury.

The make-up is light and in natural tones. Something else designed to affect a jury. When she's done she stands in front of the mirror and assesses her appearance.

She's not the kind of person who can look in a mirror and see herself superficially. Even when she's touching up her make-up or checking her hair it's the person underneath that draws her attention, causes her to stand in front of the mirror for a timeless moment while she weighs her faults against her virtues.

Beneath her skin she sees every mistake she's ever made: every time she's failed to convince the jury of the validity of her evidence, every time she's let a killer walk free, every time she's put a rape victim through a second rape in the court room, every time she's put a child on the stand to hesitatingly identify his attacker.

She lists them in her head like a roll call. Some have names; others are just faces in pain or strained with guilt. Her career as memory is a pastiche of the system itself: judges, perpetrators, lawyers, victims, the police, the press on the steps of the court house as she promises the people she will do her duty. Olivia.

Olivia is standing in the doorway to the bathroom, half in and half out - accidental symbolism. Alex turns around, sees her open and close her mouth, searching for something to say. "I - ahm - was just about to leave..."

Alex nods, quickly. "Okay."

"Are you in court today?"

"First thing."

Olivia hangs in the doorway, waiting for something: absolution, acknowledgment, affirmation. "I'll see you later."

She leaves. Alex tells herself she never asked for this.

*

Olivia half-jokes they should go on a date. "You know, like normal people."

They're in bed. This is the fifth time. Or maybe it's the sixth? She doesn't want to keep count. Doesn't want to be reminded she is keeping count. "Isn't it a bit late for dinner and a movie?" she says.

Olivia sits up, brings her knees to her chest in order to search the covers for her underwear. "I'm not your fuck-buddy. If we're going to do this then let's do this."

She watches as Olivia swings her legs over the side of the bed and surveys the floor for her jeans. She finds them and drags them toward her with her foot. Alex rolls onto her side, her back to Olivia. "Must we do this now? I have work in five hours."

She can hear Olivia shuffling into her clothes. She's stayed twice before, enduring Alex's ridiculously early morning with bleary eyes and exaggerated moaning. Otherwise she leaves in the small hours of the night insisting she needs clothes and her own shampoo. Earlier she tentatively suggested they stay at her apartment given they were only five blocks away. Alex had a barrage of excuses at the ready: she needed a clean suit, she needed the briefs from her study, she has trouble sleeping in strange beds... So much easier to just say no and leave it at that. For a lawyer she's a very unconvincing liar.

She closes her eyes and wills herself to sleep, as if that could actually happen. She used to think her attraction to Olivia was a phase, part of a natural reaction to her job as prosecutor of the worst of the male species. And bisexuality was interesting, kind of sexy in that way that was hip and fashionable these days. Not that she cared about fashion but she liked thinking of herself as unpredictable, not everything she appeared to be.

Olivia is real. Not a phase or a fashion.

Olivia makes more noise as she collects her belongings, as if she's doing it on purpose. Before she leaves she says, "We have to talk about this one day, Alex."

Alex stares at the wall.

*

After the first time she wondered whether people could tell. She had gay friends who would play "lesbian/ straight?" over coffee as if there were secret signs, visible only to women in the know. And maybe there was something in that. She wondered if she exhibited such signs, whether she stared to long at the waitress's cleavage or whether she looked too interested in the girl on the cover of Maxim at the newsstand.

She told herself the first time would be the last. She thought it would remain a covenant between them, something to take to the grave or at least retirement.

She still can't believe it when she goes back for more. She lists the wrongs the way she lists her faults when she's looking in the mirror: she doesn't have sex with co-workers, she doesn't have sex with women, she doesn't have sex. Not lately.

She never saw herself as a moth drawn to her own destruction. She never thought she could be quite so careless.

She keeps count for a while and then she runs out of digits to keep count on so she reconciles herself with the notion of "often" and leaves it at that. She doesn't allow herself to consider other classifications.

And she tries not to think about it when she can.

*

Olivia was always the more expressive one so it shouldn't have surprised her to feel the weight of Olivia's hand on her arm in the squad room one day. But it did and she jumps despite the lightness of Olivia's touch.

"What do you think you're doing!" She says it in a forced whisper, but it's hardly necessary. They're standing outside Cragen's office, waiting for his meeting with Narcotics to be over. The rest of the squad room is business is usual and no one bothers to notice them.

Not that it matters to Alex. When Olivia is near she feels the whole world watching.

Olivia holds up her hands. "Hey - take it easy. I just wanted to ask you how it's going with Barnett."

Barnett is killing Alex, tearing her to pieces from the inside out. Her key witness is a mess, wavering between testifying and locking himself in a room, hoping never to meet the outside world again. She wonders how she can put them through this, make them relive it one more time to satisfy the perversity of the justice system. She tells herself Barnett can't walk and it plays over and over in her head like a mantra.

"We should be more careful," she says, watching the squad room for signs of interest. "We shouldn't... not where everyone can see us."

"See what, Alex? You think someone's going to hold up a 'gay' flag every time you hang out with your girl friend in public?"

"I'm not gay!" She says it loud enough to be heard. This time they both look around to see who notices. No one does. Alex folds her arms across her body. "And you're not my girlfriend."

She walks away, doesn't turn around to see if Olivia is following.

She wonders if she just ended it. She wonders if she cares.

*

She sits in her office listening to her cell ring. The display shows 'Olivia' as it has done the last two times. She watches it for a while and then goes back to her notes, scribbled pages of questions to ask Sam Cavanaugh in front of the grand jury.

She thinks about Olivia, the way she looks when she's taking off her clothes, as though there's nothing revelationary about her body, the way she does everything in her routine manner, always the policewoman. With sex she is disaffected, a contrast to being completely affected in her profession. She is an enigma, something to be solved, something to be undone. And Alex wanted to take her apart the moment she met her.

The phone stops ringing just as she decides to answer it.

*

That first time, the kiss took her by surprise. They kissed outside Maloney's. It was dark and cold and Olivia wore a light blue knit hat which matched the turtle neck peeking out from under her coat.

Alex was drunk. Or that's what she told herself in the morning. Realistically she was probably just a little light headed. She never drank much. Neither did Olivia.

She might have been flirting - she might even have noticed Olivia flirting back - but she never took it seriously, never believed it would go anywhere.

But she touched Olivia's arm. She never knew why. She had a feeling that she needed to do something, to hold them there in that moment so she touched Olivia's arm and somehow Olivia kissed her, leaning her against the wall outside the bar where anyone could see them.

At first, she was too stunned to react. Olivia had her hand on Alex's shoulder, holding her in place, holding her up. Alex's knees shook and her heart pounded loudly against her rib cage. She wondered whether Olivia heard it.

Afterwards she couldn't speak. Olivia asked, "are you okay?" and she nodded, dumbly.

She followed Olivia home, found herself between cool, white sheets, Olivia's arching her back as Alex trailed ran her tongue from one breast to the other, her hand between Olivia's legs where it was warm and wet.

She knew just what to do.

*

She gets the call just after midnight. She goes straight to the hospital, 'you killed him, you killed him' repeating in her head, like a madness. She gets thrown out after ascertaining that Sam Cavanaugh is now incapable of testifying and she drives to the station house with the same litany circling in her head.

You killed him, you killed him, you killed him...

Cragen is waiting for her. He tells her Olivia and Elliot are already questioning Barnett but no one is expecting answers.

She hangs around the station waiting for inspiration or lightning to strike. When it doesn't, she goes into the bathroom and paces. She checks her appearance in the mirror again and notices tired eyes and unkempt hair. She washed it two, three days ago? She's lost track.

The skin across her cheekbones seems to be hanging on loosely, waiting to slide off.

When she started this job she told herself she would never punish herself for the things she couldn't change. At the time it was great wisdom. She is amazed at how quickly her naivety is revealed.

When she goes outside again Cragen is waiting to tell her to go home and get some sleep and she thinks she's heard someone tell her this on a daily basis for the last month.

*

Olivia doesn't call.

Olivia has a gun kept in a holster at the small of her back and Alex would think it sexy if she could think about it without picturing a scenario in which Olivia would have to use it.

It's not the first night Olivia hasn't called and on these nights she pictures all the ways in which Olivia might get shot on the job - one moment searching a crime scene and the next with a gun in her face held by a startled perp.

She wonders what she'd say when they told her. She wonders if she'd tell them then or whether they would know from the look on her face.

And sometimes she wonders if they know already. There's not much that escapes a detective in sex crimes.

She tries to sleep but finds herself dreaming of Olivia who comes over in the night and tells Alex she's 'home'. She drinks coffee at Alex's kitchen bench wearing a tank top and shorts and Alex asks where she's been. "Couldn't sleep," she says, like she's been there all night long.

And then she wakes up. She's had four hours sleep and it's time to go to work again.

*

At the interview they asked her why she became a lawyer. It was Lewin - Lewin whose hand-shake spoke 'mentor' rather than interrogator.

Alex didn't know what to say. She was prepared to answer questions on the personal contribution she could make to the DA's office but thinking back to the clouded times of her youth was something she never expected to do. Not under pressure anyway.

When they asked she wished she had an inspirational story to tell them, or at least an amusing anecdote. Instead she mumbled something about justice and human rights and she hoped to god none of them believed her.

Lewin brought it up months later: "Why did you really become a lawyer?" she asked.

She thinks about it for a moment and says, "I wanted to be right."

Lewin gives her a curious look.

Alex elaborates: "I thought the law would arm me in conflict. And no one could tell me I was wrong. Ever."

Lewin smiles. "Is it working out for you?"

She doesn't know what to say.

*

She used to think right was infallible, a weapon wielded in the arms of a warrior that could never lose. Even the mayor called them "foot-soldiers in a war on crime."

And if right was infallible and she failed, where did that leave her?

She stands in front of Linda Cavanaugh's open door, pleading one last time for a break she knows she isn't going to get but she knows all she has to do is stand there and this scene will play out the way it should.

And when she allows Elliot and Olivia to slip past her thinking they are authorised she knows she will never be able to explain this deception.

She wonders whether she could have told Olivia, whether they had that kind of relationship - maybe not now but for a while there they talked frankly, easily. She wasn't used to having a confidante. She wasn't sure she played her part. They exchanged stories in the spaces between being together and being with each other, it helped ease the transformation.

She is probably going to be disbarred for this.

When they find the tapes she follows them back to the station, driving in the car she came in, grateful to not have to sit with them while they bask in their success. Not that they're the self-congratulatory types but the only two moods for their profession are bearable and despair and any day they can bear is a good day.

She wanted to give them that.

*

Outside the courthouse the sky is clear even though the air is cold. She wraps her scarf around her neck and crosses it in front of her neck, letting the lapels of her jacket hold it in place.

She takes her glasses off and folds them, slips them into the side of her shoulder bag. She has a month off. Non-voluntary. She should go to Bermuda. She hasn't been on vacation since she started this job so maybe this is the Chief's way of telling her to go away and get some perspective.

A woman sitting on the bottom steps is smoking a cigarette. Alex thinks she may have seen her here before, but all the faces in the courtroom look familiar. It seems all of New York has been through their doors at some stage.

She wishes she smoked. She wishes she had a hip flask so she could sit on these steps and drink to her successes and losses and the ones that fall in between. She wishes she could just sit here for a while, secure in the knowledge that sometimes the only way to win is to fall on your sword. And only the bravest and best fall on their swords. History's greatest tales are of valour against unbeatable odds.

Olivia climbs the steps in front of Alex, moving unhurriedly, hand in the pockets of her hip length jacket. Her jeans fit closer than a cop's should but it looks natural rather than suggestive. This is just the way she is.

When she's close enough she asks, "how did it go?"

Alex looks around, expecting Elliot but Olivia is alone. "I got a suspension." She looks down at the steps and exhales. "But the tapes are in."

Olivia almost smiles. She looks away, looks into the distance at something only she can see. "Hell of a gamble you took there."

"It paid off."

"What would you have done if you'd been disbarred?"

Alex thinks about sitting on the steps of the courthouse, taking sips of whisky from a small silver flask. She would have done that. "I didn't get disbarred."

Olivia folds her arms and shifts her weight onto her left foot. "You must me pretty pleased with yourself." Her tone is faintly accusatory. It's strange - it's unlike Olivia to favour the rules above getting the bad guys.

Alex is feeling righteous. She wants to hold on to that feeling. "There is nothing, no one living or dead right now that has a right more important than seeing Barnett behind bars. I'm not apologising for how we got him there."

"Not this time."

Alex blinks. The cold hurts her ears. But the rest of her body is ridiculously warm. Her adrenalin is racing, a result of the ominous tone of the conversation. She should have known she have to defend her actions outside the courtroom as well. "What do you mean?"

Olivia puffs out her breath. It sounds like a sigh. "I listen to you, you know. When you talk about rights and boundaries - and you'd be the first to say we have a system of law so that we can depend on it. You abused the system and it all worked out for the best. Next time you might not be so lucky."

Alex thinks this is the first time a cop has lectured her on the law. She should be insulted but she's not. Instead she meets Olivia's eyes, looks inside them for inspiration, something that might absolve her from the guilt of knowing, essentially, Olivia is right.

Eventually she says, "I'm going back to my office."

"Do you want a ride?"

"I'll get a cab."

Olivia nods. "I'll see you - around."

Alex says, "Yeah..." but Olivia is already gone.

*

That first time, or maybe it was the second, she told Olivia her job would always come first.

Olivia was naked in her bed, leaning on her elbow, head against hand. "You don't need to explain."

She said her job would come first but what she wanted to say was that she was scared and nervous and she never wanted to be where she wasn't fully in control.

"This can't become a habit," she said.

Olivia's face was impassive. "It won't be."

*

Maloney's is never over-loud. Still the chatter and the juke box make it difficult to hear herself think. She stands in the doorway for a while, circling the room with her eyes, scanning the crowd for familiar faces.

She finds them occupying a corner of the bar: Stabler, Munch, Fin and Olivia. Olivia is drinking from a large glass but Alex knows she drinks slowly. She fakes being one of the boys but she knows her limits. One more piece in the puzzle that is Olivia.

When she walks over Munch spots her first. "Thank god - someone with sense," he says, dramatically holding up his hands. "Counsellor, explain to these bozos how the World Health Organisation spread AIDS throughout Africa via the small pox vaccination."

She smiles nervously. "I wouldn't know about that." She thrusts her hands in the pocket of her jeans. Three weeks into her suspension and she's only just remembering what it was like to not put on heels before she walked out the door.

Munch throws up his hands. "What do you people do in your spare time? Don't you read?"

"What spare time?" Fin says.

"Alex," Elliot beckons Alex to the side of the bar he and Olivia are perched against. She moves around Munch and Fin so that she's between Olivia and Elliot. They change their positions slightly to allow her in. "Can I get you a beer?" Elliot asks.

She doesn't have to work tomorrow. She says it to herself twice to make it sink in. "Yes. Thank you," she says.

"How did you know we were here?" Olivia asks.

"I called you at the station. Cragen said you were here."

Elliot hands her a beer. A large glass. Like the rest. "The Captain said he'd meet us here. You think he's gonna stand us up again?"

She shrugs. Cragen doesn't drink but they invite him every time. Sometimes he joins them but they understand when he doesn't.

"So what's it like - " Olivia catches her eye. Gives her a look that suggests a challenge, a dare. "- throwing it all away?"

Alex sips her beer. "I'm only on suspension for a month."

Olivia leans an elbow on the bar. The action lifts her sweater so that her navel is exposed just above her hip-slung trousers. Alex averts her eyes out of habit and is reminded that there is nothing more habit forming than denial.

"When was the last time you took a vacation?" Olivia asks.

She took two weeks off before she started at the DA's office. That was nearly two years ago. "You should be asking yourself that question."

"That's what I keep saying," Elliot says.

Olivia rolls her eyes. "I'm not the one on suspension here."

"You should try it. It's been - " Alex wants to say 'enlightening' or 'illuminating.' "- interesting."

She's filed all her receipts, dry-cleaned her suits, cleaned the mould from the grating in the bathroom and read a book on Islamic women in the US justice system (she swears she'll read fiction before the month is over).

She looks across the bar and realises she can't read the labels on the bottles. She needs a new prescription.

Olivia leans her head slightly to the side, as if looking for a new perspective. She purses her lips, thoughtfully. Alex smiles and sips her beer.

A cell phone rings and Olivia's hand is quickly on her pocket. "That's me," she says. She turns her back to Elliot and Alex and blocks her free ear with the palm of her hand. Alex hears her say, "this is Benson," and the rest is lost in the noise of the bar.

Elliot draws Alex into a discussion about travel. She keeps telling herself she'll go somewhere - somewhere tropical. Olivia's conversation is forgotten.

Olivia hangs up and Elliot gives her a questioning look. "Foster's found another witness in the Aloni case," she tells him. Her eyes flick to Alex on the mention of Foster's name. Alan Foster is Alex's temporary replacement. She met him once. She remembers he shook her hand, his grip warm and friendly. Her father told her you could judge a man by his handshake, which she dismissed as one of those things men of his generation say, but in this case she wants to believe it.

"Do we need to go now?" Elliot asks.

"Tomorrow morning," Olivia answers. "Early."

*

It's barely an hour later when they spill out of the bar as a group, shuffling into their coats and scarves.

They exchange brief goodbyes and assurances of seeing each other in the morning, before piling into cabs and disappearing into the night. It happens so quickly and naturally that it doesn't occur to her to question that Elliot, Munch and Fin didn't offer to share a cab or see them safely home. It doesn't occur to her until she's left with Olivia, still standing out the front of the bar, hands shoved into pockets to keep warm.

"They know, don't they?" She says it out loud and it's not as terrifying as she thought it would be.

"Probably," Olivia shrugs. "I didn't tell them."

"It's okay." She remembers she taught Olivia to be this way, to be defensive around her. "They were going to find out sooner or later."

Olivia's face is blank, unreadable. "Look, Alex - I have to get up early tomorrow..."

"I know. I could stay at your place?"

Olivia's frowns, looks puzzled. Hey eyes are wide. "What happened to you? You take a vacation and suddenly you're all zen about us? If I'd known that was all it would take I would have insisted we go to Tahiti months ago."

Alex looks down the street. She can see things far away better than she can see things in front of her eyes but with her glasses on lights in the distance are a blur. She takes her glasses off and pockets them. The wind is cold against her naked eyes.

She reaches out, rests her hand on Olivia's arm. "I'm sorry," she says. "Would it help if I told you I just needed perspective?"

Olivia raises a hand and tentatively reaches for Alex's hair. She runs her fingers along the hair framing Alex's face until she reaches Alex's neck. And then she pulls Alex toward her, kisses her, lips parted slightly.

When they part Olivia's hand is still on Alex's neck. "Don't blow it for me, Alex. We can't do this so you can go back to pretending you don't know me."

"That won't happen."

"Are you sure?"

Without her glasses the lines of Olivia's face are unclear. It doesn't matter. Not when she's standing right in front of her.

"As sure as I can be - of anything." And it must be good enough because Olivia takes her hand and they find the way home together.

End.

*

Author's notes (reprise): Recently I heard on the ABC Australia Radio National Health Report that the theory that AIDS was spread throughout Africa via the small pox vaccination was unlikely give the type of virus and the area where it is thought to originate. But for a while it was an effective conspiracy theory - the spread of AIDS in Africa has yet to be conclusively explained.

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Fandom:  Law & Order
Title:  Objects in the Mirror
Author:  cgb   [email]   [website]
Details:  Standalone  |  R  |  *slash*  |  23k  |  06/13/04
Characters:  Olivia, Alex
Pairings:  Olivia/ Alex
Summary:  "Olivia is real. Not a phase or a fashion."
Notes:  (Law & Order: SVU) This story centres around the season 3 episode, "Guilt" - a fabulous piece of "Law & Order" writing and the episode that made me love Alex.


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