The Quality of Mercy

Despite the darkness, Olivia could tell as she pushed open the door that her apartment wasn’t empty. Olivia had hoped Alex would choose to come here after leaving her at Bellvue to wait for the outcome of Cheryl’s surgery. She’d thought she’d find Alex sound asleep in bed at such a late hour. "You’re awake. That’s a surprise," she said, shutting the door quietly and snicking home the deadbolt.

"A good one I hope."

"Definitely," Olivia replied, shedding her coat and hanging it up. "There’s a reason you have your own key." She crossed to the couch and sat, one leg folded under her, facing Alex’s huddled form. Olivia reached under the shade of the lamp on the table behind the couch.

"Please don’t," Alex said.

"OK," Olivia replied, moving her hand away from the lamp and laying her arm out along the back of the couch. Her eyes had adjusted enough to pick out the familiar lines of Alex’s face which, even in the dim light from the street lights outside, looked drawn and tired.

"There’s more tea if you want some." Alex sipped from the steaming mug she held, her eyes slipping away from Olivia’s steady gaze.

"I’ll get some in a minute."

Alex nodded, pulling the edges of the comforter she’d dragged off Olivia’s bed tighter around her shoulders. "How’s Cheryl," Alex said finally, her eyes meeting Olivia’s.

"Physically and emotionally brutalized. She came out of surgery and the doctor says she’ll recover from her injuries."

"You sound like you aren’t sure that’s a good thing," Alex said, her voice soft.

Olivia ran a hand through her hair as she tried to clear her mind’s eye of the image of Cheryl’s bloody, swollen face. "I don’t know, Alex. They patch her up in the hospital so that she can go right back to Riker’s where the same thing will probably happen again." Olivia shook her head. "Sometimes just surviving physically isn’t enough. Cheryl’s going to have to find a way to make peace with with the body she has now if the rest of her is going to survive to be the person she feels she is."

Alex nodded. She took another sip from the mug of tea, the scent of raspberries filling her nose. "When did you finally make peace with your body?"

Olivia smiled softly. "I haven’t, not completely. When I found out how I was conceived… Once I got past the initial shock, I started to really look at my mother when I thought she wasn’t watching." Olivia paused, staring off into space. "We had a full length mirror in the bathroom. I’d stand in front of it, looking at myself and comparing myself to her, trying to figure out which parts of me came from him." She flicked her eyes back to Alex’s face and held her hands up between them. "These…not from her."

"But your mother knew you were watching her didn’t she," Alex said, pulling her arm from underneath the comforter to catch one of Olivia’s hands in her own as Olivia lowered them to her lap.

Olivia nodded as the slight pressure of Alex’s fingers on hers melted away a bit of her stress. "Pretty much all the time. And she knew why I was watching her, what I was trying to figure out, and Alex, she didn’t care. She loved me anyway. She accepted me for who I was, who I could be, instead of resenting me for how I came to be. It’s too bad Cheryl’s parents couldn’t have been so generous."

"Why do you see your mother as generous?" Alex stroked the back of Olivia’s hand with her thumb.

"Every child deserves to start out loved and accepted but people don’t operate that way. They blame their children for things they can’t control in their own lives, and if you’ve got a good kid who isn’t what society considers normal, it just makes it that much harder. In spite of the drinking, in spite of all her flaws, she gave me those things when it would have been so easy for her to hold back."

Alex blinked as her mother’s face, disappointment barely concealed by a mask of good manners as Alex finally admitted the truth of her private life, popped out of her memory. "Do you think your mother would have accepted us?"

"Yes, I think she would have," Olivia said, her fingers tightening on Alex’s. "She wanted me to be happy, to be loved. I’ve got both of those with you."

Alex nodded again as Olivia’s words shaved some of the dark edges from her mood. She took another sip from the now cool mug of tea. "You never did give me an honest answer to my question about my treatment of Cheryl."

Olivia stilled, keeping her expression neutral. "Come on, Olivia. I think I know you well enough to know when you are being politic," Alex said, catching Olivia’s manner.

"I think you did what you had to do, Alex. You did as much as you could to keep the focus on the facts of the case where someone else would have sensationalized the facts of her life. If you’d done less, you wouldn’t have served the victim. Any more would have been cruel. You did your job."

"How do you do it," Alex asked, her voice thick with suppressed tears.

"Do what," Olivia said, fighting the impulse to drag Alex into her arms, knowing that Alex would come to her when she felt comfortable.

"Keep the work from coloring everything you do." Alex flipped off the comforter and got up off the couch. She paced over to the window and stopped with her back to Olivia. "Tommy Dowd, his face scarred, probably for life. Sam Cavanaungh in a coma, irreparably brain damaged, and now Cheryl Avery, raped, beaten, and in a situation that is almost certainly life threatening just because I did my job. I can’t forget their faces, and every one is like a weight I can’t put down. How many more of them am I going to collect as I go along?" Alex hunched her shoulders, arms wrapping her upper body as if for warmth.

"You didn’t have to go to her directly with the deal, and if Berger had done his job, Cheryl could have been safe in PC while he worked it out through the courts." Olivia considered Alex’s back for a few seconds. She rose from the couch and crossed to where Alex stood. Olivia wrapped her arms around Alex, pressing herself fully to Alex’s back. "And you’re not responsible for the fact that Cheryl hit Joe over the head with that vase. She did that, not you."

Alex nodded. Olivia kissed the exposed skin of Alex’s shoulder inside the neck of her shirt. "How I do it is by controlling the things I can control and doing the best I can with the things I can’t control. You did the best you could, Alex."

"I don’t know how much longer I can do it," Alex said, her voice little more than a whisper. Olivia felt the shudder rip through Alex’s body before the first sob passed her lips. Alex turned, slipped her arms around Olivia, and buried her face in the curve of Olivia’s neck. Olivia stroked her hair as Alex cried out the guilt and frustration. When she was spent, Alex lifted her head from Olivia’s shoulder and wiped her eyes.

"Thank you."

Olivia smiled. "You’re welcome. Sometimes getting it out feels better."

"That’s not what I meant," Alex said, kissing her lightly. "You aren’t the only one here who is loved."

"No, I’m not am I." She kissed Alex softly, and when she pulled away she wiped an errant tear from Alex’s cheek. "I’m going to get that tea and then we can go to bed, OK?"

Alex nodded, stepping back and breaking their embrace. She crossed to the couch, picked up the comforter, and made her way into the bedroom. Olivia watched her until she disappeared into the other room. If you only knew just how much. She crossed to the kitchen, pulled a mug out of the cupboard, and poured herself some tea from the pot on the counter. She carried the mug into the bedroom, shutting the door behind her.


  1. seana james says

    I just stumbled across these and I have to tell you, they are amazingly good. I hope you’re writing for a living because you obviously have the talent. Your Alex is wonderful and cool and warmer than nearly any other I’ve read, and your Olivia is just brilliant. You have my utmost respect and congratulations.

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