It was supposed to be her big night. The Hopeful Hands Foundation had asked her to speak at their annual benefit at the Plaza about the work she'd done with SVU and the importance of advocacy for victims of sexual assault. She used to welcome these opportunities, believing that her words could really make a difference. She still believed that her message was an important one—she'd seen too many victims fall through the cracks, up close and personal yet just out of her reach, to ever think her work was done. She was just getting so tired of playing the game, of speaking to rooms full of overdressed corporate drones who'd paid hundreds of dollars for a plate full of rubber chicken just so they could pat themselves on the back for "making a difference." She was tired of staring out at a sea of blank faces and politely clapping hands, knowing that not a single person in that room really understood or wanted to understand. After fifteen years on the job with no relief from the constant barrage of new victims and ever-more violent perps, Olivia was just tired.
She'd finished her speech and slipped away to hide in the corner of the Champagne Bar, nursing a nearly-empty glass of wine and staring at her own reflection in the window while she gathered her thoughts. She barely recognized the woman staring back at her in a jade green dress that draped elegantly over her shoulders. She used to love having an excuse to dress up; now she felt like an imposter trying to blend into a world in which she had never belonged. Somewhere in the Terrace Room upstairs there was one other cop that she knew—Alex Eames had also been invited to speak because of the work she'd done on a recent case involving human trafficking—but they were vastly outnumbered by people who wore three-piece suits to work and had never seen a crime scene except for on TV. More than anything, she was tired of people who just didn’t get it.
Olivia turned. She recognized the tall man suddenly standing beside her as Bobby Goren, Alex's ex-partner. He was large and imposing, with a gentle air about him that belied his size. His tux was as polished as any respectable businessman's, but his scruffy, graying hair added credence to the persistent rumor that he was some sort of mad genius or another. Alex had introduced them earlier but aside from that Olivia only knew him by his reputation, which was, aside from his alleged brilliance, strikingly similar to that of her own ex-partner.
"It was getting a little stuffy in there," she replied.
"The party's not stuffy, the people are stuffy," he noted, pleased when this elicited a smile. "Don't tell Alex, but I hate these things."
Olivia laughed. "I don't think Alex likes them either. How'd she manage to drag you here?"
"Well, her boyfriend got called into work at the last minute and she had the extra ticket, and I just got back into the city a couple days ago, so she called and asked if I'd come with her. And I mean, it's not every day your partner gets to go speak at some fancy benefit... thankfully."
"It's nice that you showed up."
Bobby shrugged off the compliment. "Yeah, well... she's always had my back, you know? I may not be her partner anymore, but I try to still have hers when I can."
Olivia nodded, trying to fight off the bitter taste that suddenly rose in the back of her throat. She supposed there were some differences between her ex-partner and Alex's after all.
"I liked your speech," he said, a little shyly. He hesitated a bit before taking a seat across the small table from her. "Alex told me a bit about what you do... with SVU, I mean. She said she's run into you guys a few times now."
"Yeah," Liv said absently. "She's a good cop."
"She's the best," Bobby replied. "I'm glad she's moved on, you know, from Major Case. Not that we didn't have some good years there, but she seems a lot happier now, and it's been good for her career."
“You ever miss it? Being a cop?”
He answered truthfully, confidently. “No.”
She looked at him a moment, studying his face for a sign that he wasn’t being entirely honest. Instead she found him looking back at her with an earnestness that was almost unsettling. There was a calm in his crinkled blue eyes that she hadn't seen before in any cop, retired or no. She felt sure she wouldn't see it in her own ex-partner, if she ever saw him again at all. She wondered vaguely if anyone would ever see it in her.
"You ever think of retiring?" he asked. "It must have crossed your mind, right, when your partner left?"
"No," she said, but her voice wasn't as sure as it once would have been. "I never think about retiring. SVU is my life. I love my job."
"You don't ever think about taking a break?"
"Maybe once in a while..." she shook her head, banishing the thought. "But I get over it. I love my job... and sometimes I hate it, too, but it's part of me."
Bobby didn’t respond to that. Instead he looked out the window, to the bustle of Grand Army Plaza. “You know, Pomona wasn’t actually the goddess of the harvest. That’s just a common misconception. Really she was the goddess of fruitful abundance—she cared for fruit trees and helped them grow so that they could be fruitful, but the actual picking of fruit wasn’t really in her job description, so to speak.”
Olivia raised an eyebrow in confusion. “You lost me.”
“Here, look.” Bobby leaned in towards her and pointed out the window, to the Pulitzer Fountain across the way. Sure enough, Pomona stood at the top, holding her basket of fruit. “See, Pomona was all about cultivation. She was completely absorbed in the work that she did, so much so that she had no time for a life of her own—and in the end, people didn’t remember her for that work, just the end results of it. That’s how I felt about being a detective. I loved my job because it allowed me to get into people’s heads and figure out why criminals do what they do, but all anybody else ever cared about was that the bad guy got put in jail. It just got so frustrating, you know, because it felt like all my work was boiled down to a statistic, a close rate, when really that was what I considered the least important part of my job.” He paused and looked up, seemingly startled to realize Olivia was still there. “Sorry,” he said, “I was rambling. I do that sometimes… well, a lot of times… just ask Alex…”
“No,” Olivia interrupted, “Actually, you were making perfect sense.”
Bobby relaxed, his face visibly brightened by this reassurance. “Really?”
Liv nodded. “You want to know the real reason I came down here? To get away from all the people who think that advocacy begins and ends with writing a check. Not one of them heard a word I said tonight, did you notice that? I don’t know if it’s me or it’s them, but I’m tired of feeling like nothing I say makes a difference. I got into SVU to get justice for victims, to help them heal and move on… and that’s exactly what tonight was supposed to be about, but sometimes it seems like nobody cares except me. And to be honest, sometimes I’m not sure why I still care either.”
“But you never think about retiring?”
She shrugged. “Somebody has to clean the slime off the streets. Might as well be me. Besides, it’s not like I have a whole hell of a lot else to do.”
A waiter came by and placed a new glass of white wine in front of Olivia. “And can I get you anything, sir?”
“Scotch, please. Neat.”
The waiter nodded and promptly disappeared, returning a moment later with the requested drink. Bobby and Olivia sipped in silence for a moment. Olivia stared out the window at Pomona, bathed in what was left of the evening light bouncing off the water beneath her; Bobby mostly stared at Olivia.
“Why did you become a cop?” he asked her, after letting a few quiet minutes pass.
Olivia took a sip of her drink, trying to hide the humorless smile that was spreading across her lips. This was the part of the conversation that sent every guy running for the hills. She was surprised to find herself wishing he hadn’t asked quite so soon; she’d been enjoying his company. “My mother was a rape victim,” she said simply; she’d learned a long time ago that it was best to just rip off the bandaid. “I was the result of that. I spent my whole life watching my mother suffer because of what he did to her and not being able to do anything about it, so I decided that I wanted to get other women the justice that she never had.”
He tilted his head sideways, a move she remembered Alex saying that he’d used in the interrogation room. Perhaps it should have made her uncomfortable, but instead she felt strangely at ease, as though he were really listening to her and not trying to think up some excuse to bolt.
“So you hunt rapists because your father was a rapist.”
He mirrored her action, nodding his head along with her. “My father was a serial killer,” he told her, as casually as if his father had been a banker or a salesman. “That’s not why I profiled serial killers, though. At least not consciously. I didn’t even find out he was my father until a few years ago.”
Olivia felt her mouth drop open. She didn’t know what to say to that; she’d never met anyone whose story came anywhere close to resembling hers before. Sure, she’d met other children of rape, but never anyone who felt as compelled as she did to actively fight the evil from which they’d been born. In that, she’d always been alone.
“I’m so sorry,” she finally said, when she realized she’d gone too long without saying anything.
He shrugged and gave her a small, cautious smile. “It is what it is. We’re not our fathers, you know? What they did and who they were, that’s not on us.”
“Have you always been so sure of that?”
“No,” he admitted, taking a slow sip of his drink. “When I first found out there was a part of me that thought, ‘This explains everything.’ All my bad qualities, all my quirks and weird obsessions were because I was his son. I thought had some kind of genetic predisposition to be crazy—and well, I do, my mother was schizophrenic—but more than that, for a second there I thought I had the predisposition to be evil. But then I realized, that’s not who I am. It’s not how I’ve chosen to spend my life. And from what I’ve heard from Alex and from your speech tonight, it’s not how you’ve chosen to spend yours.”
Olivia shook her head. “I never really thought of it as a choice,” she said. “I always knew what my father was, what he did… I guess I always felt like I had to make up for it somehow. Like I had to, I don’t know, set things right with the universe or something. That probably sounds stupid.”
“It sounds sad,” Bobby said softly. “Nobody needs to atone for their own existence, Olivia.”
She gave him a wistful smile. “I do. Not that I could, anyway. The more victims I help, the more perps I put away, the more I realize that it’ll never be enough to make up for what he did. My mother died without ever getting justice, and my father died without ever paying for what he did, and there’s nothing that I can do to make any of that okay.”
“But you still try.” He paused long enough to take a sip of his scotch, never taking his eyes off of her. “Do you ever do anything that’s just about making yourself happy? Because I’m hearing you talk a lot about your parents, and about the victims of the crimes you investigate, but nothing about what you get out of it.”
Olivia opened her mouth and then quickly shut it again, shaking her head as if she were laughing at some private joke. “You know, a few years ago I might have given you a line about how I get to help people, and how that’s what makes me happy… and the worst part is, I actually would have believed it.”
“Now… I don’t know. I don’t really feel like I’m helping people anymore, and even if I were, there are other cops who could do it just as well as I can, maybe even better. But the thing is, I’ve defined myself by my job for so long that I wouldn’t even know where to go from here, even if I did quit. I mean, you wrote a book after you retired, right? How did you know you wanted to do that?”
“Well, you know, cops always see a side of human nature that most people don’t… over the years I wound up with so many stories, you know, and I was always trying to make some kind of sense out of why people do the things they do. After a while I started writing things down, and at first it was like keeping a diary of sorts, just to… I don’t know, clarify things in my own mind. But the more I wrote, the more I realized there were some interesting stories there, and I might as well tell them to somebody other than myself. But it never stopped being about finding out what makes people tick. That’s always been what makes me happy, whether I was in the military, or on the job, or now, as a writer.”
Olivia went quiet as she thought about this, sipping her wine and staring at the setting sun reflecting off of poor, misunderstood Pomona across the way. Bobby sat back, content just to watch her get lost in her own thoughts. Neither of them noticed Alex until she was standing right behind Olivia, leaning on the back of her chair.
“I should have known that when I asked him to go find you, you’d both wind up lost,” she sighed, rolling her eyes at her ex-partner.
“Sorry,” Olivia said. “I didn’t mean to keep him down here so long. Actually, I didn’t mean to stay down here myself for so long… I guess we started talking and I forgot about the benefit.”
“Lucky you,” Alex mused.
Bobby grinned at Olivia. “You were right, she does hate these things as much as we do.”
“At least as much,” Alex agreed. “You guys up for getting some real food? There’s nothing I can pronounce up there, and I bet those suits won’t even notice we’re gone.”
“Yeah, I could go for a burger and fries right about now,” Bobby said. He stood and offered his hand to Olivia. “Shall we?”
Liv nodded eagerly and rose to her feet, taking one last sip of her wine before abandoning it to trail off after her new friends.