Disclaimer: The main characters in the story belong to NBC Television, Dick Wolf and whoever else has a vested interest in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: The Original Series. The supporting characters in the story belong to NBC Television, and whoever else has a vested interest in The Facts of Life. The rest of the recognized characters mentioned in passing herein belong to a number of people who are not me. Popular was created by Ryan Murphy, Gina Matthews and the WB. The Devil Wears Prada is owned by Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. Credit for In Plain Sight lies with David Maples, Paul Stupin and the USA Network. No money is being made from this and no copyright infringement is intended.


Thanks: To my beta readers Phil, Mac and Jeanne.  Their diligence made this a much more pleasant story for everyone to read.  They picked up all the missing letters and words I dropped since Pink & Fluffy the brain cells continually outdistanced Pink & Fluffy the typing fingers.  I appreciate it. :-)


Author's Notes: Okay, so this story went on WAAAAAAAY longer than I intended for it to... by about a hundred and twenty pages, give or take. It moseyed, it meandered and it took some wicked, unexpected left turns at Albuquerque . However, the characters were kind enough to finally let me wrap this one up.


The Storyteller's Cardinal Rule is in effect.



Devil in Blue Jeans

By D




Long before the book became a hit movie, Olivia Benson knew that the Devil wore Prada... and Gucci... and Armani... and Jimmy Choo, and she carried Louis Vuitton bags. The one-six had inherited their very own Devil when Alexandra Cabot had been introduced as their new ADA . It hadn't been smooth and it hadn't been easy – selling your soul and making deals with the Devil was never without cost, but eventually things settled down and they came to an understanding.


Slowly, surprisingly, Alex and Olivia became friends – bonding first over their work and then moving on to more personal topics... commiserating over their love lives, or the lack thereof; telling bits about their families and background; even discussing difficult topics like politics and religion.


As their friendship deepened, they flirted occasionally – teasing, but never crossing the unspoken barrier they had set for themselves. It was fun and it was safe and it was the most dangerous game they could play.


And then Alex was gone.


The squad had been glad to see the new ADA that followed her wasn't a Devil of any kind, but was instead more of a nervous kid... everyone but Olivia Benson. Liv had resented Casey Novak at first because she *wasn't* Alex Cabot, but eventually they formed a good working relationship that developed into a solid friendship, though Olivia never opened up to Casey the way she had to Alex. She just wasn't willing to risk losing someone that close to her again.


Then Alex Cabot came back to stay and Olivia was reminded how much she had lost on that fateful night Alex had been shot. Alex never called and as much as it hurt, Olivia realized that the Devil she'd known was no longer her Devil and she closed off that part of her life for good.


Until the day the Devil knocked on the door of her apartment dressed in cowboy boots, a teal tank top and painted on blue jeans.


“Hello, Detective. Long time, no see.” Alex smiled rakishly and removed the glasses of justice she knew Olivia was fond of, leaning against the doorjamb and crossing her arms over her chest with an arrogance that irritated Liv. She wanted to slam the door closed and walk away, but her curiosity got the better of her. Instead, she braced the door and glared at Alex.


"Counselor," she greeted coldly. "How did you get up here?"


Alex held out the key Olivia had given her years before. Liv clenched one hand around the doorknob and the other around the door frame to keep from snatching it away from her. All things considered, she couldn't believe the woman's nerve. Olivia took a deep breath and held out her hand; Alex reached to take it, only to have Olivia shake her dark head. A frown crossed Alex's face, not understanding what Olivia was asking for. Before she realized the detective's intention, Olivia had reached out and snagged the key from Alex's hand and slammed the door shut behind her.


Alex stood staring at the door for a long moment, hearing the locks slide into place before a determined look crossed her face and she knocked firmly. "Olivia!" knocking again. "Olivia Benson... open the door!" She slammed her glasses back on her face before she could shatter them against the door. She leaned her head against it and called out more softly, "Liv, I know you can hear me... please open the door. We need to talk."


Liv opened the door a bare crack. "We have nothing to talk about, Counselor... not anymore. Go back to your boyfriends and your uptown penthouse. You have no place here." There was sadness and anger in Olivia's eyes and voice that touched her, but before she could respond, the door was closed again and Alex was alone in the hallway once again.


She slapped the door in frustration but Olivia ignored her and with a low growl of irritation, Alex stomped back down the hallway. This was going to be harder than she thought.




The Story


Olivia scrubbed her face as she sat down at her desk the following morning. Sleep had been a long time coming the night before and when she had finally drifted off, her dreams were haunted by the image of Alex being shot over and over and over. She would have welcomed a call to a scene, except the delegation to desk duty while under investigation by IAB precluded that possibility. So she gave up and went into work early on her own, determined to buckle down to the paperwork she had to go through.


"Rough night?" Elliot asked sympathetically as he placed a cup of real, hot coffee on the desk in front of her. He perched on the corner of her desk and looked at her in concern. "You look like you were out all night, and not having a good time while you were there."


Liv rubbed her eyes and smirked at him sardonically. "I'm not sure I remember what that is anymore." She sipped her coffee. "How's Kathy?"


"Cursing my name," Elliot replied succinctly with a grin. "This baby is giving her all kinds of morning sickness; some of it lasts all day. She insists that I should share part of this with her and give her a break from it."


Olivia grimace. "Ew... that sucks."


"Yeah, it certainly makes reconciliation a little more challenging, but I can't honestly say I am unhappy about having another child either. As much as I worry about my kids, Liv, I love them all – I wouldn't change a thing if it meant not having one of them."


"I know, El... you're a great dad. Your kids are lucky."


"So am I," he stated firmly. "But enough about that... what kept you up?"


Olivia looked at him for a long moment. "I had a visit from our erstwhile ADA last night." Elliot's eyebrows popped off his forehead.


"Cabot came to see you?!? Why??"


"Dunno. I didn't ask. I really don't care."


"You're lying, Liv... either to yourself or to me, but you are lying."


She glared at him. "No, Elliot, I'm really not. I'm past Alex Cabot and everything about her, all right? I just want to get back to being able to do my job without having to look over my shoulder anymore. I don't need any more complications in my life. Simon has caused me enough problems."


"What are you gonna do about him?"


"Whaddya mean, El? He's my brother."


"Is he?" Elliot asked as he slipped from her desk and moved to sit in his chair. "Liv, we never got the results of his DNA test. What if he's not your brother? What if he's just a cousin?"


"He's still family, Elliot. You of all people should understand how important that is... especially to me."


"I do understand, Liv, but it does make a difference. For one thing it means that he lied to you." A pause. "Look, just don't let him take advantage of you. You're better than that, and you've worked hard to establish the solid reputation you've got in the department. Don't let loyalty to someone you don't even really know destroy everything you've worked for."


"A little late for that advice, El. The damage has been done."


"A word to the wise, Detective," came a cool voice from the doorway. "Listen to your partner. You're in serious danger of losing your shield." She was now dressed in the epitome of professional attire.


Elliot swiveled in his chair, his mouth dropping open momentarily before he shot to his feet. "Alex! What are you doing here? I thought you were too good for the one-six now!" His voice was a mixture of shock, pleased surprise and disdain.


Alex wasn't sure which to respond to and replied diffidently, "I've been busy."


That made Elliot angry and he crossed his arms over his chest. "Yeah, I've heard. So why exactly are you bothering with us now? We don't run in your circles and we're pretty busy ourselves."


"I came to speak to your partner, Detective Stabler."


"I thought I made it clear last night, Counselor - we have nothing to talk about. Now if you'll excuse me, I do actually have real work to do," Olivia said dismissively without raising her eyes from her paperwork. "You know the way out," waving her hand in Alex's direction.


Elliot looked at Olivia, only his eyes betraying his surprise at her attitude. She really does have it bad, he thought, catching the anger and hurt in Alex's eyes before she shuttered her expression to one of impassivity.


"This isn't optional for you, Detective. I am here to offer you my expertise in your Internal Affairs query."


Olivia deigned to glance up at this pronouncement, her eyes burning in anger though not a muscle moved in her facial appearance. She laid her pen to one side and slowly stood, never losing Alex's eyes.


"Sure it is... even if I *could* accept help from the DA's office, I wouldn't accept it from *you*. I am officially refusing counsel from you. I can manage on my own, thanks," she stated precisely. "You can go now," stepping out from behind her desk and deliberately turning her back to walk to the coffee pot for a cup of sludge she really didn't need... considering there was a perfectly good cup of designer coffee sitting on her desk.


Alex watched her for a moment before turning her eyes to Elliot who simply shrugged and sat, turning back to the work on his desk. Then gritting her teeth, Alex walked to Cragen's door, knocking softly and when she realized he was not in yet, she entered and closed the door firmly behind her.


Once she was gone, Olivia turned back to Elliot. "Why do I have the feeling this is gonna be one of those days?"


"Good detective work?" he smirked at her, chuckling when she rolled her eyes. Then Munch walked in and they turned back to their work while he headed to Cragen's office.


"Alex?" he said as he recognized the blonde head sitting in one of the guest chairs. "What are you doing here? I mean, it's nice to see you, but...." He trailed off, not sure where he wanted to go with this conversation. There were a lot of hard and mixed feelings concerning Alex Cabot and her behavior since her return to Manhattan . For the most part, the one-six had written her off as a lost cause, not worth her time or theirs. Casey had wisely stayed out of it, not wanting to aggravate either side of the line she had to walk, but the rest had definite, loud opinions.


"Hi, John," Alex answered wearily. "I'm waiting to see Cragen. I'm here to offer Olivia counsel for the IAB inquiry. She's... resistant to the idea."


"Uh... huh," he drawled slowly as he walked around to take a seat at the desk. He studied the woman in front of him a long moment. Her eyes were much older, but aside from that she looked much as she had the last time they had seen her – when she had returned for Liam Connor's trial. Her hair was still longish - a bit shorter than it had been then, but with the same honey-gold tint. Her face was still clear and mostly unlined – it seemed most of her time in witness protection had taken its toll in her eyes. She was thin, almost dangerously so, but it seemed to suit the image she was projecting. One thing that did catch his eye was the distinct lack of a ring on her left finger, engagement or otherwise. Munch wondered what had happened; he knew for a fact there had been an engagement at some point, not long after her return to New York . Then again, given some of the other things they had *all* heard, maybe her single status wasn't that much of a surprise.


"Well, you might be waiting a while," he finally said, clearing his throat after the long silence. "Don is out for a few weeks and I'm... here. Damn shame too – he could order her to do it. I can't and I believe she will be more than a little reluctant to agree to my sort of persuasion," pinching his lips together lightly. Olivia had been one of the most silent about Alex's return and Munch had learned from long experience that the quieter Benson got, the worse things really were.


Alex blew out a breath. This day was just getting better and better. "All right... thanks, John. I'll just have to do the best job I can for her, I guess... with or without her help." She stood and Munch rose with her. They reached the door together, but his hand covered it first, preventing her exit. She arched an eyebrow at him in question, but waited for him to speak.


"Alex, why are you doing this? I know several of the ADAs wanted to offer Olivia legal representation. Now I realize that they are not supposed to do that, but then neither are you – you can't... conflict of interest and all. So what gives?"


"Let's just say I owe a debt, Detective, and leave it at that." He scrutinized her carefully for another moment before nodding his head.


"Fair enough," he eventually agreed. "Just... be careful, Alex. This Olivia Benson is not the one you knew when you left. A lot can change in five years."


"You think I don't know that, John? My entire life changed in five minutes! And changed again without so much as a by your leave. And nothing was the way I left it... nothing was the way it was supposed to be!” She bit her lip and drew in a deep breath, pushing insecurities behind walls that Munch had not seen in a long time. “So yes, John... I do understand.” Alex covered his hand and squeezed softly. “But I appreciate your concern.”


With that, she motioned and he opened the door for her. She stepped out, once more the haughty, confident lawyer that had shown up in the precinct another lifetime ago. The entire room fell silent and watched her walk to the door when she turned to meet Olivia's eyes squarely.


“The preliminary hearing is on Monday afternoon at two o'clock. If you change your mind and decide you would like to hear my recommendations, you know where to find me. It's your career, Detective.”


And without another word, she swept out of the room.


“Damn,” Elliot said after the door closed behind her. “I guess the Ice Princess is back.” He looked over at Olivia. “You better make sure you don't wind up with frostbite.”


“I'd have to move to the equator too, to keep that from happening with her. Guess I'll just have to keep my distance.” She looked around the room. “There was a time this was all I ever wanted, El. I'm not sure it means that much to me anymore.”


“You're not serious,” his voice flat.


“As a fucking heart attack. Look at us, Elliot... look around you. Cragen's been suspended... indefinitely, from what I hear. Fin's under investigation for drug dealing; you're up for misconduct about Kathleen's DUI cover-up. IAB is looking to bust my ass for helping my bro... for helping Simon. Even Casey got reamed for losing a case she couldn't possibly win. Only Munch is status quo at the moment, though with him in charge, how long is *that* gonna last? I'm just not sure it's worth the effort anymore. Maybe I should just make a deal with IAB and walk away.”


“And do what, Liv? What are you gonna do if you're not an SVU detective? It's your whole life... has been for as long as I've known you.”

Brown eyes gone almost black in their intensity met open blue ones. “Maybe it's time I got a new life, Stabler. Maybe it's time I had a life I could call my own for a change.” Then Olivia got up from her desk and moved to put the stack of finished files away. Elliot just watched her for a long moment, before the ringing of the phone put his attention back on the job. It was shaping up to be one hell of a day.




"Ms Cabot... could I speak with you in my office now please?" Arthur Branch requested as she walked into Hogan Place . He was polite but Alex could see the fury in his eyes and knew it for the order that it was. She nodded and followed him through the lobby and into the elevator, remaining silent as it climbed to the top floor. He held the door and motioned her out and Alex stepped from the elevator, leading the way to his office. She opened the door and waited for Branch to inform his assistant that he was in conference and not to be disturbed for less than a phone call from Washington . Then he opened the door to his inner sanctum and waited for Alex to precede him before crossing the threshold and closing the door firmly behind him.


Alex placed her briefcase on the floor but remained standing. Arthur walked around to stand behind his desk, staring at Alex for a long moment before motioning to a chair across from him. "Take a seat."


"If it's all the same to you...."


"It isn't, Alexandra... take a seat." Alex sighed and took a seat, sitting on the edge ramrod straight. She had known she would never get away with trying to help Olivia, but she had hoped for a little more time before having to explain her irrational actions. Arthur continued to stare; Alex kept her eyes locked on his, forcing herself not to fidget.


"Ms Cabot," he finally said, breaking the silence and leaning forward with his fingertips pressed on his desk. "Would you like to explain to me what the hell you were thinking??" Silence. "I have come to realize that your time in witness protection changed your perspective of some things in your life," remembering some of the rumors that had made their way to his ears. "But I did not realize it had made you completely ignorant in the ways of the law."


"How dare you?!"


"How dare *I*?! Alexandra, you are on very dangerous ground right now. You are bucking for dismissal! Regardless of what is between you and Detective Benson in your private life, you are on opposite sides where her IAB review is concerned. You don't get to ignore that for any reason."


Fiery blue eye drilled into Branch's and for a moment he was tempted to step back. Instead, he held her gaze and Alex was compelled to speak. "There is nothing between Detective Benson and me, Arthur – personal or professional. I owed her a favor."


"And jeopardizing your job and your standing in this office is beneficial to that how exactly?” He took a seat and steepled his fingertips together while he regarded her. He waited, watching something break in her eyes though she never dropped his stare or answered his question. “Alex, given some of your actions since your return from witness protection, I think you need some time to figure out what you really want to do with your life. I am placing you on thirty days administrative leave....”


“You're suspending me??”


“No... this will not go on your record as a suspension. But I expect you to decide what you really want out of your life now, Alexandra – at least on a professional level – and commit to it.” He paused and cleared his throat. “I would suggest you give some thought to your personal life as well... especially if you have thoughts of sitting in this chair some day. I can't force you to, of course, but it might be a good use of the time... especially considering what I've heard.”


“My personal life is no one's business, Arthur... not even yours,” her voice ice cold with contempt.


“You're right, Alexandra... it shouldn't be. Maybe you should contemplate why it is I'm hearing about it. You're better than that.”


“Why do you care, Arthur? What difference does it make to you?” all the fight suddenly gone from her eyes, voice and posture. For the first time, Arthur saw past the façade Alex Cabot had worn since her return from witness protection.


He put his fingertips to his lips and looked at her thoughtfully for a moment. “Professionally? You were the very Devil around here before, Alexandra, but you were the best kind of Devil – passionate, determined and driven. You were one of the best ADA 's this office ever had and as a Bureau Chief you've done some remarkable work with kids as green as this office has ever seen. Some of them may actually be good prosecutors one day,” said with a slight smile.


“And personally?”


He hesitated. “If you're so unhappy in your personal life that you continually sabotage yourself in all aspects of your life, maybe it's time to figure out why that is. Because ultimately you're not going to be happy in anything until you like the person you are.”


Alex didn't answer, simply picked up her briefcase and rose. She walked to the door and put her hand on the knob before turning back to look at him. He remained seated, fingertips still against his lips as he returned her intensity.


“How did you know?” she finally asked. Arthur actually smiled.


“About your visit to the one-six? I have eyes and ears everywhere, Alexandra. You should know that by now. About the rest... let's just say I once had occasion to be where you are now, though not for the same reason. It was time to pay it forward.”


Her brows scrunched up as his wording, but she nodded before leaving his office.


“Alexandra?” he called before she shut the door. She looked up at him with a questioning glance that was clear even through her famed glasses of justice. “Good luck.” She nodded again and closed the door, heading to her office to drop off the files she carried. Administrative leave meant work stayed at Hogan Place , but strangely, Alex couldn't make herself feel anything beyond relief.


She decided that would be something to think about while she was gone.




“Olivia, is everything all right?” Benson looked up with a frown and cocked her head at Casey.


“Aside from the fact that I'm stuck on a desk for the moment, everything's great. Why?”


Casey crossed to Liv's desk and took a seat beside it, folding her hands in her lap and meeting brown eyes with green. She leaned forward conspiratorially, even though they were the only ones in the squad room at the moment. Olivia leaned forward as well and propped her head on the hand resting on her desk, waiting with an air of expectancy.


“Word at Hogan Place is that Cabot's been suspended for harassing you.”


Olivia's eyebrows shot into her hairline and she sat up straight. “Excuse me?” She held up her hands to stop Casey from answering. “I heard what you said. I'm trying to make it make sense to me.”


“So she didn't harass you?”


Liv shook her dark head. “No... not exactly. She came by to offer her ‘expertise' on my behalf for the IAB thing. I turned her down flat, though. She's the enemy... I don't want or need her help.”


Casey smiled wryly. “Technically, so am I.”


“Yeah, but you're my friend. Alex Cabot is still the Devil.”


“I remember hearing that about her when I first got here, but I don't think it's true, Liv... not anymore. I think Alex Cabot is a lost soul.” She held Olivia's gaze for a long moment, allowing her to see the sincerity in Casey's words. Then Casey rose and extended a hand to the detective, who accepted it and allowed Casey to pull her to her feet. “C'mon then, friend. It's lunch time, and I have time to actually sit down to eat today.”


“I know just the place.”


“My treat then. Let's go. I hear ice cream calling my name.”




“Alex?” Jim Steele stuck his head in her door without knocking and Alex blew out an irritated breath before motioning him inside. He closed the door behind him and crossed to her, opening his arms for an embrace that never came. She deliberately moved to the other side of her desk to put distance between them. He frowned and looked at her. “What... I can't even offer you comfort now?”


“I don't think so, Jim... not anymore.”


“Why? I thought we were more than fuck buddies, Alex. I thought we had something special.”


“No you didn't,” she stated bluntly. “A sordid tryst on my desk doesn't even make us a tawdry office affair, much less the elevated status of fuck buddies. It makes it a mistake.”


“What about the time we spent together before?”


The eyes that met Steele's were full of disgust and disdain and Jim recoiled from it, though he wondered how much of that look Alex was directing at herself. Without warning, it faded and the blue eyes went gray with sadness. “I'm sorry, Jim. Despite what you told Rossi, we were never dating – even when we *were* fuck buddies. There is nothing between us except carnal knowledge... not even friendship.”


“You're serious,” his voice flat, his expression incredulous.


“I am. And if you think about it, you'll see I'm right. You've got a good thing with Jessica – don't waste it pining for something you know is never going to happen."


Steele cleared his throat. "Well, this is going to be awkward. We still have to work together."


"Well, you'll have the next month to get used to it. Now if you'll excuse me...."


Jim turned away from her and hesitated, then looked back at Alex. "What changed, Alex?"


"Nothing... everything... I don't know. Look, I've gotta get out of here," motioning him out in front of her. "If you have questions, go to Branch. I will be out of touch for the next thirty days." She closed the door behind them and headed down the hall without a backwards glance. Jim Steele watched her go before shaking his head and heading back to his office.




“I shouldn't be eating this, you know. It's going to go right to my hips.”


Olivia snorted. “Like you won't work it off before the end of the day. C'mon Casey, you're the most active person I know. I don't think your hips would notice.”


“Oh, I never said they would notice - they know better. It will still go straight there, and I'll know it.”

Liv chuckled and the relief was evident in Casey's eyes even as she grinned broadly. “That's something I haven't heard in a while – nice to see you smile again.”


“Yeah, it's been major suckage around here lately,” Liv agreed with a sad smile. “I'm starting to wonder if it's all worth it.”


Casey sobered. “You're serious?”


“Yeah... I am. At the end of the day, the payoff just isn't worth the cost any more. I could go into the private sector today and make at least double what I am now without seeing children whose lives have been destroyed, teenagers with their guts spilling out around them, adults raping and robbing and killing just because the moon was full. It might be nice to be able to sleep through the night... without nightmares or the fear of being woken up by a phone call dragging me to the next scene.”


Casey sat back and regarded the ice cream only half eaten. “I can't imagine SVU without you.”


Liv sucked the ice cream off her spoon, rolling it around in her mouth for a moment before swallowing. “Well, I haven't decided to quit yet, Case. I'm just saying the thought has crossed my mind a little more often lately.” She sighed. “I'm tired.”


“I can only imagine – I've been at this less time and I don't see any of it first hand and there are still some days... some cases....” She scooped another spoonful of ice cream into her mouth, enjoying the decadence with a hum of delight. “I need a vacation... maybe Australia or a cruise. Maybe both.”


“You hedonist you!” Liv exclaimed with mirth twinkling in her wide eyes.”


“If I won the mega millions – in a heartbeat.” Casey looked at her watch and stood. “C'mon... I've gotta get back to work. I have an arraignment in Petrovsky's court at two.”


“Yeah, I need to get back to that paperwork. I swore I was going to clear my desk.”


“Will it stay in place if you do that?”


“Funny Casey... real funny.”


Casey just smiled as they headed back to work.




Alex waited patiently for Judge William Franklin Harriman to recess court for lunch and return to his office. She wasn't waiting long, having deliberately timed her appearance in his office to coincide with that particular break. Harriman blinked when he saw her sitting in one of his guest chairs; his niece had studiously avoided him since shortly after her return to New York and her subsequent appointment to Bureau Chief. He had vigorously protested her accepting the job as well as her involvement with Robert Sheldon and they had barely spoken beyond platitudes since.


To see her here now....


"Alexandra," he greeted and removed his robe. "What a surprise," he continued cordially... until he turned and saw the distraught look on her face. He stepped in front of her and waited for her eyes to track to his and what he saw broke his heart. He extended his hand and she stared at it uncomprehendingly for a moment before accepting it and allowing him to pull her to her feet. "Come on," he urged her. "It's time for lunch and you look like you could use some."


"That sounds great, Uncle Bill. I'd like that."


After they were seated and their lunch orders taken, he began, "So tell me, Lexxie," calling Alex by the childhood name she had rarely heard since the onset of puberty. "What brings you to see me?" right to the point, but Alex smiled. She had missed talking to her Uncle Bill and his directness and at the moment, couldn't remember why she had allowed their separation to happen.


"I wanted you to hear it from me – I've been put on administrative leave." Bill's eyes widened in surprise, but before he could ask, Alex continued. "I... I overstepped my bounds and Arthur called me on it."


"Was he right?"


Alex took a sip of her water and met his eyes. "Yes."


"Would you like to talk about it?"


"Not yet... but soon. I need to get it clear in my own mind first. I was wondering if I could have the keys to the hunting lodge."


"Certainly," Harriman agreed immediately. "How long...?"


"I don't know. My leave is for thirty days."


Bill took his keys from his pocket, removing one and passing it across the table to her. Alex picked it up and dropped it into her purse, then sat back and allowed the waiter to place her salad in front of her.


"Take as long as you need, Lexxie. I'll call Jason and have the place stocked before you arrive. If you need anything or just want to talk...."


"I will, Uncle Bill. I promise. I just need some peace to think in right now.”


He didn't offer advice or make suggestions. Instead he simply said, "I hope you find the answers you need, Lex." Then they turned their attention to eating, the silence comfortable between them for the first time since the argument that had pushed them apart.




“Hey, Fin!” Elliot called, waving their colleague over to the table where the detectives of the one-six were currently holding court. Fin waved back and pushed his way through the crowd to the table in the back. Munch poured him a beer even as he fell into a chair.


“Ain't right,” he muttered and took a long draught before saying hello.


“Remedial classes...?”


“Damn waste of time. Punk kids tryin' to teach me how to do my job,” he snorted. “You know how many times I done hadda correct their puny asses??”


Elliot shook his head. “I don't envy you, man. How much longer you got?


“Three more weeks – IAB said a complete refresher on procedure.” He drained his glass and set it down in disgust. “Damn pansy asses... don't know nothin'.”


“At least you already got yours,” Liv commented as she signaled for another pitcher to be brought to their table. “This waiting is gonna drive me nuts.”


“Not much longer, Liv. ‘Sides... I hear it got you a visit from our girl Cabot.”


“She's not our girl, Fin,” Olivia bit out. “But I heard it got her suspended.”


“Actually,” Munch cut in, “she was placed on admin leave.” All eyes turned his way and he shrugged. "It's the difference of a mark on her record or not. Personally, I think it was ballsy of her to walk into the lion's den, knowing what could happen."


"C'mon, Munch... that wasn't ballsy – it was stupid grandstanding. We haven't been a blip on her radar in over two years... five if you start counting when she went into witness protection. Why suddenly decide she needs to make some sort of statement just because I'm under investigation by IAB?"


"I figure there's a political reason somewhere," Elliot commented.


"I figured the mothership finally picked up the pod person that got left here in Cabot's place and returned the real one to us." Munch ducked as Fin swung at the back of his head. "What?" he whined. "It makes more sense than trying to figure out the Cabot pod that's been Bureau Chief for the last couple years."


Elliot pinched his lip and nodded. "Man's got a point." His eyes widened. "My my my... isn't that our lovely Ms Novak?" Three heads turned towards the door. "And who is that with her?" watching as the two women headed out the door. All eyes turned to Liv, who shrugged.


"Beats me. She didn't say anything to me about having a date."


"You think it was a date?"


"I think if Casey wants us to know, she'll share.


"Girlfriend's right. Look, I gotta get outta here. Got work to do for this damn class."


"I'll head out with you, Fin," Liv said as she stood and stuck her arms into her leather jacket. "Have to meet with my union rep first thing tomorrow." She dropped some money on the table. "Then I'm gonna talk to a lawyer."


"You think it's gonna be that bad?" Elliot asked as he and Munch rose as well and followed suit. They headed out the door single file and Olivia didn't answer until they were gathered in front of the bar.


"I think," Liv said slowly, "that if Cabot felt the need to break years of silence, then maybe I should take the precaution of having someone on my side for this thing. If I'm gonna leave the force, I want it to be under my terms... not theirs."


"You thinking of leaving, Liv?" Elliot asked, concern coloring his voice.


"I'm thinking I should protect my assets, El. Dismissal is an option... we all know that."


"Maybe you shoulda let Cabot offer advice."


"Good night, John," Liv said as she turned and walked towards her apartment. Elliot just glared at him before jogging to catch up with her. Fin shook his head and grabbed Munch by the elbow.


"C'mon, you bony assed fool. You oughta know better'n to play in that pond." Munch opened his mouth and Fin held up a hand before he could take a deep breath. "Don't even. They'll get it or not on their own – not our job to do it for 'em."


"Ya know, Fin...."


"I know if you don't shuddup and move, there's gonna be issues coming outcha ass."


"No one appreciates the wisdom that comes with experience anymore." Fin snorted and opened the door to his car. With luck, he'd get Munch home before he got started again.




Alex crossed the threshold to her penthouse, dropping her briefcase in the closest chair and walking to the bedroom without stopping. She stepped into the closet, kicking off her shoes and shedding her suit with a sigh. She slipped into the drawstring pants she'd come to favor in her off time, soft and comfortable in all the right places. A soft cotton shirt to go with it and she turned to grab the suitcase she hadn't used since returning to New York .


She placed it on the bed and opened it, trekking back and forth as she slowly filled it with jeans and silk and flannel – comfortable things she'd worn in her other life that she hadn't been able to part with. Once it was packed, she moved it to the living room and walked back to the kitchen, pouring a glass of white wine and padding back to the bedroom.


She crossed to the bureau and opened the top drawer; she pulled out the ring that had been resting there for the last several weeks. She took it out and examined it from all angles, remembering the elation she'd felt when Robert had slipped it on her finger. She wondered what had happened to the passion she thought they'd shared between them.


Their enthusiasm had been high for the first few weeks of their engagement, what with celebratory parties and moving in together, but as time marched forward, that enthusiasm waned and they'd never actually gotten around to planning a wedding, much less having one. And for the past few months, they hadn't even managed to have obligatory sex, to say nothing of spontaneous, loving sex and Alex realized she felt like she was living with a roommate instead of a lifemate. That was when the ring had come off and she wondered if Robert had even noticed yet.


Alex bit her lip and shook her head, knowing it was time to put an end to things. Then she stuck the ring back in the box and shoved it into her pocket, picking up her wine and returning to the living room to wait for Robert to come home.


She watched the shadows grow in Central Park until darkness started to blanket the city. As the twilight elongated, the door to the penthouse opened and Robert stepped into the dark room.


"Alex, honey? Why are you standing here in the dark?" He flipped on a light and noticed her suitcase by the door. "Where are you going? Is there something wrong?"


"Several somethings," she replied without turning from the window. "For quite a while now."


He walked up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders, then dropped them to his side when she pulled away from his touch. "Alex?"


"Robert... why did you asked me to marry you?" she asked in a resigned tone.


He blinked, obviously not expecting the question. Then he cleared his throat. "Because we are good together, Alex – same social standing, same background, same ambition and drive to succeed. We'd have beautiful children if we decided we wanted them some day...." He trailed off, knowing instinctively that what he was saying was insufficient and plainly not what she wanted to hear.


She pulled the ring box from her pants pocket and turned, holding it up to him. "I think it's time we be honest with ourselves, Robert." He took the box and looked his question at her. Alex turned back to the window. "Robert, I care about you; I even love you on a certain level – God knows we make a great match for one another in a lot of ways."




"But I'm not in love with you any more than you're in love with me. Deciding to get married just because it makes social or financial sense... it's lost its appeal for me and I'm pretty sure you can say the same. Otherwise we wouldn't keep finding excuses not to get married or be intimate with one another. We can't keep lying to ourselves or each other – all we're ever going to feel for one another is affection and friendship. That's just not enough for me anymore."


"What changed?" not heartbroken, merely curious.


"Nothing... that's just the point. Nothing changed. We settled... and I don't want to do that." She turned and set her glass down on the table beside the couch and faced him. "We deserve better, Robert... we both do."


He nodded. "I suppose we do. Love should be about feeling... not logic."




"So now what?"


Alex sighed. "Now, I am on administrative leave for the next thirty days. I'm going to go up to the lodge in Connecticut and see if I can figure out where to go from here. I'll see about getting some movers in here to.... What?" she asked when Robert started shaking his head.


"No, Alex... you keep this place. You really wanted it and I still have my rooms at the club. If you move out, we'll just be putting it up for sale, so you might as well hang onto it for now. Consider it my going away gift to you," taking her hand and holding it lightly.


"Robert... it's too much."


"No, it isn't, Alex. This is something I want to do. Let me."


"If you really feel that way."


"I do. I'll clear out in the morning and leave my key with Alphonse. That way if you get things figured out and return early, you'll have a place to go." She nodded and squeezed the hand she held.


"You are too good to me, Robert."


"What can I tell you?" he joked lightly. "I'm bucking for sainthood. Now can I call the car to take you to the lodge?"


"I already arranged transportation with Uncle Bill. I think he thought I might disappear again if he didn't take care of it."


Robert smiled sadly. "So I guess this is goodbye."


"I guess it is," Alex agreed with a touch of melancholy in her voice. "I hope if we see one another again, we can be friendly."


"Alex, despite everything, we are still friends. I'm not giving that up so easily."




"Absolutely. Maybe one day you'll tell me what precipitated all this."


Alex didn't answer but leaned forward and kissed his cheek. Then she pulled away and gathered her things before stepping into the hallway and closing the door firmly behind her without a backwards glance.




"Well, Detective," the attorney confessed, dropping the briefcase into an empty chair between them before taking a seat across from her. "I must admit I was surprised when I got your call. Since you made it clear this was business and not pleasure, what can I do for you?"


Olivia blew out a breath – she hated this, but it was obviously necessary. She met green eyes. "I have a preliminary IAB hearing Monday afternoon and I need representation. I may not like you when we're on opposite sides of the aisle, but I am smart enough to recognize that you're one of the best defense attorneys I know," not admitting that he was also one of the few.


Langan's eyes grew round and he cleared his throat. "I see. May I ask why you waited so late to seek counsel?" motioning the waitress over. "Coffee, please," he requested and turned his attention back to Olivia.


"I wasn't going to have anyone," she responded honestly. "But it was made clear to me that it would be in my best interests to have a lawyer present." She folded her hands and sat back to allow the waitress to pour her another cup of coffee.


Trevor cocked an eyebrow but she ignored his unasked question. After a long moment of silence, he reached for his case and pulled out a tablet and pen. "All right – tell me everything."


Olivia signaled the waitress again. "We should order lunch. We're gonna be here a while."


Trevor asked questions and took copious notes of Olivia's answers. She reached into her handbag, pulling out a file copy of her service record and passed it to him.


"Here," she offered. "I thought this might help."


"Where did you...?"


"I've kept a copy of everything that's been put into my jacket."


"Are you sure about this?" Langan asked even as he accepted the folder from her. Benson shrugged.


"If I am gonna be forced out, I want it to be on my terms. I know I'm a good cop, Trevor. I think that should count for something."


"All right," placing the folder down beside his notes without opening it. "What am I going to find in here? What is this file going to tell me about Detective Olivia Benson?"


"You don't think you should read it and find out for yourself?"


"I will... but I want to know what you see."


"Um... okay – I see a decorated police officer that cares a little too much; most of the reprimands in there are because I took a case too personally. The performance reviews are excellent and so is the job performance."


"So why did you jeopardize it?"


"I told you... I did it for my brother. He's family and he needed my help. Trevor, the only family I ever had was my mom – when she died...." Langan put a hand on her arm to calm her and Olivia broke off before she got angry. It wasn't like they were somewhere where things couldn't be overheard. She took a deep breath and changed tactics. "Do you know what it's like to be alone... really truly alone? When you are the only one left in your family?" She shook her head. "Of course you don't. You have parents and grandparents and brothers and nieces and nephews." She pinned him with fiery, dark eyes. "Let me tell you, Trevor – it sucks. Finding out that I was part of a family...."


He nodded, removing his hand from her arm and sitting back in his chair. "All right, Olivia. I will see what I can do to minimize the damage. If what you've told me is true, they won't fire you. I need to check some things out, but I think we can get you out of this with minimum damage."


"Which is?"


"A fine... perhaps suspension or desk duty? I can't say for sure. There will certainly be consequences. This is a political year – that means they're going to be a lot tougher about deals and slaps on the wrist. On the other hand, your record and time in service has to count for a lot – one emotional misjudgment shouldn't be able to screw that up." He watched the fire grow in her eyes and held up his hands to stave off the tirade he felt was ready to burst forth from her lips. "Detective... Olivia – I am only trying to prepare you for the likely way this will go down. All kinds of old history will be brought up – what matters is what we do with it."


"All right, Trevor. I'm trusting you with my career."


"I appreciate the trust, Olivia. I'll be in touch." She nodded and Langan stood, picking up the file and his notes and stuffing them back in his briefcase.


"About your fee...." She hated to bring it up, but she needed to know what this was going to cost up front. Trevor shook his head.


"It's on the house, Olivia."




"Olivia, despite the fact that we are usually mortal enemies, I like you. You're classy, stylish, strong, beautiful and honest. You rarely hold back." He held her gaze a moment, then relented. "I tell you what – I'll do this for you and you go out with me one night and we'll call it even."


"Trevor, no. I'd be more comfortable if you let me pay you for your legal services. I don't...."


"No strings, Olivia. I would simply like to have dinner."


"Trevor, it would never be anything more than dinner between us." She stared at him for a long moment then stood. "But if that will settle our debt, then fine. You name the time and place."


Langan dropped some bills on the table to cover the charge and hoisted the briefcase with a smile. "I know, Olivia," he said cryptically. "I'll be in touch," he reiterated, before turning and walking out the door.


Benson scrunched her forehead, trying to figure out what on earth she'd missed, then shook her head and followed him out the door. She just hoped she had done the right thing.





"Detective Stabler, this is Trevor Langan." Elliot cringed but didn't hang up and Trevor pushed forward. "Listen, Detective Benson just asked me to represent her on this IAB thing she's got coming up Monday and I wondered if you could spare a few minutes to talk to me."


Elliot sighed. He'd suspected who Liv was going to lawyer up with, but the man just made his skin crawl. Still, if he was going to represent his partner, the least he could do would be to have her six. "Sure, Langan... whaddya wanna know?"


"Tell me about this brother."


Elliot hesitated. Talk about walking through a minefield.... Then he figured that if Liv trusted Langan enough to tell him about Simon, he would make sure Trevor got the whole story. Elliot motioned to Kathy and then went into the study and closed the door. This phone call was going to take more than just a few minutes.


"So can you get me a copy of that DNA report?" Trevor asked after Elliot had explained all he knew of Simon. "I doubt Olivia put that in the file she gave me to go over."


"Probably not," Stabler agreed. "She really wants him to be her brother. Despite what she says, just family isn't as important as immediate family and I don't think she wants to know he lied to her to protect himself. I'll call Melinda Warner... see if we can get something."


"Wait," Langan frowned so hard Elliot could hear it over the phone. "You don't have a copy of the DNA report?"


"No... I dunno if Liv put a slow down on things or of it just got pushed aside in light if everything else that's happened since, but as far as I know, it hasn't become public knowledge.


"If you'll call Warner, I'll see what I can find out from my end. Call me if she has anything."


"All right. I'll let you know if Warner has anything." A click hung up the phone and Elliot dialed Melinda Warner at home, hoping she'd have some answers.




Alex unlocked the door to the lodge, picking up her bag and waving off her uncle's driver before crossing the threshold and closing the door behind her. Jason had left several lights on throughout the house, creating a warm and welcome atmosphere. Alex strolled through the house slowly, reliving some of the happier times in her life. A lot of her best memories were tied up in this place.


She remembered peeking into the study when her grandfather was holding court with her father and uncles. She remembered playing chase with her cousins and hearing the nannies' exasperated voices following them. She laughed to herself when she stepped into the parlor - here her grandmother and 'the girls' would enjoy afternoon tea... with a kick. She remembered accidentally finding out about that kick when she was sixteen and the hangover that had resulted from it. She had learned to be more careful with her alcohol consumption after that.


There was the dining room where the whole family had gathered for holiday meals and the conservatory where the children and grandchildren had been required to learn to dance together. Rustic this lodge certainly wasn't, but it was as much home to Alex as anything she had ever known... especially while her grandparents had been alive.


She made her way up the stairs – as a child, she hadn't spent nearly as much time up here as she had downstairs. Coming to the lodge had always meant time with the extended family and cousins to play with. As an only child and the only girl in the younger generation, Alex had fought for her spot among them, but once she had proven herself, the boys always included her in their play.


As they had grown older, Alex took to spending more time upstairs, and it was into the room she had always been assigned when staying here that she turned into now.


The walls were a pale blue with deep blue carpet on the floor and immediately Alex felt herself relax. Tonight she'd unpack then see what she could find for dinner from what Jason had stocked the kitchen and bar with. After a long bath, she'd find a good book and curl up for the night. She'd worry about thinking about things tomorrow.




"Melinda, this is Elliot Stabler."


Melinda frowned and looked at her cell phone before putting it back up to her ear. "Detective, what can I do for you on my day off?"


Elliot cringed. "I'm sorry, Doc. I wouldn't call if it wasn't an emergency."


Warner sighed. "I know, Detective. It just seems like it's always an emergency. What can I do for you?"


"You know Liv has an IAB preliminary hearing on Monday," waiting for her affirmative. "Well, her defense counsel could use the DNA results from Simon Marsden if you've got 'em."


Melinda blinked. "Um... let me think. That was the guy claiming to be her brother, right?" knowing the answer but not wanting to commit herself. "I'm not sure if they ever got done after my preliminary test – if they were being tested as evidence it could take months. You know how long it takes for some of these things to come through. But since the charges were dropped.... Is it important?"


"Langan seemed to think so."


"Liv hired Trevor Langan to represent her? Wow... I guess she thinks this is pretty serious." Warner cleared her throat. "Um... I'll tell you what, Elliot. I'll make a few phone calls... see if I can find out if the paperwork is even in the system anymore and if we can get a rush on it if it is. If it's not, I'll see what I can work up by Monday morning."


"Thanks, doc... that'd be great."


"I'll get back to you as soon as I know something."




Alex stepped from the shower and slipped into the most comfortable pair of jeans she owned. They were so worn they were barely respectable, but she figured there was no one around to see them but her so it really didn't matter. A flannel shirt to ward off the morning chill and her ensemble was complete. Later she would trade in the flannel for cotton, but for now, she needed the warmth.


She walked sedately down the stairs, a little melancholy for the days when she ran down or slid down the banister with a squeal, the nanny's scolding ringing in her ears. Somehow, somewhere she had lost her zeal for that particular venture, though that might have had as much to do with the fact that there was no nanny to infuriate as it did with the fact that she was a mature, responsible adult.


Alex went into the kitchen, grinning at the scent of coffee. Obviously Jason had set things up for her morning before he had departed the main house the previous evening. She hoped he would be by at some point. Although she had requested to have the house to herself as much as possible, Jason had been part of this household for as long as Alex could remember and she would never run him out of his home. Maybe talking to him would help clear her head - always Jason and Geraldine had had time for each of the children in the Cabot household, but Alex was generally the one who took the most advantage of the attention. Many times when she was ready to take a break from roughhousing with the boys, she would go to the kitchen. Geraldine would always draw Alex into whatever she was doing or she would help Jason in the flowerbeds. They had been her cherished confidantes growing up, always taking the time to listen to her, and she had missed having them in her life.


As if on cue, Jason stepped through the back door, and Alex reverted into the child she had once been, greeting him with an enthusiastic hug. Jason wasn't shy and lifted her off her feet as he returned the embrace.


"Lexxie!" he exclaimed. "I couldn't believe it when your uncle called to let me know you'd be here. You haven't been here since...."


"... since I went into witness protection, I know." Alex stepped back and Jason let her go, sensing her discomfort. He watched as she poured two cups of coffee, offering one to him before adding a dash of cream to hers. "I missed being here," she said as she took a seat at the table and waited for him to do the same.


"So what brings you home, Lexxie?"


"I'm taking a bit of a sabbatical from work... trying to figure out what I want to do."


Jason frowned. "In what way, Lexxie? I thought you had it all... good job, nice place, wealthy, handsome fiancé – what's left to figure out?" covering the hand that rested on the top of the table.


"Jason, did you ever stop and look back at your life and wonder?" keeping her eyes on the table.


"Wonder what, Lexxie?"


"Wonder if you've wasted your life... if you're doing the best that you can with the chance you've been given."


Jason tapped her arm. "Sounds like you need to talk – let me call Geraldine. I think it might be time to make cookies."


Alex smiled and looked up at him with tears in her eyes. They had always made cookies together when Alex had a difficult problem she needed to talk about. It took the direct attention away from her and gave her something to focus on besides herself. It was where she first learned to find the poise she needed in the courtroom.


"I'd like that," she confessed blinking back tears. "I've never outgrown my sweet tooth... or my appreciation for Geraldine's sugar cookies."


Jason chuckled and rose to collect the coffee pot and bring it back to the table. He refilled their cups and replaced the pot. "Honey, I've been married to her for forty years. I can say without a doubt that you never will."


Alex chuckled. It wasn't much, but it was a start.




Olivia took a deep breath of the air outside her apartment, almost tasting the scent of the city as it wafted through her system and onto the back of her tongue. She winced slightly and headed for the closest subway station, intent on making her way to Central Park .


After her meeting with Langan the previous day, she had come home and cleaned her apartment with a vengeance. There wasn't much else to do, and with no likelihood of being called in for duty, she figured she had plenty of time to get things in order again. She wryly thought it was quite the metaphor for her life at the moment – she felt like she'd been off course for a while now. Maybe this IAB thing was just the impetus she needed to take a long hard look at things and see if she could get her life back on track – headed in a direction she wanted to go instead of simply allowing it to meander from day to day and case to case.


Hence her escape early Sunday morning to claim her thinking bench and enjoy the solitude and the relative fresh air she knew she would find there, especially this early. She exited the station, looking around at the high-rises and brownstones she knew she could never afford and idling wondering which one of them belonged to Alex Cabot. Then she chided herself for allowing her mind to wander there and crossed the street into the park.


Despite the fact that fall was still more than a month away, it was unexpectedly cool and Olivia was glad for the leather jacket she had pulled from the back of her closet before leaving home.


She passed a number of people out enjoying the crisp day as much as she was. They were mostly quiet - strolling the paths, riding their bikes, and in the case of several, stretched out in the grass reading. Olivia took her time walking around the park, appreciating the fact that there were no expectations, no deadlines, no pressures out here.


She followed the path around until she reached her thinking bench. She took a seat and closed her eyes, letting her other senses function in their place. And for a while, filtering out and cataloguing the sounds and scents she was experiencing took all the effort she could muster towards it.


After a while though, Liv let her mind travel down the garden path, thinking back over the events of the past few months, trying to figure out when things had started to unravel.


She started with Alex Cabot's unexpected arrival at her front door – obviously not the beginning of her current issues, but definitely odd on its own merit. Olivia frowned; she couldn't figure out why Cabot had bothered... it wasn't like they'd been a blip on the Devil's radar since she'd gone into witness protection. Neither her return for Connor's trial nor her subsequent homecoming had changed Olivia's perception of who Alex Cabot was – or who she had become once more.


The red-hot Devil that Alex Cabot had been before Velez's entrance into their lives had disappeared and become the Ice Princess that had originally come to the one-six as the new ADA . Olivia frowned deeper – so why the sudden turn around... why the sudden apparent change of heart... especially given the rumors that had circulated Police Plaza and Hogan Place that made Cabot out to be some sort of pod person in place of the real thing? The Alex Cabot she had known, whether Devil or Ice Princess, had always had too much determination and fire for that. Liv shook her head to clear it; she didn't need Cabot in any incarnation in there cluttering things up when there were more important personal concerns for her to focus on.


So if not Cabot, what next? Olivia let her mind move farther back. There was Simon, of course – he was the cause of her current misery. But despite that, whether he was her brother or not – and she believed it was true though she knew Elliot did not – he was not the reason her trouble had started. He was simply the reason things had come to a head.


Beyond that were her problems with Elliot – that had led to their estrangement and subsequent temporary separation. But they had resolved those issues as much as possible and Olivia was honest enough to admit that even that was not the root of her problem. She continued to examine her recollections, chasing cases and memories looking to find what had brought her to this point in time.


Of its own volition, her mind went back to the night outside Mahoney's and the sound of gunfire. The blood and the fear and the pain when she realized Alex was gone from her life.


"Dammit!" Olivia cursed and slapped her hands against the bench.


"Problem, Detective?"


Olivia's eyes popped open and her head turned in the direction of Casey's voice. She raised an eyebrow in question.


"What are you doing here, Counselor?"


"In Central Park ? Just out enjoying the day." She nudged Olivia over and waited for her to sigh dramatically and slide over before Casey took a seat next to her. "So what was so wrong with your day that you felt the need to slap the bench and curse?"


Olivia shrugged. "Just thinking... working out my frustration a little bit. It's been a long few months."


"It's been a long few years," Casey stated firmly. "Anything I can help with?"


"Yeah," Olivia said after a couple minute's contemplation. "Take my mind off of it – tell me about your date the other night."


Casey flushed. "How did you...?"


Olivia chuckled. "Casey, you were at a cop bar. Even if me and the guys hadn't seen you there, we would've heard about it before you got home. You know cops are worse gossips than lawyers and the grapevine moves at the speed of light when cops or lawyers are involved." Liv chuckled again. "So you wanna share?"


"It was nothing really – Jessica is an old girlfriend from college. We just got together for drinks and dinner."




"But... she reminded me that there is more to life than just work, and if I don't take a little time to take care of myself, I will burn out and grow old before my time."


"Kinda like me, huh?" Olivia said sadly.


"Nah... you're still a beautiful woman, Liv."


Olivia shrugged. "Maybe, but I *am* burning out, Casey. I can feel the years...." She shook her head and looked away.


Casey absorbed the information with a thoughtful pause. "C'mon... I think part of your problem is you're worrying about what might happen Monday." She stood and held out her hand. "Let's go get some ice cream. Then if you want to go back to worrying you can. But at least you'll have a bit of a respite in the meantime."


Olivia accepted the proffered hand and stood before releasing it and tucking her hands into her pockets. "Sounds like a plan, Counselor," nodding her head. "Lead the way." Casey stuck her hands in her own pockets and together they started out of the park.




Geraldine handed Alex the towel and motioned to her face. "Still trying to learn the trick to making cookies without making a mess I see," she teased gently as she placed two pans of cookies into the oven. Then she pulled out two more sheets and she and Alex started cutting another batch.


"Yeah," Alex drawled slightly, smearing a little more flour across her cheek. "I never quite got the hang of it, though at least I haven't caught anything on fire recently."


Geraldine's eyebrows went to her hairline. "Do I even want to ask?"


"Well, thanks to witness protection I no longer need to marry a chef to keep from starving to death, but it was a near thing for a while. I managed to catch the stove on fire once that I clearly remember, and I'm pretty sure I burned more than one pot trying to boil water." She shook her head. "It wasn't pretty."


"Witness protection taught you to cook?"


"Witness protection forced me to learn to survive. Wisconsin was nothing like Manhattan – no local delis on every corner... no restaurants to stop at on the way home. It was either learn to cook or eat cereal and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day."


"And you hate peanut better and jelly."


"It's never been my favorite," Alex smirked, "but I adjusted."


The timer went off and Geraldine opened the oven and withdrew the cookie sheets from within, placing them on the trivet. She grabbed the other pans to place inside while Alex proceeded to remove the cookies and transfer them to the cooling rack.


"And how are you adjusting now?" Geraldine asked with forthrightness. She knew when Jason had escaped outdoors that he believed Alex needed to talk to her privately. Alex just arched an eyebrow.


"How do you do that? I know Jason didn't say anything to you – I was standing here when he called you and he didn't say a word before he went outside."


Geraldine smiled. "Sweetheart, when you've been married as long as Jason and I have, you learn to speak in any number of ways. Not all communication is verbal – as a lawyer you should know that. And when you've had as much practice as Jason and I have.... So," Geraldine said as she turned to pull the second batch of cookies out of the oven. "What's going on with you, Lexxie?"


Alex sighed, lifting the cookies from the pan and smiling when Geraldine put a plate underneath her spatula. Then she sat down across from Geraldine at the other woman's insistence and waited, knowing what was coming. Sure enough, Geraldine poured them each a tall glass of cold milk and handed Alex a napkin. Then she helped herself to a still hot cookie and looked at Alex expectedly.


Alex also took a cookie but she placed it on her napkin and gazed at it unseeingly for a long moment before raising her eyes to meet Geraldine's compassionate brown ones.


"I don't know, Gerry," reverting to the familiar address from childhood. "I have everything I could possibly want."




"But... it's not enough. It's not making me happy anymore... I'm not sure that it ever did. It feels as though my entire life has been a waste – as if nothing I have done makes a difference... to me or anyone else."


Geraldine sat silently as she nibbled on her cookie and contemplated Alex's words. "What changed, honey? What brought about this rather sudden change of heart?" She paused. "I thought you were happy... we all did. You returned from witness protection a conquering heroine; you have a job that put you on the road to the district attorney's office or higher; you have a wildly attractive and successful fiancé. I'm not sure I understand what I'm missing."


Alex rose from her place and walked to the windows, looking out at Jason as he puttered in the gardens. "I'm not sure I understand it either, Gerry... but there is no passion in my life now." She raked her fingers through her hair, leaving it slightly messy, but she never turned her gaze from the window. "When I first went into law, I was zealous about what I did and stupid with idealism. I had morality on my side; I was righting wrongs and bringing justice to victims who deserved it. And it didn't hurt that I was pushing towards what I felt were higher goals at the same time."


"When I went after Velez, I was absolutely certain I was right, and all that certainty did was nearly got me killed. And it cost me everything... everything I cared about at the time. It forced me from my home, my job, my detectives and it left me with nothing."


Alex fell silent and Geraldine let her be, confident that she would continue when she resolved her thoughts in her mind. It wasn't like any of this was news to either of them, but apparently Alex needed to review old history to put things into perspective. As the silence continued, however, Geraldine felt compelled to push a little bit.


"What happened, Lexxie?"


Alex turned from the window. "Emily happened. She was boring and passionless and worthless, really. She did nothing... accomplished nothing... was no one. I hated her!" Alex replied with vehemence. "I was so glad to return for the Connor's trial if only because Emily had to die when I did."


"But you went back into the program."


"Reluctantly... and *not* as Emily. I steadfastly refused." She chuckled softly. "I think Hammond realized the Devil he was dealing with then. He'd only thought I was bad the first time out."


Geraldine laughed in sympathy. "He should have known you as a child."


"He should have known me as an ADA ," came Alex's rejoinder. Then she fell silent again.


"Lexxie, honey... I already knew most of this. What does it have to do with what is going on with you now? You came home – as Alexandra Cabot – and you reclaimed her. You have been more successful in your life since your return than you were before you left. Your mother would have been proud."


"I don't think so, Gerry. Society expectations aside, my mother wanted me to be happy – and I'm not. I haven't been happy in a very long time. It just took me a while to figure out that I was still unhappy, even though I no longer had reason to be."


"Do you know why?"


"Not yet, but I will. I have time now to figure it out. And no one but me to satisfy with whatever answers I find."


"Well, I'll be here whenever you need to talk or just want some company to commiserate with. And in the meantime, I'll fatten you up a bit. I don't know what you've been eating, but it's time you get back to real food and my sugar cookies," pointing to Alex's place at the counter and motioning her to sit and eat. "Start with the cookies – I'll work on lunch. That way I can be sure you won't catch the place on fire, because I'm not about to explain that to your uncle."


"I told you I haven't done that in a while," Alex mumbled around a mouthful of cookie.


"Uh huh… when was the last time you cooked?" watching Alex blush and bow her head. "Thought so - means you're about due for a disaster then. Now eat," Geraldine commanded.


Alex scowled, but obediently took another bite of her cookie, satisfied that she would find her answers in time.




Melinda sighed when she perused the final file. When the case against Simon Marsden was dropped, so was the paperwork that had gone with it. It had never gone any farther than her office and her results had been inconclusive. She picked up her phone.




"Elliot, it's Melinda Warner. Listen, can you and Langan meet me for coffee? I've got the information you asked for, but it isn't much."


"Um, sure. Where are you?" Melinda told him. "All right... give me half an hour to contact Langan and get there."


"All right. I'll be waiting."


"So... what've you got, doc?" Elliot asked as he set a cup of coffee in front of her and took a seat across from her. Trevor pulled out a third chair and sat, placing his cup on the table and offering Melinda a muffin as well. She smiled and thanked him, then folded her hands and placed them on the papers in front of her.


"What I've got is a lot of nothing," she said succinctly. "When the case against Simon Marsden was dropped, all the evidence and paperwork that went with it stopped cold. There is nothing except my test of his DNA against Olivia's and that could actually get her in more trouble - it could be considered a misuse of city resources. She and I could both be reprimanded for that, actually." She took a sip of her coffee and passed her findings over to Trevor.


"So what does this mean, exactly?"


"It means," she said slowly, "that Simon Marsden is a blood relative of Detective Olivia Benson, but there is no conclusive proof that he is her brother. Her belief in that comes from other things he shared with her, and the stories that his mother told them."


"Did she share those things with you?"


"Some of them. The rest I found on my own... much like she did I imagine."


"Things that make it possible that Simon was telling her the truth."


Melinda nodded. "Yes... probable even... but not necessarily true." She sighed and set her cup down once more. "The thing is – Olivia wants to believe it. True or not, she wants Simon to be her brother... even her half brother... because that makes him family and it gives her a place to belong. She's been alone so long – she needs that. I'm not sure trying to take that away from her, even to save her career, is the right thing to do."


Trevor looked through the papers and then back at Melinda. "Can I keep these... at least until the hearing is over?" She nodded.


"Those are copies. You can keep them as long as you need. Just please destroy them or return them to me when you are done. I don't need to get into any more trouble than I could already be in for having them in the first place."


Langan smiled. "I'll keep that in mind, Dr. Warner. I don't want to cause anyone anymore problems than we've already got."


"So will this help Liv?" Elliot asked after a moment.


"I think I can make a case for leniency," Langan stated honestly. "Like I told Olivia... they won't dismiss the charges or go for a slap on the wrist – it's an election year and they need to be seen as taking care of business. But the fact is she's a good cop who has been without a real family her entire life. It's not surprising she wants to believe Simon, especially if there is any probability at all he is telling her the truth; it's even less surprising that she wanted to help him out of a jam. I'll try not to bring the DNA into it at all."


"What a mess," Elliot muttered.


"No kidding," Melinda agreed. "And what about you, Detective? What did you end up with?" Trevor perked up and turned his attention to Elliot.


"Something happened to you as well, Detective?" Elliot glared at Melinda and she shrugged.


"Let's just say most of SVU had a meltdown recently. *I* am having to teach traffic school one night a week for six months – still have a while to go on that actually. But thanks for bringing that up, doc."


"Sorry, Elliot. I didn't mean...."


Stabler took a deep breath. "I know, doc. It's all right. The whole thing is fucked up... like someone was gunning for us or something."


"I hear that. Even Huang is convinced there is some sort of conspiracy at this point, though he'd never say that in front of Munch."


Elliot laughed. "Smart man. He'd never get out of that conversation alive.” He stood up. “Look, I've gotta get home to my wife. Thanks for the info, doc. And thanks for helping out my partner, Langan. She doesn't deserve the shit she's in."


“No, she doesn't,” he replied forcefully. “I've been reading her jacket; I meant what I said about her being one of the good guys. I know we are rarely on the same side in any given situation, but we are all on the same side this time. I don't want to see the city lose Detective Benson as a police officer. If we had more like her, the world would be a nicer place to live in.”


Elliot's eyebrows hiked up to his high hairline. “Nursing something of a crush for my partner there, big guy?”


Langan laughed. “No, Detective... not hardly. I learned a long time ago how to tell the possible from the never going to happen. I know a lost cause when I see one, and having Olivia Benson in my life as more than a friendly acquaintance is definitely a pipe dream for me. That is not to say I won't try for friendship with her though. I think she could probably use all of those she can get.”


“Probably,” Stabler agreed. “Just don't cross the line with her. Despite what Simon has made her believe about her family, the truth is she has a whole list of brothers she can call family who will be there for her in a New York minute. And they all carry guns.”


“Warning noted, Detective. But trust me when I tell you that I'm just happy she asked me to defend her. I would like to be her friend.”


“Maybe one day, Counselor. After all – you *are* the enemy most days.”


Langan smiled and held out his hand. “It's nice not to be for a change.” They shook hands briefly and Elliot headed out the door. Trevor turned to Melinda. “Can I see you somewhere, Dr. Warner or perhaps call you a cab?”


Melinda picked up her half-eaten muffin and the remainder of her coffee. “A cab would be great. I need to get to the Park to join my family for what's left of our day together. Thank you, Trevor.”


“My pleasure, Dr. Warner. I think your information will aid Olivia's case immensely.”


She nodded and stepped into the cab that stopped at Trevor's hail. Then she waved as it sped off towards Central Park . Trevor Langan watched it out of sight, then turned his feet towards his apartment some blocks away. He had some thinking and strategizing to do and walking would give him the perfect opportunity to do so.




Alex lay on the grassy knoll a short distance from the back door of the old hunting lodge. She realized now it was nothing like a hunting lodge, but that is what she had known it as in her youth and that was the way her mind continued to think of it to this day. There were a number of fluffy white clouds in the sky and she let her eyes chase them, even as her mind refused to focus on anything more serious than the shapes they made.


Unfortunately, her subconscious was much stronger than her conscious will and soon Alex was finding Olivia Benson in the clouds. That was followed by a smoking gun... a dead body... a set of handcuffs... then Olivia Benson again, this time holding a key.


Sighing, she flopped over onto her belly, never realizing when she dozed off.


She shivered when Jason's hand shook her awake, gladly accepting the blanket he held out to her and wrapping herself up in its warmth. Alex blinked slowly as her senses returned and wondered why she was outside on the ground as the sun was sinking below the horizon. Then it occurred to her what she had been doing prior to her impromptu nap and she blushed, the blood warming her body as it sped through her system.


“Geraldine sent me to tell you it's time for supper. She's not gonna let you skip meals while you're here, Lexxie, so don't even bother to say it.” He held out his hand to her. “C'mon... she fixed common food tonight, but I'm betting you'll find it to your liking.”


Alex took his hand and rose, then brushed the grass from herself before wrapping the blanket more firmly around her. “Jason, I have yet to find anything Geraldine's cooks *not* to my liking.” She scrunched up her nose in distaste. “Except for liver and onions. There is nothing *anyone* could do to that dish to make it to my liking... there is nothing there to like.”


Jason guffawed heartily. “We figured that out the first time I found it buried in the garden, honey. I don't think Geraldine would do that to you when she is trying to put a bit of meat on those bones of yours. Did you enjoy your nap?”


“Surprisingly, yes. I think I needed it.”


“Well, one of the nice things about this lodge is there is really nothing to disturb you if you're looking for peace and quiet.” He held the door open for her and Alex preceded him into the mudroom off the kitchen. The both slipped out of their shoes and then padded silently into the kitchen. Geraldine motioned them both to the small kitchen table and Alex relinquished the blanket she had wrapped around her. He placed it to one side, and seated Alex then his wife before taking a seat himself.


After saying a brief grace Geraldine looked at Alex. “We're going to church tomorrow, so you'll have the place to yourself unless you'd like to come along with us,” knowing what her answer to that would be. “I'll put on a pot roast for you that you can eat whenever you've a mind then.”


“The two of you don't need to wait on me hand and foot. I've gotten very good at taking care of myself over the years.” Jason covered her hand.


“Lexxie, don't spoil our fun. We haven't had anyone up here to spoil for ages. We promise not to hover too much, but we can't not keep an eye on you while you're here. We always have.”


“And know, and I appreciate it, but it really isn't necessary. You two enjoy your day off together. I'm probably going to go down to the stream and have a picnic.”


“That sounds lovely,” Geraldine agreed. Then they turned their attention to eating and the conversation moved to other things.

Sunday passed in a pleasant haze for Alex, but in the back of her mind loomed Olivia's IAB hearing. She wished she could be present for it – maybe then she would find closure for the ache in her chest and could move on with her life.




The catcalls and whistles were enough to bring a blush to Olivia's face when she stepped into the precinct Monday morning. She glared around the room only to find everyone staring back at her with frank, appreciative grins. She finally relented and smiled, giving them a small curtsey to a round of applause. Then she took her seat and started in on her paperwork.


Elliot got up from his desk and leaned up against hers. "You ready for this?" he asked. She took a deep breath and met his eyes, allowing only him to see the doubt she felt.


"Do I have a choice?"


"No, but if it makes you feel better, everyone here is pulling for you. The odds makers down in vice are giving you two to one on escaping clean."


"El, we both know that's not gonna happen. Trevor was right about one thing for sure – they're gonna hang me out to dry to show they mean business... to make sure that the public knows the police department is taking care of wrongdoers within the ranks."


"Liv, your case isn't public knowledge – they're not gonna fire you over this, especially since the Feds aren't pursuing a case against you. If it makes you feel better, me, Fin and Munch have got ten to one odds that you will get by with a suspension."


For a long moment, he thought Olivia was going to get angry, then she smirked at him. "Did someone at least cover that bet for me?" Elliot laughed out loud.


"You know it, partner."


As the morning wore on, a number of officers from several different precincts stopped by to offer their support to Liv. She smiled and graciously accepted their support, realizing what Elliot had said about her reputation as a detective and the respect she had garnered in the department was complete truth. Then the unexpected happened.




Alex woke slowly Monday morning and lay there debating whether or not she wanted to get up and drive into the city for the day. Despite what Olivia had said... despite what she recognized as the truth of Branch's words... part of Alex's heart and mind were drawn to the IAB hearing she knew was going to take place today. Surely there was something she could do. Then the phone rang and interrupted her train of thought. She glowered at the offensive noise, wondering who had the audacity to call this early in the morning, then she lifted the receiver from the cradle.




"Don't even think about it, Counselor. You stay safely tucked away in the ritzy house you call a lodge and let us worry about Olivia's hearing." Alex sat up, tucking the sheet around her after pulling her knees up to her chest.


"Us? *You* get to help her??"


"I'm not the enemy here, Cabot... hers or yours. Nothing changes the fact that as far as the world is concerned, you're on the other side of the line – not even the fact that you're madly, passionately in love with her."


Silence greeted the words, prompting the speaker's tone to change slightly to one of concern. "Alex? You still there?"


"How did you know?" she asked, her voice a mere whisper. All out laughter met the question and Alex lifted the phone away from her ear and glared at it. "It's not funny."


"Oh sweetheart," the voice replied soothingly. "I know it's not. If you're asking about how I knew you are in love with her - that was easy. It shows in your eyes... and hers. It always has. If you're asking how I knew you were considering trying to attend her hearing, let's just say I've known you long enough to understand the way you think."


Alex sighed. "I hate you, you know."


"No you don't. You love me and you're going to invite me up to that lodge when this is all over."


Alex sighed again. "You know you're always welcome, but you call and let me know how things go as soon as you know something."


"Good girl. I'll call as soon as the hearing's over, though it will probably be at least three or four days while the board considers their options. We don't expect her to be fired, but we all believe they're going to do something if only to make the statement that no one including the police is above the law."


"Idiots," Alex mumbled.


"Yeah, but the die's been cast. I'll call you back this afternoon."


"Apparently I will be here. But call the cell – I may be outside."


"All right. Try to stay out of trouble."


"You too." Another laugh met her ears just before the sound of a dial tone told her the call had ended. Alex let a wistful smile cross her face before replacing the phone and sliding from the bed. Maybe she would pack a picnic basket; it would be a nice way to spend the day... trying not to worry.




The complete silence in the room was the first thing that drew Olivia's attention from her work. She had forced herself to focus, hoping to lose herself in her task and make time pass faster. The lack of sound, however, caused her to blink and look up – finding a long pair of legs leaning against her desk. She arched an eyebrow and followed the line up, wondering if the Devil has shown up despite everything. Instead she met the classic smirk and amused brown eyes of one Abbie Carmichael.


" Carmichael ... what the hell are you doing here?"


"Well hello to you too, Detective Benson. What the hell kind of greeting is that for an old friend?" Abbie's eyes twinkled with secrets and Olivia just managed to stave off the blush that wanted to course through her body at the personal knowledge she held of those secrets. Instead she stood up and opened her arms, relishing the feel of the other woman pressed up against her again. The two hugged for a long moment before a throat clearing pushed them apart to glare in Elliot's direction.


"Something I can do for you, Detective?" Abbie asked in her trademark raspy drawl. Munch leaned against the doorjamb of Cragen's office and clutched at his chest dramatically.


"You could just stand there and speak for a little while," wincing when she turned her force ten glare in his direction and then scowled for good measure.


"Or you could share some of that whole hugging thing you and Liv had going on there," Elliot said, opening up his arms and waiting for her to step into them. "How are ya, Abbie?" Stabler asked after a brief embrace. "We still miss you around here."


"Nah... you just miss hearing my sexy little drawl," Carmichael argued with a smirk and a glance in John Munch's direction. He simply offered her a tiny smile and a bow. "However, if you gentlemen will excuse us, Detective Benson and I have a few things to discuss before her hearing."


"Wait... you're here for my IAB hearing?" Liv asked in a low tone. "Abbie, you can't do that."


"Actually, I can. I'm here representing the United States government. C'mon and I'll explain it to you over lunch." Olivia nodded her head dumbly and picked up her purse before following Abbie out the door. The silence remained for a moment longer before the regular buzz of work returned to the precinct once more. Munch crossed over to stand next to Elliot, whose eyes remained glued to the door the two women had just disappeared through.


"Well, that was an unpredictable turn of events. You think Abbie is here to help Liv?"


"I don't think even an order from GW himself could make Abbie turn her back on a friend," Munch replied. "I imagine she's going to remind internal affairs that good ol' Uncle Sam isn't pressing charges against Olivia." He turned and looked directly at Elliot. "I'd say our bet was in the bag."


"Kathy will be glad to hear that. She's already informed me we need to go baby shopping soon."


Munch winced and turned to go back into Cragen's office. "I don't envy you that, my friend. Kids get more expensive by the minute."


"Tell me about it," Elliot grumbled, shaking his head. He plopped down into his chair and sighed.


Munch smirked. "Maybe we should give you a baby shower." Elliot looked up, mouth dropped open and eyes wide as visions of diaper pin games and baby diapering contests flashed through his mind at lightning speed. Munch chuckled. "Then again, maybe not." Then he walked into the office and resumed the work Abbie's arrival had interrupted. It was another long moment before Elliot was able to do the same.




Olivia and Abbie stopped right outside the precinct when Casey called Benson by name. Abbie's eyebrow went up and she waited for Olivia to introduce them.


"Oh good," Casey breathed. "I was afraid I might miss you. I just wanted to come by and wish you luck."


"Casey, you could've done that over the phone."


"I know; I was going to offer to take you to lunch as well, but I think Ms Carmichael already has that covered." She watched Abbie's brow arch in question and smiled, extending her hand. "I'm sure you don't remember me, Ms Carmichael – I was an intern in the white collar crime division when we met. I'm Casey Novak, ADA for the SVU."


Now both brows flew into her hairline. "*You're* Casey Novak?" She turned and punched Olivia on the arm, snickering at the glare it earned her. "You coulda warned me, Yankee," she growled sotto voce. Then she took Casey's hand. "It's very nice to meet you again, Ms Novak. Would you like to join us for lunch?"


"I don't want to intrude...."


"Trust me, it would be our pleasure. Maybe between us, we can give Olivia here enough good karma to feel relaxed at the hearing."


"You're sure you don't mind?" looking between Liv and Abbie and realizing Abbie still held her hand. She tugged gently and found it released, though Abbie's wink at her when she did so was more than a little disconcerting. Still, Casey smiled. "I'd like that," she replied honestly when they both indicated their willingness to have her accompany them.


Abbie linked her arms through theirs and headed them for her favorite mom and pop place near the one-six. And the best part was – they had ice cream.




"I shouldn't have eaten so much," Olivia complained as they stepped from the restaurant. "I think I'm gonna throw up."


Casey bit her lip to hold in her smile, but Abbie chuckled out loud. "You shouldn't have ordered that banana split. Now all those nervous butterflies are having a field day," twitching her hands in circles to demonstrate. Then she pointed at Benson and scowled fiercely. "You're not allowed to throw up before or during this hearing, Detective, so let's move it."


Olivia returned the look then relented. "Fine... I can always throw up afterwards."


"Benson, get a grip. I'm not about to let you get fired and neither is Langan." Abbie turned and glared at Olivia. "Why did you choose him anyway? How often did I listen to you and Stabler bitch about him and his evil, defense attorney ways?"


"I know, but he's about the only defense attorney I know well enough to ask. Technically, you can't represent me, and neither can anyone I know in the DA's office. And if Cabot was stupid enough to risk her career to make sure I had representation, then I figured it would be in my best interests to have someone besides me on my side."


"Olivia, we're *all* on your side," Casey assured her, "we're just not allowed to...."


"I know," Liv assured her. "C'mon... you've gotta get back to work, and we don't wanna be late."


"Call me when it's over? I know you won't get a ruling today," Casey assured them, holding up her hands to stop their protestations, "but at least then I'll know when to start worrying with you guys." Abbie grinned and pulled out a card, scribbling something on the back before passing it to Casey.


"Call me when your day is over – we'll go to dinner and I'll tell you how things go."


Casey took the card and slipped it into her pocket. Then she hailed a cab and waved goodbye before heading back to Hogan Place . Abbie turned and slid her hand into the crook of Olivia's elbow, tugging gently to get them moving into the precinct.


"Nice of you to take advantage of my misery," Liv grumbled. "I'm dying and you're making dates."


"Benson, stop being a drama queen. You're not going to die today. We're going to go in there and kick a little IAB butt and then we're going to go have a couple drinks with the guys and then we'll get some dinner. In a few days, they'll come back with their ruling and we'll see where we need to go from there." She put her arm around Olivia's shoulders. "So no dying today." Liv noted Abbie stayed away from the dating comment, but Langan was waiting for them at the top of the steps, which prevented her from responding.


She introduced them, knowing they had never been on the same side of the aisle before. Abbie and Trevor spent a couple moments speaking to one another about Olivia's case, then Trevor turned a watchful eye to the detective that was trying her best to be somewhere else. They flanked her and headed inside and up to the conference room where Liv's hearing was to be held.


The committee looked up when the door opened, surprised to see the good detective with such fierce looking representation. The last they had heard, she was going to speak for herself. Still, she was certainly entitled to legal counsel. The chairman motioned to the chair across the table. Olivia sat and Trevor pulled two more chairs from the wall and placed one on either side of Liv, allowing Abbie to seat herself before taking his own.


"Detective Benson, we had understood that you would be representing yourself, so would you care to introduce your legal counsel?" Langan put a hand on her arm and shook his head slightly before turning back to the committee sitting across from them.


"I am Trevor Langan, representing Detective Benson and this is...."


"I'm Abigail Carmichael, representing the interests of the United States government."


The chairman's eyebrows went into his hairline. "And what exactly is the government's interest in these proceedings, Ms Carmichael? This is an internal affairs issue for the NYPD. I'm not sure I understand your presence here."


"My interest is that of justice, Mr. Chairman. The government is well aware that this is an election year – we do not wish to see an officer of Detective Benson's caliber sacrificed on the altar of public opinion and voter satisfaction... especially as we are taking no action against her for the very same charges you are attempting to bring against her at this hearing."


The chairman tilted his head. "So you don't think there should be some sort of penalty for her actions, Counselor? That as a police officer she should be above the law?"


"That is not what I said, Mr. Chairman," though both Olivia and Trevor heard the unspoken 'jackass' clear as a bell. "I am here to be sure that the punishment you choose for Detective Benson is fair and reasonable."


The committee looked less than thrilled with her response, but it wasn't like they could make her leave. The chairman turned his attention to Trevor Langan, then he looked at Olivia Benson who sat straight in her chair, her face a mask as she met each of their eyes honestly. He cleared his throat.


"Detective Benson, do you understand the charges against you and the nature of their seriousness?"


"We do, Mr. Chairman," Trevor answered for her.


"Why don't you tell us what you understand and we'll go from there? And we'd like to hear directly from the detective this time, Counselor."


Olivia exchanged a look with Trevor then faced the disciplinary board. "I am being charged with aiding and abetting a wanted felon, misuse of city services and conduct unbecoming an officer. Penalties range from remedial training and suspension to complete dismissal from the force and jail time."


"And what are your thoughts, Detective? What do you think this committee should do to be fair?"


"We think you should consider not only Detective Benson's exemplary record, but also the circumstances that drove her to make the decisions that she did."


"Why don't you lay it out for us, Counselor? Perhaps you can make a case that won't require us to dismiss Detective Benson from service."


"You've heard from Ms. Carmichael, a representative of the US Attorney General's office. If they don't feel that the case against Detective Benson has merit enough to bring charges, why would this office? But that aside, Detective Benson has earned the right for leniency in this case." Trevor paused and rose from his seat, moving to stand behind Olivia without seeming to hover over her.


"Most of you are probably unaware of Detective Benson's past – she was conceived during an act of rape, and yet her mother chose to keep and raise the child that had been created during an act of violence upon her. But doing so caused Serena Benson to turn to alcohol – a vice which destroyed her and nearly did the same to a daughter she both loved and hated. When she died, Olivia Benson was left completely alone – no family to speak of.


In the meantime, Olivia had gone to college, graduating magna cum laude with a degree in criminal justice, then going directly into the police academy where she was first in her class. She did her time as a beat cop, but as soon as the opportunity rose, she took the test for detective and passed, putting in for SVU immediately. You see, her mother never found justice – her rapist was never caught, and Olivia had decided that wasn't going to happen to anyone else. She'd seen firsthand the damage sexual assault and violence could do to a tender soul. So she joined the Special Victims' Unit, and in the eight years she's been there, she's made the difference in so many lives.


Now I know you're all sitting there wondering why I am telling you this... what possible bearing this could have on this hearing. Well, I'm going to tell you. You see, several months ago when the opportunity arose, Detective Benson entered her DNA into the system, hoping to finally find justice for her mother. What she found was a man who was definitely kin, but not her rapist father.


No... the man she found was her half-brother – a man who had a wife and kids and a stable life until he stood accused of the same crime his father had been guilty of on several occasions. Is it any wonder she wanted to believe him... that she wanted to believe he was not guilty of the crimes of which he stood accused? Simon Marsden gave Olivia Benson something she had never really had before – a family of her own... and a place to belong.


Was what she did right? No, of course it wasn't – she freely admits that. It was a severe lapse in judgment that could cost her everything she's worked for. No one realizes the damage that has been done to her reputation as a police officer more than Detective Benson. If she had the opportunity to do things differently, she would, even if it cost her the new family she's found.


But the fact remains that it did happen. The question is – does one infraction erase all the good she's accomplished in her time with the NYPD? Detective Benson is a good cop... a good officer... and when she realized her error, she helped the FBI catch him... believing him still to be a criminal. Not the best way to ingratiate yourself into your new family.


The FBI had her dead to rights and yet they have chosen not to press charges, as Ms Carmichael's presence here on Detective Benson's behalf signifies.


Now ladies and gentlemen," meeting the eyes of each member of the committee before allowing himself to continue, "I didn't tell you all this looking for pity or sympathy on my client's behalf. The truth is Detective Benson would never have shared this with you had she undertaken her own defense as she had originally planned. But I think you all need to know where she came from – how that influenced her to do what she did." He paused. "Can any one of you here say you wouldn't have done the same... that you haven't looked out for family members who've gotten into trouble before? Oh, I grant you it probably wasn't as serious a crime as aiding and abetting a fugitive, but I imagine every single member of this board has taken care of a few parking tickets or made a phone call to keep someone out of jail; maybe it was simply a matter of looking the other way. Doesn't that make you just as guilty of the things you are charging my client with?


Think about it – too harsh a punishment will open up all kinds of avenues of investigation. Soon a majority of the police department will be locked up or dismissed and then who will take care of the criminals whose actions hurt all of us?"


Trevor took his seat and Abbie nodded at him approvingly. He may be on the wrong side of the aisle most of the time, but she was glad her friend had someone who believed in her as strongly as Trevor seemed to believe in Olivia. The sound of a throat clearing brought their attention back to their surroundings and the three of them looked at the chairman.


"We need some time to look over Detective Benson's service record again and think about what you said, Counselor. We will be in touch with you with our decision by the end of the week."


As one body, both sides of the table rose and the committee filed out while Olivia and her counsel stayed put. When the room was empty save for the three of them, they all let out a deep breath... then chuckled at the reaction.


Liv opened her mouth to speak and Trevor shook his head no. Instead, he and Abbie flanked her once more and together they escorted Olivia out of the conference room and then out into the sunshine. When they were away from the building, they stopped walking.


"Thank you, Trevor," Liv said sincerely. "That was incredible."


"Yes, Counselor," Abbie agreed. "Very well done. We're going to meet up with the guys for drinks and then have dinner... would you like to join us?"


Langan smiled and shook his head. "I don't think so. I'm a good guy today, but it doesn't change the fact that the detectives and I are always on opposite sides of the aisle. Olivia should be surrounded by the people who are part of her life and my presence will only make everyone uncomfortable. When we get a good verdict, I'll come along to celebrate."


Trevor waved goodbye to them and hailed a cab. They watched until he was lost in traffic and then turned to one another.


"C'mon," Abbie said, taking Liv's hand and pulling her back inside. "Let's go tell the boys where to meet us and go find some alcohol. I need a good stiff drink."


"Me too," Liv agreed before they stepped back into the one-six and were swallowed up by the fray.




" Carmichael ... yes... I'm sorry, honey – there really hasn't been a good time. In fact, now's not really a good time either if you want to know the truth." She stuck a finger in one ear and scrunched her eyebrows together. "All right... all right... hang on." Abbie gave a look to the rest of the table and signaled her intentions. They nodded their understanding and Liv raised an eyebrow in question; Abbie shook her head and rose, heading towards the back of the bar and into the ladies' room where it was noticeably quiet.


"Jesus, Alex... what the hell's wrong with you? I told you I'd call," Abbie said with exasperation. "Are you *trying* to piss Olivia off by checking up on her or are you just looking to be fingered as a stalker?"


"Abbie... it's been four hours since the hearing. What was I supposed to think?"


"You were supposed to think that I'd call you as soon as I had a moment free and clear of anyone overhearing us... since you're not supposed to have anything to do with this and all. And I'm telling you – now's just not a good time to go into this." The door opened and Liv stuck her head in.


"Everything all right?" she asked, noting Abbie was still on the phone and looking a little harried.


"Yeah," Abbie replied softly, deliberately not covering up the mouthpiece. "Just a panicky intern that needs a little guidance. Thanks for checking though, Liv."


Liv nodded. "All right... Casey's here, by the way," she added before backing out of the room. Alex sighed loudly in Abbie's ear.


"You're out at a bar drinking and picking up women while I'm sitting here biting my nails?"


"Well, let's just say the hearing was kind of nerve wracking and Liv needed to loosen up a little when it was over. But I think Trevor did a great job spinning the bits he had into a good defense."


"Trevor??? She chose *Trevor* to represent her???"


"Yes, she chose Trevor and he did right by her, so chill your jets, Cabot. I promise I'll call later and give you all the juicy details, all right? Now I've gotta go." Abbie sighed. "It'll be fine, Alex. Things will work out."


Alex practically snorted into the phone. "I'm glad one of us has faith."

Abbie smiled. "Look, I have to fly back to DC tomorrow, but I will definitely call you tonight. We're not going to be here too late. These guys all have to be at work in the morning. Now go grab a beer and stretch out and relax."


"Yes, mom."


Abbie snorted. "Be glad I'm not – I would be sending you to your room *without* the beer."


"I hate you."


"I know and I love you back, Cabot. Later," shutting the phone on any retort Alex could make. Then she headed back out into the noisy bar, grinning when she was welcomed back like a long lost sheep. And she remembered what it was she had loved so much about working for the DA's office in Manhattan – because despite the upheaval and the competition, there was nothing like the camaraderie that she'd had with the detectives of the one-six to be found anywhere else in the world. Abbie accepted the beer Elliot passed her and they raised their glasses to one another before drinking – just like old times.




Alex glared at the phone that was now emitting the rudest sound – a dial tone – before slapping it shut and plugging it in. Being out in the middle of what she considered to be BFE drained the battery faster than it ever did in Manhattan she'd discovered her first night there. It was as bad as Wisconsin as far as she was concerned, though truth be told, anything that *wasn't* Manhattan was bad – although there were a few cities in the world that came close to rivaling the energy and life that Alex related with Manhattan.


She knew that Abbie was right – at least the intellectual part of her did. It still didn't make her appreciate the fact that Abbie got to sit beside Olivia and support her during the hearing or the fact that Trevor Langan of *all* people got to defend her anymore than it would have if she had been ignorant of the law. And it certainly didn't help that now Abbie got to sit in the bar with Liv and the guys and kick back together.


Still, Abbie's idea of a beer had been a good one, and she needed to relax. The day's tension had ratcheted up her anxiety so far, the headache that had started in her eyes that morning now went from her eyes to the middle of her back. Sooner or later Alex was going to have to sit down and decide what the hell was going on with her – why she was taking all of this so personally and why now? After all this time it seemed to matter.


However, that was going to have to wait for another day. Right now, she was going to take a hot shower. Then she would have a beer and a sandwich and wait for Abbie to call back.




Liv woke up the next morning with a smile on her face – something that hadn't happened for a very long time. Despite the discomfort of the hearing, Olivia was glad to have it behind her and the night out with the guys had been great. They hadn't done that together since....


Her mind shied away from that October night five years previously. Instead, she deliberately turned her focus to the goofiness and fun they'd had, despite the fact that they'd kept it fairly short. Abbie had been full of... well, to be honest, Liv wasn't really sure *what* she'd been full of exactly, but God knew she had been a riot. The guys hadn't been far behind her either, with Munch spouting conspiracy theories left and right and Fin shooting them down in true gangsta fashion. And when Casey had arrived, it just seemed to bump everything up a notch.


After a couple drinks the guys had split and the girls had moved over to the restaurant side of the establishment and ordered dinner. When Liv had suggested skipping out to leave Abbie and Casey on their own, she'd been pinned to her seat with a hand on each arm and negative shakes of red and dark heads. She'd surrendered gracefully after another moment's protest and they'd enjoyed a nice evening of dinner and conversation.


So Olivia was in a decent mood for the first time in what felt like forever. She decided that the committee's decision didn't matter as much, now that the hearing was behind her. Though she still felt some apprehension about the waiting she had left to do, she felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders. And by the time she headed out for another day in the office at the one-six, she was feeling pretty good and deciding that she liked it.


Maybe they should start getting together outside of work more often. Maybe they needed to remember that they were more than just colleagues – they were friends and family. She decided to pick up doughnuts on the way in - Krispy Kreme should have hot ones by the time she got there.


She was met with a cheer when she walked into the precinct with four boxes of still-warm doughnuts.




Alex turned over on the bed and regarded the ceiling as she blinked the sleep from her eyes. It was late – relatively speaking – though Geraldine did nothing to discourage what was rapidly becoming a bad habit. She still chided her about her poor eating habits – to the point of threatening to spoon feed her to make sure Alex was actually eating.


Alex knew there was very little danger of that actually happening, though the concern made her feel.... She rolled her eyes. Great... now I'm turning into some sort of touchy-feely fruitcake. What the hell's wrong with me? Warm and fuzzy indeed! Since when have I needed warm and fuzzy?! I'm the Ice Princess Alex Cabot for God's sakes!!


Alex crossed her arms over her chest and glared at the ceiling like it was to blame for her train of thought. Then she sighed and rolled out of bed, heading into the bathroom to take a shower. Her talk with Abby the previous evening had been enlightening if a bit frustrating as well. She was satisfied that Olivia had indeed been well represented and that more than likely would suffer little lasting damage to her reputation or her career when all was said and done.


And yet, perversely, it didn't necessarily make her feel any better. All Alex could seem to focus on was the fact that she'd been turned down flat and that Olivia Benson had gone to Trevor Langan as her replacement. Despite the fact that they both knew Alex could never represent her in the hearing, she'd hoped for a positive reaction from Olivia... something that would show her that Liv appreciated the gesture she was making. Instead, she got venom and ridicule.


Why was that?


Or perhaps the better question should have been, all things considered - why had she expected anything other than that?


Alex turned the shower off and wrapped herself in a towel, grabbing a second and wrapping it around her head. She'd spent most of the night with these two thoughts running conversely through her mind. It had taken until the sun peeked over the horizon that exhaustion had finally forced her mind to shut down, but here they were again - haunting her... mocking her.


She gazed into the mirror trying to figure out just who it was looking back at her. Alex Cabot, to be sure, but who exactly was Alex Cabot... really? Alex sighed and dried off, slipping into another pair of comfortable jeans and a baby doll t-shirt. She snagged a jacket and a legal pad and pen. It was time to find an answer to that question.




"So... where was Langan last night?" Elliot asked as Liv set a cup of coffee in front of him before taking a seat at her desk. "I woulda thought he'd have wanted to be there as a show of confidence in your case if nothing else."


Olivia watched Elliot for a long moment, but there was nothing mocking in his gaze – unusual considering Trevor Langan's name had been brought up. God knew there was no love lost between them and Elliot rarely missed an opportunity to get in a dig. Still....


"He didn't want to make things uncomfortable," she shrugged. "Despite the fact that he represented me before the committee, we all know that we are enemies on opposite sides of the line most of the time and nothing is ever gonna change that."


"That's true," Elliot acknowledged with a nod of his head before briefly sticking his nose in his coffee. "Well," he added after a bit of a pause, "maybe he can come out for drinks with us when the decision comes down."


"You think we'll have something to celebrate?" Liv asked with an arched brow.


"I think we'll all need a drink no matter what happens," Stabler prophesied.


Benson sighed. "Probably. At least I don't think I'll be fired. And who knows... maybe a suspension is what I need. It'll give me a chance to clear my head – help me figure out if this is really what I wanna keep doing with my life."


Elliot held her gaze. "You do what you need to do, Liv; do what is best for you. It's time you did that for a change instead of worrying about everyone else first."


"Even you?"


"Especially me," he replied gravely, though there was a twinkle in his eye. He looked around the precinct slowly then allowed his stare to rest on her thoughtfully. "I have to tell you, though... I'm not sure how this place would manage without you for very long. You're kinda the glue that holds this place together most days."


Olivia smirked, trying to break the tension that settled between her shoulder blades at her partner's unexpected words. "You calling me sticky?"


"Well," Stabler almost drawled, recognizing her deflection for what it was, "it's better than calling you nuts."


"Hello pot... this is kettle. And I know where you live."


"Yes and you also know that I am the father of four with another on the way."


Olivia waggled her eyebrows. "Yep, and that makes you crazier than me. Now don't you have work to do?"


Elliot glared at her before turning his attention back to the task at hand – which at the moment meant following up a couple more leads so he would hopefully have enough evidence to convince Casey to get him a warrant. Speaking of....


"Hey, Liv?" waiting for brown eyes to meet his before continuing. "Are Novak and Carmichael... you know... dating?"


"Why would you ask me that, El?"


He shrugged. "I just got a weird vibe from them last night." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "And Lake asked me if she was seeing anyone... Novak, I mean. I got the feeling he was interested."


Now it was Liv's turn to shrug. "I dunno. Maybe you should ask Casey herself."


"Ask me what, Detective?" the ADA asked from the doorway. Elliot glared at Olivia again, who simply returned his look with another smirk. She stalked over to the desk and leaned over with her palms flat on the top. "Hmm? What would you like to know?"


"If you and Carmichael are dating," he blurted unexpectedly watching Casey's brow fly into her hairline. " Lake asked me if you were available."


"And why would you think Abbie and I were dating? We were barely introduced to one another when she was Jack's second chair and she lives five hundred miles from here now," biting her lip to keep from smiling while Elliot strove to keep from squirming in his chair. "Makes it a little hard to date a person, you know? And besides, we've really only just met."


Stabler cleared his throat. "I'll um... I'll take that as a 'no' then."


Casey smiled. "You do that, Detective. And you can tell your friend Detective Lake that if he wants to know, he can ask me himself." She turned to Olivia. "Could I talk to you privately for a moment?"


Olivia nodded and rose to follow Casey to the ladies room, knowing there would be very little likelihood of their conversation being overheard. Elliot just watched them go, mumbling under his breath.


The two women held it together until they were inside the restroom with the door shut behind them. Then they both leaned against the door and broke into giggles. After several minutes and several attempts, they finally managed to look at one another without breaking into more laughter. Liv took a deep breath and let it out in a whoosh.


"God, I needed that. Thanks, Casey."


"Happy to oblige, Detective. I have to admit it felt pretty good."


Olivia drew in another slow, deep breath. "So what can I do for you?"


"Nothing," Casey confessed. "You just looked like you needed a reason to leave before you exploded."


"Good call, Counselor. Thanks."


"Anytime. Now, I need to go see Munch about what I really came in here to discuss before I got sidetracked by your conversation with Elliot. Looks like Cragen may be coming back in the next two to three weeks."


"And how did you get elected to share the news?"


"I volunteered," Casey said as she opened the bathroom door and motioned for Olivia to precede her. "I promised Abbie I'd keep an eye on you."


Liv rolled her eyes. "You can tell her for me that I'm fine, and if she wants to know so bad she can move back to New York ," the last said with a crooked grin.


"I'll do that," Casey replied as they stepped back into the precinct. "Thanks, Detective. You've been a lot of help."


Olivia nodded her head seriously, though Casey didn't miss the twinkle in her eyes either. Then she headed to her desk and immersed herself in the stack of paperwork that was waiting for her. Elliot didn't even try to bother her and Olivia couldn't keep the grin off her face when she remembered why. That little interlude was going to continue make her smile for some time to come whenever she allowed herself to think about it. It had been that funny.




Geraldine looked out the window and shook her head as yet another crumpled paper went flying through the air to land on the umbrella covered table top some distance away from where Alex Cabot was lounging beside the pool. Her warm flannel shirt had been removed much earlier and was currently functioning as a pillow for her blonde head and Alex had removed her shoes and socks as well. Other than that, there had been very little movement from her position except to hurl another paper ball towards the table. Geraldine was glad to see an increasing accuracy in Alex's throws.


She gathered the tray she had prepared and headed out to where Alex sat chewing on the end of her pen and frowning mightily as though a fierce expression would make some bit of difference in whatever task she was trying to accomplish. Geraldine just had time to duck out of the way when the pad came flying in her direction.


"Alexandra!" she admonished, bringing the blonde head up and meeting chagrined blue eyes with reproving brown ones.


"Oh, damn, Gerry... I'm so sorry. I didn't know anyone was there. I wouldn't have...."


"I know, dear," Geraldine said softly, looking pointedly at the table. Alex blew out a frustrated breath, but rose and pushed all the wads of paper to one side, allowing Geraldine to place the tray on the table. Then she put her hands on her hips and pinned Alex with a pointed stare. "Now would you like to explain to me *why* you're out here throwing legal pad paper all over the yard?"


Alex rolled her eyes at the housekeeper's exaggeration, but she dropped into the chair Geraldine patted in invitation and scrubbed her hands through her hair - a sure sign she was annoyed about something. Geraldine walked across the lawn to the abandoned pad and picked it up, not surprised to find it half-missing and blank on top. She put it on the table beside Alex and tapped the empty page.


Alex sat back and crossed her arms over her chest, tilting her head. "I'm...." She sighed. "I'm trying to figure out who I am... now, I mean. I think I need to know that before I can figure out why I am not as happy as I think I should be."


Geraldine nodded her head sagely. "That makes sense. So what's the problem?"


Alex motioned to the crumpled wads of paper on the table. "I have no idea how to start."


Geraldine leaned over and smoothed out the first ball she could reach, then did the same to a second, third and fourth paper before turning back to Alex. "Lexxie, I think you're trying too hard. This isn't about lists and numbers and fact and figures. This is about who you were and who you are and who you want to be. It's a story, sweetheart... your story. Maybe you ought to try telling it that way – you know, as a story... 'once upon a time' and all that."


Alex stared at Geraldine for a long moment, then allowed a real, rare smile to cross her face. She rose and took the startled woman into her arms, hugging her briefly before retrieving her pen. "Thanks, Gerry... you're a genius."


"Nice of you to notice," Geraldine replied saucily. "Now don't forget to eat."


Alex nodded, her mind already years away.


Once Upon a Time (she wrote) – there was a beautiful princess carved from ice and stone. Nothing could touch this princess because after the death of her beloved father, she isolated herself from anyone and anything that could hurt her. She determined to become a lawyer like her father before her and she graduated first in her class at Harvard Law.


Law, however, was not her primary pursuit – it was a mere stepping stone to higher goals... District Attorney, State Representative, perhaps even the US Senate. First she needed to make a name for herself and SVU was just the place to do that.


And she had done very well in the beginning, establishing a name for herself and making a significant change in the ratio of cases that the department won. She'd laid down the law to the detectives of the one-six almost the moment she'd been assigned to them, earning the nicknames Devil and Ice Princess. But Alex Cabot didn't care – she had an agenda and they were damn well not going to screw things up for her.


Then something had started to change. Alex Cabot had met Olivia Benson – surely the woman couldn't be for real. No one could care as much as she did – people just didn't do that anymore. One thing Alex was sure of was that the human race just didn't give a shit about each other.


But Olivia Benson did.


Fascinated, Alex allowed herself to be drawn in by Olivia's caring and understanding and empathy with the victims she dealt with on a daily basis. And slowly, surely the Angel of the one-six became friends with the Devil of Hogan's Place.


Alex looked down and reread what she had written so far, satisfied that it was an accurate portrait of her memories of that time. She took a sip of the lemonade that Geraldine had brought out and resumed her writing.


Somewhere along the line, Alex realized that although all and sundry still saw her as the Devil she had always been, something had changed inside her. Now it was less about the numbers, less about her political aspirations and more about the victims and what justice she could obtain for them. And she knew who was responsible for that change and why.


Olivia let her know in subtle ways that she was aware of the changes in Alex's thinking and their friendship blossomed as Alex allowed herself to really feel for the first time since her father had died. And she realized she could very easily throw away all her political goals and old-fashioned notions of decorum if Olivia gave her the first iota of encouragement. But always their teasing and flirting skirted the line, staying just on the right side of propriety.


And then Velez had come along and everything had changed.


Alex looked up, remembering clearly the pain in her shoulder as the bullets ripped through her body. It didn't begin to hold a candle to the agony she'd witnessed in Olivia's eyes two days later when she was put into witness protection and whisked away to Wisconsin . And there, she knew, was where it had all started to unravel for her.


They had taken Alex Cabot from her, insisting that she become Emily the insurance claims adjuster. Emily was drab and boring – someone Alex hated with a passion she was no longer allowed to have. Her house, her car, her clothes... even the man she supposedly loved bored her to tears and all Alex could think about was what she had given up to become someone she had no desire to be.


When Cragen and Hammond had knocked on her door, she had been overjoyed to see them – despite the fact it meant her detectives were in trouble. All that she could see was that it meant Alex Cabot got to go home.


But so much had changed while she had been gone. The one-six was no longer *her* precinct; the detectives that worked there were no longer *her* detectives. Her mother was dead, and no one had seen fit to notify her; her life was gone. And the look of hurt understanding that had crossed Olivia's face when Alex had shared about her 'good man'...


They hadn't talked much after that, Alex recalled. What had there been to talk about? She and Olivia hadn't made any sort of commitment to one another – they had never been lovers nor had they even dated. But Alex had felt the betrayal she could see in the depths of those dark brown eyes that night and knew she had lost something precious... something that meant a great deal to her without her ever having realized its worth until it was too late.


She'd testified, then forced a meeting with her uncle before being carted off again. So when Hammond had come to take her to whatever safe house they'd determined was her next port of call, Alex had flatly refused.


"I'll take care of my own travel arrangements, Agent Hammond. When your agency finally disposes of Velez and his henchmen, you let Uncle Bill know. He'll know how to reach me."


"Ms Cabot...."


"Exactly, Agent Hammond . I am Alexandra Cabot and I intend to stay that way for the rest of my life. I'd say it's been a pleasure, but it really hasn't. So if you'll excuse me...."


Hammond had been flabbergasted, Alex recalled with a bitter twist to her lips. He'd never had a charge quite like her before. He'd trying reasoning, cajoling, threatening even, but in the end, he'd slammed the door and stomped off, muttering about stupid, ungrateful women and the consequences they would all end up facing because of them.


Harriman had waited til the sound died down in the corridor. Then he turned and looked at Alex. "Are you sure about this, Lexxie?"


"I can't go back into that program again, Uncle Bill... it's stifling. I'd rather take my chances on the outside. At least this way I get to be Alex Cabot again."


He'd nodded his head slowly in understanding. "All right," he finally said. "The trust will revert back to you as soon as I can take care of the paperwork and you know how to reach me when you get where ever you decide to go. Just be careful, okay?"


She'd hugged him briefly. "I will, Uncle Bill. Thank you." Alex had visited her mother's grave before leaving the city again – a stupid idea, she knew, but something she needed to do just the same. Then Alex had set out for Europe , confident she could lose herself in the masses.


She had, but the part of her she'd lost that night on the sidewalk seemed to be permanently missing and Alex found herself caring less and craving more. The Ice Princess was back.


Europe had been freeing and damning at the same time – and for the very same reasons. Gone was the Alex Cabot that had learned to care about those who needed justice... about those Olivia had taught her to have compassion for. In her place stood an Alex Cabot no one would have recognized – not even her mother had she lived to see the transformation. Alex made it a point *not* to be Emily, and in doing so, lost sight of who Alexandra Cabot really was... who she had grown to be as she had matured. The new Alex was cold, selfish – lacking in compassion and understanding and contemptuous of anyone she felt was beneath her regard.


But there was nowhere she could go and nothing she could do to get away from the soulful brown eyes that haunted her dreams – day and night.


It had almost been a relief when she received the rather cryptic note from her uncle, telling Alex she could finally return to Manhattan . At least there, she would at last be able to talk directly to the object of her desire and see if there was anything left between them beyond her imagination.


But of course, she hadn't reckoned on the changes she had allowed to take place to make such a difference in her life and things did not work out the way Alex Cabot had intended them to. She was unexpectedly thrust into a life she had never thought she would return to. It was exciting at first – the youngest bureau chief the Manhattan DA's office had ever known. It gave her a sense of power... the thrill of control she had long craved – and a *huge* stepping stone towards fulfilling the dreams she'd had for herself years before.


She never even paused to question if those dreams were even relevant to the person she had become in the intervening years.


That is how she found herself engaged to Robert – it seemed to fit the new reality that her life had become with very little input from her actually necessary. He met all the obligatory requirements society dictated she needed in a mate and he was easy and comfortable to be around. After several months of dating, he'd asked and she'd accepted, even though she knew by her own actions with Jim Steele the night before that what she felt for Robert wasn't the grand, sweeping passion she wanted it to be.


She considered briefly that if she'd never been shot... never gone into witness protection, she wouldn't be the person she was now – would never have met Robert or gotten engaged to him. He would never have been interested in the Alex Cabot that was, and she would have never been interested in him, no matter what society required of her status. And it made her a little sad to understand how selfish and shallow she'd allowed herself to become in the interim that despite everything, she really wouldn't have missed him or the status quo life he offered her – not like she missed the life she'd had and the person she'd been once upon a time.

But the saddest part, she'd realized as she rode into work alone the following day staring at the ring she wore, was that she had no one but her interns and her uncle to share the news with... and except for her uncle, no one who really cared one way or another except for how it could benefit them personally. Anyone she had been friends with before – her detectives or her fellow ADAs... even a few old college classmates – she no longer had contact with. Somehow, she had let them slip through her fingers upon her return, squandering the opportunity life had given her for a second chance.


She wondered if there was any likelihood that she would get a third.


Alex looked up from her writing then, her stomach finally drawing attention to the fact that it was still waiting to be fed and there was perfectly lovely food sitting nearby just waiting to be consumed. Alex picked up the BLT, grimacing at the slightly soggy bread, then smiling when the taste of the sandwich hit her tongue. She loved these and no one made them quite the way Geraldine did. Jason swore it was his home grown tomatoes and his specially cured bacon, but whatever it was, Alex missed them in the city. She chewed thoughtfully, finishing every bite before allowing her attention to be turned back to the legal pad in front of her that was now covered in her fine script.


That had been her initial wake-up call, though it hadn't been the last and it had taken her a while to heed its message. The kicker, though, had been a rather frantic call from the US Attorney's office after Olivia's run-in with the FBI, followed by a dressing down by the same Abbie Carmichael when she realized Alex Cabot had no idea what was going on.


Abbie had never been one to be frantic about much of anything, Alex recalled – always in complete and cool control much like Alex herself had prided herself on being - and to have her react so now told Alex more than Abbie's words could. Obviously if Abbie needed to call Alex from Washington DC about events happening in Manhattan to people they had once both called friends, Alex had allowed her isolation to be far more complete than she knew. So Alex had finally come to the realization that she had become someone she didn't recognize and worse... didn't like.


Alex had researched what had happened to the detectives of the one-six, feeling parts of her soul she'd given up for dead slowly come to life. Unfortunately, that awakening caused the confusion that was currently plaguing her and was responsible for the myriad of uncomfortable situations she now needed to resolve... not the least of which was figuring out what she wanted to do now.


First, though, Alex needed to decide what she really felt – about herself, her job and most importantly... Olivia Benson.






"Hello, Olivia... it's Donald Cragen."


"Oh, hi Cap. How's it going?"


She couldn't see it, but she heard the shrug in his answer. "It's going... you know how it is. How was your hearing?"


Now it was her turn to shrug. "It was a hearing – how good could it be? I think Trevor did a good job with my defense. And it was nice to have Abbie there."


"Abbie was there?" Cragen sounded surprised. "Well, that's good then, right?"


"I think so, yes sir. At least the committee seemed to take her words seriously."


"Good, good. Did they give any indication of how long...?"


"End of the week." She smirked slightly. "Would you like odds on the bets that are running around the precinct as to what they're gonna do?"


Cragen chuckled. "Um... no, thanks. I think I'm in enough trouble without adding gambling to the list. How are things otherwise?"


"Same old, same old – Kathy is wishing morning sickness on Elliot; Lake wants to date Casey; Fin is well... Fin; Casey's decided she wants a life; and Munch is sure that him being in charge of the playpen misfits is the most complex conspiracy the government has ever perpetuated against him." Liv snickered in sympathy with the burst of laughter that erupted on the other end of the phone.


"Direct quote, huh?"


Olivia snorted. "How'd you guess?"


"Years of experience," he deadpanned, then sobered. "How are you otherwise, Detective? I've heard some rumors...."


"I'll just bet. Look, Cap... I'm fine. Maybe I needed this – needed the time to reevaluate some things in my life."


This time Cragen frowned and Benson could hear it clearly in his tone. "I'm not sure I like the sound of that, Olivia. You're not thinking about quitting, are you?"


Liv sighed. "I'm thinking maybe it's time I do what's best for me, Cap... maybe it's time I try to make me happy for a change." She sighed again. "I dunno, Cap. I'm just thinking."


"What brought this on? I mean, I know things have been rough since Simon... well, you know – with everything that has happened because of him. But has it really been bad enough that you're ready to give up your whole life because of it?"


"Maybe it's because it's all the life I have." She shook her head. "I dunno," she said again.


"Seeing Alex Cabot again really threw you that badly?" he ventured, knowing he was crossing a very dangerous line.


"Excuse me?" she whispered, glaring at the phone though there was no one around to see her expression.


"C'mon, Olivia. Even I heard about her coming to the station to offer you representation and Branch giving her thirty days leave in lieu of a suspension on her record. You mean to tell me that doesn't have anything to do with you suddenly deciding you need to reassess your life?"


"Captain, no offense, but it is none of your damn business. The fact is I have been in this job for an eternity and I'm tired. I've been tired for a very long time. This hearing is just making me take a step back and realize it. Maybe this is Fate's way of stepping in and forcing me to do something else before it finally kills me. I've paid my dues, Cap."


"Yes, you have Olivia. I'm just concerned... beyond my job, all right? So," he continued before she could respond. "How 'bout you let me take you to lunch, just so I know you are eating something more than ice cream and doughnuts once in a while?"


Olivia rolled her eyes but couldn't stop the smile that crossed her face. "Sure, Cap – when and where?"


"I'll swing by. There's a couple places nearby to choose from. See ya in about twenty minutes." Olivia just looked at the phone for a long moment when the dial tone started, then shook her head and hung it up before turning her attention to wrapping up her work. She wondered what on earth had gotten into Donald Cragen.




"So what's the issue, Liv? Sounds like Cragen was just disturbed about some of the things he's heard."


"Maybe that's the issue, El. What has he heard that made him so worried that he felt the need to go to lunch so we could sit and chit chat about nothing for an hour?" She waved him off before he could open his mouth to answer. "Oh, I know he cares – I know he looks out for us on the job when he can. But this was different, Elliot. This was personal."


"Does it bother you... that it was personal, I mean?"


Olivia shrugged. "I dunno. Not really, I guess. It was just unexpected."


"Then just appreciate the fact that you've got a lot of folks here that value the role you play in their lives. Regardless of what the committee decides, no matter what you decide, we're still gonna all be in your corner at the end of the day. Now c'mon. Work day is over and I promised Kathy I'd bring you home for dinner. She thinks you're not eating right."


Liv scowled. "What is the sudden fascination with my eating habits?"


Elliot shrugged. He wasn't about to be suckered into *that* discussion. Instead he slipped into his jacket and waited for Olivia to close her drawers and pick up her purse before they headed out of the one-six for the night.




"Cabot," Alex said on a drowsy voice. It wasn't particularly early, but the last few days of soul searching had been exhausting. It had been tough but she'd come to realize a few stark truths about herself. The first was that she needed to find and embrace her inner Devil again – the Devil she had been as the SVU ADA ... not the Devil she had become when she returned from witness protection. Alex had been happy as the SVU Devil; sometimes she'd even felt as though she made a difference.


Not so now – now, she simply felt as though she was marking time... acting the part of the Devil and waiting for her life to return to normal. And for the first time in what seemed like forever, she finally had a clue what normal might actually be for her.


That led to her job – bureau chief of a bunch of misfit prosecutors who couldn't seem to brief their way out of a wet paper bag, much less argue a real case in front of real jurors with a real judge. It had gotten so bad – both their performance and her desire to be a prosecutor again – Alex had insisted on presenting a particularly difficult case herself... only to get her ass handed to her. It had been humbling and humiliating. The question was, though – what did she want to do about it?


She still hadn't decided that, but at least she knew she was going to do something. And she still had plenty of time to figure out what course of action she wanted to take.


Olivia Benson – this was the issue that was causing Alex Cabot the most soul searching grief. There were so many unknowns where Olivia Benson was concerned - so many doubts and questions and misunderstandings. The one thing... the *only* thing Alex was sure of was that she wanted a chance with Olivia – a chance to make things right; a chance to make something of them together.


First, however, she needed to know how Olivia felt – if she would even allow Alex the opportunity to try. Judging from her actions and reactions to Alex so far, things didn't look very promising. But Alex was determined to try.


"Alex?" The voice on the other end of the phone caused blue eyes to blink rapidly and Alex scrubbed her free hand over her face in an effort to facilitate her effort at consciousness. "Did I wake you?"


"'S'all right, Abbie. I should have been up already."


"You're not sick, are you? Or coming down with something?"


"No, Abbie. I'm just not sleeping very well; I've got a lot on my mind, you know?"


"I understand, hon... more than you probably realize. Listen," she hurried on before Alex could form a question. "I just wanted to let you know that Olivia is expecting to go before the IAB committee this afternoon to hear their judgment of her case. I will call you as soon as it's over and let you know how things went."


"Thanks, Abbie," Alex said after a long moment of silence and clearing her throat delicately. "I appreciate you keeping me in the loop, even if there's not a real reason to."


"There's a reason, Alex. And eventually, it'll all fall into place."


"When did you become such an optimist?" Alex asked with a hint of a smile in her voice.


"Who's an optimist?" Abbie growled. "I, my dear, am a realist. And I have seen enough of the world to have learned a few things. Just trust me on this, all right?"


"All right," Alex conceded. "So you coming up this weekend?"


"I probably could for a day or two," Abbie acknowledged, "but I want an invitation to come up for a long weekend when I have the time."


"Abbie, you are welcome anytime you can get here."


"I'm going to take you up on that, Cabot."


"See that you do, Carmichael . And Abbie," she paused briefly and looked up at the ceiling before focusing on the bedspread pattern. "Thanks."




The sound of the dial tone prompted Alex to hang up the phone, then she pushed the covers back and stretched before climbing out of bed. It was time to do something productive. She slipped into a pair of worn comfortable jeans and went looking for Jason. She was of a mind to get her hands dirty.




"Detective Benson," the chairman acknowledged as she stepped into the conference room followed by Abbie and Trevor. "Please take a seat."


Trevor, ever the gentleman, pulled out a chair for both women before they could offer a protest. They both nodded their thanks and sat, and only then did Trevor seat himself. The three of them folded their hands on the table and faced the committee and waited.


The chairman cleared his throat, then looked at the members of the disciplinary board on either side of him before turning to look at Olivia. Then his eyes fastened on Abbie. "Ms Carmichael, may I ask what your interest is in today's proceeding? As I understand it, you are not Detective Benson's counsel – Mr. Langan is."


"I am here in the same capacity I was before – I am here in the interest of seeing justice is served."


The man cleared his throat again. "I see," was what he said, looking down at the folder in front of him before returning his eyes to Olivia's. "Well, in the interest of justice, let me first say that we spent a long time reading through your service jacket and discussing its contents. Detective Benson, you are a fine officer and you have lived through some truly gruesome cases and yet you still seem to be able to reach out to the victims... even when it isn't in your best interests to do so.


You've been in Special Victims for eight years, and I can't help but wonder what kind of strength and fortitude it takes to do that job day in and day out. Just looking through your cases was wearing; I can't imagine facing the brutal reality you see. And we knew we couldn't discount that, because those experiences have helped to create the dedicated police officer we found on those service pages.


We also considered Mr. Langan's words. Obviously what he shared with us is very personal – things most people do not know about you, but things that also shaped your life and your career." The chairman blinked then and pinned her, his gaze sharpening intently. "Tell me, Detective - if your circumstances had been different... if your mother had not been raped or if you'd had a 'normal childhood', what would you have become? Would you still have been a police detective working tirelessly in the Special Victims Unit?"


Liv gazed back at him, flabbergasted by the question. After a long moment of silence, she stared down at her folded hands, studying her nails as though they held the secrets of the universe. The room remained silent, all eyes fixed in her when she looked back up. "I don't know," she finally said honestly. "It's not a question I ever really considered before."


"Fair enough," the chairman nodded. "But that brings us back to your story... your background. Is it any wonder you wanted to help this man who seemed to be family?


Not really," he continued before she could respond in any way. "But it also doesn't excuse the fact that you knowingly and willingly committed a felony to aid a fugitive from justice. Granted, there are extenuating circumstances that must be considered before punishment is decided, but the fact remains that despite the government's leniency, you are guilty of willful wrongdoing. The New York Police Department has to invoke some kind of penalty for your actions."


Liv nodded – she had never expected to walk away from the fiasco Simon had created in her life scot-free.


"We've tried to be fair – considering your background history as well as your service as a police officer. This committee has determined that you will be suspended for thirty days without pay and that you will be ineligible for promotion for the term of one year."


He stopped speaking and Olivia sat completely still blinking at him. Then she shook her head slightly and cleared her throat. "That's it?"


"I'm sure we could come up with a more severe punishment if you want, Detective," the chairman replied wryly but with a distinct twinkle in his eyes. "But we believe that this serves justice and is still fair to you and to the public we are responsible to."


She nodded. "Thank you," accepting the judgment.


"In that case, your thirty days will begin on Monday as that is the next full work day on the calendar. If there is nothing else...." looking at the committee again before standing and watching everyone else follow behind him. He extended his hand and Olivia accepted it. "Good luck, Detective. Take this opportunity to get some rest. After eight years with SVU, I imagine you could use it." He released her and gathered up the folder in front of him, then left without a backwards glance.


The remainder of the committee members followed, each of them nodding at Olivia before they crossed the threshold. When they were all gone, Liv turned first to Abbie, then to Trevor.


"That's it?"


"That's it, Detective," Trevor replied as he rose from his place. "I think it turned out very well." He extended his hand to her and she took it, rising from her chair. Then she gave him a brief hug.


"I think it turned out great," she responded honestly. "I...." She shook her head. "Thank you, Trevor. This probably would have turned out a lot worse for me if you hadn't been here, so thank you for jumping to my defense at the last minute."


"I was glad to do it, Olivia. It's nice to be on the right side once in a while," he added with a smile. "What are you going to do with your impromptu vacation?"


She shrugged. "I don't really know yet," not seeing Abbie biting her lips to keep from making suggestions. "But I know I still owe you, so I'll let you know as soon as I do."


Langan nodded. "Fair enough. You have my number so unless I can give you ladies a ride somewhere.... Riiiiiight... well then...." He squeezed her hand, then left without a word or a backwards glance, getting the very obvious hint from the jerking of her head that Abbie Carmichael wanted to talk to Olivia alone.


"What did you do to him, Carmichael?" Benson asked with a wry smirk. "I've never seen him in such a hurry to get away from me."


Abbie laughed. "Would I do something like that, Detective? Ah'm just a poor, defenseless, *innocent* woman, Ah tell ya," letting her drawl come out in all its glory. "Ah do not know how you could *accuse* me of such unladylike behavior."


Liv fell against the table, she was laughing so hard. Abbie simply cocked an eyebrow at her and waited, recognizing it for the tension release it was. After a moment, Liv stopped laughing and her eyes were watery when they met Abbie's. She refused to let them fall however, and gave Abbie a tremulous smile before giving her a bone-crushing hug.


"Thank you, Abbie... I needed that." She burrowed into Abbie's neck, accepting comfort from her old friend in a way that she would only allow a rare few. "I didn't lose my job, Abbie; they're not gonna fire me for being stupid."


"They're not going to fire you for being a compassionate human being," Abbie said, brushing her lips over the top of the dark head. Liv mewled just a little and snuggled in tighter, making Abbie understand just what a brave front her friend had been putting up. They stayed that way for a few minutes, then Abbie kissed Liv's head again and tightened her hold briefly before releasing her grip. "C'mon... let's go give your guys the verdict and then you and I are going out."


"Just us?"


"Just us... unless you've got some hot new girlfriend I haven't heard about."


"What about Casey?"


Abbie looked at the floor, then met Liv's eyes squarely. "I like Casey... what little I know of her, I mean. She's a lot different than what I remember. And I'll freely admit that I wouldn't mind getting to know her a lot better. But that's not what this night is about – this night is about me taking my best girl out and us just kicking back together.


Liv grinned. "I'd like that. We've haven't done that in forever."


"I know," Abbie agreed, opening the door and motioning for Olivia to precede her. "So the sooner we get outta here, the sooner we can go have some fun. So move your ass, Detective."


Liv headed out the door, but looked back over her shoulder. "I'm going... I'm going. God, when did you get so damned bossy?"


"I've always been this bossy, sweetheart. It's why you love me," Abbie smirked, closing the door firmly and squeezing Olivia's bicep surreptitiously before letting her hand drop to her side.


"Oh yeah," Liv murmured. "I forgot." The two of them exchanged glances and their smiles grew into laughter that accompanied them down the hallway and out the door.




"Benson," whispering into the phone to keep from disturbing her bedmate. She rolled onto her side and tried to blink the sleep out of her eyes, glad she wasn't suffering from a hangover. She peered at the clock, realizing that she had usually been up for hours by this time of day. Then Liv realized the voice on the other end of the phone was speaking and she had completely missed the entire conversation.

"... d'you think?"


"I'm sorry, Jo. You wanna repeat that for me? I haven't had my coffee yet this morning."


"I'm sorry, Liv – did I wake you?"


"Yeah," she yawned, "but it's okay. I needed to be up anyway." She smiled when Abbie rolled over and snuggled up into her back.


"Who's on the phone?" she asked, her voice low and gravelly with sleep.


"Oh shit!" exclaimed the voice on the other end of the phone. "God, Liv... I'm sorry. I didn't realize you had company. Why don't you call me back...?"


"Jo... it's okay. It's just Abbie."


"Whaddya mean 'just', Benson?" Abbie asked, leaning up biting Olivia's neck, causing her to bite her lip and flop over onto her back. She frowned at Abbie who just smirked back.


"Will you stop? I'm on the phone!!" Liv asked, glaring at Abbie for a long moment before relenting and pulling the dark head down to her shoulder. "Sorry, Jo... had to deal with the drama queen here. OW!" biting her lip again when Abbie pinched her thigh. "What...." clearing her throat before trying again. "What can I do for you?"


Jo Polniaczek cleared her own throat, trying to rid her voice of laughter after overhearing the byplay on the other end of the phone. She kissed the blonde head tucked beneath her chin, then smiled into brown eyes that gazed back with a look filled with love.


"Actually, Liv, I was calling about what Blair and I could do for you." Her smile grew as she listened to the confused silence while Benson contemplated her words.


"All right... I'll bite. What can you and Blair do for me?"


"We can offer you a place to stay during your enforced vacation. Now before you say no," Jo continued, not allowing Olivia an opportunity to refuse, "I want you to hear me out."


"How did you hear...?"


Jo snorted. "Are you kidding? The bets on the outcome of your hearing went department wide. Word of the verdict was spreading before you were out of the building."


Now it was Liv's turn to snort. "How'd you do?"


"Well enough that I'll be able to pay the next time Blair and I go to the Four Seasons. I'm not stupid, my friend; I know what kind of a cop you are." Silence. "Liv... you still there?"


"Yeah," she replied, drawing in a deep breath and blinking furiously. "I knew the guys bet on me. I just didn't realize...."


"Yeah, yeah.... Now you ready to hear my offer?"


"Look, Jo...."


"Liv, listen - Blair owns a place a couple hours from the city – close to a town but still private. It's got all the comforts of home... cable tv, pool table, Jacuzzi... the works. All you gotta do is say yes, and it's yours for the duration." Jo paused. "Liv, you don't want to stay in the City. You'll go nuts, knowing there is work you feel you oughta be doing and not able to do it. C'mon... you thought desk duty was bad – you know this'll be worse."


"I know," she sighed. "I just...."


"Olivia, this is Blair. Look, can you and your friend meet us at Mesa Grill for lunch in say... an hour and a half? Then you can give us all the reasons you can't and we can give you the keys and the directions so we can get you on your way before it gets dark."


Liv laughed. She had been Jo's training officer and they'd kept in touch ever since. After Rick's death, when Jo and Blair had finally become a couple, Blair had made a concerted effort to get to know the people in Jo's life. Now, Liv counted them among her closest friends, so she wasn't very surprised to hear Blair dictating to her on the other end of the phone.


"All right, Blair. Abbie and I will meet you and Jo at Mesa Grill. It'll be easier to argue with you in person."


"Oh honey... you should know better than to try," Blair said before handing the phone back to Jo.


"So we'll see you in a bit?"


"Yeah... we'll be there. Thanks, Jo."


Liv turned back to Abbie. "C'mon, Carmichael ... we apparently have lunch plans." She sat up and pulled Abbie with her. "You'll like Blair."


"How did I get roped into this?"


"You stayed the night and then you left marks," rubbing her neck with one hand and her thigh with the other. "You can sit through lunch with me." She crossed her arms over her chest and glanced up at Abbie through long, dark lashes.


"Oooh... look at that pout. All right Benson... let's go have lunch."




Alex leaned back on her heels, a marked sense of satisfaction as she surveyed the result of her morning's labor. Jason had taken her at her word when she'd come downstairs looking to work in the flower bed. She'd followed him to the gardening shed where he'd slapped a pair of gloves into her hands and handed her a knee pad. Then he'd opened the door and gestured.


"You know where the flowers are and what tools you need. If you need help...."


"I wouldn't mind the company."


Jason smiled. "Then choose your tools and meet me in the greenhouse."


Alex smiled, remembering the number of times Jason had said the same thing to her growing up. At first her mother had been horrified – then she had realized it was an outlet her daughter had needed... a way she had *chosen* to be creative. After that, Alex had been given every opportunity to work in the garden when they were at the lodge and Jason had always welcomed her presence.


She tucked her gloves into her back pocket and grabbed the tools she wanted. Then she followed Jason into the greenhouse and breathed in the humid, scented air. Then she started walking slowly up and down the rows, lightly fingering the leaves and petals of a variety of plants as she brushed by them. No one who knew Bureau Chief Alexandra Cabot would have believed their eyes had they seen her. She seemed to communicate with the flowers with a glance and a touch, and there was a gentleness in her demeanor that most had never witnessed.


Jason remained silent, watching as she communicated with them in a way he had taught her as a child. Finally, she met Jason's eyes. "These," she said, motioning to an area with riotous color. "I feel the need for something vibrant."


Jason laughed and picked up a tray of the flowers Alex had chosen. "Lexxie, I could always tell what you were going to choose whenever you came in here. You always went for the brightest, most colorful flowers of the season." He cleared his throat. "I probably shouldn't say this...."


Alex gave him a wry smirk. "That's never stopped you before."


Jason snickered. "True." He paused again. "I was always more than a little surprised that you ended up in law." His eyes widened when she blinked rapidly. "Wait..." holding up a hand. "I know why you went into law. But passionate about it or not, there was always a lack of vitality where you were concerned. It even affected your clothes."


Now Alex laughed and shook her head. "Don't remind me," she groaned dramatically. "I looked like somebody's great Aunt Nellie!"


Jason howled and headed out the door. "C'mon, Lexxie... before I get into far more trouble than I can reasonably get out of."


"With me?" Alex snorted as she followed him from the greenhouse and down the garden path to the area they were cultivating today. Jason shook his head vehemently.


"Uh uh," placing the tray on the ground. "With the wife. She had a great Aunt Nellie who dressed a lot like you do - you know... with the conservative suits and neutral colors and everything." He covered his eyes with his hand. "Shoot me now."


Alex gave him a full-fledged belly laugh. "Grab your trowel, Jason and concentrate on digging real holes for a while."


He guffawed and they commenced their digging.


They hadn't needed conversation between them after that; they had worked together for so long that they could do so almost seamlessly without words. The garden plot took shape under their skilled hands, creating a bright panorama of color that was pleasing to both visual and olfactory senses. Now Alex gazed upon their handiwork and sighed in satisfaction. She started when Geraldine's hands landed on her shoulders, then accepted the glass of lemonade with a grateful smile.


"So, did you get it worked out?" Geraldine asked as she handed Jason the second glass she carried. Then she put her hands on her hips and arched her brows in question with a knowing look in her eyes. Alex shrugged.


"Not yet."


Geraldine shook her head. "Maybe you should stop thinking so much and just let things work out in their own good time."


"Leave her alone, woman!" Jason said with a scowl. "Lexxie is a grown woman; she can make her own decisions!"


Geraldine turned to face Jason. "You like living dangerously, old man? I know where you live and you have to sleep some time."


Jason leered in his wife's direction. "So do you."


They held one another's gaze for a long moment before bursting into laughter and turning their attention back to Alex who was regarding them with something akin to befuddlement. Her expression only made the two of them laugh harder. She cocked her eyebrow.


"Don't worry, honey," Geraldine assured Alex, patting her hand in sympathy. "When you've been married as long as we have, you learn when and how and how much. Life would get pretty boring if we always had to keep our company manners on all the time."


"Besides, making up is always fun."


Jason's matter-of-fact statement caused twin blushes to run up both Geraldine's and Alex's faces. He realized his mistake a split second before Geraldine began chasing him down the garden path and towards their cottage. Alex just sat watching them with a gobsmacked expression. For all their friendliness, they had never acted so human around her before.


She rose from her spot on the ground, rubbing her hands together before picking up the tools and mat and heading back to the gardening shed. She put things away then went into the lodge, checking her phone and realizing she'd missed a call from Abbie.


"Hey, beautiful. Listen, Liv has somehow managed to get me invited to some sort of lunch thing with a couple of her friends. So I don't know that I'll be up this weekend... depends on how long lunch lasts." A beat. "OH... she got 30 days without pay and a year's probation on promotions." She waited, but when there was no response, she continued. "Anyway, I'll call you after lunch. I should have a clue what the hell is going on by then. Later, babe."


Alex hung up the phone, a vexed expression on her face. On the one hand she was glad to know Olivia had gotten off so lightly, relatively speaking. On the other, she really wanted to hear all the details and Abbie's delayed visit made that nearly impossible... especially since she couldn't call Abbie back and grill her at the moment. Sighing in frustration, Alex bit her lip, then headed into the kitchen, phone in hand. She may as well eat and hope for Abbie's call sooner rather than later.




Jo and Blair were already waiting at the restaurant when Olivia and Abbie arrived. Liv made introductions all around. They perused the menus and ordered quickly, then after a few awkward minutes of settling in and making polite conversation, Blair sighed and got right to the point.


"Olivia, I know you're a proud woman. God knows sometimes I think the particular flaw is ingrained in the female detective's psyche," ignoring Jo's speculative glance, Olivia's cocked eyebrow and the twitching of Abbie's lips. "Anyway," she continued, holding up her hands, "that is not the point... at least not the whole point. The point is...."


"The point is, Liv," Jo cut in, "you've got a chance to rest and relax and we've got the perfect place for you to do it. You'd be doing us a favor." She paused. "Besides, it'd give you a chance to work on your art again. How long has it been?"


Abbie's head whipped around. "You're an artist? Why am I just now hearing about this??"


"Not now, Carmichael ," Liv growled. Jo had the decency to look chagrined.


"Oh God, Liv. I'm sorry... I didn't know...."


"Neither did I apparently," Abbie grumbled under her breath. "You think you know a girl...."


" Carmichael !!" getting Abbie's attention and causing both of them to color beneath their olive colored skin. "Drop it... please?" Abbie nodded and turned her attention to the two women across the table that were doing their best to remain impassive at the unexpected outburst. "Sorry...."


"Don't be, Liv... it was my fault for bringing it up. I just assumed...."


Olivia waved her off. "It's fine, Jo, and you're right – it's been a really long time. It's hard to create beauty when all you see is ugliness." She stopped in momentary thought. "Maybe a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered. Maybe it will give me a fresh perspective... new inspiration."


"So you'll take it?" Blair asked hesitantly... for her anyway.


Olivia nodded. "I'll take it. Thank you for offering."


"Oh honey... we didn't offer; we insisted."


At this, everyone at the table tittered. "I'm glad you did," Liv confessed. She sighed. "I didn't realize until the verdict came down just how tired I was. A little solitude might be good for me."


"Does that mean you don't want to meet the neighbors? I was thinking I could throw a little soiree next Friday night to introduce you to the last of the summer people who are still there. And I know of a number of people from the City who go up for the weekend that we could invite as well."




"It's all right, Jo," Olivia broke in. "I don't know that I'd be up for all that, Blair, but it's your place. I wouldn't stop you from planning a party if you wanted to host one. Where is this place anyway?"


Blair told her and Abbie's eyes widened in amused consternation. Blair didn't notice, but Jo did. Olivia's eyes widened. "Oh... wow." Blair smiled graciously.


"I think you'll be comfortable."


"I think you may have a problem getting me to leave," Liv jokingly confessed. Blair chuckled and shook her head.


"Nah... you've got the City running through your veins. You might go away for a while, but it will always call you back home."


"She's right, you know," Abbie agreed unexpectedly.


"Speaking from experience, Ms Carmichael?"


"Sort of," Abbie concurred cautiously. " Texas will always be home, and I like DC well enough. But there is something appealing about Manhattan ... something that can't be found anywhere else in the world. It's why I spend so many weekends here – soaking up its special brand of charm and energy."


"And here I thought your main attraction was me." Olivia said saucily, fluttering her eyelashes in Abbie's direction. "You're gonna break my heart, cowgirl."


"Watch it, Yankee – breach of promise has been made on far less."


At that moment, their waiter arrived with their food and the conversation changed direction when it resumed some minutes later. Blair and Abbie found they had numerous mutual acquaintances in both New York and Washington and Olivia and Jo caught up on the latest precinct gossip – the parts Olivia Benson wasn't part of, which surprisingly, was quite a bit.


When their meal was finished, Abbie excused herself and Jo did the same. Blair waved them off, pulling out a key ring, a map and a separate paper with codes on them. Olivia scooted over to sit beside Blair, her attention focused on what Blair was saying.


Jo and Abbie took care of their business and met up in front of the mirror. Jo washed her hands, then leaned against the sink to look at Abbie who kept her eyes on the mirror.


"Something wrong, Detective?" she finally asked with a hint of asperity in her voice.


"Yeah, actually," Jo said smoothly. "What about the cabin threw you off kilter? You covered it really well, but something about it struck a nerve."


Abbie's expression never faltered but inside she was cursing up a storm. Finally, exhaling deeply, "I have a friend with a place in that area," not wanting to give anything away.


"Lemme guess – Alex Cabot?" Abbie's eyes widened involuntarily but otherwise she didn't react at all. Jo chuckled. "It's all right, Ms Carmichael. Alex and Blair are friends from way back."


Abbie's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Are you trying to set something up between Alex and Liv?"


Jo held up her hands defensively and shook her head. "No, Ms Carmichael... I wouldn't let Blair do that to Olivia even if she wanted to help Alex out. Look, I like Alex, don't get me wrong, but Liv is my friend... my mentor. We really did offer her the cabin as a place for her to regroup. I only figured out about Alex because of your reaction and the fact that I know the Cabot Lodge is in the same general area; and having heard the round of gossip about her suspension...."


"You going to tell her... Liv, I mean?"


Jo grinned. "I'm sure Blair already has." She sobered. "And if she hasn't, yeah... I will." Then she opened the door and ushered Abbie out in front of her. "Don't worry, Ms Carmichael. As tempting as it is to try and force the two of them to figure it out already, Blair and I know better."


"Experience talking?"


"Something like that," Jo confirmed as they reached the table.


"Something like what, honey?" Blair asked as Jo took her seat and draped an arm around her shoulders. They exchanged glances and Blair acknowledged the question in Jo's eyes with the barest nod of her head. Jo smiled.


"Okay... you two have been married way too long," Liv snorted. "That was just creepy." She turned to face Abbie. "Didn't you think that was creepy?"


"I thought it was cute."


Olivia rolled her eyes. "You would." She glanced back at the now smirking couple. "What was that all about anyway?"


"That was me asking Blair if she had told you about Alex and her telling me that she had."




"Is that going to be a problem for you, Liv?"


"Nope. I don't see a reason for our paths to cross except for the party Blair is throwing and I've got that covered already." The other three exchanged worried glances and Liv just shook her head. "Trust me guys... I know what I'm doing. I'm going there to relax, not...." She waved her hands around briefly. "Alex Cabot won't be a blip on my radar."


Blair signaled for the check and they readied themselves to leave.


"So you're okay to go up on your own tonight?" Liv nodded.


"Yeah, I'm good."


"All right. Then Jo and I will excuse ourselves for now. Olivia, make yourself at home and don't hesitate to ask for what you need. The number of our regular caretaker is by the phone and you know how to reach us. Abbie, it was nice to meet you. I hope we'll have another opportunity to talk again." A pause. "Will you be joining us for our little get together next weekend?"


"If that is an invitation, then yes, thanks... I'd love to."


"Good," exchanging cards. "I'll be in touch." Light hugs went around and Jo and Blair took their leave. Abbie turned to Olivia.


"Shall we?"


"We shall."






"Hey, beautiful... you want the good news or the bad news?"


Alex sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. Then she closed her eyes and raked her hand through her hair. "The bad, I guess," she finally replied. "Considering the way things have been going for me lately, should I sit down?"


"No, Alex – in fairness the bad and the good news are sort of the same thing. Liv is headed up to your area to stay for the next month. Your friend Blair Warner offered Olivia her cabin to stay in while she's suspended." She hesitated, then went ahead. "Hey, did you know Liv was an artist?"


"What?? No! Wait," waving her free hand in the air. "Let's get back to Olivia staying up here for the moment. You want to start from the beginning?"


So Abbie did, giving Alex a blow by blow report of lunch and everything that happened, including Blair's plans to throw a party. "I've already been invited, so I'll be up next weekend for sure. Can I come up early and stay with you?"


"Sure... you can even bring Casey if you want. I'm sure Gerry would love to have other people to cook for again."


"She ragging on you for a reason, Cabot? You can't not eat, you know."


"I know, but even on my best days I'm not going to put a dent into a five pound pot roast." She chuckled when she heard Abbie's brows fly into her hairline in reaction. "On the plus side, she only has to cook once every three or four days, and I'm learning to be creative in my uses of leftovers."


This time Abbie laughed out loud. The thought of a competent Alex Cabot in the kitchen.... "All right, I will definitely be up there Friday afternoon next week. I want to see you in the kitchen cooking. I'll send you my information as soon as I get the trip scheduled."


"All right. Hey, what does your boss think about this... you coming back to New York so often, I mean?"


"Honey, half the time he is *sending* me up here in one official capacity or another. The rest... let's just say he's learned I'm much easier to deal with if I get a little down time with my best girls. And a happy Abbie makes for a happy office," her voice so perky at the end, Alex removed the phone from her ear and stared at it oddly before resuming the conversation.


"You're scaring me," Alex joked lightly. "Who are you and what have you done with the real Abbie Carmichael?"


"Not to worry, darlin'... I'm still the Abbie Carmichael you know and love. Besides, half the time it's just weekends, barely long enough to be here."


"You ever thought of moving back? I'm pretty sure you could find *something* here you'd liked doing at least as well as you like the US Attorney's Office in DC."


Abbie grew thoughtfully silent. "I can't say it hasn't crossed my mind...." she admitted after a long pause.


"So what's stopping you?"


Abbie huffed impatiently. "When did this stop being about you and start being about me?? Sorry," she added almost instantly, her tone apologetic. "Honestly, I've thought about it a lot... more and more recently. I'm just not sure it's the right thing for me to do right now."


"Come up on Thursday," Alex invited impulsively. "We can sit and have some girl talk; we haven't done that in a long time."


"You gonna cook for me?"


"You brave enough to eat if I do?"


"That sounds like a challenge, blue blood."


"You up to it, Tex ?"


"Bring it on, Cabot; do your worst. I'm up to anything you can dish out."


"Then I'll expect you on Thursday, Carmichael . Come early."


"I'll be there with bells on, sweetheart. See you Thursday."


Alex hung up the phone with a smile on her face. Despite the fact that Olivia Benson was determined to keep Alex Cabot off her radar, Alex felt as though she was being handed a real second chance. Now it was up to her to figure out how to make it work to her advantage.




"You get your phone call taken care of?" Liv asked as she closed up her suitcase. They'd had to stop on the way home to purchase her a new one. The ones she'd had at home were too small, Abbie insisted; besides, it was time. Liv needed something that wasn't fifty years old and had wheels and a handle. Liv glared at Abbie for ten whole seconds before she broke down and agreed.


Now she lifted it from the bed and popped the handle, rolling it out to the living room to sit next to Abbie's weekend case.


"Yeah," Abbie answered as she flopped into one corner of the couch. Olivia dropped into the other corner. "Casey should be here shortly."


"You don't mind me bailing on you early?"


Abbie chuckled. "Nah. I'm glad you've got a place to go stay away from here for a while and friends like Jo and Blair to look out for you. They're good people."


"Yeah, they are. One day I'll have to tell you about how they got together." A buzz interrupted her and Liv got up and clicked the speaker. "Yeah?"


"It's me."

"Hang on... we'll come down to you." Olivia cut the speaker and walked back to Abbie with her hand extended. "C'mon, your ride's here. I'll walk down with you and head out as soon as you and Casey are on your way. I want to get there early enough to settle in...."


Abbie opened her arms and Liv stepped into them, embracing one another tightly for a long moment. "Liv, you don't owe me an explanation. I want you to take advantage of this break – use it for you." She brushed a kiss near Liv's mouth, feeling Liv's lips pucker against her skin in return. "This can be a good thing for you if you let it," Abbie whispered into Olivia's ear before pulling back.


"I know, Abbie. Believe it or not, I'm actually looking forward to it." Abbie arched a disbelieving eyebrow and Liv laughed. "C'mon, before Casey comes looking for you." She grabbed her suitcase and waited for Abbie to do the same. "So," she asked as she ushered Abbie out in front of her before locking the door securely. "The two of you have plans?"


"God, you're nosey." Abbie retorted as they started the climb down the stairs.


"Um... detective here," motioning to herself. "Hello??"


Abbie snorted which catapulted them both into laughter that lasted until they reached the ground floor. Then Casey held the door open for them, popping the trunk on her tiny hybrid vehicle while Olivia stuffed her huge suitcase in the back of her larger car. Casey's eyes popped at the size.


"Wow, Detective... you moving?"


"She's got art supplies in there," Abbie supplied helpfully, despite the mega-watt glare she was getting from Olivia. "Seems the good detective has been keeping secrets."


"Not anymore," Liv muttered under her breath. "The whole damn world knows now."


"Nah," Abbie contradicted. "Only your best girls," stealing another hug and allowing Casey to do the same before they backed off and moved back towards Casey's car. "Now go on and get outta here before you get caught on an unknown road after dark. And call when you get there; I want to know you got there safely."


Liv nodded and slid behind the steering wheel. "I'll see you next weekend?"


"Yep; I've already arranged the time off."


"Good," was all she said, and she waved goodbye as she pulled into the road.


Casey and Abbie stood side by side watching her out of sight, then they climbed into Casey's ride. Abbie waited until she was into the flow of traffic before she spoke again.


"Thanks for the ride, Casey. I know I could have called a cab, but...."


"Abbie, it's no problem. I'm glad you called. I just wish I didn't have a date tonight; we could have had dinner or something."


"Well, how would you feel about a weekend at Alex Cabot's lodge next weekend? Blair is throwing a party to introduce Olivia to the neighbors there and Alex invited me to stay for the weekend; she asked me to bring you along," Abbie continued before Casey could protest.


Casey risked a glance in her direction, then returned her focus to the road. "You're going to explain who Blair is and what the hell is going on, right? Because I feel like I just got substituted into the game in the middle of the fourth inning without a scorecard or a game book."


"Oh, absolutely. Why don't you plan to come by the hotel for brunch in the morning? I'll give you the whole story the way I know it so far."


Casey smiled. "Counselor, you've got yourself a date.




The house was easy to find and Liv opened the door with a sense of relief. It was large and open and yet conveyed a sense of coziness that put Liv at ease and made her feel right at home. She turned off the alarm and propped open the door so she could drag her huge suitcase into the house. Then she locked everything up for the night and went exploring.


Blair had assured her she was welcome to any room in the house, but there was just something not quite right about taking her married friends' master suite. So she settled into the large guest suite downstairs – for two reasons. One, it was closer to the best light in the whole house and two because it was a lot less farther to have to carry her suitcase.


It didn't take very long to unpack – she hadn't actually brought much with her, clothes wise. Her art supplies were carefully unpacked and carried back into the living area that had the wonderful eastern light that Liv couldn't wait to work by. She placed everything on a long table she suspected had been put there specifically for her convenience and kept a sketchbook and a pencil. Then she moved to the couch and sat, eyes watching as the shadows grew longer in the east, throwing everything in shadow.


Almost without forethought, Liv flipped the book to a blank page and licked the tip of her pencil before allowing the lines to flow onto the page. When the light was gone, she looked down, smiling at the picture she had created until her eyes filled with tears. It had been so long since she'd been able just let it flow from her – maybe this break was just what she needed.


Finally, realizing she was actually, truly hungry, Olivia traipsed into the kitchen to find a fully stocked refrigerator. She smiled – Blair had promised her everything she could possibly need and she had totally delivered. She pulled a variety of things from the fridge and fixed herself dinner. It was a nice, relaxing start to her enforced vacation.


Morning came much later than Olivia expected it to – much later than it had in a long time. Somehow, leaving the City behind... knowing she had no responsibilities, no accountability to anyone except herself... it was as though she had shed her hard-shell detective persona for the oft-neglected artistic one. She stretched and looked out the window into the gardens just outside thoughtfully, wondering just how long this would last before she felt the call of the street once more. It was such a part of her... of who she was....


Pushing the thoughts from her mind, Liv rose from the bed and ventured out to see what the day had for her in this place.


She went into the kitchen and fixed a sandwich, then went into the living room to snag her sketchbook and a couple pencils before heading outdoors. She couldn't wait to experience the outdoors that was the Warner property. The closest she ever got to this much nature was walking through Central Park .


Though the area closest to the house was sculpted and landscaped, the area beyond the fence leading down to the wall had been left to fallow. Olivia ducked between the slats and wandered out into the wild field, anxious just to sit and be for a while. With a little luck, her muse would be coaxed out again and she would be able to see with her artist's eye again.


For a long time she simply sat, eyes closed, breathing in the air delicately scented by the wildflowers she was surrounded by. It was calming and peaceful, and without conscious effort Olivia took the opportunity to review her life, knowing before she left this place, a decision needed to be made about her future – both as a police officer in general and as an SVU detective more precisely. She never even noticed when the tears started to fall.


She had done so much good, and the faces of the victims she been able to help find justice for brought a smile to her lips. Nothing could replace the fulfillment she felt helping those who needed her help the most. Then there were those she had failed – those who would never be avenged, who would never have the peace they deserved. Thankfully, there were less of those than there were more, but still too many in her book – ghosts that would always haunt her.


Her thoughts turned to her mother, wondering if she was at peace now. Did a soul like Serena Benson find peace at last or were they doomed to suffer in death as they had in life? Olivia shook her head. She didn't know why these particular maudlin thoughts were coming to the fore now. Maybe it was the lack of intense focus she had always maintained in her life to keep her in the present. Maybe she would find peace with some of the demons that plagued her soul in the time she had here, but for now she turned her attention to happier things.


She thought of Elliot and of the family she'd made of the guys at the precinct – sharing conspiracy theories with Munch over lunch, rapping with Fin in the rare moments of downtime, razzing the Captain about his favorite lemon filled donuts. Were these things she wanted to give up? Would she have to give them up if she did decide to leave?


She thought about Casey – a woman she had resented when she'd first joined the unit. The pain had been so raw, and Casey had been... well, thankfully she'd been persistent, Liv thought with a smile, and she'd learned. Not that any of them had made it easy for her – they hadn't. But now Olivia counted her among her closest friends.


That took her train of thought right to Abbie Carmichael. How she missed having Abbie close, though Washington DC wasn't so far away that they didn't see one another regularly and God knew Ma Bell loved their long distance contact. She wished Abbie would decide to move back to New York on a more permanent basis, but knew the stubborn Texan would have to come to that decision on her own. Otherwise there would be no living with her... even if they were boroughs apart, and they were both too fond of Manhattan for that to realistically happen.


Olivia chuckled. Maybe she should have Casey work on it for her. She might make better headway. The smile stayed firmly planted on her face as she sat there for several minutes letting that thought chase around her mind. Then her mind veered toward the one subject it had studiously avoided - for years if she was honest with herself - and the smile fell as though it had never been.


Alex Cabot – Ice Princess... thorn in her side... Devil Incarnate. Olivia had to wonder what the fascination was. She wasn't a stupid woman, so why couldn't she let go of the woman who had obviously put her aside with very little thought or effort? Something must be seriously wrong with her, because Olivia Benson had never considered herself a masochist.


She thought back to their rocky start – how they'd eventually become friends and confidantes; how they were slowly, surely moving towards something beyond friendship outside the confines of their working relationship without ever crossing that last line; and how three shots fired in the night had changed everything.


It had been bad enough knowing Alex had died before they could commit to exploring what was between them. It had been almost worse knowing she was alive and being sent away. It *had* been worse when she had come back into their lives briefly. But the worst had been her return – and subsequent ignoring of any hint of her previous life... including and especially anything and anyone associated with the one-six. Olivia wondered what part of the witness protection program had been so traumatic it would cause such a spectacular turnaround.


Olivia sighed and rubbed her temples. She was giving herself a headache and not even close to finding the answers she needed. Eventually, she was going have to face the She-Devil if only to put these specific demons of hers to rest. However, that wasn't going to happen anytime soon, and she forcibly put the thoughts from her mind. It wasn't like she hadn't already been over them a hundred times before and would probably go over them another hundred times before all was said and done. She had plenty of time to drive herself nuts over it later.


For now, she just wanted to lie back in the thick grass and soak in the warmth of the sun. She could worry about the future again tomorrow.




Geraldine wondered what had Alex on pins and needles, and finally decided to call her on it. "Lexxie, what is with you today? You're acting like you're standing in an ant bed with no way out."


Alex blew out an impatient breath. "Abbie is coming up sometime today. I guess I'm a little anxious for her to get here already. I promised her I would cook for her tonight. She doesn't think I can," Alex added with a little chuckle.


Geraldine preened. "I suppose she is in for a most pleasant surprise... unless you plan to feed her liver and onions or something equally noxious."


Alex made a face, sticking out her tongue as though to rid it of the flavor mere words had inspired. "Ew... no. I have to eat it too – that's the deal. I was thinking of lemon chicken."


"Good choice," Geraldine approved. "Do you want some help?"


"Nope... I got it covered. Thank you, though. It's been so nice being up here with you and Jason. I probably would have driven myself nuts if I had been here alone, despite my desire to just get away for a while."


"We've loved having you – it reminds me a little of how things were when you were little," she took a judicious look at Alex's thin frame. "Or perhaps when you were much younger would be more appropriate. God knows I can't seem to get much to stick to those bones, and not for lack of trying on my part either."


Alex blushed. "Not completely my fault, Gerry. I don't think my body knows what to do with real food anymore. I subsisted on coffee and stale donuts scarfed from the police station for most of my meals when I was working with the Special Victims Unit. And when I went into Witness Protection, I lost my appetite for almost everything. It took a while and a lot of experimenting and kitchen disasters before I learned to enjoy food again."


"Well, I'm glad you did, and I'm glad you came up here to spend some time. It gets a little lonely with just me and Jason all the time, and the family just doesn't use this place like they did when your grandmother was still alive."


"I wonder why?" Alex mused aloud. "I could be very comfortable living here."


"So why don't you?" Abbie asked casually as she stepped into the kitchen with her arms open. Alex gave a glad little cry and ran into Abbie's embrace, gasping when she was casually lifted into the air. Geraldine chuckled silently and watched as Alex became the person she remembered from years' past. Then she saw Jason signaling her behind them and slipped around them without being noticed.


"My God, Abbie... when did you get to be so strong?"


"My God, Alex... when did you get to be such a lightweight? OW!" clutching her arm where Alex had just punched her. "Whaddya do *that* for?" managing to glare and pout at the same time.


"Lightweight? C'mon, Carmichael ...."


"Whaddya want from me, Cabot? It's true," ducking a second swing. "Besides, most women these days would consider that a compliment – especially since I was actually referring to your weight." Abbie took Alex's hands in hers and tilted her head until she caught blue eyes with her own dark brown. "How are you doing, Alex... really? I don't remember you being so thin, and it's not like you could afford to lose any to start with."


Alex rolled her eyes, but she didn't release Abbie's hands. "You sound like my mother, Abbie... or like Gerry." She turned slightly to include Geraldine, only to discover she was no longer in the room. "Well, I guess the two of you will have to discuss it later. I'm fine, Abbie," Alex assured when a dark brow twitched upwards impatiently. "It just takes me a while to catch up is all."


"Uh huh," Abbie drawled charmingly. "You sure it doesn't have anything to do with your cooking?"


"Keep it up Carmichael – you really will end up eating liver and onions tonight." The look on her face was reward enough and Alex laughed in delight. She slid her hands from Abbie's grasp and wrapped them around the slim waist instead, gratified when Abbie returned the hold around her shoulders. "I'm so glad you came up, Abbie. I've missed you."


Abbie pulled them together until they were hugging one another once more. "No more than I've missed you, sweetheart. Now, it's been a long day already – how about you offer me some of those famous sugar cookies I've missed?"


"Those we make up fresh – you know that." She pointed to a chair at the bar. "Have a seat," opening the refrigerator door and pulling out the dough. "How was your trip?"


"Not bad – long. I flew up on the red-eye last night and then drove up this morning. It's a pretty drive – I wouldn't mind coming up again when the colors turn."


Alex smiled. "You're still just that country girl I met all those years ago, aren't you?" Abbie shrugged and looked down at her clasped hands. Alex covered them, heedless of the flour that coated her own. "I love that about you, Abbie. Despite everything, you still take time to see the beauty where it is around you. It's part of you that you've never given up – a part that I've missed so much." She lifted her hands from Abbie's and chuckled. "Sorry about that," offering her a towel to wipe her hands. "How many cookies would you like?"


"Two for now. Don't want to ruin my appetite for that dinner you promised me now, do I?" She paused thoughtfully for a moment. "Unless we're really having liver and onions – in which case I will take an even dozen."


Alex grabbed the towel and swung at Abbie, missing by a mile and causing them both to laugh. "Like I would prepare something that noxious. I thought we'd have lemon chicken."


Abbie's brows went up. "Really? That sounds good."


Alex smirked. "I know. Is Casey coming?" She slipped the cookies into the oven.


"I don't know." Alex cocked an inquisitive eyebrow. "I'm not sure what's going on with her; she didn't say." Abbie shrugged. "Point is, she knows she's welcome; I'm just not sure she wants to be here for this party Blair is throwing for the neighbors."


"You mean for Liv."


Abbie nodded. "Yeah... apparently Blair is going all out for this shindig."


Alex smiled wryly. "Well, Blair never does things by halves."


"You still planning to go?"


"I can't avoid her forever. And at least there will be plenty of other people there – it's not like it would just be the two of us. Although that does give her the opportunity to avoid me again."


"Do you know what you're going to say to her... given the chance?"


"Not a clue. Any ideas?" The timer buzzed and Alex turned to remove the cookies from the oven. Abbie sniffed and smiled.


"Wow, Cabot... those smell great."


"You'll have to thank Geraldine – it's her recipe and she's the one who taught me how to make them." She put them on a plate and placed a cold glass of milk beside them. "Enjoy them," Alex said, taking a cookie for herself and pouring a second glass of milk. Abbie's eyes widened and bit into her own cookie, chewing thoughtfully.


"These are really good. I remember when you couldn't boil water for tea without burning something. And when did you start drinking milk?" A beat. "Being away really did change you, didn't it?"


"In so many ways, Abbie."


Abbie stuffed the rest of her cookie in her mouth and gulped the milk. "Man, that hit the spot. C'mon," extending her hand and waiting for Alex to take it. Abbie tugged and Alex stood. "Let's go for a walk. I'll help with dinner when we get back." She laughed at Alex's skeptical expression. "Trust me , Cabot; I haven't burned anything down yet."


"There's always a first time, Carmichael ." Then she squealed when Abbie pinched her ass. Laughing, they headed out the door and into the gardens beyond. When the door closed behind them, Geraldine and Jason came back into the kitchen.


"It's good to hear her laugh again." Geraldine cleaned up the few dishes and hung the towel back in its place.


"Yes; I'm glad Ms Carmichael came to visit. She's always been good for Alexandra." Jason turned and held out his hand to Gerry. "C'mon, woman. Let's go home and leave these young people to themselves. They can call if they need us for anything."


"You just want your own dinner, old man."


"Of course," Jason agreed, wrapping his arm around her waist. They shut the door behind them as they headed back to their cottage, waving to Abbie and Alex before they disappeared inside.




"Wow, Cabot... this is really good," Abbie said around a mouthful of chicken. "I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised; I think you can expect me for dinner a little more often," she said with a grin and a waggle of her eyebrows. She paused. "You can cook other stuff, right? Like a nice thick steak?"


"And pasta and pot roast and any other number of things," Alex assured Abbie with a smile. "It's just not fun to cook for one, so I usually don't."


"What about Robert? Didn't you ever cook for him?"


Alex shook her head. "No... we never had the kind of relationship that called for it."


Abbie choked and coughed for a long moment before she was finally able to draw breath again. "Excuse me?!" she exclaimed, holding up a hand to keep Alex from responding while she took a cautious swallow of water. "Alex, you were *engaged* to the man!! What the hell kind of relationship would call for it if that didn't??"


"It wasn't that kind of engagement, Abbie." Alex sighed. "Robert was a friend; we just sort of fell into an engagement. We were comfortable together and we were a good match. It was easy."


"Alex, you have never gone for the easy route. Why this?"


Alex patted her lips and placed her fork on the table, sitting back with her wine glass. "I... I think... after I came home...." She sighed. "Witness Protection was a nightmare for me – it was so bland, so boring – God, I *hated* it!" pulling a hand through her hair in frustration. "But when I came home... it wasn't home anymore, Abbie. Nothing was the same – I wasn't the same. My detectives were someone else's detectives; my office belonged to someone else. There wasn't a place for me anymore. It was as though Alex Cabot never existed. Do you know what it feels like to be erased from existence?!?"


Abbie didn't say a word – she simply rose from her chair and dropped her napkin on the table before taking Alex in her arms. She held on, tightening her embrace when Alex suddenly turned into her and held on for dear life.


The sobs were silent and Abbie brushed a kiss over the top of Alex's head. After a moment, they lessened and Alex's grip loosened just the slightest bit. Abbie pulled away only enough to tilt blue eyes up to meet her brown ones filled with concern.




Alex's smile was watery, but it was the most genuine Abbie had seen since her return from Witness Protection more than two years prior. It caused her to grin in return.


"I haven't felt this good in years... not since I got shot." Her eyes dropped and she shrugged. "I guess I needed that."


"Maybe you just needed to know someone really cared. I'm sorry you had to wait so long for me to realize that."


"I could have asked."


"Yeah, you could've, but the Alex Cabot I know never would." Abbie cupped Alex's cheek. "See, not *everything* has changed. Bet you've still got that Ice Princess reputation."


"I don't think my reputation is that great anymore. The sad thing is – it's my own fault." Abbie tilted her head but Alex wasn't more forthcoming.


"You're not going to tell me, are you?"


"Nothing to tell, Abbie – any reputation I've gotten since I got back is strictly my doing. I'm the only one who can fix it."


"You know I'm here if you want to talk, right?"


Alex clasped Abbie's hands. "I know, and it means... everything. Now – what's up with you and Casey?"


"That conversation needs ice cream," Abbie answered, tugging Alex to her feet. "Preferably with chocolate syrup and rainbow sprinkles."


Alex chuckled. "You realize Huang could have a field day with you."


"Nah... he couldn't keep up." Laughing, they cleared the table and fixed a big bowl of ice cream then took two spoons and headed for the living room. Alex arched a brow and when Abbie nodded her agreement, she turned on the gas fireplace. "That's cheatin' you know," Abbie complained.


"Keep it up, Carmichael . I'll make you split the firewood."


"Like I need to with a gas fireplace. Besides, I've done that, you know. My grandfather thought it built character." She scooped up a bite of ice cream and savored it a moment before shrugging. "He was probably right, but all it got me at the time was calluses." She took another bite.


Alex took Abbie's free hand in hers and turned it over, palm up. "I guess being a lawyer has softened you up a little, hmm?"


Abbie snorted and then clutched her head. "Brain freeze!" When it passed she glared at Alex. "Thanks, Cabot... haven't had one of those since I was twelve. And no, I'm pretty sure being a lawyer hasn't softened me up any. Ask the men I work with."


Alex waved her off. "No need – been there, done that, got the t-shirt." She spooned up her own bite of ice cream. "So? What's the scoop?"


"I dunno... I think she's interested, but she's not sure either. The long distance thing is part of it, I'm sure. God knows relationships are hard enough without starting out hundreds of miles apart."


"Have the two of you talked about it?" She swallowed her mouthful and took another.


"Sort of. I know she's enjoying the chance to date around at the moment. She's got a date with Detective Lake tomorrow night. Apparently she wants to see if he can live up to his mouth." Alex tilted her head and Abbie chuckled. "He assured her he could show her the kind of time she deserved," savoring another spoonful.


"And you?"


"And me what?"


"C'mon Abbie... don't be thickheaded. Did you ever stop to think maybe Casey is waiting to see if you're interested enough to show her the kind of time she deserves?"


"Maybe I'd like to see if she's interested enough to show me the kind of time I deserve. I can only do so much without knowing, Alex. And as long as she wants to be free to date around.... She certainly should enjoy whatever life she can find outside of Special Victims."


"All right. I can understand that," Alex nodded her agreement. "But wouldn't it be easier if you talked to each other about it?"


"Hello, pot... this is kettle. Easier said than done."


Alex smirked then sobered. "At least Casey will talk to you. Olivia has already written me off."


"I don't think so, Alex." Abbie gazed at Alex thoughtfully and pulled up her lawyer façade. "If Liv had written you off - if there was nothing left between you - she wouldn't be pushing you away so hard. She'd simply ignore your existence." She scraped the bottom of the bowl.


"Like she has since I came back to New York ?"


"Like she did until you acknowledged her again." Abbie dropped her spoon into the empty bowl and took Alex's and did the same. Then she put the bowl on the table and turned until she could curl her legs up under her. "Alex... I'm not placing blame here. That's not for me to decide – it wouldn't do any good anyway." She waved a hand frantically. "Whatever... look, what I'm telling you is if you want to be a part of her life again, then you're going to have to be the one to do the reassuring."


"Why? Dammit, Abbie - *I'm* the one whose life changed!"


"Alex... everyone's life changed when you left. Maybe not to the same degree yours did, but they did change." She took Alex's hands and caressed them gently. "All I'm saying is the two of you've got to want to work it out and then sit down and talk. You just have to keep after her until she relents. She wants to know that you care enough to keep trying, even when she pushes you away."


"Why, Abbie?" Alex asked again.


Abbie tipped forward and brushed a kiss on her forehead. "You already know the answer to that Cabot. You just have to admit it to yourself. It gets easier from there."


Alex leaned her forehead against Abbie's and sighed. "When did you get to be so smart?"


"Darlin', I've always been that smart. It's why you love me."


Alex smiled. "Well, it's one reason at any rate. C'mon," she said, rising to her feet and offering a hand to Abbie. "Let's go sit in the Jacuzzi and we can figure out how to get you back to New York sooner rather than later."


Abbie didn't comment except to roll her eyes and take Alex's hand, following her upstairs.




"So, Liv... how are you enjoying the house?" Jo asked as she flopped down on the couch Friday evening. She and Blair had arrived earlier, but Liv had only just returned to the house after the sun had set. She set down her sketch pad and pencils and removed her camera from her neck and turned to face Jo with open arms. Jo sighed and rolled her eyes, then rose and took Olivia in her arms, lifting her off the floor.


"JO!! Put me down!" The squeal brought Blair from the bedroom and she covered her mouth with hand to keep from laughing aloud at their antics. Olivia was beating on Jo's shoulders and laughing, even though Jo had already put her back on the ground. Jo was covering her head, struggling not to fall as her laughter got the best of her.


Blair crossed to stand in front of them, after they had fallen on the couch in laughter and started slapping throw pillows at one another. Blair put her hands on her hips and tapped her foot impatiently, raising an eyebrow in their direction as brown and green eyes turned their sheepish focus towards her. She tried to keep her expression fierce, but the twinkling in the back of her brown eyes belied her anger.


Jo extended her hand and waited; Blair cocked her head and slowly took the proffered hand – only to find herself comfortably ensconced in Jo's lap with no real idea how she'd moved. Automatically she wrapped her arms around Jo's neck.


"Something I can do for you, Polniaczek?"


"Nope... I'm pretty satisfied at the moment, thanks."


"Ugh... the two of you are going to give me diabetes, you know."


"Jealous much, Liv? Jo asked, her voice and eyes teasing as her hand trailed absently up Blair's side. Olivia's eyes went serious.


"Sometimes, yeah," she answered honestly. "I don't think you realize how lucky you are. And I don't mean all this," motioning around the house, "although it's great," she added with a smile. "Thanks for sharing this place with me, Blair; I can't tell you the difference it's made being here this week."


"Has it made a difference then?" Blair asked, tilting her head.


"So much," Liv responded with a melancholy smile. "I have rediscovered so many things that make me happy." She pushed her hair back off her face. "I hadn't realized how miserable I'd allowed myself to become. This has been better than therapy for me."


Blair slid from Jo's lap and turned, taking Olivia's hands in her own. "I'm so glad, Olivia. You really are one of the good guys. I'm glad we could help."


Liv squeezed the hands she held. "You did... so much." She dropped her head bashfully. "Would you like to see a little of what I've been working on?"


"We'd love to... wouldn't we, Joey?"


"Absolutely. I want her to get back to her art for purely selfish reasons." Liv cocked an eyebrow in her direction. "I've got a commission for you, if you're willing. A family portrait – oil on canvas."


Blair clapped her hands excitedly. "Oh, Joey... what a fabulous idea! I know of any number of socialites who would kill to be done by an artist like that. What do you think, Olivia?"


Liv shook her dark head. "I'm a little overwhelmed by the idea actually. Don't you think you should see some of my stuff first?"


Jo smiled and handed her a bottle of water, offering another to Blair. "You look like you could use that," gesturing to Liv's flushed face. "Besides, you forget I've seen some of your stuff. You used to doodle when we were sitting patrol sometimes, remember? And the tile work...."


Olivia cleared her throat and scratched the back of her neck self-consciously. "I'd forgotten about that," she replied. "I've forgotten about a lot apparently."


"Well," Blair rushed in to cover the awkwardness. "It's not something we need to decide right now. How about you show us what you've been working on here?"


"Yeah, Liv... I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."


Liv looked at them with a watery smile. "You didn't, really. I just...." She pulled her sketchpad from the table. "Here," and she handed it to them, then walked away.


She busied herself with her camera, snapping off the last few pictures of her friends pouring over her sketchbook. Then she wound the film and ejected it from her old thirty-five millimeter camera, placing the film in the canister and the canister with the others she had already taken. She determined to go shopping for a digital camera at her first opportunity – contemplating anything that would keep her mind off the whispers happening between Jo and Blair as they looked at her work.


Liv finished and walked to the window, focusing her attention outside watching the stars slowly appear. The week had been good for her – she had come to terms with a few things that were long overdue and found a sense of renewed peace in having them laid to rest. She put her head against the glass, lost in her own thoughts. She didn't even notice Jo and Blair coming up behind her until she found herself as a filling between them.


"You all right, Liv? We didn't mean...."


"I'm good, Jo... really. I've just never really shared this part of myself with anyone like this. But being here – it's been fantastic. I can honestly say I haven't missed the one-six... not like I thought I would." She blew out a breath. "I needed this... thanks."

Blair smiled. "We're glad you came, and thank you for sharing your art with us. I um... I have some friends coming up from the City for the party tomorrow and a couple of them are art enthusiasts," not mentioning their enthusiasm was their passion and their livelihood for fear of scaring Olivia away from the idea. "If you'd be interested, I could introduce you to them as an artist...."


"Oh Blair – I don't know. That's a huge step. I'm just not sure...."


"Liv, you don't have to – now or ever. Blair just wanted to put it out there so, you know... if you ever decide you want to make it more than a hobby or catharsis or whatever."


"You think it's good?"


"We like it, Olivia... a lot. You see things uniquely; you have a great gift." Olivia ducked her head to hide her blush. Jo started to laugh until Blair glared in her direction. Instead she cleared her throat and clapped her hands together.


"So, are you looking forward to this shindig tomorrow night? Blair's been talking about nothing else all week."


Blair stomped her foot and put her hands on her hips. "That's not true... not completely... all right, maybe a little," she relented at Jo's expression. Olivia chuckled.


"Well, I'll admit I've been looking forward to it too. I've never had so much of my own company before, so I'm looking forward to meeting the neighbors... even if they are only my neighbors temporarily. I think it's time I had a little fun; I've been under this dark cloud long enough." She paused. "Do you know someone here who could cut my hair? I think it's time for a change... time to go back to being who I am and not who I've been pretending to be."


"Who were you pretending to be, Olivia?"


"Soccer mom Olivia Benson," she said succinctly. "I think I'm ready to be just Olivia Benson – SVU detective, artist, woman... but not a soccer mom."


"Do you want kids, Liv?" Jo broke in before Blair could speak.


Liv turned thoughtful eyes to Jo and nodded slowly, her eyes taking on a watery sheen though they did not fill with tears. "Sometimes, yeah... I would. I wonder what I've missed not having one. But I know that given my situation, it's probably not in the cards. And I'm making peace with that – I'll always be Auntie Liv to your Jamie and to Elliot's kids."


"You know, Liv – you're not that old. You could...."


"No, Jo. I'm not that unselfish." Jo tilted her head and Olivia sighed. "I couldn't do that to a kid, and with my job.... No, I wouldn't ask my child to take second place, and the job is all I know."


"Maybe you should put the woman first for a change, Olivia. Then let the rest fall into place. In fact...." Blair trailed off and Jo and Liv looked at her expectantly. Blair shook her head and returned their gazes. "I think tomorrow should be a spa day." Jo rolled her eyes but couldn't stop the pleased smile from crossing her face. She knew what Blair had in mind. Olivia waited for an explanation.


"Let me go make a couple phone calls. Jo will explain it to you, Olivia, and then we can have dinner."




"Oh God... this is amazing," Liv said late Saturday morning. They had already a deep tissue massage and now sat relaxing in the Jacuzzi before moving to the next stage of their make-over. She had been a little skeptical when Jo had outlined the plan, but Blair had military organizational skills and at seven that morning, Olivia had been awakened to begin the spa ritual otherwise known as 'Blair pampering'.


"All right, ladies. It's time for lunch and then we move on to phase two." Blair opened her eyes and rose, stepping out and extending her arms for her robe. Jo and Olivia followed suit and soon they were sitting in the kitchen enjoying chicken salad and fresh fruit. The caterers had already come in and were setting up for the party. Blair had decided to take advantage of the nice weather and make it an informal affair outdoors. So they were setting up in the yard while Jo, Blair and Liv continued their spa day.


After lunch they were treated to a full facial, manicure and pedicure and Olivia was placed in Freddie's capable hands for a haircut. His only instructions were to make her look fabulous.


"No problem, Blair. I've got a great foundation to work with," he assured her, managing to ignore Olivia's blush. He turned to her. "Do you trust me, Detective?"


She stared at him for a moment, then looked as Blair and Jo who nodded at her. Liv turned back to Freddie. "Absolutely. Make me beautiful."


Freddie smiled. "Not a problem, Detective. You've already got that covered. Now sit back and close your eyes so Mel can put on your mask and you can relax." Olivia reclined in the chair and turned herself over to Freddie and Mel's ministrations. She hadn't felt this good in a long time.


An hour later they were being sent to shower and change before the last part of their spa day. Jo had assured her informal really did mean jeans in this case as the caterer was grilling outdoors, so Liv slipped into her favorite jeans and a sparkly top. She glanced into the mirror, startled at the reflection staring back at her. She ran her fingers through her shortened locks, then shook her head.


Well, you wanted to be Olivia Benson again. She smiled rakishly. Look out world... Benson is back.


Then she went back to their 'spa room' to let Freddie and Mel finish working their magic. Tonight was going to be fun.




"You know, Olivia, when I invited you out to dinner, this wasn't exactly what I had in mind," Trevor Langan commented with a grin as he looked around the large open cabin. There were a number of people standing clustered about in small groups in both the house and yard talking and laughing and the party showed every sign of being a success. The catering service had set-up on the outside deck, barbequing to order and everyone was able to help themselves to the remainder of the buffet.


"Are you sorry I asked you?" Liv asked.


"No, not at all. I'm having a great time, actually... well, except for the fact that Alexandra Cabot seems intent on staring a hole through the front of my head." Olivia cut her eyes in Alex's direction but the blue gaze studiously avoided her own. It was beginning to get a little irritating. "It's funny," he continued, bringing Olivia's attention back to him, "you were the one giving me that very same look once – when I was out with Ms Cabot, if I recall correctly."


"Old history, Trevor, and there was nothing there... nothing real, anyway. I wouldn't have asked you if I had known she was going to act like there was something more between us than old, forgotten acquaintanceship. I just thought you might enjoy...."


"Oh, I am," he assured her with a smile. "As an added bonus, I have met a number of people it could be useful for me to know down the line. And I know it's not your style, Olivia – your straightforwardness is one of the qualities I admire most about you, though it doesn't seem to serve you very well where Alex Cabot is concerned." He ignored her startled look and took her arm, leading her out to the deck. "C'mon... let's go get a burger and then I'd like to talk to our hostess. Tomorrow is soon enough for you to worry about Alex Cabot."




"Well, at least now I understand," Robert commented, walking up behind Alex Cabot and sipping from his gin and tonic. She turned and looked at him, though she watched Olivia and Trevor step outside in her peripheral vision before turning her full attention to her ex-fiancé.


"Understand what?" she inquired, playing dumb as she drained the beer Abbie had snagged for her before disappearing into the melee surrounding the buffet. Alex figured she'd been stopped by someone or other – God knew Abbie knew practically everyone and those she hadn't known before tonight, she would before the end of the evening. Alex couldn't fault her for that; she was as charmed by her Texas friend as she knew the rest would be.


Robert's snicker brought her back to the present. "Alexandra, I did not get to the top of the food chain in the financial sector by being stupid. Please don't insult either of us by playing a dumb blonde. You're better than that."


Alex sighed and moved off to find another beer. The way things were going, getting drunk was looking like a better and better prospect. Robert caught her elbow.


"Tell me about her, Alexandra." She hesitated. "C'mon... we're still friends, right?" She nodded slowly. "Then talk to me - tell me who she is... how you know her."


Alex sighed again. Maybe she should. Of everyone involved, Robert especially deserved the truth. She nodded her head. "All right, but I need another beer first."


"Let's go outside and get something to eat and you another beer. Then you can tell me about this woman. Although I can't fault your taste."


Alex gave him a sad smile and followed him out to the buffet.




"They're gonna drive me to drink," Abbie said to Jo and Blair as she lifted her beer to her lips. She nearly snorted at the look they gave her and swallowed carefully to keep from snorting beer out her nose. "Beer doesn't count," she added drolly. "We're talking tequila shooters here."


Blair shuddered. "I tried that once – I don't remember that whole weekend."


"That's all right, princess... I do," she smirked. Blair slapped at her. "OW! Stop abusing the merchandise, Warner. I bruise easily, ya know."


"Watch it, grease monkey, or I won't take care of those bruises for you later."


"Okay, you guys are going to make me hurl from the elevated cuteness factor you've got going on. Aren't you supposed to be old marrieds by now or something – you know... fighting and sniping at each other constantly?"


Blair laughed. "We've always been old marrieds, Abbie. We've been fighting and sniping since the day we met. It took us years to admit the friendship we felt for one another and even longer to be honest about what we really felt towards each other. So we enjoy being like newlyweds, though we certainly still do our share of old married."


"Actually, I think the best old marrieds are the ones who are comfortable and cute even after years together," Abbie said after a moment. "My folks are. I'd certainly like to be."


"We plan to be," Jo said unexpectedly, reaching for Blair's hand. "Now if Alex and Liv would just get on board...."


Abbie snorted. "Good luck. Sometimes I think they look for the hard way."


"Of course they do," Blair concurred. "We all have at some point." She looked at her empty glass. "I need another drink. Ladies?"


"I think that sounds like a great idea," Jo said as she stood. "And that will give us a chance to see what is going on with Frick and Frack. I'm not sure they're ready to be left alone together yet."


"You don't think Trevor and Robert would keep them from killing one another?" Blair asked.


"They're red-blooded men - I think they'd sell tickets and have seats front and center," Abbie commented wryly.


"Well, let's hope it doesn't come to that... at least tonight. This little get together has been successful – I'd like it to end that way." And with that, the trio headed outside.




Olivia sat back in her chair observing Alex and her male companion as they exited the house and took a place in line behind Trevor. He spoke to them when he realized who was behind him and Olivia watched Alex introduce Trevor to the man she suspected was the erstwhile fiancé, Robert. Trevor motioned in her direction and she found herself pinned in place by Alex's piercing blue eyes before she turned back to him with a shake of her blonde head.


They stood talking for a few minutes longer as their food was prepared. Trevor said something that drew laughter from both his companions and Alex grabbed his arm, shaking him lightly – an action that only drew more laughter from the two men. Alex shook her head and walked to the bar to collect another beer. Olivia let her gaze follow without turning her head, appreciating blue jeans in a way she'd never bothered to before.


When she realized what she was doing and where her thoughts were headed, Liv closed her eyes and rubbed them carefully, not wanting to disturb the work Freddie and Mel had done. While she was still meditating, the scent of grilled hamburger wafted up to her and she opened her eyes to find Trevor smiling back at her.


"You're a lifesaver, Trevor. God this smells great!"


"Yeah, I have to admit, this was a really good idea. Thanks for inviting me."


"I'm glad you came." They watched Jo, Blair and Abbie exit the house and Olivia raised a hand to wave them over. With a word, Abbie split from Jo and Blair who continued on to Olivia's and Trevor's table while Abbie headed to the buffet.


Trevor stood and waited for Olivia to introduce them, then he gestured to the empty chairs. Blair and Jo exchanged glances then took a seat. "Are you enjoying yourself, Mr. Langan?"


"Trevor, please... and yes I am. Olivia has been a lot of fun and I've met some interesting people. I'm glad I came... even though this wasn't originally what I had in mind when I told Olivia that dinner together would be the price of defending her." Jo arched an eyebrow in Liv's direction and she nodded. Trevor caught the motion and smiled.


"I know we will never be more than friends, Detective," he assured Jo. "Olivia was right up front with me about that. It doesn't stop me from enjoying her company or appreciating my time with her. Besides, she did me a favor by inviting me tonight – I made a number of contacts with people I might otherwise have never met. So thank you for allowing me to join you."


"We're glad you could come," Blair said graciously. "It's always nice to make new friends and anyone who can make Olivia smile like you have this evening is certainly one of those. However," she continued as she rose from her seat, "we still need to mix and mingle to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves. Will we see you later?"


"I'd like that," he replied as he stood, shaking hands with them both before seating himself again. He turned to Olivia. "I like them... they seem like good people."


"They are," Liv agreed as she swallowed her last bite. "I've known them since Jo was a rookie cop. I was her training officer." Trevor's eyes widened.


"That was a little while ago."


"It was a lifetime or two ago," Liv agreed. Trevor tilted his head at the tone in her voice. He took a swig of his beer and pushed his plate away before leaning back to study her.


"How are you doing, Olivia? Really... no bullshit."


"Not bad, actually. I'm enjoying the chance to rediscover the parts of myself that aren't immersed in police work. I don't... I don't miss it like I thought I might. My job has always been my life and I'm not planning to give it up anytime soon; I'm just not sure it will be as important to me anymore."




"Yeah," she stated firmly as her eyes roamed over the people casually seated around Blair's backyard. Her eyes lit on Alex currently sitting alone and studying the beer in her hands. "I reached a total burnout this time, Trevor. I could walk away with no regrets. But I love what I do and being able to make a difference – I'd like to keep doing it for a few more years. But this time off has shown me that I need more than just the job."


Trevor smiled. "I'm glad. Just remember you've got friends who'll be glad to be part of that new non-job time."


Liv chuckled. "Thanks, Trevor. I'll try to keep it in mind. Now c'mon. I need to find Abbie and get another beer. And I'm pretty sure you've got a few more people to meet."


Together they rose and headed to the bar before they split up and crossed the yard in search of their perspective goals. The night was still young.




"Hey, beautiful... why are you sitting here by yourself?" Abbie asked Alex as she dropped her plate on the table and turned a chair around to take a seat. Alex let her eyes track to Abbie briefly before they returned to the beer bottle she was currently peeling the label from. She shrugged.


"Robert got a phone call and moved off to take it."


"Does he know...?" motioning towards Olivia.


"That she was the ultimate reason behind our breakup? Yeah – he thinks I have great taste," she added with a smirk, swiping a fry off Abbie's plate and earning a glare from her. "I think he'd like to meet her."


"Probably – or he wants to see what sort of fireworks the two of you would create together," Abbie said as she waggled her eyebrows in Alex's direction. Alex just rolled her eyes. Abbie chuckled and concentrated on her food for a moment before refocusing her attention on Alex.


"So are you going to talk to her at some point or just watch her out of the corner of your eye all night?"


"I'm going to go with option number two for a thousand, Alex."


Abbie blinked until she caught the reference to Jeopardy. Then she shook her head. "I can't believe you watch that show."


"I don't... not anymore. I did while I was in Witness Protection, though – it was a big deal in Wisconsin ... at least in my neighborhood." She stopped when Abbie covered her mouth with two fingers, then licked them... sniggering when Abbie jerked them away with a look of disgust.


"Ew... that was totally unnecessary, Cabot. You were babbling. Does she scare you that much?" Alex didn't speak, but her eyes answered for her. Abbie pushed her plate away and rose from her chair, wrapping her arms around Alex from behind and holding on for a long moment before brushing a kiss over the top of the blonde head. "All right, Alex... I won't push. But you've got to know it's not going to get any better until you talk to her."


"Maybe... but not here. I wouldn't do that to Blair and Jo; besides, I prefer to be shot down in private."


"I think you're assuming an awful lot, but I understand your desire for privacy. I'll see if I can do anything in that regard," she said, slipping away from Alex before she was able to turn around and protest. Immediately Robert took the seat Abbie had been occupying.


"Are you all right, Alex? You appear to be a little shell-shocked."


"I'm fine, Robert," rubbing her forehead in exasperation. "You get your phone call taken care of?"


"Yes, but I need to get back to the City. Would you like a ride back to your place?"


"No... thanks though."


"All right. I need to go say goodbye to Blair." He stood up. "You going to be all right?" She nodded and he tilted her chin up until their eyes met. "Maybe you should remember who you really are, Alexandra. Maybe she's just waiting to see you."


Alex's mouth fell open, but Robert turned and walked away before she could force herself to respond. Alex watched him go, then stood up. She'd felt sorry for herself long enough.




"Hey, sexy... you look hot," Abbie said to Olivia, leering at her and waggling her eyebrows. Olivia leaned against the side of the tree Abbie was currently perched next to. "What's up?"


"Does something need to be?" Liv asked, keeping her eyes on the yard and its occupants. She watched Alex rise from the table she'd been sitting at and go into the house, eyes focused on the tight blue jeans she wore. Then she looked back at Abbie. Abbie smirked at her, brown eyes twinkling and right brow arched in amused question.


"With you... about this - yeah. I've seen you watch her, sweetheart. You're going to have to talk to her sometime."


"No, I'm not. I don't need to talk to Alex Cabot, Carmichael . We have nothing to talk about."


Abbie rolled until she was facing Olivia, right up into her personal space until they were just touching along their lengths. She reached out and turned Liv to face her. "You're either lying to me or to yourself, Liv. Tell me... are you happy living in the land of denial?"


"That's not fair, Abbie. You don't know...."


"You're right – I don't, so why don't you tell me? Or better yet... why don't you tell her?" Olivia's head dropped but she didn't move away. Abbie took it as a good sign. "Liv... what have you got to lose by just listening to her?" Olivia didn't answer and Abbie sighed. Then she straightened and took Liv by the hand. "C'mon, darlin'. Show me your room. We can talk there."


"Abbie, why are you doing this? Why do you care?"


Abbie gave Olivia a genuine smile and tilted her head thoughtfully. "Because you're my friends... both of you. And if you can be happy together instead of miserable apart – why shouldn't you try?"


"And if it fails? Abbie...." Liv broke off, aware of the people around them. Abbie recognized the reason for her hesitation and tugged on their linked hands.


"C'mon, Liv," ushering them towards the house. Olivia followed her willingly.


At the door Abbie stopped, surprised to see a determined Alex Cabot blocking their path. She waited, wondering what had happened in the short interim since she had spoken to Alex. Alex looked like she was going to court to do battle and when their eyes met, Abbie found a resoluteness that hadn't been there in a long, long time. Alex turned to look at Olivia who met her gaze defiantly, then took a deep breath and spoke quietly but with firmness in her tone.


"Olivia, I need to talk to you, but not here and not now. Could you give me some time later this week?" Liv nodded almost without an awareness of doing so and Alex relaxed the rigid tension in her body. "Thank you, Liv. I appreciate it. I'll call you." Then she slipped out the doorway and into the backyard, resolved to find her hostesses before departing. Alex had accomplished more than she had planned and needed to return to the silence of the lodge to mull over the events of the evening and decide what she wanted to do next.


Abbie and Olivia watched her disappear into the melee of the backyard before turning to glance at one another. "What just happened here?" Liv said.


Abbie just shook her head and pulled Liv behind her into the house. "C'mon, Benson. I'll explain it to you, then you can talk to me. We'll figure it out." And then I'm going to talk to Cabot. And with that thought, they went into Liv's room and closed the door.




Alex was sitting at the dining room table eating ice cream when Abbie strolled in the door a couple hours later. She was wrapped in a terrycloth robe and smelled of jasmine, indicating her recent departure from an extra-long soak in the bathtub. Abbie scooped the carton of ice cream away from Alex, taking the spoon from her fingers and digging in with a moan. Alex just glared at her.


After a moment, Abbie dropped the carton back on the table and pulled out a chair. She snagged a second spoon and passed it to Alex, pushing the carton until it was evenly between them. "That was a pretty ballsy move tonight, Cabot. What changed?"


Alex shrugged. "I thought about what you said and then Robert said something that really hit home." Abbie arched a brow in question. Alex sighed. "He reminded me it was time to stop pretending – time to be who I really am again. Told me that might be what she was waiting for, but that I wouldn't know until I tried." She shrugged again. "He's right."


"Isn't that what I've been saying?" Abbie asked, slightly aggrieved.


"Yes, Carmichael – it's what you've been saying," Alex replied drolly. "And you're right. I think that it just took hearing it from my male ex-fiancé to make it sink in."


Abbie snickered. "That's twisted, Cabot… you know that?"


"Yeah – that's why you love me," she smirked. She took another spoonful of ice cream. "So how did things go with Liv?" Abbie shook her head, not willing to betray Olivia's confidence. "I don't want details, Abbie. I just want to know if she listened to you."


"How do you know I talked to her... about you, I mean?"


Now it was Alex's turn to cock an eyebrow, only hers was one of disbelief. " Carmichael , how long have we been friends? How long have *you two* been friends"


"All right... dumb question. Let's just say, it was nice for both of us to see the old Alex finally make a reappearance. Are you really going to call her?"


"Yes, I am... but not tonight. Tonight I am going to eat ice cream with my best friend and we're going to talk about what's going on with her. Tomorrow we'll sit by the pool and soak up the last of the summer rays and catch up on everything we've been missing in one another's lives. After you leave and Blair and Jo head back to the city, then I'll talk to Olivia."


"You've got it all planned out, hmm?"


"I've had a little while to think about it. C'mon," standing up and pulling Abbie up with her. They cleaned off the table and traipsed through the house until they reached the upstairs bedrooms. Alex shoved Abbie gently in the direction of her room. "Go get comfortable then come to my room. We can talk there."


"Bossy bitch," Abbie griped with a smile.


"That's ICE bitch to you, Carmichael. Now move." Abbie stuck out her tongue. "Don't do it unless you plan to use it." Abbie's brows shot to her forehead.


"Feeling frisky there, Cabot?"


"Feeling like Alex Cabot again for the first time in forever. Now go get changed. I want to hear about when you're moving back to Manhattan ."




"Go, Carmichael . You can come back and growl at me after you're in your pajamas."


"When did I end up being so pussy-whipped?" Abbie mumbled under her breath as she crossed the hall. Alex snickered and opened the door to her room, flipping on the light before closing the door behind her. Then she grabbed her favorite silk shorts and tank top, donning them with a sigh of relief. She would be comfortable tonight at least.


A knock brought her out of her musing and Alex called out, "C'mon in."


"I hope you remember not to do that when you get back to the City."


Alex rolled her eyes. "I'd have to buzz you up before I could invite you in, Carmichael . I think I'd be safe enough. Besides, if I get my way, you'll be back there soon enough – you can keep an eye on me if it makes you feel better. Now c'mon...." pulling down one side of the bed and patting the mattress. "Sit down and take a load off," walking around to the other side of the bed and sliding in. "So," she asked, pulling the sheet up over her legs and turning on her side, "when are you coming home?"


Abbie sighed and slid down until she was laying flat, hands clasped across her belly and eyes focused on the ceiling. "I'm not sure Manhattan is home for me anymore, Alex." She turned her head to look at Alex directly, to find her intense blue gaze filled with love and concern. "Don't get me wrong – I love the city and you and Liv. And I look forward to my visits every month."




"But I *do* like my job in Washington – I do good work there, Alex. And I've certainly met my share of interesting people. I've got a nice place to live and a few friends...."


"And yet you keep coming home," Alex commented, brushing Abbie's hair from her face and tucking it behind her ear.


"Turning up like a bad penny, I know," Abbie agreed softly.


"Nah... never a penny... more like a dollar – inflation you know." She grinned.


Abbie snorted. "I noticed you left the bad part in."


"You're from Texas , sweetie... of course I did."


"Brat," Abbie snarled, but her laughter negated the effect. Alex smiled with relief.


"Does this have anything to do with your earlier phone call from Casey?"


Abbie sighed. "I don't know what's going on with her." She blew out a breath. "Actually, I do – that's part of the problem. She called to talk to me about her date with Lake and Serena."


Alex's brows went into her hairline. "Casey went on a date with Lake *and* Serena?!?"


Abbie slapped Alex on the hip, turning and tucking her arm under her pillow. "Smartass! She had the date with the detective last night and a date with Serena tonight. She's enjoying herself, and that's a good thing – she's still young and beautiful."


"So are you, Abbie."


"Maybe, but Casey and I are in two different places in our lives right now. And I'm not going to push her to do something that will make her miserable."


"You think you'd make her miserable?"


"I think commitment would. And God knows SVU will suck the life right out of you if you let it; it's hard to commit to anything else in that job."


"I remember," Alex said softly. She bit her bottom lip. "All right... the thing with Casey aside – would you return to Manhattan if there was a good reason to?"


"Such as?"


"District Attorney... or what about the head of the US District Attorney's office here?"


Abbie became thoughtful for a long moment. "Maybe."


"Well then," Alex cut in before Abbie could say anything else. "We'll just have to work on that."


"And Casey?"


"We'll have to work on that too."



Olivia stood in the living room of the cabin, looking out over the now empty back yard. The party had wrapped up early and the caterers had been swift in their removal of equipment and supplies. So now she focused on the solitude she had come to appreciate.


Blair came out of the kitchen and noticed her standing alone and hesitated. Olivia's pensive expression caused her to cross over to the opposite side of the glass doors. "Olivia... are you all right? Is there something I can do to help?"


Liv took a deep breath and turned to Blair with a crooked smile. "I'm good, thanks – and you've already done so much. It was nice to meet the neighbors and I loved the spa day." Her smile grew exponentially. "I could get used to that, actually." Blair laughed.


"I know... so could I." She smiled fondly at Olivia's stunned expression. "It's something Jo and I agreed only to do once in a while since it's my treat when we do."


"You really love her, don't you? I mean...." holding up her hands before Blair could protest the question. "I know you love her and that she loves you. I was there, remember? What I mean is – you love her enough to give up the perks and privileges of being an heiress." A beat. "Was it hard?"


Blair's brow furrowed thoughtfully, realizing that Olivia was asking about more than her and Jo. "No, it wasn't," Blair replied honestly. "Olivia, if I had to choose between the Warner money and having Jo in my life, I would be a pauper by choice." Blair looked at Olivia before turning to look out over the moonlit backyard. "But she never made me choose, Olivia. We don't use my inheritance often because it makes Jo uncomfortable and I won't ask her to live that way."


"And I wouldn't ask Blair to give it up, Liv," Jo spoke as she emerged from the darkness. "It's part of who she is. Besides," she added, walking up behind Blair, wrapping her arms around her belly and leaning her chin on Blair's shoulders. "I like spa days too."


Liv chuckled. "Better than the bike?"


"No," Blair answered briskly. "We like the bike for different reasons." Olivia covered her eyes.


"TMI, guys... thanks for the visual there."


Blair blushed a most becoming shade of red and Jo laughed out loud. "You went there all by yourself, Liv. We had nothing to do with that. Or did that have something to do with whatever Alex Cabot said to you earlier? I saw the two of you talking with Abbie Carmichael and you looked a little shell-shocked. You all right?"


Blair slipped from Jo's grip and walked over to the wet bar. Liv turned back to her observation of the backyard and Jo moved to stand next to her until they were shoulder to shoulder.


"I agreed to talk to her... or at least listen to what she has to say."


"Are you sure?" Jo felt Liv turn to look at her but she kept her gaze on the vista beyond the glass doors. Olivia didn't speak, just stared until Jo felt compelled to continue. "C'mon, Liv... you were so angry with her. Are you sure you're ready to hear what she has to say?"


"I think I need to hear it if only so I can move on."


"Do you really want to... move on, I mean?" When Olivia gave no answer, Jo continued more softly. "Are you sure you are ready to really listen to her, Liv?"


"What else am I supposed to do, Jo? Yes, I'm ready to listen. I've been angry about this for a long time. I'm tired of being angry. Seems like it's all I know anymore and if listening to Alex Cabot will help me get past it, then I'll do it."


"You know we're here if you need us," was all Jo said.


"I know... and I'm grateful." She smiled. "One of the best things about my suspension is I've had time to count my blessings and my friends are at the top of my list."


"Suspension has made you a sap, huh? Oof! Hey!" Jo grumbled, glaring first at Olivia and then at Blair. One hand rubbed her belly and the other rubbed her ass. "Isn't that assault on a police officer?"


"No!" Liv and Blair exclaimed simultaneously as Blair handed them each a bottle of water.


"I'm being ganged up on!" Jo pouted.


"C'mon, you big baby," Liv said laughingly, pulling Jo towards the couch. "Now you can give me all the dish on the neighbors... now that I have faces to put with names."


"What makes you think we have dirt?" Olivia cocked an eyebrow at Blair.


"You are a well-placed lawyer and a police detective. How could you not?"


Jo and Blair exchanged glances. "She's got a good point," Jo muttered.


"So spill," Olivia directed. And the three of them curled up to have a gossip fest.




A knock on the door brought Olivia out of the brown study she had fallen into. Jo and Blair had left after a late brunch, citing a need to get back to the City early. They had offered Abbie a ride back to catch her flight back to Washington and she'd been happy to accept. So Liv had had a chance to say goodbye before they'd all left her alone to her solitude once more.


The knock sounded again and Olivia frowned trying to figure out who was stopping by to visit. Despite the party, she didn't know anyone nearby except Alex well enough for them to simply drop by without a phone call. And Alex had promised to call first; she wouldn't not call before coming over.


Liv crossed to the door and looked out, her eyebrows going into her hairline before she opened the door. "Casey?" Casey smiled but Olivia could see the confusion lurking in the back of her green eyes. She stepped back and opened the door wider. "Come in."


"Thanks," Casey said as she crossed the threshold. She looked around the cabin with undisguised curiosity. "Wow... great place," she commented, walking over to the glass doors and looking out across the expanse of backyard. "So quiet... so clean. A person could get used to this. You sure you want to come back to the noise, crime and pollution of Manhattan ?"


"Some days?" Olivia paused then plowed forward. "Some days it would be so easy to stay here for the rest of my life and just let the art dictate the pace."


"And others?"


"I'm an SVU detective, Casey. My job defines who I am, not just what I do. Who would look after the victims if we weren't there to do it? It's not like cops are breaking down the doors of the precinct to work in the Special Victims Unit." She sighed. "The time will come... maybe sooner, maybe later... and eventually, someone else will need to do the job."


"But not right now?" Casey asked honestly, remembering the talk she and Olivia had shared before her hearing and punishment.


"I don't think so," Liv said, moving to sit on the couch. "Not yet anyway. Of course, that could change tomorrow, but I'm learning not to worry about tomorrow. I'm trying to focus on today and make every day count. Tomorrow can worry about itself."


Casey turned and leaned against the glass, idly noting the sketchpad and pencil in Liv's hands without really registering it. "That's what I did," she said, biting her lip briefly in thought. "I figured out my life was being consumed by my job – I don't want to look back in ten years and wonder where the time's gone or why there's no one in my life."


"Like me, you mean?"


"That's not what I said, Olivia."


"No, but it's the truth. You want something to drink?"


"Sure," Casey said, turning her back to the wide expanse outside the glass doors. She crossed to the couch and took a seat in one corner, accepting the class from Olivia before she curled up in the other corner. Casey took a sip from the glass and raised her eyebrows. "Mimosas?"


"Last bit from brunch," Liv countered with a smile. "Figured I shouldn't let it go to waste and you looked like you could use it." She took a swallow of her drink and propped her head on her hand against the back of the couch. "So what's up?"


"Why does something need to be up? Couldn't I have just come out here to visit?"


Liv tilted her head. "You could have... if you had come Friday night or yesterday. Or even last night for the party I know you were invited to."


"Are you angry I didn't come?"


Liv covered Casey's hand. "Not at all, Case. You're a big girl and you've got to do what's best for you. I of all people can't blame you for wanting a life outside of SVU. And God knows if you don't grab it with both hands now, it might not be there when you decide that it's a good time."


"Personal experience?"


"Something like that," dismissing questions with her tone. "So talk to me, Casey."


Casey sighed. "I'm not sure where to start." She hesitated, and Olivia waited. "I... tell me about Abbie Carmichael."


Liv's eyes shot into her hairline. "What would you like to know?"


Casey shrugged. "Everything. She... I.... When I was in college, I didn't date much. I was too concerned with making the grades – it used to make Jessica nuts. She was my roommate," Casey confided. "Anyway, once in a while she'd convince me to go out, but I never got into it... I never found anyone interesting enough to change my focus away from my studies."


Liv nodded but she didn't interrupt. Casey took a draught of her mimosa and swallowed slowly, enjoying the burn of the alcohol as it went down.


"When I came to the DA's office here, I was intent on making a good impression – I worked my ass off in white collar, hoping to get noticed for an opening in homicide."


"And you got SVU instead."


"Yeah, and you know how I've worked since I came to the one-six, because you work the same way." Olivia nodded again. "When Jess came to see me, she made me realize I was letting life pass me by, allowing my work to consume me, so I started dating. So far, it's been people I've known for a while; most of them I've worked with at some point or another."


"Okay, and...? I know Abbie being a woman is not the issue here. You've been out with several in the last few weeks."


"You're right. Being bi-sexual has made dating easier... and more interesting," she added with a smile. "I've decided I like the experiences I find on both sides of the fence."


Olivia smiled. "Been there... done that. So what's the problem? Why the sudden interest in Abbie?"


"I find her... intriguing – what little I know of her. But I don't know that much and she doesn't seem willing to share a lot with me." Liv frowned. She knew for a fact that Abbie Carmichael was more than a little interested in Casey Novak. So what was up with the complete lack of communication?


"Have you tried talking to her? Asking her directly?"


"Sort of. I've tried to get to know her... sharing things with her and trying to get her to share things in return. But I'm getting mixed signals from her. I *think* she's interested, and yet...." Casey shrugged and gulped the last of her drink. "Maybe I'm just wishfully thinking."


"Would you like her to be interested? Are you?"


"I am," Casey stated with conviction. "Even with the distance involved, I'd like to try to get to know her... see if there is anything there – even friendship."


Olivia scrubbed her hands through her hair before leaning forward and clasping her hands between her knees. "Then maybe you should show her." She held up a hand when Casey opened her mouth. "Case, she's not going to take you seriously... not as a possible friend and certainly not as a prospective suitor... as long as she doesn't think she has a chance to achieve either of those things. You're enjoying dating around, right? Having fun with a lot of new people?"


"Well, sure. That's what this is about for me right now... having fun; I'm not looking for commitment. Hell, I'm not even looking for sex necessarily. I'm just looking for good companionship. I've got dates with Trevor Langan and Kathy Stabler's brother next weekend, and Warner's sister and Huang's brother-in-law the weekend after that."


Olivia's eyes widened. "You must be exhausted. All this after dates with Lake and Serena this weekend and somebody else the weekend before that and someone else the weekend before that."


"Yeeaaaaah... and?"


"And why would Abbie make an effort? She's still in Washington, Casey, and you're enjoying being young and free and single. She'd never begrudge you that. But it doesn't make it any easier to develop a friendship... much less anything else. And right now, you don't have the time or the inclination to invest in it to make it meaningful."


Casey stood up to pace. "So you're saying I have to give up dating if I want to be friends with Abbie?"


"No, Case. I'm saying you need to decide what you want to invest in and how much. Why would she think you're interested? You're always busy when she's here." She looked like she wanted to say more, but instead, Liv clamped her lips shut.


Casey pinched her lip pensively. "What?" Olivia shook her head. "Please, Liv... I need to know."


"I understand wanting to grab all you can out of life with both hands. But I wonder if maybe you're trying too hard... making up for lost time or something." She shrugged. "I'm afraid you're going to burn yourself out... maybe miss out on something you really want."


She met Casey's eyes and held them. "Thank you," Casey said sincerely. "It means so much to me that you care."


"You know I do, Casey. You're one of my very best friends. I want you to be happy."


"You think Abbie might make me happy, Liv?"


"I think you deserve the chance to find out." She paused. "Would you like some ice cream?"


"I'd love some ice cream. And maybe a little dishing."


Olivia grinned rakishly and stood, extending her hand and pulling Casey along with her to the kitchen. "Maybe," she agreed.






“Geez, Liv... you're not on duty. A simple hello....”


“Hey, Elliot,” she cut in, rolling her eyes at his teasing. “What's up?”


“Why does anything have to be up?”


“Stabler, how long have we been partners?” He didn't answer but she didn't need him to; she'd made her point. “So what's up?”


“Whaddya do to Casey?”


“Um... nothing? She came out for a visit yesterday. We talked, ate ice cream, sat in the sun for a little while and then she headed back to the city. Why?”


“She's a little unfocused today.”


“And this is my fault how?”


“You were her last date.”


“Does she know that?”


“Know what?”


“That it was a date... because I sure didn't.” Olivia sighed. “El, she's one of my closest friends... we just talked. Other than that, I can't help you. It's Casey's business.”


“All right, Liv... I get it. We're just concerned. By the way, Simon's been sniffing around... looking to contact you. We didn't give him anything – figured if you'd wanted him to find you, you'd have told him where you were... or you'd have taken his calls.”


Olivia sighed. “Did he say what it was about... why he was looking for me?”


“No, and I didn't ask,” making clear his feeling on the subject. Olivia rolled her eyes again. She didn't expect Elliot to ever come to terms with the fact that she had a half brother. Though in fairness, there had been days she regretted having found him – hence the reason she hadn't given Simon a way to reach her here. She was using this time to decide her future, and his place in her life was part of that decision. Elliot's voice in her ear brought her back to the present. “I don't think it was an emergency though; he didn't act like it was urgent.”


“All right. Thanks El.”


She heard his smile through the phone. “No problem. It was time to harass you anyway. You ready to come back yet or you enjoying your enforced vacation too much?”


“I'm actually... I'm good, El. I think I needed this. But how are things at the one-six? I miss you guys.”


“Same shit, different day,” Elliot commented wryly. “You know how it goes.”


“Yeah, I do,” Liv agreed. “How's Kathy?”


“Counting the days,” he answered with a chuckle. “But not as fast as I am.”


Liv laughed sympathetically, a bit of wistfulness in her voice. “Not too much longer there, dad. Did you ever find out the sex?”


“Nah, Kathy doesn't wanna know and I don't mind waiting. I'm gonna love this kid no matter what.”


“Your kids are real lucky, El.”


“So am I, Liv. You know, you could....” hearing the melancholy in her voice, but she cut him off before he could finish.


“No, El... I couldn't. Not right now at any rate. Now,” she continued before he could start the next round of *that* particular argument, “when are you guys gonna come out here and visit?”


“When are we invited?” he countered.


“How about this weekend? Come out early Saturday – it should still be nice enough to use the pool... we can grill out.”


“Sounds good.” Liv heard Cragen holler for Elliot and she knew what was coming. “I gotta go, but I'll call later and we'll work out the details, all right?”


“Go,” she stated, “and be careful.”


“Aren't I always?” he asked before hanging up on her snorting response. She looked at the phone and shook her head before hanging it up. But before she could move away, it rang again and she frowned before she picked it up.


“Benson,” wondering when she'd cut hello out of her phone etiquette.


There was the soft sound of someone nervously clearing their throat, then Liv heard Alex Cabot's husky voice speaking to her. “Hello, Olivia,” setting the tone with her greeting – personable without being presumptive.


“Hi,” Liv replied, unsure how to address the woman who seemed to be her own personal Devil. It didn't faze Alex – she was a woman on a mission.


“I was wondering if you might have some time for me this afternoon.”


“Um... sure,” not surprised by the swiftness of Alex's action once she'd decided on a course of action. It was one of the things she and Alex had in common.


“Good – would you like to come for lunch? Gerry's prepared a beef pot pie.”


Olivia's stomach growled at the thought. “Sure... sounds good. What time?”


“I'll send Jason over with the car in thirty minutes if that's agreeable.”


“I'd prefer to drive myself,” Liv stated decisively, not wanting to be stuck if and when things turned ugly between them. And she firmly believed that it was only a matter of time – they were too volatile together for it not to.


“All right,” Alex agreed immediately, having expected to make the concession. “Can you be here in an hour then?”




“Do you know how to get here?”


“I think so, but just in case....” Alex gave her directions and Olivia realized it wouldn't be that difficult to get there. “All right, I'll see you in an hour.”


“Thank you, Olivia.”


“Bye.” The dial tone told Liv she could hang up, but she stared at the handset with fascination for another moment before she placed it back in the charger. Then she went to her room to figure out what to wear, hoping it would help ease the discomfort suddenly present in the pit of her stomach. It was shaping up to be a long day.




“Hello, Ms Benson,” the man greeted as Olivia exited her car and closed the door. He rose from the flower bed, removing a glove and extending his hand. “I'm Jason Bernard, caretaker of the Cabot Lodge.” Liv took his hand and shook it briefly before he released her grip and turned towards the house. “C'mon in and let me take you back to the kitchen,” he said, leading the way up the steps and opening the front door for her. “Gerry and Alexandra are putting the final touches on luncheon.”


She nodded and followed him silently, trying to process his words and look around her at the same time. The Cabot place was much larger than Blair's home and she wondered if it was for show or because Alex's extended family was larger. Then she was being ushered into the kitchen by Jason and all thoughts of houses and space flew out of her mind.


Alex had her back to the door and was wearing *those* blue jeans again, although Olivia was starting to suspect that *every* pair of blue jeans Alex owned was exactly the same. The denim clung to her ass, showcasing shapely curves, slim legs and a flat belly. Before she could remove her eyes, Jason cleared his throat and Alex turned around, a welcoming smile on her face. If she noticed Olivia's blush, she was kind enough to refrain from drawing attention to it.


Instead, she dusted her hands off and extended a hand to Olivia. Liv took it and they held on for just a moment longer than propriety dictated, then Alex let go and motioned to Jason. “Welcome, Olivia. I see you've met Jason, and this is his wife, Geraldine. They live here year round and put up with the rest of us visiting from time to time.”


Liv held out her hand to Gerry. “It's nice to meet you.”


“Oh, the pleasure is all ours, dear. Alexandra gets here so rarely anymore, and it's simply wonderful that she's having friends over this time... makes it easier to cook when there are actually people in the house, you know. Come in and have a seat,” motioning to the small table that held two place settings.


“Won't you be joining us?” Liv asked. “Surely you didn't go to all this trouble for just Alex and me.”


Alex nodded her head emphatically. “Thank you, Liv!” not noticing her slip. “That's just what I've been trying to tell her for the last hour. There's plenty here for everyone.”


“And I'll bet you've been sharing your meals with Alex since she arrived, haven't you? Please don't stop on my account.”

Geraldine looked back and forth between the two of them, wondering if they realized they had slipped into what was obviously an old and familiar pattern with them. She speculated that the opposite side of that liaison must be quite volatile and decided she and Jason would do well to be far away when it started. Jason just watched the byplay with bemusement – it was entertaining in a way he hadn't seen in this house in a very long time... since the days when all the sons came with their wives for holidays.


He joined the two younger women in looking at Geraldine beseechingly and chuckled when she threw up her hands in surrender. “Fine, fine,” she muttered. “It's obvious to me there is a conspiracy going on around here and I'll have no part of it.” Olivia's eyes widened at her choice of words and she looked at Alex with a touch of feigned panic. But before she could voice it, Geraldine continued speaking... this time to Jason directly. “And you... stop trying to suck that stomach in. I have lived with you for too many years, old man. I know better.”


Liv and Alex both snickered, but when their eyes met, they stopped and the moment became awkward. Geraldine rushed in before it went on too long, directing Alex to add two more place settings and seating Olivia. Jason knew what to do without Gerry's input, and he carefully brought the casserole to the table. Geraldine snagged the salad and Alex brought the pitcher of water and soon they were all comfortably seated and digging into the tantalizing food.


Long minutes were spent simply relishing the good food, but after a bit, the quartet slowed down enough to have conversation again.


“This is wonderful,” Liv commented, wiping her mouth. “I can't remember the last time I had something homemade.”


“You don't cook, then?” Liv shook her head.


“Not much. Like you said – it's hard to cook for one. And I hate for food to go to waste.”


“Then we expect you to eat hearty at the table then,” Jason cut in before Gerry could continue as he helped himself to another plateful and offered Liv the spoon. “No excuses,” he said firmly. Then he looked at Geraldine. “You outdid yourself this time, Mother. Best you've ever made.”


She blushed and smiled at him. “You say that every time, you charmer.”


“I didn't get to be this old by being stupid,” he commented to Liv, knowing Geraldine would hear him. “So you don't have someone to cook for... or someone to cook for you?” causing Gerry to cover her eyes and shake her head at his brashness. Liv noticed Alex continued to eat, but considerably slower, as though not to miss any part of the conversation. She shrugged – not like this part of her life was any big secret... especially not to the woman she was sitting across from at the moment.


“No, and there hasn't been for quite a while.”


“But you're a beautiful woman,” he protested, “and by all accounts, a genuine, caring individual.”


“And my line of work makes it almost impossible. People are either creeped out by what I do, or have a little too much fascination for the sordid details. Either way, it's not an ideal situation for finding someone to date... much less have a meaningful relationship.”


People, she said, Alex thought with a smile. Not men... I may still have a chance. Then her attention was brought back to the current conversation. “Probably when you least expect it then,” Jason intoned sagely. “That's what happened with me and the missus here.”


Gerry snorted. “It did not. You suckered Papa into bringing you home for lunch.”


“One taste of her cooking and I was hooked. Beef pot pie has been my favorite since that day.”


“Let's not forget the dozen sugar cookies you scarfed down as well.”


Jason grimaced in memory, then smiled. “They were good going down, but simply awful coming back up.” His expression caused everyone at the table to wince in sympathy. “Still, it got me a date with the cook who just happened to be the prettiest girl in town.”


“That was a lot of years ago, old man.”


“Yeah, but they've been good years, Mother.” He turned to Olivia. “Sometimes, you've just got to grab on with both hands and not let go. There'll be bad, sure... but the good makes it worth it.” He rose before Liv could comment. “Come along, Mother. Let's let these two youngsters talk. We can clean up the kitchen directly.”


Gerry took his hand and let him lead her from the kitchen without protest, leaving Olivia and Alex alone in the silence. Alex cleared her throat. “Um... we have dough ready to make warm sugar cookies for dessert if you'd like some.”


Olivia grimaced. “Not right now, thanks. I don't want to be doing a repeat of Jason's experience.”


Alex nodded solemnly. “Neither would I, in point of fact.” She stood and motioned to the French doors. “Would you like to sit by the pool for a bit? I promise it will be private.”


“What about...?” gesturing to the table. Alex shook her head.


“Trust me... Gerry is waiting right outside the door to come back in here and clean up. She's pretty particular about her kitchen.”


“I am not!” Geraldine denied vehemently before they heard her clap a hand over her mouth. They chuckled and headed outside, the tension between them broken for the moment. Of course, they hadn't actually talked about anything yet.




“So,” Olivia jumped in once they were seated before the silence became too awkward. “Whaddya wanna talk about?” Her tone was casual, almost blithe and would have fooled anyone who had not spent hours and days with this woman for several years. Alex knew she was out of touch and probably very rusty reading the signs where Olivia Benson was concerned, but some things just didn't change with time. The focused stare on the pool, the clenched jaw and the slightly wavering tone were all dead giveaways of the detective's discomfort level. And judging by her posture, Olivia would have rather been almost anywhere else than with Alex Cabot, despite the good manners she had shown inside only moments earlier.


Alex cleared her throat nervously. “I um... I thought we should clear the air between us. There's....” But Olivia cut in before Alex could continue.


“There's nothing between us, Counselor.” Liv stood up impatiently and stepped away from Alex, only to return with fire sparking out of her brown eyes. “How dare you.... You made that fact more than abundantly clear when you returned from Witness Protection permanently and made sure we were no longer a part of your life. You don't like it now? Not my problem. I guess it just sucks to be you.” She moved to go back into the house to leave when Alex grasped her forearm firmly.


“Let go of me, Counselor.”


“Not a chance, Detective. Not until you hear me out.”


“I'll charge you with assault on a police officer. You looking to go to jail again?”


“No... I'm looking for a way to talk to you like a rational adult human being. When did you become so hard and judgmental that you won't even allow me to have a chance to explain??”


“You're not a victim, Alex! And what is there to explain? You came home and we weren't good enough for you anymore. Seems pretty clear cut to me.”


“You'd think so, wouldn't you, Olivia? But I assure you it isn't nearly that cut and dry. If it had been that easy, we wouldn't be here now.” She paused when Liv looked at her disdainfully and blew out an awkward breath. “Will you at least hear me out? Give me a chance to tell you the story from my perspective? I promise if you still want to leave when I'm done, I won't stop you and I won't bother you again.” A beat. “Liv, we were friends once, and I *was* a victim for a while - so were you. Don't we deserve that much closure?”


Olivia stood motionless considering Alex's words. There was a reason Alex had been such a good advocate for the victims she represented in SVU. She, like Casey now, had a flair for speech and a knowledge of just what buttons to push and when and how hard to push to achieve the desired result.


“When you're done, I can walk out that door and I won't hear from you again?”


“If that is what you want, Olivia,” deliberately bypassing her title so Liv understood this was personal for Alex. “I'd like you to try and hear me out with an open mind.”


Liv nodded gruffly. “Fine, but when you're done....”


“You'll be free to go, Liv. You have my word.”


Olivia nodded briskly again and resumed her place on the chaise lounge. Alex remained standing, pacing back and forth in front of the pool as she gathered her thoughts together. Olivia just watched, reminded of the numerous times she had watched this same woman do the same thing as she prepared for court. So she settled in to wait. Despite her gruff attitude, she was more interested in what Alex had to say then she wanted to admit. Maybe it was time they both had some closure. Then at least they could move on with their lives.




Geraldine watched the tableau taking place outside her kitchen window with bated breath. Though Alex had not shared much, Gerry knew this discussion with this particular detective was of utmost importance to Alexandra's well-being. She wondered if Alex had figured out just exactly why Olivia Benson was so important to her or just that she was. She shook her head and started wiping down her workspace.


“What are you shaking your head at, old woman?” Jason asked as he stepped into the kitchen.


“The folly of youth,” Gerry replied without hesitation. He peeked over her shoulder and wondered what he had missed as Olivia and Alex were currently seated on chaise lounges facing the pool. He looked back at his wife who was rubbing a small area of the countertop with fierce concentration.


“Well, they seem to have worked out whatever upset you, Mother. They're just sitting there talking now.” He glanced out the window gain before wrapping his arms around Geraldine's middle. “Do you think they know?”


Gerry snorted in a completely unladylike fashion. I think they know... and are going to fight it with everything they've got. Kids today don't realize....” breaking off when she felt Jason chuckling behind her. She turned to look at him with a glare. He stopped laughing, though he couldn't wipe the smile from his countenance.


“Mother, I'm thinking those two grown women out there might resent being called kids.” Gerry snorted again.


“Then maybe they need to grow up and act like adults.”


“I thought they were,” scratching his head in confusion. “They're just sitting there talking,” motioning to the activity taking place just outside the window. She shook her head.


“Hopefully, it will move beyond that stage soon. Now, I've got sugar cookies to bake. You want some?”


“Have you ever known me to turn them down? And that doesn't count,” he added, knowing she was thinking of the time shortly after he'd gotten so sick from his own overindulgence. “I had to recover from my own youthful folly first.”


“All right... go back to your pottering in the gardens and flower beds. I'll call you when they're ready.”


Jason leaned over and gave Gerry a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks, old woman,” patting her behind. She swatted at him.


“Get outta here before I forget why I love you,” though the twinkle in her eyes belied the mock-seriousness of her tone. He waggled his eyebrows.


“I'll remind you later,” he said with a rakish smile, scooting out the door before she could think to throw a towel in his direction. She grinned and shook her head at him, then moved to make cookies, standing where she had a good view of the drama - or lack thereof - taking place just beyond her hearing.




“Witness Protection changed everything for me. Suddenly my life wasn't mine anymore.” Alex paused, letting her gaze go inward as she remembered a time in her life best left forgotten. “I had to become someone and something I wasn't and pretend it was real.” She sighed. “Pretending was my best chance for survival - and until a few months ago, it became my way of life.”


“It was easy after a while and soon it was all I knew. And I made the mistake of keeping up the charade when I came back to New York - I had forgotten how to be Alex Cabot. I had forgotten who she was.” She paused. “When I came home, the first thing I wanted to do was visit the one-six. I tried, actually.”


“What happened?” Liv asked despite herself when the silence dragged on interminably.


“I went - I actually made it in the door, and it was foreign to me... nothing was like I remembered it. I stood in the doorway and saw detectives I didn't recognize, and the ones I knew I realized I really didn't know anymore. You were there - longer hair and harder eyes. You were talking to Casey and it was obvious to me from the way you were arguing that she had taken my place.”


“Of course she had, Alex - it's her *job*! She's supposed to fight with her detectives over evidence and procedure and warrants.” Liv missed the look of pain that crossed Alex's face before she glanced at her briefly before looking away again. “Why didn't you come in?”


“It wasn't my place anymore, and Arthur told me it never would be again - so I figured I needed to make my own place.”


“And that included cutting all of us out of your new life?”


Alex nodded slowly. “For all the pretending I had done, and all I've done since I came home, I knew there was no way I could keep all of you in my life and create a new place for myself. And I had to make a new life - my old one was gone, despite my desire to have it back again.”


“So what happened?” Olivia asked with a hint of resigned exhaustion in her tone. “Why break the silence?”


Alex stood up to pace again, fingertips at her lips as she considered the best way to explain. “I couldn't keep pretending,” she finally replied simply.


“You suddenly couldn't keep pretending anymore so what does that mean now? What now, Alex? What exactly do you expect from me?” Liv asked wearily.


“I'd like for us to be friends again... to see if we can get back to what we once had.”


“I see. And then?” remembering clearly what they had been moving toward before Velez's bullets had changed their lives. Alex shrugged nonchalantly, but she couldn't hide the hope in her eyes.


“I don't know. I'd like to think that would be up to us.”


“I see,” Liv said noncommittally once more before rising to her feet. “Thank you for lunch, Alex, but I can't do this again. It took years for me to put you and what you meant to me behind me - I'm not gonna open myself up to all that again just to have it come crashing down on me when you decide that's not what you want either. You don't know what it was like finding out second and third hand that you were home again... that you had a male fiancé while you were screwing your male co-worker... that the Devil we knew felt we were less than gum stuck to the bottom of her Jimmy Choo's.” Olivia closed her eyes for a moment before focusing her considerable personality on Alex. “If you'll excuse me....”




“No?? Whaddya mean no?? We had a deal, Alex, and I listened to everything you had to say. Now it's time for me to go.”


Alex stepped in front of Olivia but didn't reach out to stop her. “Please, Olivia.”


“I'm sorry, Alex...,” stepping around the blonde woman and not stopping until she reached the door. “I can't do this again... I won't.” She reached for the door handle but was stopped by Alex's voice just as her fingers brushed against cold metal.


“Then maybe you should consider why you're still alone, Liv. You're a beautiful woman, and I know there had to have been a number of offers out there over the years. So why is there no one special in your life? And don't blame it on the job - we both know better.” Alex kept her back to Olivia during her entire speech and she didn't turn when she heard Liv step up behind her.


“That's not fair,” she replied, her voice shaking in... something, though whether it was anger or fear or something else, Alex wasn't sure. It didn't matter - she'd spoken her piece.


“You'll find that life generally isn't. Have a nice afternoon, Detective. Gerry will see you out.” She walked off the patio and towards the stables, not daring to turn around though she felt the weight of Olivia's stare on her ass. She'd done what she could. The ball was in Olivia's court now.




Geraldine had watched the interaction between the two and was ready when Olivia crossed the threshold back into the kitchen. She offered the detective a brown paper bag before gesturing her towards the front door. “They're still a little warm,” she commented as Liv took the bag with a question in her eyes, “but they should be sufficiently cooled by the time you return home.”


“Thank you.” Gerry opened the front door, but halted Olivia's exit with an outstretched palm.


“Don't be too hard on her, Detective. She's trying to repair the damage that was done – both to her and by her. She's being hard enough on herself.”


Olivia stepped out of the house before turning to face Geraldine. “Please don't take offense, but what is or is not between Alex and me is frankly none of your business. She should have considered the consequences of her actions before she screwed everything up.” Liv turned her back and walked down the stairs, only to be stopped by Gerry's words.


“What's it like to be perfect, Detective? How is it to live a life with absolutely no regrets?”


Olivia turned and looked back at Geraldine but there was no malice, no accusation in her expression... only open curiosity. She shook her head and continued to her car, starting it up and leaving without a backwards glance.


Gerry watched until the vehicle was out of sight, then returned to the kitchen. “That could have gone better,” hoping Jason would be in soon so he would know to keep an eye on Alexandra.




Olivia considered driving back to the city, but vetoed that idea before it hardly had a chance to form in her consciousness. The phone would work just fine for conversation and with Geraldine's accusations still ringing in her ears, she wasn't sure she was up to facing anyone just yet. It figured that the Devil had her very own demons to defend her actions no matter what.


Alex's words chased round and round in her mind with Geraldine's and Liv wanted nothing more than to drown them out with a good binge. Instead, she called Abbie and Casey, leaving messages on both voicemails when she couldn't reach them, then turned her attention to her art. If nothing else, she could concentrate hard enough to drown out the voices.


Or so she thought... until Alex Cabot became the art. Of its own volition, Olivia's hand began drawing images from her mind's eye – things she remembered... memories she treasured that hadn't seen the light of day since the Devil's disappearance from her life after the Connor's trial.


When she realized what she was doing, it made her angry, but before she could act on impulse, the phone rang.


“Benson,” she bit off.


“Um... is now a bad time, Olivia? I just got your message, but I can call back.”


“Casey? No, now's fine. Sorry... just a little out of it when the phone rang.”


“Is everything all right?”


“Mostly... just a rough morning. Hey,” before Casey could ask, “how are you? Elliot accused me of making you lose your focus.”


Casey snorted. “Not just you. I am having killer cramps today and these hose are killing me and to top it off, I was in court all day with Petrovsky and Langan. Insult and injury if you asked me.” She paused. “I have been thinking about what you said though.”




“I'm still thinking. I'd like to get to know Abbie better... see what's really there, but I'm not sure I'm ready to settle down yet. Hell, Olivia... I just started playing the field, and I'm enjoying it. It's nice to have a life outside of this office.”


“Why do you think we never dated?” Liv blurted out, then cringed as the words echoed in her ears. She hadn't meant to sound accusatory, but she was curious what Casey thought. Casey chuckled.


“Because playing second fiddle professionally was hard enough. I wasn't about to accept that position in my personal life,” Casey replied with a hint of laughter in her voice.


“What?? Casey, you're not second fiddle – you're a damned fine ADA and SVU is lucky you came to us.”


“Maybe, but you certainly didn't feel that way when I was first assigned there. All you could see was that I wasn't Alex Cabot. And that's the same reason we never dated.” She hesitated and then plowed on without making Liv ask the question. “Alex Cabot was all you could see.”


Olivia frowned. “No she wasn't. I've dated some since she left.”


“After the Connor's trial, not before. And we both know how *those* <ahem> dates have gone. Has anyone made it past a first date with you? Besides, we became real friends and that's very precious to me. I never wanted to jeopardize that for a romance that would never have lasted.”


“Why do you think that? Some of the greatest romances – one's that have lasted forever - are those where the people involved were friends first.”


“Yes, but there wasn't someone else in that place in their hearts either. Liv, I love you – you're one of my very best friends. But you know and I know that's all we'll ever be. I'm not in love with you and you're not in love with me. You just have to be honest with yourself... and her.”


“And if I don't want that?”


“Then you'll be alone for the rest of your life – or you'll settle for second best to keep from being alone. Is that what you want?” Silence was the only answer Casey got and she sighed. “Look, I'm going to go home and get out of these clothes before they cut off the flow of blood to my brain. If you still want to talk, you know where to find me.”


“You suck, you know that?”


“I know, but you'll thank me for it one day.”


Liv snorted. She probably would, but she damn sure wasn't going to admit it now. “Hot tea and a heating pad will help with those cramps, especially if you soak in a hot tub first. Try to relax and get some rest.”


“Will do, Dr. Olivia. Talk to you later?”


“Absolutely. Night, Case.”


“Night, Liv.” Liv set the phone down and went and poured herself a drink. Casey had given her even more to think about, dammit. Like she needed even more words rolling around in her mind. She sucked down the alcohol, hoping the burn would make her forget... just for a little while, and understanding with sudden clarity why her mother had fallen victim to this sort of relief.


Olivia poured a second drink and walked away from the bar, sipping this one and turning her attention back to her art. She set the tumbler on the table beside her and picked up the pencil, letting her mind free to wander and her hand to draw. Maybe that was the best way to exorcise the demons the Devil named Alex Cabot caused in her.




“Cabot, it's Carmichael ... pick up.” Silence. “All right, give me a call, will ya? I know you talked to Liv today and I'm concerned.” Abbie sighed. “Call me, please?”


“Alex, it's Abbie. C'mon, honey... I need to hear from you.”


“Alexandra Cabot, if you don't pick up, the next call I make will be to Geraldine. Pick up the damn phone!!”


“Geez, Abbie... did you have to sic Gerry on me? I was out riding and I didn't have the phone with me.”


“I was concerned, Cabot - sue me!”


Alex chuckled. “Nah... I appreciate the concern, Abbie - more than you know. It was just a little disconcerting to have Gerry come track me down. Actually, she and Jason came out together - it was kinda sweet,” her tone a little wistful.


“You all right, Alex?”


“I take it you've spoken to Olivia?”


“Not directly... not yet. She called and told me you'd talked; that's all she said, but I could tell she was upset.”


“She was furious,” Alex replied matter-of-factly, though Abbie could hear the defeat in Alex's voice. “In fact, she probably wants to vent. Maybe you should....”


“Her venting will wait for a few more minutes, Alex. How are you?” her voice serious and caring.


Alex took a deep breath. “I'll be all right, Abbie. It's no more than I expected. There's a lot of history between us that we'll probably never be able to get around. But at least now I can say I tried - too little, too late, I'm sure, but....”


“You don't think she'll come around?”


“No, Abbie... I really don't. You didn't see her expression of disgust, hear the disdain in her voice. However,” Alex said, clearing the tears from her voice as she wiped them from her face, “it's not up to me now. Whatever happens now is Olivia's choice. I've done my best.”


“Oh the hell you have,” Abbie snorted. “Where's the fire and the fight and the possessiveness?? Where's the Alex Cabot who knew what she wanted and took it? Since when do you let someone else determine your actions??”


“Since it's Olivia, Abbie!! Given our history, don't you think she deserves to have a say in her future??”


“Don't you think you do?” Alex heard the slap and wondered what had borne the brunt of Abbie's frustration. Then Abbie sighed. “Alex, don't give up, all right? Give her some time and space to consider your words - just promise me that you won't give up on her.”


“You know something?” Alex asked hopefully.


“I suspect something,” Abbie corrected gently. “But remember that there hasn't been anyone special in her life in a long, long time - not since you left. Don't let her shut you out.”


“You want me to stalk one of New York 's finest?”


“Not... stalk,” Abbie replied hesitantly. “Just don't let her forget you're out there waiting for her.”


“Great, Abbie - now I've become a bad eighties music video,” Alex protested wryly. Abbie snorted in laughter.




“That's all right,” Alex said, chuckling. “I needed that. Hey, are you coming up this weekend?”


“No, I've got some catching up to do after the last couple weeks. You could come see me, though.”




“Absolutely, Cabot... open invitation.”


Alex smiled. “I may take you up on that.”


“Do that. I'll even put clean sheets on the bed for you.”

“Oooh... I'm feeling the love there, Carmichael .”


“Only the best for you, Cabot. Let me know.”


“I will, Abbie... thanks. And thanks for caring enough to call. It's nice to have someone looking out for me.”


“Only the best for my best girl. Stay in touch.”


“You too.” Alex hung up the phone in better spirits, thinking ahead to a trip to Washington .




“Liv? It's Abbie - pick up.”


“Hey, Abbie. What's up?”


“You tell me - you called me first.”


Olivia sighed. She regretted her impulse to call anyone after her discussion with Alex. Casey's words were already going round with Alex's and Geraldine's until Liv could hardly focus. She wasn't sure she wanted to add Abbie's Texas forthrightness to the whirligig currently in residence in her mind. However, she had called, so....


“Yeah - about that... how about we just forget it? It really wasn't that important.” Olivia heard Abbie's eyebrow arch and covered the smirk she felt form.


“I don't think so, Benson. Talk to me.”


“I don't wanna, Abbie,” Liv whined. “You're gonna take her side.”


“Her... Alex? No, Liv. I'm not on anyone's side here. I want you both to be happy, all right? Now spill.” She waited, but was met with silence. “Liv, I can't help you if you don't talk to me.”


“Abbie, I don't think you can help me with this anyway,” Olivia sighed.


“Then why'd you call me?” Abbie asked quietly. “C'mon, Olivia... we've been friends for years. Who else are you going to talk to about this? And you obviously need to talk or you wouldn't have called me to start with.”


“I hate you,” Liv retorted with a strangled sob.


“I know, but that's okay, because I hate you too, so it's all good.” Liv laughed and Abbie smiled in response. Then she waited.


“She makes me so angry, Abbie! She acts like... I dunno... like the past can just be erased and we can pick up where we were five years ago! What the hell is wrong with her? How could she...?” Liv broke off in frustration, running a hand through her hair.


“What exactly did she say to you, Liv?”


“Huh? I dunno - something about pretending to be someone else for years and not being able to keep pretending anymore. What difference does it make, Abbie?”


“Seems like it would make a lot of difference, Liv. Did she actually ask you to forget everything and just move on from where you were five years ago? Or did she try to explain what life had been like and ask if you could start over - be friends again?” Silence was its own answer and Abbie sighed, making a mental note to get an appointment with her hairdresser. She was going to need it to cover all the gray these two were inflicting on her. “Olivia... what are you afraid of?”


“Nothing! Everything... I don't know. I can't open myself up like that again, Abbie. I won't live through that kind of pain again. It's not worth it.”


“Liv, from what you just said, she's not asking for the two of you to move in together and start a family. It sounds like all she's asking for at the moment is your friendship. Are you telling me you have so many friends that you can afford not to have another? Olivia, who is it you don't trust here - her or you and your reactions to her?”


“I need to go.”


“Think about it, Liv - who are you really afraid of here?”


“Goodbye, Abbie,” slamming the phone down before she could throw it across the room.


“Well,” Abbie said, looking at her receiver before replacing it in the cradle. “That went well.” Then she moved off to prepare her guest room for company. She had a feeling Alex might show up sooner rather than later and she wanted to be prepared. It would be nice have someone visit her for a change.




“Are you sure about this, Alexandra? Are you sure you're not just running away again?”


Alex sighed and turned away from her suitcase.” “Yes, Gerry... I'm sure. I am going to visit Abbie - at her invitation. My going or staying will make no difference to what happens between me and Olivia. And on the off chance she actually deigns to speak to me, you can tell her where to find me. But don't hold your breath on that, all right?” Alex requested, flinging an arm around Geraldine's shoulders. “I like having you around and I'm pretty sure Jason couldn't manage without you.”


Gerry swatted Alex on the ass and turned to help her pack. “Get along with you then and go have some fun. Send me a post card. Have you called for the car or would you like me to have Jason drive you to the airstrip?”


“I am gonna drive her, Mother,” Jason said, peeking into Alex's room. “The car is out front whenever you're ready to go, Alexandra. Just let me know and I'll take your luggage down.” He disappeared before either woman could speak and they exchanged glances.


“That was interesting,” Gerry muttered. “I don't remember the last time he came up here.”


“Probably because I asked him to let me know when he was ready,” Alex said, hefting her suitcase and purse. Geraldine looked at her questioningly.


“Is that all you're taking with you?”


Alex laughed. “I'm only going to be there for a long weekend, Gerry - I'm not moving.” She linked there arms together. “C'mon... you can walk me to the door and kiss your husband goodbye before he takes me to the airstrip. Then the two of you can have a nice, quiet weekend without having to worry about me.”


Gerry chuckled as she led them out of Alex's room. “Oh, sweetheart - we do that anyway. It's just in our nature.”


Alex smiled and nodded in acknowledgement of that particular truth. “All right... well, at least go see a movie on me, please? It would make me feel better.”


Gerry sighed. “All right... as long as you promise to have some fun too. You've gotten much too sober lately - even for you.”


“Deal,” Alex agreed as they reached the foyer. “Now let me go, so I can get my fun started. I should be back sometime Monday unless something comes up. Don't wait up, though - just in case I'm late.” She climbed into the car, and with a wave, they were off.


The flight was sort and uneventful and Alex blessed the fact that she had the connections she needed to get to Abbie's in relative comfort and ease. It was still early when she arrived, but she found the key right where Abbie had told her it would be.


The apartment was nice - spacious without seeming cavernous and elegant without being ostentatious. There were hints of Abbie's Texas roots as well as bits from her New York life. Alex smiled - not that Abbie would ever confess to having any sort of New York influence in her life. Texans were funny that way.


There was a note addressed to her propped up on the small dining room table and Alex set her bag down and tore it open.


Alex, (it read)

Come on in and take your shoes off and make yourself at home. The guest room is all ready for you - clean sheets and everything. There is beer and chicken salad in the fridge, so help yourself. I should be home around six-thirty and we can figure out what to do about supper then.

I'm glad you came down, Alex. It's good to have you here. If you need me, just call. The phone is never far from my ear in this town.



Alex smiled and stowed her stuff in the guest room. Then she headed for the Mall. It had been a long time since her last visit to Washington , D.C. , and she was anxious to visit the museums.


When Abbie returned home several hours later, Alex was stretched out on her couch sound asleep. A light touch on her shoulder brought her sitting straight up with a confused look on her face, causing Abbie's brow to scrunch in concern.


“Hey... you all right? I didn't mean to startle you.”


Alex blinked and shook her head, running her hands through blonde locks to give it some kind of order and only succeeding in making it stand up more. “I'm all right, Abbie, thanks. Just a weird dream or something. Give me a minute to kickstart my brain - I didn't mean to fall asleep.” She scrubbed her hand over her face. “What time is it anyway?”


“Quarter of seven. You okay to go out tonight or do you want to stay in?”


“I actually prepared lasagna earlier,” Alex commented, smiling when Abbie's head popped up and she visibly sniffed the air. “I figured it was only fair - I'm not the one that has to get up and go to work in the morning.”


“I had the stuff for lasagna in my kitchen?”


“Not all of it, no, but it was no problem to stop at the store on my way back from the art gallery.”


Abbie smirked. “I should have known you'd go there first considering how often you went to the Met. Do you still go?”


“As often as I can manage. I find it restful.”


“I always did too,” Abbie confessed. “Do I have time to change?” Alex glanced at the clock.


“Just about. It needs to come out of the oven and rest for a few minutes before service and I should probably do something with my hair.”


“Well, I wasn't going to say anything....” Abbie said with a laugh. Alex snarled at her.


“Be nice to me, or no dessert for you.” Abbie's ears pricked up.


“Dessert??” She stuck her lip out in a pout. “What kind of dessert? Not Death by Chocolate cake?” seeing Alex's evil grin. “But I *love* Death by Chocolate cake,” she whined.


“I know. Help me up,” Alex commanded, extending a hand that Abbie immediately took. “Go get comfortable while I pull the lasagna out of the oven. Once I brush my hair, we can worry about the rest of dinner and you can tell me about your day.”


“How domestic sounding,” Abbie said with a smile. Alex snorted.


“No one would believe it out of either one of us.”


“You mean you're not really Betty Crocker in disguise?? I'm crushed,” Abbie complained, clutching her chest dramatically as Alex removed the lasagna from the oven.


“Smartass!” Alex smirked, setting the pan down gently and shooing Abbie out of the kitchen in front of her.


“Better than a dumb ass, I always say.”


“You must say it a lot then,” Alex sniped with a grin, running to her room with a squeal before Abbie could think to catch her.


“Sonofa.... I know where you live, Cabot, and when you least expect it....”


“Promise, promises,” Alex mocked. “Now go get changed. Death by Chocolate cake won't wait forever you know.”


Abbie glowered at the closed door and muttered under her breath before heading down the hall to her own room. But she couldn't stop the grin that crossed her face as she shut the door behind her. She hadn't had this much fun in what seemed like a long time. Suddenly the weekend had possibilities.




“Oh my God,” Abbie groaned some time later as she put down her fork. “If I eat another bite, I'm going to explode.”


“Please don't,” Alex asked plaintively. “I don't think I could move enough to clean up the mess you'd make.”


Abbie chuckled. “At least you don't expect me to do it.”


“It would be interesting to see you try, but I think that would only make more work for me in the end. So no, skip the exploding option and go straight to the stretching out on the couch option. I promise I didn't leave cooties.”


“Can girls leave cooties? I thought only boys had them.”


“I guess that depends on what side of the coin you fall on. All the boys I knew thought girls had cooties too.”


“Shows you what boys know,” Abbie snarked, groaning as she rose from her seat and shuffled gingerly to the couch. She eased down with a sigh and tilted her head back at Alex as she came into the room a few minutes later. “What took you so long?”


“I had to put things away.” Alex propped her feet on the coffee table, crossing them at the ankles. “I tried twitching my nose, but it just doesn't work for me like it did for Elizabeth Montgomery.”


“Now who's being the smartass?” Alex giggled and Abbie smiled. “So what are your plans for tomorrow?”


“I don't know. I haven't been here in so long - maybe the natural history or the American cultural museums?”


Abbie nodded. “Just make it early. We have a date at the Australian Embassy tomorrow night.”


“We do?” blonde brows hiking into Alex's hairline.


“Um hmm... I just found out about it this afternoon. Apparently there is some shindig there that requires the boss's presence. He volunteered me, so I naturally volunteered you.”


“Naturally,” Alex agreed drolly. “I guess I'll be going shopping first.”


“Sorry, hon... if I'd know he was going to spring this on me, I would have warned you.”


“And he doesn't have a problem with you bringing another woman as a date?”


“I told him you were visiting and if you couldn't come, neither could I. I expected him to let me out of this, but he wants to meet you. He's heard a lot about Alex Cabot.”


Blue eyes widened perceptibly. “Is that a good thing?”


Abbie shrugged. “He finds your story intriguing. Not many come home from Witness Protection. And his wife thinks it's romantic.” Alex's look was clearly one of disbelief. “I know, hon... but she doesn't know the truth of what life has been like for you. I imagine we'll turn a lot of heads for sure, showing up together.”


“Want to make bets on how long it takes for us to get propositioned as a couple?”


“Hell, no. I figure if we make it passed the first ten minutes without an offer we'll be doing good.”


“Or bad, depending on your point of view,” Alex teased. “But I will be happy with either description if it keeps the sleazes away from us.” The phone rang, interrupting their conversation. Abbie groaned and rolled from the couch to answer it.


“Hello? .... Casey?” Alex stood and motioned to Abbie, who nodded her head in understanding - only to reach out and clutch Alex's arm before she could get out of the room. “Hold on, Casey... I'm going to put you on speakerphone so Alex can hear too.”


“Alex is there with you?” She swallowed the irrational jealousy she felt. “Well, that will make it easier for me. I won't have to hunt for her.”


“Why would you need to, Casey? What's wrong?”


Casey sighed. “Have either of you talked to Olivia since Monday? I've tried calling both the house and her cell and she's not answering either. I'm getting a little concerned. She wasn't really happy with me when we got off the phone Monday night.”


“I think it'd be safe to say she wasn't happy with any of us,” Abbie commented with a look at Alex who just shook her head. “Casey, have you talked to Elliot or to Jo and Blair? She might have contacted them since she's upset with all of us.”


“I talked to Elliot today - he asked me if I'd heard from her recently. Apparently, they're supposed to get together Saturday, but she hasn't called him to finalize the details.”


“Let me call Blair, Casey,” Alex said softly. “And if she hasn't heard from Liv I'll call and send Gerry over to check on her personally. Either way, we'll call you back and let you know what's going on.”


“Thanks guys... I appreciate it. I know it's probably nothing, but I'm just worried, you know? She's my friend.”


“We know, Casey - ours too. Thanks for being concerned enough to call. Let us get back to you in a few.” Abbie clicked off the speaker phone and looked at Alex.


“You all right?”


“Yeah. If she's done something stupid, I'm going to kick her ass.”


Abbie laughed. “I'd pay good money to see that. Now make your calls. I want to know what the hell Benson was thinking going AWOL on us.”




“Detective Benson??” Gerry had knocked on the door and rung the bell several times to no avail. She recovered the key from its hiding place as Blair had instructed Alex and unlocked the door, poking her head in cautiously. “Detective?”


Gerry crossed the threshold and closed the door behind her silently. She placed the key on the table and moved into the living room... only to be stopped by the sight that greeted her.


Olivia stood in front of an easel, her face a study in intense concentration. Geraldine couldn't see what was on the canvas as it faced the glass doors that in the daytime flooded the room with natural light. She stepped further into the room, clearing her throat before she spoke again. “Detective Benson?”


Her reaction was slow, as though she was having to bring her mind back for a very long distance. When her brown eyes met Gerry's, the older woman bit her lip to keep from gasping at the intensity of the stare that burned through her when Olivia met her gaze.


It took several long moments before Liv's expression cleared, and then her face creased into a frown as she realized she was no longer alone and exactly who was standing in the middle of her darkened living room.


“Gerry?” her tone laced with a hint of accusation.


“Don't take that tone with me, Detective. If you would answer the phone when it rings, I wouldn't be here disturbing you now.”


“Excuse me?” Olivia's eyebrow arched in question. “What do my phone skills have to do with you barging in here uninvited in the middle of the night?”


Geraldine crossed her arms over her chest. “Just to clarify things for you, Detective Benson, it is not the middle of the night - it is eight o'clock in the evening and I am here at the behest of several of your concerned friends. A number of different people have tried to reach you since we saw you at luncheon on Monday. When no one could get in touch with you, your friend Casey called Abbie Carmichael looking for Alexandra to ask her to come check on you.”


“So why are you here instead?” Liv asked peevishly. Alex Cabot had been haunting her every thought, and to find that despite everything she'd said she didn't care enough to come check on her personally....


“Because it was quicker for me to come down the road than it was for Alexandra to return from Washington .”


“Oh.” A single word, but so telling in its inflection. Gerry almost smiled.


“Yes... oh. Despite everything, her first concern was getting someone here to make sure you were all right. Now... are you all right, Detective? Can I call and reassure Alexandra that she doesn't need to rush home?”


Liv nodded her head. “I'm sorry you had to come all the way over here to check on me - I'm fine.”


“Very well, Detective. Turn your phone on... or at least let those who care about you know you're going to be unavailable before you disappear again.” She turned towards the foyer, then looked back at Olivia who had yet to move from behind her easel. “Oh... Alexandra asked me to remind you to call Elliot.”


Liv's eyes widened perceptibly. “Shit,” she muttered, causing Gerry to smile just the tiniest bit. “I forgot.”


“I know - that is why she asked me to remind you. Have a good evening, Detective.” Gerry was out the door before Olivia could give it a second thought.


She glanced down at the painting that had taken over her every waking thought, then scooted around it to jog to the front door. Gerry was just getting into her vehicle; when Olivia opened the front door, she hesitated.




“Thank you for coming to check on me, Gerry. I know you did it for Alex, but I appreciate it anyway.”


“You're welcome, Detective Benson.”




“Olivia,” Gerry conceded. “Now go make your phone calls before you forget. I'll call Alexandra and let her know you're all right. Despite what has - or hasn't - happened between you, she deserves to know.” Olivia nodded, but otherwise didn't respond. Gerry climbed into her car and drove away without another word. Liv went back inside to call Elliot.




“Thanks Gerry. I appreciate it. See you on Monday.” Alex hung up the phone and looked at Abbie. “She was painting.”


“Excuse me?”


Alex nodded. “You heard me - she was painting. Apparently she wanted peace to paint in so she turned off all the phones.”


“What the hell was she painting?? The Mona Lisa??”


“I don't know,” Alex shrugged. “Gerry didn't say.” Then she frowned. “She didn't actually say much - just that she had spoken to Olivia and that she was painting. Oh... and that she had passed along the message for her to call Elliot.”


“Good - can you call Casey and let her know?”


“You sure you don't want....”


“No.” Alex waited but Abbie didn't say another word.


“All right. Let me go make the call. There's no reason for Casey to worry any longer than necessary.” Abbie nodded and went into the kitchen. Alex picked up the phone and found Casey's number, then hit speed dial and waited for Casey to pick up.




“No, Casey - it's Alex.” Alex heard the disappointed sighed and her smile was melancholy. She knew exactly how Casey felt. “Sorry... I just wanted to let you know that Gerry found Olivia and she's all right. Apparently she got caught up painting and just blocked out everything else.”


“Thanks, Alex. I appreciate it. I'm glad she's all right. I guess she's still mad at me, though.”


“Actually, I'm pretty sure it's me she's mad at.”


Casey chuckled. “Well, you may be the root of her anger, but I can safely say that she wasn't real happy with my take on things either.”


Alex snorted. “Abbie said the same thing,” thinking about their talk over dinner. “I'm sorry the two of you ended up in the middle of this... disaster.”


“I'm not,” Casey replied immediately. “Oh, I mean... I wish it wasn't a disaster. I'd like to see a fairy tale ending for you guys. But I'm glad we could be there when you needed us.”


“We should do lunch sometime,” Alex blurted. “I mean... when I get back to Manhattan , you and I should go to lunch. Do a little bonding.”


“Alex, don't take this the wrong way, but why? And why now?”


“I'm sorry... nevermind. Forget I said anything. Look....”


“Alex, I'd love to. I just want to know why and why now. We've worked in the same office for almost three years and hardly spoken to one another. What changed?”


“I did. I've let a lot of opportunities slip by me since I came home and I'm trying to rectify that. Besides, to be completely honest, Abbie and Olivia are both important to me and you're important to both of them. I think it would be in our own best interests to become friends.”


Casey was silent for a long moment. “I'd like that, Alex. Let me know when you get back to town. We'll get together and do girl talk.”


“Thanks, Casey. Goodnight.”


“Night, Alex.”


“That was clever, Cabot,” Abbie said as she pushed off the doorjamb. Alex hung up the phone and turned to Abbie with an arched brow. “Making nice with Casey?”


“It has nothing to do with being clever, Carmichael . It has to do with opening my eyes and taking advantage of the opportunities for friendships around me.”


Abbie held up her hands in defense. “All right, all right, Cabot. I believe you, jesus! I'm glad. I think it'll be good for both of you. Now, c'mon,” extending her hand. “It's early and I need a walk after that meal. Let's go look at the monuments.”


They grabbed their jackets and headed out the door.




“Hey, El.”


“Liv, you okay?”


“Yeah, I'm fine. Just got caught up in something.”


“That something blonde with the initials AC?”


“NO. Leave it alone, Stabler.”

“Aw, c'mon, Liv....”


“Elliot, I said leave it alone. It doesn't matter... got it?”


A frown crossed Stabler's face at her tone. “Yeah, I got it,” he conceded. “Are we still on for the weekend or you gonna be tied up?”


“No, no... the weekend's good. Who all's coming?”


“Everybody, so buy plenty of burgers. We'll bring the beer and desserts.”


“All right - tell everyone to come early and plan to stay late. We may as well enjoy the good weather while it lasts.”


“You sure your friends are okay with all of us just dropping in?”


“It was their suggestion, so I'm thinking yeah,” Olivia replied with a smirk. “Blair has wanted to meet you guys for a while now and this was a perfect excuse as far as she was concerned.”


Elliot chuckled. “I hope they're ready for the one-six.”


“I hope they're ready for John Munch.” This time Elliot gave a full fledged laugh.


“*No one* is ready for Munch.” Liv joined his laughter. After a moment, the sound wound down and Liv sighed.


“Thanks, El... I needed that.”


“Glad to help, Liv. We'll see you in a couple days. Hang in there, all right?”


“Stay safe, El.”


“Night, Liv.”




“Hey, Olivia.”


“Casey? Hey... what's up?”


Casey looked at the phone in confusion, then put it back to her ear. Apparently, Olivia was going to ignore their last conversation and for now, Casey was glad to let it slide. They could always come back to it later, especially if things worked out the way Casey was hoping they would. “Nothing much, really. I was just wondering if I was invited to the get together with the guys tomorrow.”


“Sure... why not?”


“Well, the way we left off yesterday....”


“You were honest with me, Casey - I can't fault you for that.”


“So we're good?”


“Yeah... we're good.”


“Great - can I bring a date to this thing? I'm supposed to have a date with Kathy's brother.”


“Two birds with one stone?”


“Something like that, yeah.”


“Sure... as long as you don't mind the teasing the guys will give you.”


Casey groaned. “Oh God... I am so screwed.”


“Nah - they'll save the serious stuff for when you and Abbie finally become a couple.” Olivia heard Casey's head hit the desk and winced in reflex.


“I'm going to go now,” came the mumbled words. Liv grinned.


“Have a good day, Case. See you tomorrow.”




“I'm going to kill my boss,” Abbie groaned, kicking off her shoes as they stepped into her apartment in the wee hours Saturday morning. “What a clusterfuck that was.”


“Aw, c'mon, Abbie. It wasn't *that* bad.” Disbelieving brown eyes cut in Alex's direction and she held up her hands in a gesture of surrender. “All right... it was that bad. But it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been.”


Abbie snorted. “I'll remind you of that much later today when you find our picture on the front pages of the gossip and entertainment section of the newspaper. Personally,” she added dryly, “I'm looking forward to reading the caption.”


“‘Hot Female Attorneys Make an Entrance Together - Cause Riot at the Australian Embassy.' Film at eleven,” Alex replied drolly, stepping out of her own heels with a sigh of relief. “God... now I remember why I hate these kinds of functions. The shoes may look great, but they are a bitch on the feet.”


Abbie's laugh was wry, but it was a laugh. “We're just lucky there wasn't film.” She paused. “Although,” she drawled thoughtfully, “it might be worth the grief to have that on film. We'd have blackmail material on any number of jackasses for years.”


Alex smirked. “We already do. We make the headlines, we'll have pictures to go with the stories.”


“You do realize that if we make the news here, we're going to hear about it the next time we are in Manhattan together?”


Alex laughed. “You do realize that at this point in my life, I've decided I'm not willing to let things like that get to me anymore? If we make the paper, I'll ask if we can each have a copy of the picture.”


Finally, Abbie smiled. “It would certainly make for a memorable keepsake. But make sure you ask for three.” Alex cocked a brow but didn't ask. Abbie chuckled. “If I don't send my mama a copy of that, I'll never be able to go back to Texas again. And I don't want to be disowned... especially since she'd embarrass me publicly to do it.”


“I'd like to meet your mother,” Alex commented softly. “She sounds a lot like my mother was.”


“I think we could probably arrange that; in fact I think we might have to. She's going to want to meet you once she sees that picture. She's going to want to know what we did to cause such a stir at an Embassy party.


“Aside from walking in together? I haven't had that many illicit propositions in my life. Some of those suggestions I'm going to have to go google,” Alex added, shaking her head.


Abbie snorted. “I liked your recommendation that they go try some of them with each other. First time I've ever actually been witness to you starting a riot.”


Alex rolled her eyes and slapped Abbie. “Like you didn't contribute.”


“At least it was entertaining. C'mon,” she added with a yawn. “It's past my bedtime.”


Alex stood and extended a hand to Abbie. “Mine too - at least we can sleep in.”


“Yeah... I don't think the headlines are going to go anywhere for a few hours.” She lifted the receiver from the cradle and turned the ringer off. “I'm not getting up early to listen to my boss rant when it hits.”


Alex pulled them down the hall. “We'll worry about it later. After all, it was his idea.”


“Good point... night Alex.”


“Night, Abbie.”




“Oh my,” Blair commented as she opened the entertainment section of the Times. There on page two, in living color, was a full eight by ten picture in the middle of a half page spread article. The caption that ran underneath the picture said, “City's Legal Eagles Create Disturbance in Nation's Capital.” Then in smaller letters beneath the headline - “Bureau Chief Alexandra Cabot Instigates Riot at Australian Embassy Aided and Abetted by US ADA Abbie Carmichael.”


“What?” Jo asked, looking up from the front page. For answer, Blair passed over the section of the paper she had been reading. Jo read through the article, chuckling at the description of the party that had quickly escalated into a free-for-all. “Well,” she said when she had recovered her composure, “at least it's a good picture.”


“Wonder what kind of damage this will do to them professionally.”


Jo shook her head. “None if their bosses are smart. According to the article, those in attendance felt it appropriate to make disparaging sexual comments and suggestions to both Alex and Abbie. And they resented her suggestion that they try those ideas out with each other. Pretty clever comeback if you ask me.”


“Their bosses probably won't think so.”


“Maybe,” Jo said as she rose to refill their coffee cups. “But I don't think they would chance being seen not backing two high-profile female employees who were witnessed by the press being sexually harassed. Even if it wasn't an election year, that's a very tricky stand to take.”


“At least Alex didn't take the first swing this time.”


Jo's brow went into her hairline. “Has she before?”


Blair raised her coffee to her lips and took a sip before replying. “It wasn't a swing, exactly. It was more of a kick.” She paused thoughtfully. “That boy didn't walk right for three full days after that.”


Jo winced in sympathy. “Glad she's on our side. Hey... you think Liv's seen this?” tapping the picture still in front of her.


“I'd say yes except we don't get delivery of the paper out there. So unless she's been out this morning, probably not.”


“Then we may want to head over sooner rather than later just to give her a little head's up on it. I don't think her squad would rag her about it, but she may not want the majority of them to see her reaction if she gets blindsided by it either. She's pretty private.”


“All right... I packed our day bag last night, so I just need to change and then we can go.”


Jo nodded. “Be quick, Princess. I know she told them to come early, so I'm thinking they will be there by ten. If we can leave in the next ten minutes, we should be there by nine-thirty at the latest.” Blair didn't answer, having already moved upstairs. Even princesses understood the need for speed occasionally.




“Well,” Olivia said, clearing her throat, “at least it's a good picture.”


“Yeah - they make a striking couple....”


“... though not like me and Jo,” Blair added impishly, causing Liv to chuckle in spite of herself. “I wonder what caused Alex to go off like that, though. She's been going to those kinds of functions all her life. She knows to take everything with a grain or six of salt.”


Liv raised a brow. “Are we talking about the same Alex Cabot? The same Alex Cabot that got thrown in jail for contempt... *that* Alex Cabot?? The Alex Cabot I knew didn't take shit from anyone.”


“The *prosecutor* Alex Cabot didn't; the *politician* Alex Cabot knows how to play the political and diplomatic game. She grew up learning how to play it.”


“Well, I know it wouldn't have taken much for Abbie Carmichael to have gone Texas on their asses. She's New York class all the way, but she's got a Texas woman's sensibilities when it comes to dealing with idiots. She'll only tolerate just so much stupid before she lets the cowgirl loose. I used to love going out with her just to watch it happen,” Liv confessed.


“No wonder she left the DA's office,” Blair commented sotto voce, drawing laughter from both Liv and Jo.


“So you're okay with this?” Jo asked Olivia point blank when their laughter died down. Liv shrugged.


“Why wouldn't I be? I don't have a claim on either of them,” she said diffidently, though she didn't meet Jo's eyes. Jo crouched down until green eyes met brown, forcing Liv to look at her.


“Maybe not, but one of them has a claim on you, doesn't she? C'mon Liv... if you can't be honest with me, you need to at least be honest with yourself. Isn't that the first thing you taught me?” Olivia didn't answer verbally, but then Jo didn't really need her to. She knew... and so did Liv. A knock on the door broke their stare and Blair moved off to answer it before either of them could move to do so. “We'll talk later?”


Liv shrugged again. Jo wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pressed a light kiss to her hair. “Only if you want to, Liv. I'd never force that kind of confidence. Now, c'mon - smile. This is a party.”


Whatever response she might have made was lost in the melee that were Elliot's brood coming in, and their thoughts turned to the fun of a Saturday pool party with friends.




The sound of laughter carried across the yard and Olivia couldn't help but smile in reaction. Elliot's two youngest kids were uninhibited and coaxing the rest of the group into the pool by turn. They, more than anyone, had insured the success of the party, though everyone was making an effort. Conversation flowed and laughter rang out and from the grill; Olivia nodded her head in contentment. This had been a good idea.


“This was a good idea,” Elliot commented as he came up to stand beside her. “I like your friends.”


Liv looked around at Jo, who was currently engaged in an animated discussion with Kathy Stabler and John Munch, causing them both to giggle over something. Blair and Fin were... Olivia tilted her head slightly. It looked like they were doing some sort of dance step together, though she'd never seen anything quite like it. However, it was quite interesting to watch.


“They're good people,” Liv agreed. “I'm glad Blair suggested it... glad all of you were able to take the time off.”


“Cap made sure of it,” nodding to Cragen who was sitting by the edge of the pool dangling his feet in the water watching the kids. “We've missed you.”


Olivia kept her eyes on the grill. “I've missed you guys, too.”




“But I'm not gonna lie and tell you this has been a hardship.” She took a deep breath. “I think I needed this, El. This has been... renewing for me.”


He turned to her, waiting until she met his eyes. “You coming back?” straight and to the point.


She held his gaze for a long moment. “I think so, yeah.” A beat, then she sighed. “As much as I have enjoyed this... as much as I will treasure the time I've had to concentrate on my art... I need to be out there doing what we do. We make a difference and that's important.”


“Yeah, we do,” Elliot said with a brief smile. “By the way, Si-mon,” drawing the name out disdainfully, “called looking for you again.” Liv sighed and looked back down at the grill, carefully turning the burgers.




“Liv, you gotta deal with all this sometime.”


“I know. I just... I'm not sure what to do with him. My life was a lot less complicated before I found him.”


“Are you sorry you did?”


“Sometimes? Yeah,” she said honestly. She shrugged. “There just seems to be a lot more... it was easier when it was just me.”


“What're you gonna do?”


“Nothing for now. Maybe he'll take the hint and back off for a while.”


“And Cabot?” Her head popped up so quickly, Elliot expected to see it go flying.


“Leave. It. Alone. El.” He held up his hands in surrender.


“All right. You know where to find me when you're ready to talk about it.” Her shoulders slumped and his hands landed on them, gently kneading out the tension. “It'll work out, Liv. It always does.” He looked across the yard. “I better go rescue Lake ,“ forcing a chuckle from Liv when she saw the situation he'd managed to get into with Elliot's kids.


“Go on... burgers will be ready in a few.” He headed off and Casey took that moment to come over. “Hey, Case.”


“Hey, Liv.” She took a deep breath. “Smells good.” She looked around. “It's nice here... thanks for inviting us out.”


“It was Blair's idea,” motioning to the blonde who was now talking to Casey's erstwhile date. “But I'm glad everyone was able to come. This has been fun. How's the date going?”


“Eh....” Casey shrugged. “He's a nice guy, probably a lot of fun....” She broke off and looked out across the expanse of yard like she was searching for answers.




“But... I don't know.” She paused a minute and Liv remained quiet, shifting burgers from the grill to a platter in preparation for eating. Finally Casey turned back to Olivia. “Did you see the paper this morning?”




Casey waited, but Liv didn't say anything else. She huffed. “Doesn't it bother you? C'mon, Liv....”


“Casey, what do you want me to say?” not denying it, but refusing to acknowledge it aloud as well. “They're beautiful women; they make a gorgeous couple - no wonder they attracted attention and suggestive comments. Doesn't make it right, but it does make it understandable. Does it bother you?”


“Yes... no... I'm not sure.” She blew out an impatient breath. “I think it's making me jealous... and I don't even have a right to be jealous.”


”Maybe you should figure out why that is, Case.” She picked up the platter and headed to the picnic table that was loaded with an array of food. “C'mon... let's call everyone over. We can worry about the rest later... or not.”


“That means you too, right?”


Liv leveled Casey a long look before turning and beckoning her eagerly awaiting friends to lunch. Casey just swallowed and shook her head. “All righty, then,” she muttered, before picking up a plate and helping herself.




“Well, that was surprising,” Abbie commented to Alex as they left the restaurant. Abbie's boss had indeed called, though he had waited until a reasonable hour, then invited them out to an early Sunday brunch. They had gone - Abbie had decided he wouldn't make a scene in public.


To the contrary, he had been apologetic to both Abbie and Alex. “You have to understand that I never expected that sort of reaction. Personally, I don't blame you for the comment,” Ronald added, looking directly at Alex. “Given some of the things I've been informed were said, I applaud your restraint.”


“Yes,” his wife Leigh Anne added drolly. “*I* would have taken the first swing, myself.” She glanced at her husband with a smirk. “This is what happens when you get a room full of drunk, ex-jock lawyers together.”


Abbie snorted. “Happens a lot then, huh?”

“It would... if you and Alex attended functions like this together more often. Fortunately for us and for the diplomatic corps, you're several hundred miles apart. We're just lucky the Australian ambassador has a sense of humor.”


“And a sense of propriety. I think she was as offended as we were.” A beat. “At least it was an equal opportunity embarrassment for everyone.”


“I don't think we'll have to worry about any diplomatic lawyerly type functions any time in the near future.”


“Thank God for that,” Leigh Anne commented. “Now, how about we talk about something interesting? Alex, would you be willing to share about your experience in the Witness Protection Program? So few actually end like yours did - with the individual able to return to the life they had before. It would be nice to hear a success story for a change.”


“Well, I'm not sure how successful I'd consider it, but I'm certainly willing to tell you what I can. What would you like to know?”


Leigh Anne and Ronald exchanged glances at her wording, then turned back to Alex. “Whatever you would like to share, my dear.” Ronald motioned the waiter to their table. “But first I think we should order our drinks and get some food. I don't know about you ladies, but I'm starving.”


They grinned and nodded their assent, then placed their orders. Conversation was nice and varied through the rest of the meal and they all left in a satisfied state of mind.


“It was pleasant,” Alex agreed as they walked towards the Mall area. “Your boss and his wife seem like nice people.”


“Yeah, they are,” Abbie agreed with a shrug. “You all right? I know you don't like to talk about that whole witness protection thing.”


“Eh... I'm all right. It's not my favorite subject, but it is part of who I am... for better or worse. Now c'mon. Let's go play tourist. There are still museums I haven't visited in years, and I'll bet you haven't visited them at all. Time to broaden your horizons, Carmichael and give you some culture.”


“Awww, Caaaabbbbbooottt,” Abbie whined. “My horizons are broad enough. Can't we go to Kings Dominion?”


Alex stuck her hand into the pocket of Abbie's leather jacket and snagged her keys. “Only if I get to drive,” chuckling as she skipped out of Abbie's reach.


“Not my new Boxter.” Alex kept walking away, devilish smile on her face. “Cabot....”


Alex held up her hand and jingled the keys. “C'mon, Carmichael ,” backing up towards the car.


“Cabot,” Abbie growled, then huffed when big blue eyes blinked up at her appealingly. “Dammit!” she cursed, crawling into the passenger side and crossing her arms over her chest. “Not a scratch, Cabot.”


“Not a scratch, Carmichael . I only want to drive a little while. It's not like I do it that often.”


Abbie's eyes widened in alarm, even as the car started moving forward. “Wait, do you even have a license?” When there was no immediate answer forthcoming, she clutched the dashboard. “Alex! ALEX!!!”




“That was a lot of fun,” Alex commented as Abbie drove them back towards Washington . “Who knew you could squeal like a girl??”


Abbie took her eyes off the road briefly to glare at Alex, only to stick out her tongue at the impish grin she got in return. “The human body is not supposed to contort like that. It was either squeal or hurl.”


Alex grimaced. “Thank you for squealing then. Puking wouldn't have added anything to our day.”


“Did you really have fun?”


“I had a blast - thank you for insisting. Though I should have known you were a season pass holder. A lot of those kids knew you by name.”


“It's a nice way to blow off a little steam and unwind when I'm not in Manhattan for the weekend.”


“Hmm... maybe we should coax Liv and Casey down here one weekend. Make a party of it.”


“It'll have to wait til spring.”




“Because there aren't but a couple weekends left in the season and I'd prefer if we were all at least able to be civil together before we try something so ambitious.”


“Fair enough,” Alex said after a moment's thought.


“So are you headed back tomorrow?” Abbie asked after the silence lengthened. “You know you're welcome to stay as long as you want.”


“I know, and I appreciate it. But I need to get back and take care of a few things before I have to head back to work next week.”


“You looking forward to it?” Abbie asked as she smoothly moved the Boxter around a slower moving vehicle. When Alex didn't answer immediately, she turned her head slightly to catch a glimpse of Alex biting her bottom lip thoughtfully. “Alex?”


“Sorry... I was just thinking.” She grew quiet and Abbie waited. “You know... I'm not sure I am - looking forward to it I mean. I'm not sure I want to do this anymore.”


Abbie blinked but didn't take her eyes from the road. “This,” she spoke carefully. “Do you mean the law? The DA's office? What?”


“Both, some days,” Alex said honestly. “But mostly the DA's office. I'm not crazy about being a Bureau Chief and every day lessens the allure it once had for me a little more.”


“What bothers you about it?” Abbie finally asked after several long moments. “I thought it was a serious stepping stone to realizing your political ambitions.”


“It is,” Alex agreed, “or it would be if I still had those same ambitions. I'm just not sure that's what I really want out of life anymore.”


“You don't want to be the DA anymore?”


“Well, I wouldn't say no if it dropped into my lap,” Alex noted drolly. “But it's not something I'm actively pursuing anymore either.”


“So what do you want to do?” She continued when she felt Alex hesitate beside her. “C'mon Alex... if you could do anything... anything in the world - what would make you happy?”


“I don't know that I've ever actually thought about it - not in that context anyway. I thought about it a lot while I was in witness protection. I thought coming back to Manhattan and resuming my life as Alex Cabot would be all I needed to be happy.”




“But it didn't. Wait... it did - I was thrilled to be able to come home again - to be me and not some made up printout conceived by some really bad hack writer. But everything had changed. *I* had changed and I never took the time to decide what I wanted to do. I just took the life I was offered and started living it without even considering if it was all I wanted it to be. And what a fucked up mess I seem to have made of that.”


“Then maybe you need to take the next week and figure out what Alex Cabot wants to do with the rest of her life. You were given a second chance, Alex - don't squander it.”


“Well, I know the first thing I want to do at the moment,” pointing to a sign on the road. “We need ice cream.”


Ever obliging, Abbie put on her blinker and gave Alex a rakish smile. “Never let it be said that Abbie Carmichael doesn't know how to cater to a woman's needs.”


“I'll make sure Casey knows that.”


Abbie glared again. “You can walk home, you know.”


Alex wrapped her hands around Abbie's bicep. “Nah... you love me too much.”


It was the last thing she would remember for a while.




“All right! All right!! I'm coming! Give it a rest, will ya??” Olivia jerked the door open and glared at the intruder until she realized it was Elliot standing in front of her with a very sober expression on his face. “El?” she asked, pushing her hair back away from her face with a suddenly nervous hand and opening the door wider so he could cross into the house.


“Elliot, what's going on?” Liv asked after a moment of tense silence. “Why are you here?”


He sighed and looked at her steadily. “I'm on my way to pick up Alex's housekeeper.” He scratched an eyebrow. “Alex and Abbie were the victims of a violent crime tonight.” He looked at his watch. “Last night, I guess it is now. The hospital called Blair who was Alex's point of contact; when she arrived in DC, she had Jo call me and ask me to pick up Geraldine Bernard and get her on a flight to Washington . Apparently, it's bad enough that they're gonna need help for a little while once they're released. I thought you might want to be aware.”




He put his hands on her shoulders. “Don't, Liv. Don't be stupid about this and don't try to lie to me and pretend that you don't care.”


She jerked out of his grip, though he wasn't holding her tightly and turned her back to him. “I can't, Elliot. I can't afford to care like that again! I won't do it!” Her stance was so rigid Elliot hurt just looking at her and he waited, wondering how long it would take her to break. She kept her face to the living room. “What happened? How are they?” she asked in a whispered voice.


He shrugged, even though she couldn't see him. “I don't know, Liv. Blair didn't have any details. Only that they were assaulted and in the hospital. Look, I need to go. You gonna be all right?”


She lifted a hand to her face, pushing her hair out of her eyes again before she turned to face him again. “I'll be fine. You be careful, all right?” she added as she opened the door. He nodded and looked like he wanted to say more before finally opting to leave without another word. Olivia waited until he was in the car and pulling away before she closed the door.


She went back into the living room and stood in front of her artwork for a long time. Then she sighed and packed an overnight bag, snatching up her jacket and heading for her car. “I must be out of my fucking mind,” she muttered as she headed south, not realizing until she was miles down the road that she didn't even know where she was going.



“Where'm I going, Jo?”


“Liv?” like she hadn't been sitting there waiting for the call Blair had assured her would come sooner rather than later.


“C'mon, Jo. I'm halfway to DC already. Where am I going?”


“ Langley Air Force Base. It was the closest facility. I'll have Blair call the front gate so they will pass you through. Come up to the third floor waiting room. We'll be here.”


“Wait... you're in DC? With Blair?” not asking the question that was burning on the tip of her tongue.


“Yeah, Liv. She got the phone call from the hospital and we left as soon as we could get to the airport. I told the Cap it was a family emergency... which is technically true on several levels. So yeah... we'll be here when you get here or I'll call and let you know where we'll be otherwise, all right?”


“Thanks, Jo.”


“Notta problem, Liv. They're both stabilized and the doc doesn't expect that to change - said they were both very lucky. So you take your time and drive safely, all right?” Olivia nodded her head and bit her lip before remembering that Jo couldn't see her.


“Yeah... okay.” She cleared the hoarseness from her throat. “Jo, what happened?”


Jo shrugged and the action was obvious in her tone. “All evidence indicates a hate crime.”


“What?!? What the hell kind of a hate crime...?!?”


“Gay bashing,” her words succinct and to the point. “A Marine saw what was going on and pulled the kids off them. His girlfriend called nine one one and then started first responder protocol while he and a buddy took care of the children - managed to collar a couple of them before the police and emergency services arrived.”


“Have you talked to them?”


“The Marines or the kids?” Jo asked then continued without waiting for a reply. “The Marines left word on how they could be contacted... asked if they could be notified on Abbie's and Alex's condition in the morning - or later today as the case may be. The detectives here have promised me professional courtesy as far as the kids go. They're in lock-up tonight and with two decorated Marines as witnesses, the police don't expect them to be released on bail... especially since they're acknowledged gang members.”


“I wanna talk to them,” Liv said in a steady voice.


“You focus on getting here. We'll worry about the rest later, okay?” Silence. “C'mon, Liv... promise me you're not gonna be stupid about this.”


“I'll be careful, Jo, and I'll be there as quick as I can.”


“Liv,” growling into the phone. Olivia sighed. She should have known Jo wouldn't let her get away with less than a promise. She was the best - Liv had taught her well.


“All right, Jo... I promise - nothing stupid.”


“Good girl. See you shortly.”


“Thanks, Jo.”


The rest of the ride was made in the solemn silence of the early morning night.




It was still dark when Olivia pulled up to the gate at Langley Air Force Base, though there was the barest hint of lightening in the eastern sky. She stopped at the upraised hand of the airman standing duty and passed him her ID case and shield. He studied it for a moment, then leaned down to her window.


“Where are you headed, ma'am?”


“The hospital - two friends were brought in by ambulance earlier. Blair Warner was supposed to call down and leave my name...?”


The airman stood back up and consulted a clipboard, comparing her ID to the names on his list. After a moment, he nodded his head. “Yes ma'am. Do you know where the hospital is?” When she shook her head, the airman took a copy of the base map that was kept in the guard shack for just such occasions and gave her explicit directions. When he was done, he passed her the map and her ID and shield, then raised the gate for her to pass through.


She looked around with vague curiosity, noting the number of formations out running already. Then she arrived at the hospital and everything else was put aside in her need to find Jo.


In the end it wasn't hard - Jo was standing outside the waiting room when Olivia stepped from the elevator. Without a word, she took Liv's hand and led her into the care unit where Alex and Abbie were currently resting. Jo stopped at the door, nodding at the nurse and motioning to Olivia to go ahead. Then she crossed her arms over her chest and stood back to wait.


Liv crossed to Abbie's bed first as it was the closest to the door, wincing when she saw the damage that had been done. Black eyes, split lip, arm in a cast - Olivia pushed a lock of brown hair out of Abbie's face gently, wondering if the cut at her hairline would leave a scar. She leaned forward and brushed her lips over Abbie's forehead, whispering something in a language Jo couldn't decipher. After a moment, Liv stood upright again and took a deep breath before taking the steps necessary to bring her to Alex's side.


Liv bit her lip. Alex looked much like Abbie did - black eyes, split lip, cut on the cheek - but instead of her arm in a cast, her head was swathed in gauze. Liv wondered if her blonde hair had been completely shorn or if it had been tucked up inside the bandage somehow.


She stood still just looking, reaching out, but stopping short before she allowed herself to touch Alex in any way. She let her hand fall to her side and dropped her head. She didn't even jump when Jo came up beside her, wrapping an arm around her waist.


“They're gonna be all right, Liv. In fact, they're gonna be moved to Georgetown tomorrow.”


“What?” Olivia asked, turning to face Jo. “Why? They're still unconscious!”


“Yeah, but they're stable. This is a military hospital, so since they're no longer in imminent danger, they need to be moved to a civilian hospital.” Jo took Liv's hand and led her back towards the waiting room. “I figure Blair and Alex's housekeeper can go with them while you and I stay here for a day or two and keep an eye on what happens with those kids.”


Liv looked around when they reached the waiting room. “Where is Blair?”


“She picked Geraldine up at the airport and took her back to a hotel after a quick stop here. We thought they should be rested to transport Alex and Abbie to Georgetown .”


“So what now?”


“Now you and I are gonna go catch a few z's before we head over to the police department later. Those kids have an arraignment in a little while and then we're gonna have a word.” Olivia nodded. Jo looked at her closely, noting the pallor beneath the naturally dark skin. “Hey,” laying a concerned hand on Liv's arm. “You okay?”


“Yeah... can you give me a minute?”


“Sure, Liv. You want me to wait here or...?”


“Yeah... I'll be right back.” Then Olivia crossed back into the room where Abbie and Alex still lay unconscious.


She walked directly to Alex's bed this time - no hesitation. She took Alex's hand gently in her own, stroking the smooth skin over her knuckles and marveling at the softness. Olivia had always admired Alex's hands - soft, unblemished skin; long, tapered fingers; a delicacy belying the strength behind them. She was glad that the years had been kind to Alex in that regard.


“I'm sorry, Alex. Despite everything, I wouldn't have had this happen to either one of you. We'll get justice for you both... I promise.”


Olivia leaned down, kissing Alex briefly on the cheek and lingering for a moment to breathe in a scent that was at once familiar and foreign to her. After a long moment, she lifted her head, letting her gaze roam over Alex's profile for another minute. She lightly squeezed the hand she held, then released it and left the room without a backward glance.


She never saw the tear that tracked down Alex's face.




“You ready to talk now, punk?”


“Fuck you, asshole. I ain't telling you nothing.”


Liv and Jo stood in the box watching the interrogation of one of the kids the Marines had caught. So far, though, it had been less than productive. Liv looked at the lieutenant watching with them.


“Give me a shot.”


“Detective Benson....”


“Lieutenant, please. I can get what you need.”


“Detective, you're too close to this. You can't be objective.”


“Screw objective!”





Olivia scrubbed a hand through her hair. “Look,” she said in a more subdued tone, “I know I'm too close to this, but this is about justice. We've got these two dead to rights, but what about the rest of them? Do they get to go free?”


“No, Detective... we'll get what we need. It may just take a little longer than we want. We know who many of the gang members are. It is simply a matter of finding them and putting them in the right place at the right time.”


“I still think I could get the information we need.”


“I'm sure you could, Detective. However, since you are already on suspension, I don't think it's a good idea. Don't glare at your friend,” the lieutenant admonished. “I checked on both of you as soon as Detective Polniaczek asked for professional courtesy to be extended. Impressive records, I must say. BUT,” he added without pausing, “I don't think letting you get involved here would be good for you or this case. We don't want to lose what we already have because of your involvement.”


Liv sighed, knowing he was right. “Fine,” she grumbled. “But I'd like to be kept in the loop,” handing him her card.


“Absolutely, Detective,” handing her his in return. “As soon as we know anything new.”


“Thanks,” she said before she turned on her heel and left the room. Jo and the lieutenant exchanged a long look before Jo nodded her agreement to their unspoken conversation.


“I'll be back as soon as....”


“Yeah - I'll still be here somewhere. Just ask for me.”


“Thanks, LT,” then she followed Liv out of the station. “Hey,” she called out as she caught up with Olivia just outside. “You all right?”


“Peachy,” rubbing a hand over her face. “Look, can you get a ride back to the hotel?”


“Yeah, sure... why?”


“I'm going home.”


“What?? Liv, why?”


“I don't belong here... not now.”


“What about Alex? And Abbie?”


“They have you and Blair and Geraldine. They'll be fine.”


Jo shook her head. “I don't believe it. Olivia Benson has turned into a chicken shit. I never thought I'd live to see the day.”


“Leave it alone, Jo.”


“Go home, Liv. You're useless here. Maybe you deserve the mess you're in. You've lost your nerve.” Before Olivia could respond, Jo turned and went back inside. Olivia watched with unseeing eyes, her mind replaying the words of accusation that had flowed from Jo's lips. Then she climbed in her car and headed north, never looking back. Then hurt gave way to anger and she pulled into the next rest area she came to. There was more than one way to skin a cat and Olivia Benson was fixing to call in a few markers to do just that.




Liv pulled into the Bureau parking lot and turned off her car. Jo's words still rankled her, but she was honest enough with herself to acknowledge the kernel of truth behind them. However, she'd made a promise to Alex that she intended to keep.


She signed in at the desk and was met by Dana Lewis. “Detective Benson... this is unexpected,” extending a hand. “To what do I owe this visit?”


“I need a favor.”


“Come into my office and let's talk.”


They walked down the short hallway and Dana motioned Liv in ahead of her before closing the door behind them both. “What sort of favor?”


So Olivia explained what was going on - about Alex's and Abbie's assault; about the Marines who had stepped in and stopped it; about the gang members that had been apprehended and those still on the loose.


“So what exactly do you want the FBI to do, Detective? It sounds like everything is under control. And this isn't actually within our jurisdiction.” Liv got up to pace.


“I dunno... keep an eye on things. Help them out. I don't want these thugs to get away!”


“Why do you think they will? If they already have two of them in custody....”


“I don't know,” Olivia said more forcefully, raking her hands through her hair. “I just... I need to be part of this and I can't be. At least if you and the Bureau were keeping an eye on this I'd feel better.”




“You know what? Nevermind. I'll take care of this myself. I'm sorry I bothered you,” flinging the door open and stomping down the hall.”


“Detective! Olivia, wait!”

At the sound of her name, Liv turned and looked back at the FBI agent. “Look, Dana... I'm sorry I tried to get you involved in this, all right? There's nothing you can do - I get it!”


“Olivia, I'll make some phone calls... see what we can do.” A beat. “Can I ask why this is so personal for you?”


“Alex and Abbie are... friends.”


“Is that all?” Olivia returned Dana's look with one of her own. “Come on, Olivia. There must be more to it than that. Otherwise, you'd have either forced your way into the on-going investigation despite your suspension, or you'd have completely left it alone.” Silence and Liv's gaze remained unwavering... unflinching. Dana sighed. “All right - I'll do what I can. But you stay out of this. I mean it, Detective. You stay out of this or I'll come after you myself. You got it?”


“I got it. Thanks, Dana.”


“Uh huh. Just make sure I get an invitation when things get settled.”


A frown crossed Olivia's features. “An invitation? An invitation to what?”


Dana chuckled. “You'll know when you figure it out. Just don't forget you owe me.”


A confused look washed over Liv's face before she shook her head. “I'll remember.”


“You do that.” Dana gestured them back towards the door. “Where can I reach you?”


Liv passed her a card. “Call the cell. It's always on.”


Dana accepted the card. “I'll be in touch.” Then Olivia was outside and heading towards Georgetown University Hospital .






“Hey, Casey. It's Olivia.”


“Hey, Olivia - what's up? Have you recovered after having a houseful of guests Saturday? I have to tell you that Trevor was a little miffed he didn't get invited.”


“He'll get over it. Have you talked to Elliot today?”


“No, I think he called out sick today. Why?”


“Um... I'm guessing you haven't heard then yet.”


“Heard what?” The slightest pause before Casey continued to speak. “C'mon, Olivia. Obviously something happened or you wouldn't have felt the need to call. What's going on?”


Liv blew out a breath. “Alex and Abbie were attacked last night. They're okay,” she continued before Casey could ask, “or they will be. They're being transferred to Georgetown today. Alex's housekeeper has already come down to keep an eye on them once they're released.”


“What happened? Why were they attacked? What's being done to catch the perps?”


So Liv told Casey everything she knew, leaving out her confrontation with Jo and her visit to Quantico . Those were on a need to know basis and as far as Olivia was concerned, no one needed to know.


“Maybe I should take some time off... come down there.”


“And do what? I don't think that's a good idea... at least not right now. They weren't even conscious when I was there earlier. Maybe once they're home and recovering.”


“Yeah, you're right. Are you sure they're going to be all right?”


“Yeah... the doctor was confident they would be awake in a day or two. They want them to rest to help their ribs to heal.”


Casey sighed. “All right. I'll wait until I hear from you, but keep me in the loop, please?”


“You know I will.”


“Thanks, Olivia.” A knock on her door came through the phone. “I need to go. Talk to you later?”






“Mr. Moss? This is Detective Olivia Benson.”


“Olivia... how lovely to hear from you. And please - it's Kurt, remember?”


Liv rolled her eyes but nodded. “Kurt, of course,” she agreed reluctantly. They'd met at a charity event and shared some interesting conversation and a few dates. Then Olivia had found out who Kurt Moss really was and what he did for a living. It hadn't taken but a moment's thought to realize what a bad idea that was for her.


“So what can I do for you?” he asked with a smile in his voice. “Tell me my charming personality has finally worn you down and you're ready to consider a more serious relationship with me.”


“Um... no.” She sighed. “Actually, I need a favor.”


“I see. And if I do this favor for you, what's in it for me exactly?”


“Kurt, do you understand nothing can come of us together? You're a nice enough guy, but you're also an editor for the New York Ledger and I swore I would never be involved with a journalist again.”


“At least give me one more chance to change your mind. Not all journalists are bad people, you know.”


“I'm sure, but you know the old adage - ‘once bitten, twice shy'.” When her words were met with silence, Olivia sighed. “Fine... one more date.”


“Wonderful,” he crowed. “When?”


Liv reached up and clutched her hair in frustration. “I don't know. I'm not in town at the moment.” She paused thoughtfully. “How about this weekend? I'll come back to Manhattan Friday evening - we can do it then.”


“Anxious, hmm? I'll get reservations somewhere nice and let you know. Now, what can I do for you, Olivia?” affecting a serious tone as his mind turned from flirtatious to business.


“I need to talk to the reporter who wrote the article and posted the picture about the Australian Embassy debacle that involved Abbie Carmichael and Alex Cabot and I can't do it in an official capacity as a police officer. I was hoping you could get me an introduction.”


“Absolutely. Let me make a few phone calls and I'll be in touch.”


“Thank you, Mr.... Kurt.”


“Anything for you, Olivia.” Then the line went dead.


“God - the things I do...” letting the thought trail off. “I just hope the guys don't find out. Otherwise I'll never hear the end of it. Elliot finds out I'm dating another newspaper man and it's all over.” She took a deep breath and looked around the Georgetown University Hospital parking lot. “Now for Jo.” Without giving herself time to back out of it, Liv opened the door of her car and stepped out, heading into the hospital with marked determination in her stride.




“Come in, Ms Novak. What can I do for you?” gesturing Casey to a seat across the desk. Casey seated herself and folded her hands in her lap. Liz tilted her head in concern. “Casey?”


Casey cleared her throat. “I'm going to be taking some time off. I haven't talked to Arthur yet, but as soon as it can be arranged, I'm headed down to DC.”


Liz's eyebrows rose into her hairline. “Would you like to start at the beginning and tell me the whole story?”


Casey got up and wandered over to the window, staring sightlessly at the vista below. Liz's eyes followed her, but she remained silent, waiting for Casey to speak. Casey sighed. “Did you see the picture in the Times yesterday... the one of Alex Cabot and Abbie Carmichael?”


Liz snorted. “Yes... made me wonder what on earth Cabot said to cause a riot. Not that I was particularly surprised - like you, neither she nor Abbie were ever able to suffer fools lightly,” she added with a chuckle. Casey smiled wanly.


“If you didn't read the article, if you only looked at the picture... they looked like a couple - a gorgeous, lesbian couple,” she continued before Liz could make the obvious snark. She turned and looked Liz squarely in the eyes. “They were victims of a gay bashing last night.”


“WHAT?!?” Liz waved her hands before Casey could repeat herself. “I heard you - I even understood you. I'm just not sure I understand... why?? What happened?”


Casey repeated what Olivia had shared with her, including the Marines' involvement, the police investigation and Alex's and Abbie's medical conditions. “Olivia promised to keep me in the loop, but I'd feel better if I was there... if I could just check on them myself.”


“Personally involved, Ms Novak?”


“Not yet... but I'd like to be,” she confessed shyly. “I just... I need to be there.”


Liz smiled, remembering what it was like to be young and in the discovery of new love. She slapped her hands on her desk, causing Casey to jump, then stood and straightened her skirt. “All right... let's go talk to Arthur and see if we can get you out of here in the next day or two.”




“You wanna run that by me again?” Branch asked when Casey had finished explaining what had happened once more. “Carmichael and Cabot were victims of a gay bashing because of the picture that ran in the Times yesterday??”


“That's what the police in Virginia believe,” Casey replied. “The two kids they caught were acknowledged gang members. I haven't heard anything else from Olivia, so I don't know if it was an initiation or a random act of wrong place, wrong time or if they were targeted and hunted because of the picture. I just don't know. But I do know I need to be there.”


Branch sighed and rubbed his forehead. He was getting a massive headache - and all because the Alex Cabot that had been once known around the precinct and Hogan Place as the Ice Princess had finally returned with a vengeance. He wondered offhandedly if she would return to the DA's office when her suspension was up and then realized that probably wasn't an option now for at least a few more weeks - not if she was as injured as he was being led to believe. He sighed loudly.


“I need you to wrap up the Bristol case. We have worked too long and hard to catch the bastard to let him go on a technicality and you're the only one familiar enough with the case to bring him to justice. Where are you at with it?”


“One more witness from the defense tomorrow morning and then closing arguments,” Liz answered when Casey looked at her with a question in her eyes. “I expect the jury deliberation to be short if there is even half a brain among them.”


Arthur snorted and shook his head. “We all know what that means. All right, Casey - as soon as you have a verdict, you can go. But I expect you to stay in touch and keep us informed of what's happening. I'll assign a couple of the interns from Cabot's department to work on whatever is outstanding with SVU - make sure you brief them well in case they have to go to trial while you're gone.”


Casey nodded. “Thanks, Arthur.”


“Just remember what I said,” he responded gruffly. “Now go on - you've got a lot to do, and you want to be able to leave as soon as the verdict is in.”


She nodded again and walked out with a brief glance at Liz who simply waved her dismissal. When the door was closed, Branch turned to Donnelly.


“What the hell is happening here? I feel like I'm suddenly in an out of control chariot speeding towards hell and damnation itself.”


“I think it's called life, Arthur. Unfortunately, the ugly side we deal with everyday just hit home a little more personally this time.”


He huffed. “I'm going to make a few phone calls - see if I can get any more information about all this. You'll keep an eye on Casey?”


“Yes, but she'll be fine. She's a professional. She won't let her personal life interfere here. What happens when she's in Washington , however....”


“I have a friend or two that will be able to keep an eye on all of them there. We don't want a repeat of this incident and we already know Detective Benson is something of a loose cannon. I'd hate to have anything else happen because of her propensity to go off half-cocked. Besides, I'm fairly certain IAB wouldn't look too kindly on her actions if she did.”


“Make your calls. I've got a few of my own to make. You'll keep me informed?”


“Yes... and you'll do the same.”


“You got it,” Liz agreed as she closed the door firmly behind her.




“Where are they, Jo?” Olivia called as she reached the hospital doors realizing she had no way of finding them and no shield to flash to aid her quest.


“Well, if it isn't Detective Chickenshit,” Jo snarked. “I'm not sure I should tell you. I mean, you really don't need to know, do you? Not like you can see them in New York .”


She took a deep breath, swallowing both her anger and her pride. “I'm not in New York , Jo. I'm at the hospital in Georgetown . I'm standing outside the front doors. I just need to know where to go.”


“Wait there. I'll be right down.” A click signaled the end of the call and Liv snapped her phone closed and stuck her hands in her pockets. A rumble of thunder caught her attention and she was staring up at the late afternoon sky when Jo stepped through the hospital doors. Jo came right up behind her and craned her neck.


“Looks like rain's rolling in.” Olivia turned and met intense green eyes.


“Kinda fits the way things seem to be going today,” Liv shrugged.


“What are you doing here, Liv? I thought you were going home.” Without further warning, water began to pour from the sky even though both women could still see sunshine. Jo sighed and tugged Olivia by the arm until they were sitting on one of the main lobby's couches. “Now spill,” Jo commanded sternly.


Olivia sighed. “You're right. My suspension's a situation of my own making, and though what happened here isn't my fault directly, I still have a responsibility... even if it is only one of friendship. Abbie was there for me when I needed her - the least I can do is return the favor. I made a few phone calls... contacted some people to see if we can get this case wrapped up quickly.”


“Liv....” Jo growled warningly.


“No one is gonna overstep the local authorities. I just... I had to do something.”


Jo sighed. “All right,” she finally said after a moment's silence, not really surprised. “Whaddya wanna do now? Liv, Alex's condition is as serious as Abbie's. I'm not sure your presence here is gonna be the best thing for her, especially if you haven't settled things between you.”


“We did... settle things, I mean. She knows there's nothing between us and never can be.”


Jo looked at Olivia in disbelief. “I hope she believes that more than you do, Liv, ‘cause you're a terrible liar. However,” holding up a hand before Olivia could refute her words, “unless either of them object to your presence, I don't see a reason for you not to be here. C'mon,” she added, standing and waiting for Olivia to do the same, “let's go upstairs. They were still sleeping when I came down. I think the doc is trying to keep them that way for a couple more days. They want the broken ribs to heal a little more before they let them start moving around much.”


“What about the head injuries?”


Jo shook her head. “I dunno. I don't think they're serious, but then I haven't been around for all the reports either. Most of my day was spent at the station,” she stated as they exited the elevator. “Blair would know, though. She's been here since they were moved.”


“Blair would know what, sweetheart? Hi, Olivia,” wrapping her arms around Jo's waist and laying her head on her shoulder. Jo subtly kneaded the knots from Blair's neck, smiling when Blair slumped into her a little more. “God, that feels wonderful - you still have magic hands, Joey.”


Jo brushed a kiss over blonde hair. “You all right?”


“Just a little tired... been a long twenty-four hours. Now,” pulling back just slightly so she could look between Jo and Liv, “what would I know?”


“What's the status on their head injuries?”


“The doctors seem to think they are minor... relatively speaking, but we won't know for sure until they are brought out of their comas.”


“And that will be...?”


“The next day or two at the latest. The idea is to give the ribs a chance to set.”


“Where is Geraldine?” Liv asked abruptly.


“She spent the morning here so I sent her back to the hotel to rest. Do you need her?”


Liv shook her head. “No... I was just curious. What do the police know?” turning to Jo.


“Not much more than we did earlier. They know what gang was involved so it's a matter of finding those involved.”


“Do they have a reason? Was it a gay bashing?”


“Sort of - it was a crime of both opportunity and hatred. Alex and Abbie weren't specific targets. They were just gonna heist the car at first, but once those kids recognized them, it became a definite hate crime. Now who did you talk to and what is going on?”


“I just talked to a contact I have at the FBI... asked them to look into things.”




“I had to do something, Jo! That was the best I could manage under the circumstances, especially if I wanna keep being a cop. I also called a newspaper acquaintance to see if I could get an intro to the reporter who wrote the story in the first place.”




“Because... because I don't know. I just need to talk to them... find out what the hell they were thinking running a story like that here. It's already had consequences, and that's without even considering the political implications.”


“Abbie's boss has already taken care of that,” Blair commented, passing the day's newspaper to Olivia. Liv read through the article and nodded her head.


“Will you excuse me for a minute? I need to make a phone call.”


“We'll be in Alex's and Abbie's room - five tweny-one. Come find us when you're done.” Olivia nodded again and headed back downstairs. Blair and Jo exchanged glances before walking in the opposite direction.


“Still in denial, huh?”


“It ain't just a river in Egypt , Princess.”




Her phone rang before she could make her call. “Benson.”


“Ah... Olivia. Kurt Moss here. I just wanted to let you know that you have an appointment with the reporter that ran that story at two tomorrow afternoon. She will meet you at the Paradise Cafe near the newspaper office. And you and I have a reservation at The Four Seasons at eight o'clock Friday night.”


“Wonderful,” her voice unmistakably flat.


“I'm sensing a distinct lack of enthusiasm, Olivia.”


“Mr. Moss, don't take this the wrong way, but you really shouldn't have gone to such expense. I'm going out with you Friday because it was a condition of you contacting the reporter for me. I've already told you nothing is going to come of this.”


“You're not even willing to give it a chance?”

Olivia thought of the blonde woman who was currently unconscious in room five twenty-one. “Mr. Moss... Kurt, even if you weren't a reporter, there wouldn't be a chance,” tacitly admitting something to him that she had yet to acknowledge to anyone but herself in the darkest hours of the night.


He blew out a surprised breath. “I'd still like a chance to change your mind about journalists.”


“We had a deal. I'll meet you in front of The Four Seasons just before eight Friday night.”


“Thank you, Olivia. I'm looking forward to it.”


“See you Friday.” She hung up the phone without another word and blew her bangs from her face in frustration. Then she headed down to room five twenty-one.




Jo and Blair were standing outside the room and Olivia cocked her head as she joined them. “What's up?”


“Doc's in the room checking them out,” Jo said, even as the doctor stepped from the room. She turned to him. “What's the word?” He looked at Olivia pointedly and Jo introduced them. “Doctor Yasmin, meet Detective Olivia Benson, NYPD SVU.”


“Are you here in an official capacity, Detective, or a personal one?”


“Personal,” she replied and left it at that. He eyeballed her for a long minute and then nodded his head in approval.


“All right. I'm pretty pleased with how things look. Their vital signs have remained stable and if it continues, Wednesday morning I'm going to remove the drugs keeping them out and allow them to wake up. They will be in quite a bit of pain, but I am confident they will recover with no lingering side effects.”


“Other than the mental ones,” Liv muttered. Yasmin looked directly at her.


“We'll do our best to repair that damage as well, but we can't do anything else until their bodies are a little more healed. For now, I'd suggest that you all go back to your hotel rooms and get some rest. There isn't anything else you can do here.”


“I'd like to stay,” Olivia cut in. “I'd feel better not leaving them alone.” Jo and Blair exchanged knowing glances. The doctor just shrugged.


“It can't hurt anything. Talk to them... read to them... let them know someone who cares about their well-being is with them. Not constantly, but often. That should help speed their healing.”


Liv nodded. “I can do that.”


“Good.” He extended his hand to her. “Nice to meet you, Detective.” He did the same with Jo and Blair. “I'll see you ladies in the morning.” Then he pivoted and headed towards the nurse's station. Jo and Blair turned and fixed their gazes on Olivia who bore them stoically.


“What?” she asked after an awkward silence, knowing full well what. Blair laid her hand on Jo's arm and without another word left them alone. Liv arched an eyebrow. “What was that all about?”


“Are you sure about this, Liv? You don't have to stay here.”


“Yeah, I do. I can't do anything else, but I can do this.”


“You're gonna have to face her eventually.”


“Been there, done that,” Olivia muttered.


“Maybe,” Jo conceded. “But sooner or later you're gonna have to be honest about it - with yourself and her. Do you have what you need to stay overnight?” continuing before Olivia could argue either point. “Or do I need to bring you some stuff back from the hotel?”


“I've got what I need for now,” hefting her backpack. “I need to call Casey and let her know what's going on.”


“All right. You know how to reach us if anything comes up.” Liv nodded and Jo headed down the hall towards the waiting area where Blair was. Olivia watched her disappear around the corner before entering Alex's and Abbie's room.


“She going to be all right?” Blair asked Jo as they rode the elevator down to the lobby.


“Yeah. I think she will.” Then they headed out of the hospital and back to their hotel.




The room was dim, but Olivia could clearly see both Alex's and Abbie's still forms on the beds. The machine's they were hooked up to monitored them quietly with beeps and hums and made an interesting counterpoint to the otherwise silent room. She looked at them for a long moment, then pulled her cell phone from her pocket. She knew she should go downstairs, but now that she was here.... She dialed a familiar number and waited for Casey to answer.






“Hey, Olivia. What's the word?” Liv relayed the doctor's report word for word and heard Casey sigh in relief. “That sounds promising, anyway. I'm waiting on a verdict from the Bristol case and then I'll be down. The jury starts deliberations tomorrow - I'm hoping they'll be quick. My mom already has my room ready for me.”


Olivia grinned. “You ready for that?”


“Probably not, but I'll live with it. How are you?”


“Doing all right. I have to head back to Manhattan Friday to take care of some business, but I'll be here until then.”


“Good... keep your fingers crossed I'll be there sooner instead of later.”


Liv chuckled. “You've got it bad, Novak.”


“And you don't? Gotta run. I've got a few more things to wrap up before I can leave regardless of when the jury comes back. Thanks for the call though.”


“Night Casey.


“Later, Olivia.”


Olivia turned her attention back to the two women in the room, forcing Casey's question from her mind. Some things just didn't bear thinking about.


She talked to them a while - together as well as separately, confident Alex would never remember her presence there. Then she decided to draw a bit, explaining what she was working on while she drew as if they could comment. She got up and paced and talked some more - always about impersonal things... or things she could share with both of them. And so the night went - bouts of silence in between conversations.


As the sun peeked over the horizon, Liv stood looking out the window. The night nurse came in to check their vitals one more time before shift change. She exchanged smiles with Olivia.


“You did a good thing here, Detective. It'll make a difference - you'll see.”


“You think so?”


“It already has. Their vital signs are stronger.” She adjusted IV's and kept speaking. “When are your other friends due in?”


“Not this early - probably another couple hours.” The nurse nodded.


“Will we see you tonight?”


“Yeah, I think so. Can't hurt anything, right?”


“Exactly,” the nurse said with a smile. “So I'll see you tonight. Have a good day, Detective.”


“You too.” Then Liv was left alone until Blair arrived two hours later.


“Go get some sleep, Olivia,” Blair instructed. “Geraldine is waiting at the hotel to make sure you get some breakfast and Jo is already at the police station. She promised to let you know if anything develops.”


“Maybe I should....”


“Maybe you should just go get some sleep,” with a look that would have melted steel. Liv held her look for a moment before shrugging, implicitly acknowledging her need for rest.


“Jo doesn't get away with much with you, does she?” Blair just grinned.




Olivia dropped her backpack just inside the door of her room and stepped towards the bed. A knock on her door reminded her of Blair's words and she opened it to find Geraldine standing on the other side with a tray in her hands. She arched an eyebrow in Olivia's direction and Liv smiled shyly as she opened the door wide to allow Geraldine to cross into her room.


“Ms Warner asked me to make sure you got something to eat... and to make sure you actually ate it.”


“She didn't trust me?”


“I believe she was concerned you would be too tired to eat.” She watched Olivia surreptitiously rub her eyes. “I think she was right to be worried. Come... sit down and eat while it's hot.”


“Why are you doing this? I mean, I know Blair asked you to, but you don't owe her or me anything,” Liv said as she slumped into a chair and took the coffee cup Gerry offered her. She inhaled the aroma greedily before take a large sip. “God, that's wonderful,” she commented, garnering a big smile from Geraldine.


“Thank you,” Gerry said. “I had to push a few people out of the way to make that. Glad that it's appreciated.”


Liv took a little larger swallow. “You don't know how much.” Then they fell silent while Olivia methodically decimated the food Geraldine had prepared. Gerry refilled Liv's cup and poured one for herself and sat back. When Olivia's eating slowed significantly, she cleared her throat.


“May I ask you a question, Olivia?” She waited for the nod, noting the wary expression that glanced out at her from dark eyes. “Why are you here?” Liv blinked, not having expected such forthrightness. Geraldine watched the myriad of emotions play over Olivia's face and she patted the arm the held the coffee frozen halfway to her lips. “You don't need to answer me, Detective. But I won't have you playing with Alexandra's affections. So if you're not here because you've decided to acknowledge what you truly feel for her, then you need leave before she wakes up.”


“You think I would hurt her?”


“I think you already have, Olivia. Perhaps not maliciously,” giving the detective the benefit of the doubt, “but you did hurt her with your rejection, nevertheless.”


“What was I supposed to do??” leaning forward and capturing Geraldine's eyes with the intensity in her own. “She all but destroyed me when she left - not once... not twice... but three times. Do you know what it feels like to have someone who was becoming vital to you despite everything yanked out of your life? Alive but unattainable? To have them come back and tell you they've moved on? To have her come home to stay and completely ignore your existence?? Like your friendship was meaningless???”


Geraldine gaped at Olivia, having never heard such passion from the detective before. Suddenly she understood so much more and in many ways she couldn't fault Olivia for her attitude. She had obviously suffered a great deal in silence and Gerry had to wonder what other hidden depths remained untouched because Detective Olivia Benson refused to allow anyone access to the deepest parts of herself.


“You love her,” she stated with conviction in her tone. “Despite everything you still love her.” She watched the mask come down and settle firmly over Liv's expressive features, shutting out everything but the exhaustion she couldn't manage to hide. Gerry reached out and covered Liv's hand, feeling the flinch but refusing to remove the touch. “I'm sorry, Olivia – it's really not my place. I just didn't realize....” She cleared her throat. “Come,” rising and beckoning Olivia to do the same. “You go get ready for bed and I'll pull down the covers.”


“You planning to tuck me in?” Liv asked, all the fire drained out of her.


“I think you could probably do with a bit of pampering. Now go on... I'll be here when you get back.” And strangely, that thought comforted Olivia and she headed into the bathroom to get ready for bed.


“I haven't had someone tuck me into bed since I was a very small girl,” Liv commented drowsily as Geraldine pulled the covers up to her chin.


“I'm glad I could do it then,” Gerry commented as she brushed a lock of hair from Liv's face. “Now get some rest, Olivia. I'll wake you in time to make your appointment.”


But Olivia didn't hear her. She was already sound asleep.




“Liv... hey, Liv... wake up?”


Olivia's eyes snapped awake and she stared at Jo completely disoriented for a long moment before sitting up and trying to blink her eyes awake. “Jo? What is it? Has some thing happened...?” not sure the best way to finish her question. A glance at the clock showed she had been asleep for a little more than four hours and she yawned widely, trying to get her bearings.


“Yeah, but not the way you think,” Jo added quickly seeing the panic well up in Liv's eyes before she could get a handle on it. “We caught the gang members who assaulted Alex and Abbie. Seems the sheriff's department got an anonymous tip on where to find them - apparently they've been on both the DEA's and the ATF's radar for a while now. I thought you might like to be in the box when they get questioned.”


“You know damn well I would. Give me five minutes to take a shower to wake up and another five to get dressed.”


“Do what you need to. The Lieutenant said he'd wait for us. I told him you sat with them last night.”


Liv was already in the bathroom with the water running. The day was definitely starting out with a bang.




“So why'd ya do it?” Jo asked the perp sitting across the table from her. She crossed her arms over her chest and looked at the tattooed punk glaring at her. She leaned down into his personal space. “Don't even bother, asswipe. I have worse than you for breakfast.”


He leered at her and grabbed at his crotch. “I gots ya breakfast right here, baby.” In the box, Liv and the lieutenant flinched at the crack his head made when his face hit the table.


“Do that again and I'll remove ‘em and serve ‘em to ya raw. You got me?” The perp nodded and Jo released his ear. “Now I'm gonna ask you again - why'd ya do it?”


“Why not?? Damned dykes don't need that kinda ride. Hell, they don't needs ta be breathin'.” He saw the fury flare in her eyes again and sat back away from her as far as he could get. “Look... we jus' wanted de car.”


“Yeah, but ya didn't stop there, didja?”


“Couldn't let them abominations keep walkin' around decent peoples now, could we? We done a civic service. Damn Marines kept us from finishing the job. Them dykes needed to learn their place.”


“Your civic service is gonna cost you some serious jail time. You really should learn how to read - the article that went with the picture? It woulda told you that the two women you attacked are respected members of the bar - one with the US Attorney's office here in DC and one with the DA's office in Manhattan .” Jo grinned maliciously as she watched the blood drain from the punk's face. “Sucks to be you, huh?”


The lieutenant turned to Olivia. “She always this intense?”


Liv smirked. “Pretty much, yeah. And this is personal.”


“Glad you're on our side,” he commented to Jo as she entered the box.


“He's writing out a statement now. I think we can make them all turn on each other.” Liv looked at her watch.


“I've got an appointment. Keep me informed?”


“You need a ride?” reminding Liv that they'd ridden in together.


“Shit,” Olivia muttered. “Yeah... you mind?”


“Go on,” the lieutenant nodded them out of the box. “We've got this, and I'll keep you advised of any progress we make, though after that interrogation, I'm thinking it won't be too difficult to get confessions out of the rest of them.”


“Thanks Eli.” Jo and Liv exchanged a glance, then headed out of the station house. It was time to meet the press.




Sam McPherson sat at an outdoor table at the Paradise Cafe. It was a popular spot with her colleagues, though she'd never taken the time to eat there. As an intern and lowest man on the totem pole at the Times, she rarely had the luxury of time and money together. The only reason she was here now was because she'd been directed by her boss and given a company credit card. Apparently her story had pissed off some fairly high level people and now it was up to her to smooth ruffled feathers.


Damn, I wish Brooke was here, thinking of her law school girlfriend. She'd laugh at me for getting myself into this mess, but she'd make sure.... Her thinking was brought to a sudden halt as two striking dark-haired women stopped at the hostess stand before being directed her way.


Sam rose from her chair and waited for them to approach her. “Sam McPherson?” the green eyed detective asked, offering her hand.


“Yes... Detective Benson?”


“No. I'm Detective Jo Polniaczek. This is Detective Olivia Benson.” Sam shook hands with both of them and offered them a seat.


“What can I do for you, Detectives? All I was told was that I was to meet a Detective Benson for lunch because of the Embassy story I wrote.”


Jo and Liv exchanged glances that clearly showed their disdain for bureaucracy. Then Liv focused her attention on Sam. “How did a kid like you manage to cause a mess like this?” Sam's eyes grew stormy in anger, but she held her tongue, not eager to argue with this woman before she had the whole story. She didn't think her editor would appreciate a public argument with a police detective about this, no matter their jurisdiction, and despite the words, Olivia's tone was not condescending, merely exhausted.


“I'm not sure what you mean, Detective. I'm just a lowly intern - I got stuck with the Embassy gig because no one else wanted it.”


“Who took the picture?”


The waitress chose that moment to come over and take their order. “It was Emily Masters,” Sam replied after the woman left. “She's fairly new at the Times as well. Look,” she continued impatiently, “can I ask what this is all about? All I did was my job.”


“Your job got a couple of prominent female attorneys assaulted pretty good. Some punk gang saw that picture of them together and decided to rid the world of a couple worthless dykes.” Olivia didn't raise her voice, but the fierceness of her eyes drove the point home thoroughly. Sam's eyes widened.


“I didn't... I had no idea. Are they... will they be all right?”


“They're recovering,” Jo broke in calmly. Sam nodded, her mind working feverishly.


“Let me talk to my editor. I can't fix what happened, but I should be able to turn this into something positive.”


“Your editor issued a statement.”


Sam blinked, then shook her head. “That's not what I meant.” Her gaze went inward for a moment. “Let me think about this and talk to my editor. I can't do anything about what happened but I might be able to make it count for something.” She looked up as their waitress returned with their drinks and was surprised by the animosity shining out of Olivia's dark eyes. “Detective?”


“Whose benefit...?” She sat back when Jo called her name softly, then scrubbed her hand through her hair. “Sorry,” she muttered, taking a long moment before meeting Sam's eyes. “Journalists don't set well with me.”


“Someone screwed you or a case by using you as an illicit source?” Sam asked intuitively. “Detective Benson, let me assure you that I would never betray the trust put in me by a member of the bar or law enforcement. Even if my personal integrity would allow it, my Harvard Law School girlfriend would never speak to me again if I did. When she hears that this story caused two well-known female prosecuting attorneys to become victims of a hate crime, the first thing she's going to want to know is what I'm doing to rectify the situation.”


“Sounds like a tough girlfriend,” Jo commented with a smile.


“Sounds like several women we know, actually,” Olivia said with a small smirk. Jo laughed.


“True.” She looked at Sam. “Let us know if you need any help. We've got the gang bangers who did it in custody and the doc is supposed to wake Alex and Abbie up tomorrow.”


“I appreciate it.” The waitress set their food in front of them and for a few minutes they were quiet as they ate. When the first pangs of hunger were settled, Sam wiped her mouth. “I'll make sure you get a copy of the story before my editor does... fair enough?”


“Fair enough,” Liv nodded.


“So can I ask some questions? Everything stays between us until or unless you release the information and I won't name either of you.” Jo and Liv traded stares then tacitly agreed. Sam whipped out her ever present notebook and they started to work.




Liv was glad the doctor was keeping Alex and Abbie unconscious when she got to the hospital later that evening. Her time with Sam McPherson had been reassuring in a way she hadn't expected it to be. Despite Sam's status as a reporter, Olivia had a good feeling about her - more than she ever had about Kurt Moss or Nick Ganzer, even before she'd found out they were reporters. She was looking forward to meeting the law school girlfriend. She had the distinct feeling that despite their obvious youth, Sam and Brooke would make good friends. And she knew Jo felt the same.


Now she walked into the hospital room, greeting Jo and Blair quietly. “How are they?” she asked.


“Better,” Blair replied. “The doctor believes they will definitely be ready to wake up in the morning, despite the pain they will be in. If things go well, we should be able to take them home for the weekend... Monday at the latest.”


Olivia nodded. “I talked to Casey earlier. The jury is still in deliberations, but she's hoping that they come back with a verdict tomorrow. She said as soon as they do, she'll be down. She's gonna be staying with her parents.”


“What about you, Liv? You still have another week's suspension.”


“Yeah, but I have to be in Manhattan Friday. So I'm gonna take off out of here Thursday morning.”


“Can I get a ride?” Jo asked. “Blair can stay a little longer, but I need to get back to work.”


“You sure?”


“Yeah... we're not happy about being separated, but it's necessary. I have to be in Manhattan to do my job while Blair can bring hers with her if need be.”


“Besides, I'm only going to stay long enough to see them safely settled at Abbie's with Geraldine. We can come back on the weekends. But I don't think that hovering is going to help them recover and too many of us here will seem that way.”


“Sure,” Liv agreed. “That's probably a good idea, actually. Then I can get a short nap before I need to drive.”


“All right... you got everything you need before we leave?”


Olivia hefted her backpack. “Yep.” Jo and Blair nodded and headed out.


The night passed slowly with Olivia reading and talking to them in turn. She spent a little time drawing, but not as much as she had the night before... not now that she understood the significance of her interaction with them.


When morning came, the night nurse came in and brought Liv a cup of real coffee which she accepted with something akin to relief. “How'd you know?” she asked as she took her first satisfying sip. The nurse smiled.


“We've all been there, honey. Most patients don't have someone that is willing to do this for them and we try to take care of those that do. Will you be in tonight as well?”


Olivia nodded. “Yes, then I have to head back to Manhattan . Duty calls,” not willing to go into what duty that was.


“Shame that, but I know your being here has made a difference to them. I hope things work out. I'll make sure Jeannie knows about you when she comes on tonight. I'm off for the next few days.”


“Thanks for your help,” Liv said graciously. “And for the coffee.”


The nurse nodded. “Anytime, honey. Good luck.”


The nurse departed and Olivia was left alone until Blair arrived some time later. “Good morning, Olivia. How was your night?”


“Productive, I think,” Liv replied. “The nurses believe it helped.” She shrugged. “Guess we'll see.”


“I think it did too,” Blair said, patting her arm. “Now, Geraldine is waiting for you. Do you want me to call you when the doctor wakes them... let you know how they're doing?” Olivia hesitated long enough for Blair to notice. “Nevermind... you need the rest,” noting the exhaustion in Liv's eyes. “I'll let Jo know and she can give you a report when you wake up.”


“Where's Jo?” Liv asked as she picked up her backpack. Blair rolled her eyes and shook her head with a smile.


“At the police station. She wants to make sure everything is wrapped up nicely before she heads back to the City. Apparently the lieutenant is very understanding,” growling the last.


Liv wisely kept her mouth shut and shouldered her pack. “I'm gonna go get some sleep. Call me if....”


“You know I will. Go on - Geraldine is waiting. We'll be here when you get up, and with any luck, Alex and Abbie will be awake too.”


Olivia didn't answer - she simple slipped out the door and headed to the hotel.




The doctors eased Alex and Abbie from their comas and almost immediately they fell into a deep, healing natural sleep.


“It's not surprising,” Dr. Yasmin assured Blair. “They still have a bit of healing to do and it's going to take a lot of their body's effort to do it. They're going to need sleep.”


“Will they be awake at all?”


“Oh yes - for longer and longer periods as the days go by. But they will sleep most of the next few days. That is one reason I said it might be Monday before we release them. I want them to be awake and be assured that they are healing well and aware of things before I let them go home to recover. Even with someone to look out for them, it's not the same thing as having trained medical personnel on call if they are needed.”


“So now we wait?”


“Now we wait. But I'll be honest - I think having all of you here has made quite a difference for them.”


Blair smiled. “I'm glad. They're both good people.”


“Oh... that reminds me. Your Marine friends called and asked if they could visit once Ms Carmichael and Ms Cabot were awake. The nurse has their number at the desk. And a Sam McPherson called and asked if she could speak to them as well. She said she had spoken to the detectives...?” trailing his words off into a question. Blair nodded.


“She did. I'll take care of things. Thank you, Dr. Yasmin.”


“It's been my pleasure, Ms Warner... considering the circumstances. I'll be around to check on things throughout the day and the nurses have instructions to notify me as soon as they are awake. So I will be seeing you later.”


“I hope so,” Blair replied. Then the doctor left and Blair turned her attention to her friends.




“So they've each woken up briefly on their own a couple times already,” Blair explained to Olivia when she arrived for her night shift duties. “But it hasn't lasted very long and the doctor expects them to sleep most of the next couple days as well. The nurses will be in to wake them up every few hours.” She rolled her eyes in Liv's direction, watching the wry smile flit over Liv's face. “You know how it is.”


“Unfortunately, yes,” thinking of the few times she'd been stuck in a hospital bed overnight.


“Just keep doing whatever it is you've been doing. The doctor seems pleased with their progress and is contributing at least part of it to us.”


“Casey's headed down. She called about half an hour ago. She got her guilty verdict and left straight from the courthouse. If she comes here, I'm just gonna direct her to the hotel tonight. You can figure everything else out tomorrow.”


“Yeah... send her on. One of us will let her into your room. Hey, you want me to wait at the hotel for you or hitch a ride with Blair in the morning?” Jo asked, speaking for the first time.


“Wait - I'd like a shower. And Geraldine makes a kick ass breakfast.”


“True. At least we can head back knowing the gang bangers are all in jail now.”


“Hope they stay there.”


“They will. Too many mucky mucks are interested in this case now. Have a good night, Liv.”


“Night guys.”


Olivia set her stuff down, then crossed to Abbie's bed first, noting thankfully that she was asleep. “Damn, Carmichael ,” she whispered. “Didn't anyone teach you how to duck and cover?” She pushed a lock of dark hair off Abbie's forehead. “They caught the little punks that did this to you and I've heard your boss will be sitting second chair to the Richmond DA to ensure the jury knows just how serious this case is. I didn't get to kick any ass this time, but Jo knocked a few heads together. Oh... and make sure you give Sam a chance when she comes to talk to you, all right? She seems like a good kid and she'd got a Harvard law school girlfriend.”


“Do wha' I c'n,” Abbie murmured as her eyes briefly flittered open. “Damn I hurt.”


Liv leaned forward and kissed her forehead, the motion forcing Abbie's eyes closed instinctively. “I bet. You took quite a beating. Go back to sleep, Carmichael . I'll be keeping watch all night.”


“Feel bett'r aw-ready,” the last word dropping off as her breathing deepened in sleep.


Olivia watched her for a moment longer and she cupped Abbie's face tenderly before pulling the cover up over her more securely and moving away from the bed. She looked at Alex and sighed, then crossed to sit on the edge of her bed.


For long moments Liv sat there, looking at Alex Cabot, reliving the feelings she'd once felt on a New York City sidewalk as she'd tried to keep Alex from bleeding out in front of her. She took a deep shuddering breath, looking down at her hands and seeing them covered in blood once more. A tentative touch made her look up into clear blue eyes and she squeezed her brown eyes closed for a moment before forcing herself to meet Alex's gaze.


“You came,” Alex said with wonderment.


“I wouldn't for all the world have had something like this happen to you, Alex... not to either of you. I'm sorry.”


“I'm not... you came. Despite everything you said, despite everything I did... you came.”


“Alex....” shaking her dark head warningly, not wanting Alex to read more into the gesture than Olivia was able to give.


Blue eyes fluttered as exhaustion and discomfort caught up with Alex once more. The clarity she'd been granted from the adrenaline rush of finding Olivia sitting beside her faded and she closed her eyes against her own volition. The hand that still covered Olivia's clasped hands twitched slightly. “Stay,” she whispered even as her breathing evened out and deepened in sleep once more.


Liv closed her eyes in resignation and held on until she heard a light tapping at the door. Then she eased her hand from Alex's grip and went to find Casey standing in the hallway. She beckoned her in, only then realizing how long she'd been sitting with Alex, holding her hand.


“How are they?” Casey asked quietly, looking closely but not approaching either bed.


“Better. They've both woken up on their own a few times and the nurse is due in shortly to do that whole check-up routine they are famous for when you're trying to sleep in a hospital. Blair said for me to send you to the hotel tonight so you can get some rest. It's close. Tomorrow you guys can figure out what's going on - Jo and I are headed back to Manhattan in the morning and I think Blair is going to return as soon as she can get them and Geraldine settled in Abbie's place for now.”


“Makes sense. I've got leave for as long as I need it, but I don't want to get in the way.”


“That's what Blair figured - said they'd come down on weekends, although I don't think that'll last long either.”


“You don't think they'll keep it up?”

“I don't think Abbie will let them. She doesn't do invalid very well.”


“I can't imagine Alex does either,” noting the look of despair that passed through Olivia's eyes. “So tell me where I'm headed so I can get out of your hair. That way I can come back in the morning and see them when they're awake.”


Liv gave Casey the directions she needed, then watched as Casey casually crossed to the beds and dusted a kiss across each woman's cheek before taking her leave. Then the nurse came in to wake them and Olivia stepped from the room until she was done.




By the time Blair and Casey arrived the following morning, Liv was exhausted and glad for the excuse to leave. The other two women watched her flee before turning to one another.


“She's got it bad,” Blair commented sotto voce so only Casey could hear her words.


“Oh yeah... I just hope she figures it out soon.”


“Oh honey... she knows. Denial ain't just a river.”


“I know. But what a cluster this could wind up being before all is said and done if she doesn't move out of Egypt soon.”


Blair chuckled, causing Casey to join her. “I can see we're going to be friends, Casey Novak.”


“I'd like that, Blair. Now should we go sit with our other friends? See if we can encourage them to get out of this place sooner rather than later.”


“Definitely an idea I can get behind,” Blair agreed and they headed into the hospital room side by side.




The guys cheered when Liv walked into the precinct and she took a bow before Cragen stepped out of his office and waved them all back to work. He beckoned Olivia into his office and she clapped Elliot on the shoulder before she followed the captain into his office and closed the door. He motioned her to a seat.


“What brings you to the one-six, Detective? You still have another week's suspension.”


“I'm just back from Virginia - thought the guys might be interested in a report on Alex and Abbie.”


“Besides, you've missed being here,” Cragen stated without inflection. Liv ducked her head and shrugged, peering up at him from beneath dark lashes. “So how are the illustrious counselors?” he asked.


“Better... I spoke to them both briefly last night. And the doctor is hoping to release them from the hospital by Monday at the latest.”


Cragen nodded. “Go share your news, but don't keep them too long. Technically, you're not even supposed to be here.”


“Thanks, Cap.”




“So you left Alex and Abbie in the hospital to come back to Manhattan for a date with a newspaper guy?” Elliot asked around his bite of hotdog. Liv had shared her news, then Stabler had invited her to lunch. Now they stood on a street corner chowing down on dirty water dogs and soda. His words made Liv choke, and he grinned before slapping her on the back.


“What makes you say that?” she asked when she'd recovered enough breath to speak.


Elliot rolled his eyes at her before shaking his head. “Hello... earth to Benson. Detective here, remember? You think you've been fooling any of us? You met Kurt Moss at a charity event some months ago and went on several dates before he told you he was an editor for the New York Ledger. You broke things off with him, but still keep in touch for whatever insane reason, although the recent IAB investigation really curtailed that, especially after he refused to name his source. You have a date with him somewhere nice tomorrow night. How'm I doing so far?”


“You suck,” she grumbled. Then she looked at him from the corner of her eye. “How'd you know?”


Stabler laughed. “It wasn't hard - Kath and I were at the same charity event, remember? I had his name and number the next day.”


“And the rest?”


“De-tec-tive,” he enunciated slowly with a grin. “Why would I tell you? I've got an edge here partner - what's it worth to ya?”


Now Olivia glared at him. “I hate you so much.”


Elliot laughed again and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “That's okay... we love you anyway.” She yawned and leaned her head against his shoulder briefly. “Rough night?” he asked when she straightened.


She shrugged. “Rough week.”


“Did you talk to her?”




“Liiiiiiiiiiiv... C'mon, Liv, whaddya got to lose? You know how she feels - she *told* you.”


“And I turned her down, Elliot... hard. I can't just change my mind because she got hurt. That's just too romance novel cheesy.”


“Who said anything about changing your mind, Liv? Just be honest with her - she'll understand. The two of you always understood... even when you were fighting.” He snorted. “Especially when you were fighting.”


“What's that supposed to mean?”


He shook his head. She was being deliberately obtuse and when Olivia Benson got stubborn about something there was simply no talking to her. “Hey,” he said, changing the subject. “Are you staying in town after this date or you going back to that lovely cabin retreat?”


“I've gotta go back to pick up the rest of my stuff, but I don't have to stay there. Why?”


He frowned. “Kathy's been having some Braxton-Hicks contractions the last couple days. I was wondering if you'd mind keeping an eye on her. I'd feel better....”


“Sure,” Liv agreed. “Does she know?”


“About the contractions?” ducking her swipe at his head. “Actually, she's the one who brought it up. She thinks it may be for real sooner rather than later, and after four kids, I trust her instincts about this stuff. We'd both feel better if you were close by and since you could get to her on a moment's notice faster than I could this next week....”


“I can do that,” Olivia agreed, yawning again. “No problem. But first I need a nap. She has my numbers, right?”


“Yeah... thanks, Liv.”


“Just remember you owe me, partner,” she said with a smile and a wave as she turned her steps towards home.








“Hey, Olivia... what's up? Why aren't you sleeping?”


“I took a nap - I can sleep tonight. How're things there?”


Casey exchanged a look with Blair whose brow went up in question. She smiled and shook her head, holding up her hand. “Things are fine. Abbie and Alex have both been awake for several hours and they actually ate... well, I wouldn't call it real food, but it was more than IV fluid at least.”


“Good.” Silence.


“Anything else?”


“What? Oh... no. I guess not. I just wanted to see how things were. Any word on when they'll be able to leave the hospital?”


“Well, the doctor's pleased, but a lot depends on how they're feeling tomorrow.”


“I wanna go home,” Abbie whined in the background. “Benson, come back and spring me.”


Liv chuckled and Casey laughed in sympathy. “You want to talk to... anyone?


“No, I'm good. I need to go - things to do. I just wanted to check on... everyone.”


“We're fine.”


“Good, good. All right, let me go so I can take care of a few things. Kathy's been having false labor and El's asked me to keep an eye on her in case they become the real thing. Call me if anything changes... or... anything.”


“I can do that. And keep me posted on Kathy.”


“Will do. Bye, Casey.”


Casey closed up her phone and Blair looked at her expectantly. Casey just shrugged and Blair sighed. They looked at Alex whose eyes remained closed and wondered how much she'd heard. Surely something had to give between the two of them soon.




“You look lovely, my dear,” Kurt Moss said in greeting as Olivia approached him. She held out her hand and he accepted it, attempting to pull her closer until she clenched her hand tight enough to make him wince in reaction. “Well then,” he continued after recovering his aching hand. “Shall we go in?”


The door opened magically and Olivia preceded him into the restaurant. The maitre'd escorted them to one of the back tables - not the worst in the restaurant, but certainly not the best either. Moss waited until Olivia was seated, then pulled out his own chair and sat down.


“This is nice,” he commented, placing his napkin in his lap. Olivia looked around casually and nodded. “So was the discussion with the reporter helpful?”


“Yeah, it was... thanks.”


She didn't add any more and Kurt felt compelled to break the silence once again. “John Taggert is an old college buddy. He's the reason I was able to get you a chance to talk to the McPherson girl.”


“Please convey my thanks to him then. She's a lovely young woman... very bright.” Silence fell again as they perused their menus. The waiter approached and they ordered, Moss including a very expensive wine without consulting Liv's taste. When the waiter left, it was quiet again and Moss cleared his throat uncomfortably.


“This is a little awkward,” he said as the silence lengthened. “I expected some sort of conversation... some participation on your part. I didn't think I was going to have to carry the entire evening on my own.”


“All right. What would you like to talk about?” Liv asked with a tilt of her head. He looked at her askance and she sighed. “Kurt... I warned you when you set this up that it was strictly business for me now - a payback for your help in getting me a chance to talk to Sam McPherson.”


“What happened to us, Olivia? When we met, it was so different - I thought we were at the start of something wonderful. Does my being a newspaper man bother you that much?”


“Frankly, yes,” Liv replied immediately. “You're the enemy. I've been burned by your kind before.”




“Let me finish, please,” waiting for him to nod his head. “You didn't tell IAB I *wasn't* your source until you were pushed into it. I could have lost my job over it, Kurt – do you understand what that would've done to me??” She took a deep breath to calm her nerves and her fraying temper. “Even if we could manage to build a friendship around the fact that I'm a police detective and you're a journalist, the fact remains that's all there could ever be between us. But you kept pushing for more.” She glared at him. “I don't like to be pushed by anyone.”


“There's someone else,” he said flatly. She gazed at him a long moment before nodding, her eyes never leaving his. “Even then?” She nodded again. “Then why...?” motioning between them.


The waiter interrupted, placing their first course in front of them and pouring the wine for Moss to approve. When he did so, he filled their glasses and moved away discretely.


“Honestly, I thought there was no chance for me and....” She trailed off and sighed. “Besides, you were interesting, and I appreciated having someone see me as something more than an SVU detective. For the first time in a long time I was just a woman.”


“The man in your life doesn't see you as a woman?”


“It's complicated.”


“Apparently,” he said with a snort. “Look, Olivia... I'd like for us to be friends. I'm just not sure I could settle for that. I like you. I'd like to like you a little more personally. And obviously this guy you have a thing for doesn't appreciate you. I would love the opportunity to appreciate you.”


“I'm sorry, Kurt,” Liv said with finality as she rose. He scrambled to his feet. “I can't give you what you want. Thank you for dinner, but I think I should go.”


“He really means that much to you.”


“There's never been anyone else. Goodbye, Kurt.”


He watched Olivia thread her way through the tables to the door. Only then did he resume his seat and take a gulp of his wine. He debated pursuing her, then shrugged. She was a beautiful woman, kind and caring, but there was definitely something off-putting about her and had been since the moment he'd met her. Maybe it was time for Kurt Moss to look into other options.






“Olivia, this is Geraldine Bernard.” Liv pulled her phone from her ear and looked at it askance before replacing it to catch the tail-end of Gerry's words. “... number from Ms Novak. Lovely young woman, by the way,” she added in a gossipy tone. “I think she and Ms Carmichael are an interesting pair.”


“They're something all right,” Liv agreed in a dry tone. “What can I do for you, Gerry?”


“Well, I was wondering,” she paused, her embarrassment clear even through the phone. “I wouldn't normally do this - I've never done anything like this before. I mean, it's not my place, and I know my place, Olivia. I would never presume... if it wasn't for Alexandra, I mean. I mean, I would never....”


“Gerry,” Liv broke in exasperatedly. “Whatever it is, just say it.”


“Oh... well... see the thing is, Ms Carmichael's mother arrived today. A lovely woman, and any other time and under any other circumstances I think it could prove great fun, you know. But the fact is, her presence here is making things awkward for everyone... especially Alexandra.”


Olivia's brow furrowed. “In what way? Emma Carmichael is a formidable woman, but she was charming and hospitable to a fault. At least when I met her - I can't imagine she'd changed that drastically.”


“Well, let me put it this way - at the moment, she is blaming Alexandra for the situation she and Ms Carmichael are in and she believes that Alex is toying with Ms Carmichael's affections. Not that she has said any of this to Ms Carmichael as of yet, but she did make it clear to Alexandra that she feels Alexandra is solely to blame.”


Liv pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes. “What did Alex do?”


“Did you know you can yell at someone without raising your voice above a whisper?” Gerry asked. “I believe the terminology is - she ripped her a new one,” studiously ignoring the snort that followed her declaration. “Now you can see why we are in a quandary here however. I cannot allow Alexandra to remain in such a hostile environment. She doesn't need the stress of dealing with all this while she is trying to recover.”


“So whaddya want me to do?”


Geraldine cleared her throat awkwardly. “Do you think you could ask your friend Ms Warner for the use of her private jet to transport us back to the lodge? I can't reach Judge Harriman and I believe it's imperative that we leave here as soon as possible.”


“Let me call her. I'll call you right back.”


“All right.”


“Where are you?”


“We're still at the hospital. The doctor is coming in after lunch to release them both. I'd like to have a way home by then.”


“Give me a few,” Liv said and cut the connection. A quick call to Blair got her what she needed, including Blair's assurance that she would be on the plane to ensure things were taken care of quickly. We take care of our own she promised Liv and Olivia let it go, not sure which ‘own' Blair was referring to. Then she decided it didn't really matter as long as things were taken care of. Another quick call to Geraldine and everything was set to bring Alex Cabot back from Virginia .


With a sigh, Olivia closed her eyes and leaned back against the window ledge she was sitting on, listening to the sounds of the City around her. It was so different from what the Warner lodge had been, but in its own way, it was peaceful and soothing. It was home.




It was just lunchtime when Blair knocked on the door of an already crowded hospital room. Casey opened the door with a sense of relief and beckoned her in. Emma cocked her head and looked at the newcomer curiously, but Blair merely gave the woman a nod of her head and crossed to Alex's bedside.


“Hey, Princess... how're you doing?”


“My head is killing me. I just want to go home.”


“Well, I can give you a lift back to the lodge. Would that suit you?”


“Perfectly,” Alex confessed. “When can we leave?”


Blair grinned. “As soon as the paperwork is signed.”


“How did you know?”


“The eyes and ears of the sisterhood are long and far reaching,” Blair said mysteriously. “Olivia called me,” she added when Alex gave her a look.




“May I ask who you are?” Emma Carmichael's voice cut into their conversation. “I don't believe we've met.”


“Mama!” Abbie whined and Casey covered her lips to hide the smile that wanted to make an appearance at the sound. Blair turned around neatly on one heel and extended her hand.


“I am Blair Warner of the Park Avenue Warners, and you are...?”


“Emma Carmichael,” returning the grip firmly. “How do you fit into all this?”


“I am here to take Ms Cabot home. It is believed this atmosphere is no longer ideal for her recovery.”


“Are you implying...?”


“No, I am in fact stating exactly what was said to me when I was asked to come pick her up. You made it clear that you felt she bears the responsibility for what happened. As she is unwelcome here, I am taking her home. It's best for everyone.”


“Cabot!” Abbie growled. “You know better.”


“Yes, but your mother doesn't,” Alex stated unequivocally. “You and Casey can come visit me in Connecticut when you're feeling better.”


“Abigail and Ms Novak? Why... what am I missing here?”


“Quite a bit evidently,” Blair said without inflection. “Perhaps you should discuss things with your daughter later. But for now,” motioning to the nurse who had just stepped into the crowded room, “we need to take care of the paperwork so we can spring these two.”


“All right... everyone who doesn't need to be in here to sign this paperwork needs to leave until we get it done. It's too crowded in here.” Everyone hesitated at her words and she put her hands on her hips and glowered at them. “Shoo! Move it!”


Blair patted Alex's hands even as Casey squeezed Abbie's and they took their leave without argument. Emma stood her ground until Abbie spoke. “Mama, go on. I'll be fine. The sooner we do this, the sooner we can go home. Mama... I wanna go home.”


“To Texas ?”


Abbie glared. “No, Mama... *my* home.”


Emma sighed. “I know, baby girl, but I can hope.”


Alex snickered and two sets of brown eyes turned in her direction. “Sorry... that conversation sounds familiar. Only my mother wanted me to move into the family home in Boston instead of living in the dorms or the sorority house.”


The nurse cleared her throat and Emma blushed and picked up her things. “I'll be outside, dear.” The nurse waited until the door closed before she handed each woman a sheaf of paperwork.


“You need to sign at each of the marked tabs. Do you both have someone to care for you for the next week or two?” Both women nodded. “Here are your instructions. Mostly you both need to rest and take it easy and let your bodies heal. You took some serious damage and overdoing too soon is only going to hurt you further and delay your recovery.”


“How soon can we return to work?”


“The doctor is recommending at least a month off. After that, he wants to see you again and a determination will be made about your ability to return to work then.” Abbie and Alex exchanged glances, then turned to the nurse. “I'll let you ladies look over your paperwork. Push the call button when you're ready for me again.”


“You weren't really ready to go back to the DAs office yet anyway, were you, Alex? ”


“No,” Alex replied with surprising honesty. “But I really didn't plan to spend my suspension recovering from a concussion.”


Abbie snorted then clutched at her ribs. “Don't make me laugh, Cabot. It hurts.” She breathed slowly for a minute. “You don't have to go back north, ya know. You really are welcome to stay with me.”


“I know. But I don't think your mother is prepared for that. I think she needs some time alone with you.”




“Abbbbbbieeee... you can come see me. I'll have Gerry make up your room up - we'll be waiting for you.”


Abbie sighed. “Fine... I see how much you love me.”


“How much?”


“Not as much as Casey. *She's* staying here.”


“How are things going there?”


“I dunno. We haven't had much time to talk.”

“Then it's good that I'm going home now. It'll give the two of you a chance to talk.”


“I s'pose. I'm still gonna miss you. I was having a good weekend until all this happened.”


“Me too. We'll do it again - this time without the beating and the hospital stay.”


“Sounds like a plan.”


The door opened and Emma Carmichael stuck her head in the door. “Ms Cabot? It's been brought to my attention that I owe you an apology.” She stepped into the room and cleared her throat before crossing to stand beside Alex's bed. “I jumped to an erroneous conclusion and placed the blame for this incident on your shoulders. That was wrong of me and I'm sorry. Perhaps you would consider staying...?”


“Thank you, Mrs. Carmichael. I count Abbie as one of my dearest friends. I would never have had something like this happen to her if I could have prevented it. However, I really do think I would like to go home. Not because of you, but simply so I can sleep in my own bed.”


Emma smiled. “I can relate. At some point in the future, though, I would like the opportunity to sit down and talk - get to know you and Ms Warner and Ms Novak a little better.”


“I'll plan a girls' weekend at the lodge. Gerry will be thrilled.”


Emma nodded and exited as quickly as she'd come. Abbie glanced at Alex. “You didn't have to.”


“I know. I wanted to. It'll be fun.”


“I hope so,” Abbie said. “As long as we're not all cycling at the same time,” drawing a wince and a grimace from Alex. Then they signed the last of their papers and called for the nurse. It was time to go home.




“Robert... it's Alex.”


“Alex? How lovely to hear from you. How are you? I saw that fabulous picture in the Times. And I heard about the attack - are you all right?”


“I've been better Robert, but I'm doing all right.”


“Is something wrong, Alex? Is there anything I can do?” Alex smiled into the phone. Even now, after their break-up, Robert was most solicitous. She sometimes wondered if she was being an idiot, giving up someone who obviously cared for her for someone who seemed to disdain the very thought of her existence. Then she remembered the depth of feeling she'd seen locked in those brown eyes when they'd been focused on her and the feeling of electricity that had coursed through her very being at the merest touch of their hands.


No… no matter what Olivia Benson was willing to admit that she did or did not feel for Alexandra Cabot, Robert Sheldon deserved more than Alex was able to give him. He shouldn't have to take second place to anyone.


“Everything is fine, Robert - thank you. I um... I wanted you to know I'm going to get rid of the penthouse apartment and wanted to offer to give it back to you first since you are the one that purchased it. I'd be happy to sign it over to you completely if you want.”


“May I ask why? I thought you loved that place.”


“I did,” Alex confirmed. “I'm just not sure it fits who I am now. And I haven't decided when or if I'm returning to Manhattan .”


“Developing a taste for country living?”


“Something like that.”


“I'll tell you what - I've got a friend in real estate that can get you top dollar for that place. It shouldn't take him very long to sell it. I'll have him deposit the money in your account, all right?”


“Why are you being so good to me, Robert? I was grossly unfair to you about this whole thing.”


“Nah... you were just being dishonest with yourself, honey. And I believe in karma. My being nasty to you because you were finally honest with both of us will only come back to bite me in the ass.”


“Well, I hope karma does something really spectacular for you in return.” She yawned. “I need to go. If Gerry finds out I was on the phone when I should have been resting, she's liable to take away my phone privileges for a few days.”


Robert chuckled. “Sounds like she has you well in hand. Get well soon, Alex. And I'll let you know when the apartment sells.”


“Thanks, Robert. You're a good friend.”




Blair walked into the Warner lodge late that evening. It had been a hectic day. Jo had gotten called into work at oh-dark-thirty, then Olivia's call had come shortly after breakfast. And Blair's day had been non-stop after that. The flight down to DC had been quick - it was the hospital that had been the most stressful and time-consuming past of her day. Once Emma Carmichael had been made aware of what had *actually* happened and they been able to leave, it had been mid-afternoon. The flight back had been fairly painless with Alex sleeping most of the way. Then it was simply a matter of getting her settled at home before Blair had been able to return to her own lodge for the evening.


She and Alex had talked a little - enough that Blair knew of Alex's phone call to Robert and her confusion on where to go from here.


“Don't you want to return to the DAs office? Alex, you were doing such good work there.”


“Was I? I don't think I was anymore, Blair. Not since I came back from witness protection at any rate.” She shrugged then winced at the pain the motion sent wracking through her body. “It just feels like I've been marking time... pretending to be who everyone remembers, instead of who I am now.”


“And who are you now, Alex?”


“I don't know anymore. I just... I don't know.”


Blair had brushed a lock of hair from Alex's face and eased her into a prone position on the bed. Then she'd pulled the covers up and tucked Alex in for the night. “You don't need to decide tonight, Alex, or even tomorrow. You've got time to figure it out, all right?” Alex closed her eyes and nodded. “Get some sleep. We can talk about this when you're feeling better.”


Alex smiled. “You'd be such a good mom.”


Blair grinned back. “Well, I make a pretty good step-mom according to Jamie. Goodnight, Alex.”




Blair came back from her memories as she keyed in the alarm code and closed the door behind her. She needed to call Jo and bring her up to speed, then she was going to take a long, relaxing soak in the tub. She gave a cursory glance around the downstairs area like she always did locking up when something caught her attention. She walked over to it, realizing as she approached that it was Olivia's artwork left abandoned in her haste to reach Alex and Abbie after their mugging.


Blair hesitated, knowing how strongly Liv felt about her art. She didn't want to invade the other woman's privacy, but her curiosity was overwhelming. In fairness, it wasn't like she needed to go digging for it - Olivia had left things scattered out in the open as though she expected to return before anyone could see. Blair glanced at the pictures and drawings that sat on the broad table Olivia had set up for that purpose. There were a number of recognizable landscapes done in several different techniques, as though Olivia was experimenting with what mediums and expressions worked best for her. Then she turned to look at the easel and sucked in a breath.


Staring back at her were the unmistakable blue eyes of Alex Cabot. Only Blair had never seen such an expression of love on her face before. She stared at it for long moments, wondering if Olivia's sketchbook would be even more revealing, then she shook her head.


It was one thing to look at the things that had been left out for public consumption, no matter how inadvertent the intention had been. It was a whole other issue for her to go searching and digging though Olivia's personal effects to find something. She preferred to ask.


With one final look at Alex's portrait, Blair turned and headed for the kitchen, hoping to find something that would relax the stresses of the day. Tomorrow, she would talk to Olivia. Tonight she just wanted to wind down and listen to the sound of Jo's voice.




“Olivia, it's Blair.”


“Hey, Blair... what's up?”


“Um... I'm at the lodge and I was just wondering if you wanted me to pack up your things and bring them back to Manhattan with me or if you wanted them to remain here for the duration until you can get back up here to do it yourself. I know you're staying in the City to keep an eye on your partner's wife.”


“You saw,” her inflection flat.


“Only what you left out. I would be interested in viewing the sketchbook that has the rest of the images that relate to the piece on the easel, but I would never presume to search for it. Nor would I look through it without your permission to do so.”


“If you haven't already looked, how do you know there is one?” her voice a little bitter.


“I have a step-daughter who's been an artist for as long as I've known her. I know how she works - drawing over and over until she's satisfied it will translate well when it reaches canvas.” Blair's voice was even, but Olivia could hear the hint of hurt accusation in her tone.


“I'm sorry, Blair. I didn't mean to assume malicious intent. It's just....”


“... it's a very private part of you and you feel exposed now.”


“Yeah - how'd you know?”


“Been there, done that. Olivia, I'm the only one that's seen these. Not even Jo knows. But I think Alex deserves to.”




“What? I'm just saying....”


“I'll think about it,” Liv conceded. “Could you just pack everything up and leave it in the spare room?”


“Absolutely. I'll even lock it so no one can get in until you're ready for them to.”


“Thanks.” A beat. “Blair? How is Alex... really? Geraldine sounded a little distressed when I spoke to her yesterday. And thank you for going down there, by the way. That whole situation sounded really screwed up.”


“Just a misunderstanding on the part of Emma Carmichael. Bad information coupled with worry about her daughter made her jump to some erroneous conclusions and she tried to take it out on Alex. Alex was quick to set her straight and I was happy to supply her with the actual truth of what happened.”


“Why didn't Abbie step in?”


“I don't think her mother gave her the opportunity - I've heard about how those Southern mamas are with their children and given what I saw today, I'd have to say those rumor are definitely based in fact. Sort of like New York Jewish mothers with a drawl if you can imagine that. However, since Emma is absolutely not my mother and given that I am from the City of New York and not the more genteel areas of this country, I had no compunction whatsoever about making things right.”


“So Alex is okay?” getting back to the heart of the matter.


“She is still in a bit of pain,” Blair replied honestly. “And she's going to be sore for a while longer. As you know, they both got beaten up on pretty good. But they survived and they'll heal.”


“Thanks, Blair.”


“Anytime, Olivia. I know you think I'm on Alex's side in all this, but the truth is, I'm rooting for you both.” A beep on her line made her pause and Liv recognized the number as Stabler's home phone. “Look, Blair... I need to go. I think Kathy is on the other line. Thanks for... well, just thanks.”


“You betcha! Take care, Olivia.” Then she hung up before Liv could say goodbye. Olivia shrugged and clicked to the other line.






By Wednesday morning, Olivia was ready to bunk on the Stabler's couch. Not that Kathy was demanding, but Elliot was driving her nuts. At least if they were in the same house, she could smack him when he got on her nerves. The phone rang before daylight and Olivia knew without looking who was on the other end.


“Benson,” she sighed resignedly.


“Liv, it's Elliot. Listen, I just got called to go to a scene and Kathy has a doctor's appointment this morning. Can you...?”


“What time?”


“Ten-thirty... with Dr. Ransom.”


“Sure. Tell Kathy I'll pick her up at nine. That will get us there in plenty of time and I'll even treat her to breakfast.”


“Thanks, partner. You're the best.”


“Yes, I am. Try to remember that when Christmas rolls around, will ya?”


Elliot laughed as he hung up the phone. Liv shrugged and glared at the clock wondering why he'd felt the need to wake her up so damn early. With a sigh, she got up and slipped into her running clothes, determining to make good use of her time. One plus to having been suspended - she was in better shape than she'd been in since graduating college, what with time for regular meals and exercise and real sleep.


So she took to the streets of New York in the barely dawning light of day.


Olivia was soaked to the skin when she got back to her apartment, but she felt better. A quick shower and she was on her way to Queens to pick up Kathy Stabler.




“Hey, Olivia. Come on in. Can I get you some coffee?”


“Only if you already have some ready. Don't do it just for me. I can get some at breakfast.”


“I won't be but a minute then,” motioning Liv into the family room. “I appreciate this, Olivia. I know Elliot is driving you nuts,” smiling at Liv's muffled snort. Kathy stuck her head back in the family room briefly. “I know because he's driving me nuts too. I'll be so glad when this baby is born.”


“Whaddya think - boy or girl?”


“Anxious and impatient,” Kathy answered without hesitation.


“Oh... Elliot made over,” Liv snarked.


Kathy laughed. “As long as he's healthy and doesn't hold onto anger like his father, I'll be happy.”


“So a boy, huh?”


“I think so.” Kathy took her jacket from the closet. “All right... I think I'm ready.” Liv stood and made her way to the door, waiting for Kathy to join her. Then they headed out together to get some breakfast.


Breakfast was good and conversation light and even with the wait necessitated by an unscheduled delivery, the doctor's visit went well. Despite her suspicions, Kathy wouldn't let the doctor reveal the baby's sex, but the doctor gave her a good report. By lunch time, they were leaving and Kathy waddled to the car in fine pregnant style. Liv pulled out of the parking spot and headed them back towards Queens .


“You want me to take you by the precinct... see if we can catch Elliot for lunch?”


Kathy shook her head firmly. “No... we'd end up with hot dogs and I'm just not up to hot dogs today,” she added with a shiver.


“Me either,” Liv added with a laugh. She stopped and looked both ways before easing into the next intersection.


“Let me call him - then we can find something besides hot dogs for lunch. My treat this time.”


That was the last either of them knew for a few minutes.




The car hit them on Kathy's side hard enough to spin it around and pin Kathy in. After several moments of disorientation, Liv shook her head, realizing immediately what had happened. She snatched up the ever-present walkie talkie and called in the accident, giving them terse instructions. Then she looked for a way to extract Kathy safely from the car. Sirens alerted Olivia to the approaching emergency services and she started giving a status report and directions as soon as the firemen and technicians arrived and got to work.


Liv slid into the backseat of the damaged car, carefully following the instructions as the EMT walked her through each process to help stabilize Kathy's condition. The collar was tricky - the IV even more so, but Olivia persevered and soon Kathy was somewhat conscious and the firefighters were removing the roof of the car. When the Jaws of Life finally allowed her to be extracted, Kathy was placed on a backboard and loaded into the ambulance. Liv crawled in behind her and they headed for the hospital.


Olivia had never expected to ever be a birth partner - it just wasn't in her nature or her plans for her life for that matter. Still, at the tech's direction, she sat behind Kathy and coached her as well as she could, helping her breathe and smiling when the sound of a baby's cry could be heard of the cacophony of other noise. Then she heard the shrill screech of the machines as Kathy flatlined.


Elliot's reaction at the hospital was understandable, but Olivia needed some stability after the emotional rigors of the day. The hug they shared was intense and layered – full of wistfulness and gratitude and years of love and trust and caring. When it was over, Liv left Elliot to his wife and newborn son and went out in search of companionship.


She found herself at Blair's and Jo's residence and a knock on the door garnered her immediate entrance. “Liv?” Jo queried noticing her shaken state. “Everything okay?”


Olivia nodded and wiped her eyes before any tears could actually fall. “Yeah, I'm fine. Just a little... um, rough day, and I didn't want to be alone yet. Could I invite myself to dinner?”


“Absolutely. Blair and I were just trying to decide what we wanted.”


Liv smiled. “Do you trust me?”


Jo eyed her, seeing the mischievous twinkle sparkling out of brown depths. Usually that meant fun was going to ensue almost immediately. “Sure,” she agreed amiably after a moment. “Whatcha got in mind?”


“What's who got in mind for what, sweetie?” Blair asked as she emerged from the other room. “Oh... hey, Olivia. What's up?”


“I um... I invited myself to dinner. You mind?”


“Not at all. What would you like? Jo and I were trying to decide between Chinese and Thai. ”


“Do you trust me?”


“Absolutely. What are you thinking?”


“Give me a phone and a few minutes. I promise you a meal you won't forget.”


Blair motioned to the phone in the foyer and took Jo's hand as they returned to the living room. A small fire blazed low in the fireplace and they resumed their seats on the couch. Olivia's voice was a bare murmur in the background and Blair turned to Jo with a question in her eyes.


“Is she all right?”


“I dunno,” Jo shrugged. “She looked pretty shaken up when I answered the door. I heard Stabler's kid was born today. You don't think...?”


Blair shook her head emphatically, remembering all too clearly the images she'd seen drawn by Olivia's own hand. “Something must have gone wrong - she was keeping an eye on his wife, wasn't she?”


“Guess we'll find out in a minute,” Jo added as they heard the click of a phone. Then Olivia was stepping into the living room and they welcomed her with smiles.


“So what's for dinner?” Blair asked after Olivia had taken a seat.


“Olivia Specials - you'll love them, I promise.” She checked her watch. “They should be here in half an hour or so. They've gotta travel uptown.”


“What is an Olivia Special?”


“It's the most outrageous hamburger you'll ever eat,” Jo answered with a smile. “I think every single rookie Liv trained got introduced to them at some point or another.”


“Only the ones I liked.”


“Well then I'm honored,” Blair said. “Can we offer you something to drink?”


“Um... sure. Whatever you're having is fine.” Blair held up a glass of wine and Jo held up a beer. Olivia smirked and pointed to the beer. With a grin, Jo went to the bar and pulled out another beer, twisting the top and passing the open bottle to Olivia. Liv took a generous swallow and sighed, tilting her head onto the chair back and staring into the fire with unseeing eyes. Jo and Blair exchanged glances, then Blair slipped from the room, leaving the two detectives alone.


“She didn't have to leave,” Liv commented after a few moments, rolling her head in Jo's direction.


“Maybe - you wanna tell me what's wrong?”


“Kathy Stabler gave birth today... baby boy.”


“That's great news!” A beat. “Isn't it?”


“Oh yeah... absolutely.” She scrubbed her hand through her hair and leaned forward, letting her forearms rest on her knees. “It was how he got here that was….” Liv shook her head. “May as well bring Blair back in here so I don't have to tell this more than once.” Olivia gave Jo a wry smile and Jo shook her head and chuckled before standing and leaving to fetch Blair.


When they returned, Liv gave them a blow by blow accounting of her entire day. Wide-eyed, they listened, not interrupting until she reached the end. When she was done, Jo wordlessly handed her another beer.


“Wow!” she commented after she had reseated herself next to Blair. “Helluva day.”


Liv snorted. “Master of understatement there,” dryly, drawing laughter from the two women seated across from her. A knock on the door made Jo stand and move to the foyer, leaving Blair and Olivia alone.


“You all right?”


“Yeah... we all made it to the end of the day. Thanks for letting me crash here for a little while.”


“You're always welcome, Olivia. Now, c'mon. I'm looking forward to trying these ‘Olivia Specials'.”




Blair and Olivia walked back into the living room when dinner was finished. Jo had been called away in the middle of the meal, gazing forlornly at her Special before leaving. She knew it wouldn't be the same warmed over, but when duty called, detectives went.


Olivia had stayed at the insistence of both of them and now she was settled comfortably in front of the fireplace once again. When Blair cleared her throat delicately, Olivia forced her eyes from the hypnotic flames of the fire and looked squarely at Blair. She arched an eyebrow in question.


“I'm going up to the lodge tomorrow to check on Alex. Would you like to ride with me?” The look Olivia gave her caused Blair to rush on with her explanation. “You don't have to go visit Alex, Olivia. I thought you might want to go collect your art. I put it in the guest room, but none of it is packed. It's just laying out all over the room as neatly as I could manage.”


Liv held Blair's gaze, but the brown eyes that met her own held them guilelessly. She even tried her patented ‘perp stare', but realized quickly that wasn't going to work on someone who lived with a detective and who herself spent time in the boardroom giving that same look to her own underlings.


“All right, sure. I appreciate the offer.” She put her glass on the table and scooted forward as a prelude to standing. “I better get home then. I suppose you'll want to start out early?”


“Yes, I think so. And pack an overnight bag - we'll probably stay a night or two. May as well enjoy the nice weather while it lasts.”


“Yeah,” Liv agreed with a tiny smile. “It's my last weekend of freedom.”


“Are you looking forward to going back to work?”


“In a lot of ways, yes.” She shrugged and looked a little ashamed. “It's so much a part of who I am - I just... I don't think I'm ready to give it up yet… not completely. I can't explain it.”


Blair smiled. “You don't have to, Olivia. I'm married to a detective very much like you.”


Now Liv smiled. “Yeah... I guess you are. Let me get out of here,” she said, standing. Blair rose as well and together they walked into the foyer. Liv recovered her jacket from the closet and Blair opened the outer door. “What time in the morning?”


“I'll be up by six, so whenever you can make it over after that.”


“All right. Thanks for letting me crash dinner tonight.”


“You're welcome here anytime, Olivia. Thank you for crashing - I enjoyed my ‘Olivia Special' despite its rather unusual makeup. See you in the morning?”


“Bright and early.”




“Alexandra, are you sure you need to be up and around already? You've only been home from the hospital for a couple days. I'm fairly confident the doctor didn't intend for you to be stirring around on Thursday when he released you on Monday with explicit instructions to rest.”


“Lay off, Gerry!” Alex snapped peevishly, then was immediately contrite at the expression of hurt that washed over Geraldine's features before the mask settled into place.


“Alexandra Isabelle Cabot!” Gerry didn't raise her voice, but hearing her full name issue forth from those lips forced Alex's eyes to meet Gerry's stern ones before shifting to stare at the floor in fascination.


“I'm sorry, Gerry. I'm tired of hurting and I'm tired of being stuck in bed. But that doesn't mean I should take my bad mood out on you.”

“Thank you, Alexandra. Now is there someway we can make you a little more comfortable? Would you like...?”


Alex moved slowly, easing her body down into one of the straight-backed kitchen chairs. “No more pills, please, Gerry. They make me groggy and disoriented. What I'd like is a change of scenery,” she replied honestly. “Something that doesn't involve four walls and a ceiling.”


Now Gerry smiled. “That's something I think we can manage... at least for a little while. Let's get you some breakfast first... something light. Then we can....” The ringing of the doorbell interrupted her and she frowned. “Who comes by so early without calling first?” patting Alex's shoulder and walking to the door.


Alex couldn't tell who their visitor was by the sound, but it was obviously someone welcome by the tone of Gerry's voice. Then Blair's honey-gold head appeared in the doorway and Alex grinned.




“Hey, Alex!” wrapping her arms around Alex's neck from behind and gently hugging, then brushed a kiss onto her temple. “How are you feeling?”


“Grumpy,” Alex stated with a frown and what could almost be the beginnings of a pout. Blair looked at Geraldine who nodded her agreement emphatically.


“Well, it seems like I've arrived just in time, then.” She set a bag in front of Alex and took a seat beside her. Alex drew in as deep a breath as she could manage and started smiling.


“Chocolate croissants?”


“Chocolate croissants... enough for everyone,” motioning Gerry to join them. They ate in silence for a few minutes, then Alex turned to Blair.


“What brings you here, Blair? Not that you're not welcome....”


“I wanted to come check on you,” Blair said plainly.


“You could have called.”


“Where's the fun in that? Besides, it's really difficult to send fresh croissants over the phone.”


“Fair enough. Thank you for coming. Are you just here for the day or...?”


“We'll be going back Sunday afternoon. Jo should be coming up tomorrow. Have you talked to Abbie?”


Alex started to shake her head, then thought better of it. “No... I think I've slept most of the last seventy-two hours.”


“When she wasn't moaning about four walls and a ceiling,” Gerry teased. Alex stuck out her tongue, but smiled.


“Well, in that case, let's get you outside in the sun for a while. We can call Abbie from there.”


“Best idea I've heard in a while.”


“Me too,” Gerry said wickedly as she rose from the table. “Do you girls need a hand getting settled outside?” Blair and Alex exchanged glances then Blair shook her head. “All right... you two go on ahead. I'll bring the phone and a snack in a little while. Go on now... shoo.”


The two of them looked at one another and chuckled before they stood and made their way out to sit by the pool.


“I really am glad you came, Blair,” Alex said when they were comfortably ensconced in lounge chairs around, “despite my earlier waspishness.”


“No worries, Alex. I'm glad I came too. How are you doing? Aside from the PMSing, I mean,” Blair added with a smirk and a twinkle in her eyes. “Things getting better?” Alex smiled back at her wryly.


“They are... just not as quickly as I'd like them to.”


“I think that is true for most people who have suffered any kind of injury, Alex. And given the circumstances.... You just have to give it time. You were pretty severely injured.”


“I know. It just gives me too much time to think.”




“What I want to do now. I don't think I want to go back to the DA's office anymore.”


Blair blinked, not expecting such forthrightness. “Well,” she said, clearing her throat, “Do you know what you'd like to do?”


“I think I'd like to teach.”


“Teach... really? And?” A beat. “Come on, Alex. I know you well enough to know there's more.”


“I'd like to do something for victims,” she confessed. Silence for a few minutes; Alex's countenance went grave and her eyes distant. “When I first came to the DA's office, I had all these big plans... grand ideas. I was going to use the SVU to climb my way into the DA's chair - I told Don Cragen as much my first day.”


When the silence started to drag on interminably, Blair prompted. “When did that change?”


“I don't know. It was so gradual - I watched them… I watched her with them. The victims became more than pictures and reports; they were living, breathing people. Then I became a victim.”


“So what happened? Alex, when you came home....”


“I was the same old Alex?” Alex ran a hand through her hair. “I honestly don't know... brain damage, maybe?” drawing a giggle from Blair. “I'm sure Munch would blame it on a government conspiracy - say I was replaced by a pod person or something,” her tone wry and dry. “I'd almost have to agree with him. I was so anxious to reclaim my life... I became the Ice Princess again. Nothing could touch the Ice Princess. I pushed out everything I learned at the SVU - that way I wasn't a victim anymore.”


“What changed? Alex, you made a calculated choice. You had everything that hallmarked your return from witness protection as extremely successful and you deliberately walked away from it.”


“Yeah… I had everything - a rich, successful fiancé, nice apartment, a job that put me years closer to the DA's chair....”




“I wasn't happy.”


“Simple as that?”


“Simple as that. I was existing and it occurred to me that I was wasting my life... wasting the opportunity I'd been given to have a second chance at doing things right.”


“So are you happy now?”


Alex smiled. “I'm working on it. I'm happier than I've been in a long time.”


“Even without Olivia?”


“Even without. At least I'm not living a lie now.” Gerry stepped from the house carrying a tray and their conversation shifted.




“ Carmichael residence, Casey Novak speaking.”


“Hey, Casey - it's Olivia.”


“Oh hey, Olivia. What's up?”


“Actually, I was calling to check on Abbie.”


“You want to talk to her? She's sitting right here. I was just closer to the phone and I can move faster.”


“Not my fault!” Liv heard Abbie whine in the background. She chuckled.


“Um... sure. Hey... when are you heading back to Manhattan ?”




“Ooookay. We'll talk Sunday?”


“Sounds good. Here's Abbie.” There was a shuffling sound before Abbie spoke.


“Hey, Benson.”


“Hey, Carmichael . How ya doing?”


“I've been better, but I've sure been worse.”


“Place a little crowded?” Silence. “Or can't you talk right now?”


“No... I can talk. Mama's in the kitchen and Casey went... somewhere after she handed me the phone.”




“So it's all a little weird. Mama is being... well, Mama and Casey....” Abbie fell silent again and Liv finally felt the need to prompt her.




“I'm not sure.” Olivia could hear the shrug in her voice. “She's been sweet... coming over everyday and keeping me company. It's been... nice. A little awkward, but nice.”


“Have you talked?”


“Not really... not like that.”


“Hello pot... kettle speaking.”


“Not the same thing, Abbie.”


“Sure it is, Liv. The only difference is you already know how Alex feels.”


“I hate you.”


Abbie smiled. “I know. Listen, Mama's coming, but I'd still like to talk. Can I call you later?”


“Yeah, but call the cell. I'm at the lodge until Sunday. Blair wanted to come visit Alex and I needed to pack up all my stuff that got left in my rush to get to DC last week.” She hesitated. “Talk to Casey, Abbie. She really does care about you.”


“Maybe,” she said tiredly. “You go talk to Alex and we'll compare notes later.”


“Later, Carmichael .”


“Bye, Benson.”




“Was that Olivia?” Emma asked as she set a pitcher of fresh lemonade down beside Abbie, reaching up to brush the dark hair from Abbie's forehead and checking for fever. Satisfied, she kissed the top of Abbie's head before pulling away, then took a seat close by.


“Yes, Mama. She was calling to check on me.”


“She's a good friend. I like her.” She hesitated. “I like Casey too. She seems like a lovely young woman, and she seems to care for you a great deal.”


“Maybe,” not looking at her mother, but focusing her gaze somewhere out the window.


“Abigail Elizabeth....” The address got Abbie's reluctant attention and she turned her head to face her mother. “Thank you. Now what seems to be the trouble? You don't think she cares for you, baby girl?”


“I think she cares - I just don't know if she cares enough.” Abbie shook her head and took the deepest breath she could manage. “I can't believe I'm having this conversation with my mother.”


“Then maybe you should be having it with me,” Casey said quietly from the doorway. Emma rose and patted Abbie's shoulder as she passed by. She exchanged glances with Casey and disappeared from the room. Casey pushed off the doorjamb and crossed into the room. Abbie took a deep breath and sighed. Looked like Olivia was going to get her wish after all.




“Alexandra, there's a phone call for you... a Samantha McPherson?” Gerry informed with a question in her voice as she stood in the doorway with the phone clasped to her. Alex turned her head carefully to look at Gerry before looking back at Blair.


“That's the young reporter Jo and Olivia spoke with in Washington ... the one who wrote the article on the Embassy debacle.”


“Why is she calling me?”


“Why don't you ask her? She asked Jo and Olivia for the opportunity to make things right, but I guess she didn't have time to talk to you or Abbie before you left the hospital.”


“I'm not sure she could have gotten in the door, all things considered,” Alex said with a smirk. She reached out her hand to Geraldine and waited for the phone to be placed in it. “Ms McPherson?” she said politely, nodding her head to Blair when she motioned she was going inside. “What can I do for you?”


Blair followed Gerry back into the kitchen, giving Alex privacy for her call. Her mouth watered when she smelled the scent of fresh baked cookies. Gerry smiled at the puppy dog eyes Blair was giving her and motioned her to a seat at the counter. She poured a glass of fresh milk and put two piping hot cookies onto a plate.


“You get just about anything you want with that look, don't you?” Gerry asked with a smirk. “Your detective doesn't say no to very much, does she?” Blair chuckled.


“You'd be surprised,” she confessed. “Jo is a very proud woman and I would never do anything to undermine that. It's where she gets a lot of her strength.” She shook her head and Gerry wondered what she was thinking. “Took me a long time to understand that.” Blair met Gerry's eyes. “So she never says no when I use it, but I've learned to be very particular about when it gets used.”


“Smart woman,” Gerry commented. She waited for Blair to take a bite of the rapidly cooling cookies before she asked. “So why did you follow me inside? And don't blame the cookies - you didn't know I was making them until you walked into the kitchen. I don't think it had anything to do with Alexandra's phone call either, did it?”


Blair swallowed and took a sip of milk. “You don't miss much do you?”


“Ms Warner, I've spent my entire adult life in the service of the Cabot family - lawyers and judges every one. I learned how to observe from the best. So what's on your mind?”


Blair cleared her throat. “Olivia is here with me. Now I don't know if she will venture over here or not, but I wanted you to be prepared to receive her, just in case.”


“You think she might?”


“I think her mind is losing the battle to her heart, but she got one of the strongest wills I have ever come across.”


“Much like Alexandra.” Blair nodded and took another bite. “I'll be ready, Ms Warner. I just hope you're right. Does Alexandra know?”


“No. I saw no reason to raise her hopes, especially since Olivia is determined to be stubborn about this.”


“Peas in a pod,” Gerry muttered, causing Blair to snort and subsequently choke. It was to this scene that Alex walked in on a moment later. She turned concerned blue eyes to Gerry who hastened to explain. “Cookie down the wrong hole,” was all she said, but it was enough. Alex made her way to Blair's side.


“You all right?” watching as Blair wiped the tears from her eyes and took slow breaths.


“Yes... I just need to figure out how to chew and swallow while breathing. Apparently it's a skill I have yet to master,” rolling her brown eyes dramatically. Alex chuckled.


“Keep practicing. I'm sure you'll get the knack eventually.” Blair glared and Alex laughed.


“So was I right?” motioning to the phone Alex still held in her hand.


“What? Oh... yes. She sounds like a nice young woman. She'd like to interview me and Abbie. I asked her to let me talk to Abbie and we'd get back to her with a time and place.”


“So you're going to do it?”


“I think so, yeah. It couldn't hurt and maybe it will help.”




“Other victims... people who think we should all live in a box, maybe? Maybe it will just help Sam McPherson. But it'd be nice for something good to come out of all this. Might make the headache worth it.” Neither of them noticed Geraldine leave the room.




Casey sat down on the opposite end of the couch Abbie was sitting on and turned to face her. Abbie deliberately kept her gaze on the vista just beyond the window. Casey waited, but as it became evident that Abbie was content to sit in silence, she decided to take matters into her own hands.


“Talk to me, Abbie,” her voice soft and coaxing. Casey watched Abbie carefully, noting the clenching of her jaw and the intense focus on something outside Casey's view. She saw the deep breath, but there was an extended pause before Abbie spoke.


“Why are you here, Casey?”


“Hu… what?”


“It's a simple question - why are you here?” She waited but there was no immediate answer. “It's not that I don't appreciate the company, but it's not like we really know one another either... you have no obligation to me. So why are you here?”


Casey sighed. She'd wondered when someone - probably Abbie - would get around to asking that question... because she really didn't have an answer. She turned her focus to the window Abbie continued to stare out of, hoping for some kind of divine guidance. Finally she settled for the simplest version of the truth.


“I needed to be here.”


“Why? Casey, I appreciate the concern, really, but there's no need for you to stay. Mama's got everything covered, and I'm doing all right. I know you've got a life, and it's not here.”


“That's what this is about... me having a life?” Casey rose from the couch and moved until she was kneeling beside Abbie. Abbie resolutely keep her eyes fastened out the window.


“I know you decided you were entitled to one. And you're right… you did - I think almost everyone who serves in that division comes to that conclusion eventually. Frankly I'm surprised it took you as long as it did. SVU is a tough racket... it takes a toll on everyone who works there and you've been there a long time. So I really don't blame you for wanting a life.” Abbie sighed. “But I don't want you to give that up to be here.”


“Who says I am?”


“Casey, I know you were getting into the whole dating scene. I don't want you to resent me because you felt I was keeping you from that. I'd like for us to be friends.”


“Friends? Is that all?”


“I think it's all we have a shot at,” Abbie answered honestly. “We're at different places in our lives.” Casey took Abbie's face in her hands and gently urged her to look Casey in the eye.


“Abbie... I'm here because this is where I want to be. This is where I need to be.”




“Because I care, Abbie.” She paused. “What if I want to be more than friends?”




“Abbie... can't we try?” Silence. With a sigh, Casey's hands slid from Abbie's face and she started to stand... only to stop when Abbie's hand landed on her arm.


“I would like to start as friends first. I just don't want you to be here if....” She sighed. “Casey, I don't want you to be unhappy. And I don't want you to hurt me,” she finished on a whisper.


“Abbie, there's nowhere else I want to be and no one else I'd rather be with. I won't hurt you.”


“You can't know that.”

Casey wondered who had hurt Abbie so badly in her past that despite her swaggering, flirting personality she shied away from any serious commitment. She determined to find out when she had more of Abbie's trust - first, however, she had to get Abbie to trust her.


“You're right - I can't know that for certain. But I do know I can do my very best to make sure I don't.” She paused and stood, clutching Abbie's hand. “Sorry, my knees are killing me.”


“Getting old there, young'un?”


“Trying to catch up, old woman,” Casey sassed with a smirk. “I've got a ways to go yet.” She sat down next to Abbie without releasing her hand and her expression went court room serious. “Can I tell you something?” waiting for Abbie to nod. “Getting a life nearly killed me. Suddenly everyone I knew wanted to set me up with someone they knew. I thought it would be fun and exciting. Instead it was exhausting,” smiling when Abbie chuckled. “I do want a life outside the SVU... just not the one I fell into.”


Abbie curled her legs up under her and turned to face Casey. “What kind of life do you want, Casey?”


“Something a little simpler - good friends, quiet evenings, Saturday ball games, Sunday crosswords and someone to share it with.”


“That sounds nice.”


“So... friends?”


“I'd like that.”


“And after that?”


“One day at a time, Casey.”


“That's a start. Now c'mon. I'm hungry and Emma promised me real Texas barbeque today.”


“Oh... I'm there. Nothing beats my mama's barbeque. I've missed it.”


“C'mon then, Tex ... time's awastin'.”




A knock on the door brought Olivia's attention back to her surroundings. Blair had dropped her off on her way to visit Alex and Olivia had spent her time since straightening up and packing up the belongings she'd brought with her almost a month previously. Her art lay undisturbed on the second bed and along every other flat surface Blair could find.


Now she turned her back on the room and hurried out to answer the door. “Jason?”


Jason Bernard stood there with a plate in one hand, doffing his hat with the other. Olivia opened the door wider and motioned him in. He stepped across the threshold and stopped in the foyer, extending the plate. Liv took it and gestured him further inside, but Jason shook his head.


“I need to be getting back, Detective. Gerry just sent me over with some cookies for you. Said you shouldn't have to miss out on the good stuff just because you had work to do before heading back to the City.”


Olivia smiled. “That was so sweet. Tell her thank you, would you?”


“Yes'm, I'll do that, though you're more than welcome to come tell her yourself.” He nodded his head and clapped his hat back on his head. Then he stepped back outside, closing the door before Liv could comment. She stared at the closed door for a long moment, then snitched a cookie from the plate before returning to the guest room.


She was nearly done packing up her clothes and personal effects. Even though she'd made herself at home during her stay, she wasn't naturally messy, so there really hadn't been that much to do. Mostly it had been a delaying tactic to avoid dealing with the art. Now, however, there was little left to do.


Liv looked around, noting there was nowhere to put the plate. Sighing, she traipsed to the kitchen, snagging a couple more cookies before depositing them on the counter. Then she went back to the guest room.


She started with the landscapes - photographs then art. Then she moved on to the more personal pieces. First it was the charcoal sketches of friends and family - Elliot and Kathy and the kids; Jo and Blair; Casey; Abbie; Melinda Warner and her family; Fin, Munch and Cragen. Each of them brought a smile to her face.


Olivia put them away in the sleeve carefully, then turned back to the remainder - some charcoal, some colored pencil. Alex Cabot all of them and all from memory. There were ones from court and ones from the few nights out they shared; ones from quiet moments in Alex's office and a couple from the precinct. But the one that brought a smile to Olivia's face was of the night when Alexandra Cabot had come crashing back into her life.


She was casually leaning against the doorjamb dressed in cowboy boots, a teal tank top and painted on blue jeans, glasses of justice dangling from one hand.


Heaving another big sigh, Liv put them into a separate folder, tucking all of them into the chest that housed her supplies. Then she looked at the large canvas, shaking her head. It had been an impulse purchase one day when she was out and it wouldn't fit into the chest. But the work was some of her best and she couldn't bear to see it destroyed either. Olivia decided to ask Blair if she could leave it here until she could get a crate to move it in.


Satisfied with her success, Olivia went back to the kitchen, pouring herself a glass of milk before grabbing a handful of cookies and walking outside. It was beautiful out -cool, crisp and sunny and Liv stretched out like a cat on a chaise to enjoy the sun, not even realizing when she fell asleep. This was how Blair found her several hours later upon her return.




“So did you get a lot done?” Blair asked as they were seated in the restaurant. The waiter took the drink order and moved away, leaving them in peace for a few minutes.


“I got finished, actually. Everything's packed and ready to go... except for the oil. Can I leave that until I can get a crate to ship it in?”


“Absolutely, Olivia. We have plenty of room.”


“Thanks, Blair. And thanks for letting me use the lodge. As much as it surprises me to admit this, I really enjoyed it.”


Their waiter reappeared then to bring their drinks and take their orders, but Blair picked up their conversation right where they'd left off at the interruption. “Why were you surprised, Olivia?”


Liv blinked, then blushed slightly. “Sorry... that sounded ungrateful, didn't it? I didn't mean it that way. It's just... being here is so different from what I know. The City is my home - it always has been. My idea of the great outdoors has always been time in Central Park . Having so much outdoors and being around so little humanity for this long a stretch of time has been such a different experience, and it's one I've really enjoyed being able to have.”


Blair smiled. “You're always welcome, Olivia.”


Liv tore off a piece of bread from the loaf and took a bite. “Careful, Blair... I just might take you up on that.”


“I hope you do, my friend. It's been good for you,” taking in the relaxed posture across from her. “Even with all the recent excitement.”


“Speaking of the recent excitement,” Olivia segued after the waiter set the first course in front of them, “How is Alex doing?”


“She's doing better.”




“She's doing better. If you want to know more, you should visit her.” A beat. “Olivia....” Blair shook her head. “How's Ms Carmichael?”


“What were you going to say? Cause I know it wasn't to ask about Abbie.”


“It doesn't matter. I promised I wouldn't get involved. Besides, I really would like to know how she's doing.”


“You think I should talk to Alex, don't you?” meeting Blair's eyes. Brown held brown, then Liv sighed and looked down at her plate before catching Blair's gaze again. “That's all right... I'm starting to think so too. As for Abbie,” she went on before Blair could comment. “She's doing better. She's supposed to call me.”


“Give her our best wishes. Maybe when everything settles we can get everyone together - have some fun.”


Liv smiled. “Maybe.” Then they turned their attention to the dinner the waiter placed in front of them and when conversation resumed, it moved on to other topics.






“Hmm?” Emma Carmichael looked up from her book as Casey opened the door and poked her head into the guest room. She marked her place then beckoned Casey in. “Come in, dear. What can I do for you?” noting the pensive expression Casey wore.


Casey cleared her throat and studied the floor before meeting Emma's eyes - eyes that reminded her very much of Abbie's. “Can you... do you know what caused Abbie to be so gun shy?”


Emma studied Casey carefully before motioning for her to take a seat. “I think that's something you should talk to Abbie about, Casey.”


Casey stood back up and went to the window. “I tried... sort of. She thinks I'm going to hurt her.”


“Are you?” Casey whirled from the window, green eyes sparking fire. Emma held up her hand to keep the tirade she could see from spilling out of Casey's mouth. “Casey, my daughter is a confident, cocky, arrogant woman and a kick-ass attorney. But that's a persona she wears to protect the real woman behind the mask. She doesn't have many friends... trust doesn't come easily for her.”




“Casey, if you care for my daughter the way I think you do, you're going to have to be patient with her. And you're going to have to be firm... she'll test you. Show her you're in for the long run.”




“You've made a good start.” Emma stood and took Casey's hands in hers. “Be her friend. That's the hard part. If she let's you in there, the rest should be easy. But Casey, don't hurt her. If you're not serious, please... walk away now.”


“NO. I'm here for the long haul. Abigail Elizabeth Carmichael will just have to deal with it.”


Emma smiled. “Good girl... I knew there was a reason I liked you.”


“I do need to return to New York soon though. My bosses are starting to chomp at the bit and since Abbie isn't technically family....” She trailed off. “However, I do plan to keep tabs on her. The phone is my friend and the highway runs both ways.”


“I like you, Casey Novak. I think we'll keep you... even if Abbie doesn't know it yet.”


Their laughter caused Abbie to smile in her sleep.




“Blair, do you mind if I borrow the car today?”


“Not at all,” passing Olivia the keys. “I have work I need to do before Jo gets here later. Should I ask where you're going or when you're going to be home?”


Liv grinned though the smile didn't quite reach her eyes. “I dunno... should you? I just thought I'd get outta the way for a little while - give you and Jo a little time alone together.”


“First of all, you're not in the way, all right? But if you need a little space... well, that I can certainly understand.” Blair caught the faraway look in Liv's eyes. “Go talk to her, Olivia. You're not going to find any real peace of mind until you do.”


Liv didn't say a word - she simply took the keys and leaned forward, brushing the lightest of kisses across Blair's cheek. Then she headed out the door.


She drove for a little while, enjoying the beautiful fall colors and idly wishing she'd remembered to bring her camera along. She tried to keep her mind clear, to let it wander aimlessly from thought to random thought. But like a compass drawn to the north, inevitably her thoughts always swung back to Alex.


With a frustrated sigh, Liv turned the car around. It was time for Olivia Benson to bite the bullet and face Alex Cabot.




She opened the door, trying not to draw attention to her entry. Blair needed to get her work done before Jo arrived and Liv knew she'd be in for twenty questions if Blair heard her. So she crept to her room, took care of her business and sneaked out again the way she'd come in. When the front door closed behind her, Jo and Blair stepped from the kitchen.


“You think...?” Blair commented as they listened to her car rolling down the driveway.


Jo smirked. “Uh huh. C'mon. I'm hungry,” leading Blair back into the kitchen. “I skipped lunch to get up here early. We can worry about Liv and Alex later.”


“With any luck, we won't have anything to worry about.”


“We can hope.”




Olivia rubbed the palms of her hands along the thighs of her jeans and knocked. She heard steps and blew out a deep breath, stuffing her hands in her pockets just as Geraldine opened the door. Liv affected a stance she hoped was cool and met Geraldine's eyes... or would have if Gerry hadn't been giving her the once over. She fought to keep the blush down, just succeeding when Geraldine's amused eyes met her sunglasses.


“Detective Benson?”


“Just Olivia, Gerry. Is Ms Cabot available?”


“She's in the family room, Olivia,” opening the door wider and ushering Liv inside. “Just follow the sound of the music.” Geraldine gestured in the right direction, then moved off towards the kitchen, leaving Olivia alone in the hall. For a long moment she stood absolutely still, breathing deeply to slow her heart rate. And she listened carefully, allowing the music to guide her to a room she'd not seen before.


Alex sat behind a baby grand piano, eyes closed as her hands stroked the keys with expert familiarity. Olivia chanced a look around. It was a large room - shelves of books covered the far wall and the furniture was neatly clustered to allow appreciation of both the fireplace that eclipsed most of one wall and the piano that took up one whole side of the room.


Carefully Liv walked into the room, practiced steps silent as she made her way to the piano. She leaned against it casually, watching undetected as Alex put her heart and soul into a melody that was haunting and mysterious. Olivia tried to place it - Serena Benson had instilled an appreciation of the classics in her daughter... art, literature, music and theatre... and yet Olivia could not determine which master Alex was currently playing.


The music drew to a close and Alex opened her eyes, gasping when she realized she had an audience and just exactly who the audience was. “Olivia?”


“Hello, Counselor. Long time, no see,” grinning rakishly and removing the sunglasses from her dark eyes. Alex stared at her for a long moment, then let her gaze peruse Olivia's body - from her shiny black boots up long, tapered legs encased in tight, black jeans. A form-fitting tank top was mostly hidden by a dark leather jacket and in her eyes.... Alex's blue eyes widened at the implications of what she thought she saw.




Liv shook her head. “No... it's just Liv. I thought, if I haven't managed to make you hate me yet, that maybe we could talk.”


Alex stared at Olivia for a long moment, holding her eyes and reading the myriad of things swirling around in the dark depths. She nodded and motioned Liv towards the furniture at the other side of the room. Liv held out her hand towards Alex who hesitated, then grasped it as if it was a lifeline. She allowed Olivia to help her from the bench and together they walked hand in hand to the couch.


Olivia seated Alex in one corner then dropped her hand and walked to the fireplace. She stared at Alex for a little while, noting the still obvious damage that had recently been done to her, making her a victim again. The marks on the outside were healing - what about the marks on the inside... the mental suffering that was as much a part of her assault as the beating? What about the things she had lived through while in Witness Protection... did she still live with those scars as well?


Alex held her gaze without blinking, never flinching, curious as to what thoughts were running behind the brown eyes. Olivia turned to face the fireplace focusing on the low flames that flickered there, slowly becoming aware of the heat that radiated at her knee level. Now that the moment was here, she wasn't really sure what to say. Then she felt Alex at her back.


“Let me take your coat, Olivia, before you start roasting.”


Before she could protest, Alex had divested her of her leather jacket, folding it neatly and laying it over the back of one of the straight-backed chairs. Alex settled in to wait and Olivia returned her gaze to the fire.


“When you left... after Velez... I was - I felt like part of me was gone... like I had missed out knowing something amazing in my life. It hurt... and it made me angry. To have been so close and yet....” She shrugged. “Then you came back for the Connor's trial and I understood that you had moved on. And that made me angrier... because you obviously didn't care like I did. I didn't mean anything to you. That realization nearly killed me.”


She went silent for so long, Alex felt compelled to speak. “It wasn't like that at all.”


Olivia laughed bitterly. “Wasn't it? Because that's damn sure what it felt like! Especially after you came home to stay, and we had to find out through the grapevine! God, Alex!” She paused and looked around without ever turning to look at Alex. “I'm not sure what I'm doing here,” shaking her head.


“Olivia, look at me.” Liv shook her head again and kept her eyes firmly focused on the fire. “Liv, if you want to talk about this, you're going to have to let me speak. And I'd appreciate having your complete attention.” Olivia bit her bottom lip and sighed, then straightened and turned to face Alex. Alex caught her breath at the pain and anger reflected back at her. She hesitated, then extended her hand. “Please... come sit next to me. I promise not to touch unless you want me to. I certainly won't bite.”


Liv studied her for a long moment, then came around the far side of the couch and took the corner opposite Alex. Close enough to touch, but far enough away to be untouchable. She crossed her arms over her chest protectively and waited. Now Alex sighed.


“I told you about why I kept you out of my life when I returned... or why I tried to. Believe me, if I could go back and redo things, knowing what I know now - I would have done so many things differently. I never would have pursued Velez. The price I've paid repeatedly for my stubbornness has been astronomical. It cost me my life, my family, my home... but mostly it cost me us... what we were as well as what we were becoming. When I was in Wisconsin , it was the memory of you and what we had so nearly had that drove me to find some sort of human connection.” Olivia snorted with disbelief. “Don't, Detective. I know you did the same.”


“*After* you came back and made it clear I was nothing to you.”


“Oh, Liv... you were never nothing. You were everything and I couldn't let you be everything... not then. I knew I couldn't stay, and part of me wanted you to find happiness, even if it couldn't be with me. You deserved that much - you deserved so much more. He was a poor substitute for you, and frankly I was glad I had to come back, if only because I knew it meant I would be moved again, and he wouldn't be there.”


“That's cold, Alex.”


Alex shrugged and nodded. “It's also true. A beat. “Liv, as much as I would like to, I can't change the past - I can only go forward from where I am now. That's all either of us can do. So why are you really here? What exactly are you looking for from me?”


Olivia unwrapped her arms from her upper body and leaned forward, forearms on her knees, hands loosely clasped between them and head down. When she spoke, her voice was low and Alex struggled to hear the words.


“I'd thought, if I just kept you out of my life, everything would be fine. You couldn't hurt me anymore and I could just go about my business. Then you came crashing back in without regard to the fact that I was angry and hurt and I found out that the walls I'd built against you were so much rice paper in their effectiveness against you. That just pissed me off more. And the fact that you expected me to just forgive and forget and move on like nothing had changed simply added fuel to the fire.”


Alex's eyes widened - she'd never known Olivia to be so eloquent or verbose, though she'd never doubted her intelligence. Most of her dealings with the detective's speech involved her talking to perps or fighting with Alex herself. Alex remained silent and listened.


“I wanted you to hurt like I did, and when my chance to inflict damage on you came, I cut as hard and deep as I could.”


Alex gasped. “You said all that just to hurt me?”


“I meant what I said, Alex - I just made sure it hurt you to hear it.”


Silence. Then, “You did a good job. I never thought you could be so hateful... or so heartless,” refusing to look at Olivia.


“Neither did I, and I've felt like a jackass ever since. I should've been happy that you were home again and happy regardless of who made you that way and why and I wasn't; I wanted to mean something to you. Then I should've been happy that you were offering me another chance, and all I felt was anger that you were pandering to me out of some warped sense of obligation.”


“What happened?” Alex finally asked when the silence dragged on for too long.


“I nearly lost you... again. And if I had, the only one to blame for it would've been me.”


“Olivia, you didn't attack me and Abbie.”


“No... I did worse. I let you go off thinking you meant nothing to me. And that's never been true.” She hesitated then continued. “I thought I'd be all right keeping you at arm's length - you'd still be there but you'd never be close enough to hurt me. I could make sure of that. And yet when Elliot stopped by to tell me the news... I knew right then, you'd always have that power... whether I gave it to you or not, it was yours.”


“So you're here because of guilt?”


“I'm here because I can't pretend anymore.”


Alex blew out a tremulous breath, not expecting to ever have her own words handed back to her. This was so much more than she'd expected to hear, and even though parts of it cut her to the quick, she felt a sense of release accompany Olivia's honesty.


“So what do you want to do now, Liv?”


Olivia shrugged, still keeping her eyes on the floor. “I'm not sure that's for me to decide.”


“I didn't ask you to make a decision. I asked what you wanted,” Alex replied in a tone that brought Liv's eyes up to meet hers.


“I'd like....” She blew out a breath. “I'd like to take you up on your previous offer - to try and be friends again... maybe see where that takes us.”


“The conditions of that offer have changed, Olivia, but the offer is still on the table if you're really interested.”


“What's changed?” Liv asked warily and with a hint of sadness.


“No more games. We have to be honest with one another - even when it hurts - or this will never work. It was because we were playing that we missed out on what we could have had before Velez, and I refuse to waste any more time and effort dancing around one another pretending. So, absolutely - we can be friends again. But I want you to know up front that I would like it all from you - a life, a home, a family. If you only want to be friends, I need to know that now.”


“I'd like to try, Alex. I've never had that with anyone. I don't know if I'm capable, and I can't promise I won't screw things up.”


“Of course you'll screw things up, and so will I. It's part of being in a relationship... whether it's as friends or something more. The difference is, we make an effort to make it work anyway.”


“All right. I can do that. We were friends before....”


Alex smiled. “We still are. We just got off-track for a little while.”


“And we have a lot to catch up on.”


“Yes, we do. C'mon,” standing slowly and offering her hand to Olivia. “I want cookies and milk.”


“Won't that ruin your dinner?”


“Who says it's not my dinner?” Alex returned with an impish smile. Liv just grinned and shook her head, then took Alex's hand and let her lead them to the kitchen. Things were finally looking up.




“Alexandra Isabelle Cabot!! What exactly is going on in my kitchen??”


At the sound of her full name, both Alex and Olivia had frozen in place. Now two heads turned in tandem to find Geraldine standing in the doorway, hands on hips and eyebrows arched in question. Both had cookies in their hands and had the good grace to look sheepish when she glared at them sternly.


“How old are you?? Ruining your dinner with cookies and milk?? And you,” focusing on Liv, “you're just as bad, so please don't give me that innocent routine. Now out... both of you. You can have cookies and milk for dessert, but I expect you both to eat a good dinner first,” shooing them from the kitchen like well-scolded children. “Honestly,” muttering to herself. “You'd think they were five. I thought I raised them better than that,” was the last they heard before they scampered back to the living room. They fell onto the couch, shaking with silent laughter.


“Oh my God, that was funny,” Olivia choked out between breaths.


“I'm sorry, Olivia. I never expected....” Alex said around her laughter.


“Don't be. That has to be one of the funniest things I've ever been part of.”


“I'm certain she'll realize the truth before you go home – you'll probably end up with a plateful of cookies as an apology.”


“I hope not,” Liv confessed, seeing Alex's eyes widen in surprise. She held up her hand before Alex could ask. “If Gerry keeps sending me cookies, I'm not gonna be able to chase perps anymore. I'll just have to roll over them because running will be completely out of the question.” She saw the frown and continued. “She had Jason bring me by a plate full yesterday. Blair and I had the last of them for a midnight snack.”


Now Alex grinned. “Better warn Elliot it's his turn to do the running for a while then. If Gerry finds out she's got the secret to fattening you up a little, she'll exploit it. She's determined I'm too thin and has made it her mission to put some meat on my bones - her words... not mine.”


“And how does that affect me exactly?”


“Trust me, Detective. If *I'm* too thin to be doing my job where the most strenuous thing I do all day is sit behind a desk and ream out interns, you are definitely too thin to be chasing criminals. Doesn't matter that it's all muscle mass - all she sees is thin.”

“Good to know. I'll start adding a few more layers of clothes. Although after this weekend, it won't really matter.”


“Are you looking forward to going back?”


“Yeah... I really am. Don't get me wrong - in retrospect, I'm actually happy about the suspension. I needed a break... a little time to regroup, and obviously I wasn't going to take one without being forced to or I already would have. But the SVU is where I belong, at least for now. I do so much good there, despite everything.”


“Yes, you do,” Alex agreed solemnly. “You changed my reasons for being there.”


“Did I?”


“Absolutely. It started out being about me - about my win/loss ratio and how it could get me to the big chair. That didn't last very long.”


“Why didn't you say something?”


“Would you have believed me? I had made a big deal out of ensuring you all knew exactly why I was there and I had earned my Ice Princess reputation. No one would have believed I had such a drastic change of heart.”


“I would've. We all would've, especially after the Cavanaugh case. We watched you start caring about the victims instead of the stats.”


“Why didn't anyone say anything?”


“And mess up the Ice Princess rep you'd put into place? Uh uh... you may have been the very Devil as far as we were concerned, but you were our Devil and we weren't gonna mess up what was working for you... and for us. I figured you let us know when you were ready to be seen as something more.”


Alex shook her head. “I was such an idiot.”


“Yeah, well... we all were.” Olivia took a deep breath. “Hey, not to change the subject, but I meant to ask - what were you playing earlier? I didn't recognize the composer and I thought I was familiar with most of the masters. It's been driving me nuts trying to figure it out.”


“You won't,” Alex assured her. “It's not a classical piece in that sense of the word.”


“So a new guy?”


“Yeah... something like that.”


“What's his name? I'd like to check out some of his other work. If it's anything like the piece you were playing, I wanna pick up a CD if he's got one.”


“I'm fairly confident that's not an option in this case,” standing and walking over to the wet bar on the wall opposite the fireplace.


“Oh? And why's that?” watching Alex curiously.


“Because I never made one. Drink?”


“Whoa - back up. Excuse me?”


“I said, I never made a CD,” meeting Liv's eyes steadily, but Olivia could clearly see her nervousness.


“That was... you wrote that? Alex, that was amazing. Why did you go to law school when you have such an enormous musical gift?”


“Why did you become a police officer when you could have been the next Monet?”


“You know?”


“Only what I've been told by those who've seen.” She looked at Liv shyly. “I'd like to see sometime, if you'd be willing to share.”


“I'll make a deal with you - you find a way to put your music on CD for me, and I'll give you your own private showing.”


Alex's brow arched in thought, then she nodded. “It will take a little while, but you've got yourself a deal, Detective.”


Olivia nodded and swallowed hard, wondering just exactly what she'd gotten herself into. Then Geraldine called them back into the kitchen for dinner and she forgot to worry about it. She was too busy trying not to burst into laughter again, and was confident Alex was doing the same thing, though she didn't dare look at her to check. Dinner was going to be an interesting affair.




It was late when Olivia returned to the Warner Lodge. She crept in quietly, not wanting to disturb the household, only to have Jo and Blair call out to her as she passed by the living room door. Liv stepped into the room to find her friends curled up comfortably together in front of the fire.


“Good night?” Jo asked, though the change was evident in both Liv's posture and her expression. But she had a feeling Olivia might like the opportunity to express her feeling aloud.


“Yeah, actually,” she said with a smile, sitting down in the chair and putting her booted feet on the ottoman in front of her. “Alex and I hashed things out... really talked for a change - something we haven't done in years.”


“It went well, I take it.”


“I think so. We're friends again... or at least we're trying to be.”


“Just friends?” Jo asked, earning her a smack from Blair. She turned fierce green eyes to meet equally fierce brown. “Whaddya do that for? It's a legitimate question.”


“Maybe Olivia doesn't want to share all the nitty gritty details, Jo. This is her life, you know... hers and Alex's.”


“And...? That doesn't mean she doesn't have things she might like to tell. Especially about this ‘friends' business.” Jo turned to Liv. “So... what the hell's going on?”


Blair rolled her eyes and blew out an impatient breath, but sat good-naturedly waiting for Olivia to answer. Liv just chuckled silently and shook her head. “I wanna grow up to be just like you two. Don't you ever change. As for what the hell's going on - Alex and I are remembering how to be friends again. She'd like more... we both would, but we got a few issues and years worth of catching up to work through first.”


“At least you've finally taken that first step.”


“Or two. Did you know she is a gifted musician?” The blonde head nodded and the dark head shook, then Jo turned to look at Blair. Blair shrugged.


“You forget Alex and I have a passing acquaintance from years back. Her mother used to have her play at society functions. She was convinced Alex was going to be the next Mozart.”


“She certainly has the talent,” Liv commented. “What happened?”


“Family expectations. Cabots are lawyers or judges or politicians - in most cases, all three. Music had no chance to take root as anything more than a serious hobby.”


“That's a shame... at least if Alex wanted to become a musician.”


“I think she likes being a lawyer... or she did. But she never lost her love of music.”


“Well,” Liv said as she rose to her feet, “she promised to make me a CD of her work, so that's something to look forward to at any rate. Now, if you two will excuse me, I'm gonna go to bed.”


“Night, Liv.”

“Night, Olivia.”


“Goodnight, guys.”




“Abbie Carmichael's residence. Emma Carmichael speaking.”


“Hi, Mrs. Carmichael - it's Olivia Benson. Is Abbie available? I missed her call yesterday and it was late before I was able to return it. So I thought it best to wait until this morning.”


“Probably a wise decision, Olivia. Let me see if I can find her. Hold on a moment please.”


Liv was grateful for the lack of annoying hold music while she waited. Then, “Benson? Where the hell have you been? You're never away from your phone that long. I was getting worried!”


“Cool it, Carmichael , before you strain something. I'm fine. I was talking to Alex.”


“Whoo hoo! And??”


“And we're working on it.”


“It... as in...?”


“As in friends first. We've got a lot of stuff to work on. But at least we're talking now.”


“That's good then.”


“No... that's great. I haven't felt like this in a long time. So how are you and Casey?” not giving Abbie a moment to comment on what she said or to think about her answer.


“We're talking,” Abbie stated plainly. “Taking things one day at a time. She swears she's in it for the long haul... guess we'll see.”


“Good,” Olivia pronounced succinctly. “At least you'll get another friend out of it, and she's a good one to have. Don't try to chase her off, Abbie, and don't hurt her. She'll be good for you if you let her.”


“You sound like my mother,” Abbie grumbled. “Whose side are you on here anyway?”


“Yours, believe it or not. It's time for you to let go and be happy, Abbie. You've held on to it long enough.”


“I don't know if I can,” Abbie confessed.


“You can. We'll all help. Now, when are you coming back up here? Alex told me she invited you and your mom for a long weekend.”


“Still recovering here. Why do you want to know?” she asked suspiciously.


“I'd like to try and plan to be here. I think Alex is hoping to meet with Sam McPherson when you two are together.”


“Tell her to make arrangements with Ms McPherson. Mama and I will work around that,” Abbie said with a sigh.


“You sure you're all right?” Olivia asked with genuine concern.


“Yeah... just a little nervous. It's been a long time....”


“One day at a time, Abbie. It'll be worth it, I promise.”


“You're an expert now?” asked with a smile on her face that Liv could hear.


“Oh yeah... years of experience, you know.”


“All right... I've gotta git. Casey's promised me a picnic on the Mall while the weather's nice. And since she's leaving in the morning....”


“Tell her to drive safely and ask her to call me when she gets in. I'll be back in the City by early afternoon.”


“All right - you drive safely too and let me know when you get in.”


“Yes, Mom.”


“I mean it Benson, or I'll sic my mama on you.”


“All right, all right. No need to threaten me. I'll call you tomorrow.”




“Dinner was wonderful, Alex. Thanks for inviting us over,” Blair said as they moved into the family room once the meal was over.


“It was the least I could do considering all you have done for me over the past few weeks.”


“Will you play?” Jo asked, motioning to the baby grand. “I'm the only one here who hasn't heard you, and while I don't have Blair's training or Liv's ear, I'd still like to hear if you'd be willing to play.”


“Please,” Olivia added and Alex sighed, knowing she was lost. She took a seat on the bench and ran her hands along the keys, warming up before launching into a melody Olivia knew had been composed while Alex had been in Witness Protection. It was haunting and sad and lonely and brought tears to her eyes, though she refused to let them fall.


“I want a copy of that CD, please,” Blair said quietly, breaking the heavy silence that had fallen with the final note of Alex's music. Alex turned to Olivia and glared.


“You've got a big mouth, Detective.”


Olivia shrugged. “Like you didn't already know that.”


“True, and don't think there won't be eventual payback.” Alex turned to Blair. “Maybe for Christmas. I have to make some arrangements and I do have a career to get back to eventually. However,” she continued before anyone could question, “Sam McPherson has asked to meet with Abbie and me and we're trying for this next weekend. Can you make it back up here?” looking at Olivia.


“I'm sure I'll have duty, but I'll do what I can.”


“Why not come to the City?” Blair suggested. “Olivia will be there, Jo and I will be there, Ms Novak will be there....”


“All right, all right... I get the picture,” Alex said with a hint of laughter in her voice. “I'll tell Abbie to come to the City and let Ms McPherson know. I need to get back anyway. I've got things to take care of before I go back to work.”


“Are you sure you're ready for that? Aren't you still supposed to be resting? What does the doc say?”


“Liv, if I have to rest any more, I'm going to go out of what is left of my mind. My therapist is in the City and I would like to talk to her; physically I'm mostly healed, my head doesn't hurt - even I know it's time to get back into the game. Besides, I've got to find a new place to live and I should do that while I have the time to look.” She turned to Blair. “Do you think I could catch a ride back with you in the morning?”


“Olivia is driving my car, but you're welcome to join her if she doesn't mind a passenger.” Blair and Alex turned their attention to Liv.


“Pick you up at ten?” Alex nodded her agreement. “And you'll tell me about needing to find a new place to live?”


“If you really want to know, sure.”


“Wouldn't have asked otherwise.”


And with very few words Jo, Blair and Liv took their leave, promising to return the following morning. Alex headed upstairs to prepare for her return to Manhattan .




“You sure you have to go, Casey?” Abbie asked quietly. It was early Sunday morning and Casey had stopped by on her way out of town to say goodbye to Abbie and Emma. Emma had been quick with her farewell and headed back inside, leaving Abbie and Casey alone in the driveway. Now Abbie stood awkwardly with her hands shoved in her pockets while Casey leaned against the trunk of her car, arms crossed over her chest. “I mean... I know you do, but I think I'm going to miss having you here.”


“You think?”


“I'm pretty sure.”


“Well, I'm pretty sure I'm going to miss being here - your mom is a great cook,” she added with a hint of mischievousness. “But crime and prosecution wait for no one, no matter how much we'd like it to. Besides, if I don't go soon, my mom is going to expect me to move back.”


“Would that be such a bad thing?” wistfully.


“It would depend on why I was moving, wouldn't it?”


Abbie's eyes widened. “You'd do that? You'd move to DC for me?”


“If I had a reason to? In a heartbeat.”


Abbie took her hands from her pockets and stepped forward until she and Casey were close enough to touch. Then she extended her arms for a hug, gratified when Casey didn't even hesitate, but walked right into her embrace. They held on for long moments before finally pulling back while remaining in a loose clasp.


“You're coming to Manhattan next weekend, aren't you?” reminding Abbie of the phone call she'd gotten from Alex late the previous evening. Abbie nodded. “Plan to stay with me then. Maybe we can start working on that reason.” Casey tightened her hold and brushed her lips over Abbie's cheek as she pulled back again, stepping completely from Abbie's grasp. “I'll be seeing you.”


Without warning, Abbie leaned forward, kissing Casey full on the lips hard and fast. Then she gave Casey a cocky half-grin and sauntered back up the drive, a distinct swagger in her step. Casey watched her go, blinking the surprise from her face and shaking her head when Abbie turned around halfway up to give her a shit-eating grin and a wave.


“Brat,” she muttered, then opened the car door, ready to make the return to the City. She and Olivia were certainly going to have a lot to talk about.




“Thanks, Olivia. I really do appreciate the ride back to the City.”


Liv shrugged. “It's not a problem,” she grinned slyly, “especially since Gerry made up another batch of cookies for the road.” She waggled her eyebrows and Alex rolled her eyes before breaking into a reluctant smile. “Besides, I'm really curious about your need to find a new place to live. I thought you had the perfect penthouse on the Upper East side .”


Alex sighed. “I did... I still do, actually. I just… I can't live there anymore. If I'm going to make a new start, try to be who Alex Cabot is and not who people expect her to be, I need to stop playing a part.”


Olivia cut her eyes in Alex's direction briefly before refocusing on the road. “Um, Alex? What part? You come from money. Everyone knew that even before you went into Witness Protection.”


Alex huffed. “How did everyone know? Was I pretentious about it? Did I flaunt it around?” running her hands through her hair and pushing it back away from her face. “Or did everyone just make assumptions based on my name and education?” Liv bit her lip and cast her mind back several years, blushing when she realized the answer to her question. Alex noticed immediately and called her on it. “What?”


Liv sighed silently and came clean. “Alex, we're *detectives*,” letting the implication lay between them. Blue eyes widened in shock when Alex understood what wasn't being said.


“You had me investigated?!?”


Olivia wanted to squirm under the scrutiny, but forced herself to remain still and focused on the road. “We wanted to know who we were dealing with.”


“And you couldn't just ask??”


Liv chuckled, but stopped instantly when she felt the weight of Alex's glare. “Alex, no offense, but you're a lawyer - admittedly for the good guys, but still a lawyer. It's your job to present the facts and to make a jury see what you need them to see in order to make the conviction. I'm a detective - it's my job to dig up the raw facts - no whitewashing, no bullshit. We didn't know you and you didn't know us. We wanted to know who was going to bat for us... especially after what you said to the captain.”


“I'm never going to live that down, am I?”


“It was the first impression you gave us,” Olivia confessed with a shrug. “But you grew beyond that, and we all recognized it. You became an advocate for the victim, and we respected that. We respected you.” She cleared her throat. “However, that is way off the subject that started this whole conversation. If you have the perfect penthouse, why give it up?”


“It doesn't fit who I am anymore; it doesn't fit who I want to be.” Alex worried her bottom lip between her teeth as she struggled for the right words. “It's a perception... a persona. I don't want to have to live up to that anymore. I just want to be me... in some place that's real and warm and comfortable.”


Liv turned and gave Alex a genuine smile. “I can understand that - it sounds really nice. I hope you find what you're looking for.”


“I will,” Alex assured her with a confidence and self assurance Olivia recognized from her early days with SVU.


“Some things never change,” she commented with a chuckle, earning her another glare from blue eyes before Alex's wry laughter joined hers. They fell into a comfortable silence for the remainder of the trip back to Manhattan .


“Call me when you have a time and place for your interview with Sam McPherson,” Olivia instructed as she dropped Alex in front of her building. “I'll do my best to be there.”


“I will. Thanks for the ride,” she added with a wave before disappearing inside. Then Liv headed home to meet up with a waiting Jo and Blair. It was time to put away the artist and get the detective back in the SVU swing of things.






“Hey, Olivia... it's Casey.”


“Hey, Casey... how was the drive back? Much traffic?”


“It was all right,” Casey replied distractedly. “Traffic was worse than what I got into going down, but it wasn't bad.”


“How's Carmichael ?” wondering what had put Casey into the funk she was in.


“Doing better. Her bruises are mostly healed and she's seeing a therapist about the assault.”


“Really?” Liv couldn't keep the surprise out of her tone - knowing how Abbie felt about psychs and privacy.


“Yeah, her boss insisted. She can't return to work until she's been cleared by the doctor.”


“Wow, bet that didn't go over too well.”


Casey chuckled. “No bet - I was there to hear the fallout. My ears were ringing for a little while, let me tell you.”


Liv laughed. “I'll just bet.” She hesitated then plunged ahead. “So is that why you seem out of sorts?”


“What makes you say that?”


“Call it my detective instincts.”


Casey blew out a forceful breath. “Let's just say I'm getting mixed signals and it's a little frustrating.”


“You wanna talk about it?”


“Not yet,” Casey responded after a long moment of silence. “I'd like to kind of get things straight in my own mind. Can I have a rain check?”


“Absolutely... you know where to find me”


“Thanks, Olivia. I'll see you tomorrow?”


“I imagine so. Goodnight, Counselor.”


“Goodnight, Detective.”




“My, my, my... the long, lost prodigal has returned,” Munch greeted as he walked into the precinct and found Olivia sitting at her desk. “Did'ja miss me?”


Liv leaned back in her chair and smiled back at him, appreciating the widening of his eyes in reaction. “As a matter of fact, I did. I even almost missed the sludge that passes for coffee around this place.”


“So you're glad to be back?”


“Surprisingly, yes. This place, for all its shortcomings, is like home to me and you guys are family.”


“Hey, girlfriend!” Fin called out from the door before Munch could reply. “Gooda you to join us.” He clasped Liv's shoulder and set a bag with two raspberry donuts on the desk in front of her. “Welcome back.”


She grinned at him. “Thanks, Fin. It's good to be here.”


“Well, before you start celebrating, Liv, I need you and Fin to get on this,” Cragen said as he walked out of his office, passing her a slip of paper. “Call just came in... the victims are eight and thirteen. Munch, I need you to go back and re-interview Mrs. Rodrigues. CSU found some interesting trace evidence,” handing him the lab specs. “Let's go people... we've got work to do.” He turned and headed back towards his office before rotating back to face Olivia. “Welcome back, Detective,” handing her back her gun and shield.


Liv looked at them a long moment before clipping them to her belt. “Thanks, Cap. It's good to be back.” Then she and Fin headed out the door to start their week.




“Hey, Liv! How's it feel to be back?”


“Feels like home, El,” Olivia said into the phone she had tucked between her ear and shoulder. “Missed you being there today, partner. How's Kathy and Eli? Enjoying the paternity leave?”


“Yeah, I am, actually - I think Kath is enjoying having me home for a change, and I have to admit it's kinda nice to be able to be here from the beginning. Especially since she's still recovering from the accident.”


“I'm sor....”


“Don't finish that statement, Liv. Kathy and I both know being with you saved her life... and Eli's. It could have been a lot worse; it would have been if she'd been alone. So when are you coming over? Phone calls aren't the same and I know Kath would love to thank you in person.”


“Let me know when is good for her - any day except Saturday - and I'll be there.”


“Why not Saturday?” he asked with a grin in his voice. “I know you're on call, but do I detect a hot date in your future?”


“Actually, I have duty and then I'm supposed to meet up with the girls for dinner,” not elaborating any further.


“The girls, huh?” with a hint of interest and intrigue in his voice. “And would these girls include a certain former SVU ADA who has a thing for my partner?”


“Maybe,” Liv confessed. “We're talking again.”


“That's a good thing, right?”


“I think so.” Olivia blew out a frustrated breath. “I mean... I tried ignoring her - that only worked while she was doing the same. Once she came crashing back into my life....” Liv sighed. “I tried, El... I really did. I just... is it wrong that she does something to me? Makes me want more than I have?”


“No, Liv - it's not wrong... it's human. And you deserve to be happy.” He paused. “Bring her with you.”




“When you come out to the house, bring Alex with you. If she's becoming important to you, I think we need to get to know her... as someone other than the Ice Princess.”


“I'll talk to her, El. Thanks.”


“Anytime, partner. You're family.”


“Wonder if Alex is ready for that.” She hung up to the sound of Elliot's laughter ringing in her ears.




“Casey?” Olivia poked her head around the doorframe when no one answered her knock. She was pretty certain the ADA was waiting for her - after all, she'd called Casey only twenty minutes previously to let her know she was coming by to pick up a warrant. Now she frowned at the look of distance in her normally aware green eyes. Liv entered the room and shut the door. Then she braced her arms on the desk and leaned over it until she was inches from Casey's face.


“Hey, Novak!” Olivia greeted, watching Casey start in surprise, then pull back when she realized how close Olivia was. With a grin, Liv stood upright and crossed her arms over her chest. “You all right?”


“Um... yeah.” She started searching through the paper on her desk. “Haven't seen you this week - busy?”


“Yeah... seems like I'm paying the price for being gone for a month. But at least we're closing cases.” She took the warrant Casey was proffering. “What's up with you? And don't say nothing - you were completely out of it when I knocked.” She seated herself on the corner of Casey's desk. “So?”


“Just thinking - it does happen to me sometimes, you know,” she added with a smile.


“More often than not,” Liv snorted. “Whatcha thinking about... or should that be who?”


Casey cleared her throat and focused her gaze on her desk. “Don't you have a warrant to execute, Detective?” Liv didn't move; she just lifted her eyebrow recrossed her arms and waited. Casey sighed. “Not buying that, huh?” A pause. “She's driving me crazy, Olivia.”


Unexpectedly, Liv smiled. “Abbie is gifted that way.” Olivia slid from her perch and put a hand on Casey's shoulder. “Anything I can do to help?”

“Yeah. Call me when you're done,” motioning to the paper Liv clutched in her hand.


“Will do,” Olivia agreed. “Let me go get you something to put this asshole away.” Then she was out the door without another word. Casey watched for a moment, then shook her head and turned her attention back to her work. She still had things to finish.




“I was surprised to get your call, Alex,” Janet offered conversationally as she motioned Alex to a seat. “I thought you swore you'd never be caught dead coming back to see me.”


“Good thing I'm not dead then yet, huh?” Alex returned dryly as she took a seat. “Thank you for seeing me anyway. I know you had to fit me in.”


“Alex, I would never turn you away. You know how I felt when you stopped coming.”


“I know. And you were right.”


“I'm just sorry it took until the middle of the week to find a time to get together. So... tell me what brings you here. What changed for you?”


“Everything,” Alex said simply.


Janet waited but when Alex didn't continue she felt compelled to prompt her. “Would you like to share from the beginning or just tell me what brought you to me this evening?”


“How about I give you the short version for now - what brought me here this evening. We can start from the beginning when we have time for a lengthy session.”


“That bad?”


“That complicated,” Alex confessed wryly. Janet chuckled.


“Of course. It couldn't be easy if you're involved.” Alex glared for a moment, then shrugged and gave in to the laughter she couldn't contain. “So tell me.”


“Did you see the picture of me and Abbie Carmichael in the Times a couple weeks ago?” waiting for Janet to nod. “That is the beginning of the short version.”




“Thank you for joining me for lunch, Casey. I never realized how hard it is to be a lady of leisure in the City.”


Casey chuckled at Alex's frustrated expression. “You mean to tell me you can't find anything to do in the whole of Manhattan , Alex?”


“Apparently not - so thank you for indulging me.”


“Thank you for inviting me - I was glad to get out of the office.”


“Busy? Trouble?” Alex asked with a cocked brow as the waiter set their food in front of them.


“No more than usual... although Olivia being back has certainly brought new enthusiasm to the one-six. They seem to be closing cases again... like they were before all the trouble started.”


“So why anxious to get out of the office today? Walls closing in?”


“Something like that.” Casey put her fork down and picked up her water, taking a long sip before running her hands through her hair. Alex looked at her sympathetically.


“One of those walls wouldn't happen to be named Abbie Carmichael, would it?”


Casey glanced up at Alex and smiled wryly. “That obvious?”


“Once upon a time? No. But I learned to be observant of the world round me and I know Abbie. Much as I love her, she keeps a lot hidden. It's hard to know how to read her some days. And if you're just trying to get to know her, she can be very frustrating because trust is very hard for her.”


Casey propped her head on her hand and gazed at Alex for a long moment before sighing deeply. “I can understand that. Everyone who has worked SVU has secrets... things they don't feel comfortable sharing after what they've seen and dealt with. I just wish Abbie wouldn't blow hot and cold.”


“I don't think she's doing it on purpose, Casey.” Alex held up a hand when Casey looked at her with complete disbelief. “I know it seems like it, but she needs to know she can depend on you before she gives you her trust. She wants to know you're going to be around for the long haul.”


“And push/pull effort assures her of this how? All it's doing for me is making me seasick.”


Alex chuckled. “I'll bet. But if you stick with her through the crap, I think you'll find she was worth waiting for.”


Casey groaned. “How long?”


“Oh, Casey... it took a year before I was sure Abbie trusted me and I still don't know what happened to give her trust issues in the first place. I don't know if she'll ever trust me enough for that because whatever it was hurt her pretty badly. I hope she will eventually, but I just don't know.” A sigh. “Besides, if I could see into the future that clearly, I wouldn't be wondering about me and Liv right about now.”


“Trouble in paradise?”


“I wouldn't know - I haven't made it to paradise yet,” Alex grumbled, drawing a laugh from Casey. Blue eyes glared into green. “It's not funny.” Casey snorted lightly and shook her head. “It's not,” Alex insisted. “It's frustrating and confusing and....”


“And maybe you should take the next first step. For all her bravado when dealing with perps - for all her compassion when dealing with victims - Olivia Benson has a thick shell she hides behind. You should already know that; it was there when you joined the unit - it only got worse after you left.”


“You think so?”


”I know - the guys actually mentioned it to me after a particularly nasty case. I think they wanted me to know her reaction wasn't personal.” Casey thought a moment. “It was after that, in fact, that Olivia and I started to become friends. Talk about a steep learning curve.”


Alex grinned wryly. “I'll bet.” Silence fell as they focused on finishing their lunch, then Alex spoke up again. “So you think I should make the next move, huh? Liv needs a little courting?”


Casey shrugged. “I think you'll probably make it to paradise a lot faster if you take control of the situation. Alex, just because you are remaking yourself doesn't mean you have to give up your strengths. And let's face it, you excel at control.” Alex's eyebrows went into her hairline and Casey laughed. “C'mon, Alex... I heard all kinds of stories when I first came to SVU.”


“All right... fine,” Alex huffed. “I can definitely do control. Liv won't know what hit her.”


Casey smiled. “I'm looking forward to watching that.”


“Well, now that we've solved my romantic crisis, maybe we should work on yours.” Casey groaned.


“I'd settle for establishing a firm friendship with Abbie for the time being.” She sighed. “I just need to make it through the weekend.” She gave Alex a look. “I invited Abbie to stay with me this weekend.”


“That's pretty ballsy, Ms Novak,” Alex commended with a genuine smile of approval.


Casey snorted. “I think it's pretty masochistic.”


“Well, if it becomes too uncomfortable, call me. She can always come stay with me - I'll put her to work helping me move.”


“How's that coming? Have you found a new place?”


“Robert's realtor friend Ian has gotten me a line on a brownstone that's up for sale.” Casey's eyes widened, causing Alex to chuckle softly. “I know... doesn't sound like the Ice Princess, does it?”


“It doesn't sound like the Alex Cabot I've heard stories about, but it does sound like the Alex Cabot I am getting to know. The Alex Cabot I know is someone who is looking for a home and love and someone to share it with; she's less focused on appearances or success and what other people think.”


Alex pushed her empty plate away and folding her hands together, blinking rapidly. “Wow... thanks, Casey. I never thought....”


“Yeah, don't let it go to your head, Cabot.”


“Somehow, I don't think you'd let it, Novak.”


The two of them giggled like schoolgirls before turning to the serious business of choosing dessert.




“Ms McPherson, please come in,” Alex welcomed as she took Sam's jacket and ushered her into the semi-packed living room. “Thank you for coming to Manhattan .”


Sam smiled. “Sam, please. Thank you for giving me a working reason to - Brooke was thrilled. My girlfriend,” she continued in response to Alex's cocked eyebrow. “She's a law student at Harvard so we only see each other sporadically and lately.... Having a paying reason to spend a weekend here is a plus.”


“I remember those days.” Alex tilted her head. “How much longer does she have?”


“A year. She got her bachelor's in three years... show-off,” Sam muttered under her breath affectionately. Alex chuckled. Sam smiled wryly. “I was interning during the summers while she was in school.”


“And it paid off, apparently.”


“That remains to be seen. I'm still the low man on the totem pole and I'm still five hundred miles from my best girl.” Sam sighed. “I shouldn't complain - we get together as often as we can it's just....”


“Long distance is hard, I know.”


“Yeah, but she's worth it. I keep reminding myself there's only one more year.”


Alex bit her lip. “Why don't you ask her to join us... if not for the interview then maybe for lunch?”


Sam grinned. “I think she'd like that. If you'll excuse me a moment,” waiting for Alex to nod before she took out her cell phone and started dialing. Alex watched for a moment, then turned back to the door when another knock sounded, only to find Abbie Carmichael standing there alone.


“Casey?” she asked looking around conspicuously. Abbie shook her head.


“On a call.”


“Guess that means no Liv either,” Alex grumbled, motioning Abbie in.


“Casey said she'd do her best to get here, but she didn't know when that might be,” allowing Alex to take her jacket before she moved into the big room. Her eyebrows hiked at the controlled chaos evident throughout. “Going somewhere, Cabot?”


“Yes - Casey didn't tell you?”


Abbie scratched the back of her neck. “Um... no. We spent the evening talking; she gave me some ground rules, actually. And I gave her some conditions.” Alex pulled her glasses down far enough that she could peer at Abbie over the rims. “I don't want to screw this up, and neither does she. We need to have honesty between us and for now that means boundaries... at least until we have a foundation of trust and friendship.”


“Are you going to give her a chance?”


“I'm going to try - I want to.”


“Good... you deserve to be happy, Abbie. You both do.”


Abbie smiled weakly, then she motioned around the room. “So what's the story?” But before Alex could respond, Sam McPherson turned from the window.


“Ms Cabot? When should I tell Brooke to meet us?

“Please call me Alex, Sam, and tell Brooke she is welcome whenever she can get here.” Sam nodded and turned back to her phone. “We'll talk about this later,” she said to Abbie just as Sam clicked her phone shut and turned back to the room.


“Ms Carmichael? I'm....”


“Sam McPherson. I've done some research - I'm impressed.” Sam blushed. Alex smiled and motioned towards the couch and chairs.


“Shall we?”




“Sorry I'm late, ladies,” her expression harried. “How was the interview?” Casey asked as they settled around the table later that evening. She was the last arrival, with the exception of Olivia, who was still conspicuously absent. “Hi, I'm Casey Novak,” she added, extending her hand to first Sam, then Brooke.


“Sam McPherson, Brooke McQueen,” Sam said with a smile. “I think the interview went well. It remains to be seen how my article turns out,” she continued wryly.


“It will be brilliant, Sam. It always is,” Brooke said with confidence. The rest grinned.


“How long have you been a couple?” Blair asked. Something about them reminded her of her and Jo... something familiar - although it was clear they had definitely figured things out long before she and Jo had.


“Officially? Since the end of our senior year in high school. Technically? Since our parents forced us to become friends when they started dating.”


“Wait,” Abbie said, rubbing a hand across her brow. “You're stepsisters?”


Brooke and Sam nodded and the rest looked at one another round the table. Alex signaled the waiter. “I think that calls for a drink. I can't wait to hear this.”




Their appetizers had just been put in front of them when Alex's phone rang. She excused herself and took the call from Liv. “No, Liv... you're not too late. Our appetizers just arrived we're waiting for you to join us. C'mon, sweetie - judging from Casey's expression when she got here, you could use the company. Let us share your burden... even if it's only to take your mind off the case for a little while.”


“Why do I even try to argue with you?” Liv asked with wry exhaustion.


“Because hope springs eternal?”


Olivia snorted. “I'll be there in a few.”


Alex came back to the table and motioned to the waiter, nodding her thanks when he set a tumbler of whiskey at the empty place beside her. Casey and Abbie exchanged glances then turned their attention to Alex.


“Alex, Olivia doesn't drink hard liquor. Not after her mother....” Abbie broke off. Alex didn't answer - she just smiled as Liv approached the table. She extended her hand and Olivia dropped her keys in her outstretched palm before sitting and taking a sip from the glass.


“Thanks, Alex,” she said softly before looking around the table. “Hi, guys.” Her eyes met Brooke's. “You must be Sam's girlfriend, Brooke.”


“Yes... hi. And you're Detective Benson. It's nice to meet you.”


“And you. So,” putting her napkin in her lap and looking around the table, “what'd I miss?”


“You missed the fact that Sam and Brooke are stepsisters,” Jo commented, grinning at Olivia's effort to maintain a neutral facade. She cleared her throat and looked at the two of them before glancing around the table.


“Well, don't leave me out of the loop,” nodding her head at the waiter as he offered her a plate of salad. “Sounds like a good story.”


Brooke laughed. “Oh, you have no idea,” and proceeded to recount their story for a rapt audience. They were by turns humored, horrified, saddened and charmed. “And that brings you up to date.”


The rest gazed at one another in amazement. “Wow,” Blair said. “That makes our story look completely tame,” she continued, exchanging glances with Jo.


“It makes all our stories look tame,” Alex commented. “Nice friends.”


Sam looked around the table. “If it took putting up with that to get us where we are now, it was worth it.”


Casey raised her glass. “To new friends.” The rest raised their glasses as well and clinked them together, repeating her toast. They all drank and Casey turned to Jo and Blair. “Share your story?” only to pause as the waiter returned to refill glasses and remove plates.


Abbie looked at Olivia, nudging her elbow gently and waiting for brown eyes to track to her own. Liv cocked a brow at her. “What's the deal?” motioning to the tumbler still mostly full of whiskey. “I thought you didn't....”


“I don't usually. I haven't in a long time. But Alex and I made a deal years ago. I just didn't realize she remembered.”


“And that was?”


“When I had a really bad day, I could let my guard down just a little bit and she would watch my back. And when she had a really bad day, I'd do the same for her.”


“And today was a really bad day. I can see it in your eyes and posture.” Liv nodded. “How did she know that? She ordered that drink before you even got here.”


“I dunno. It's something she's always known… except when it comes to herself and her work. She has a bit of a blind spot there.”


Abbie snorted. “I think we've all been accused of that a time or two.” Olivia smirked.


“Probably why we're the best at what we do.”


“Is this a private conversation or can anyone join?” Alex asked as the waiter moved from the table.


“We were just talking about how we're the best at what we do,” Abbie stated.


“And our obvious modesty,” Alex teased.


“Who needs to be modest when it's the truth?” Olivia asked, waggling her eyebrows. “Now, c'mon. I thought Blair was gonna tell their story. It's not quite as dramatic as Sam's and Brooke's,” with a smile in their direction, “but it is interesting.”


“You know?” Casey asked.


“I was at the wedding.”


All eyes turned to Blair. “Let's hear it.”




“Thanks for the ride home, Alex, though I really don't think it was necessary after one whiskey and a couple beers. I don't even have a light buzz going anymore.”


“Maybe, but better safe than sorry, Detective. Are you feeling a little more relaxed at any rate?”


“Actually,” Liv said after a moment's thought, “yeah... I am. I enjoyed the outing. It was nice to get together with the girls and just kick back for a while.” She turned to look at Alex as they pulled up to the curb in front of her building. “We should do it again.”


“I think we probably will.” She put the car in park and glanced in the rearview mirror, watching Abbie and Casey pull Olivia's car in behind them. “I like Sam and Brooke. They seem like nice kids.”


Liv chuckled. “Alex, they're not *that* much younger than you are. Now me, on the other hand....”


Alex snorted. “Don't even try it, Benson. You're not that much older either, and you're in better shape than most kids half your age.”


“The difference is I'm old enough to be their mother - you're just an older sibling.”


Alex held up a hand. “I don't want to hear it - not from someone who still kicks ass and takes names and outruns her partner on a daily basis.”


“Not after a day like today,” Olivia said, exhaustedly. She leaned her head back against the headrest and closed her eyes. “Right now, I feel every single victim, every single day, every single takedown, every single fight.”


“You want to talk about it?” reaching out and brushing a stray lock of hair from Olivia's forehead and cupping her cheek lightly when Liv turned and opened tired brown eyes to gaze at Alex.


“Soon, but not tonight. Tonight I just want to sleep. Thank you, though.” She turned her head just enough to brush the lightest kiss over Alex's palm before clutching it gently in her hand. “Call me when you get home please.”


“All right. Night, Liv.”


“Night, Alex,” she said, opening the door and sliding from the car. Abbie met her at the steps and handed Liv the car keys. They exchanged a few words and a brief hug, then together Abbie and Casey climbed into Alex's vehicle. Olivia entered the building and waved before they pulled away.


“Everything all right?” Casey asked after Alex had pulled back into traffic.


“Yeah. We're just taking things really slowly,” Alex said, blowing out a breath. “REALLY slowly.”


“A little frustrated there, Cabot?” Abbie teased.


“No! A lot frustrated!” Alex snapped. She breathed out heavily through her nose. “Sorry - it's just....”


“It's all right, Alex,” Abbie assured her with a comforting smile, patting her leg. “I should know better than to tease... especially about this. It really has been long time coming, hasn't it?”


“Seems like forever,” Alex sighed. “And the worst of it is - it's *my* fault it's taken so long.”


“It'll be worth the wait, Alex,” Casey counseled.


Alex smiled in her direction. “I know. Doesn't stop me from wanting it now though.”


“That's a lawyer thing. We all want instant justice.” The three exchanged glances and started giggling. “God... no wonder we're all on the prosecutor's side of the aisle.”


Alex pulled over in front of Casey's building and Casey and Abbie got out of the car. “You gonna be okay going home, Alex?” Abbie asked, leaning down into the open car door.


“Yeah... see you for late lunch tomorrow?”


“Sounds good. Night Alex.”


“Night, guys.”




"My mother likes you," Abbie said the next morning as they munched on pastries from the corner deli. "She thinks you're good for me."


Casey's eyebrows went into her hairline. "Really? Why do you think that?" curiously. "I mean, I was pretty sure she liked me; we had some interesting talks while you were sleeping. But what makes you say that?" Casey smiled. "In fairness, I figured no one was quite good enough in her eyes for her baby girl. Not that I blame her - her baby girl is pretty special."


Abbie blushed. "Her baby girl is pretty screwed up," she muttered, looking away from Casey's bright green eyes. "You sure you really want to deal with that?"


Casey covered Abbie's hand and gently gripped her chin until the brown eyes met hers. "Abbie, we've talked about this, but we'll keep talking until you believe me. I know you have trust issues - we've all had shitty things happen to us. I hope one day you'll let me in and share your secrets with me, but even if you don't, I want you to realize that you can trust that I do care about you and want you to be part of my life. Friends first, and then... who knows? Now c'mon - it's too nice a day to be stuck indoors. I wanna go fly a kite."


Abbie grinned. "You'll have to do the flying. But I'd love to go to the Park with you."


Casey went to the closet and removed a package from the top shelf along with their jackets. "How long is your mother going to be in DC?" she asked, turning to help Abbie ease into her jacket. Abbie groaned.


"Probably until the doctor releases me to go back to work... so another couple weeks. She's probably cleaned my apartment from top to bottom this weekend. I won't be able to find anything when I get back."


Casey chuckled. "You could have brought her to New York with you."


"I tried - she wouldn't come. She insisted we needed to settle things between us. She promised to come the next time if there was one."


"Good." A beat. "So have we?" Casey asked after a brief pause. "Settled things, I mean."


"I think we've made a good start. Liv reminded me that a person can never have too many friends." Abbie took Casey's hand in hers and held it loosely. "I want this to work, Casey. I really do. If you can be patient with me I think it will."


"Just remember," Casey said, squeezing the hand she held lightly, "no teasing."


"No teasing... scout's honor."


"You were a girl scout?"


"Oh yeah... but only because they wouldn't let me be a boy scout."


Casey laughed and opened the door, gesturing Abbie out in front of her. "Why would you want to be a boy scout?"


"Because they got to do all the cool stuff. Besides, I hated selling cookies."


Casey's eyes twinkled as she pictured a little Abbie Carmichael dressed in a girl scout uniform going door to door selling cookies - all big brown eyes and dimples. "I'll bet you were adorable. Does your mom have pictures?"


Abbie whirled around so fast, she nearly stumbled over herself. "NO! And don't you be asking her about them either," she commanded sternly pointing a finger in Casey's direction.


"I'll show you mine if you show me yours."


Abbie groaned and headed out into the crisp, fall day, hoping beyond hope Casey Novak had a selective memory that would dismiss this conversation as irrelevant. Then she decided she'd never get that lucky. She was doomed.




"You're kidding me?" Alex shook her head and Olivia's eyes widened. "Seriously? Casey had Abbie out in the park flying a kite?"


"Oh yeah. I don't know how Casey managed it, but Abbie Carmichael was running and laughing like a kid." Alex paused. "I've never seen her so carefree."


Liv swallowed her bite of pasta and shifted the phone to her other ear. "Good," she finally said with determination. "She deserves to be happy - they both do."


Alex paused, then bit the bullet. "Do you know what happened to her, Liv?"


"Yes, but please don't ask me, Alex. I won't betray her confidence... even to you."


"You don't have to, Liv - I know. Jack McCoy shared what happened when she left the DA's office."


"Jackass! It wasn't his place to share that kind of information."


"No, it wasn't, but in fairness, he was trying to make sure I wasn't going to have the same problem working in SVU."


"Still doesn't give him the right." Olivia growled. "Does Abbie know?"


"That I know?" Alex shook her head before remembering that Olivia couldn't see her over the phone. "We've never talked about it. It's not exactly something I can bring up unless she wants to talk about it."


"True, but I'm glad you know. It's easier... knowing there is someone else who knows."


"Now if she can only learn to trust Casey."


"It'll take time, but I think she'll get there."


"Kinda like us?" Alex asked wistfully.


"Yeah," Liv said softly. "Kinda like us."




The next week started busy. Alex signed the papers on her new brownstone and started her renovations while the detectives at the one-six were still working short with Elliot out on paternity leave. Still, Alex and Olivia managed to talk for a few minutes every day. Finally on Thursday, they were able to meet for lunch, much to the bemusement of John Munch.


Alex walked into the precinct dressed in jeans and a sweater that outlined her curves nicely, drawing attention from every man in the room in the form of catcalls and wolf whistles. She arched an eyebrow as she looked around the room, then grinned when her eyes met Olivia's twinkling brown ones. Liv rose from her desk and grabbed her jacket before crossing to Alex's side.


“Not even a word for your favorite detective, Counselor?” Munch asked. “I'm crushed,” covering his heart with his hand.


“Hello, Detective,” Alex said looking directly at Olivia. “Are you ready for lunch?”


“After you, Counselor,” motioning towards the door and exchanging smiles with Alex. Alex turned to look at Munch.


“Goodbye, John,” waving as she and Olivia left the one-six.


“That was cold, Counselor... very, very cold.”


Only the sound of their laughter answered him.


“So how's the painting going?” Liv asked as they reached the street. She shook her head. “I still can't picture you as a house painter, Alex.”


“You wouldn't have to try if I could convince you to help me,” Alex said with the slightest hint of a pout.


Olivia chuckled. “Should have moved when I still had all that free time,” conveniently not mentioning their estrangement during that time. “But I promised you a mural, so you let me know when you're ready and I'll try to schedule my cases to give me a day off.”


“You think the criminals of New York would be willing to work with you on that... give you a break?”


Liv snorted. “Would that they would be so accommodating. I'd love to be out of a job.” She opened the door to their chosen restaurant and motioned Alex in ahead of her. “What about you?” Then she held up a hand to forestall Alex's response when her phone rang.


“Benson... yeah? He did? All right... thanks, Sarge,” with a giggle. The sound made Alex's eyebrows rise into her hairline. She took Olivia's arm and led her through the maze of tables into the outdoor dining area, following the hostess until they reached their table. Alex nodded her thanks, accepting the menus and they took their seats, then Liv glanced at her watch. “It'll be an hour or so. I'm not rushing my lunch with Alex for him. All right... I will. And thanks for the heads up, John... seriously.” Olivia clicked the phone off and almost slammed it back into its holster. Then she looked at Alex with an expression of frustrated annoyance. “Sorry.”


“Problem?” knowing there was but giving Olivia the option of sharing or not. Liv shrugged.


“Maybe. You remember my half-brother?


“Simon Marsden,” Alex nodded. “The one who caused your suspension.”


“Yeah. He's obsessing... like a stalker almost. Wants to know where I am and who I am with - constantly calling the precinct to check up on me.”


“You don't think he's just trying to be family to you? Be concerned about you and involved in your life? Maybe apologizing for throwing your life into upheaval?”


Liv shrugged again. “Maybe. But it comes down to the fact that he's hawking over me, and I don't like the way it feels.” She shivered.


“Maybe you should give him a chance - or at least tell him how you feel. He probably doesn't know how to relate to you, Liv.” Olivia cocked a disbelieving eyebrow at Alex and she smiled, motioning to their waitress and giving her order, then waiting for Olivia to do the same before continuing. “Think about it, sweetheart. You're a beautiful, smart, successful woman who has distinguished herself in her chosen field - something that makes a difference in the lives of people every single day. And his biggest claim to fame with you at the moment is that he almost cost you your job.”


Olivia covered Alex's hand, pleased when she tangled their fingers together. “Have you met my brother, Alex?” The blonde head shook in the negative. “Then why are you pleading his case as though you're his advocate?”


“Because you deserve the opportunity to choose, Detective. And you need to be able to see all the angles before you make that decision.” Alex sighed. “Liv, I've done a number of impulsive things in the last few years without considering all the facts or consequences, and it's been costly for me and those closest to me. I'm not saying you and Simon need to become best buddies - hell, you don't even have to be friends if you're not comfortable with him. Just don't dismiss him without talking to him first.”


Both women leaned back when their server approached with their salads and Olivia reluctantly released Alex's hand so they could eat more easily. Conversation flowed between them and sooner than they were ready for it, their lunch hour was over.


“I've got to get back,” Liv said regretfully, dropping some bills on the table.


“I'll go with you,” Alex said, doing the same. “My car is there and I want to drop this off,” holding up the ‘to go' bag she'd gotten for the one-six. “I've got to get back to do some more work on the brownstone and Robert is supposed to be sending out some brick masons to do some repairs.” She didn't miss the darkening of Olivia's features or the jealously that burned in her brown eyes. Alex clasped her hand around Liv's and pulled her into the ladies' room before they made it out to the street.


“Alex?! What the hell??” as she moved to lean against the sink.


“Liv, he's just a friend now. Honestly, that's all he ever really was and he knows that. He wants to meet you, in point of fact - actually sit down and get to know you.”


“Why?” Her voice was sullen and she crossed her arms defensively but she couldn't help her curiosity.


“Because he knows that the woman who captured my heart has to be pretty spectacular. He's been asking me about it since Blair's barbeque last month.” Alex sighed dramatically. “Honestly, the man is worse than a gossipy old maid some days.”


Liv couldn't help the snort of laughter the exasperated expression on Alex's face garnered. Then she sobered when Alex grew serious.


“Liv, I'm not going to do anything that would put us in jeopardy - not the friendship we have re-established and certainly not the possibility of our becoming more than friends. Not as long and as hard as we've worked to get here. He really is only a friend, but if meeting him bothers you, I'll tell him to drop it.”


Olivia blew out a breath. “We'll see, but that reminds me... Elliot asked me to bring you with me when I go visit. I was planning to go tomorrow night if I get off on time. You wanna come?”


Alex smiled. “I'd love to.” She took Liv's hand and led her from the restroom to the great outdoors without pausing. “Just give me a call when you know and I'll be ready.”


“I can do that,” Olivia replied with a shy smile, and hand in hand they continued down the street back towards the one-six. Neither of them had any idea what awaited them there.




“What the hell is this?” Simon asked as Alex and Olivia crossed the threshold of the one-six, drawing attention to them. All eyes in the room turned towards them, but Olivia didn't release Alex's hand and Simon's face grew red. “A dyke?? *This* is why you've been blowing me off?? So you can fu....”


“That's enough,” Liv whispered in his ear. She had moved so quickly no one realized her intent before she had him bent over her desk with his arm pulled up into the middle of his back. “I don't know who the hell you think you are, but you don't get to talk to me or about her like that.” She felt a gentle touch in the middle of her back and relaxed into it without realizing it until Simon squirmed underneath her.


“Get off me!”


“You gonna behave or am I gonna slap the cuffs on you?”


“For what?? You can't lock me up for having morals!”


Liv snorted. “Maybe... but I can charge you with stalking and assault.” He turned disbelieving eyes on her and she took a step back into the circle of detectives that had surrounded them at her first movement. Deliberately, Olivia reached for Alex's hand and smiled when cold fingers clasped her warm ones. “Go home, Simon. Go back to your wife and kids. I'm not changing my life to make you happy.”


“I thought family was important to you!”


“It is, Simon, and Alex had convinced me to give you a chance to be a part of that. But you've made it fairly clear that you're not willing to be part of my family.”


“You don't have any family... except me.”


“You're wrong, Simon. *This* is my family,” motioning to the people standing around her. “They've been my family for a long time. If and when you grow up, maybe you can be too. But until then... go home.”


Simon slumped. “What changed, Olivia? I thought I was important to you.”


“You could have been, Simon. God knows I tried.”




“You've got expectations I'm not sure I can live up to - frankly, I'm not sure I want to.”


“That's it?”


“That's enough. Family is supposed to support each other... make them stronger. You're just sucking me dry. This job is hard enough without having a personal life that takes from you too.”


“I see. Well, then,” Simon said, straightening and stepping away from her desk. “Maybe I'll see you around,” he added diffidently. Then he walked out the precinct doors without a backwards glance.


“Well, that was exciting,” Munch said drolly, breaking the awkwardness. “Now, Counselor... what did you bring me? That bag is for me, isn't it?” waggling his eyebrows comically.


“Actually,” Alex replied, opening the bag and removing the platters they'd brought back. “There should be enough for everyone,” garnering cheers from those around her. It was enough to shift the atmosphere and the detectives dispersed back to whatever activity they had been engaged in before the drama that had just played out had interrupted them.


Alex turned back to Olivia who was watching her with a sad smile. She extended her hand, gratified when Liv took it without hesitation. Then she led them upstairs to the crib.


“You all right?” she asked softly when they reached the relative privacy of the small room.


“Yeah, I really am,” meeting Alex's eyes and letting her see the truth. “I tried, Alex, and I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt... give him a chance. He's right - family is important to me. But I'm not gonna tolerate any disrespect of us that I can correct - family or not.”


Alex smiled. “You realize Detective Stabler is going to be pissed he missed this.”


Olivia laughed. “He'll get over it. He's gonna be too happy I told Simon to take a walk.”


“Jealous?” Alex asked.


“Maybe a little. Mostly he felt like Simon wasn't good enough. But you were right too - I'm glad I gave him a chance. At least I know the truth about how he feels.”


“Maybe he'll figure it out eventually.”


“Maybe,” Liv shrugged. “But I'm not gonna worry about it. I was telling the truth, Alex. I have a family in the people here... and you and Casey and Abbie and Jo and Blair. Until and unless Simon can understand and accept that, he has no place in my life. And I'm okay with that.” She looked at her watch. “Not trying to get rid of you, but don't you need to get going to meet those masons?”


Alex glanced at her watch. “Shit! I've got to go. Give me a call about Elliot's?” squeezing the hand she held before heading for the stairs. Liv followed her down.


“Absolutely,” she started, before Cragen called out her name. With a shrug in Alex's direction she moved towards the captain's office and Alex gave her a wave and walked out the door.




“I can't believe I missed that,” Elliot whined though his eyes twinkled in merriment. “Did you really blow him off?” He passed her another beer and leaned back in his chair. Kathy was currently nursing Eli and Alex was curled up next to Olivia with a Cheshire grin on her lips.


“Pretty much,” Liv confirmed after taking a swig of beer. She sighed. “I had a lot of time during my suspension to think about him and what he might mean to me and how he contributed to the situation I was in. I like the idea of having a brother... even a half brother... but Simon is not a person I would associate with if we weren't related. We have nothing in common - except for the partial DNA the man who contributed to our conception provided. No memories, no beliefs, nothing. And I'm not willing to change who I am to become someone he wants me to be to fit into his mold of an older sister. I tried to be there for him and it nearly cost me everything. If he's not willing to make the same effort... to meet me halfway....” She shrugged.


“Well, good riddance says I. I never really liked him.”


“No... really?” Olivia answered drolly, setting down her beer when Kathy pulled Eli from her breast to burp him. “Can I... can I hold him?”


Kathy rose from her spot and gently placed Eli in Olivia's arms. “After all you did to get him here safely,” Kathy offered with a smile. “We were actually hoping you'd agree to be his godmother.”


“Even though I'm not Catholic?”


“That is far less important to us than knowing he'd be looked after by someone who'd teach him values like honesty and decency and respect. We couldn't ask for a better godmother.” Kathy glanced in Alex's direction and grinned. “Besides, if you ask nicely, I imagine Alex would be glad to give you a hand,” chuckling silently when blue eyes widened comically.


“Wow,” Liv whispered, her eyes shining with tears. “I'd be honored.”


“Good - we'll schedule his christening in a couple weeks.” She turned to look at Alex. “You'll come?”


“I'd love to... thank you.” Then everyone's attention was taken by the interesting faces Eli was making and Olivia attempted to hand the baby back to Kathy. Kathy shook her head, laughing.


“Oh no, Olivia. This is part of the fun of being a parent... even a godparent. Come on,” rising from her place and tugging Liv up with her. “Time for you to learn that oh-so-necessary skill of diaper changing.” Liv looked plaintively at both Alex and Elliot before giving in gracefully and following Kathy to Eli's room.


Left alone, Elliot studied Alex carefully until equally blue eyes turned and caught his own with an unlooked-for intensity. “Something on your mind, Detective?”


“What are your intentions towards my partner, Alex?”


Blue eyes sharpened. “I'm not sure I see where it is any of your business, Detective. Olivia and I are working things out between us; it really doesn't concern you.”


Elliot leaned forward and clasped his hands together, pinning Alex with his own version of ‘the Look'. “Allow me to explain to you how it *does* concern me, Counselor - because you didn't see what your leaving did to her after thinking you were dead. You didn't have to watch her heart break when you came back to stay without even acknowledging her existence.”


“Can I ask why that became solely my responsibility? I don't recall anyone making any effort to welcome me back, and last I checked, a phone line works both ways.”


“We did,” Elliot said succinctly. “Or at least I did.” Alex cocked her head at him questioningly and he continued. “I heard a rumor you were back - no one bothered to let us know, which told me just how important we were to you - so I decided to check it out. Imagine my surprise to find you comfortably ensconced in a Bureau Chief's office wearing a rock proclaiming you were engaged.”

“And you didn't think our previous association warranted me an opportunity to share my side of things?”


“It might have... if I could have even gotten in to see you.”


“Excuse me?”


“I couldn't even get my foot in your door, Counselor. I was informed in no uncertain terms that you were no longer part of SVU and we were not to darken your doorway with our presence again.”


Alex's eyes burned. “Excuse me?” she repeated. “Who the hell...?”


“Someone named Jim Steele... backed up by Jack McCoy.” Elliot could hear her teeth grinding together and reached out a hand to her, covering her clenched hands gently with his. “Alex?”


Alex took a deep breath. “I accept responsibility for not making contact with you guys when I returned. I tried - I went to the one-six as soon as I got back and found out I had been replaced.” She took a deep breath. “It hurt... so much. So I decided to make my return a new start and to do that, I had to forget who Alex Cabot had been before. It wasn't that hard - I had been pretending to be someone else for three years. I thought I could keep pretending if it meant finding a measure of peace. But I *never* would have turned you away had I known you were trying to see me.”


“So what happened? What brought you back to us?”


“I couldn't pretend anymore. I was losing myself - who I was... who I wanted to be. I'd forgotten how to be happy.”


“And now?”


Alex smirked, the expression somewhat hiding the tears that sparkled in her eyes. “You want the sappy answer?”


“I'd like the truth,” he replied seriously.


“If it took what I've been through in the last five years to be where I am today, with Olivia back in my life looking towards the future together, then it is worth every bit of pain and frustration I've endured. I can't speak for Liv, of course, but I'd like to think she believes the same.”


“Actually, I'd have preferred not to have had the last five years happen the way they did,” Olivia said from the doorway where she had been standing for a majority of the conversation. “But they did, and since we can't go back and change what happened, I'm just glad to have Alex back in my life,” coming around the couch and taking Alex's hand in hers.


“As hard as you fought against it?” Elliot asked, releasing the hand he'd covered to allow Alex the ability to curl up into Olivia, which she did with alacrity.


“Especially since I fought so hard against it.” She smirked. “C'mon, El... when was the last time you knew me to do anything the easy way?”


“Point taken,” he said nodding his head, then turned back to Alex. “So, Alex... what are your intentions towards my partner?”


“Elliot!!” from both Olivia and Kathy. Alex held up a hand to stop their protests.


“It's all right. We've already worked through this part.” She turned and focused her attention on Elliot and he had to force himself not to visibly react to the intensity he was suddenly surrounded by. “My intention, Detective, is to reestablish the friendship we once had and see where that leads us. My desire....” Her eyes caught Olivia's and her voice dropped and became husky, “... is for that friendship to develop into something more... a relationship that is permanent and lasting and involves us being a couple in every sense of the word.”


Kathy smiled. Olivia blushed but held Alex's eyes while Elliot flushed bright red and cleared his throat loudly.


“Well,” he finally squeaked out. “I'm glad you've got a plan. Just don't hurt her again.”


Alex grinned. “I do indeed, Detective,” never letting her eyes leave Olivia's. They softened as did her voice before she spoke again. “And I will do my best not to, Detective. It's not something I want either of us to experience ever again.”


“Good,” Kathy said unexpectedly. “We'll expect to see you here together more often and I'll be waiting for an invitation.”


“Kathy!” Liv croaked, finally breaking her stare with Alex. Alex gave a full-throated laugh. Elliot just looked bewildered.


“What did I miss?”


“Nevermind, Detective,” Kathy said with a sardonic grin in his direction. “Pay attention and collect the evidence. You'll figure it out.”


Elliot growled. “I think I'm being pandered to.” Olivia snorted.


“You should be used to it by now.”


He glared. “I hate you.”


Liv leaned across Alex and pinched his cheeks together. “That's all right, El... we luuuuuuuuuuv you.” Stabler couldn't stop the chuckle that wanted to emerge and soon the group broke into laughter. It was a great end to a very good evening.




“She took you to Stabler's house? Alex, that's tantamount to taking you home to meet the family!”


“No, really?” Alex returned drolly.


“So,” Abbie asked when the silence grew too long. “How'd you do with the Elliot Stabler method of interrogation? I seem to recall he was brutal when he had a perp in the box.”


“Well, thank God I'm not a perp then,” Alex said dryly.


“Allllleeeeeeex,” Abbie whined. “That's not answering my question. Now spill before I put my mama on the phone. Her interrogation technique will make Stabler look like a rookie.” Alex snickered. She had no doubt Abbie would do it, but after her evening, she figured handling Emma Carmichael would be a piece of cake. Abbie's voice cut into her thoughts. “You've never been interviewed by a proper Southern mama, have you?” her smoky tones underlined with a hint of laughter.


“Um... no?” Alex said uncertainly, knowing that tone of voice from Abbie meant nothing but trouble for her.


“Trust me, Cabot. Mama can flay you alive and make you want to say thank you for it by the time she is done. So spill already.”


Alex cleared her throat. “I did all right. Kathy gave us her blessing and Elliot blushed beet red.”


Abbie sputtered. “You made Elliot Stabler blush?!? What in tarnation did you say to the man, honey?” reverting smoothly to that sweet Texas drawl. “The man is a sex crimes detective for God's sakes!”


Alex shrugged even though Abbie couldn't see the action. “I just answered his question plainly - laying out my position clearly so there could be no doubt in his mind just exactly what I saw as my future with Olivia Benson.”


Abbie cleared her throat. “You didn't.”


“I did - bet he won't ask me again.”


“No bet,” Abbie said chuckling. “That would put me on the wrong side of a sure thing.” She paused. “I'm glad things are finally going your way with Liv. You deserve to be happy - you both do.”


“What about you?” Alex asked bluntly.


“Are you asking if I'm happy? Or if I deserve to be?” Abbie inquired wryly with an attempt at humor.


“Abigail....” the name and Alex's tone enough to make Abbie sigh resignedly.


“I'm not unhappy, Alex.”


“That doesn't mean you're happy, Abbie. How are things going with Casey?”


“I don't know,” she finally sighed. “I think we would make great friends, but....”


“You don't trust her?”


“I want to. But is it fair to expect...?” Abbie broke off before she could say anything else. Alex decided the time had come to reveal the truth as she knew it.


“I think you should give her the chance, Abbie. The woman has been the SVU ADA for five years - she knows about rape and how victims of rape react. I think you should give her the benefit of the doubt. As soon as she knew she had a chance with you, her efforts to get a life outside the office stopped so you'd know she meant business and was serious about the two of you. What?” she said on a rush, finally noticing the silence of betrayal Abbie was projecting over the phone.


“You know?”


“Jack told me. Wanted to make sure I wasn't going to ‘suffer a similar malady' - his words - when I moved to Special Victims. And before you ask, I didn't think it was my place to ask/tell you about it. I wouldn't have done it now if I didn't think it was important.”


“You've known for years? And you never let on you knew... never treated me any differently than you had before.”


“It wasn't my place to say anything, Abbie. It was your secret to share or not as you felt comfortable.”


Abbie took several deep breaths. “Damn,” she finally muttered. “I can be such an idiot.” She cleared her throat awkwardly. “Can we talk about this later?”


“Whenever you want to, Abbie... or not at all, if you'd rather.”


“No... I want to. I think I need to. But I kind of need to sort all of this out in my head first. Besides, this is a long, long way from your good news. Oh,” continuing on before Alex could draw breath to comment. “I got the final part of Sam McPherson's story this evening.”


“And?” allowing Abbie to change the subject.


“And... I gave her the go ahead for the whole series. She did a great job, Alex. She really did. I think I may put a word in about having her nominated for a Pulitzer.”


“That good?”


“It should be in the Times tomorrow. You let me know after you read it.”


“All right. By the way, you and Emma plan to come up to the cottage the weekend before she heads back to Texas. We'll show her a little Yankee hospitality.”


Abbie laughed - a genuine belly laugh. “Cabot, I hate to break this to you, but to a Southern woman, there ain't no such thing.”


“You know,” Alex said smugly, thrilled she had made Abbie laugh, however briefly. “I could take that as a personal challenge.”


“Please do. I'd like to watch that.”


“So it's a date?”


“Give me a time and day and we'll be there with bells on.”


“That's quite a visual, Carmichael,” Alex said chuckling.


“Bite me, Cabot... and get your mind out of the gutter.”


“You're taking all the fun out of this, Abbie. I'll be in touch.”


“Later, Alex.”




“So you took her to Stabler's house, huh? Isn't that like taking her home to meet the family?”


“Casey, she already knew Kathy and Elliot.”




“Yeah... maybe a little,” Liv confessed.


“Are you sure you're ready for that step?” Casey asked.


“A little late to worry about it if I'm not,” Liv chuckled sardonically.


“So...?” Casey prompted when Olivia failed to continue. “What happened?”


“She held her own. Kathy gave us her blessing and El blushed a shade I've never actually seen on a man before... unless he was kicked in the nuts first.”


“Ow... Cabot made Stabler blush like a girl?”


“Yeah... bet he never asks about her intentions again.”


Casey laughed. “I wish I'd seen that.”


“It was pretty priceless.”


“So,” Casey continued after a moment's silence, “are you okay with all of this and how fast it's moving?”


“Yeah,” Liv said after a thoughtful pause. “‘Cause it's really not all that fast, you know? Alex and I have been dancing around this for over five years. We just took the longest, ugliest road we could find to get here. If there is such a thing as karma, everything else should be a cake walk.”


“Tempt fate much, Detective?”


“God, I hope not. I'm pretty sure they don't like me.”


“Sure they do... they just like to challenge your skills.”


“Wonderful,” Liv replied dryly. “That makes it sooooo much better,” smiling when Casey laughed. “So have you talked to Carmichael lately? I hear you had her out flying kites last weekend.” Casey smiled at the memory.


“Remind me the next time you're in my office - I got some great pictures. And yes,” she went on without pausing, “I talk to her every evening.”


“Oh really?”


“Yes. Let's just say I'm grateful for nationwide long distance.” Liv chuckled. “She did tell me that she approved the last part of the series Sam McPherson wrote about her and Alex at that embassy fiasco and what happened afterwards. The first part should be in the paper tomorrow - it will run all week.”


“I liked her and her girlfriend - they seem like good kids.”


“Yes, Grandma, they sure did. It's after dark... you sure it's not past your bedtime?”


“Bite me, Novak.”


“And have Cabot on my ass for destruction of private property? Stupid is not tattooed on my forehead, Detective Benson. And I have not survived the DA's office as long as I have by being stupid or unobservant. Trust me, Olivia - you are off the market and branded for life.”


“Um... bu... HEY!!”


Casey laughed again. “Let me know when you recover your vocabulary. We'll talk some more. Lunch tomorrow? Ice cream's on me.”


“Uh huh.”


“Good. Go to bed, Detective. This will all make sense to you in the morning.”


“It already does,” Liv muttered as she hung up. “Who'd have thunk it?”




“Arthur... what a surprise,” Alex said, shifting the paint brush she held and pushing the lock of hair that had escaped from her ponytail off her face... again. He did his best not to smile at her disheveled appearance, motioning towards the door with barely a smirk on his face.


“May I come in?”


“Oh... yes, of course,” Alex said, stepping back and opening the door wider. “Excuse the mess; I'm trying to get the renovations done before I start moving stuff in. I can't offer you a place to sit, sorry.”


“It's all right, Ms Cabot. I didn't come here to sit. I came to talk to you and I can do that standing up.”


Alex put the paint brush on the tray and picked up a rag to wipe off her hands. “How did you know where to find me? I haven't sent out invitations yet.”


Arthur let his smile come. “It's all in knowing who to ask.”


“Let me guess... Robert?”


“Privileged information, Counselor.” He looked around the room she had led him to, nodding in appreciation of the work that had already been accomplished. “Nice place.”


“I'm happy with it, but I'm pretty sure you didn't come here to comment on my new living arrangements. What can I do for you, Arthur?”


“Still right to the point, Alexandra? Nice to know some things never change. I was wondering if you'd given any thought to your future regarding the DA's office.”


She gestured towards the doorway and Branch walked out, taking a seat on the stairs as Alex did the same. “I thought I knew - I thought I had made a decision, but....” She sighed. “I'm of two minds about it, honestly. I like my job well enough and I loved being a prosecutor.”




“But I'm not sure it's enough anymore. I don't prosecute criminals; I don't make the bad guys go away. I'm babysitting the next bunch of ADAs while trying to figure out how most of them made it through law school. Do they only teach these kids the art of compromise in school these days?”


Arthur chuckled. “Why do you think I put you in charge of them? If anyone can teach those kids the art of fighting and arguing to win, you can, Alexandra. And as a bonus, you may even make a few of them care about more than the numbers.”


“Like I learned to, you mean? Maybe I should see if Casey needs some help - SVU is a really steep learning curve for that.”


“Yes, it is.” He sighed and looked at the front door before turning his attention back to Alex. “So what do you want to do, Alexandra? I can keep Steele in your position temporarily for another month before I need to make it permanent. Do you need another month to make a decision?”


“Can I have until the end of the week to give you my final verdict?”


“May I ask what caused you to waffle, Alexandra? That's not like you.”


“I received some information over the weekend that's changed the way I see a number of things... including some of the people I am forced to work with. I'm just not sure I want to continue to do so. I'm not sure I can.”


“All right. You have my private number. Let me know when you have an answer for me.” Branch stood and went to the door, pausing to look around the partially renovated brownstone. “I really do like what you've done with the place so far, Alexandra. I'll look forward to the housewarming.”


With a knowing smile and a wave, Arthur took his leave, closing the door firmly behind him. Alex sat on the steps for a few minutes longer before shaking her head and getting back to work.




“So how does it feel?” Casey asked as they sat down to lunch. Liv looked up at her with an inquiring expression and Casey smirked. “Knowing you are off the market.”


“We haven't made any kind of commitment to each other, Casey.”


“Liar - denial ain't just a river in Egypt, is it?” She glanced at Olivia and covered her hand briefly before turning her attention to the food in front of her. “Olivia?”


Liv sighed. “It's just so....”


“So what? Sudden... unexpected? C'mon, Olivia - this has been five years in the making. If anything, it has been unbearably, remarkably, agonizingly slow.” Casey sighed. “Are you that afraid to be happy?”

“Sometimes... I'm that afraid she may break my heart again.”


“Do you remember what you told Abbie when she expressed an interest in dating me? That sometimes you just have to let go and be happy?”


“Abbie told you about that?”


“She did. Listen to your own advice, Olivia... let go and be happy.” Casey set her fork down and folded her hands. “Olivia, you of all people understand how fleeting that feeling can be. Grab onto every chance you have to be happy. You'll live with a lot less regrets that way.”


“When did you get to be so smart?”


“I've always been smart - it's just taken you a while to notice it,” Casey said with a grin. Liv smiled.


“So are you gonna follow your own advice with Abbie?”


“Your advice and as soon as she let's me - you betcha.”


“Good - you both deserve to be happy too.”




“You're sure about this, Elliot? Maureen won't mind babysitting Eli?”


“Nah... everything is all set up.”


“All right. See you Saturday.”




“Alex?” Olivia called out as she knocked, opening the door and poking her head inside.


“In here, Liv.”


Olivia followed the sound of Alex's voice, pausing to admire the deep rich burgundy walls and stark white trim of the first room before finding Alex in the back room. In complete contrast, this room was a cool, neutral gray, though the white trim remained the same. But what captured her attention was the sight of Alex Cabot bending over in those tight blue jeans. Liv bit her lip and clasped the handle of the case she carried more tightly to keep from reaching out and touching as Casey's words from earlier in the week ran through her mind.


Alex straightened and caught Olivia staring, smirking at the amount of time it took for Liv's eyes to meet hers.


“See something you like, Detective?” looking over the rims of her glasses. Olivia swallowed hard and nodded. Alex sauntered closer until they were almost touching along their length, but not quite. “Really? How much?”


Olivia set her case down without ever losing Alex's gaze. Straightening, she took the final step to close the distance between them, smiling when Alex sucked in a shaky breath even as her hands came to rest on Olivia's hips. Liv allowed her hands to trail up Alex's sides, touching but not lingering until she reached Alex's glasses.


With gentle hands, she removed them, absently folding them into the collar of her shirt before bringing her hands back to Alex's face. Tenderly she traced the fine bones and soft skin, watching the blue eyes flutter closed when her touch reached Alex's lips. Olivia outlined them with the slightest touch, then gasped as Alex sucked her fingers into her mouth, laving them thoroughly.


“Alex.” Olivia's whisper was as powerful as a shout, causing smoky blue eyes to open half-way. Liv slid her fingers from the wet warmth of Alex's mouth, replacing them with her lips.


The touch was slow at first... almost hesitant... as though neither could quite believe they had finally taken this step forward into the next stage of their relationship. Eyes closed as arms wrapped more tightly around one another, tongues touching in tentative exploration.


Olivia cupped Alex's face, sliding her hands into blonde hair and tilting her head to allow Liv to thoroughly explore Alex's mouth. Alex's hands slid down towards Olivia's ass, fists clenching as her tongue teased and played with Olivia's in ways she had long dreamed of.


One moan followed another, and hands started to wander as the kiss increased in intensity. Slowly, almost with regret, they began to pull away from each other to breathe. Leaning their foreheads together, they kept their eyes closed, exchanging essence and air for a long moment before blue and brown eyes blinked open and met.


“Wow,” Olivia said, her lips creasing into a smile.


“Wow, indeed,” Alex agreed. “I can't believe it took us so long....” But the rest of her words were cut off when Liv captured her lips again, plundering Alex's mouth with abandon. Alex flexed her hands against Liv's bare skin, skimming the top of her ass and the small of her back and drawing a low groan from the back of Olivia's throat. Liv pulled back just enough to separate their lips.


“Casey was right.”




“Uh huh. God, Alex... you make me want so much. But not here... and not now. Given what it's taken to get us here, I don't want our first time together to be rutting on the bare floor like a couple animals.”


“Neither do I. We deserve a little romance.”


“Well, there's that, and there's also the fact that we should have company just about....” A knock finished her sentence. Alex arched a questioning eyebrow in her direction. Olivia shrugged.


“The guys wanted to do something to welcome you back, so they decided to help you get this place ready for habitation before you had to go back to work... especially since you're not exactly supposed to be doing a lot of this stuff yet.” Another knock. “Surprise?”


Alex held her eyes for another long moment before kissing her hard and fast. Then she moved to answer the door before Elliot decided to knock it down.


Alex opened the door, then paused at the number of people waiting to enter her home. Elliot stepped forward, hugging her briefly before entering, allowing those behind him to do the same. Munch was next, followed by Fin, Cragen, Casey, Kathy, Jo and Blair.


“I guess you weren't expecting us,” Blair said softly as she pulled back from her hug.


“No,” Alex said, shaking her head, “but it's a nice surprise.”


“So, Counselor,” Munch broke in. “How can we be of service?”


“Well, all the rooms upstairs still need painting.”


Munch clapped his hands. “I assume the paint is there as well?” Alex nodded. “You heard the lady, ladies and gentlemen,” motioning the rest upstairs ahead of him. Elliot paused by Alex before following the troupe.


“So where's my partner?”


“She's helping me.”


Elliot grinned and shook his head. “That'd explain the shade of lipstick you're wearing,” teasing and chuckling when she blushed. “Honestly, we're glad for you both, Alex. It's about damned time you were happy together. Now let me get a move on before my better half comes looking for me.” Then he headed upstairs, leaving her standing alone in the foyer.


Alex walked back to the room that would soon serve as her conservatory, only to find the double door locked against her. She knocked. “Olivia?” she called out. “Liv?”


A moment passed, then she heard the sound of footsteps before the lock clicked free and Olivia opened the door the barest amount.




“Can I come in?”


“Um... no?” Alex's brows rose into her hairline. “I'd like it to be a surprise.”


“All right,” Alex drawled slowly. “Can I at least have my glasses back?” looking down at Olivia's chest where they were still folded neatly in her shirt.


“Oh... um....” But Alex had already reached for the glasses, her touch deliberately grazing the skin along Liv's collarbones, dipping down beneath the t-shirt to skim along the top of her breasts. Olivia sucked in a deep breath, never letting her eyes leave Alex's.


Alex lifted the glasses from Olivia's shirt and took a step away from the door. “Back to work, Detective,” she commanded. “I want to see this surprise.”


Liv stepped forward, wrapping her hands into Alex's shirt and pulling until there was no space between them. The kiss was hard and fast and thorough, and it took Alex several minutes to realize that Olivia was no longer kissing her and the door between them was closed.


“Damn what that woman does to me,” she muttered, putting on her glasses and running a shaky hand through her hair. Then she turned to go check on her unexpected help.




“So, Counselor, can we expect this sort of spread for your housewarming party?” Munch asked much later that evening. The group, with two notable exceptions, were sprawled in various lounging positions around the burgundy room surrounded by sub wrappers, pizza boxes and beer bottles. Alex looked around carefully and raised an eyebrow.


“You don't think I should spring for something a little more lavish... with a bar maybe?”


“Far be it from me to turn down free alcohol,” he said with a grin. “Just tell me when and I'll be here with bells on.”


“Your scrawny ass better show up with more than bells on or the entire NYPD won't be able to find what's left of your body.” The entire room cracked up at Fin's pronouncement. Munch just smirked.


“You're just jealous because you know the women would be tearing me apart for a shot at this lusciousness.”


“Keep it up, partner. I'm pretty sure they're still pouring the concrete in the new stadium. You could end up a permanent part of the construction.”


“Speaking of partners,” Elliot cut in before Fin and Munch could escalate any farther. “Where's mine? And where's Jo?” he asked, turning to look at Blair.


“She got a call about an hour into our painting,” Blair said. “She called Olivia about an hour after that.”


Elliot frowned, wondering why Olivia hadn't called him. “Everything okay?”


Blair shook her head. “I don't think so, but Jo wouldn't share and Olivia didn't say.”


“Maybe we should break this up,” Elliot suggested. “Go find out what's going on,” with a significant look at his fellow detectives.


“Actually, we need to break this up and go home to our children,” Kathy broke in. “I promised Maureen we wouldn't be all night and it's getting late.”


“I'll check on Liv, Elliot,” Alex promised, “and make sure she's all right.”


Everyone nodded their acceptance of her words. Then they glanced at their watches, noting Kathy had been right and with muttered exclamations, clambered to their feet. A few minutes spent cleaning up, and the room was as spotless as it had been when they'd entered the house hours before. Alex took a few minutes to hug each of them and offer a few words of thanks as she saw them out the door.


Cragen, Fin and Munch were the first to leave, Fin grumbling about needing to give Munch a ride home as Cragen herded them out the door shaking his head. Some things never changed. Elliot and Kathy were next.


“Take care of her, Alex.”


“You know I will. I'll give you a call if it's something....”


“Only if you need help - if it was really bad, she would have called for back-up. I trust you, Alex.”


“Thanks, Elliot. That means... so much.” They took their leave and Casey was right behind them.


“I'm going down to DC late this week,” Alex commented to her. “I have to see the doctor there and get my release to go back to work. Would you like to ride down with me?” Casey blinked, not expecting the invitation or the fluttering in her belly the idea evoked. Alex noticed her expression and leaned forward. “C'mon, Casey... time to sweep her off her feet.”


“You think she's ready for that?”


“If you wait for her to be ready, you're gonna be old and gray. Time to grab the brass ring, Casey. You wanted a life outside SVU. This is your best opportunity.”


“Why do you care?”


The question caught Alex off-guard and she blinked in surprise. “Because I finally understand what true happiness feels like, and I'd like to see you and Abbie find the same together.”


Casey leaned forward impulsively and kissed Alex's cheek. “That sounds wonderful. Let me know the details and I'll see what I can arrange. Thanks, Alex.” She stepped out the door, then popped her head back in. “Let me know how Olivia is too, all right?”


“You got it.” Then the door closed again and Alex turned to Blair who hugged her tightly.


“I'm going to go home and wait for Jo. Call me when you know something.”


Alex nodded and pulled back to look Blair in the eyes. “You'll do the same?”


“Absolutely. I think this one was rough. Jo sounded shaken up when she called me.”


“Jo called you?”


“Right before she called Olivia... just to make sure someone knew that Olivia left.”


“I wonder why Liv didn't let me know,” Alex mused aloud.


“I don't think she paused once Jo called. You know how focused they get when it comes to their work.”


“And everything else,” Alex added with a sly smile. Blair chuckled.


“And everything else. Are you still in the penthouse?”


“No, I moved to the Plaza Thursday. I signed the papers on the penthouse yesterday morning.”


Blair slapped at Alex's shoulders. “And when were you going to share this news?”


“When I saw everyone again.” Blair's eyebrow arched. “I didn't think about it when you showed up here earlier. I was on a whole other wavelength, especially since I wasn't expecting anyone to drop by.”


“Fair enough. I want details, but not now. I need to get home.”


“Me too,” Alex agreed. “I'm going to lock up here and see if I can reach Liv.”


“Let me know.”


“I will. Be safe going home, Blair.”


As it happened, things worked a little differently.




Alex closed the door behind Blair and flipped open her phone, hitting one on the speed dial and frowning when her call went straight to Olivia's voicemail. She took a minute to walk through the brownstone, admiring the work her friends had done before flipping off the lights in each room as she went. She reached the bottom floor once more, hesitating in front of her music room, then shaking her head. She'd promised Olivia she wouldn't look and she intended to keep her word.


Slipping into her shoes, Alex reached for the final switch when a timid knock sounded at her front door. She keyed the speaker. “Yes?”


“Alex, it's me.” The voice was soft... defeated.


Without hesitation, Alex opened the door and pulled Liv inside and into her embrace in one swift move. They didn't speak. Instead Alex guided them to the stairs and just held on.


Olivia didn't cry and she didn't shake. She sat perfectly still absorbing the warmth and love she felt emanating from Alex and surrounding her very soul. After a while, Liv sat up.


“Thank you, Alex.”


“You want to talk about it?”


The dark head shook. “Uh uh. It was bad, and you shouldn't....” Hands cupping her face gently cut off her words, bringing brown up to meet blue.


“Don't think of finishing that sentence, Detective. Even if we were only just friends, I'd want you to share this burden with me, Liv. I think we've passed that point already. So let me listen - it's the only way I can help you bear this burden.”


Olivia removed Alex's hands from her face, but held them tightly in her hands. “I'd like to Alex, but not yet, please? I need some space from it first.”


Alex studied the eyes that never faltered from her gaze and finally nodded. “All right,” she agreed. “Whenever you're ready.”


“Thank you, Alex. Can I...?” She blew out a nervous breath, ruffling her bangs. “Can I ask a favor?”




“Can I stay with you tonight... will you hold me?”


“All night long, Liv.” Arm in arm they left the brownstone and headed to the Plaza.




Morning saw them curled up together in the middle of the big bed. Alex was spooned behind Olivia, carefully cradling her in her arms. She felt Liv start to stir and brushed a kiss over the juncture of her neck and shoulder, causing Olivia to hesitate briefly before finishing her stretch.


“Good morning,” Alex whispered into the ear near her lips. She smiled when she felt Olivia shiver.


“Morning,” came the scratchy reply. “This is nice.” Liv shifted to lay on her back, looking up into bright blue eyes. “I can't remember the last time I slept so soundly... without nightmares.”


“We may have to make this a more permanent arrangement then. You deserve to sleep without nightmares.”


“I could get used to it,” Olivia confessed. She pulled Alex down for a kiss, relishing the passion that ran between them with the simple touch. She moaned when the kiss deepened and Alex's hands started tracing patterns on the bare skin under the shirt Alex had loaned her to sleep in the night before. With a shudder, Olivia eased her lips from Alex's, leaning their foreheads together. “What are your plans for today?”


“I don't have any.” At Liv's disbelieving expression, she continued. “I was going to do some more work at the brownstone, but with my unexpected help yesterday, there's not a lot left for me to do and I can't arrange for the movers to come in before Tuesday now. Did you want to work on the mural?”


Olivia shook her head. “Not right now... wrong head space. I need... I need to go check on the victim from the call yesterday. She's in bad shape, Alex.”


“Would you like me to go with you?”


“I'm not gonna say no. But you need to be prepared.” She took a deep breath. “The homicide Jo got called in for yesterday - there was a live victim as well. A victim someone had set fire to.”


Alex covered her mouth with her hand. “Oh, Liv... that's horrible.”


“It is. Especially since the victim is a nine year old girl.”


“Oh, Liv.”


Alex took a quick shower and dressed, then they headed to Olivia's place so she could do the same. Then they headed to the hospital together.




“I wish...” Alex started to comment when they had been seated for lunch. She exchanged glances with Olivia, clearly seeing the residual sadness she felt in her own heart after their visit to the hospital. “Surely, there is something we could do.”


“Some sort of foundation for survivors of violent crimes to help their recovery? Maybe a camp for kids? I'll bet if you ask Blair, she'd be glad to help. Between you, you could probably get some significant funding, and Abbie could probably fill in any contacts the two of you don't already have.”


Alex blinked. “You've been thinking about this.”


Olivia dropped her eyes to the table for a moment before raising them to meet Alex's once more. “Yeah. When you mentioned it, it kinda got me to thinking. Too many times, we fight for justice for the victim, only to have the system forget about them once the trial is over. More than once I've wished there was more I could do.”


“Liv, you already do so much.”


“But it rarely feels like it's enough.”


“So you want to help me with this then? Make this a joint effort?”


“Absolutely,” Olivia confirmed with a smile. “It'd be nice to be able to help in a positive way. Sometimes I don't think getting justice does enough.”


“We do what we can, Liv.”


“I know.”


Their waitress interrupted them then, and they took a moment to order lunch. “Hey,“ Alex said, changing the subject when the woman left. “I've got to go down to Washington later this week to get my work release from the doctor. Would you like to go down with me?”


“I'd love to, but I'm on call again this weekend.” She sighed. “I think I'm paying for my month-long suspension. The guys seem to think it was an unpaid vacation. I'm not sure if they're trying to pad my paycheck with the overtime or punishing me for being gone so long.”


“Maybe a little bit of both,” Alex contributed with a smile.


“Maybe,” Liv agreed with a smile of her own.


“All right. If something happens to change....”


“I know where to find you,” Olivia said with a wink, leaning back to accept the salad plate the server placed in front of her. “I thought I might try to work on the mural while you're gone.” She shrugged. “Depends on how things work out.”


“Is that your subtle way of asking for a key to my home?”


“Did it work?”


“Well, since you'll need one to get in....”


“I'll return it when you get back.”


“I'd appreciate it if you kept it. I know we're not ready for the commitment of living together yet, but I'd feel better if you held onto it. You know... in case I lock myself out or something.”


“No other reason?” Liv asked boldly, her eyes holding Alex's.


“Well, it would be nice to have a detective at my beck and call whenever I <ahem> had need of one.”


“I see,” Olivia drawled. “Isn't that a misappropriation of a public servant?”


“Depends on what I'm appropriating that servant for, doesn't it, Detective?”


Olivia cleared her throat. “I guess it does, Counselor.”




A call to her cell phone had pulled Olivia away from Alex before they'd finished their lunch and Alex was preparing to leave for Washington before they were able to touch bases again... though not for lack of trying. They had played phone tag for three days and it was only because Olivia persuaded Fin to swing two blocks out of their way that Olivia was able to catch Alex before she left.


“You got it bad, Liv,” he teased gently as he pulled up to the brownstone. He smiled. “It looks good on you.”


Liv ducked her head. “I'm enjoying it,” she confessed shyly. “It's....” She trailed off, not really comfortable sharing that much personal information. Fin nodded his understanding.


“Take your time. I'll call us off for lunch. Gimme a ring when you're ready.” She nodded and climbed from the sedan. Fin watched her mount the steps before moving a little further down the block and heading into the corner deli for coffee and sandwiches - might as well make sure they got some lunch.


Liv paused at the door, hesitating for a long moment before pulling out her key ring and unlocking the door. Then she stepped inside and closed the door silently behind her.


The place looked like a disaster area. There was furniture, which was a definite improvement even if it was still wrapped in bubble wrap and paper. And there were boxes... lots of boxes, each neatly labeled. Obviously the movers had done their part and left Alex to do the unpacking at her pace.


Olivia stood still, listening for sounds to show she hadn't missed getting to say goodbye to Alex before she left. The creak of wood indicated that Alex was upstairs somewhere and Liv headed off in search of her.


The second and third floors were empty - not unexpected given that Alex's room took up the entire fourth level. Olivia raised her hand to knock against the bedroom door, then froze as she took in the tableau in front of her.


Alex's bags stood neatly packed beside the mussed bed and she was dressed - at least partly - in those damnably tight jeans that made Olivia's mouth water just at the sight. Currently, she was bent over looking under the bed, completely oblivious of Olivia's presence in her home. Without her conscious permission, Liv's feet crossed the room, her focus on those jeans and the woman in them. Alex shivered in sudden awareness, turning just as Olivia reached her.


She didn't get a chance to say a word, but her parted lips gave Liv the perfect opportunity to capture her mouth in a breath-stealing, passionate kiss. Alex didn't question, just surrendered herself to the intensity of feeling Olivia stirred in her. She moaned when Olivia's hands slid down to cup her ass and tangled her hands tighter in the short, dark locks she held, her tongue dueling fiercely in response. Alex felt the bed hit the back of her knees and she sank into it, pulling Olivia down on top of her. For long moments the kiss continued, hands wandering indiscriminately over clothes and then against skin. Only when Alex felt Liv's hands ghosting over her breasts did she pull back slightly, breathing heavily until that breathing hitched when Olivia moved her attentions to Alex's neck.


“God, Liv,” Alex whispered, the words drawing Olivia's head up just enough for their eyes to meet.


“Hi, beautiful,” Liv replied, brown eyes darkened to black in passion raking over kiss-bruised lips and the flushed skin of Alex Cabot's fair features. She leaned down again, claiming those full lips again, but this time with a gentle reverence that caused Alex to shake. Liv released her reluctantly, then with concern when she saw the tears. “Alex?”


Blue eyes remained wet, but her smile was blinding. “No one has ever made me feel like you do.” Olivia grinned.


“Ditto, baby,” shifting to one side of Alex's body and propping her head on her hand. She tangled her free hand with Alex's. “You all right?”


“I'm wonderful, thanks. But what are you doing here? Not that I'm complaining,” she added with a smile.


Liv shrugged and let her eyes drop to the sliver of bedding caught between their bodies. “I just needed to see you before you left.”


Alex eased her hand from Olivia's grip, placing that hand on her hip before cupping Liv's cheek. “I'm glad you did. I've missed you, Detective. At least next week I might be able to see you at work occasionally... especially if you come over to Hogan Place for a warrant.”


“So you're going back to the DA's office?” mentioning one of the things she and Alex hadn't had time to talk about when their weekend was cut short.


“Yes... for a while anyway. Arthur was right - I'm doing good there... making a difference. It's just... it's not where my heart is now and Arthur knows it. I told him I would at least stay long enough to see this group of interns settled into whatever departments they end up being assigned to permanently. We'll see where we stand after that.”


Olivia nodded, then glanced at her watch. “Damn! I've got to get going,” she said regretfully, ignoring the tingles Alex's thumb tracing her bottom lip were causing to cascade up and down her spine. “Fin's waiting.”


Alex tugged gently and Liv followed her silent plea, covering Alex's mouth with her lips again and tracing Alex's lips with her tongue. She swallowed a moan, not certain if it belonged to her or Alex. After a long moment, Olivia pulled back, gazing into Alex's eyes.


“You're not making this easy, Counselor.”


Alex smiled. “Good. I never want it to be easy for us to be apart. One more for the road?” Olivia didn't have to be asked twice and claimed Alex's lips once more. Reluctantly, they separated and leaned their foreheads together, breathing the same air. Finally, Liv slid back.


“I really need to go.”


“And I really need to find my other boot so I can get out of here. Help me look?”


Liv nodded and rose from the bed, extending her hand to Alex who slid from the mattress and immediately knelt to look under the bed. Liv stepped back and crossed her arms over her chest, smirking as she admired the way Alex's blue jeans hugged her ass. It took a minute for Alex to realize Olivia wasn't helping, but was instead leering at her. She turned her head and pushed her hair behind an ear before arching an eyebrow in question. “See something you like, Detective?”

“Um hmm,” Olivia answered, kneeling behind Alex leaving only the barest space between them. She licked her lips before reaching out and caressing the surprisingly soft material, smiling at the involuntary shudder her touch produced. Alex closed her eyes and blew out a ragged breath before speaking.


“Liv, unless you want to call Fin and explain to him why you need to take the rest of the day off, you're going to have to stop touching me like that. Otherwise I won't be responsible for what happens.”


“Promise?” Olivia breathed. She wrapped her arms around Alex's middle and urged her back until they were melded together. Alex covered Olivia's arms, turning the experience into an intimate embrace.


“Guarantee,” Alex said smiling back into Liv's eyes. Liv kissed her forehead.


“You're making it very tempting.” They held one another's gaze for a long moment before Olivia sighed and loosened her grip. “C'mon... before I decide not to let you go.”


“I hope you never decide to let me go, Liv,” Alex said softly. Olivia swallowed hard.


“Not again,” Liv breathed. “I did once and spent years regretting it. I don't plan to regret anymore.”


“Go out with me,” Alex asked impulsively. Olivia blinked rapidly at the unexpected change of subject and Alex smiled in response. “When I get back from DC, I would like to take you out.”


“Like on a date?”


“No... not *like* a date - really a date. You know... dinner, maybe dancing or a movie or a ride in Central Park....” She stopped speaking when Olivia covered her mouth.


“I get it, Alex,” Liv assured her with a chuckle. “I'd love to go out with you.” She slipped her arms from Alex and stood, offering her a hand up. Then she seated Alex on the bed and pulled the wayward boot from underneath the end of the bed.


“How did you...?”


“It was poking me in the ass,” Olivia replied dryly. Alex snickered but allowed Liv to slide the boot onto her foot. “There you go, Cinderella.”


“Thank you, Princess Charming.” Alex glanced at her watch. “Damn! I've got to get going.” She looked at the unmade bed and shrugged, then turned and picked up her bags. “Walk me to the door?”


Liv didn't answer verbally; she simply took the bag from Alex's hand and motioned her forward. A quick phone call to Fin and he met them at the door as they emerged from the brownstone.


“Taxi, ladies?” When Alex's brows shot into her forehead, Fin chuckled, motioning to the cab parked just behind the unmarked sedan. He took the bag from Liv's hand and headed down the stairs. He deposited her luggage with the driver then walked back to the cruiser to wait for Olivia.


Liv walked Alex to the cab. “Call me when you get there?”


Alex nodded and leaned forward, brushing her lips against Olivia's. “Absolutely. Try to stay out of trouble while I'm gone, Detective.”


“You too, Counselor.”


Alex climbed into the taxi and Olivia watched her go until she was down the road and out of sight. Then she got into the car with Fin, giving him a nod as they went back on the clock.




“Wow,” Abbie commented as she opened the door wider to let Alex into her home. “You look great, Cabot. Love certainly does become you.” She smiled when Alex ducked her head, unable to stop the blush from blossoming over her face. “C'mon,” tucking her hand into Alex's elbow and ushering her inside. “You've got time to unpack and make yourself comfortable before we need to leave for the hospital.”


Alex turned to Abbie with the question clearly writ on her face. “Where's your mom?”


Abbie shrugged sheepishly. “She had to go home. Apparently without her hand on the wheel, the ranch runs off the rails. The foreman called Sunday and asked her to come back.”


“I'm sorry to hear that,” Alex said as she entered Abbie's guest room. “I was looking forward to actually getting a chance to talk to her.”


“So was I,” Abbie agreed wryly. “Watching you two together I mean.”


“Well, I still owe her a get together with the girls, so maybe you'll get your entertainment then.”


“Somehow I don't think Mama will be quite as outspoken when the indubitable Detective Benson is around to protect your ass.”


“Given what I've been told, I can't see your mama backing off for anyone - not even my detective.”


“Gee, Cabot - possessive much? My mama is not a stupid woman. If your friends will stand up to her for you, what's your best girl gonna do? Mama may like a good fight, but she's never been one to poke a bear with a stick unless she knows what the outcome's going to be.”


“And you think she'd take me on without Liv watching my back?”


“In a heartbeat. Where do you think I learned my debating skills? Now that she knows the truth about you and me, she sees you as a new challenge to conquer.”


“Shouldn't that be Casey's privilege?”


Abbie snorted. “She's already won my mama over.”


“And you?”


Abbie shrugged and glanced at the floor. “Maybe. We've been talking....”




“And, I dunno, Alex. I like her. She's a good person - great listener, funny, warm, patient as the day is long, she argues like nobody's business....”


“And it doesn't hurt that she's a looker.” Alex cut her eyes at Abbie and then smirked at the protective stance Abbie had assumed. “C'mon, Carmichael. I'm taken... not blind. Besides, you don't get to play the part of the jealous lover until you make a commitment to her.” Abbie's shoulders sagged at Alex's words. Alex set her empty bag aside. She put an arm around Abbie and seated them both on the bed. “Talk to me, Abbie.”


Abbie leaned her head on Alex's shoulder. “She makes me nervous, Alex.” Alex didn't answer but Abbie felt the smile cross Alex's countenance before her lips brushed Abbie's temple.




The silence went on so long Alex started to wonder if Abbie had fallen asleep against her shoulder. Then she felt Abbie take a deep breath against her. “She makes me feel, Alex. She makes me *want* to feel again.”


“That's a good thing, Abbie. It's time you found more than contentment; it's time you found happiness.”


Abbie sighed. “Contentment is easier.”


Alex leaned over to whisper in Abbie's ear. “But happiness is worth the risk.” She cupped Abbie's chin and drew her face up until their eyes met. “Trust me, Abbie. I've been where you are. The difference is my situation was my fault; yours isn't. Give her a chance.”


“You're not going to let this go, are you?”


“Nope,” Alex replied with a grin. Abbie huffed.


“Fine. Next time I'm in New York....” trailing off when Alex shook her head no. “What?”


“She's here. We flew down together.”


“But....” Abbie sputtered.


“Time to piss or get off the pot, Carmichael,” Alex invited with a smirk.


“I hate you,” Abbie grumbled.


“Remind me of that after you've talked to Casey.”


“It'll have to wait - we have appointments to get to, and I don't know about you, but I'm ready to be out from under all these restrictions... to the point of being excited about going back to work.”


“Me too,” Alex confessed. “Despite everything.”


Abbie cocked her head. “We'll talk later?”






“Well, Ms Cabot, your recovery has progressed very well; you appear to be in exceptional health. What does your therapist say?”


“She says I'm clear to go back to work, but she wants to continue our sessions.”


“And what do you think about that?”


Alex shrugged. “I think she's right.” She sighed when the doctor looked at her expectantly. “There is more going on than just what happened that night, and I know that.”


The doctor held Alex's eyes for a long moment before nodding. “Fair enough. In that case you are free to return to work Monday morning.”


“Thank you, Doctor.”


“My pleasure.” The doctor stood and offered his hand. “Good luck, Ms Cabot.”


“So,” Abbie smiled as Alex met her in the waiting area. “How'd it go?”


“Free and clear.”

“Yeah... me too.”


“So, whaddya wanna do now?” Alex asked Abbie with a smirk. “Go to Disney World?”


Abbie laughed. “Maybe later,” taking Alex's arm and leading her from the hospital. “First, I think we should go get some dinner.”


“Let's call Casey to join us.”


Abbie sighed. “You're not going to let this drop, are you?”


“Do you really want me to?”


“Are you implying I need a swift kick in the ass to take a chance?”


“If the boot fits....”


“I hate you.”


“I know,” handing Abbie her phone. “I'll be at the car,” lifting Abbie's keys from her hand.


Abbie watched her go, then stared at the phone she held for an impossibly long moment. Finally, she sighed and scrolled through the phone book, selecting Casey's number and pressing the button.


“Hi, Casey... it's Abbie.”




Dinner had gone surprisingly well. Alex and Casey had kept the conversational ball rolling until Abbie had relaxed and become part of it. That had lasted until Alex announced she was taking Abbie's car and going back to the apartment, citing exhaustion. Abbie stood to follow her - only Casey's hand on her arm gave her pause. Abbie glanced down, brown eyes meeting green.


“Stay... she's a big girl and I'll give you a ride home.”




“Abbie, we're going to have to talk about this sooner or later. C'mon... you're one of the strongest people I know. I've heard the stories, you know,” she added with a smile, eyes sparkling when Abbie returned the smile. “What are you afraid of?” she asked softly.


Abbie's smile faded. “So many things... mostly you.”


Casey held Abbie's eyes, her expression never changing. “Me? Abbie, I'm not going to hurt you... not intentionally.” A beat. “Look... would you be more comfortable alone with me in a public setting or a private one?” Abbie cocked her eyebrow. “We can stay here and have some coffee and dessert. Or we can get in the car and drive around for a while.”


“Let's order dessert.”




“So how'd it go?”


Alex shrugged even though Olivia couldn't see the gesture over the phone. “I don't know. I chaperoned them through dinner then left them alone in the restaurant.”


“Alex!! You're playing matchmaker now?”


“Not at all, Detective. I am simply providing the opportunity for them to work things out for themselves.”


Liv chuckled. “Uh huh. The evidence speaks otherwise, Counselor. You're a troublemaker.”


“Firsthand experience, Detective?”


“None better, Counselor,” Liv answered with a chuckle, then cleared her throat. “How'd things go with the doc?”


“Good. I'm clear to go back to work, and I'm going to keep seeing Janet.”


“Good. So when are you coming home?”


“Miss me?”


“Yes,” came the stark answer.


“I'll take the first flight out tomorrow morning.”


“You'd do that?”


“In a heartbeat, Liv.”


Although she couldn't see it, Alex felt the warmth of Olivia's smile through the phone. “Is it wrong that it makes me feel like a giddy teenager for you to say that?” Liv asked quietly.


“God, I hope not,” Alex confessed.


“I mean after all the angst and frustration it took for us to get to this point....”


“Liv, I think you're over-thinking this, but just for the record, I think it's wonderful. After all the angst and frustration and struggle we've gone through to get to this point, we've earned the right to be giddy and happy and totally in love.”


“You're turning into a mush, Counselor.”


“Your fault, Detective.”


“How do you figure that? I'm a complete innocent here... stuck two hundred and twenty-five miles away from you. I haven't done a thing.”


“Except love me, Liv. That's enough.”


The silence was telling all on its own and Alex smiled, waiting for Liv to recover her voice. “Wow,” came the soft rejoinder.




“You take my breath away.”


“You do the same for me, Liv. You always have.”


“Allllleeeeex.” Alex grinned, feeling Liv's blush over the phone... a side of the detective rarely seen, even by her.


“O-liv-ee-ah,” Alex mimicked back to her, smiling when Liv chuckled gently. “Now, should I come home in the morning or stay here and keep tabs on the progress Casey and Abbie are making with one another?”


“Stay and keep an eye on Abbie,” Olivia said seriously. “I've never seen her so timid about anything and it worries me. I'll call if anything comes up, but I really am hoping it's quiet enough I can get some work done on the mural. I'd like to have it done in time for your open house.”


“That would be wonderful, Liv, but I want you to be happy in the doing. Don't force it if it's not working.”


“And when did you get so philosophical?”


“You'd be surprised how many things you have time to contemplate in witness protection, Liv.”


“I'd be happy never to have to learn by experience.”


“Me too,” Alex agreed sincerely. “Now that I finally have you back in my life....” She cleared her throat. “I need to go. I think Abbie's home and I don't want to be out here if she brought Casey with her. Talk to you later, Detective?”


“Oh, you can count on it Counselor.”


“Night, Liv. Happy dreams.”


“They always are when you're in them, Alex. Night.” And Olivia hung up the phone before Alex was able to catch her breath to respond. She held the receiver in her hand listening to the dial tone for a long moment before hanging it in the cradle. Then she moved towards the kitchen for a bottle of water and escaped to her room just as the front door opened and Casey and Abbie stepped inside.




“Come on in... make yourself at home. Can I get you anything? Something to drink or maybe....”


A hand on her arm made Abbie stutter to a stop and glance at Casey before dropping her eyes to the ground. “Abbie, I'm fine. C'mon... let's sit down.”


“I'm sorry.”


“About what?”


Abbie took a deep breath and let it out before giving in to Casey's gentle tugging and taking a seat beside her. “Casey, I really do like you. I know we haven't known each other a very long time, but I was aware of you long before you were assigned to SVU. You're one of the ADA's Jack has kept an eye on since you came to the DA's office and that brought you to my attention. And honestly, I was always impressed with what I learned about you. But I never really expected to know you as more than a name and face.”


Abbie chanced a look at Casey and smiled at the blush and shy, pleased expression covering Casey's face. “I'm not trying to embarrass you.”


“I know,” Casey replied. “I just can't believe I never knew... I mean, you were the gold standard we all aspired to. I never realized... I mean I never thought... um....”


Abbie grinned. “Breathe, Casey.” Casey took a deep breath and swallowed hard and for the first time in a long time, Abbie relaxed. “Better?”


“Yeah, thanks.” She took another deep breath. “I'm sure you think I'm some kind of a crazy person.”


Abbie chuckled. “Casey, I have been a basket case in the last few weeks. You don't think you're entitled to stutter once in a while?”


“Excellent point, Counselor.” Abbie laughed again and Casey cocked an eyebrow in her direction.


“You sound like Liv. She calls Alex ‘Counselor' as a term of endearment and Alex returns the favor by referring to Liv as ‘Detective'. It's a little nauseating.”


“Aw, c'mon, Abbie... I think it's cute.”


Abbie raised her eyebrow in mock derision before breaking into a grin. “So do I,” she confided, leaning over to bump shoulders with Casey. “Especially after all they have been through to get them to that place again.”



“You didn't see them together before Alex was put into witness protection. I don't know if they were intimate then, but they were definitely as together as they could be without sex. When Alex left, well... let's just say Olivia was unhappy for a long time.”


“And what about you, Abbie?”


“What about me?” Abbie asked, looking down at the ground. Casey took Abbie's face in her hands, raising her chin until their eyes met.


“Abbie, talk to me please. I know something happened to you and I know it was bad. You can't imagine some of the things that have crossed my mind as possibilities and it hurts me to think of what could have done so much damage to someone as strong and intelligent and amazing as you are.” A beat. “Abbie, I'm not trying to push you, God. But how can we have anything together if you won't trust me?”


Abbie closed her eyes and bit her lip. Casey never moved, gently stroking Abbie's cheeks with her thumbs. She felt Abbie sigh and take a deep breath. “When I was a freshman in college... I was... raped.” She sighed. “I was a stupid kid - I let him get away with it because I thought... I thought I had done something....” Her words stopped - not because there wasn't more to say, but because of the comfort she suddenly found herself surrounded by when Casey embraced her tightly. Abbie felt the kiss Casey brushed over her hair and relaxed into the hug, absorbing every bit of support Casey offered.


Casey waited in silence, tears rolling from her eyes as she felt Abbie release the pain she'd held close to her heart for years. She kissed the dark head a second time and felt Abbie sigh into her neck. “I know now,” she said so softly Casey had to strain to hear her, “I know it wasn't my fault. I know he raped me,” her voice becoming stronger. “But it doesn't make it any easier to bear. And it doesn't make it any easier for me to trust... no matter how much I want to try.”


“Abbie,” Casey said, lightly scratching Abbie's scalp as she combed through her dark hair. “You just did. Thank you for trusting me. I can't promise to never hurt you,” feeling Abbie stiffen in her arms. “Shh... I can't promise to never hurt you because I might. But I will never hurt you intentionally and I will do my damnedest to never hurt you accidentally.” She paused a moment and smiled, letting the expression carry over into her voice.


“Do you know what first attracted me to you... way back in the days you were an ADA for Jack McCoy?” waiting for Abbie to shake her head. “You probably can't hear it, but you have the cutest drawl. Not so much in the courtroom - your natural passion and intensity kind of override it. But when you're relaxed, I can hear Texas in that smooth whiskey voice of yours.”


Abbie tilted her head up, shifting to take in Casey's features. “Really?”


Casey nodded. “Uh huh. It just does something to me; it always has.”


“Really?” Abbie's tone completely different this time.


“Um hmm,” Casey hummed, her eyes focused on a point on the far side of the room. “And you have this little strut... the better your day, the more pronounced the strut. I always hoped to see you walking down the hall with jeans on doing that strut. It's really sexy,” Casey added, waggling her eyebrows roguishly at Abbie. Abbie shifted again, finally sliding her arms around Casey and returning the hug.


“Oh really?” Abbie asked again, a hint of playfulness in her voice.


“Oh yeah,” Casey purred. “Absolutely. And when you smile,” watching Abbie's actions follow her words, “you have the cutest dimples. They make me want to....” Without warning Casey broke off, biting her lip uncertainly.


“They make you want to what?” Abbie prompted when it appeared Casey wasn't going to continue. “C'mon, Casey,” she almost whined. “No fair teasing like that - what do my dimples make you want to do?”


For answer, Casey leaned down, letting her actions speak volumes when she caught Abbie's lips with tender passion. Abbie stiffened for a split second before relaxing into the kiss and returning it fervently. The kiss went on for long moments before the couple was forced to separate for air.


“That's what your dimples make me want to do, Abbie,” Casey confessed when she'd caught her breath. Abbie responded by reaching up and threading her hand into Casey's hair, pulling their lips together again. And down the hallway, Alex quietly closed her bedroom door with a smile on her face.




“I guess I don't need to ask how things went last night,” Alex commented as she poured herself a cup of coffee. She turned and looked at Abbie who gazed back at her pensively. “Abbie?”


Abbie's eyes dropped to the table and she sighed. “Have you ever been afraid to be happy, Alex... really, truly happy?” She paused and took a deep breath. “I told Casey the truth last night - she didn't run, and she didn't ask for more than I was able to give her. She stayed all night and just held me. It was wonderful - first time in a very long time I can remember sleeping through the night.”


“That's fabulous, Abbie. So what's the problem?” shaking her head and setting her cup on the table before taking a seat beside her.


“I look at Casey and wonder when the bubble is going to burst. She deserves so much more than....” A hand covered Abbie's mouth and Casey wrapped her other arm around Abbie's shoulder. She pressed her torso against Abbie's back and leaned forward to whisper into her ear.


“I have what I want, Abbie - that is what I deserve. Please don't discount my feelings about you or what's happening between us.” She lifted her hand when she felt Abbie open her lips to speak.


“It's a lot of baggage, Casey. I'm not sure....”


“You don't have to be, Abbie. I'm sure enough for both of us.”


“Listen to her, Abigail,” Alex said, reminding them she was still in the room. “She's pretty smart.”


“And pretty persistent,” Casey added, leaning forward and kissing Abbie's cheek as she removed her hand, only to find it caught in Abbie's. Casey responded to the gentle tugging, coming around to sit beside Abbie.


“So what are we doing today?” Abbie asked, looking first at Casey and then at Alex.


“Well, since you two seem to have things settled to your satisfaction, I thought I'd head back to Manhattan.”


“NO! You can't! I mean....” Casey cleared her throat. “Sorry, I mean, please don't leave on our account. You should stay for the weekend like you originally planned.”


“But what about...?” motioning towards the two of them.


“Alex, we're at the very beginning of our relationship. We're not going to start out alienating one of our closest friends by suddenly excluding everyone but each other from our lives. Losing friends like that would make us both miserable. So stay - we can go out and do things that friends like to do together.” Casey looked at Abbie and then back to Alex. “Hey, why don't we go over to the art gallery? I love that place.”


Abbie dropped her head to the table and banged it lightly. “Oh no,” she moaned dramatically. “I'm surrounded by culture aficionados! Somebody save me!” Casey and Alex exchanged glances and laughed.


“C'mon, drama queen,” Casey said as she rose from her seat. “At least I'm not dragging you home to meet the family yet. My brothers' questions make the Spanish Inquisition look like a walk in the park.”


Abbie looked at Alex. “What have I gotten myself into?” before dropping her head to the table once more.


“Aside from love?” she asked with a smile.

Casey leaned over and put her hand between Abbie's forehead and the table. “I'll protect you, Abigail - I promise.” She cleared her throat. “But first I need to go home and get a shower and some clean clothes.”


“Why? You can take a shower here; I'll loan you some clothes,” Alex offered. “You can give your mom all the details later.”


“Yeah, and if Alex's clothes don't fit you, I can probably find some that will.”


“Can I borrow your cowboy boots?”


“Don't push it,” Abbie growled playfully, the glare in her eyes betrayed by the twinkle sparkling from the depths of brown. “This is just our first date.”


“I had to try,” Casey sighed dramatically, covering Alex's laughter. Abbie rolled her eyes, shaking her head as she stood. She took Casey's hand and led her towards the master bath.


“And you call *me* a drama queen.”




“Thank you, Alex,” Abbie said as they shared a light breakfast early Sunday morning.


“For?” Alex asked, her brow furrowed. “I should be thanking you for letting me crash here for the weekend.”


“Cut the modesty, Cabot. It really doesn't suit you. We both know you had a hand in Casey and I....” She waved her hand around. “You know... finally getting together.”


Alex snorted then lifted her coffee cup to her lips. After a sip she replied, “I didn't do anything except put the right circumstances into play. The two of you had to do the hard part.”


“Whatever. Don't think I'm going to forget it anytime soon, though,”


“Well then... plan on coming to Manhattan for Thanksgiving. Gerry has promised to come down from the lodge and give me a hand that weekend.”


Abbie laughed. “A hand? Or is she cooking the meal for you?”


“She's cooking the turkey - I never quite got the hang of it in Witness Protection since I only ever cooked for me. I make a pretty good green bean casserole though and I do a decent pecan pie.”


Abbie's eyebrows went up into her hairline. “*You* can make pecan pie?? I'll be there early. I want to see this.”


Alex did the mature thing and stuck out her tongue. “Oh ye of little faith.”


“Yeah, yeah... put your money where your mouth is, Cabot.”


“Any day of the week, Carmichael. Just let me know when you're coming so I can have the guest room ready for you. I still have quite a bit of work to do, and since I'm going back to the DA's office....”


“And can I say how happy I am about that... going back to work, I mean? God, I never thought having a month off would take so much effort.” She broke off, chewing her lip thoughtfully.


“Try having two,” Alex returned wryly. “Although if I'm completely honest, it's probably the best thing to happen to me. Gave me plenty of time to think and make some good decisions for a change.”




“Only that I hurt a lot of people trying to find my way home.”


“And are you there yet?”


Alex gazed at Abbie thoughtfully, giving the question due consideration. “Mostly, yes,” she eventually answered. “I still have a few things to work out, but I have a good therapist and at least I finally have Liv on my side again.” The sound of a horn blowing interrupted them. “That would be my ride to the airport,” standing to retrieve her luggage. Abbie just smiled and went to the door, anticipating Casey's knock.


“I'll wait in the car,” Alex said as she swooped by them. “And I'll expect you in a few weeks, Carmichael,” leaning over and brushing Abbie's cheek with her lips.




“Thank you, Alex,” Casey said once they were seated on the plane. Alex's brows climbed her forehead and her eyes widened as the distinct feeling of deja vu washed over her.


“For?” she asked, wondering if Casey's reply would be at all similar to Abbie's.


“Inviting me down and then hanging around to play with me and Abbie. I think... I think it made Abbie more comfortable for us to start out going out with friends instead of just me.” Casey's chuckle was ironic. “I never realized I was so threatening outside the courtroom.”


“Thank you for sticking with her, Casey. She's worth it... she really is. She's just a little skittish.” Casey covered Alex's hand.


“It's okay, Alex. I think so too. I went into this with my eyes open. I knew there was something going on with her even before she confided in me.”


“So now what?” Alex asked. “Are you going to try to have a long distance relationship?”


“Right now we're going to have a long distance courtship... getting to know each other as more than a name or a reputation - email and phone calls and text messages. See what we have in common aside from being lawyers who've both worked in the Manhattan DA's office with some pretty special friends.”


“Well, I've got my fingers crossed.”


“Me, too.”




There was music coming from the conservatory when Alex unlocked her brownstone some hours later. She hadn't told Olivia when she was returning and she had a pretty good idea where the good detective was judging by the sounds coming down the hallway. She climbed the stairs to her bedroom, wondering why she had chosen the top floor until she stepped in, soothed by the feeling of home that suddenly surrounded her. It brought tears to her eyes and Alex shook her head to remove any trace of sentimentality... unsuccessfully.


Instead, she blew out a shaky breath and threw her suitcase on the bed. She unpacked quickly, changing into her favorite blue jeans and a warm sweater. Then she walked sock-footed down the stairs, only to find the muzzle of a police weapon pointed in her direction as she entered the kitchen. She jumped back and put a hand over her wildly beating heart even as Olivia dropped the gun into its holster and leaned shakily against the counter.


“Shit, Alex... you nearly gave me a heart attack!”


Alex blew out a breath and crossed the room to wrap her arms around Olivia's neck, answering her words with action. She captured her lips, forcing a moan from deep in her throat as she plundered Olivia's mouth. Then Liv pushed her hands into Alex's back pockets and Alex shuddered, ripping her mouth from Liv's and attacking her neck with abandon.


“God, Alex,” Olivia's lips at Alex's ear. “I missed you, sweetheart.”


Alex tangled her hands the dark hair and tugged Olivia's lips from her earlobe. “I missed you too, love,” crushing their lips together again before they were forced to separate for air. They leaned their foreheads together catching their breath.


“Welcome home, babe.”


Alex smirked. “I like this greeting much better than the gun. Nice reflexes, Detective.”


“I didn't hear you come in. I was expecting a phone call telling me when to pick you up.”


“I wasn't sure where you were and I didn't want to disturb you. How's the mural coming?”


Olivia shrugged. “I like the direction it's going but it's not going as quickly as I'd like.”


“Liv, I told you it's no rush.”


“I know, but I'd like to get it done for your housewarming.”


“Can I see?” A beat. “Please?”


Liv bit her lip before sliding her hands from Alex's back pockets and reaching for her hand. “All right. Just remember it's a work-in-progress.”


“I'm sure it will be exceptional, Liv.”


A dark brow cocked. “How do you figure that, Counselor?”


“I've seen your work, Detective.”


Without another word, Olivia unlocked the door and motioned Alex in ahead of her. Then she stood back and watched Alex's reaction.


Alex walked towards the wall slowly, eyes wide and mouth open until she forced it closed with an audible snap. She extended her arm, gently caressing the lines closest to her. “Oh, Liv,” she whispered reverently. “This is... this is amazing.”


Alex turned back to Olivia, catching the blush traveling up her face. She reached out her hand towards the detective, waiting for Liv to take it. Alex pulled her forward until Olivia's arms wrapped around her. Then she covered Liv's hands with her own and leaned into her strength.


“You really like it?”


“It's fantastic, Liv. I can't wait to see it finished.”


In the upper left corner was the barest silhouette outline of the Manhattan skyline. In the foreground was a setting familiar to Alex, though it wasn't just like her memories. It was a meadow with trees and wildflowers, mountains in the background. The sun was just starting to set and in the middle of the meadow stood two women - one dark, the other light - entwined around one another until it was hard to see where one began and the other ended.


But the most astounding part of the mural was not necessarily the picture itself, but the mediums Olivia had used to bring it to life.


The flowers that were completed were made of bits of tile and glass; the rest in a box waiting to be finished. The waving grasses that surrounded them were composed of bits of cloth while brushstrokes could be seen over the smoother parts. The mountains were rough and gritty as though created from rock and sand. The sun was nothing more than a pencil sketch as were the two women except for the color of their hair. Most intriguing though were the pictures on the floor in front of the skyline. Alex looked her question at Olivia.


“They're going to be part of the buildings... what gives them depth and realism.”


Alex's brow furrowed. “May I?” motioning to the photographs. For answer, Liv released her and Alex took her by the hand and walked to the far corner. “Are they in a particular order?” she asked as she bent to pick them up from the floor.


“Mostly,” Liv admitted.


“I'll be careful,” freezing when her eye caught the first image. “Where...? How...?” her voice full of wonder and curiosity. She let Olivia guide her to the divan in the room that currently faced the fireplace. Alex took a seat and met Liv's brown eyes, now full of concern. “Liv?”


“Some I had; some the guys did. Gerry shared a lot with me as did Robert, surprisingly.”


Alex blinked. “Excuse me? You talked to Robert?”


“He came by the hospital the other day when I was visiting little Rosa. Did you know he was on the board there?” Alex nodded. “Did you know it's part of his job to help kids who suffer from some sort of trauma find a place that will help them cope?” This time Alex shook her head. “Um hmm.... If she continues to improve like she has been he's gonna send Rosa to a rehab facility that will help her relearn how to function again.”


“That's wonderful, Liv. I was thrilled to hear she was expected to survive, but this could make such a difference for her.”




“But that doesn't explain the pictures.”


“We got to talking - at first I think he was trying to vet me to make sure I was suitable for you.” She held up her hand to cut off Alex's tirade before it started. “Don't worry, sweetheart. I let him have it with both barrels, so to speak. It made him decide we were more than right for each other - he said if I could hold my own with you like that, we were well-matched. Then he said he had some things he needed to return to you and asked me if I minded taking them. When he gave me the box, he placed a photo album on top and told me I should take a look. I was suspicious, of course, but I was also curious.”


“Curious won?”


“I'm a detective, Alex... of course it won. How did you get them past Hammond?”


“I refused to give them up. They were all I had left and no amount of threats or pleading was going to make me give them up.”


Olivia nodded as though she'd expected that answer. “I went through and scanned them into my computer and made copies of the ones I didn't have and wanted to use. When I was done, I put the album on your shelves with the rest of them.”


Alex looked again at the picture on top - one of her and Liv taken at the last precinct Christmas party she'd been to before her world fell apart. There were others - ones of the guys, of her family, of Serena and Abbie and the rest; pictures from her childhood and pictures from the paper when she'd made news as an ADA. Some of them brought tears to her eyes and others brought smiles. But all of them brought back memories.


After her silent perusal, she turned watery eyes on Liv. “Where are yours?” Olivia blinked. “C'mon, Liv,” Alex chided gently. “I know we may not be ready to move in together yet or exchange rings and vows, but this is your work... your art. How can you not put a piece of yourself into this collage?”


“What do you mean, Alex? I'm in a few of the pictures.”


“Yes, but your history isn't. None of your mom or of you as a kid - nothing about your accomplishments as a student or a police officer.”


“The wall isn't about me, Alex.”


“No, but it is about us,” motioning to the two female figures in the center of the wall. “And it is your art. Think about it. Please?”


Liv nodded. “All right; I'll think about it. But no guarantees. Deal?”


Alex sighed. “I suppose.”


“Good. Now tell me about some of these pictures. I've been curious since Gerry gave them to me.”


“You're going to share how you managed that, right?”


“I asked; she obliged.”


“Just that simple?”


“Just that simple.”


Alex stared at her in amazement for a long moment, then shook her head in disbelief. “Who'd have thought?” she muttered mostly to herself.


“I had nothing to lose by asking,” Liv confided. “Besides, it gave her a little chance to reminisce, though she did promise me full stories later. I figured I'd give you first shot. I imagine hers will have a lot more embarrassing detail in them.”


Alex covered her eyes with her hand and shook her head. “I am so doomed.”


“Time to ‘fess up, Cabot - start talking.”




“Long time no see, Detective,” Alex greeted when Olivia poked her head around the door. “What brings you to my house of horrors?” gesturing her inside and watching as Olivia glanced around her office. She raised an eyebrow when Olivia looked back at her after her perusal.


“It's different... and impersonal.”


“I know. I just haven't gotten round to doing anything much with it.”


“Like you didn't expect to stay here long?”


“Something like that,” Alex confessed quietly. “So what can I do for you, Liv? I know you're up to your eyeballs in cases.” She smiled at the inquisitive glance thrown her way. “We've played phone tag for most of the week and I've talked to Casey several times. She's using a couple interns to do case law research.”


“Careful, Counselor. You could become a detective with investigative skills like that.”


“I'm not sure the world is ready for that - Alexandra Cabot... Private Dick. And where would the law degree go with that title?”


Liv smirked. “I'm sure we could think of something.” Her phone buzzed and she frowned. “I was just stopping by to see if we were still on for tonight.”


“As long as you don't get called away, sweetheart.”


“Great. So I'll see you at seven?”


“I'll be there with bells on.”


“Thanks, Alex. I needed the visual,” she said dryly. “Between the bells and the fedora, I'm not gonna get much else done today.”


Alex couldn't help it - she burst into laughter. And Olivia smiled all the way down to the car.




“Alex, do you have a minute?” Jim Steele asked when he saw Olivia leave Alex's office. She swallowed her sigh. She'd been hoping to put this confrontation off a while longer.


“Sure, Jim,” beckoning him inside. He took the invitation and shut the door before taking a seat in front of her desk. “What can I do for you?”


“I wanted to see how you were doing. You've been gone a while and you've been avoiding me since you got back.”




“Alex, I heard what you said before you left, and you were right… on all counts. We've never been friends and I do have a good thing with Jessica. However, I'd like to work on the first, if you'd be amenable to it. I think it might make things easier here for everyone if we could at least get along.”


“Well which do you want, Jim? To be friends or simply get along?


“I'd like the first, but I'd settle for the second.”


Alex held Steele's eyes for a long moment before nodding. “We'll work on it, Jim. In fact,” she said thoughtfully, “I'll be having an open house in a few weeks. Plan to come and bring Jessica with you.”


“We'd love to Alex - thank you.”


She nodded again. “Anything else?” propping her elbows on her desk and folding her hands, pressing her fingertips against her lips.


Steele took a deep breath. “I've heard rumors....”




“Um... you and a female detective at the one-six.”




“Are they true?”


“I suppose that depends on what you've heard. But just for the record, as long as my personal life doesn't interfere with my work, I don't see that it's anyone's business who is in my personal life.”


He held up his hands. “Fair enough. I was just going to congratulate you. She's a real looker.”


Alex smirked. “I know.”


Jim stood and went to the door. “Oh,” he said, turning around with one hand on the doorknob. “Is the other rumor going around true as well?”


Alex leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. “There are more? God, I was only gone two months!”


Steele chuckled. “Remind me one day to fill you in on all the gossip that's gone flying around here in the two months you were out. But only one other has a real possibility of being true in my opinion.”


“And that is?”


“I've been given to understand that you may not be with us for long because of your interest in forming some sort of non-profit foundation to help victims in some way. If the first part is true, I hope you'll reconsider. If the second part is, I hope you'll allow me to be a part of it.”


“I appreciate it, Jim. Thanks.”


He nodded and exited the office, closing the door softly behind him.




Olivia blew out a nervous breath when the knock sounded, smoothing her black cocktail dress down smoothly. “It's just Alex,” she reassured herself, before grasping the knob and pulling the door towards her, only to gasp when she got a good look at her date for the evening.


Alex was dressed in a light gray silk pantsuit with a royal blue shirt that not only lent color to the ensemble, but also brought out the depth of her eyes in an almost startling fashion.


“May I come in?” Alex asked with a hint of amusement when Liv's stare went on for several moments. Even her olive-toned skin color couldn't hide Liv's blush and she opened the door wider for Alex to enter her apartment.


She took the flowers Alex offered her, lifting them to her nose to inhale the delicate fragrance. Then she gave Alex a shy smile. “They're beautiful.”


“Very much like you,” Alex assured her, smiling as another wave of color washed over Olivia's features.


“Let me just put these in some water,” Liv said, motioning Alex further inside. “Would you like something to drink or...?” clenching her hands to hide the shaking.

Alex caught Olivia's hands, gently chafing them with her thumbs. “Liv... take a deep breath and relax. It's just me - Alex - who has found you charming and infuriating and beautiful and frustrating and captivating and downright impossible for as long as I've known you. It's just us - no burdens or expectations beyond what we place on ourselves, all right? This night is going to be what we want it to be.”


Olivia nodded. “I'm not sure why I'm so nervous about this. I mean, it's not like either of us are new to the dating scene or romantic entanglements. So I'm not sure why....” She let her voice trail off.


“It's a little scary realizing something you've wished for... hoped for... for so long might actually be happening for real, isn't it? Almost like you're afraid that if you let it happen, it won't be everything you've dreamed of and you'll never find the happiness that has eluded you your whole life.”


“How did you know?”


“Because I'm scared of the same thing, Liv... only worse. Because I'm the one who screwed everything up so badly in the first place, and I know I won't get another chance at this if I screw it up again.” Alex took a deep breath, hoping to steady her voice. “Now, would you like to go out tonight, Ms Benson or shall we call for take out and stay in?”


“As hot as you are and after all the work I did to look this good? We're going out on the town, Ms Cabot. Though for the record,” letting her eyes roam Alex's figure from head to toe, “I kinda miss those blue jeans.”


“Tell you what, Detective - you can plan the next date. Just make sure it's something I can wear blue jeans to.”


“Planning ahead, Counselor?”


“Always, Liv. Now c'mon... before we miss our reservation.”




The night was amazing. For the first time, Olivia understood what it was like to be the sole focus of someone's world and Alex realized how precious what she and Olivia shared really was. They held hands as Alex walked Liv back to her door at the end of the evening.


“Do you want to come in?” Liv asked as they reached her apartment. Alex released Olivia's hand and shook her head.


“I promised you slow. If I come in, I'm not going home tonight,” letting Olivia see the raw need and desire in her eyes. Liv inhaled sharply.


“I'm not sure I could let you go at all,” she confessed.


“That's why I have to leave. When the time comes, I want you to be sure.”


Liv tangled her hands in Alex's hair, tugging gently until their lips met. Alex put her hands on Olivia's waist, drawing them together until there was no space left. The kiss went on for long moments, tongues dueling for dominance even as they struggled for breath. Finally, they separated with obvious reluctance, chests heaving as they fought for air. Liv loosened her grip and traced Alex's lips, gasping when they were sucked into a warm, wet mouth.


“You make me feel... so much.”


Alex leaned in and kissed her again - hard and fast. “Goodnight, sweetheart,” taking a step back and letting her hands drop to her side.


“Goodnight, beautiful,“ smiling again when Liv's eyes dropped to the ground. Alex turned and headed to the stairs and Liv watched her go, before turning back to her door and slipping inside with a smile on her face.






“Detective Benson, this is Kurt Moss.” Olivia pulled the phone from her ear and looked at it before putting it back to her ear.


“Mr. Moss - this is a surprise. What can I do for you?”


Kurt Moss cleared his throat. “I just wanted to let you know about a phone call I received this morning from a man named Simon Marsden. He felt he had some information I might be interested in - as a newspaper editor.”




“You... and Bureau Chief Alexandra Cabot.”


“I see.”


“Not to worry, Olivia. I turned him down cold and I tried to set him straight. But I don't think he was listening and I'm not the only newspaper man in town. And you were spotted out together over the weekend.”


Olivia was silent for a long moment. “Thank you, Kurt. You really didn't have to.”


“Yes, I did,” he retorted. “I told you, Olivia... I really do like you. And true or not, we aren't a gossip rag. Even the social pages are factual. Now if Ms Cabot wanted to talk to us, that would be a different matter.”


“Can I give you a call back? I think I may be able to return the favor. It wouldn't be gossip, but it might be newsworthy.”




“Thanks, Kurt.”




“This is wonderful, Liv. Great way to spend a beautiful afternoon,” Alex said as she stretched out and put her head in Olivia's lap. “How did you manage to get the time off in the middle of a workday?” Liv chuckled.


“I called in a favor. What I'd like to know is how you managed to have those jeans available at a moment's notice,” motioning down Alex's body.


Alex smirked, crossing her arms over her chest and her ankles simultaneously. “Some detective you are. Olivia, all my jeans fit like this. And I learned to keep clothes in the office a long time ago. These have been waiting a long time - I never had the chance to play hooky before.”




“Not with someone I wanted to play with.” Alex shifted, curling up a little and turning slightly to look up at Olivia. “So what's up?” smiling when Liv cocked an eyebrow at her. “C'mon, Detective. I know there is something more than playing hooky together going on here. Don't make me squeeze it out of you,” wrapping her arm around Liv's waist and pressing her face against the flat belly. Olivia drew in a deep breath and idly ran her hands through Alex's blonde locks.


“Kurt Moss called me earlier,” feeling Alex stiffen momentarily before she relaxed. “My brother... Simon... called him offering him information about us. About the fact that we are together... as a couple.”


“And? Liv, when I finally stopped pretending to be the Alex Cabot I thought everyone else wanted me to be, I decided I was going to be who I am regardless of what anyone else wanted or thought.”


“So you don't care if he outs you to the world? What about your career?”


Alex shrugged. “I like what I do, Liv, and I'm good at it. But it's no longer the be all and end all for me. And if I can't keep working at the DA's office, I'll find something else. I've put out feelers on the victim's foundation we talked about - there's a lot of interest out there. I could easily make it my life's work.”


“And me? Alex, all I know is being a cop.”


Alex stretched, propping her head on her hand and gazing up into Olivia's eyes. “Sweetheart, I'm not saying we should put an ad in the Times or the Post. Personally I don't think most people would care, but I'd never deliberately put you or your job in danger, and I'm not naive enough to think something like that wouldn't. So I'm going to leave it up to you. We can do or not do whatever you think is best.” Alex pulled her arm from Liv's waist and tangled their fingers together. “I just want you to know I'm not ashamed of you. Whatever you want to do is fine with me.”


Liv gave Alex a crooked smile, stroking her fingers gently through Alex's hair. “Witness Protection really did change you, didn't it? I think I like the change.”


Alex trailed her thumb along Olivia's knuckles. “Do you?”


“Yeah,” Liv replied after a bit of thought. “It's made you a little softer.”


“I'll have to work on that,” Alex said dryly.


“Don't,” Liv said, leaning over to brush her lips over Alex's. “I really do like it.” She sighed. “Outing us aside, I was wondering if you might want to talk to Kurt anyway. Maybe stir up some public interest for the new foundation you want to establish.”


“Do you think he'd want to print something about that? It's still in the planning stages, you know. And not nearly as juicy as the rumors about us he's heard.”


“Why don't we ask him? I think he might like that kind of exclusive a lot better than the gossip.” She paused. “Thanks Alex.”


“For what, Liv?”


“Trusting me.”


“I always have.”




“Mr. Moss.”


“Ms Cabot,” gesturing to the seat across from him. “Thank you for joining me.”


“Thank you for inviting me. I know this is a little awkward....”


“Surprisingly, not really, Ms Cabot. I learned a long time ago how to compartmentalize things to keep my professional life separate from my personal one. And to be frankly honest with you, I care enough about Olivia to want her to find happiness, even if I can't be the one to give it to her. That doesn't mean, however, that I want to be friends with either of you - I'm not a big enough man to do that right now.”


“I understand that and I appreciate the sentiment. Let me assure you you're a far bigger human being that most, including myself, would be about this. Are you certain you want to do this?”


“Ms Cabot, I'm a newshound first and foremost and you're offering me an exclusive interview about a foundation that can make a difference for victims here in Manhattan as well as around the country. I'd make a deal with the devil himself for that kind of press.”


“How lucky you're talking to me then,” Alex returned with a smile. “The detectives at the one-six used to call me their very own Devil.”


Moss smiled. “I imagine there are a number of people who still do.”


Alex laughed. “Probably so. Shall we get this started then?”


The interview went smoothly - Moss was a well-respected reporter for a reason and his questions were relevant and to the point. For her part, Alex was well-versed in how to handle an interview and both wound up being satisfied with the final result of their talk.


“Ms Cabot?” he queried as they were preparing to leave. “May I ask you a personal question... off the record?”


Alex had a feeling she knew where this was headed, but figured the man had earned the right to ask. So she nodded her head slowly, her eyes never leaving his.


“Do you love her, Ms Cabot? Do you make her happy?”


Alex conveniently ignored the fact that he'd asked two questions and nodded without hesitation. “I do, Mr. Moss. On some level, I always have... even when I was trying not to.” She tilted her head and considered her answer to the second question. “As for the other, I like to think I do, but you'd have to ask Liv to know for sure. I know that she makes me happy though and I am trying to do the same for her.”


He studied her a moment. “Fair enough,” he finally acknowledged, nodding his head. He held out his hand. “Thank you, Ms Cabot. I appreciate your candor.”




“So how did it go?”


“Well, I don't think we'll be friends anytime soon, but I think he was happy with his exclusive.”


Olivia nodded and wrapped Alex in her arms from behind, leaning her chin on the shoulder in front of her. “That's a start, I guess. Maybe one day.”


“Maybe. But for now I'm starved. What's for dinner?”


“Pick your poison,” Liv instructed as she offered Alex a handful of takeout menus. “I'm buying.”


Alex grinned. “In that case, I want a burger and fries. A *real* burger,” she admonished with a shake of her finger in Olivia's direction. “No McDonald's or Burger King.”


“Spoilsport,” Liv complained wearing her own grin. “Grab your jacket.”




Olivia rolled her eyes and snatched the jacket from the closet, holding it open for Alex to put on before she opened the door. “If we're getting burgers and fries, we're going out for the good stuff. And that means *going* out and not *taking* out. So let's go,” sweeping her arm out in front of her in a grand gesture.


“Have I mentioned how bossy you're getting lately?”


“Oh sweetheart - bossy hasn't even entered the room yet. The handcuffs are still on my belt.”


Blue eyes widened comically. Brown eyes twinkled in devilish delight.




“So how are you doing, Alex? A lot has changed since our last session.” Janet settled comfortably in her chair sipping from her tea as she observed Alex Cabot do the same.


“I'm good,” she said at last. “I feel... more comfortable. More settled in my own skin.”


“Is this because of Olivia?”


“Partly, I suppose. We're gradually moving towards becoming more than friends - actually going out on dates like any other couple does.”


“You say that like you never expected to be doing that together.”


Alex sighed and turned her gaze towards the window. “I wasn't sure we ever would, to tell you the truth. Olivia's a very private person and right now, she's dictating the pace of our relationship, Janet.”




Sharp blue eyes tracked to open brown. “What do you mean, why?”


“It seems like a simple question, Alex. Why is Olivia dictating the pace of your relationship? If you're not participating, it's not really a relationship, is it?”


“It's not like that.”


“Then explain it to me, Alex.”


Alex sighed and rose, rubbing the outside of her arms briskly as she walked to the window. Janet followed her progress with her eyes, though she didn't move from her seat. “The easy explanation? She deserves the chance to choose how things go between us for a change.”


“She hasn't before?”


“Not really. We were both hesitant the first time - and then my arrogance landed me in witness protection.”


“And the second?”


“C'mon, Jan... you've been my therapist since I returned to stay. You know what happened when I came home - what I did... who I became.”


“And are you someone different with Olivia?”


Alex turned from the window, her smile blinding in her intensity. “I am myself again. I'm the Alex Cabot I want to be... not the one everyone else expects me to be. And this Alex Cabot wants Olivia Benson to be completely comfortable with us as a couple... in her time.”


“You know that may never happen, Alex. She's a cop; can she really afford to be out?”


Alex met Janet's eyes firmly and held them without flinching. “*That* is why she is dictating the pace, Janet. The guys she works with and a few of our closest friends know about us. If that is all that ever know, it will be enough. And if she decides to take out a billboard in Times Square and announce it to the world - that will be okay too. I know who I am now and who she is to me. Everything else is just so much icing on the cake.”


Janet smiled. “That's wonderful, Alex - a major step for you.”


“Are you calling me a control freak?”


“If the shoe fits,” Janet replied drolly. “Though I was actually referring to the milestone you've achieved here. You've finally found the place in your life where you determine your own happiness instead of letting everyone try and force their ideas and ideals on you. How do you feel?”


Alex took a moment to think about the question. “Settled,” she finally said. “At peace.”


“Even with Olivia dictating the pace of your romantic relationship.”


“Yes... because she is back in my life again and I know that sooner or later, we'll move forward. I can see the desire in her eyes.”


“Bring her by sometime,” Janet said. “I'd like to meet her.”


“All right. I'll ask her. In the meantime, you and your husband plan to come to my housewarming in a few weeks. I should have the details next visit. If nothing else, you can meet her then.”


“We'll be there, Alex. Thanks.”




Olivia parked the car and grinned. “I figured this would be right up your alley,” motioning to the haunted house outside the window. She got out and went around to the passenger door, taking Alex's hand and helping her out. Then she tugged Alex towards the steps.


“Oh you did? Something in my profile told you I like being scared out of my mind? Or did you bring me here planning to be my hero?”


“Why, Ms Cabot, are you accusing me of ulterior motives?”


“Oh I hope so, Detective Benson.”


“Well, you did say for me to pick something to get you back into those jeans, didn't you?” dark eyes perusing the lithe form in front of them. “And what better way to celebrate Halloween? Besides,” Liv said as she reached into her jacket for her wallet, “it's for a good cause.”


She paid the witch at the top of the steps the entrance fee for two, then waited for Frankenstein to open the front door for them. The sounds that emanated from inside caused them to exchange glances, then they stepped across the threshold, jumping when the door slammed shut behind them.


Alex clutched Olivia's hand a little tighter. Liv smiled, leaning in to whisper into Alex's ear. “Don't worry, Counselor. I'll protect you from things that go bump in the night,” nipping lightly on the lobe near her lips.


Alex couldn't contain the gasp the unexpected touch elicited, and she turned to face Liv in the dark, letting her free hand clench into a fist at Olivia's waist. With unerring accuracy, her lips found Olivia's ear and Liv could hear the smirk in Alex's voice. “Maybe... but who's going to protect you from me, Detective?” She felt Liv shiver, but before they could go any further, the door opened and a gaggle of teenagers entered the house. Liv pulled them just out of the traffic mainstream, not wanting to be in the middle of a group of squealing kids when the door slammed shut.


Fortunately, the sound of the screams covered their laughter and after the kids moved further into the house, Liv took Alex by the hand again. “C'mon, beautiful. Let's do this, and then we can go have dinner at the Country House.”


“You've got yourself a date, sweetheart.”




“This is nice,” Alex said sleepily as she curled up more firmly into Olivia's body.


“So the haunted house was worth it?”


“I'd suffer a lot scarier things if I could find myself curled into your arms every night, Liv,” Alex confessed.


Olivia didn't answer with words right away. Instead she kissed the top of the blonde head tucked beneath her chin and wrapped her arms more securely around Alex's form, pulling them together more tightly. She breathed in their mingled scent and whispered into Alex's ear, “Me too,” before drifting off into sleep.




“So how was your Halloween date?” Jo asked as she sat down across from Olivia in the hospital cafeteria. They had both come to see little Rosa off to the rehab center and had decided to get a cup of coffee before heading back to work. The little girl had made such an impact on both of them in the brief time she had been in their lives and they wanted a few minutes to regroup before returning to the real world that made up their lives as detectives.


Liv smiled. “It was great. The haunted house the Sisters allowed the kids to put on was really well done and Alex wore those blue jeans,” she added with a chuckle and a waggle of her eyebrows.


“Perv,” Jo teased as she sipped her coffee with only a tiny grimace. It was still better than the sludge they had at the precinct. “Who knew you had a denim fetish?”


“I don't,” Olivia stated succinctly. “I have an Alex fetish.”


“Does that mean...?”


Liv shook her head. “Not like... I mean... yeah, we've slept together, but not like you mean. We were actually sleeping... taking comfort in having one another close.”


Jo blinked. “Are you kidding me? With all the fire and passion I've seen in the two of you?”


“Why are you so interested?” Liv asked with a bit of ire in her voice. “It's not like what Alex and I do or don't share as a couple really concerns you.”


“Maybe,” Jo acknowledged as green eyes met brown. “But you've been my friend for a long time, Liv. We've seen each other through some rough patches. I just want you to take whatever happiness you can find - to have something for yourself like I have with Blair. And I think Alex Cabot may be the one for you to share that with... mind, spirit and body.”


“I think she is, Jo. She's already such a big part of me.”


“Then why the hesitation? You afraid she's not willing to commit to you?” Olivia shook her dark head, eyes trained on her coffee cup. “So what then? You don't think you're allowed to be happy?”


“We already are, Jo. As much as I fought and grumbled against it, we are very happy together.”


“Then what's the issue? Surely she wants to be with you physically... I mean, c'mon. You two have been dancing around the attraction you've felt for each other for years.”


Liv glared at Jo before relenting. Jo had been one of the few, including Elliot to call her on shit from the very beginning of their relationship. It had gotten Jo into trouble more than once, especially as a rookie, but to Olivia, it was a true indication of the strength of their friendship.


“If you must know,” the look in Jo's eyes confirming that she did indeed need to know, “I don't want to rush this. I want to enjoy being with her - getting to know who Alex Cabot is now.”

Jo cleared her throat as she nodded her head. “All right... I can understand that. But don't you remember how quickly it can all be taken away? Could you live with the regrets you'd have if something happened tomorrow?”


“Yes... because this time there would be no regrets - this time we know where we stand with each other and what we want. It's going to happen, but right now we are both enjoying the courtship part of this relationship. It's different from anything we've ever had before - with each other or anyone else. We'd be fools not to appreciate it. The passion is still there - it's just simmering beneath the surface.”


Jo smiled. “I understand that too. I've got something very similar. I just hope it doesn't take you two as long as it took me and Blair.” She stood and Liv followed suit. “It's nice to see you relaxed and happy,” she added at Liv's nod. “You wear it well.”


“I'm enjoying it. Who knew making out and cuddling could be so satisfying?”


“Heh... that's one of the nicest parts of being an old married couple. There's always someone to make out and cuddle up with.”


“Just for the record - I'm not patient enough to wait fourteen years before making a move.”


Jo chuckled. “I doubt Alex is either.”


They threw away the remainder of their coffee and walked out the hospital doors. “So we'll see you and Alex on Thanksgiving?” Jo queried as they walked towards the parking lot. She smirked when Olivia tilted her head and frowned. “Alex invited us for dinner.”


“Oh... then, yes. I was afraid I was suddenly going senile.”


“Nah... you've still got a few good years left in ya, granny.”


“Why I oughta....”


“You'd have to catch me first, Liv.”


“Hey! I can still out run Stabler, ya know.”


Jo snickered. “An old married man with a houseful of kids. It's a wonder he can still put on matching socks.”


“I think Kathy checks before she let's him leave the house.”


They laughed and got into their vehicles, heading back to their respective precincts.








“One second, Abbie.” Alex shifted the phone to her shoulder, but Abbie could still hear her words clearly. “I don't care what you think. I am telling you to rejoin us back on the planet Earth and get this done, or I'm going to be happy to send you to the moon myself, courtesy of a pair of steel-toed cowboy boots.”


There was the sound of a door slamming, then Abbie heard Alex sigh before she spoke. “Hey, Abbie. What's up?”


“Rough day?”


“Rough month. For some reason, the interns think that since Thanksgiving is next week, they can shirk their work all month. I'm ready to....”


“... send them to the moon via your cowboy boots - I heard,” Abbie said with a chuckle.


“Some days I wonder why I decided to come back to the DA's office,” Alex confirmed with a sigh, running a hand through her hair. “So what can I do for you, Ms Carmichael? When are you coming up?”


“I thought I'd come up Friday night - I'm taking the whole week off. I want to see some of this kitchen prowess I've heard about in action.”


“Oh ye of little faith. Sure... come on up. It'll give you and Casey a chance to spend some time together too.”


“Yeah... I'd thought of that. Besides, I'm looking forward to catching up with you and Liv. I miss you guys.” She paused. “How's that going anyway?”


“Slowly,” Alex confessed with a sigh. “But it's kind of nice. We're spending time together, learning about each other. Did you know Olivia had never ridden a carousel before? We saw Shakespeare in the park because we both did some summer theatre in college. We rode the Staten Island Ferry... just because it was a nice day. We played Frisbee and went to a jazz club and ate hot dogs on the corner in Times Square.”


“Sounds wonderful, Alex.”


“It has been, Abbie. As badly as I want things to move forward between us, I'm enjoying this time with her.”


“So why aren't you moving things forward? I've never known you to hesitate when you had a target within your sights.”


“I'm leaving it to Liv, Abbie. She's setting the pace this time.”


“I always knew you were a closet romantic.”


“And if you spread that around, I'll have to duct tape you to the bed, Carmichael.”


“Oooh, Cabot - does Liv know you're so kinky?”


Red flamed Alex's face and Abbie's laughter made it worse. “Not talking to you anymore, Carmichael,” she muttered.


“Ah, c'mon, Cabot. I think Liv might like to know this about you. She might enjoy it.”


“As much as Casey will to know you're a bottom with a duct tape fetish?”


“You wouldn't... it's not even true!”


“Try me.”


“You're no fun, Alexandra.”


“Good of you to notice, Abigail. So what time Friday? Should we pick you up?”


“I don't want to mess up your plans, Alex. I can grab a cab and a hotel room and come over sometime Saturday.”


“Time, Abbie.” Alex's voice was firm and uncompromising.


“Did anyone ever tell you you're bossy?”


“Every single day - comes with being the boss. Now tell me when and where or I'll sic Liv on you. She's got a gun, you know.”


“You really are kinky, Cabot. I'm taking the train up. If it runs on time I should be in Penn around seven.”


“All right. We'll pick you up there and go out for dinner.”


“Thanks, Alex.”


“Anytime, Abbie. See you Friday.”




“You have a bossy girlfriend, Benson.”


Olivia laughed, causing every head in the bullpen to swing in her direction. “You've know Alex how long, Abbie? And you're just now figuring this out?”


“What can I tell you - I'm obviously slow,” Abbie drawled. “Actually, I don't think I've ever had it turned in my direction before now. How do you put up with it?”


“Surprisingly, she's not bossy with me. In fact....” Her voice trailed off thoughtfully.


“Don't over think it, Benson. She's letting you set the pace.”


Stunned silence. “She told you this?”


“Between gushing about how good things are going with the two of you and threatening me, yeah.”


“I'd like to hear what brought on the threats.”


“Maybe at dinner Friday.”


“Dinner Friday sounds great. Anywhere in particular?”


“I figure you or Alex will do the choosing. I'm just along for the ride.”


“I know that feeling.” Muffled sounds over the phone. “Hey, Abbie - I've gotta go. Talk to you later?”


“See you Friday.”




“Hey, Alex - what's up?” Casey asked, motioning the Bureau Chief into her office as she tucked the phone under her chin. She hung up with a click of her fingers then started pushing buttons.


“I can come back if you're busy,” stopping when Casey shook her head.


“If you wait til I'm not busy, it might be years... or never.”


Alex smiled and dropped gracefully into a seat in front of Casey's desk. “You're having that kind of week too, hmm? Must be something in the air,” she added at the wry look Casey gave her. “I've had to threaten to get out the boots.”


Casey laughed. “I heard. I'd pay good money to see that,” she said, then held up her hand before Alex could respond. “I've got your warrant, but I've got to be in court in ten minutes.” A pause. “All right, I'll....” She looked at Alex who was nodding at her. “I'll leave it with Alex. All right... bye.” She shook her head. “Sorry... Judge Terhune is demanding my presence in court,” she said, standing and gathering her files.


“Still getting payback for that poker game interruption, huh?” Alex chuckled at the befuddled look on Casey's face as she rose to her feet. “Like that wasn't one of the first things I heard about when I came back for the Conners' trial. It was a great tension breaker.”


Casey smiled. “Glad to have contributed something good to that experience,” holding out the warrant. “Thanks,” motioning with a nod of her head. “Was there something I could do for you... a reason you stopped by, I mean?”


“Oh... yes - would you like to join us for dinner tomorrow night? Abbie's coming in and I thought we'd go have fondue or something. Nice way to unwind for the weekend.”


“That sounds great, Alex. I'd love to.”


“Wonderful. We'll pick you up around six-thirty.” She glanced at her watch. “You better get a move on; you don't want Terhune to hit you with contempt... especially now. They all get bitchy around the holidays.”


Casey snagged her briefcase and gestured Alex out the door in front of her. “You ever think about being a judge, Alex?”


“Is that your subtle way of telling me I'm bitchy, Novak?”


Casey colored, but held the blue eyes steadily, her green ones alight with laughter. “Not at all, Chief. But you've gotta admit that look could go a long way in a courtroom.”


“So could a gavel, but I wouldn't be allowed to throw it at anyone, so what's the point?”


Casey didn't answer; just snorted and shook her head, waving as the elevator closed behind her. Alex took the stairs back up to her office, wondering who the warrant was for.


She didn't have to wonder long. She had barely settled into the chair behind her desk when a knock sounded on her door. “Yes?” The door opened and a dark head poked in. Alex's features creased into a warm smile and she stood and moved to greet the detective that crossed the threshold. Olivia didn't hesitate, but walked into Alex's arms and held her tightly for a long moment. Alex returned the embrace fiercely, only pulling back enough to look into Liv's eyes when the pressure eased slightly. She pushed dark hair from dark eyes and cupped Olivia's face. “Liv?”


Olivia turned her face towards Alex's hand, brushing a kiss over her palm and smiling at the slight shuddering she felt ripple through Alex's body. Then she leaned forward, taking Alex's hand in hers and cupping her other around the back of Alex's neck until their lips were just touching. Alex's eyes fluttered closed but Olivia didn't move any closer, waiting. A very long moment of utter stillness, and Alex surged forward, capturing Olivia's lips with unbridled passion. Liv smiled into the kiss, then focused on returning it wholeheartedly.


Slowly, Liv pulled back, moving her thumb to wipe away Alex's smeared lipstick with a smile. “So, dinner tonight?”


“Um hmm,” Alex agreed dreamily. Olivia snatched the warrant from Alex's desk and dropped a kiss on her cheek before heading for the door.


“I'll pick you up at eight... and wear something sexy.” Before Alex could respond, Liv was gone. Alex just shook her head. It was going to be an interesting night.




Well... thought Alex, it *would* have been an interesting night if it hadn't been for the phone call that had snatched Olivia away so early into their evening. Liv had picked her up promptly at eight, just like she'd promised; the look of desire and appreciation more than enough to make up for the time Alex had spent looking for an appropriately sexy outfit. Liv had leaned in for a kiss, deepening it for long moments and allowing her fingers to trail up Alex's bare back and sides and delighting in the shivers that followed her light touch. Then she pulled away and took Alex by the hand, leading her to the car before proceeding to drive them back across town to her own apartment. Alex's brows rose to her hairline in question, but Olivia remained tightlipped, simply escorting Alex to her door without a word.


When they reached the door, Olivia pulled them to a stop and gazed at Alex as though memorizing her outfit. Red come-fuck-me heels accented toned calves. The white dress, partially hidden by the now open coat was reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe's famous ‘Seven Year Itch' costume, though this one had a red belt accenting the smallness of Alex's waist and the feminine flair of her hips. Liv reached out a hand to touch the material, only to discover that silk had nothing on Alex's smooth, pale skin. Her other hand dug into her pocket for an instant and it gave Alex the chance to once again be impressed just how amazing Olivia Benson looked in black.


There was her trademark leather jacket, of course. Her slacks were black - soft looking, though Alex couldn't distinguish the fabric on sight. The tight sweater she wore dipped low enough to give Alex more than a hint of tanned, toned cleavage and a good look at the inscribed pendant she'd had made for Olivia. It had been delivered just after.... Her thoughts trailed off and she briefly wondered what had happened to the other necklace - the pearl necklace identical to the one she wore that they'd exchanged early in their friendship. Hers had disappeared the night she'd been shot and she hadn't seen Olivia wear hers since that night.


Olivia reached for her hand and it brought Alex out of her musing just long enough to force a gasp from her lungs. In Liv's hand, dangling from between two fingers was an object she recognized, but had hardly dared hope to see again... especially not so soon after their reconciliation.


“It's been brought to my attention that I'm the one setting the pace in our relationship. So I thought I'd step it up a little bit,” passing the key to Alex and watching her hand shake just slightly as she clasped it tightly.


“Are you sure, Liv?”


“I'm sure, Alex.” She took her own key out and pushed the door open. What else she would have said was lost in Alex's exclamation.


The room was lit in candles, the light hint of cinnamon wafting through the air along with hints of garlic, basil, oregano and other spices which foretold the presence of Italian food in the vicinity. A small table in the corner was dressed for dinner in a manner akin to the poshest restaurants Alex had ever eaten in. A bottle of wine sat chilling in a bucket beside the table and soft music floated across the room subtly.


Alex turned an astounded look in Olivia's direction, but the detective merely blushed and shrugged. “I thought we'd eat in.”


Alex didn't answer verbally. Instead, she closed the door firmly behind them and took Olivia's face in her hands before kissing her soundly. They hung their coats up then she allowed Liv to lead her to the table and seat her before bringing their food in from the kitchen.


Alex poured the wine and Olivia took a seat and they dug in with relish. Alex closed her eyes as the flavor hit her tongue and she moaned in ecstasy. “Luigi's?”


“Olivia's,” Liv said with a grin and a wicked twinkle. Alex scrambled to finish swallowing without choking and dropped her jaw in surprise.


“Seriously?” watching Liv nod. “God, Liv... you're in the wrong line of work. I think we should chuck civil service and open a restaurant. We'd make a fortune.”


Liv chuckled. “I take it you like it then?”


“If I didn't already love you, this would push me right over the line,” Alex proclaimed, then stilled when she got a good look at Olivia's gobsmacked expression.


“You love me?”


“I never stopped, Liv. Despite everything, that was the one constant in my life... even if I was the only one who knew. I'm sorry it took me so long to tell you.”


“Never be sorry... not about that,” Olivia instructed as she covered Alex's hand with her own. “Everything happens in its own time and way for a reason. As long as you promise to tell me every morning when we wake up and every night before we go to bed, I can let it slide,” her smile teasing and beatific.


“Is that right, Detective?” Alex asked, her voice barely quavering. “And would this sentiment be exchanged or would it remain a one-sided conversation?”


“I think an exchange could be arranged if you were interested, Counselor.”


“Oh... I most definitely am, Oli....” Her response was cut off by the imperative ringing of a cell phone and one look at Olivia's face made Alex realize it was important. “Work?” Liv nodded. “Go... I'll still be here when you get back.”


Olivia rose and crossed to Alex's side, pushing the hair back over one ear and cupping her face tenderly. “I love you,” she whispered, capturing Alex's lips for the briefest moment. Then she was up and out the door, barely stopping long enough to snatch her coat before closing the door soundly behind her.


Alex had cleaned up, placing the leftovers in the fridge and washing the dishes before blowing out most of the candles and stretching out on the couch with a moan. The music remained on low and without realizing it, Alex allowed herself to be lulled to sleep.




It was well after two am when Olivia crossed the threshold back into her apartment. She took one look at the beautiful blonde curled up on her couch and felt some of the exhaustion fall from her shoulders. She hung her coat up soundlessly, then went directly into the bathroom, running a hot shower and standing beneath it for several minutes. Then she scrubbed clean and dried off vigorously, shaking her head at the clothes now scattered on her bathroom floor. Hopefully Mrs. Rasmuten would be able to salvage them. God knew she was used to dealing with the kind of clothing issues Olivia brought to her by now - she had years of practice.


Liv slipped into a comfortable pair of lounge pants and a tank, scooping up her dirty clothes and towel and dumping them into the hamper before heading back into the living room. She knelt beside Alex, gently stroking her cheek and smiling as the fair lashes fluttered and the blue eyes opened.


“Hey, beautiful,” Liv whispered. Alex caught her wandering hand and brought the fingers to her lips, brushing a light kiss over the tips.


“Hey gorgeous. You all right?” noting the sadness in the depths of the brown eyes she loved.


“I will be. Come to bed with me? Just to sleep,” she added ruefully. “Despite my earlier plans and any current desire, I'm too damned tired for anything else.”


“‘Kay... love you,” Alex murmured, remembering their agreement.


“Love you too,” Olivia replied, kissing her forehead.


Alex tugged the hand she held and Olivia took the hint, standing and urging Alex to her feet with a tug. Then they made their way to Liv's bedroom, collapsing into one big tangle and dropping into sleep almost immediately. They never even realized when the sun came up.




Olivia woke up late, noticing immediately that the bed beside her was empty and the sheets were cold to the touch. She breathed in deeply, then smiled at the myriad of scents she detected - cinnamon, left from the candles; coffee; Alex and.... She hesitated, then sat up on one elbow, noticing the deep red blush of the rose and hearing the crinkle of paper. She lifted the flower to her nose with a silly grin and opened the paper, grin growing even wider as the faintest hint of jasmine wafted to her.


Liv, (it read)


You were sleeping so peacefully I didn't have the heart to wake you. I had to get to work, but I wanted you to know I love you. Have a good day and I'll see you around six-thirty. Maybe tonight we won't be too tired.


The Devil you know :-)


Olivia couldn't stop the blush that raced across her face. She reached for her phone and flipped it open, hitting the speed dial and waiting for it to be picked up on the other end. When it was answered, all she said was, “I love you too, Devil,” then clicked it shut. There was work to do before night fell.


No one dared ask Alex Cabot about the sudden color that washed over her cheeks.




“I haven't been on a double date since I was fifteen years old,” Abbie commented as she plopped onto the couch several hours after dinner. She laughed at the arched brow Alex cast in her direction, twisting the top of the beer Alex offered her and taking a big swig from the bottle. “I'd forgotten what it was like waiting for two horny teenagers to say goodnight before Mama started flashing the porch light.”


Alex flushed. “We weren't that bad... were we?”


Abbie chuckled. “Maybe not quite, but you might want to consider jumping her bones sooner rather than later. I'm almost certain you two were close to breaking a few laws tonight.”


“Jealous much?”


“Not at all. After ten minutes, I peeked. At fifteen, I checked again. If it had gone to twenty I was going to come ask for the keys.”


Alex took a swallow from her own beer and slammed her head against the back of the couch. “She's making me crazy, Abbie.”


“She must be doing something right, Cabot. You're practically glowing.” Abbie cocked her head and grinned. “You're not pregnant, are you?”


Alex swung at her, landing the flat of her hand on Abbie's shoulder and nearly upsetting her beer. Abbie's grin turned to a glare before she chuckled at the outrage covering Alex's face.


“Um... no. But she gave me a key.”


“That's fabulous, Alex.”


Alex grinned. “Um hmm.”


“So does that mean you've...?” waggling her hand.


“Not yet, but at least we're moving forward again.”


“I thought patience was a virtue.”


“I've been about as virtuous as I can stand. C'mon. I need cookies,” standing and holding out her hand.


Abbie groaned. “How can you even think about food after all that fondue we just ate?”


“Do I need to remind you about the calories Liv and I were so recently burning?”


Abbie slammed her eyes shut and laid her hands over her ears. “I'm not listening. It was bad enough to be stuck there waiting.”


Alex had the good grace to look penitent. “Sorry, Abbie....” trailing off when Abbie held up her hand.


“Alex, it's all right. I would've caught a ride with Casey instead if she hadn't gotten that call from Munch,” Abbie confided as she rose and followed Alex down to the kitchen. “It would have given us a little time to catch up.”


“Long distance is hard, hmm?”


“In some ways. But it's nice in others. It's really hard to rush into anything when you're hundreds of miles apart. We'll have to come to some sort of arrangement eventually, but for now, this is working for us. She's been amazingly patient and understanding.” Brown eyes cut to blue as Abbie took a seat at the island at Alex's behest. “You two could probably form a club or something - you know... to lament the strain on your patience.”


Alex chuckled. “Maybe we should work on ways to ease the strain. Better payoff for all involved.”


Abbie just shook her head, chuckling at the truth of Alex's words. She wondered if she or Olivia would be the first to give in, faced with that kind of offensive. Then decided it wouldn't matter; the truth was exactly as Alex had just stated - they would all be winners in that scenario.


All Abbie was left to wonder was if she would ever be able to let go and allow herself that sort of happiness. Then she found her face cradled in Alex's surprisingly warm hands. She looked up with a questioning expression. Alex just smiled.


“Abbie... stop thinking so hard and just enjoy it. Being happy is not a bad thing.”


“Keep reminding me, will ya?” slipping into the drawl that crept back into her words when she forgot to watch her pronunciation.


“For as long as it takes. Though I think Casey will be more than happy to take care of that little detail.”


A smile lit up Abbie's whole face. “Probably. She's been so amazing, Alex.”


“So you've said,” Alex agreed with a smile as she removed the cookie dough from the fridge.


Abbie blushed and cleared her throat, desperate to change the subject. “So what's it like having a cop for a girlfriend?” Alex looked at her like she was nuts and Abbie continued. “She was never my girlfriend, despite any rumors to the contrary. I know you've seen her in danger... watched her walk into all sorts of unknowns, but it's got to be different now. It's personal... more than when you were friends.”


“It was always personal, Abbie,” Alex responded seriously. “The difference is now I can actually worry without people wondering why the hell I am taking it so personally. She's a cop, Abbie... one of the best. I would never ask her to be anything else. It's what she is, and I love her.”



Alex slid the cookies into the oven and kept her back to Abbie for a long moment, taking a deep breath. “But I worry; always have, always will. Fortunately, I have a fabulous therapist who listens to me worry every week so Olivia doesn't have to.”


“You can always call me too, you know.”


“I know... and I appreciate it. Besides, she's hot... what with the leather and the gun....”


“Don't forget the handcuffs,” Abbie drawled, waggling her eyebrows.


Alex's cheeks tinged pink and she shook her head. “I am so telling Casey about your fetish.”


“You tell mine, I tell yours.”


Alex hiked an eyebrow into her forehead, but couldn't stop the blush that colored her face. “I don't know what you're talking about.”


Abbie snorted. “Yeah, right. C'mon, Cabot... why didn't you just invite her to stay the night? It's obvious you're nuts about her... and she is about you.”


“She has, Abbie. And we will... when the time is right.”




Alex groaned. “God I hope so.” Abbie just chuckled.




“God, Alex... if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I never would have believed it,” Abbie confessed as they sat down to the dinner table on Thanksgiving evening. “Even having watched you cook all week, I still wouldn't have believed you could pull this off.”


Alex rolled her eyes in Abbie's direction and smirked. “I didn't do it on my own, Carmichael.”


“Don't sell yourself short, Alexandra,” Gerry cut in. “You took care of a majority of the preparation. I just did the turkey.”


“I enjoyed it,” Alex confessed.


“So did I,” Casey commented as she placed her napkin in her lap. “Thank you for allowing me to be a part, Alex. I haven't had this much fun at Thanksgiving since I left Virginia.”


Gerry and Jason joined hands then as a matter of course and Alex took Jason's hand in one of hers and extended her other to Abbie. Abbie blinked then placed her palm in Alex's and took Casey's hand with her other. Casey met Gerry's across the table, pointedly ignoring the empty place at the end of the table. They looked at one another, then Alex bowed her head.


“For the good friends that surround us and the food before us on the table, we are most truly grateful.”


“Amen,” came a voice from the doorway, and those gathered at the table looked up at Olivia Benson, standing in the doorway holding a bouquet. She stepped into the room and walked around to brush her lips over Alex's cheeks. “Sorry I'm late,” offering Alex the flowers she held. Alex accepted them with a smile, bringing them to her nose. Then she put them in the vase Gerry had made appear from thin air, standing and setting them on the sideboard before wrapping her arms around Olivia's neck.


“Everything okay?”


Liv chuckled. “Yeah. Caught a weird-ass case just as Fin and I were getting ready to shut it down for the day.”


“Define weird-ass,” Casey spoke, causing all heads to turn her direction. Olivia gave Alex a final squeeze, then seated her again before moving to her chair at the other end of the table.


“Let's eat before it gets cold. I promise to share - a few minutes won't change the weird factor.” By tacit agreement, they dug into the food while it was still hot. Conversation would wait until hunger was sated.




“... so as soon as they saw him in ass-less chaps with a red lace thong, they called us. Man was drunk off his ass, crying like a baby by the time we got there.”


“Was it a sex crime?”


Olivia snorted. “No. But you wouldn't believe the crap we had to sort through first to ensure it wasn't. And there was no way I was coming over without a shower first after that.” Alex, Abbie and Casey looked amused; Gerry and Jason were a little more confused.


“Is your work always this interesting, Detective?”


“No. I wish it was.” A pensive silence fell then and Gerry shook her head. “I'm sorry, Olivia. I didn't mean to cast a pall over the meal. I've just never heard such stories before.”


“Not your fault, Gerry. It's not like I tell that many stories about my work - this one was just funny for a change... especially watching the guys' reaction to this guy and his <ahem> gear.”


“Well, on that note, would anyone like dessert?”




It hadn't been early, but it certainly wasn't late when Abbie left with Casey to see her home for the night. Gerry and Jason had long ago finished the remainder of the clean-up and retired to the room Alex had furnished according to Gerry's wishes. That left Olivia and Alex alone upstairs and without a word, Liv took Alex's hand in hers and led them to the conservatory.


“Play something for me?” she asked as she seated Alex at the piano.


Alex ran her fingers over the keys. “What would you like to hear?”


“I'd like to hear you play.”


Alex smiled and let her exercise morph into music with depth and feeling, trying to show Olivia what she felt and saw when she looked at her. She held Olivia's gaze, smiling when she saw the realization dawn in Liv's dark eyes. When she was done, Olivia extended a hand and pulled Alex to her and they danced to a tune only the two of them could hear.


Liv leaned forward and captured Alex's lips, smiling when Alex tightened her arms around Olivia's neck, pulling them closer together. She let her arms slip further down Alex's body, hands curving over the curve of her ass and drawing a moan from deep within Alex's chest. For her part, Alex curled her hands into Olivia's hair, crushing their lips more firmly into one another.


When they parted for air, Liv rubbed her nose against Alex's with a smile. “I think we should take this upstairs,” she commented softly.


Alex didn't answer - she just took Liv's hand and led her from the music room and up the stairs to the master suite. When they reached the door, she turned to Liv with a question in her eyes but before she could give them voice, Liv covered her lips with her fingers.


“I'm sure, Alex. It's past time. It's what we both want.”


“What changed your mind?” wondering what else Olivia had seen at work that day.


“Life's too short - we deserve to take whatever happiness we can find together.”


Alex kissed Olivia, letting her hands card through soft, dark strands as she deepened the kiss. Liv's hands clenched at her waist, then let one trace up Alex's chest, fingering the buttons open one at a time before sliding the soft material from Alex's shoulders. She pulled her lips from Alex's, letting them trail up Alex's jawline and then down her neck, absorbing the shivers and moans with a satisfied smile. Not to be outdone, Alex tugged the sweater from Olivia's slacks, scraping her nails along sensitive skin and grinning at the reaction her touch elicited.


“Maybe we should move this into the bedroom?” Liv asked, even as she snapped the front clasp of Alex's bra open, cupping the freed breasts and rubbing her thumbs over taut nipples. Alex forced their lips together again, tongue delving into the recesses of Olivia's mouth, trying to discover every secret the woman held while loosening the clasp of Liv's bra.


When skin finally met skin, Olivia twisted the knob and opened the door, pushing Alex in first and following her inside, edging Alex towards the bed. “I plan on taking my time, Alex. I'm not going to stand in the hallway.”


Without warning, Alex spun them around, knocking Olivia onto the oversized king bed. She leaned over and unbuttoned the slacks Liv was still wearing, sliding them down long legs and admiring her handiwork as well as the black lace covering Liv's modesty before slipping off her own pants and straddling Liv's hips. Then she gave Olivia a truly devilish smile.


“Me first, Detective.”


Olivia cupped Alex's face in her hands, stopping Alex's touch before it became intimate. “I love you, Alex,” the tenderness causing tears to pool in the blue eyes above her. Alex's smile became genuine.


“Oh, Liv... I love you - so much.”


Olivia threaded her hands into Alex's blonde locks and tugged gently, bringing their lips together once more. This time, there was no hesitation and no hurry. And when they lay together later, sated and covered in a sheen of sweat, kisses lazy and touches more soothing than stimulating Alex hugged Olivia tighter to her.


“Thank you.”


Liv lifted her head slightly and looked into Alex's eyes. “For?”


But Alex just shook her head and brushed a kiss over Olivia's forehead. “So much.” She blew out a breath. “You make my life amazing.”


“Ditto, sweetheart. Thank you for coming home to me.”


“Thank you for letting me in again.” She waited for Liv to put her head back down and resume her stroking before she spoke again. “Um... we don't have to wait for another five years before we do this again, do we?”


Olivia laughed and the sound made Alex's heart nearly burst. “Oh Alex... you'll be lucky if I let you out of this bed for the next five years. I plan on a repeat of tonight as often as I can have one.”


“In that case, Detective....” Alex rolled them over until she was covering Liv's body with her own. That was the last of the conversation between them until the sun came up again.




“Alex, you got a minute?”


Alex sat back in her chair and regarded the woman looking at her from the doorway before motioning Casey inside. “Sure, Casey,” gesturing to the chairs in front of her. “What's up?” Casey took the proffered seat and glanced around the office before allowing her eyes to settle on Alex's face though she still didn't speak. “Casey?” her voice becoming concerned. Alex took her glasses off and brought the arm to her lips.


Casey took a deep breath. “Alex, how serious are you about setting up a foundation for victims?” It had been part of their conversation after dinner the previous evening, but it had mostly been thoughts and ideas discussed between friends... nothing too concrete.


“I'm still making some private inquiries, but I'm serious about doing something. I've been a victim, Casey. I hated the way it made me feel. I'd like to do something to make a difference to others who have been - those have suffered worse than I ever did.”


“I want to help.”


“Sure, Casey. That'd be great. As soon as I....”


Casey shook her head. “No, Alex. I want in on the ground floor.” She inhaled, swallowing the yawn she so desperately wanted to let loose. “My father is a Federal Judge in Virginia and he has connections I think I could use to help make this a national project if you're interested.”


Alex sat up and leaned her elbows on the desk in front of her. “That would be fabulous, Casey. But I still don't have a clear idea of what I want to do or how to accomplish it; how are you going to get people involved?”


Casey yawned then smiled. “You let me worry about that. As for the rest... maybe we could work on it together.” She looked around again. “It sure is quiet around here today.”


Alex chuckled. “I know... it's kind of nice. Perk of a half-day.” She paused. “Can I ask you something?”


“Sure... I don't guarantee to answer.”


“Fair enough.” Alex cleared her throat. “Why?”




Alex nodded. “You stand up for the victims... try to find justice for them, but you've never been a victim yourself... not like this. I'm just curious about your motivation.”


“Do I need more than that?”


“No... but I think there's more.”


Casey sighed. “There is.” She sat silently, wondering if Alex would push. She didn't have to wait long.


“You want to share?”


“I like Abbie, Alex... I really do. And I really want to try make things work with her. I think the only way we have a chance to do that is for us to be in the same place like most couples, you know? Where we can have lunch occasionally and set up a date without having to make a plane reservation and take vacation time off to do it first.”


Alex nodded. “I know - believe me, I know. But Casey... have you talked to Abbie about this? Does she know...?”


Casey smiled again as she nodded. “She knows. We spent most of the night talking about it.”


“What about your job with SVU?” Alex propped an elbow on the desk and leaned her head on it, watching Casey's response carefully.


Casey sighed and rose from her seat, moving to the window that overlooked the street. “I feel like I've done all I can do here, Alex. Some days... I don't think I'm doing any good at all. I feel like I'm beating my head against a brick wall. It'd be nice to be able to see something positive come from my work for a change - something for victims like you that got justice and victims like Abbie... who didn't.”


Alex blinked. “Casey, you're a fabulous prosecutor with a great conviction rate. Do you really think a replacement could be found that would do as well? Or have your passion for success?” She paused and replayed Casey's words. “Is this about what happened to Abbie?”


Casey wrapped her arms around her middle, green eyes reflecting a myriad of emotions. “Is it wrong that I want to change my focus, Alex? Am I being selfish?”


“No... you're being human, Casey. I'd be glad to have you as a partner on this project.”


Casey grinned. “Thanks, Alex. You won't be sorry.”


“I know I won't. When do you want to get started?”


“I'll go ahead and start making some calls. I won't leave SVU hanging without an ADA, so I need to make sure there is a replacement ready to step into the job before I step out. But I think by March everything should be in place.”


Alex nodded. “Let's get together after the weekend. We'll sit down and come up with a business plan and a workable timeline.”


“Sounds good - thanks, Alex.” Casey went to the door and turned with her hand on the knob. “By the way... congratulations.” Alex tilted her head and raised an eyebrow in question. “You have the look of a woman fulfilled.” She laughed at the blush that rose up Alex's face. “Don't worry, Alex - it looks good on you both.”


“Goodbye, Casey.” Casey chuckled but took the hint and headed back to her office.




“That's quite a change from just a few days ago, Abbie. Are you sure?” Liv asked as they walked through Central Park. It was cold, but Abbie had asked, and it sure beat fighting the crowds shopping on Black Friday. “I thought you liked being long-distance - not as much commitment.”


Abbie shrugged. “I'm a little nervous - I haven't really been in a relationship... not like this... in forever. But she's willing to give up her whole life here to try. It's kind of hard to say no... especially when she swears it would make her happy. It would be nice to be able to go out when we'd like to without having to book a flight first. Besides, it's not like she's moving in with me. This is just about giving us a real chance, and I'd really like that.”


“What changed your mind?”


“Alex did. She told me not to be afraid to be happy.”


Olivia looped her arm through Abbie's before returning her hand to her pocket. “Then I'm happy for you, Abbie... happy for you both. You deserve to be happy.” She stopped, pulling Abbie to a halt along with her. “Waitaminute - you're taking our ADA!”


Abbie chuckled and tugged on Liv's arm until they were moving again. “Yes, but not right this minute. It will probably be at least a couple months or so. She still has to find a job, though that shouldn't be a problem with her experience. And she needs a place to live - I've promised to help with that as soon as she decides what she wants. And I know there are plenty of loose ends she'll have to take care of here as well - cases to wrap up and a replacement to find among other things. It's not public knowledge though, Liv... we just talked about it last night. She hasn't even updated her resume yet.”


Olivia zipped her lips. “Consider my lips sealed, Abbie.”


“She's going to talk to Alex this morning. She really wants to be involved in that victim's foundation Alex was talking about yesterday.”


“I'm sure Alex will be glad to have her be part of it. Casey has a lot to offer, both from a victim's point of view and as a victim's advocate.”


“Does Alex know Casey was a victim, Liv?”


Olivia blinked. “I don't know. It's common knowledge to anyone that was here then, but Alex was back in Witness Protection when it happened. So unless Casey's told her or Alex did some research....” She looked at Abbie. “Did Casey tell you the whole story?”


Abbie nodded. “It was one of the things that convinced me that I could go ahead and let this happen. She understands. It's not just pity or curiosity on her part. She understands, but she hasn't let it stop her from living or feeling or being. I could learn a lot from her. And she's willing to be patient with me while I do.”


“Sounds like a keeper to me, Carmichael.”


“At least it didn't take me years to figure it out, Benson,” Abbie smirked, then glared when Olivia punched her shoulder. “Ow! Don't damage the merchandise, Detective! Just because the truth hurts....” She winced when Liv pulled her fist back again. Olivia snorted and put her hand back in her pocket.


“At least we finally figured it out.”


“Better late than never, Liv,” Abbie said softly. “It looks really good on you both.”


“Feels pretty damn good too.”


“So when are you making it official?”


Liv sputtered. “Abbie!!”


“What? C'mon, Liv… you two have been dancing around each other for years. No one is going to accuse you of moving too fast.”


“Abbie, we've just become lovers. I would kind of like to enjoy that for a little while first.”


“You're impossible, you know that?”


“What? What?? Abbie!!”




Saturday evening the townhouse was decorated from top to bottom and people were arriving at the door regularly, creating quite a mixed group. Olivia had taken up her station at the door, greeting people and taking their coats, then ushering them in to the next room where Alex was. No one questioned Olivia's right to do so - those who had been invited to this particular housewarming were well aware of the place Olivia had long held in Alex's heart and life. Most wondered why nothing formal had been announced yet - for many of them this affair had been going on for years. Still, they figured this was a step in the right direction.


Elliot, of course, had to comment.


“So... does this mean we can expect wedding bells soon? Or should I just call U-Haul?” Kathy reached up and smacked his head before Olivia could even react. Elliot swung his head in her direction and glared even as he covered the back of his head. “What??” he whined. “C'mon, Kath....”




“Don't mind him, Olivia. I'll set him straight.”


“Don't you mean...?”


“Shut up, Elliot,” they chorused. They exchanged smirks and Kathy guided Elliott further into the townhouse.


Liz Donnelly followed the Stablers, shaking her head at Elliot's obtuseness. “Good evening, Detective.”


“Your Honor.”


“Liz, please. We're all friends here tonight, right?”


“Of course,” taking Liz's coat. “Alex is....” breaking off when Liz laid a hand on her arm. She looked at the judge with a question in her dark eyes.


“Alex is a very lucky woman, Olivia. Thank you for bringing her back to us.” Liv cocked her head and frowned, and Liz sighed. “The woman who returned from Witness Protection was not Alex Cabot. The woman who accepted the Bureau Chief's position and was engaged to Robert Sheldon was not Alex Cabot. The real Alex Cabot only recently returned to those of us who knew her before. She came home when you became a part of her life again… and you let her be a part of yours. It's nice to have her back.”


Liv smiled, though Liz could see the hint of tears in her eyes. “For me too.” Liz patted her arm, then moved into the house to find Alex.


Munch, Fin and Cragen arrived together, and none of them made a single comment about Olivia's presence as a hostess. “Well, that was weirder than a box of rocks,” Liv commented to herself… only to find George Huang and his partner standing right behind her. “Oops... sorry, doc, Charlie. Didn't realize you were there,” taking their coats and greeting them together.


“No problem, Olivia. What's so weird?”


“George....” the other man admonished.


“It's all right,” Liv commented with a smile. “You can't turn off being a cop either. It was just odd that, except for Elliot who never misses an opportunity to rag on me, the guys didn't say a word about me playing co-hostess or something. Seems like everyone else, including Jack McCoy and Serena Southerlyn neither of whom who I really know, is waiting for me to whip out a ring and a proposal.”


“Probably because they like seeing you happy for a change. The rest probably are just glad to see the changes you've brought to Alex. Don't worry... I imagine they'll start ragging sooner or later if just to watch you blush.”


“Yes, Detective,” Munch said from over her shoulder as he passed her a drink. “Give us a chance... I'm sure we can come up with something.”


Liv groaned. “That's what I'm afraid of.” A knock on the door turned her attention back to her duties. “Saved by the bell. You should go see your hostess.”


“I thought we were,” Munch said drolly before he, Huang and Charlie moved further into the house to make way for the people coming in behind them.


“Detective Benson.”


“Mr. and Mrs. Branch. Please... come in,“ she invited as she took their coats.


“I'm glad to see you here, Detective,” Arthur commented. Olivia cocked her head at him. His wife huffed warningly.


“Arthur....” He held up his hand and she shook her head before moving into the other room. He chuckled.


“She thinks it's none of my business.”


“Is it?” Liv asked frankly.


“Detective, you caused one of my best prosecutors cum Bureau Chiefs to risk termination because of her feelings for you. A prosecutor who was known as the Ice Princess during her tenure as an ADA. So while it may not technically be my business what has happened between the two of you, it is my business that she is focused on her job once more. This has been years coming - it's kind of nice to see it to fruition.”


“Well at least you're not demanding a ring and a proposal.”


Branch chuckled. “I figure that will come in time. For now, you're both happy, and that's enough for me.”




“Wow, Alex... this place is amazing,” Robert commented sometime later. “The wall art in the conservatory is fabulous. I want the name of your artist.”


Her eyes drifted over to Olivia, currently holding court with Jo, Blair, Abbie and Casey. She wondered what they were discussing that had them all laughing, then turned back to Robert when he put his hand on her arm. “Oh, um... sorry, Robert. You were saying?”


“Not a thing that won't wait until later, Alex.” He chuckled. “It's good to see you happy.”


She accepted the hug he offered, brushing a light kiss across his cheek. “It's good to be that way.”


“Should I be worried?” Olivia asked as she walked up behind Alex, only to find her arms full of blonde Bureau Chief. Robert laughed as Alex wrapped her arms around Olivia and Liv's arms automatically wound around Alex.


“I don't think so, Detective,” Robert replied, lifting his hands in surrender. “I think everyone here knows who Alex belongs to... and with. I was just congratulating her on her happiness, and trying to dig out the name of the artist that created the wall art in the other room.”


“Olivia does possessive very well, doesn't she?” Trevor Langan asked idly as he came up beside Jo. Abbie chuckled.


“Oh, I don't know… Cabot was doing a pretty good imitation herself.”


“They make a striking couple, don't they?” They watched as Robert walked away laughing and shaking his head, then Alex and Olivia began walking the room, greeting people together.


“Yeah,” Jo finally answered quietly. “It's really good to see.”




“Thanks, Alex,” Munch said with a courtly bow as he donned his hat. “It was a nice party. Can't wait to see what you do for an encore.” He waggled his eyebrows and Fin shook his head as he pushed Munch out the door ahead of him. Alex laughed as she closed the door behind them and went back to join her remaining guests.


“That was fun,” Alex commented as she dropped onto the arm of the chair that Olivia was sitting in.


“That was exhausting,” Liv groaned. “I think everyone was waiting for an announcement.” Alex's brow furrowed and she tilted her head at Olivia. “They expected a ring and a proposal. Elliot even offered to call U-Haul for us.”


Alex's brows flew into her hairline. “Excuse me?? A U-Haul?? When did we become headline gossip for our friends and colleagues??”


“You rushing to my defense when we weren't even speaking probably started it,” Liv answered wryly, smiling when the color flushed up Alex's face. She covered Alex's hands. “I wouldn't change it if it meant we wouldn't be here now, Alex. But it was a little disconcerting coming from everyone we know.”


“Well, that explains John's comment just now.”


“Well, I for one enjoyed your housewarming party, Alex,” Blair confessed as she prepared drinks for the group. Alex had shooed Gerry off as the party was winding down as she hadn't been able to keep the housekeeper from directing the caterers during it. “Quite an array of people. Did I see Miranda...?”


“Priestly? Yes - she's an old acquaintance and now a near neighbor. And she is interested being part of the new charity effort,” Alex added with a look at Casey. Casey nodded.


“This is going to be quite an undertaking once we get started.”


“It's for a good cause,” Blair commented. “That helps - people want to get involved. Robert said something to me - he seems like a nice enough guy.”


“He is,” Olivia surprisingly agreed. She looked at the stunned expressions on everyone's face... except Alex's. “What?” she asked innocently, then chuckled as she wrapped an arm firmly around Alex's waist. “I can afford to be magnanimous - I got the girl.”


Alex dropped her arm around Olivia's shoulders and kissed the top of her head. “Damn straight,” waggling her eyebrows. There were snorts from across the room, but they didn't hear them, lost in the kiss Olivia had initiated at Alex's words.


“Not exactly,” Liv replied with a smirk, licking her lips in pleasure. Then she ducked the swing Alex took at her head. “Hey!! Assault on a police officer!” She looked around the room. “You're all witnesses!!”


“Save it, Benson!” Abbie snarked with a chuckle. “We can see how much you're enjoying the <ahem> abuse.”


Olivia looked around the room, seeing nothing but indulgent smirks reflected back at her. She glared at Jo. “Et tu, Jo?”


“You can't dispute the evidence, Detective. You should know that.”


“I hate you all.”


“That's okay, Liv. We love you anyway.”




“That was a lot of fun,” Blair said to Jo as they entered their own townhouse some time later. “And poor Olivia.”


Jo snorted. “*That* was funny,” taking both their coats and hanging them in the closet before taking Blair's hand in hers and leading them upstairs. “But you're right - it was a lot of fun. Interesting mix of people, and there were some serious power players there. I have to wonder if Liv had any idea what she was getting into when she and Alex got together.”


Blair went into the bathroom and started removing her make-up. Jo stopped at the dresser to take off her jewelry. “Probably as much as you did, honey,” Blair called out. “In fairness I think Alex was probably more aware than any of the rest of us really were, given her work with Special Victims and her tenure in Witness Protection. I am glad she and Olivia have finally acknowledged what was between them - it's good to see them happy... especially Olivia. I don't think she's seen much happiness in her life.”


“I don't think she has either,” Jo said, unwilling to betray Olivia's confidences even to Blair. Instead she took Blair in her arms as she exited the bathroom. “But I have a good feeling about them; I think they may be as lucky as we are.”


“I hope so,” Blair said, stealing a kiss that Jo deepened, sliding her hands under the silk pajamas Blair had donned. “I think everyone should be as happy as we are,” she added as she unbuttoned the shirt Jo wore.


“Well, I may be reading the signals wrong, but I think Casey and Abbie may be....” stopping when Blair's fingers covered her lips.


“We can talk about Casey and Abbie later. For now, I want you to concentrate on the signals I'm sending you. Got it?” pushing the shirt off Jo's shoulders. Jo nodded fervently, her green eyes going wide when Blair's hands started trailing up her torso. Blair smiled at the reaction. “Good,” she declared, then they fell into a silence that was only broken by the sighs and moans that accompanied their lovemaking.




“I hate that you have to leave tomorrow,” Casey said softly as she and Abbie sat curled up on opposite ends of Casey's couch sharing a bottle of wine. “It's been great having you here.”


“It's been great being here,” Abbie assured Casey with a smile. “Are you really sure you want to give all this up? I mean... DC's nice, but it's no Manhattan.”


“Says the girl from Texas,” Casey grinned. Abbie stuck out her tongue, causing them both to chuckle. Then Casey sobered. “I'm sure about this, Abbie... as sure as I can be about anything.” She slid across the couch until she was sitting next to Abbie. “I think I can really do something with this charity foundation - it's a new challenge and I need that.”


“Problems at SVU?”

“Not exactly - too much politics in the DA's office. Seems like I spend as much time defending myself to my colleagues as I do prosecuting sex offenders. And sometimes I feel like I'm getting too complacent. It's reaching the point where the victims are all becoming case numbers instead of individuals, and I don't want that. I don't want to lose sight of the fact that the victims are people.” She paused and held the brown eyes that were watching her so seriously. “I'd like to make a difference I can see... at least for a little while. It's not like I'm giving up the law forever; I just need a break from it. I'm still licensed in Virginia, in fact,” smiling when Abbie's eyebrows shot into her hairline.


“Are you really?”


“Oh yeah... Daddy insisted. I think he had visions of me joining the firm so he could retire.”


“Ah... a darksider, hmm?”


Casey laughed. “Yep. He almost had a coronary when he found out I was moving to Manhattan... especially to work in the DA's office. First there was the damn Yankee thing to contend with and then the fact that I was becoming a prosecutor - he nearly disowned me. Mom talked him out of it.”


“How does he feel about you moving back to Virginia?”


“He doesn't know yet - I haven't told either of my folks yet. I want to have something concrete to tell them… and have my own place first. I love my mother, but if I give her half a chance....” rolling green eyes dramatically, causing Abbie to laugh.


“I know - you've met my mama, remember.”


Casey laughed. “I knew she seemed familiar - must be a mom thing.”


“Must be.” She hesitated and then stood, watching Casey follow her up smoothly. “I should be going. I still need to pack and....”


“Stay.” Casey reached out and clasped Abbie's hand, keeping her grip light to allow Abbie to pull away if she wanted to. “We don't have to do anything except sleep, but I'd really like you to stay.”


Abbie linked their fingers together and let her other hand trace Casey's face, smiling when Casey leaned into the touch. “Would it make you happy?”


“Yeah, it would.”


Abbie smiled shyly and looked at Casey through her lashes. “Me too.”


Casey tugged lightly on the hand she still held, leading Abbie into her bedroom and closing the door behind them.




Olivia was laying on her back, eyes unfocused and lips pursed when Alex stepped from the bathroom. Without a word, Alex crossed the room and crawled into bed, wrapping her arms around Liv's body when she put her head on Alex's chest. Liv's eyes closed in contentment and she breathed out slowly when Alex brushed a kiss over her hair, willing herself to relax.


“You all right?” Alex asked, sensing the tenseness in the body she held.


Olivia hesitated before answering, wanting to give it due consideration and still reply honestly. She sighed, blowing warm breath over Alex's chest, smiling at the trail of goosebumps she'd created. “Mostly,” Liv finally said. “I just never expected so much commentary on our personal lives. I've never been a headliner before... not like this anyway.”


Alex smiled, something Olivia could hear in her tone of voice. “I doubt you'll be a headliner at One Police Plaza anytime soon. The guys know how to keep a secret and the DA's office has been known to keep their mouths closed occasionally. Besides, these are our friends - I don't think they'd deliberately do anything to put either of us in danger.”


“What about page six?” referring to the Times' infamous celebrity gossip page.


“Well, as long as we don't do anything to bring attention to ourselves, they won't have anything to report. That doesn't mean I think we should stay in the closet, but until and unless we're ready to go public, I see no reason for waving a rainbow flag and becoming poster children for a cause.” She paused. “Right now, I want to focus on what is good and right for us. And I don't think that means moving in together after the first date.”


Liv grinned and tilted her head up to peer at Alex's profile. “So we're breaking the U-Haul rule?”


“Damn straight,” Alex replied with a smirk before turning and reaching towards her nightstand. “However, that doesn't mean I don't think you shouldn't have this,” holding out a box to Olivia.


Liv accepted the box with an inquiring expression, but Alex just cocked an eyebrow at her. Olivia shifted until she was sitting up slightly and opened the box, smiling when she recognized the key. “Are you sure, Alex?”


“Yep,” came the casual answer. “Fair is fair, Detective. I believe one day... maybe sooner, maybe later... we'll discuss the U-Haul and its implications in all its disputable glory. For now, it's enough to know the guardian angel that holds the key to my heart has a key to my house as well.”


“That was incredibly corny, Counselor,” Liv stated, though her eyes twinkled and the corners of her mouth twitched in amusement.


“Yeah, but it still made you smile.”


Olivia couldn't argue with the truth of that statement. Cautiously, she placed the key on the nightstand on her side of the bed, then rolled over and took Alex in her embrace. “Tonight was a lot of fun. You have an interesting mix of friends.”


“*We* have an interesting mix of friends. I have a feeling we'll be invited to a number of holiday parties together after tonight. Fortunately, they're mostly private affairs, and we don't have to go to any we don't feel like.”


“You know what I feel like at the moment?” Liv asked, nuzzling her lips against Alex's neck and smiling at the goosebumps that followed her touch. Alex arched her back as those lips found the sensitive spot behind her ear. Then she ran her hands through Olivia's hair, pulling Liv's lips from her earlobe and forcing their eyes to meet.


“If it's anything close to what I'm thinking, we won't be sleeping anytime soon.”


If Olivia had planned a retort, she never had a chance to say, because Alex claimed her lips and speech was the last thing on her mind. And sleep was a very long time in coming... not that either of them were complaining about it.




“Looks like you had a good weekend,” Casey commented as Olivia entered her office Monday afternoon. Liv's smile told enough of a story and Casey stuck out her tongue. “I don't want to hear it,” she grouched as Olivia flopped into one of the visitor's chairs.


“Missing Abbie already, are you?”


“It's not supposed to be like this, is it? We just started dating, and most of that has been over the phone or through email. Is it normal to miss someone you're just starting to know this much?”


“How much?” Olivia asked softly.


Casey sighed and looked out the window as she leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest as though to protect herself from her own words and thoughts. “Like part of me is missing.” She glanced at Olivia, not surprised to see compassionate brown eyes on her. “That sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?”


“Not at all,” Liv said softly. “It sounds like you're falling in love, Casey. Are you ready for that?”


Casey snorted. “Is anybody ever... really? Were you?”


Liv shook her head. “I fought long and hard against it, and now I wonder why I did.”


“Happy, then?” The bright smile was its own answer. “So,” Casey went on when it became clear Liv had said all she was going to. “What brings you to my lair?”


Before Olivia could open her mouth to respond, the phone gave two short rings, indicating an internal call. Casey frowned, then picked it up - usually her assistant answered it before it got to her when she had someone in her office. She managed to say hello before the voice on the end cut her off, barking out a quick order and hanging up. Casey re-cradled the receiver and looked at Olivia. “Was there something you needed, Detective?” returning their conversation to a professional level.


“Nothing that can't wait, Counselor. Everything all right?”


Casey shrugged and rose, motioning Olivia out the door ahead of her. “Guess I'll know soon enough. I've been called to Branch's office.”


Liv winced. “I'll keep my fingers crossed.”


“Thanks. I'll take whatever good luck I can get at this point.” She pressed the ‘up' button for the elevator. Liv waved and headed for the stairwell. Casey watched her go and bit her lip as she waited for the elevator, wondering why she was being summoned.


Arthur Branch held the door for her as she approached his office, and closed it behind her after she entered. Then he motioned her to a seat and took his place behind the desk, glaring at something that rested on top before turning the force of that glare on her.

“Would you like to explain this to me Ms Novak?” knowing by tone and the address he was furious about something. Then he held up the papers to which he was referring and she understood his ire. “Your resignation? Casey... what are you thinking? You're one of the finest prosecutors in this office. If you think I'm going to let you go without a fight or at least a lot of discussion and explanation, you've got another thing coming.”


Casey blinked. It was a little flattering, honestly, to know the big boss thought so highly of her. But it was also a little disconcerting - she had only tendered the resignation earlier this morning and not only should it not have reached his desk this quickly, it was dated for almost three months hence.


“C'mon Casey... talk to me here. What's going on? McCoy giving you grief or something?”


Although Jack McCoy was one of her least favorite people in the DA's office and Casey had no desire to work with or for the man, she also wasn't prone to hearing Arthur Branch question his golden-haired boy. She shook her head.


“It has nothing to do with Jack McCoy or the DA's office, Arthur. I just... I need something different right now.”


“You want out of Special Victims? White Collar or maybe Major Cases?”


“Not exactly. I still want to work for victims, just in a different way. Being part of this new trust will give me a chance to make a difference to people... not just case numbers.” She watched his eyes narrow and hastened to explain. “I need to do this... for me. Before I lose my compassion.”


He punched the speakerphone. “Barbara, get me Alex Cabot... in my office now!” Branch turned back to Casey. “I don't think that could ever happen, Casey. You're one of the most compassionate people I know.”


“Maybe,” she agreed half-heartedly. “But I don't feel that way... not any more.” She smiled. “Besides, it's not like I'm leaving tomorrow.”


“And thank God for that,” he stated. “This doesn't have anything to do with a certain former ADA who now works in Washington, DC?” he asked knowingly, then broke off at the sound of a light tap on his door. “Enter.”


Alex Cabot stepped across the threshold, her hesitation at seeing Casey sitting in front of Arthur Branch barely noticeable. Instead she crossed to stand behind the empty chair and looked at him diffidently. “Something I can do for you, Arthur?”


He gestured to the chair and waited for her to sweep into the seat before resuming his earlier glare. “Yes, Alexandra. You can stop trying to swipe one of my best ADAs away from me!”


Alex grinned. “I'm not swiping anyone, Arthur. Casey is my partner in this venture, not my underling. And she's perfectly capable of making her own decisions without any undue influence on my part.”


He glanced between them and sighed. “It's a damn good thing the two of you are on my side most of the time. I have a feeling you'd be a formidable team if you ever decided to create your own law firm and switch sides to play for the defense. As it is, I think victims will be losing a wonderful advocate when you leave, Casey.” He turned to Alex. “Should I expect your resignation soon as well?”


“I haven't decided yet,” Alex replied honestly, “though I think there will be some sort of leave of absence in the near future so we can get this organization off the ground.” He nodded. “And for the record, I think victims will have a stronger advocate than ever.”


Branch glowered. “You know what I meant, Alexandra.”


“We both did, Arthur,” Casey broke in. “But please don't discount the amount of good we can do outside these walls. There are any number of willing up and comers who can learn to do the job, and some who will care as much or even more than I have. But Alex has latched on to something good... something unique... and I'm looking forward to being a part of it from the start.”


Branch sighed again, but shook his head with gentle reluctance. “I understand that, Casey. Doesn't mean I'm not going to grumble and complain about losing good people - whatever the reason.” He rose and they followed his example. “I will accept this under duress, with the understanding that the door will always be open for you if you decide to return.” Casey nodded, a smile firmly on her face, though her eyes were filled with happy tears she refused to let fall. “And you,” he continued, turning towards Alex, “I feel like I'm making a deal with the Devil about this. But if you need anything, let me know. I know you're in the beginning stages, but this sounds like a good project - something the wife and I would like to be part of.”


“Absolutely,” Alex agreed, allowing Arthur to open the door. She crossed the threshold, waiting for Casey to follow, a little surprised that Branch had stopped her with a simple upraised hand.


“Casey, I know you've given yourself three months to wrap things up, but if it looks like you're running out of time or you need help, let us know.”


Casey put her hand in his briefly. “Thanks, Arthur.”


Then she and Alex headed back to their offices.




“Hey, you got a minute?” Alex asked as they waited for the elevator to arrive again.


“Sure,” Casey said as she mentally ran through her schedule. “What's up?”


For answer, Alex shook her head, merely leading them onto the elevator and pressing the button for her floor. Casey took the hint and held her tongue, waiting until they entered Alex's office and the door was closed. She followed Alex to the small couch and took a seat beside her.


“Alex?” Casey prompted, curling her legs under her and leaning her head on the arm propped along the back of the couch.


Alex ran a hand through her hair, somehow managing not to muss it. “Why didn't you tell me?” she asked sincerely without accusing. Casey gave her a confused look. Alex sighed. “Why didn't you tell you me you had been a victim... when we were talking the other day? Did you... were you...?” She stopped speaking when Casey held up her hand and waited.


“It had nothing to do with you, Alex, and nothing to do with my victimization because of this job. It's not exactly at the top of my conversation list. The reasons I gave you for wanting to be involved in this project were the truth - I want to be near Abbie to give us a chance and I need a change before I lose my compassion for people. What happened to me - I will never forget what it feels like to be a victim but I refuse to remain one. It wasn't a compelling reason for my wanting to be a part of this.”


“You're sure?”


“Absolutely,” Casey replied without hesitation. “It didn't factor into my decision at all. I'll tell you about it if you'd really like to know, but I'd like to hear about your experience as well.”


Alex nodded. “Fair enough,” telling Casey the story she'd heard and read about and a lot of the details she hadn't because they were so personal to Alex. When Casey shared her tale, Alex listened without flinching, though her eyes widened when Casey told of the damage Milan Zergin had inflicted upon her.


“What?” Casey asked when Alex continued to stare at her without speaking.


“I'm just curious - how long were you in therapy?”


“Physical? Close to nine months. Mental? About a year. I still keep in touch with my therapist, though I don't see her every week anymore. There are just some days around here....”


“I know. It's one reason I continue to see my therapist. But you've given me hope that maybe someday....”


“Different set of circumstances, Alex.”


“Both still victims, Casey. Don't discount that.”


“Don't let it become all you are, Alex. It will eat you alive if you do”


Alex tilted her head. “Sounds like you're speaking from experience.”


Casey smiled and patted Alex's hand before standing. “Time for me to get back to work. We good?”


Alex returned the smile. “We're great.”




The holidays passed in a flurry of work and get-togethers. Casey and Alex spent a lot of their limited free time working on the charity foundation they were trying to establish and Olivia, Jo and Blair participated as often as they could. They enjoyed watching things take shape and making contributions to the ideas and plans Alex and Casey were laying out around them.


Abbie did what she could in Washington, mainly networking with her boss and his contacts and checking out apartments she thought Casey might like. They wanted to be fairly close to one another even if they knew they weren't ready to move in together. She and Casey talked almost every night, even if was only to say goodnight to one another. But many times they shared their days together, not realizing they were sharing their lives as well.


Though they were not officially living together, Olivia and Alex spent as many nights together as they could - mostly at Alex's as she had much more room, but sometimes they stayed at Liv's apartment. They snuck lunches and dinners in as often as they could, enjoying the chance to simply sit and share a meal and conversation. They knew, sooner or later, they were going to have to talk and make some concrete decisions concerning their future together. But for now what they had was working for them, and that was enough.


New Year's Eve, however, found them all in Manhattan at Alex's brownstone. Abbie had flown up and Casey, Jo and Blair had accepted Alex's invitation to share the holiday with her and Olivia. There was some talk about the foundation and the number of influential women that had already signed on to be part of it.


“I think it's fabulous that you've made so much progress so quickly, Alex,” Blair said from her spot beside Jo on the couch. “That's a lot of famous names on your list.”


“Just don't forget the little guy,” Jo admonished, blushing slightly when all eyes turned her way, but not letting her eyes drop. Alex tilted her head in question, her brow furrowed.


“What do you mean, Jo?”


“Well, it's great that you've got wealthy and influential people interested in contributing to this project in some way - people like you and Blair and Miranda Priestly and Arthur Branch. You can't really be effective without them and I know that - you need that kind of money and influence. But there are a lot of people who can't afford to give much - people like Sam McPherson who's just starting out but still wants to participate. You need them just as much.”


“I understand what you're saying Jo, but what do you suggest? We're already planning to have a place on the website for people to donate in amounts as small as five dollars.”


“I'm not sure really.” She paused thoughtfully and the rest remained silent. Then she glanced apologetically at Olivia before taking a deep breath. “Seems like... sometimes people have an easier time giving if they're getting something back, ya know? You can't really do something like a neighborhood bake sale or church bazaar. But what if you did something like making prints of some of Liv's art and offered it for sale? Or maybe you know a writer who would contribute the profits of a book? Some sort of clothing? I dunno,” Jo said shrugging. “I'm just thinking out loud here, but I think it needs to attract a wide range of people.”


“It has merit,” Liv agreed. “I think you should consider it.”


“We'll add it to the list,” Casey said with a look at Alex, who nodded.


“But not tonight,” Abbie stated as she wrapped an arm more firmly around Casey's shoulders. “Tonight is for celebrating with friends. Tomorrow is soon enough to add to the list.”


Olivia tugged Abbie's arm from around Casey, pulling her to her feet and dancing her around the room. “You just want to concentrate on the kissing you expect to be getting tonight.”


The entire room echoed, “Well DUH!” then they burst into laughter. It was shaping up to be an interesting start to the New Year.




A knock on her office door caused Alex to look up from tucking in her shirt, and she hastened to fasten her jeans when she heard Olivia call out, “Alex?”


Alex opened the door and motioned Liv inside, crossing to her couch to slip into her boots. She looked up when she realized Olivia hadn't moved from the door, nostrils flaring when she caught the brown eyes darken with desire as they roved over her body. She cleared her throat awkwardly.


“Liv?” watching Olivia clench her hands along her thighs. Alex stood and stomped her jeans into place, then moved to stand in front of Olivia, reaching out a hand to push a strand of dark hair from the detective's eyes....


... only to find herself with her back against the door and her arms full of Olivia Benson as she was kissed senseless. Alex sank into the kiss and all too soon for her taste it was over. She blinked blue eyes open, smiling at the satisfied expression Olivia wore.


“Hello, Detective.”


“Counselor,” deliberately letting her gaze rake over Alex's form again.


“To what do I owe this pleasure?”


Olivia's eyes opened in mock innocence and she pouted just slightly. “Can't I just miss you? I haven't seen you for days.” That was the truth - their schedules had kept them separated for several days and even phone calls had been sporadic. Alex smiled and wrapped her arms around Liv's neck, tangling her fingers into her hair and relishing Liv's response when her hands slipped into the back pockets of her jeans.


“Besides,” Olivia continued with a smirk, squeezing just slightly and watching Alex's eyes darken as a result. “You know what you wearing jeans does to me.” She leaned forward to nuzzle Alex neck and was surprised to feel Alex pull away from her. “Alex?”


“As much as I would like to continue this, Detective, I have an appointment I've got to get to.”


Liv frowned and leaned back, though she didn't release her hold on Alex's hips. “Everything all right?”


“Yes - routine check-up. I just figured I'd be comfortable,” motioning to her outfit. “Not all of us get to dress this comfortably every day, you know,” mock glaring in Olivia's direction. Liv stuck her tongue out, only to find it caught and held between Alex's teeth while she laved it with her own tongue. When she felt Liv's hands clench her ass and her knees started to shake, Alex released the appendage and took a deep breath. “Don't put it out there if you don't intend to use it, Detective.”


Olivia cleared her throat. “Dinner tonight?”


Alex nodded. “I'm going home after this, so come by whenever you get done.” Liv stole anther quick kiss and was gone before Alex could recover.




Liv considered knocking, but realized Alex had given her the key for a reason, so she unlocked the door and let herself into the townhouse. The first floor was dark, but she heard music from the conservatory, so she locked the door and set the alarm behind her before walking down the hall and pushing open the conservatory door. She stood still for a long moment, not wanting to disrupt Alex's music - content to watch her play.


Alex was aware of her presence, however, and immediately morphed the haunting melody she had been playing into something a little more upbeat and lively. She looked up, catching the hint of a smile on Olivia's face and returned one of her own as she finished with a flourish.


“Good evening, Detective. Long time, no see.”


“I come bearing gifts,” holding up the bags of food marked with one of Alex's favorite bistros on the side. “I figured it would be a welcome treat after an afternoon spent in the doctor's office.”


Alex smiled and nodded, motioning Liv to walk in front of her as they headed down to the kitchen. “Even though lawyers don't seem to have the same physician phobia police officers do, it's not the first way I'd choose to spend a free afternoon. Or even the second or third.”


Liv's eyes widened comically and she gave Alex a look of mock innocence. “Are you saying the police department is prejudiced against the medical profession?”


“Absolutely not,” Alex said soothingly. She removed the plates from the cupboard and turned to retrieve the silverware while Liv removed the take out containers from the bags. “I'm saying you're afraid of them.”


This time when Olivia's eyes widened, it was to glare at Alex before they narrowed dangerously. “Oh no you didn't,” she growled. Alex chuckled nervously and put the table between them.


“Well you have to admit, Detective....”


“Oh no, Counselor... I don't have to admit anything,” neatly chasing Alex around the table, watching her eyes for the escape attempt she knew was coming. “I have the right to remain silent, remember?” She stepped around a little faster, enjoying the sway of Alex's hips in the jeans she still wore. “You, on the other hand....”


It didn't take long for Olivia to catch her, but it wasn't like Alex was trying too hard to get away from her either. Liv wrapped Alex in a firm embrace, smiling when Alex relaxed into her body. “Me on the other hand, what?” Alex asked before two stomachs growled in tandem. She smiled when she felt Olivia chuckled silently behind her. “I guess whatever it is will have to wait until we eat. It smells really good.”


“Not as good as you do,” Liv said with a nip where Alex's neck and collarbone met. She ginned at the shiver that chased over Alex's body before Alex turned in her arms. A kiss was the answer she got and she pulled away reluctantly. “C'mon… let's eat before it gets cold. I've got plans for you for the rest of the night and you're going to need your strength.”


“Promises, promises, Detective.”




Dinner had been eaten hastily, the dishes left on the table in their hurry to retire upstairs. They had spent hours worshipping one another and only now, in the darkness of predawn where they curled around each other in a tangle of sated, sweaty bodies.


“You make me feel... amazing,” Alex confided in a hushed whisper. “So loved.” Olivia brushed her lips over Alex's shoulder and Alex felt her smile against her skin.


“Alex, you make me feel - *that* is amazing.”


Alex shifted in Olivia's arms until they were face to face, pulling back just enough so they didn't have to cross their eyes to see one another. “Liv, you've always felt… so much, so deeply. I'm just glad I can bring you joy now… instead of pain.” Olivia closed her eyes at Alex's words and Alex let her hand trail through the wild, messy dark hair, massaging Liv's neck in the process and feeling her go limp beside her. “I've decided something,” she announced quietly, waiting for the dark eyes to open again. “I'm going to talk to Arthur and take that leave of absence now. I think we've reached the place where I need to focus on the charity work for a while and I don't want to end up doing a half assed job trying to be a Bureau Chief at the same time.”


Olivia nodded. “That makes sense. How long?”


Alex shrugged, never ceasing her stroking of Olivia's scalp. “I don't know yet. Guess it all depends on how things go. Who knows... maybe I won't go back.” She shrugged casually at the unasked question in Olivia's eyes. “Being back in the DA's office isn't all I imagined it would be - I've told you that.” Liv nodded her agreement. “For now, though, I want to concentrate on getting this foundation set up. After that...?” She shrugged again. “Tomorrow will have to take care of itself when it gets here. I'm working on getting through each day and making the most of it - one day at a time.”


“Sound advice, Counselor.”


“One lesson learned in Witness Protection.”


“And SVU,” Liv added knowingly.


“And SVU,” Alex agreed. “Mary Shannon, my Federal liaison after the Connor's trial, liked to joke about taking unexpected left turns at Albuquerque – she was a huge Bugs Bunny fan. She believed they were a lot more manageable if you didn't worry about them in advance or take them with you into tomorrow. You just focused on what you could handle today and rolled with whatever life handed you and eventually you'd land on your feet. However,” she added as she slid her naked body on top of Olivia's and smiled when Liv trembled beneath her and sucked in a shallow breath. “We can worry about those things tomorrow in the light of day. Right now, I want to feel you,” letting a hand caress the breast closest to her. “Taste you,” bringing her lips into play at the juncture of Olivia's neck and shoulder and marking her. “Love you,” dragging her body down the length of Liv's darker one until she reached her goal.


Then hands, lips and tongues were occupied with far more important things than talking and conversation was put to the wayside for far more intimate communication between them. And when daylight returned, they were off and running again, because life doesn't slow down for anyone - not even lovers… especially when they were dedicated public servants.




“Well, I can't say this is unexpected,” Arthur said as he looked at the paper Alex had given him before taking a seat in front of him. “Are you sure?”


She nodded. “More sure than I've been about anything in a while, Arthur. I'm good at what I do - I know that,” she said without a hint of apology at the egotistical statement. “But there are any other number of people in this office who could do this job - some probably better because it's what they want to be doing.”


“And you don't,” his statement flat.


She shook her head. “Not now... maybe not ever again. It just....” She sighed. “It's not who I am anymore.” She looked out the window. “I don't think it's who I've been in a long time.”


“Getting shot changed a lot of things for you, hmm?”


“Not as much as losing everyone and everything I cared about.”


Branch sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers together. “I certainly never would have predicted it, though after you risked your career in an effort to passionately defend a detective you hadn't even spoken to in years, maybe I should have.”


Alex smirked. “Even I wouldn't have tried to predict this, Arthur.”


“But it makes you happy?”


“She does. Everything else is window dressing. But I think being able to make a real difference in the lives of victims, especially those who will never find real justice in the system, will be especially gratifying.”


He nodded. “I still don't appreciate you stealing one of my best ADAs,” holding up a hand before she could protest, “but at least I know between the two of you this project stands a hell of a chance of doing a lot of good for a lot of folks. And that's something well beyond justice and politics and the law.”


Alex smiled and rose from her seat. “I'll stay on til the end of the month and help ease my replacement into position. Do you know who it's going to be yet?”


“Yes... I'm going to offer it to Steele. He did a nice job filling in for you while you were suspended. Time to see if he has the balls to do it full-time.”


Alex snorted. “You wouldn't put him into the job if you didn't think he did.”


“True,” Branch offered as he opened the door. “You'll keep me informed of how things are going?”


“Absolutely. Thanks, Arthur.”


He took her hand. “Don't thank me yet, Alexandra. You haven't been listening to Lillian go on and on about how exciting this new foundation is and how much she's looking forward to being part of such a fabulous new venture. I'm thinking you're going to have your hands full.”


Alex covered her eyes with her hand and groaned; Arthur Branch laughed.




Olivia had taken to spending more and more time at Alex's townhouse and less and less at her apartment, but they had yet to have ‘the talk'. There were still a number of times when she stayed in the crib due to case work and other nights that she went to her apartment because she felt it was too late or she was too tired to show up on Alex's doorstep. Alex never criticized or asked questions, though Liv knew she was curious. She simply welcomed Olivia with open arms whenever they were together, continuing to allow Liv to set the pace of things between them. Sometimes Liv shared what was going on; others she just allowed the questions to go unanswered, knowing Alex understood.


She never stopped to consider how shutting Alex out of parts of her life was killing them.




Alex hung up the phone and sat staring out her window unmoving. It was only chance that brought Jim Steele to her office and he was finally compelled to shake Alex by the shoulder to get her attention.


“Alex... are you all right?”


She came out of her brown study with a start, blinking her eyes rapidly to clear them. When she realized who was addressing her, she nodded her head. “I'm fine, Jim. What can I do for you?”


They discussed a few matters concerning the interns - Jim getting her insight into each of them, then they looked over some of the resumes they'd received from applicants who'd graduated in December. When they were done, Jim thanked her for her help and stood to leave. He noticed the faraway look in Alex's blue eyes and decided to call her on it.


“Alex? You sure you're okay? Not regretting giving up your job as Bureau Chief to me, are you?”


She quirked an eyebrow at him and smirked, though the expression didn't quite reach her eyes. “I'm only taking a leave of absence, Jim, so don't get too comfortable in my office.”


“I don't think so, Alex. I think this is more permanent than you're letting on. And I don't think that's what's bothering you, either.”


Her expression turned cold and Steele took an involuntary step back. “I said I'm fine, Jim.” She took a deep breath and modulated her tone. “There's just a lot of change happening right now and keeping up is exhausting. I do appreciate your concern, though.”


He nodded, not quite believing her but unable to argue the point any more without angering her further. “Well, if you need anything....”


She smiled. “I know where to find you.” She waved him out of her office, watching him go before she turned unseeing eyes back towards the window. It was only Casey's touch on her arm that brought her back to her surroundings again, some time much later.


“Alex?” her voice ripe with concern.


Alex turned her chair around and summoned a smile for this woman who unexpectedly had become a good friend and partner in something that had become important to them both. She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest while Casey settled herself on the corner of the desk.


“Hey, Casey. What's up?”


A red eyebrow arched. “I was going to ask you the same thing. Is everything okay? You looked miles away from here.”


“Just thinking. How're things going?”


Casey held her gaze for a long moment, certain she was missing something, but allowing Alex the diversion for now. “Pretty good. Most of my cases should be wrapped up by the end of the month and I'm working on transitioning the rest to the new kid on the block – name of Kim Greylek. I'm not sure she's ready for SVU, but then... who is? With a little luck, she'll grow into it quickly. As for the rest, Abbie thinks she's found me a place. I'm going down this weekend to look at it.”


“That's great, Casey! You excited?”


Casey grinned. “Yeah... I really am. Aside from getting the chance to be near Abbie, this just feels right to me, you know?”


“I do indeed.” Alex cleared her throat. “Listen, have you talked to Liv recently? I've tried calling her, but everything keeps going to voicemail.”


Casey cringed. If Alex didn't kill Olivia for not telling her, Casey most definitely would for putting her in the middle. “Um... she and Elliot are undercover - they have been for the last few days.”




“Nothing to worry about, Alex. You know they'll watch each other's back and I think Fin and Munch are on standby, waiting for the case to break.” Alex nodded but she didn't speak, her eyes distant. Casey grabbed her hand and tugged until Alex took the hint and stood, bringing her gaze back to the green eyes twinkling at her. She cocked an eyebrow. “C'mon... I need ice cream.”


“Your cure-all?” Alex smirked as she grabbed her purse and donned her coat.


“Absolutely. Ice cream fixes everything.”


And it might have, had Casey not received a phone call which had them both rushing back to the one-six.




“I can't believe you didn't talk to me about this, Olivia!” the use of her full name clueing Liv in to just how upset Alex was about her latest assignment. They were ensconced in an interrogation room, the tension between them palpable. The others had left them alone some time previously to give them as much privacy as they could, moving Elliot's debriefing to Cragen's office. “You can't keep cutting me out of things like this!”


“Alex, it's my job!” Liv growled, trying not to raise her voice. “There was nothing to talk about... nothing to discuss. I wasn't cutting you out – it had nothing to do with you. We had to go undercover to catch the sonofabitch and that's what we did. There wasn't time for in-depth debate over the pros and cons of the operation!” She ran her hand through her hair in frustration. Why was she having to explain this? Alex knew what her job entailed.


“Are you telling me there wasn't time for a phone call, Olivia? That Elliot just ran off to play house with you without taking two minutes to inform his wife?”


“You're not my wife, Alex!” Olivia said, regretting the words as soon as they were out of her mouth. Alex's blue eyes turned to ice.


“You're right, Detective,” she agreed cuttingly, her voice cold and calm. “I'm not. And apparently I'm not your girlfriend either since I don't even rate the courtesy of a phone call. Now I wouldn't want to keep you from your job any longer. So if you'll excuse me....” gathering up her things and moving towards the door.


“Alex....” Olivia reached out a hand, only to watch Alex flinch away from her. She blinked furiously, refusing to allow the tears she felt gather in her eyes to fall.


“Goodbye, Detective.”




“I'm sorry, Liv, but I agree with Alex in this case,” Jo said even as she passed Olivia a beer. Liv took a deep draught, scowling at Jo as soon as she swallowed.

“What?? C'mon, Jo. This was police business - it had nothing to do with Alex.” She paused then asked disbelievingly, “You mean to tell me you share everything with Blair?”


“I don't always share the details; I can't - you know that and so does she. But I've always let her know when I have to go undercover, just so she doesn't worry unduly.”


“Letting her know you're working undercover doesn't worry her?”


Jo rolled her eyes. “Of course it does, Liv. Don't play stupid - it doesn't suit you,” meeting glare for glare. “She recognizes it as a necessary evil part of the job. But at least this way she's aware of what's going on - she knows I'll be gone and out of touch. And she knows she can reach me through my captain if she needs to for any reason. She wouldn't call unless it was absolutely necessary.”


Olivia was silent while she finished her beer. Then she stood. “Thanks for the beer, Jo.”


Jo grabbed Liv by the elbow, ignoring the look and holding on. “Don't be stupid, Liv. Don't let your pride screw up the best thing to happen to you.”


Liv pulled her arm from Jo's grasp. “I gotta go.”


Jo didn't say anything else - she simply watched Olivia leave. Then she leaned back into Blair's body when warm arms wrapped around her from behind.


“Did you get through?” Blair asked quietly.


“I dunno - I hope so.”




The townhouse was dark when Olivia arrived so she took out her key and opened the door. It was silent and Liv walked through each room searching for any sign of Alex, shoulders dropping when she discovered she was alone in the house. Every call she'd made to Alex's cell phone had gone to voice mail and she was running out of ideas.


She only had one viable option left as far as possibilities were concerned and at the moment, it wasn't even viable for her. She was technically still on duty – Cragen wouldn't let her off and she couldn't leave the city on a whim to drive to the lodge, which was the only place she could figure Alex could have gone. And just like Alex's cell phone, the calls Olivia had placed there went directly to the machine. With a defeated sigh, Liv put her phone away and left the brownstone, locking the door carefully behind her before heading to her own empty apartment. She needed to do something - the question was... what?




“This place is fabulous, Abbie - exactly what I was looking for.” Casey reached up and gave Abbie a hug that was fervently returned. Abbie grinned at her.


“I'm glad... I was hoping....”


“You did great. I can't wait to start my life here - with you.”


Abbie cupped her chin. “So why the sad look?” Green eyes met brown pointedly and Abbie sighed. She'd already heard the story from Casey upon her arrival and neither of them had been able to reach either Alex or Olivia despite their best efforts. “Casey, there's nothing you can do for Alex and Liv. They have to work things out for themselves.”


Casey cut her eyes at Abbie and pulled out of her embrace. “I know Abbie - just because I'm deliriously happy at the moment doesn't mean I've lost all sense,” her words garnering her the smile she loved. “But something else was bothering Alex before she and Liv broke up... or whatever. Something I wasn't the only one to notice.”




Casey shrugged. “I don't know. Jim Steele mentioned it to me. It was the reason I went to check on her in the first place. She was kind of out of it.”


Now Abbie frowned. “Alex was out of it... at work?” Casey nodded. “I rag on her about being a ditzy blonde, but she never lost her focus at work. At first it was because of the political implications and later is was because the work became important to her for the victims' sake.” Abbie shook her head thoughtfully. “It must have been something pretty important. And you say it was before she found out about Liv.”


“Yeah. I mean she could have been worried about not being able to reach her, but....”


“We'll see if we can find out. I have an idea. But first,” Abbie said with a flourishing gesture at the room around them, “maybe we should see about signing the papers making this place yours. Then maybe we can make a phone call.”


“Sounds like a plan.”




“Alex, it's Abbie. I know you're there so pick up the phone.”




“Gerry, is that you? This is Abbie Carmichael. I need to speak to Alex.”


“Miss Carmichael, I'm not sure....”


“Gerry, there's just me and Casey here and I'm calling from Virginia. Olivia Benson is nowhere in the near vicinity I can assure you. But I really do need to talk to Alex. Casey and I are worried about her.”


Gerry sighed into the receiver. “So am I. Hold on for a moment, please.” Abbie nodded her head at Casey and shifted the call to the speakerphone. Then they waited for Alex to pick up.


“Abbie?” Her voice sounded so small and tired that Abbie and Casey exchanged alarmed glances.


“Alex? Talk to me, hon.”


“How did you know where I was?”


“I'm from Texas, remember? That makes me brilliant by default.” Alex smiled, but it didn't garner Abbie the chuckle she'd been hoping for. “Now tell Auntie Abbie all about it.”


“There's nothing to say, Abbie. I'm all right. Tell Casey....”


“I'm right here, Alex. And you're not all right - otherwise you wouldn't be hiding out at the lodge.” She paused. “C'mon, Alex. I know what happened with Olivia is rough, but I also know something was bothering you before that.”


“Why do you say that?” Alex snapped defensively, fire back in her tone momentarily. “It's not enough that I found out the woman I love considers me less than the dirt under her feet. There needs to be more?!”


“There doesn't need to be, Alex, but I think there is. Let us help - that's what friends do, remember?”


They could almost hear the tired, resigned smile in her voice. “You can't help with this, guys, but I appreciate your concern. Casey, I'll see you on Monday. Abbie, good to talk to you again.” The dial tone pulsed across the wire before they realized she'd hung up on them. Casey and Abbie exchanged glances.


“Well,” Abbie drawled after she re-cradled the receiver. “I think you're right about something more going on. But I think we're going to have to let Alex come to us about it.”


“And if she doesn't?”


“You have detectives – let them detect. If something is going on with the Devil, they'll find it.”


“I hope Alex comes around before that becomes necessary.”


“Me too.”




Olivia's phone started ringing as she reached her landing and she pulled it out hopefully, only to discover she didn't recognize the number. She had spent the better part of the previous day trying to reach Alex to no avail and she'd hoped.... With a sigh she shoved it back into her pocket and unlocked the door, closing and locking it carefully behind her. Then her phone beeped for her attention and she realized whoever had called had left her a voicemail. Growling in frustration, she threw her keys on the side table, shrugging out of her jacket and slipping off her gun and badge. It was just coming on to dark, but she felt like the day had been years long. What had started out as euphoria the day before over a successful collar had turned into a waking nightmare after her encounter with Alex that just wouldn't stop. She hadn't meant things to come out of her mouth the way that they had; she just hadn't seemed capable of stopping herself. And now she had apparently destroyed something that after only a day she was discovering she really couldn't live without.


She crossed to her kitchen, pulling a bottle of whiskey from the cabinet. She stared at it for a long time, then put it away again, unable and unwilling to walk down that particular road, especially when she was on call. Instead she grabbed a bottle of water and threw herself on the couch.


Her phone jingled again, reminding her of the voicemail that was waiting for her. She grabbed the jacket off the back of the couch and dug through the pockets, grimacing in victory when she came up with the phone in hand. She dialed the number, hoping it wasn't a telemarketer, then sitting up abruptly when the message began playing.


“Detective Benson, this is Dr. Lillian Schumer's office. I'm sorry to bother you on a Saturday afternoon, but you're listed as Alex Cabot's emergency contact. We've been trying to reach Ms Cabot since yesterday afternoon, and have yet to contact her. If you know how we can reach her, could you please call us back immediately? It's imperative that we get in touch with her as soon as possible. It has to do with her appointment on Monday. The number here is....” Liv snatched up the pen and paper she kept on the table for just such and emergency and scrambled to write it down. Then with shaking hands, she hung up and dialed the number on the pad.


“Oncology – Dr. Schumer's office.”


Olivia swallowed hard as the implications hit her. Alex had cancer???




Geraldine watched Alex pick at her food until she had enough. Huffing, she threw herself into the chair next to Alex and pulled the mangled plate of food towards her. She scooped up a bite and moved the fork towards Alex's mouth, surprised when she didn't get a single reaction.


“Alexandra, you've got to eat. I don't think you've had three bites since you got here yesterday afternoon.” She paused, sighing when there was absolutely no response. “Is this about Olivia?” seeing the pain flash through expressive blue eyes before they shuttered closed. “Alexandra?” A beat. “Alex? You can't let her ruin your life. If she can't see your worth, then she's not worth keeping.”


Abruptly, Alex rose from her place and crossed to the window, looking out into the darkness with unseeing eyes once more. Gerry watched her closely, noting the defeat in her posture and the exhaustion in her face. Something more was going on – Olivia's actions had just compounded the situation, but at least the calls had stopped late the evening before.


“This has nothing to do with Olivia, Gerry. I'm just not hungry.” She paused and turned toward the back stairs. “I'm going to bed. Goodnight.” And before Gerry could protest or ask any questions, Alex disappeared up the stairs.


Gerry watched her go before standing and clearing the table, taking her time as she returned the kitchen to its normally spotless condition. Then she prepared herself a cup of coffee and resumed her place at the small table. Jason came in and poured himself a cup and set it on the counter as he turned to her.




Gerry shook her head, but before she was able to elaborate further, the doorbell rang. Jason placed a hand on her shoulder as he passed by to answer it, indicating she should wait for him to return. He hesitated in the doorway when he came back only moments later


“I think I have something, but I'm not sure how welcome it is,” he mentioned, stepping aside to reveal Olivia Benson just behind him.




As soon as she hung up with the doctor's office, Liv had immediately called Cragen, explaining the situation without revealing the exact nature of the emergency. The Captain that had been unwilling to give Olivia time off to rectify a personal problem had no qualms about relieving her of duty for a medical issue. And he could tell, by the tone in her voice and the shakiness she couldn't quit quell that whatever news Olivia had been hit with was more serious than she was willing to share.


So he released her from duty with the caveat that she get things cleared up – one way or another. Personal drama had no place in the squad room.


With an affirmative, she hung up and quickly called Blair. She hated to ask, to take advantage of their friendship like this, but Olivia Benson was desperate. Thankfully, Blair was more than understanding, even without knowing the details. And so it was that she found herself on a private jet less than an hour later knowing one way or another, she would face Alex Cabot very shortly.




Gerry glowered at Olivia for a moment, but quickly relented the staring contest, knowing better than most that this woman was probably the key to at least part of whatever was troubling Alex.


“Gerry....” The housekeeper held up her hand and Olivia clammed up immediately.


“Not a word, Detective. I'm fairly certain from her reaction to your calls yesterday that you are at least partially to blame for whatever is wrong with Alexandra. However,” she continued before Liv could open her mouth to speak, “I also believe you are probably the only one that can make things right for her again. Don't make me sorry for trusting you, Detective.”


Olivia nodded and followed Gerry up the back stairs until she was standing in front of Alex's door. She watched Gerry go until she was out of sight, then she tapped lightly on the door before opening it.


She waited while her eyes adjusted to darkness much thicker than she was used to, until finally she was able to make out the barest outline of a figure on the bed. Gathering her resolve, Liv crossed the room silently and came around to the side of the bed to kneel in front of Alex. She reached out a trembling hand, tenderly pushing the hair off of Alex's face. Blue eyes popped open and although Alex didn't move, Olivia felt her withdrawal as a physical thing. Tears welled up in her eyes.


“I'm sorry, Alex,” she whispered. “I'm so, so sorry. I didn't mean....” She swallowed hard and looked away and she swiped at her eyes, then returned her gaze to the woman warily watching her. “I told you I was going to screw this up, and God... it's killing me. I didn't mean the things I said to you and if I had it to do over, I'd cut my tongue out first before lashing out at you like that.” She paused and bit her lip. “I didn't mean to hurt you.”


“Why are you here?” the words raspy and filled with layers of pain.


“Two reasons,” Liv replied honestly. “One was I needed to make things right for you – I had to, Alex. Even if we can't fix things between us, you need to know that I didn't mean to hurt you. I shouldn't have said the things I did.”


“Why did you?”


Liv smiled sadly. “Because it's the first response I know when someone shows concern for me. Ask Elliot – I didn't speak to him for three weeks outside of work because he was concerned enough to have me tailed when I had a stalker, remember? I push people away before they can hurt me by walking away first. I learned that from my mom.”


“Olivia, I wasn't going to walk away from this... from us.” Liv grimaced as pain lanced through her with Alex's use of the past tense about them. She nodded slowly.


“Intellectually, I understand that, but emotionally? I have a hard time believing I won't get hurt... I don't trust me enough not to screw things up – for good reason, I guess.”


Silence reigned for a few moments while Alex contemplated her words and Olivia contented herself to memorize the face she had come to cherish - as though she would never again be given the opportunity to do so. Finally, Alex drew a deep breath to speak again.


“And the second?”


Liv blinked, bringing her attention back to her present surroundings. “I got a phone call earlier and it made me realize exactly how you felt – knowing but not knowing... wondering what was happening and why you hadn't heard something earlier.” She sighed and met Alex's eyes. “Your oncologist called me looking for you – said I was your emergency contact number.” She looked down at the floor, then up into Alex's eyes again. “That nearly broke my heart, realizing what I had thrown away without regard to what I had... without remembering what it had been like before and what it would be like again. Then she told me why she was calling – it didn't take much for me to put it all together.”


“And what did you put together, Detective?”


She reached towards Alex but stopped short of actually touching her, not sure if her touch would be welcome. Instead she clasped her hands together tightly and left them on the bed, meeting Alex's eyes squarely. “That you have some sort of cancer – probably in the early stages, but cancer nonetheless. That I won't let you go through this alone, even if it's only as your friend and nothing more. That it sucks to be on the wrong end of an information black hole and I now have a much better appreciation of where you were coming from when you ran into the squad room yesterday. That there is nothing I can do but tell you I'm sorry for what I said and that I'll try to do better – about trusting in us and keeping you informed of what is going on with me – both professionally and personally, if you're still interested. And that I'd make you my wife in a heartbeat if the law would allow it.” Olivia took a deep breath, then dropped her eyes to the bed.


Alex blinked and swallowed hard, trying to keep the tears that had filled her eyes at bay. She bit her lips and took her own deep breath before reaching out a tentative hand and covering Liv's clenched hands. She felt the minute relaxation at her touch but the tension still sang in Liv's body. “You don't think you should ask first or are you so sure I'd say yes?”


Her words brought Liv's head up with a snap, eyes full of questions and ill-concealed hope. “Alex?”


“Liv, what you said... your reaction to my concerns... hurt a lot. I'm not going to lie to you and pretend it didn't. And to be fair, my reaction was a little over the top as well. If I had been thinking with my head instead of my heart, I would have waited for you to come to the townhouse and then confronted you about it privately.” She sighed. “I think, if we want to make this work between us, we're going to have to learn how to react a little less and respond a little more.” She smiled weakly. “We both have a tendency to react instead of respond, and it makes us volatile. It makes us good at our jobs, but it doesn't seem to carry over very well in our personal lives. Maybe if we make an effort together, we could change that. The question is – do we really want to?”


“Yes,” Liv replied without hesitation. “If you're offering me a second chance, my answer is yes.”


“You sound as if you've given this a lot of thought, Detective.”


Brown eyes watered, but the tears didn't spill this time, contained as they were by a wry grin. “My hardheaded partner, my former protégé, my best friend in DC and her soon to be girlfriend all made it a point to ensure I did – short of calling me an idiot. It wasn't hard to get the message.” She paused and shifted slightly, wincing at the ache in her knees from kneeling on the floor for so long.


Alex considered for a moment, then slid away from Olivia, lifting the cover in silent invitation. Liv didn't even pause; she rose and slid into the bed, holding her breath and extending her arm towards Alex. Alex smiled tremulously and settled herself into Olivia's embrace and they sighed simultaneously at the rightness they felt.


“God, Alex... I was so afraid I'd never feel this again. You were so angry with me.”


“I was, Liv, but I forgive you. Next time, talk to me first?”


“Absolutely, Counselor. I learned a hard lesson from this; it's not something I ever want to repeat.”


“Me either,” Alex agreed tiredly. Olivia brushed a kiss over thick, blonde hair. Alex curled up closer into her body and Liv savored the feeling, tightening her hold.


“Alex?” she queried softly after and extended silence. Alex shifted slightly in Olivia's arms and offered a tiny murmur to let Liv know she was listening. “Why didn't you tell me about the cancer?”


Alex leaned back just far enough to meet Liv's eyes in the darkness, knowing they had adjusted enough to see clearly. “I hadn't had a chance,” she replied honestly. “I got the call from my GYN yesterday morning with the referral to Dr. Schumer's office.”


“Would you have told me – if I hadn't stumbled into it, I mean?”


“I was trying to. That's why....”


“Oh,” Liv muttered as realization dawned, but before she could fall into any sort of depression, Alex cupped her cheek and forced their eyes to meet again.


“Now you listen to me, Olivia Benson. You made a mistake and I forgave you for it. Put it behind you and move on. You did the same for me when I screwed up, remember? I know it's not easy - God, I can't tell you the number of times I've cringed when I thought about some of the choices I've made and the things I did... especially in regards to the way I treated you. But I can't dwell on it and neither can you. What's past is past and if we keep dragging it into the present, we'll never have a real future together.”


Olivia's brows rose into her hairline. “That's pretty profound, Counselor.”


Alex snickered. “Yeah, well... I've had a lot of time to think about it too.” She paused and cleared her throat. “So, does this mean the time has come for us to discuss our living arrangements?”


“Are you ready for that step, Alex?”


She arched a brow at Olivia and gave her the patented Cabot smirk. “For years, Detective... even if I was slow on the uptake. The real question, Olivia, is are you ready for that level of commitment?”


Her answer wasn't verbal, but it was vocal soon enough and completely mutual.



Jason folded up the paper he'd been perusing and Geraldine carefully tucked away her knitting. With a glance towards the upstairs bedroom, they exchanged a knowing look. Then they clasped hands and headed out to their own living quarters to settle in for the night.




They kept the possibility of Alex's medical condition on the down low when they returned to work Monday morning. Alex saw no reason to work everyone into a frenzy over what might prove to be nothing, and Olivia respected the fact that Alex was a private person and it was, in fact, her news to share or not as she wanted. They did make sure to let those closest to them know things between them had been resolved and life settled into something of a routine for them.


Alex scheduled the biopsy Dr. Schumer wanted her to have and Olivia started making preparations to move her belongings to the townhouse and end the lease on her apartment. It was a little daunting – Liv hadn't actually shared living space with anyone other than her mother and she had been on her own for many more years than she had with Serena Benson. Still, it felt like the right thing to be doing, and even thinking about creating a life with Alex brought a smile to her face.


Alex was busy wrapping up the loose ends in her office as she transitioned more and more responsibility over to Jim Steele. She was suddenly glad she'd taken the leave of absence to focus on the charity project when she had – no one was any the wiser about her visits to the doctor. And though she knew she would eventually share with their closest friends if anything came from the biopsy, she had no desire to worry anyone before worry was warranted. Liv was her rock, just like she'd promised, and that was enough for the time being.


Liv was involved in any number of investigations, but always made it a point to advise Alex of what was going on and when to expect her home. Many nights they spent together at Olivia's place after work, packing things up. Liv shared memories that came to her at the sight of certain pictures or mementos and Alex cherished every intimacy Liv offered.


Elliot noticed the change and nodded his silent approval, watching them grow closer and smiling at the sense of contentment and happiness he could feel in both women. He was glad Liv had learned her lesson about spousal treatment a lot faster than he had, though admittedly, Kathy was nowhere near the formidable personality that Alex Cabot was.


Maybe things would turn out all right for them after all.




Casey and Alex had decided to leave the DA's office on the same day, so of course that meant a big farewell party for them. Casey knocked on the door to Alex's office, as she was heading out to get ready for the party, pausing when she saw Alex looking out the window one last time.


“Going to miss the view, huh?”


Alex turned and looked at her with an undecipherable smile. “Going to miss a lot of things, I think. But it's the right thing to do and I think it's the right time to do it.”


“So do I, Alex. We're going to be able to do so much good with this.”


“I think you're right,” picking up her purse and a small box of her things. “Shall we?” nodding towards the door. Casey linked arms with her and nodded.


“We shall.”




The party was a blowout and everyone was there offering well-wishes and congratulations and reminding both Casey and Alex that they would be sorely missed. Sam McPherson covered the event as a human interest story at Alex's request and Alex made sure to introduce Brooke McQueen to both Jim Steele and Arthur Branch. Trevor Langan brought the new lady in his life and the one-six showed up as a unit. All in all it was an interesting evening.


It was late when it was over, and only Alex, Olivia, Abbie, Casey, Jo and Blair remained, debating whose house to move the after party to. After only a few minutes deliberation, they wound up at Jo and Blair's. Alex and Olivia had not announced their decision to move in together yet and preferred to share with their friends as opposed to surprising them with it. Besides, Alex had hosted them last as Blair was kind enough to point out, so it was their turn.


They settled comfortably in the living room, each of them kicking off their shoes and curling up with their partner on a selected piece of furniture. Jo offered coffee and everyone accepted with a sigh of gratitude. When they were all settled, conversation flowed easily between them for a while before petering out into a comfortable silence.


Without warning, Alex clasped Liv's hand, holding on tightly and looking into her eyes for the reassurance she needed before clearing her throat and turning back to the room. Her friends looked at her expectantly and she paused, realizing how lucky she was to count these women as friends and confidantes in her life.


“Alex?” Blair asked, being close enough to see the hint of tears that lurked in her eyes.


Alex swallowed and smiled at her. “I have some news,” she said quietly. “Or rather... we do,” exchanging smiles with Olivia. “I know you have all been... concerned about Liv and me and we can't tell you how wonderful it is to have friends who care about us individually as well as a couple. So, we wanted you to be the first to know that we now share a home. It became official yesterday.”


The four women cheered and applauded and of course hugs and congratulations went round the room along with a bit of good-natured teasing. When things quieted down again, Jo cocked her head and asked softly, “What else?” Alex met her eyes in startlement. Olivia just gave a crooked grin and shook her head.


“How did you...?”


Jo lifted her cup, toasting in Liv's direction. “I learned from the best.” Olivia nodded her acceptance of the truth behind the words.


Alex smiled briefly, though it didn't quite reach her eyes. “No wonder,” she said with a smirk that quickly faded. Everyone sat up and leaned forward, somehow knowing this news wasn't going to be nearly as happy as the last. Alex took a deep breath. “I had a biopsy done the other day,” hearing the gasps but not meeting anyone's eyes yet. “We don't have the results yet, but there is a very good likelihood of cancer.”


“How soon?” Abbie asked.


“Within the week. Then we'll see what our options are.” She looked at Casey. “I hate to lay all this on you, but you may end up with a bulk of the work for a while, depending on what the doctor says.”


“Not a problem. You just let me know what you want to handle and what you need me to take care of.”


Alex nodded. “Otherwise, I'd appreciate it if you don't treat me any differently. I may have cancer, but it certainly does not have me and I refuse to act like it does.”


“All right,” Blair said unexpectedly. “Just know that we'll be here for both of you if you need us. Otherwise, we'll keep doing what we do and we'll be looking forward to the progress reports on how the charity project is coming along.”


“Fair enough,” Alex agreed.


As they were preparing to leave, Jo took Olivia aside. “You all right?”


“Except for being worried out of my mind, yeah. Why?”


Jo shook her head. “You know where to find me if you need to talk. I lost my Ma to cancer, so I can relate at least a little bit.”


Knowing Jo's history like she did, Olivia simply nodded. “Thanks, Jo. You're a good friend.”


“I learned that from the best, too,” she said with a look at Blair. Then Alex met them at the door and she and Olivia stepped out into the cold winter night, braving the world together.


“You know they're all wondering now,” Alex said on a puff of cold breath, her arm linked through Liv's as the walked against the wind.


“Wondering what?” Liv asked, maneuvering them around a trashcan.


“Whether you moved in for pity reasons or if there is more to it.”


Olivia smiled and shook her head. “I don't think so. They're our friends and they know us – they know how much we love each other and how hard we've fought to be together. And if there‘s any doubt, I'm pretty sure they'll get the idea after our first fifty years or so together.”


They reached the townhouse and climbed the steps as one before Alex unwound her arm from Liv's and unlocked the door. “Short term thinking, Detective?”


“Not at all, Counselor. I figure they should start to catch on in the short term. You and I can focus on the long term privately.” She closed the door behind them, locking it while Alex hung up their coats. Then Liv reached for Alex's hand and tugged her towards the stairs.


“Have I mentioned how I adore you in jeans, Counselor?”


“It may have been brought to my attention once or twice, Detective. Why?”


“I think it may be time to start focusing on that long term thinking and I think I should start by showing my appreciation for the Devil in blue jeans.”


“You know, since I left the DA's office, I won't be the Devil anymore.


“I beg to differ, Counselor. I bet if I look hard enough, I'll always be able to find those horns of yours.”


“Oh you think so, do you?” Alex asked as they reached their bedroom.


“Count on it.”


“I intend to, Detective... for the rest of my life.”


Tomorrow would come soon enough and their cares and worries would be shouldered once more. But tonight was about them. They shut the door behind them, and all that could be heard were the sounds of living, loving and complete and utter joy.




Of course, tomorrow came sooner than either of them wanted it to, but at least this time they were more confident in themselves and each other. Olivia walked into the precinct, enduring a bit of teasing banter from the guys after she shared her new address before the phone call came in. Then things became all business and she and Elliot headed out to the scene of their latest case.


It wasn't pretty, and Liv found that sharing her burden with Alex made it an easier load to bear, even when she couldn't tell her everything. She wondered why she'd been so resistant to the idea in the first place. Of all the people in the world, Alex was one of the few who could understand what she did and appreciate how it affected her. Having something like that Olivia could count on was oddly liberating, and the trust Liv showed her only strengthened the love Alex felt.




Casey and Abbie had returned to Washington several days prior, but aside from the initial phone call she'd gotten telling her they'd arrived, she didn't expect to hear from them for at least another couple days, expecting they'd want a little time to get Casey settled in. So she was a little surprised when the phone rang mid-morning.


“Alex Cabot.”


“Olivia Benson.”


Her surprise faded to pleasure. The voice brought a smile to Alex's face and it showed in her tone. “Good morning, Detective. What can I do for you?”


Liv smiled at the sexiness in Alex's voice, allowing her thoughts to wander briefly before reality crashed back in. She slipped into the ladies' room, ensuring she was alone before she spoke again. When she did, Alex didn't miss the seriousness that had slipped into Olivia's tone.


“I can think of any number of things, but none that are viable at the moment.”


“What's wrong, Liv?”


Olivia cleared her throat. “You remember the rape case I told you about – the one with the girl whose mom's in prison? It's gonna send me undercover in Sealview. I, um... I volunteered for it.”


Alex sucked in a breath, knowing full well the implications of what was being said and what wasn't. “How long?” she asked quietly.


“I dunno – not long, I hope. Holding my cover in there....” She broke off, but Alex understood what she meant. “Fin's going in as my back-up.” A beat. “I have to do this, Alex.”


“I know you do, sweetheart. Just be careful and come home to me as fast as you can.”


“You know it, Counselor. Love you.”


Alex's smile carried clearly across the wire. “Love you more.”


Olivia growled. “Not fair, Alex. I don't have time to argue that now.”


“I know – I win. Be careful, Detective. I'll see you soon.”


“Count on it.”




Alex took a deep breath and went into her home office, surveying it with new eyes. It was different – working from home, especially since there was no assistant or secretary to rely on. She crossed to her desk and sat down, booting up her computer and looking over the things that had been done, things that needed to be done and things they still wanted to try. All the necessary legal paperwork had been taken care of before she and Casey had left the DA's office. Now it was a matter of putting everything into place.


It had been several days since she'd spoken to Liv and her stress level was through the roof wondering what was going on with her lover. But she was thankful Liv had called to let her know what was going on; Alex knew she would hear something as soon as there was any news. It made the whole situation easier to bear. The work she'd been doing simply helped the time to pass faster.


When the phone rang some time later, Alex jumped and snatched it from the cradle. Surprisingly, it was Casey excitement coloring her tone. “Thank you, Alex!” her enthusiasm clear even across the miles that separated them. Alex chuckled, forgetting her worry momentarily.


“You're welcome, Casey. What for?” she asked, causing Casey to laugh.


“For this,” gesturing around her although she knew Alex couldn't see her. “It's like a fresh start. I feel almost... reborn.”


“Works both ways, Casey. Thanks for taking me in when you really didn't have a reason to.”


“I couldn't not, Alex.”


“So you like being back in Virginia... close to your family?”


“Mostly. And being with Abbie....”


It's working out then?”


“Even more than I hoped for, Alex. She's blossoming; she's opening up to me in ways I never expected. Did you know she has a wicked sense of humor and a penchant for practical jokes?”


Alex chuckled again. “No, but I can't say I'm surprised. It's the quiet ones you have to worry about, you know.”


“Too true,” Casey said with a smile. “Oh... and I wanted to let you know that I've added a few things to the done list and a few more to the to do list.”


“Excellent. At this rate we'll be ready to launch ahead of schedule. Just keep me posted and I'll do the same.”


“Absolutely. I've got a little more settling in to do, but things are coming along nicely. Even my mother can't complain about the mess my place is in now.”


“Wow,” Alex commented, impressed. “You've been busy.”


“The right kind of motivation, but I need to get back to work.”


“Me too, actually. But thanks for calling, Casey. I'm glad you did.”


“Who would have thought when you crashed back into Olivia's life months ago that so much would have happened to bring us to the place we are now?”


“Not me,” Alex confessed, “but I can't really regret any of it. It's given me some of the best friends in the world.”


“I think it did that for all of us,” Casey concurred with a smile. “Gotta go.”


“Later, my friend.”




The next time the phone rang it was the doctor's office, and Alex had a brief, fleeting thought to wish for Olivia's strong presence with her before she processed the doctor's words. Still, she got the gist – cancer, early stages, radical treatment. She thanked Dr. Schumer and promised to schedule an appointment as soon as she was able. She hoped Olivia would be home soon.




When Olivia arrived home late that night, all thought of cancer and its implications fell from Alex's mind. One look into Liv's eyes and she knew something had gone drastically, horribly wrong.


“Talk to me, Liv. What happened?” wrapping Olivia into her embrace and feeling her melt into it.


And in slow, halting sentences she told Alex of her experience in Sealview. The harassment, her near rape, her reaction as a victim and her paralyzing fear.


“I've never... Alex, I.... Everything I've ever told a victim – it's all a lie. I should have responded differently – I'm a trained police officer and it's my job to take out scum like him. Instead, I nearly became a victim, unable to do more than scream for someone else to help me,” she finished in a whisper. “Now it's like... he made me feel more than dirty, Alex. He made me feel impotent.”


“Liv, have you talked to anyone about this?”


Olivia shook her head violently. “Only you. Melinda knows it was close – she just doesn't know how close. I'm being forced to see a departmental shrink, but I can't share this with them. Alex. It'll get me thrown off the force.”


“Liv, you've got to talk to someone about this. Keeping it inside will rip you apart.” She bit her lips as she met stubborn brown eyes. “Do you trust me?”


“With all that I am.” Alex smiled at that, leaning forward but letting Olivia close the remaining distance between them. Needing the connection and reassurance, Liv kissed Alex thoroughly, passionately. Then she took her upstairs to renew the bond between them and wash away the fear and disgust her would-be rapist had pierced her with.


Alex followed and led as Liv demanded of her, content in the knowledge that they would get through this together and tomorrow was soon enough to share what the doctor had said.




They lay tangled together as the sun rose, clinging to one another. Alex turned to find Olivia watching her and she turned her head until their lips met.


“Thank you for last night, Alex. I needed that.”


Blue eyes crinkled in response. “So did I, Liv. So thank you.” She paused, then plowed forward. “I talked to Dr. Schumer's office yesterday. It is cancer.”


“Oh, Alex.”


“It's all right, Liv. As long as we're together, it's all right. Because we'll get through it, just like we'll get through what happened to you. We'll get through it because we're stronger together.”


Olivia nodded. “I never realized the truth of that before, and I should have. As a cop, it makes such a difference, knowing that your back is covered by someone you trust. It kinda makes sense that it would be the same on a personal level.” She looked around the room before clearing her throat gently and returning her focus to Alex. “So what did the doctor say?”


“She wants to meet with us to discuss options and treatments. She believes we caught it in time, but she stressed to me that sooner was better. I told her I needed to talk to you and find a time when we could both come in to talk about it.”


“You get the first appointment you can, and I'll make sure I'm available.”


Alex nodded. “All right,” biting her lip thoughtfully. Liv frowned at her.




“I made an appointment with my therapist,” Alex replied after a brief hesitation. “I'd like for you to come along with me – for you and for me,” she qualified.




“Liv, I think it's important. You're going to need to talk to a professional about this sooner or later. I think it would be better if it could be with someone you trusted to be honest with instead of a police shrink you have to give the right answers to if you want to continue to be a detective. You don't have to talk if you don't want to – not at first. And I'd still like you to accompany me, even if you decide not to do it for yourself.”


Liv stared into Alex's eyes for a long moment, seeing the truth for herself. She nodded and kissed Alex chastely, leaning their foreheads together.


“Thanks,” she said softly.


Alex kissed her possessively and they welcomed the day ardently, secure in themselves no matter what life threw at them.




Alex and Olivia stepped hand in hand from the doctor's office, slipping on sunglasses and nearly wilting when the heat blasted against them. They started walking towards the car.


“Hell of a day,” Olivia commented with a smile which Alex reciprocated.


“Hell of a good day,” Alex quipped, her expression outshining even the brightness of the sunlight around them. “Do you realize what today is?” giving Liv an impromptu hug.


Liv looked at Alex like she was just slightly crazy considering where they'd just come from, but decided to humor her. “Aside from the day you got a clean bill of health from Dr. Schumer? Not a clue.” Alex rolled her eyes, but before she could speak, Liv continued. “Oh wait... it's also the first day of our vacation, *and* it's the first time we're seeing Casey and Abbie since they moved in together.”


“It's also our anniversary,” Alex said as she pushed the short hair from her eyes. Olivia stopped in her tracks, nearly causing Alex to stumble. Blue eyes glared at brown and brown glared right back.


“No it isn't, Alex. I wouldn't forget something that important.”


“One year ago today, I marched myself up to your apartment and forced my way back into your life. I'd call that an anniversary.”


Olivia opened the door and waited for Alex to slide in before running around and sliding into the driver's side. She cranked the car and rolled down the windows while blasting the air conditioner as high as it would go. “I guess you're right,” she agreed as she pulled into traffic. “Been quite a year, huh?”


“Yes; it's been quite an adventure getting here too,” eyes meeting and lips turning up in smiles as they thought back on all the bumps and curves along the road that had gotten them to this time and place.


“And it's only the beginning.”


The ride was quiet as Olivia maneuvered them out of the city. Once they reached a less-crowded section of highway. She cut her eyes in Alex's direction and cleared her throat.


“You didn't.... <ahem> You didn't happen to pack those jeans did you?”


“And if I did?” Alex asked with a wicked grin.


Olivia's chuckle was answer enough. Their new year together was starting out with a bang.




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