Disclaimer: The characters in the story belong to NBC Television, Dick Wolf and whoever else has a vested interest in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. 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. :-)


And to SueG who continually answered questions about New York City and the Hamptons – thanks, hon.


Author's Notes: This fic is a continuation of my first Law & Order: SVU fan fiction, Until the revised version. You might want to read that one first; s'up to you. It fills in the plot holes left by SVU/Conviction and will give you a little background for this one. This story will not follow cannon of either season seven (and beyond) of SVU or the short-lived season of Conviction. Considering what they did to Alex Cabot 's character on that show, it's probably a good thing.


Song note: Though credit in the story is given to Alex , words and music to the first song used belong to Richard Marx – the second belongs to Josh Groban . No copyright infringement is intended.


The Storyteller's Cardinal Rule is in effect.


Live Like You Were Dying

By D





“What you and I have... what I want us to have together... is intensely personal. You have always been part of my life, Liv - even when we were fighting; even when we were just friends. And there will always be a place for you in my life.” Alex paused and took a deep breath. “Being separated from you gave me plenty of time to realize the truth and my priorities have changed. More than anything I want you and me to be an us... forever. I dreamed about it. I want you in my life and I want to be part of yours... for as long as you can stand it.”

“Forever,” came Olivia 's answer without hesitation. Soft lips met hers and Olivia sighed, moaning into the kiss when Alex asked for permission to deepen it. Olivia opened her mouth in surrender, then immediately allowed her tongue to battle Alex 's for dominance, reacquainting herself with tastes and textures and emotions she thought she'd lost forever. Only when they could no longer breathe did they separate, and then only enough to allow them to continue to breathe one another's air.

"I love you, Olivia Benson . I want to stay like this with you forever."

Olivia pulled Alex into her again, capturing her lips passionately and allowing her hands to wander over Alex 's toned body, promising with her lips and touch things she wasn't able to put into words... yet.


Chapter I

Olivia tasted Alex 's tears before she felt her sobs and Olivia broke their kiss to cradle Alex to her gently as the storm broke. “You okay, Sweetheart?” after a while, letting Alex pull back slightly and brushing the blonde hair from her forehead with slightly shaking hands. Alex smiled tremulously at the endearment and shook her head, keeping her eyes on her hands that were tracing idle patterns on Olivia 's belly.


“Not really... it's just – it's too much. Being here again... with you – knowing there's a chance for us.... It's like I'm on overload. I've thought about this... dreamed about it, and to have it finally be possible and right within my grasp, it's almost more than I can stand.”


Olivia waited, sensing Alex 's need to finally let loose some of the control she had maintained for the nearly three years she had been gone and the three months she had been free from Velez and yet not free at all. Everyone had a breaking point, and Liv figured that with the pushing she'd done today coupled with everything else, Alex was probably very close to hers.


Alex caught the compassion in Olivia 's gaze and bit her bottom lip, looking away before more tears fell from her blue eyes. She felt Olivia 's fingers under her chin but resisted the pull. Her control was hanging by a thread; accepting any sort of sympathy at this point, especially from Olivia , would release that final sliver of control she'd held onto for years. And Alex wasn't sure there would be anything left of her to survive if she gave in to the little voice that was urging her to give up that final vestige of control.


“ Alex , Sweetheart... please - look at me.” A beat. “Please.”


Alex could no more resist the pleading in that soft voice than she could stop breathing – not having waited three years to hear it outside her dreams. Especially since Olivia 's voice had been the first thing about the detective Alex had fallen in love with. Alex looked up, nearly undone by the love shining so brightly out of the brown eyes gazing back at her. She started to drop her eyes, unwilling to cry in front of Olivia any longer.


Olivia tenderly cupped Alex 's face, gently but firmly guiding her face back up until their eyes met. “ No , Alex . No more hiding – not from yourself and not from me. Shh... listen to me, Sweetheart,” stopping Alex from interrupting. “I know you think you have to be strong all the time. You were like that before you left and I'll bet that was the only way you survived while you were gone, wasn't it? Hmm? The only person you knew you could depend on was yourself, wasn't it?”


Alex nodded.


“Sweetheart, you don't have to do that anymore, all right? I'm here; you can let your guard down and depend on me. Alex , you're gonna have to trust me if we're gonna make a real go of this together.”


Alex covered Olivia 's hands with her own. “It works both ways, Liv.”


Olivia smiled crookedly. “I know, Alex . I meant what I said before; I'm willing to try if you are.”


Alex slid her hands up Olivia 's arms until she could lock her hands behind Liv's neck and wind them into hair much longer than she'd ever seen the detective wear. They would talk about that eventually too, but they had a lot more important things to cover before they talked about that.


“I meant what I said too, Sweetheart. I need you in my life, but you're going to have to be patient with me. It will take a little time to change a lifetime's worth of behavior.”


“We'll work on it together, love. It won't be easy – we're both too strong-willed and stubborn for it to be easy. But we can't lose if we work through everything together.” This time Alex smiled and Olivia let one fingertip trace the smoothness of Alex 's lips. “You're very beautiful when you smile, Alex . Well,” she added shyly, ducking her head and peering into blue eyes through thick lashes, “actually you're beautiful all the time – just especially when you smile.”


Olivia 's confession caused Alex 's smile to swell to a grin. “Flattery, Detective?” It felt so damned amazing to *feel* again, particularly good emotions like love and happiness and hope. Alex realized suddenly that Olivia had *always* made her feel such things. It was so much nicer than the fear and despair that had been her only, constant companions for three years.


“Truth, counselor. The first of many in our new life together.” Olivia might have said more, but Alex captured her lips in a passionate embrace, and Olivia held on while Alex possessed her. When Alex pulled back slightly to catch her breath in a heaving gasp, Olivia returned the favor wholeheartedly, claiming Alex as thoroughly as she had been claimed. Finally, she dragged her mouth away, only to move it to Alex 's ear. Olivia nipped lightly, smiling when Alex shivered and tipped her head to one side to give her better access; them she breathed softly, “I love you, Alexandra Cabot ... welcome home.”


“I love you, Olivia Benson . I can't tell you how incredible it is to be here.”


“You don't have to, Sweetheart. I can feel it here,” covering her own heart. “It's like, for the first time in my life....”


“... we're whole.”


Olivia 's eyes widened and she realized the truth of Alex 's words in her heart and soul. A glance into Alex 's eyes showed Olivia that Alex had recognized the truth as well, and welcome as the revelation was, it was overwhelming with everything else that had happened that day.


“ Alex , did you bring any babysitters with you?” At Alex 's blank look, Olivia continued, “The nice police officers who brought you to the bar?”


“Oh... no,” blinking her eyes and shaking her head as a wave of exhaustion rolled over her. “They were simply to insure you came back here with me peacefully.”


Olivia nodded and stood slowly, making sure her feet were under her before extending a hand to Alex . “C'mon, then. I'm exhausted and so are you. We've still got a lot more to talk about, but I don't think we're gonna make any more progress tonight, and I want to hold you while we sleep... if that's all right.”


“That's the best idea I've heard in a very long time, Detective. This is the first night of the rest of our lives together, and I want to spend it in your arms.”




It was a combination of things that brought Olivia from sleeping to waking – the unaccustomed warmth surrounding her, the dead weight across half her body pinning her to the bed, the sunlight streaming through the blinds right into her eyes. She frowned and scrunched her eyes closed again immediately, until the warmth in her arms shifted and one hand started drawing lazy circles on her belly.


Olivia opened one eye and looked down, meeting Alex 's subdued blue ones. Then she blinked both of them opened and smiled indulgently at Alex . Alex 's expression instantly shifted into one of shy wonder and Olivia shifted enough to cup her face, running a thumb over Alex 's cheekbone.


“Good morning,” she whispered.


“This is real, right? I'm really here with you, in your bed – not just dreaming?”


The question was heartbreaking from someone who never before shown so much vulnerability to anyone – not even Olivia and it tugged at Olivia 's heartstrings. So for answer, Olivia shifted them until Alex lay flat on her back cradled by Olivia 's body and held in Olivia 's arms. With one hand, she traced Alex 's face, watching as the blue eyes fluttered closed under her touch.


“Look at me, Alex . Open your eyes, Sweetheart.”


Slowly, Alex let her eyes slide open, focusing on the warm brown ones that gazed down at her, so full of love that she was compelled to lift a hand to cup Olivia 's cheek. Olivia brushed a kiss over Alex 's palm and grinned when Alex 's lips reflexively creased into a gentle smile.


“Yes, Alex ... you're really here - with me, in my bed, in Manhattan .”


“This is amazing,” Alex said softly, allowing her thumb to rub Olivia 's cheekbone gently.


“Yes, it is.” She ducked her head and captured Alex 's lips for a long moment, smiling into the kiss when Alex threaded her hands into Olivia 's hair and tugged her closer. Finally, a lack of air forced them to separate and Olivia sighed in contentment. “God, I love kissing you. And I hate to stop and be the one to reintroduce reality here, but don't you have to go to work today?”


“No. After you um... left yesterday, Arthur came down and told me to take a couple days to get my personal affairs settled.”


Olivia winced. “Sorry, Alex . I didn't think about how that would put you on the spot.” She snorted. “I didn't think about much at all, actually. I was too busy feeling angry.” This got a genuine full-fledged smile from Alex and Olivia 's brow creased. “ Alex , why are you smiling?”


“I love your passion, Liv, even when it causes us to butt heads.”


Olivia laughed. “I guess we all have our own forms of foreplay.”


“Yeah,” Alex said, her smile turning melancholy. “But before we can move past that, I think we need to finish that talk we started last night.”


Olivia nodded her agreement. Despite what she felt for Alex, and what she believed Alex felt for her, there were still a lot of issues between them that needed to be talked about to be settled. This was too important to both of them to screw up by ignoring it, hoping sex would make everything all right – they were smarter than that.


“I'll go start the coffee. Why don't you hop in the shower and... what?” when Alex started shaking her head.


“I'll start the coffee. I don't have anything clean to put on. Maybe we could go out, and I could stop by my hotel?”


Olivia nodded. “' Kay . I won't be but a couple minutes. We can pick up coffee on the corner if you want. They've got some great pastries there as well.”


Alex smiled. “Sure. I missed all the neighborhood mom and pop places New York is famous for.”


Olivia cocked an eyebrow. “Hold that thought, will ya? I have a feeling it is the beginning of really long conversation, and I wanna get out of here first.” Then she slipped into the bathroom and started the water running.


Alex looked down at her wrinkled clothes and shrugged. There wasn't much she could do about it until they got back to her hotel and she could change clothes. She made up the bed, then jumped when the phone rang loudly beside her hip. Two rings and the answering machine picked up.


“Liv, pick up the phone. I already called your cell and left a message, and if I don't hear from you in the next five minutes, I'll put out an APB on you. So pick up.”


“ Elliot ?”


“ Alex ?” Alex smiled; she could hear his eyebrows shoot up into his hairline. “Um... everything all right?” Truth was, Elliot wasn't sure what to say after what he had witnessed yesterday.


“Yes, Detective. Everything is fine. Detective Benson is in the shower and can't take your call at the moment. Would you like me to have her call you when she gets out?”


“Um, no; just tell her I called.”


“I will. Thanks, Elliot ,” the last added so quietly he nearly missed it.


“For what, Alex ?”


“Caring,” after a moment's pause. “I'm glad she had you while....”


“Yeah – just make sure you don't hurt her anymore, Alex . She won't survive.”


“Neither would I. Um... the water just went off. You want to hang on a minute?”


“No; tell her I called and that the cap approved her two days emergency leave. Maybe we could all get together later for lunch or something.”


“I'll tell her and have her call you.”




“Hey,” Olivia called from the doorway where she was towel drying her hair. “You missed me so much you were talking to yourself?”


“Well, I did miss you; apparently I wasn't the only one.” Olivia tilted her head in question, pushing off the doorjamb and crossing the room to the bureau. She dropped the towel wrapped around her body and Alex watched her unabashedly, admiring the smooth play of muscles that rippled with every movement. She had to clear her throat to speak again and Olivia smirked as she continued dressing.


“ Elliot called. He was just checking to make sure you were okay and to let you know that Don approved two days of emergency leave for you. He suggested lunch later.” Olivia stepped into the walk-in closet and threw on a pair of old, comfortable jeans and a soft t-shirt. Then she sat next to Alex on the bed and puller her boots on.


“Do you want to? Have lunch with Elliot , I mean?” Alex shrugged, her eyes following Olivia as she went back to the bathroom to pin her hair up. Then she shook her head at the unreality that caused her to feel. “What?” Liv questioned as she caught Alex shaking her head. “You don't want to have lunch with Elliot ?”


“We can,” Alex confirmed, as she got up and walked out of the bedroom after Olivia . “I think it depends on how things go for us today.”


“You don't think we can work things out between us?”


“I think it may take us longer than until lunch. Remember that strong-willed, stubborn head-butting thing we have going on?”


“Yeah,” Liv said with a crooked smile. “But I also remember this,” kissing Alex hard and fast. “And I think that us together is stronger than anything either of us can say or do apart.”


Alex blinked while Olivia opened the door and ushered her out into the hallway. “Wow,” she finally breathed when the door closed behind them. “When did you become such a romantic?”


Olivia ducked her head and blushed faintly. “What can I say? You bring out all sorts of things in me.”


“Oh, do tell, Detective. I think I could find that interesting.”


Olivia just shook her head and thrust her hands into her jacket pockets, thrilled when Alex tucked her hands into the crook of her elbow. “Walk or cab?”


“Let's walk to get coffee. Then we'll catch a cab – we can walk to the park from my hotel.”


They walked arm in arm to the corner, and Liv pushed the door open, letting out the scent of hot coffee and fresh bread. Alex breathed deeply, inhaling the aroma with a look of sensual pleasure on her face. Olivia just smiled, and guided them inside.


The proprietress greeted Olivia by name and handed her a large coffee and a plain brown bag. Then she turned her attention to Alex . “And what can I get you, chica?” Alex smiled and placed her order and Olivia watched Nita give Alex her unspoken approval by tucking two of her famous cookies into a bag and passing it over with Alex 's coffee.


“But I didn't....”


“You take, chica. You need them. You come back again with Olivia , yes?”


Alex turned and looked back at Olivia who was watching with intensity. When their eyes met, Liv's expression softened noticeably and they smiled at one another. Alex looked back at Nita. “Yes. I'll come back again with Olivia .”


“Good. We will put meat on those bones.” Alex blushed and Olivia chuckled, glad she wasn't the only one who thought Alex could do with some pampering. Then she took Alex 's hand and led her outside, giving Nita a wave.


“Thanks for the coffee, Nita. See you tomorrow?”


“Yes, and bring your friend.”


They drank their coffee while Olivia flagged down a cab. Then she climbed in behind Alex , letting Alex give the cabbie the address. She took Alex 's hand between hers, gratified when Alex covered the clasp with her other hand. They kept the contact all the way up the street, but they remained silent as the cab crawled through the city traffic.


When they arrived at the Plaza, Alex paid the man before Olivia could even pull her wallet from her pocket. Then she took Olivia 's hand and led them inside and straight to the elevator. In moments they were inside Alex 's room.


“Make yourself comfortable... and don't eat my cookies.”


Olivia 's eyes widened in mock surprise and she put her hand over her heart. “I'm crushed; I can't believe you think I'd do that.” But she couldn't hide the twinkle in her eyes.


“Uh huh... try it with someone who doesn't know better, Detective. I'll be out in a few minutes.” Alex disappeared into the bathroom and Olivia took the opportunity to look around the suite. It was barren; aside from a few clothes, there was nothing. No pictures, no personal items, nothing. Olivia decided they would have to do something about that... once they got through their talk.


She crossed to the window and looked out, waiting for Alex to finish in the bathroom.




“Where's Olivia ?” Casey asked as she crossed into the squad room. “I have a couple questions about the Janway case.”


“She's out on emergency leave. We worked that case together; can I help?”


Casey nodded. “Probably,” opening her file on his desk and pointing out the places she needed clarification. Elliot took out his own notes and together they went through Olivia 's paperwork and clarified the points that were unclear. Casey closed the file and turned to lean on Elliot 's desk. “Thanks for your help, Elliot .” She paused. “Is Olivia okay?” Before he could take a breath to answer, Casey continued. “I'm just concerned... after your phone call and knowing what happened in Cabot 's office....”


“I think so. I know they are talking.”


Casey nodded. “Good. Olivia hasn't been the same since Cabot came back for the Connor's trial, and Cabot ... well, I don't know enough about her to judge. But I think she could use all the friends she can find, especially friends like Olivia .”


Elliot sat up. “What do you mean?”


“From what I have heard of her, Alexandra Cabot was a kick-ass ADA , and she was always very self-sufficient. But she had friends and family here to rely on. If even half of what I have heard about her time in witness protection is true, she has been completely on her own since she was taken out of here the first time.”


Elliot leaned back in his chair. He had his own suspicions about that, but figured it couldn't hurt to get the scoop from the DA's office either. “What have you heard?”


“Uh uh... that would be telling.” Casey slid from the desk. “Gotta go.” The echo of her heels clicking across the floor was lost in the normal sounds of the noisy squad room. Stabler watched her til she was out of sight, then turned back to his desk shaking his head – only to find Munch sitting on the corner of it. He cocked an eyebrow and Munch leaned down conspiratorially.


“She knows something.”




“You going to find out what it is?”




“Good. In the meantime, are we keeping an eye on Liv and Cabot ?”


Elliot looked John squarely in the eye. “You wanna explain it to Liv when she finds out?”


“So that means yes?”


“Yep... until I'm sure they're gonna be all right.”


Munch nodded. “Count me in.” Whatever else he would have said was lost when Cragen stepped out of his office, calling for Munch. John looked at Elliot over the top of his glasses. “Keep me in the loop, all right?”


“Yep.” Elliot turned back to his desk, but his mind was a million miles away – with Olivia and Alex .




And hidden in the darkness on the other side of the city, forces were at work that would soon bring changes to many people in the city... but especially Alexandra Cabot and Olivia Benson .




Chapter II


Alex froze when she stepped out of the bathroom. Seeing Olivia staring sightlessly out the window brought back memories that made Alex 's breath catch in her chest. “When I came back from Wisconsin for the Connor's trial,” Alex confessed as Liv whirled to face her, head tilted in a listening attitude, “I saw you standing at the window that night after... after I told you about ‘my good man'.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “It almost broke my resolve.”


Liv's brow furrowed. “I don't....”


“I knew I wasn't going to be allowed to stay here – Hammond had already told me as much. I wanted you to think I had friends... someone to look after me so you didn't think I was alone. And I wanted to protect you, Liv... just like you always did for me. I knew that giving you a reason to forget about me and push you away was probably the best thing I could do for you.”


Olivia turned away to look out the window again and Alex closed her eyes against the pain it caused her. She drew in a deep breath, but before she could continue, Olivia spoke. “So it was all a lie then?” A beat. “You broke my heart for a lie?”


“No! No, Liv – it wasn't like that at all.” Alex walked over to the window and reached out a hesitant hand to Olivia , praying she wouldn't flinch away. Liv stiffened slightly but didn't pull away, and Alex urged her to turn around. “Look at me, Liv; you deserve to see the truth as well as hear it from me.”


It took a moment, but when Olivia did look up, Alex caught her breath again at the pain that was reflected back to her. She wanted to caress Olivia 's face but settled for clasping both hands. "I did have a good man who held me at night – his name was Michael and he was the first friend I made when I finally got settled in Wisconsin .” Alex held on tightly when Olivia would have pulled away. “No, Liv... wait. What I didn't tell you that night was that Michael was gay. He was using me as much as I was using him.”


Alex wanted to close her eyes against the disbelief in Olivia's eyes, but she held fast, knowing this was only the first of many hurdles they had to cross before they could really have any kind of relationship together... friendship or otherwise.


“I came back in the room – after we said goodnight – to explain it all to you. I was sure....” Alex shook her head. “When I saw you standing by the window sobbing, I wanted so badly to tell you the truth, for you to tell me we could work things out for us, no matter what. I knew we couldn't – not then – Hammond wouldn't allow it... *you* wouldn't have allowed it, would you?”


Olivia bit her lip and tilted her head again before shaking it. “No. More than anything I wanted you to be safe and happy. I was mostly crying for me that night... for what I had lost – forever, I thought.”


“I know. I did the same thing. And when I stopped crying, I decided I couldn't do that to you, so I sat down and wrote you a letter explaining everything. I never dreamed you'd refuse to *ever* read it, you stubborn thing.”


Olivia smiled crookedly. “That is the one thing you should have expected, Alex . You know how hard-headed I get once my mind is made up.”


“Like trying to make the sun rise in the west, I know,” came Alex 's dry rejoinder. She sighed. “I am so sorry for the pain my words caused you, Liv. I never would have left without explaining it to you personally if I had known.”


“ Hammond never would have let you.”


“I would have found a way,” Alex answered fiercely. “You shouldn't have had to....” stopping when Liv covered her lips with the fingers she had freed from Alex 's grasp.


“Shh... Sweetheart. Mutual responsibility here, I think; we were both at fault. Now,” removing her fingers from Alex 's lips and wiping the tears from Alex 's cheeks and then her own, “what do you say to a walk through Central Park ? Maybe I'll even treat to hot dogs for lunch.”


“You're going to make me swoon detective, although if it's all the same to you, I think the hot dogs should wait for another day. I'm not sure I could handle that; my stomach is already in knots. But a walk with you anywhere sounds delightful.”


Olivia extended her free hand and pulled Alex towards the door with both hands. Then she held Alex 's jacket for her and snatched up the cookies Nita had given them. “C'mon,” she said as she opened the door. “It's too nice a day to be stuck indoors.” And they made their way down the elevator and out the door in companionable silence. Then Alex linked her arm with Olivia 's to keep from blowing away and together they headed towards Central Park .


“Was Wisconsin so bad?” Olivia asked when the silence went on for a few moments.


Alex gave the question the due deliberation she felt it needed. “No, but it wasn't home, and it wasn't me. Olivia , *I* wasn't me there.” She fell silent, waiting. She knew Olivia would ask, and she needed to hear her ask before she answered.


“Tell me about Michael .”


“ Michael was the first person I met. He was kind and considerate and very good looking. He had a swimmer's build - tall and lithe with dark hair and eyes. He reminded me a lot of you, actually. I think that is why I was first drawn to him, but we also recognized a kinship with one another. He had lost his partner to a motorcycle accident, though all anyone there wanted to see was that he and Peter had been friends and roommates. The longer we knew one another, the more time we spent together. Folks began to think of us as a couple, but in reality, he listened to hours upon hours of my talking about you and I listened to hours and hours of him remembering Peter . Sometimes at night he would stay over and hold me; I needed that and so did he. We needed the human connection and the knowledge that someone else understood our pain and loss and cared.” She paused again and bit her lip.


Alex took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. “It was little enough to do for someone who had been kind to me for no other reason than that it was in his nature to do so. And because we were immediately seen as a couple, people stopped asking questions about his sexuality. He finally had a girlfriend – people stopped wondering if he was gay anymore. Liv, you've seen the baseness of humanity here in a city where diversity is what this place is all about. Imagine how it is where diversity isn't part of the company bylaws or the community make-up.”


“We never slept together, Liv, except platonically as friends. Even if he had been so inclined, I couldn't... I spent too many nights calling out your name in my sleep. Even when I was no longer sure what you and I shared wasn't just a dream or wishful thinking on my part, you were still my heart... my hope. Every day I was gone, I thought of you, and every night I dreamed of us together.”


“You were always in my thoughts and dreams.” Olivia 's head dropped and she focused on each step she took. “I wanted to be glad that you had found someone, and part of me was – because I knew you were all alone and I never wanted that for you. But the selfish part of me....” She shrugged. “It hurt so much to know I had lost you; I was glad to have my memories.”


“Even the ones that hurt?” Alex asked, thinking particularly of the night she had been shot and the night they had said goodbye.


“Especially the ones that hurt – they were all I had left to remind me that I was still alive. I think I drove Elliot more than a little crazy though.”


“More than usual, you mean?” Alex asked drolly, meeting Olivia 's twinkling brown eyes. “Why?” They entered the park and reflexively, Alex took a deep breath. There were people here; there were always people – even midmorning on a weekday. Instinctively, Olivia chose the path that would take them to her thinking bench and Alex gladly walked along with her, having a very good idea where they were going. Liv had shared this private space with her on a few occasions after particularly bad cases.


Olivia shrugged again, but didn't answer otherwise. Alex looked at her, concerned, but Olivia kept her eyes carefully fixed on her feet. Alex slid her hand down Olivia's arm until their fingers naturally tangled together. It made them both smile and brought Olivia's eyes up to meet Alex's. "That's much better," Alex said firmly. "Liv, you don't have to hide from me, remember? There has to be honesty from both of us if we're going to make this work. Now how or why did you drive Elliot crazy? C'mon... you've got to share. Who knows – maybe I'll be able to use the same tactic some day."


It was said with a grin and meant to be a joke, but it brought despair to Olivia's countenance and her grip tightened almost painfully around Alex's hand. "I hope not," Liv muttered. "I never want you to feel that way... not again."


Alex pulled them to a stop in the middle of the path and turned Olivia to face her. "What do you mean, Sweetheart? How did you feel?"


Olivia bit her lip. She didn't want to hurt Alex's feelings, but she wasn't going to lie to her either. "Desolate," she said at last. "Alone and abandoned." She felt the pain in Alex's swift intake of breath and reached out to pull Alex into her embrace. "I'm sorry, Alex – I don't want to hurt you; I know it's not true... not then and definitely not now. But at the time, it was all I had... that and my anger." Olivia kissed Alex's forehead, gratified when Alex nuzzled her neck just slightly before pulling back so they could resume their walk. "It drove Elliot nuts because I shut out everything but my work... and the guys. They stuck with me even when I was pricklier than a hedgehog."


Alex laughed at Olivia's description of herself and Liv joined her just because she loved hearing the sound coming from Alex's mouth. Laughter had always been rare in their line of work and they had learned to appreciate every moment of it, no matter the cause.


"Pricklier than a hedgehog, huh?" Alex took the opportunity to give Olivia a good once-over. "I don't know, Detective. Somehow, I can't picture you as a hedgehog."


They reached Olivia's bench and sat down, snuggling close enough to leave no personal space between them. Alex rested her head on Liv's shoulder and Olivia laid her head on Alex's, and for a few minutes there was peace and quiet. Then, “Where did you go when you left Wisconsin ?” Olivia finally asked, breaking the blanket of silence that had fallen over them again. Alex cleared her throat and Olivia squeezed her gently and brushed a kiss on the top of her head.


"I went with Hammond to help get Antonio settled first. It wasn't what Jack wanted, but it was what was best for Antonio. He was such a good kid, putting up with all the changes in his life like a pro. He was placed in Texas ... on a horse ranch there. He loved it; God, he was so excited when he found out it was his new home!”

“What about you?”

“I went to Florida and was working for the DEA. That was one reason I was able to push so hard to close the Velez case; I was finally in a position to do something proactive. Besides, there was heat and humidity and hurricanes there; those were reasons enough to do anything necessary to get me back to New York and hopefully, you. I could have survived my whole life just fine without experiencing any of those things to that degree, much less all of them together!”

“Yeah, but I have noticed you have a little bit of tan going on there. What's up with that?” with a grin.

“Well, there are beaches and boats and Disney World too,” Alex added with a smile. “But it never was home. That was always here. My heart stayed here with you."

The kiss was sweet, and they separated slowly. “You say the sweetest things, but you do know it is completely wrong that you were tanning while we were freezing our asses off up here, right?”

Alex snorted. “I had to find my silver linings where I could. There weren't many of them. Best damn day in that life was when Jack verified that everything had finally fallen into place and Velez was dead. I wanted to come home right then, but Hammond was quick to remind me I had too many things that had to be taken care of before that could happen.”


“So why didn't you at least call and let us know you were coming home as soon as Velez was dead?” sounding a little hurt. “I figured you'd decided to stay... wherever you were.”


Alex sighed. This was the hard part. Instinctively, Olivia tightened her arms around her and Alex smiled at the unconscious comfort she was being offered. Olivia had always done that – once they'd gotten past their initial adversarial reaction to one another, they had been very tactile in private and Alex relished the renewed connection between them. “I missed this so much while I was gone.”


Liv squeezed her again. “So did I. It was the hardest thing to learn to live without,” she said softly. Then she sat back and waited. Finally Alex started to speak again.


“It took Agent Hammond a while to come to Florida once Velez was dead and he wouldn't allow me any contact outside the Agency. He wanted to be sure the threat to me was completely gone and apparently there were a couple loose ends to take care of. Then things snowballed. There were papers to sign and psych evaluations to do and intense therapy to sit through and ID reclamation and fingerprinting and.... The list goes on and on until I thought it was never going to end. The Feds kept me hopping and I decided we had been forced to wait so long, I wanted to see your face when you found out I was finally coming home. I didn't know I was going to make the gossip circuit before I even got home; I certainly never dreamed the job would be public knowledge before I even got an official chance to say yes.”


“Wait... you didn't agree to become Bureau Chief?”


“Yes, I did... but it wasn't official until about half an hour before you came to my office. I had just stepped out of my meeting with Arthur when the phone rang and Casey Novak said you were headed over hell bent for leather.”


“So I started all kinds of rumors for you by rushing over there like you owed me something, didn't I? God , Alex ... I didn't even think....”


Alex cradled Olivia 's face in her hands. “Hush. No more apologies - you're beating up the woman that I love. Given the circumstances, I understand... especially given your passionate nature,” smiling shyly. She blew out a breath. "I should have called. Whatever it took, I should have convinced Jack to let me contact you as soon as I knew....” She snorted softly. “I should have listened to you in the first place – when Velez first popped up on the radar; then we never would have had to have suffered through the last three years apart. But it's all past now. Can we move on?”


Olivia paused and blew out a breath. There was still one more issue. “Depends... what about Robert ?”


Alex dropped her head. Damn, why did I think she would miss that little detail? No wonder.... “How did you hear about him?” Alex countered. “I haven't said anything to anyone about him or his supposed status in my life yet.”


Olivia shrugged. “ Elliot . I don't know where he heard, but you can bet it's already around the courthouse, the DA's office and police plaza that you're engaged to him. Although I imagine that little scene yesterday chased the engagement rumor right off the airwaves.”


Alex chuckled. “Well, it is certainly much more interesting. Let's face it – no one ever gets to see the implacable Detective Benson lose it over anything except a case.” Alex sighed. “It had to be the DEA behind the fiancé rumors. I didn't realize they were going to make this fake engagement public knowledge so quickly. I was hoping to tell you about it first; the deal was contingent on you knowing the truth.”


“The truth? Fake engagement? Supposed status? Alex , are you telling me...?”


“Shh... let me tell it. It's confusing enough without having a scorecard and knowing all the players.” Olivia nodded and they shifted again, Alex threading the fingers of one hand into Liv's. Alex blew out a breath. “I'm part of Robert's cover arrangement here. Having me as a fiancée would give him access to people he wouldn't have otherwise. He is working undercover as a lawyer within the legal business side of the new drug cartel's organization. The DEA was banking on the fact that the new drug lord knew Robert was my fiancé and that because of what I went through because of Velez, I would do anything to keep from returning to the Witness Protection Program. Seems it is common knowledge I wasn't a model participant.” She smirked wryly at the understatement. “Imagine that.”


“Imagine that,” Olivia agreed with irony, then sobered and chewed on her bottom lip thoughtfully. “I don't like it, Alex . That's dangerous for you and you've done enough... been through enough for those people. And what does this mean for us? Alex , I can't be the other woman, even if the engagement is only for pretend. I'm not asking for full public disclosure or an announcement to the world; but I won't be anyone's dirty little secret – not even yours.”


Alex took Liv's face in her hand and met the brown eyes squarely. “I would never ask you to be, Sweetheart. I don't want that for you or for us either, although after yesterday, I don't think that's going to be a problem.” Alex gave Olivia a mischievous grin and Liv smirked in response. “ Robert is going to be around for a little while; they didn't give me specifics on how long or what he needed to accomplish. But I will put things in motion to get him out of my life as quickly as possible without endangering anyone. I'll pull out the Ice Princess persona if that's what it takes to get him out. Trust me... we'll come up with something, even if I have to leave the DA's office. It may take a little while though. You know how slowly government wheels turn.”


“Would you have married him?”


“No, Liv – not for any reason; I made that clear before we ever came back here. It was to stay an engagement and it was conditional on my talking to you. What's between Robert and me is business; although given how they have distorted their side of the agreement, I don't think we'll be doing business for very much longer.”


“I love the sound of that. I don't want you to be in danger anymore. You've done your bit for God and country already. Besides, I don't do jealousy well,” Olivia said quietly. “But can you do that? Like you said, this is the government we're talking about. I doubt very seriously they're gonna want to let you just walk away, especially if they consider you a key player in whatever op they're on.”


“They'll get over it.”


Olivia smiled. “I doubt that, Alex ... I never did.”


“Why, Detective Benson – that has to be one of the nicest things you've ever said to me. And just for the record, neither did I.”


Liv pulled her hand from Alex 's and moved it up to cup her face. They stared at one another silently for a long moment, their eyes exchanging thoughts and pledges they would voice soon enough. Then they leaned in and let their lips touch briefly... once, twice and then they came together with serious intent. It was hot and fierce and passionate... and far shorter than either of them wanted it to be. But they were all too aware that they were out in a public setting and neither of them was willing to share this with the rest of the world yet. Aside from the fact it wasn't safe, it was also something too new and precious.


Olivia pulled back slightly and leaned her forehead against Alex 's. “What do you say to blowing this joint and going to find some lunch? I don't know about you, but all this talking has made me ravenous.”


Alex stole a quick kiss and rose, reaching a hand out to Olivia and pulling her up gently. When they were standing side by side, Alex took Olivia 's elbow and they headed back out of Central Park . “Do you have somewhere in mind?”


Olivia 's gaze turned inward for a minute, then she turned to Alex and smiled. “Yeah... I've got just the place. C'mon.” Neither of them noticed the pair of blue eyes watching them from the shadows, nor did they hear Elliot 's words.


“You go, girls.” He couldn't stop the smile that crossed his face at the thought of his partner finally finding happiness. This was something he couldn't wait to share with Kathy ; she had been wishing for something like this to happen for a very long time – almost as long as he and Olivia had.


Elliot threw away his coffee cup and headed out another path. He had to get back to the station. There were still perps and pervs that needed to be caught, regardless of what was happening between Olivia and Alex . He just hoped he'd get to hear the details later.




“So what does your mother think of your return to New York ?” Liv asked after they had ordered lunch and their drinks had been delivered. “I bet she was thrilled.”


“You'd lose,” Alex replied in a clipped tone. “She's never forgiven me for living.”


Olivia blinked and her jaw dropped open and the air literally whooshed from her lungs in a rush. “ Alex , that's not true.”


Alex snorted and picked up her goblet, suddenly wishing she had asked for something stronger than water to go with her lunch. “As a matter of fact, Detective, it is all too true. She was furious with me when I came back for the Connor's trial. I know because Hammond was kind enough to deliver a rather scathing letter from her once we were out of the city.”


“ Alex , I know for a fact it's not true.” Olivia was fierce and passionate in her delivery and her eyes burned with the heat of truth burning from them. Alex cocked her head in question.


“ Olivia , I know for a fact it is. There was no mistaking the tone of her letter. The only thing I never quite figured out was if she was angry that I lived and didn't tell her, or if she was angry because I came back and left again or what. But I do know she was furious with me - *that* part she stated point blank in exactly those words.”


Olivia looked down at the tablecloth, debating her options. Alex deserved to know the truth, but her mother should be the one telling it. However, Elizabeth wasn't here and Olivia was and there was no way she was going to let Alex think her mother hated her. She could see the obvious pain that thought was causing despite Alex 's best attempts to hide it. Liv looked up directly into blue eyes.


“Alex, despite what you read and what you think you know, I know *for a FACT* that your mother never once blamed you for standing up for what you believed in... for what you thought was right. She was actually very proud of what you did. There was never anything to forgive on that account. She was furious for what it did to *you* and what it cost all of us for you to do it.”


“ Olivia , how do you know this? Because you really do *know* don't you? You're not just saying that to make it sound good, are you?”


“Yes, I do; and no, I'm not.” She paused when their server returned and placed their food in front of them. “I know because Elizabeth ... your mother and I have been friendly since, well... Elliot and I stood with her at your, um... funeral. We stayed in touch after that, and when you came home for the Connor's trial....”


“She gave you an earful.”


“Two, actually... with both barrels,” Olivia agreed wryly, rubbing her ear in remembrance. “She was furious at the deceit involved, at the pain we had all suffered in your absence, at the need for you to return to hiding. She was furious at the world for the injustice of it all. She *was* furious with you for not telling her you were alive, with me for keeping it secret, at Velez for creating the need for silence. We spent a lot of time talking in the weeks following your second disappearance from our lives. She loves you very much.”


“So you two are friends now or...?”


“Not exactly – I mean, we don't hang out or go to dinner together often or whatever. But we do talk on the phone regularly whenever she's in town. I kinda looked out for her when you left the first time, and she sorta kept an eye on me when you left the second. We kinda bonded.”


“I see.” Alex tone was cool, as was the look in her eyes, and Olivia couldn't tell if she was hurt or angry. “And when were you going to tell me about this?” Olivia considered taking offense at the accusation clear in Alex 's tone. Then it dawned on her – Alex was jealous. Olivia put down her fork and reached for Alex 's hand, covering it before Alex could protest or pull away.


“ Alex , I told you about it at the very first opportunity I had.” Olivia tilted her head and crooked a smile in Alex 's direction. “Sweetheart, there's no need for you to be jealous. I would never try to take your place in Elizabeth 's heart, and she could never take your place in mine.”


Alex took a deep breath and dropped her eyes to the table. “Sorry – I know that. I just... I feel like I missed out on so much – like life passed me by while I was gone and I don't have a place here anymore. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to find a place I belong anymore.”


“ Alex , you don't have to find a place – we'll make one for you. And you don't have to do any of it alone. I'll be right beside you, and so will the guys and your mom. And I bet if you look around the DA's office, you'll find even more friends and allies.”


“You think so?”


Olivia gazed at Alex for a long moment. Then she wiped her mouth and dropped her napkin on the table, signaling the server for the check. Before Alex could react, Olivia had paid the bill and risen from her seat. She held out her hand to Alex . “C'mon. I want to show you something.”


Alex took Olivia 's hand and stood, snagging her jacket as they headed out the door. “You know, you're saying that to me a lot today.”


Liv grinned. “Guess it's a good thing you trust me, huh?”


“You've never steered me wrong, Liv... not when it mattered. So where are we headed?”


“Home – it's time to be part of the family again.”




Chapter III


“Um... Liv? Why are we at the precinct? I thought we were going home.”


“ Alex , this is home – one of them anyway, considering how much time we've spent here. And the guys are your family... at least part of it. Trust me, they're all gonna be thrilled to see you again. None of them are gonna go off on you like I did yesterday.”


“Cojones aren't as big as yours?”


“Well, that,” Liv smirked, “and I'll be with you every step of the way.”

Alex looked at the building and then back at Olivia before refocusing her eyes on the doors to the precinct. “There was a time,” she said softly, “when I could walk in there like I owned the place.” She turned back to find Olivia watching her intently. “I don't think I've ever been this nervous before – not even my first day in court. My butterflies have butterflies.”


Olivia took her hand and walked them up the steps at a rapid pace. “C'mon, then... before I can't get a net big enough to catch them.” She turned to face Alex when they reached the top. “Suck it up, Counselor. It's not gonna get any easier.”


Alex looked a moment longer and Olivia watched as the lawyer persona fell into place. She laid a hand on Alex 's arm. “ Alex , Sweetheart - they're your friends. They're gonna be glad to see you.”


Alex nodded and relaxed slightly. “Right; let's go.” Then she marched up to the doors and flung it wide open, passing through as though she really did own the place. Olivia watched her go for a moment, grinning and admiring the view from behind. Then she shook her head and lengthened her stride to catch up to Alex before she could reach the squad room.


“Hey guys! Didja miss me?”


Heads swiveled when Alex entered the room and grins broke out across the board before every detective on duty stood up clapping. Then Munch stepped into her personal space and knelt down on one knee with his arms outstretched. “ Cabot ! You came back to me! I knew you would find a way to defeat the conspiracy to keep us apart.”


Alex blushed and pulled John to his feet, not at all surprised to find herself wrapped in his arms in the most comforting welcome hug she could have imagined. That action prompted the rest of the room to swarm towards then and very soon Alex was surrounded and welcomed by old friends.


Olivia stood in the doorway, leaning against the doorjamb, watching Alex absorb the love and attention like a sponge. She was so glad the guys had not only come through for her, but had surpassed even her wildest expectations. Alex turned her head to find Olivia and let herself fall into the warm regard in those deep brown eyes watching her. Then she winked and cocked an eyebrow.


Elliot had meandered over to where Olivia stood and was watching the byplay between them. “She's got you whipped, Liv.”


“No, El,” she replied with a sincerity that surprised him as she pushed off the door frame. “I surrendered willingly.” His hand on her arm stopped her progress and she looked back at him with the question easily read in her eyes.


“Are you happy, Liv?”


“Yes,” confirmed forcefully, her commitment unmistakable.


“Good,” Elliot said unexpectedly. “It's about damn time.” They walked side by side into the melee and found a path cleared for them. Elliot opened his arms and lifted Alex off the floor when she stepped into them. The anger and frustration he felt towards her for what she had put them all through would wait til another day and time. He was happy to have her back just to see the smile on Olivia 's face again.


“Don't hurt her again, Alex .”


“I don't want to, Elliot . Can we talk later?”


He was surprised. They had come to a truce once – in her previous life. It was good to know she wanted to work towards one in this one. “You betcha.” Then he put her back down and looked around at the gathered detectives. “I think this calls for a drink.”


“I think you're all still on the clock and need to get back to work, people. What exactly is going on here?? Who called for happy hour without authorization?” Cragen caught sight of Olivia as he stepped from his office. “ Benson ? Aren't you supposed to be on emergency leave?”


Before Olivia could open her mouth to speak, Alex pushed through the crowd and into his line of sight. “Hello, Don .”


“ Alexandra ,” he answered opening his arms for a hug of his own. “I wondered if you'd give your old squad a looksee before you settled into that big posh office I've heard they give DA Bureau Chiefs.”


“I wouldn't have missed it,” she replied, exchanging a secret glance with Olivia . “But we're holding up the department here. We'll just....” Cragen held up a hand and looked around the room.


“ Benson , my office... now. The rest of you get back to work.” He turned back to Alex . “It really is great to see you. I'm so glad you're back... we all are.”


“Thanks, Don.”


“Now if you'll excuse us,” motioning Olivia inside.


“I don't think so, Don . Detective Benson is entitled to legal representation in the first place, and if you think I'm going to let you blame her for what happened yesterday, I suggest you think again.”


“ Alex ....”


“No, Liv. Whatever he says can be said to both of us – at least if it has to do with what happened yesterday. We are both responsible for that little scene; you're not going to take sole responsibility. I won't let you.”


Don blinked. He never would have believed it if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes. “So you two are all right then? You've worked everything out between you?”


”We're working them out as they come up, cap, but we're all right.”


“So working together again is not going to be a problem?”


“No, sir.”

“ No , Don .”


“Good. So I can call Arthur and tell him things are okay?”


“Yes, sir.”


Good. Now get out of here before you end up working. And take Alex with you so everyone else can get back to work.”


They drew everyone's attention when they left Cragen's office, but it didn't disrupt work like it had when Alex had first appeared. Instead, most of the detectives looked up and waved, but continued whatever they were working on as well. Only Elliot got up and met them at the door.


“You headed out?”


“Yeah... cap is throwing us out before we cause a riot,” Liv smirked, “or worse.”


“All right. I'll see about getting everybody together either for drinks Friday night or Saturday for a barbeque or something. I need to talk to Kathy first.” He rubbed his eyes, then turned to Olivia . I'll see you Thursday?”


“Yeah, I'll be here first thing.”


“I'll leave some of this paperwork for you. You are in so deep with me you know.”


“I know,” reaching for Alex 's hand to pull her out of the precinct. “It'll be worth it.” Olivia and Alex walked out the door then Liv stuck her head back in. “Thanks, El.”


“Get outta here, Liv,” he said, waving her off and resuming his seat at his desk. He pulled a folder towards him. “Pussy whipped,” he muttered under his breath.


“Better not let Cabot hear you say that,” Fin said quietly. “I have a feeling those two are gonna be real protective of each other from now on.” He turned and faced Elliot directly. “Did Liv really bust her chops yesterday?”


“Oh yeah,” Elliot confirmed. “But as long as it worked....”


“Yeah, it's good to see our girl happy again. I've missed those dimples.”


Munch came up to stand between them. “And the sparkles in those brown eyes. I just hope that whole engagement thing is just some sort of government conspiracy.”


“So do I,” Elliot said. “'Cause I don't want to imagine what it could mean if it's not.”




“So where do you want to go now?” Olivia asked when they reached the street again.


Alex shrugged. “I'm not sure where to start. There are still a few things that need to be taken care of.”




“ Robert , for one. My mother, for another. And then there is the whole matter of finding a new place to live, getting a new wardrobe, furniture....”


“Whoa, Alex . Slow down,” Olivia said, taking her hand and tucking it into the crook of her elbow. “None of that has to be done right this minute if you don't want to, Sweetheart. Your life, your choices, your decisions. Now, what do you want to do right now – this very minute?”


Alex looked at Olivia and let her desire darken her blue eyes almost black. “What I'd really like to do is go back to your place.” Then she flushed. Olivia 's nostrils flared, she bit her bottom lip and her eyes did become black. It had been a long time since she'd allowed herself to be THIS Alex. God, it felt wonderful... and Olivia 's visible reaction was empowering.


“Well, then,” Olivia said after a moment spent catching her breath, “what do you say we go to the Plaza and checking you out of that suite? Then we can go back to my place; maybe have some dinner later? We can worry about everything thing else tomorrow.”


“Sounds like a plan.”


Neither of them had any idea how differently their evening would play out.




“ Alex ! ALEXANDRA !” A man walked up and tried to take her into his arms, only to have a face full of angry detective between him and the object of his desire. “Excuse me....” trying to push Olivia out of his way. “ Alexandra , would you please explain to this *woman* who I am?”


“Back up, buddy, before I arrest you for assault on a police officer.” He moved away slowly with his hands up. Olivia hadn't pulled her weapon, not wanting to draw undo attention to their interplay, but her expression was feral enough to put the fear of God into him. He chanced a look at Alex .


Alex walked up behind Liv and put a hand on the small of her back, and though Olivia 's eyes never left the man's, Alex felt Liv relax into her touch. Olivia looked back at Alex and they exchanged smiles. They stood that way, side by side, then returned their gazes to the man, prompting him to speak again.


“ Alexandra ? Who is this woman and what is going on here?”


Alex sighed. She had really been looking forward to going home with Olivia . She looked at Olivia apologetically. To her surprise, Liv reached for her hand, and squeezed it briefly in support. “Let me guess... Robert , right?”


“Um hmm.”


Olivia sighed. “Guess this means dinner will be a little later than we thought, huh?” She spared him another brief glance before turning back to Alex . “I know this isn't what you wanted to do tonight. You ready for this?” Olivia asked softly, waiting for Alex to nod. “May as well invite him up while you're packing then. The sooner he understands, the sooner we can ditch him.”


“Ditch me?! I'm her fiancé – she can't ditch me!”


“Let's go upstairs before he makes any more of a scene than he already has. And Robert ?” turning to speak to him directly for the first time. “You don't get to dictate my actions... ever.”


Robert thought about commenting, but a look from Olivia made him swallow any retort he had. He reached out towards Alex , but she and Olivia turned away from him and headed to the elevator. Robert followed them, fuming silently.


The ride up was filled with tension, but by tacit agreement, all three of them remained quiet until the door to Alex 's suite was closed. Then Robert whirled on them, standing in front of the door simply watching the two of them for a minute. Alex went to the drawers and started unloading them while Olivia pulled out her two suitcases and put them on the bed. Finally, Robert couldn't stand it anymore.


“All right, Alex . Do you want to explain to me exactly what the hell is going on here? Where the hell have you been all day? Do you know how worried I have been? And who is this woman?”


“ Robert , I'd suggest you take a deep breath before you pass out from lack of air.”


“I think you owe me an explanation, Alexandra .”


Olivia cocked a brow in Alex 's direction, silently asking if she wanted Olivia to step in. Alex rolled her eyes and shook her head minutely; she knew she had to take care of this herself if it was going to stick. But Olivia could see Alex's need to keep her close, so she turned to the closet and started removing the few suits Alex had purchased for her return. Olivia watched in fascination as the fragile woman she had been with all day disappeared into the lawyer façade of Bureau Chief Alex Cabot .


“Take a seat, Robert .”


He stared at Alex a long moment, gauging her sincerity, before stalking to the couch and dropping hard onto the cushion. He glared at Alex when she took a seat in the chair across from him instead of on the couch beside him. “What the hell is going on, Alex ?”


“I don't actually owe you anything, Robert , but the fact is... I am reclaiming my life, and you don't have a place in it.”


“You can't do that, Alex ! Do you know what this means for the operation? You don't get to make that decision!”


“I already did, Robert . You see that beautiful woman so carefully packing my clothes over there by the bed? That is Detective Olivia Benson – the same Detective Olivia Benson who was supposed to be privy to what was going on *before* the rest of the world found out.” Alex stood up and walked closer to Robert . “But your Agency neglected to take care of that little detail and I nearly lost her from my life completely before I managed to straighten everything out.” She leaned over him, poking a finger in his face and he shrank back instinctively. “So you can take your deal and shove it, Robert , because I am not going to help you anymore. You're on your own!”


He jumped up into Alex 's personal space, not seeing Olivia move strategically to intercept him. “Nono! I don't think so! You agreed to do this, Alex . You're not throwing away years of work because you got your feelings hurt!” Robert made the mistake of pointing a finger in Alex 's direction and found himself face down on the floor with Olivia 's knee in his back and his arm wrenched up the middle of his back. “What the fuck?!?”


“I warned you about assaulting a police officer, and Ms Cabot is an officer of the court – same rules apply. As a DEA agent, you know that. Now if you would like to sit and have a civilized discussion with Ms Cabot, then I will be happy to let you up to do so. But you don't dictate and you don't touch. Otherwise, I will escort you out and we'll have a restraining order slapped on you so fast, Hammond will be visiting you in jail. You got that?”


“Yeah, yeah... I got it. Now let me up.”


“You gonna behave?”


“I'm going to leave,” he growled, jerking away from Olivia and smoothing his clothing. “But remember this, Alex – this is far more important than you are. You're not going to be allowed to fuck up years of work for your own petty selfishness.” He stomped across the room and slammed the door behind him. Alex and Olivia just watched him go before turning back to one another.


Alex cocked an eyebrow at Olivia who had the grace to look sheepish. She shrugged and let her gaze drop to the floor, only to find her chin caught and held and her eyes brought back to meet smoky blue. “Thank you,” Alex whispered, before claiming Olivia 's lips passionately. She slid her fingers into Olivia 's hair, letting her thumbs caress the smooth planes of her cheekbones. Olivia let her hands drop to Alex 's waist, pulling them closer together. This went on until they ran out of air and they leaned their foreheads together. “I can't tell you,” Alex said on an uneven breath, “how amazing it feels to have someone looking out for me like that.”


“I didn't think,” Olivia confessed. “I just reacted.”


Alex smiled and kissed her nose, then pulled away to go finish her packing. “I know – that is what makes it so amazing.” She sighed and zipped up the full cases. “I never would have accepted that sort of action on my behalf before without a fight. Now I can't get over how incredible it is to have someone care about me so much that they react instinctively to protect me... even if I don't need it.”


Alex picked up her garment bag and a suitcase. “So how about a little help, Detective?”


Olivia stepped up and picked up the second suitcase and held the door for Alex to pass through in front of her. This day just kept getting more interesting by the minute. She was almost afraid to ask ‘what next?' for fear of what might actually happen. So Olivia waited while Alex checked out, then they headed back to Olivia 's apartment in comfortable silence.


Liv unlocked the door and they almost fell in with the sense of relief. It was the same as it had been that very morning, but so much had changed for them over the course of a single day, they felt as though they had both come home. Liv walked straight into the bedroom, and Alex followed her unquestioningly. Olivia put the suitcase she carried on the bed, then moved to the bureau. “I'll um... I'll make some space for you to put your things away if you want to unpack. We can talk about how permanent you'd like this to be tomorrow, ‘cause I don't think either one of us is up to any more serious conversation tonight.”


“I think you're right, Detective, though I don't think my answer will be different tomorrow. However, how do feel about Chinese for dinner?” changing the subject as she unzipped the garment bag and started hanging up her suits beside Olivia's few dressy clothes and pressed jeans.


“Chinese sounds good. I have a feeling I might get a good fortune this time. Better than the last one, at any rate,” Olivia muttered under her breath, but not low enough to keep Alex from hearing. She turned to leave the room... only to find Alex 's hand on her arm, halting her progress. She looked up into twinkling blue eyes. “Shit.”


That made Alex laugh and Olivia couldn't help but smile in reflex. This was a side of Alex she had only seen very rarely before, and she realized she wanted to see it a lot more often now that she was home to stay. So she waited, knowing it was coming.


“What did it say, Liv? You can tell me. How bad could it be?”


“I dunno – do I look like a happy man to you?”


Alex blinked... then snorted before clearing her throat. “Well, you certainly look happier than I can ever remember seeing you,” she admitted. Then she took a moment to peruse Olivia 's body from her toes to the top of her head. “But you are definitely NOT a man.” Alex stepped closed until she was completely in Olivia 's personal space and ran her hands up Olivia 's torso, relishing Olivia 's reaction to her touch. “No – judging by the evidence in front of me, you are in no way, shape or form a man, nor could you ever be mistaken for one, Detective.”


Olivia cleared her throat. “You're nothing but a tease, counselor.”


“Oh no, Detective. I'm not teasing; I'm playing for keeps.” But before they could seal the promise of Alex 's words, growls erupted from both bellies, breaking the mood. They looked at one another and giggled and separated, Alex going back to her suitcases and Olivia heading out of the bedroom and into the kitchen where she kept her take out menus.


That was when she noticed the red blinking light on her answering machine, and she seriously considered ignoring it. But the responsible part of her wouldn't let her do that, so with a sigh, she crossed the room and pushed the button.


“Hi Olivia , it's Elizabeth .” A long pause. “Dear, I've heard some things and... could you call me as soon as possible, dear? I know you'll be honest with me.” There was a second long pause, then the sound of the phone being hung up. Olivia sighed. She really didn't want to get into this tonight, but it wasn't just her decision. Before she could call Alex though, the next message started to play.


“Hey, Liv, I talked to Kathy . She suggested we host a barbeque at the house on Saturday. That way she and the kids will get to see you and Alex as well. If this doesn't work for the two of you, let me know tonight, will ya? Otherwise, I'll let everyone know tomorrow.” Click.


“Oh... I forgot. If there is anyone outside the squad you want me to invite, just let me know. That's it, I think. Bye.”


Olivia couldn't help the chuckles that escaped at her partner's silliness. It didn't happen often, so she always enjoyed when Elliot cut loose a little bit. Besides, it was good to know that even if they didn't get back together, Kathy and Elliot had a real shot at staying friends, which Olivia knew would be good for everyone. The sound of her laughter had covered Alex 's footsteps and she jumped when Alex leaned over her to pause the machine.


“What's so funny?”


“El,” Olivia said briefly and rewound his messages so Alex could hear them. Alex laughed; then they both froze when Jack Hammond 's voice came across the machine.


“Detective Benson , I have it on very good authority that Ms Cabot is with you. I would consider it a great personal favor if you would ask her to contact me at her earliest possible convenience.” Beep.


“Damn,” Alex sighed. “I didn't need this tonight.”


Olivia 's shoulders slumped. May as well get everything out in the open now. “There's one more you need to hear, Alex .” She pressed the button and let Alex hear the message from Elizabeth . “I need to know what *you* want to do, Sweetheart.”


Alex listened and dropped her head. “I want all this to go away and for it to just be the two of us. Is that too much to ask?” She sighed. “Call my mother; Jack Hammond can wait til hell freezes over as far as I am concerned.”


“You sure?”


“About my mother? Or Hammond ?” She grinned wryly. “About Hammond – absolutely. About my mother – not so much.” Alex straightened and took a deep breath. “But it's got to be done, so call and see if she'll come over for Chinese. I mean... would you mind?”


“Nope. The menus are on the counter if you wanna take a look and decide what you want for dinner. I don't think it will take long to talk to Elizabeth .”


Alex nodded. “Can I make a deal with you, Detective?” Olivia had already picked up the phone, but she stopped dialing and nodded at Alex . “When this is all over, I want the two of us to pick up and go somewhere. I don't care where; I would just like to have a little bit of time alone with you without....” She twirled her hands around in a vague motion.


Olivia 's smile was at once both shy and seductive. “Name the time and place, counselor. I'm your woman.”




“Guarantee. Now let me call Elizabeth . We'll work on the details later.”


“I'll look forward to it, Detective.”




Chapter IV


A buzz at the door brought Alex and Olivia out of the comfortable silence they had been sharing. After Olivia 's phone call to Elizabeth and then the neighborhood Chinese restaurant, they had curled up together on the couch just enjoying the peace of the moment together. Now Olivia unwound herself from around Alex and went to the speaker box.




“ Olivia , dear. It's Elizabeth , and there's a nice young man here from the Empress Room as well.”


Olivia buzzed them in. “C'mon up.” She turned to Alex . “Do you want to meet her alone or...?”


“Yes... no... I don't know. Damn, I hate this! I want the old Alex back! Strong and determined and focused - holding the world by the tail without questioning myself and rethinking every decision I make. GOD!!”


Olivia turned from the door to take Alex in her arms. “You will be. It may take us a little while find that feisty Alex Cabot , but we will.” A knock sounded, but Olivia didn't move. “C'mon, Alex – you've played a part for three years... pretended to be someone you're not and your life depended on it. You don't just get to flip a switch and make everything the way it was.” She brushed Alex 's hair back behind her ear. “It'd be nice, but I'm afraid it's gonna take us effort and patience.”


“I don't want to be patient.”


Olivia chuckled. “Neither do I, so I guess we'll just have to be impatient together. Now I need to get the door.”


Alex walked back to the couch and settled herself, her casual posture hiding the nervousness she felt. This whole thing was completely fucked. If the DEA had done their jobs like they were supposed to, she wouldn't be sitting her wondering what her mother was going to do. And then her waiting was over.


Olivia opened the door to find Elizabeth standing there alone with several take out bags at her feet. She stuck her head out the door, looking for the delivery guy and then turned back to Elizabeth . “Um....” Elizabeth patted her arm and picked up a bag.


“I hope you don't mind, dear. The young man helped me carry stuff up and then I paid him and sent him on his way. I didn't think we needed an audience. Is she here?”


Olivia nodded and stepped into the hall to pick up the remaining bags. “Be gentle with her, Elizabeth . Until a few hours ago, she was convinced you hated her.” She pushed the door open and took the large bag out of Elizabeth 's hands. “I'll give you two a minute and take this to the kitchen.” She only had to nudge Elizabeth once to start her moving. Olivia went to the kitchen, glad she could work in the dark; it made it easier to watch the drama in front of her unfold.


Elizabeth stopped just inside the living room, looking at her daughter whose attention seemed to be focused inward. Elizabeth was glad for a moment to study Alex , noting fine lines around her eyes that hadn't been there three years prior. Then Alex turned her head and Elizabeth gasped at the pain she could see so clearly in the familiar blue eyes.


Alex didn't move; Elizabeth could only manage slow motion. One hand covered her mouth while the other reached towards Alex . She took a step forward and that spurred Alex to rise, wanting to meet her mother standing firm. She didn't move to take Elizabeth 's hand, however; if Olivia was wrong, Alex would give her mother a free shot. Then that would be the end of things between them.


Elizabeth walked closer, until she was within touching distance. She reached up, watching Alex 's eyes carefully to see if her contact was going to be rejected. When Alex didn't move away, Elizabeth let her fingers gently trace her daughter's face, smiling sadly when Alex 's eyes closed at her first touch.


“Oh, Alexandra ... how I have missed you. Are you home to stay this time?”


“Yes, Mother,” Alex answered softly, blinking her eyes open. “I'm home for good.”


Elizabeth grinned. “Well, it is definitely good for me, and for Olivia too, I think,” she confided.


“Good for me, too,” Alex confirmed. “There were times I despaired of ever seeing New York ... or O... anything I knew here... ever again.” She took Elizabeth 's hand in her own and pulled them both down to the couch. “I'm sorry I didn't call. I thought... I didn't think you would want to see me again, not after I read the letter you gave Hammond .”


“Oh, Alexandra ,” Elizabeth said, taking both of Alex 's hands in hers. “I'm sorry; I never meant for you to think I hated you or wasn't proud of you for what you had done. I *was* angry – I was even angry *at* you for a while. But I couldn't hold on to that anger, daughter.” She paused. “Now, tell me about you and Olivia .”


“Oh shit... Olivia ! Where is she?”


Elizabeth chuckled quietly. She had her answer just from Alex 's reaction, but she hoped to get a little more clarification eventually – just like she wanted to hear about what had happened to Alex while she was gone. “In the kitchen; I think she wanted to give us a little privacy. Besides, she was going to get dinner ready.”


“Be right back,” Alex said as she slipped from the couch and walked calmly into the kitchen, though both Elizabeth and Olivia could read the tension in her frame. Olivia saw Alex coming and turned from what she was doing – just in time to find her arms full of emotional counselor. She held on, returning the tight embrace fully.


“Hey, Alex ... you okay?” She kissed Alex 's temple.


“Better now,” she said. “It's just been a hell of a twenty-four hours. I feel like I am running on overload.”


“C'mon. Let's go have dinner with your mom, then we'll see what we can do to make the last twenty-four hours a little better.”


“God, that sounds good.” She loosened her grasp on Olivia 's waist and Liv let her grip lessen around Alex 's shoulders. “What can I do to help?”


“Grab the wine and glasses. Everything else is ready to go.” Alex nodded, then she followed Olivia out of the kitchen and back into the living room where Elizabeth sat waiting patiently. The three of them set up dinner and spent a few minutes in awkward silence. Finally, Elizabeth couldn't stand it anymore.


“All right... this is ridiculous. Look, you two – I know what happened in Alexandra 's office yesterday.” It was only Olivia 's swift reaction that kept Alex 's glass from hitting the floor. “However,” Elizabeth continued as though unaware of Alex 's slip, “I would like to hear your versions.”


As casually as possible, Olivia slid a supporting arm around Alex 's shoulders, gratified but surprised when she immediately leaned into it. She arched an eyebrow questioningly in Alex 's direction. Alex just shook her blonde head at the true lunacy her life had suddenly become. “I suppose coming out to my mother is the perfect way to top the drama this entire day has been.”


They exchanged wry glances. This day really had been forever long already. A moment's silent communication, then Olivia turned back to Elizabeth who was watching their interaction with great interest. “What did you hear and how did you find out?”


“Your friend Casey called,” answering Olivia 's second question first. “She was... concerned... about you both.” A beat. “Maybe I should start by saying that it wasn't exactly a surprise.” That got both sets of eyes focused on her with an intensity she had seldom felt directed towards her, and she cleared her throat self-consciously. “I've long suspected Alexandra 's true feelings for you, Olivia , and I've known what yours were for her since she came back for the Connor's trial. So does one of you want to tell me what happened in Alexandra 's office yesterday?”


“What did Casey tell you?”


“Only that you and Alex had had a serious blow-up and that the whole office had heard.”


Alex covered her eyes and leaned into Olivia 's shoulder. “Of course they did. Could this day possibly get any more...?” Olivia clapped a hand over her mouth and Alex glared in her direction. Olivia shook her head vehemently.


“Shh... please don't say it; that's like *inviting* more trouble.” Alex 's eyes grew wide and Olivia felt her bite her bottom lip in alarm. Olivia removed her hand and turned back to Elizabeth , who was valiantly trying to contain her laughter.


“I heard Alex was back.” She paused, embarrassed in retrospect over how things had happened in Alex 's office. Olivia shrugged. “I went to confront her about things.”


“Things? Would you care to elaborate?”


“Not really.” Elizabeth held Olivia 's gaze and the detective sighed and turned to Alex . “I see where you got that famous courtroom intensity from.” She looked back at Elizabeth . “I went to find out about Robert and why we didn't even rate a phone call.”


“I see.” Elizabeth motioned between the two of them. “Apparently, it all worked out?”


“Well, there are still some details we need to take care of, but yes. I did not survive three years of misery not to grab what makes me happy in life – and Liv makes me happy.”


Elizabeth smiled. “I can see that,” noting the difference in Alex just from Olivia 's presence. “I never doubted that she wouldn't. Now,” before either of them could question her words, “how about the fortune cookies? On the rare occasion I get Chinese food, that is always my favorite part; I always end up with the most ridiculous fortunes.”


Olivia looked around and realized she had left them in the kitchen. “Damn,” she muttered. “Be right back.” She got up and skirted around the table, not realizing both Cabot women were watching her, though Elizabeth found watching Alex watch Olivia was much more interesting and enlightening.


“I like her, Alexandra . She's good people, very real. I doubt you need it, but I want you to know the two of you have my blessing”


“Thank you, Mother. It... that means a lot to me. You'll probably never know how much.”


“Do you two think we could do this again sometime? I have a lot more questions, and to be honest, I have really enjoyed this. Perhaps you could come to the penthouse?” Olivia had walked back into the living room and heard the last part, and she looked at Alex and gave her response. Alex turned back to Elizabeth .


“Thank you, Mother; we'd love to.”


Olivia held out her hands and let each of them choose their cookie before resuming her seat next to Alex . “What?” she said when she caught Elizabeth 's questioning glance.


“Have you two always been able to do that?”


“Do what?” Alex queried as she opened her cookie and broke it in half.


“Read one another's thoughts with a look.” All movement stopped while the two of them considered her words.


“To some extent, yes,” Alex admitted slowly, “but not to this degree.”


“Weird,” Olivia concurred. “But nice, too,” she quickly added when Alex lifted up the pillow beside her to smack Olivia with.


“Well, I think it's precious,” Elizabeth announced as she opened up her fortune. “Oh, I like this one . Happier days are definitely ahead for you. Struggle has ended .” She turned to her daughter, who was suddenly blushing the shade of a pomegranate. “My goodness, Alexandra . What on earth did your fortune say? Or daren't I ask?”


Alex cleared her throat. “Tonight will be a lucky night.” She wasn't going to explain that Olivia had already slipped *her* fortune into Alex 's hand with a mischievous grin. This is a night for love and affection. And Alex 's mind had shot off to the races without missing a beat. Elizabeth just looked at her, blinking, then she cleared her throat to speak.


“Ahem, yes, well... on that note, I think I need to be going. Do you think we could do this again Friday or Saturday night?”


“Would you like to come to a barbeque with us on Saturday?” Olivia asked unexpectedly. “ Elliot and Kathy are hosting it; just a chance for folks to get reacquainted with Alex again. It'll just be the guys from the squad and a few folks from the DA's office.”


Elizabeth nodded. “I'd like that; and maybe the two of you can come back to the penthouse with me for supper and more conversation?”


Olivia deferred to Alex , who agreed with a nod. “I'd like that... a lot actually. There is a lot I need to catch up on... and a lot you should know.” She paused. “You're going to have to be patient with me. Some of this....”


Alex found her mouth covered again – this time with her mother's fingertip. Elizabeth shook her head. “ Alexandra , how we get through this and how long it takes us doesn't matter. That we get through it together as a family does. All right?” Alex nodded. “All right,” Elizabeth agreed. “Now give your mother a hug and let me call Jax to come get me. You too, Olivia ,” motioning her forward when Liv tried to hang back. “You're part of the family too.” She looked seriously into Olivia 's eyes. “We'll discuss that further too, but not tonight. You both look like you have about reached your limit tonight.” She pulled back and Alex picked up the phone when Olivia held on to Elizabeth .

“Thank you, Elizabeth ,” came Olivia 's whispered acknowledgment of the truth of several of Elizabeth 's statements. “How much do I...?”


“ Olivia Benson , don't you dare finish that sentence. Dinner was my treat and well worth it for the time I spent with the two of you. Understood?”


“Yes ma'am,” barely resisting the urge to salute.


“Good – now let me get out of here before I lose what is left of my resolve. Be good to one another, okay? And call me with the details for Saturday. Or better yet, I will call Detective Stabler. Nevermind,” she added with a smile.


“Mother, Jax is downstairs.”


“Very good; thank you, Alexandra . I will talk to you two soon.” She kissed them both on the cheek before opening the door and waving her fingers. “Toodles!” And she closed the door behind her before either of them could comment.


Finally they turned to one another. “Toodles??” Alex asked.


“I don't know,” Olivia confessed, “and to tell you the truth, I am too exhausted to figure it out.” She shook her head. “Why don't you go run a hot bath and soak for a while? It'll help you relax. I'll clean up in here and we can cuddle when you get out.”


“No, Detective. My fortune promised this would be my lucky night. We'll clean up in here and then we can see about taking a shower before bed.”


Olivia 's eyes widened at the implications and she immediately started piling dishes together. There were *far* more important things she needed to be doing than spending it in the kitchen. This would probably be a record for clean-up. Alex just smiled; she loved the way Olivia reacted to her. Then she closed the last carton and followed Liv to the kitchen, realizing that she reacted the same way to Olivia . Tonight was going to be so wonderful.




That had been the plan anyway. But the adrenaline burst they got from the anticipation of showering together wasn't enough to overcome the exhaustion the stress of the day had pushed them to. Alex went into the bedroom first, pulling the bedcovers down then sitting down. She groaned in relief, feeling her muscles relax. She leaned back and closed her eyes.


Alex was sleeping soundly when Olivia entered the room two minutes later. She leaned against the doorjamb for a long moment and just watched Alex sleep. It brought a sappy, sentimental smile to her face and when she realized it, Olivia shook her head and shoved off the doorframe and crossed to Alex 's side. She smoothed the hair off Alex 's forehead, smiling when blue eyes blinked slowly open.


“Damn... I fell asleep, didn't I?”




Alex rubbed her eyes. “I'm sorry, Liv. Just give me....”






“ Alex , we are both so exhausted, sitting down makes keeping our eyes open impossible. I'm not sure there are enough endorphins in the world to wake us up enough to enjoy anything more strenuous than cuddling together. Besides,” she added with a shy smile, “we have all day tomorrow. We don't even have to get out of bed if we don't want to.”


Alex grinned sleepily. “That sounds wonderful. I need to get up and take out my contacts, though. I don't like to sleep with them in.”


“Oh thank God,” Olivia muttered. Alex squinted as she sat up.




“Tell me you still have the glasses of justice.”


“Of course... why?”


“Because you make those glasses incredibly sexy. I've always liked them on you.”


“I'll remember that, Detective.”


“I hope so. Now go take your contacts out, Alex . I want to go to sleep with you in my arms.”


It was late morning before the sunshine woke them, and they woke still wrapped around one another. Olivia let her hands wander, barely brushing the skin of Alex 's torso. Alex shifted slightly and Olivia took advantage of the movement, cupping a breast and letting her thumb circle the rapidly hardening nipple. She savored the groan Alex made, smiling when Alex turned over onto her back, giving Olivia better access to her body.


Alex blinked open her eyes, her gaze adoring when they met Olivia 's. “Good morning, beautiful,” her voice husky from sleep. She pulled Olivia up to meet her lips, then took possession of Liv's mouth for a timeless moment. When they separated, Alex traced Olivia 's face. “God, I love you.”


Olivia 's smile was so big, her eyes twinkled in response to Alex 's words. “I love you, too. And I think it's time to show you.”


Olivia let her hands run over Alex 's body reverently, trying to memorize the smoothness and texture of Alex 's skin. She paid careful attention, making a mental note of each place that drew a shudder or moan from Alex .


“Liv... don't tease me. I've waited too long to share this with you again already.”


“I'm not teasing, Alex . I'm appreciating every... single... inch of you.” Then she had to blink when she abruptly found herself on the bottom of an Alex-topped pile. “But... um... Alex ? Sweetheart?” moaning when Alex started moving her hands down Olivia 's body with a sure, swift touch.


“Quiet, Detective. The district attorney's office has taken over this investigation and all the evidence needs a thorough exploration,” holding up her glistening fingers for Olivia to see. Then Alex applied herself wholeheartedly to a complete and thorough examination of Detective Olivia Benson.


“Oh God, Alex ,” Liv breathed when she was able to speak again. Alex had been meticulous, but fierce in her lovemaking, and Olivia 's release had burned through her body. Alex had moved back up Olivia 's body to cradle her as she recovered and Alex took advantage of the time to tenderly study Liv closely with both her eyes and her hands.


Her skin was smooth, and though not flawless, still very beautiful. There were a few more wrinkles, but Alex felt they only added to her beauty. She combed through the lightened hair, wondering again at the reason behind the length before deciding it didn't matter. Alex traced Olivia 's eyebrows and down her cheekbones; brushing her fingertips over the freckles that dusted Olivia 's nose and across kiss-swollen lips. Liv pursed her lips slightly and then gave Alex a silly grin.


Alex 's touch moved down her neck, tracing Olivia 's collarbone before shifting to breasts still tender from the intensity of their first round of hot monkey sex. Olivia hissed and reached for Alex 's hand even as her back arched unconsciously into the touch that sent tingles straight to her groin.


“What are you trying to do to me?”


For answer, Alex twined their fingers together and eased them down Olivia 's torso, watching in fascination as the muscles danced and twitched under her touch. “When I was put in witness protection, I spent months reliving our one night together. Then I started dreaming about all the ways I wanted to love you.” She turned her head to look into Olivia 's passion-darkened eyes with her own. “That was just one; I have a whole list of others to try yet.”


Then Alex realized her hand was no longer moving down Olivia 's torso and she was no longer on her side looking down into brown eyes. Instead, she was looking up into eyes that nearly scorched her with the intensity of their desire.


“Oh no, counselor – this investigation belongs strictly to the police department, and due to your earlier breach of protocol, I want you to understand that this search and seizure will be excruciatingly slow and thorough. Any further attempt to interfere will result in disciplinary action.”


“Why, Detective... that sounds like an invitation to be kinky.”


“Not this time, Alex , please? I want this to be real between us.”


Alex could easily see the need in Olivia 's eyes and felt her own need reignite and multiply under that gaze. She cupped Olivia 's face in her hand. “No more games, Liv – just love me,” she whispered.


Olivia took gentle possession of Alex 's mouth, stroking and teasing with her tongue until Alex was compelled to thread her fingers into Olivia 's hair – just to give her something stable to hold onto. Liv drew back enough for them to look at one another for a long moment. She didn't speak; there was no need. Alex could see so much in the eyes gazing into hers, unaware that hers were saying the same thing to Olivia . Alex let one hand trace Olivia 's face, smiling when Liv clasped her hand and kissed her wrist.


Then Olivia started moving slowly down Alex 's body. She covered Alex in kisses, insuring she would feel well-loved over every part of her body and paying particular attention to those places that made Alex squirm and writhe and moan.


Her lips nibbled Alex 's neck while her fingers traced around firm, round breasts. Then Olivia 's mouth followed the path forged by her touch, and Alex let the sensations Olivia created wash through her body – over and over again.


And she decided, as the last waves of her release shuddered through her, that she was going to do every thing in her power to keep Olivia in her life – forever. Olivia made her feel again – and made her feel things in her body, in her heart and in her soul that she had never felt before.


She snuggled into Olivia 's arms when Olivia slid back up her body, reversing the touches and kisses until she reached Alex 's lips again. “God, Liv - you make me feel so much... so beautiful.”


Olivia smiled. “Good. I don't want you to ever forget. Now, how do you feel about going down to Nita's and getting some coffee and lunch? Then we can come back here and pick up where we left off, maybe try something from your list.” Dual growling from both stomachs present broke the tableau and caused both women to chuckle. “I guess that means yes.”


Alex nodded. “Can I interest you in a shower first?” Olivia growled and rose from the bed, pulling Alex with her. The bathroom door cut of the sounds of their squeals and giggles as they stepped into the shower.




Chapter V


“Ah... very good,” Nita exclaimed as they crossed the threshold. “Come and I will get you lunch.” Alex looked at Olivia , who nodded and shrugged gesturing to Alex to follow Nita to a small table in the back. “You want your regular, Olivia ?” She nodded and Nita turned to Alex . “And you, chica... what can I get you?”


Alex held out her hand. “I'm Alex , but you can call me chica,” smiling at Nita. “What do you have?”


Nita took the proffered hand. “Nice to meet you, chica Alex . I am Nita. Do you trust your friend Olivia ?”


“With my life,” Alex said, sharing a private smile with Olivia . Nita watched and gave them a smile of her own.


“Good. Let her order for you. I promise it will be good. You will like it.”


Alex agreed. “All right. Whaddya say, Detective?”


“Give her an ‘ Olivia Special ', Nita. I think she can handle it.” Alex arched her eyebrow, intrigued. She couldn't wait to see what this was going to be.




“Detective Stabler, this is Elizabeth Cabot . Do you have a minute?”


“Absolutely, Mrs. Cabot . What can I do for you?”


“Detective, I spoke with Olivia last night and she invited me to a get together on Saturday. I was hoping you could give me the details and perhaps let me help with the provisions. Before you refuse, I am making the offer because I'd like to be involved in some way, if possible, in welcoming my daughter home.”


Elliot stroked his chin. This had become a far bigger endeavor than he had expected it to be, and though everyone attending was bringing something to contribute to the meal, he was still looking at a far greater expense than he had anticipated. “All right,” he finally conceded. “Would you like to call Kathy and arrange things with her? She is actually in charge of provisioning this little get together.”


“If you don't think she would mind the offer, I would love to meet her. Do you think she would be available for lunch today?”


“I don't know,” he said honestly. “But let me give you her number.” He paused. “I'm glad you'll be joining us, Elizabeth .”


“So am I, Detective. Thank you for humoring an old lady... and for Kathy 's number.”


“Only you would be brave enough to call you an old lady, Elizabeth . See you Saturday,” he said before hanging up.


“Who we be seeing Saturday?” Fin asked as he sat down at his desk.


“ Elizabeth Cabot ... Alex 's mother.”




“How's the rest of the guest list shaping up?” Elliot handed Munch the clipboard he was using to keep track of who was coming and what they were bringing. Munch's eyebrows popped over his glasses and into his hairline. “Wow... seems like our girl Cabot is pretty popular.”


“Well, there's that, and people are morbidly curious,” Casey verified from behind Elliot , where she had stopped when she overheard their conversation. The three detectives turned to look at her. She stared back at each of them. “What?” she shrugged. “They are. The whole building's heard about what happened day before yesterday. No one wants to miss the next installment of the latest courtroom drama.” She gave them a droll expression. “Don't tell me it hasn't made the rounds here in the precinct.”


“Not really,” Elliot said. “I didn't see the need to share that information with anyone. Munch and Fin knew enough of the truth about Olivia to figure things out on their own. We protect our own, counselor.”


“I'm not the enemy here, Elliot . Most of the buzz I've heard is in their favor.” She shrugged. “The rest....” She nodded to the captain who had opened his door to look for her. “I'll fill you in later. I think you might want to know this.”


“C'mon, counselor. I've got other things on my plate today. Stabler, I need that DD-5 on the Madison case yesterday. Munch, will you join us please?” Munch headed to Cragen's office and Fin turned to answer the phone. Stabler opened his notes to finish his report.




“Oh my God... you're trying to kill me!” Alex groaned as they walked out of Nita's place. “What on earth was that and how on earth did you come up with that concoction?”


“That was the ‘ Olivia Special '. Did you like it?” Olivia grinned as they headed back to her apartment with cookies for later.


“It was wonderful, but how on earth did you come up with that combination of things? I have never seen tomato, lettuce, cheese, grilled onion, beets, fried egg, bacon, a grilled pineapple ring and BBQ sauce on a hamburger before.” She tucked her hand into the crook of Olivia's elbow, smiling when Olivia ducked her head to hide the faint blush.


Olivia opened her mouth to reply, but never got the opportunity. The attack came out of nowhere unexpectedly. Two men, slightly taller than both women, rushed them, knocking them apart. The one who grabbed Alex shoved her against the wall, underestimating her ability because of her apparent frailty. Olivia, on the other hand, was taken to the ground where her attacker jerked her by the hair of her head and started knocking the shit out of her. His error was assuming she was unarmed. One punch to her face, the second to her ribs, and he was staring down the barrel of her service revolver.


He tried to get up... to run away... but Liv tangled her legs with his and tripped causing him to slam his head into the concrete. When she was sure he was down for the count, she turned to help Alex, then watched in awe as Alex busted the guy's chops and pinned him to the ground. They exchanged a wry look, then Liv snapped open her phone.


“Elliot? I need you and a couple uniforms out near my place now. Alex and I just got jumped.” A beat. “Yeah – one of the perps is unconscious. Just get out here and pick up the trash. I'll give you the details when you get here, all right?”


There was a pause while he directed Fin to call dispatch for the uni's and an ambulance.
”We'll be right there, Liv.” She heard him holler to Cragen before his phone cut off. She turned back to Alex.


“You okay?”


“Peachy.” The perp she was sitting on wiggled and she pushed her thumbnail into the soft skin behind his ear. “Glad I learned pressure point defense. How are you, Sweetheart? Your nose is bleeding,” her tone and expression conveying far more concern than Olivia felt the injury warrented. She shrugged and wiped at it, grimacing in distaste at the blood it left on her hand.


“Fucking dykes,” the man underneath her mumbled... then screamed when Alex ‘accidentally' rolled her elbow over a soft spot on his spine. Olivia's eyebrows jumped, but before she could ask, a regular cruiser pulled up, followed almost immediately by Elliot and Fin in the sedan.


Fin took charge of the uniforms while Elliot went to check on Olivia and Alex. He started for Alex first, but she waved him off. And seeing the blood on Liv's face, he changed direction immediately. He wasn't surprised to feel Alex pass him as soon as the uniform had taken custody of the perp she had apprehended. She took Olivia in her arms and Liv leaned into Alex with a sense of relief.


“Liv?” he asked as he passed her his handkerchief. “What happened?” The arrival of the ambulance interrupted them. By this point, the man Olivia had taken down was coming around, cursing and muttering invectives about lesbians, police officers and life with women generally. Elliot's brows rose and he turned back to Olivia. “You think this was a random crime?”


Olivia flinched away from the paramedic who was trying to stop the bleeding from her nose and lip. She glared at him and he shrugged. “Sorry, ma'am. I need to get it under control and if you don't want me to pack it.... We do need to take you in for x-rays though.”


Before she could reject the idea out of hand, Alex spoke up. “I'll make sure she gets there. We'll go with the detective.”


“Alex, I don't need to go to the hospital. It's a bloody nose.”


“And bruised ribs, Liv.”


“I'm fine, Alex. Let's just go to the station. If it still hurts when we're done there, I'll go to the hospital with you without a word of protest. ‘Kay?”






“Whipped,” Elliot muttered just loud enough for Olivia to hear. “OW!” louder when Olivia punched him. “What was that for?” She just glared at him and Elliot snickered. “C'mon, Liv. Let's get you both to the precinct and get your statements. This one should be open and shut.”




“I want another day off,” Olivia grumbled as they made their way upstairs to the apartment. It was almost sunset; they had spent the entire afternoon at the station. Their statements hadn't taken long and identifying the perps had been easy. Even getting statements from the suspects had been fairly easy; it was kinda of hard to deny guilt when you were caught in the act by a police officer and an officer of the court.


But everyone who had heard what happened felt the need to stop by the one-six to check on them and that led to conversation and visiting that had eaten away into their day. Finally, sensing Olivia 's aggravation and feeling like she was on her own last nerve, Alex decided they had been there long enough and took Olivia by the arm.


“C'mon, Detective. I think we need to get those ribs looked at.” She actually had no intention of taking Olivia anywhere but home, but the declaration was enough to clear the room and allow them to escape with a wave to Elliot .


“Cragen would probably give you another day or two,” Alex said as she pushed the door open. “How do you feel, Sweetheart?”


“Like some pissant hit me.” She grinned crookedly, wincing slightly when it pulled on the split. “Not bad, really. A little sore, a little pissed and a lot confused.” She locked the door behind them and followed Alex to the kitchen.




“Scotch, actually.”


“Something to take the edge off?”


“Yeah, and since Dumb and Dumber turned Nita's cookies to crumbs, I'm going for the quick fix.” They poured their drinks and walked back into the living room. Alex put her drink down on the side table, sat down in one corner of the couch and patted her lap. Olivia smiled and gladly obliged, putting down her drink and sighing in relief when she found a comfortable position and Alex started gently combing through her hair. “God, that feels wonderful.”


Alex leaned down and brushed a kiss over Olivia 's forehead. “Good... I'd like to make you feel better if I could.”


Liv smiled. “Just you being here again makes me feel better, Alex . It's worth everything – even the bumps and bruises.”


Alex smiled and kept up her combing, adding a light massage when she reached Olivia 's neck. “Can I ask you something?” Liv opened one brown eye and waited. Alex shook her head and ran a finger over her eyelid, forcing it closed again. “Why did you grow your hair out?” Both eyes popped open this time and Olivia took the time to study the expression in Alex 's eyes.


Finally, satisfied that honest curiosity was the motivating factor for asking the question, then clasped Alex 's free hand to her chest and closed her eyes again. “I dunno; I guess I figured it didn't really matter. It wasn't like I had anyone who really cared how I looked anymore.”


“Oh, Liv....” Alex took a deep breath. “Would you be highly offended if I asked you to cut it shorter? I have a picture of you... it's my favorite. I managed to keep it hidden from Jack – I kept it with me while I was gone. Your hair is shorter, neck length, wispy, longish bangs....”


Olivia smiled. “I'll do whatever you want, Alex , but you have to keep yours the length it is. I always loved yours long.”


“You've got yourself a deal, Detective. Saturday morning before the get together at Elliot 's?”


“It means that much to you, Sweetheart?” reading the truth in the blue eyes gazing down at her. “Sure – we can go Saturday.” A knock on the door interrupted the conversation and they exchanged glances. Before Olivia could even speculate out loud, a key rattled in the lock and Elliot called out.


“ Olivia ? Alex ?”


“C'mon in, El,” not shifting from her place on Alex 's lap. He managed to keep a straight face, though Olivia could see the twinkle in his eyes. “Help yourself to a drink; you know where everything is.”


He poured two fingers of good whiskey into a tumbler and plopped down into the deep recliner with a groan. “Damn... long day.” He grinned. “You look comfortable though. How you doing?”


“I'll live.”


“You damn well better, Detective,” Alex interrupted unexpectedly. “We waited too long for this to be real for anyone to take it away from us now.”


Elliot cleared his throat. “Actually, that is partly why I stopped by. Liv, do you think this was a random crime... that the perps were just stupid and unlucky enough to pick an armed police officer as a victim? Or do think you and Alex were specific targets?”


“A hate crime?” Alex stated as much as she asked.


“Maybe,” Olivia answered. “There was something not right about them.” The interview had been disturbing. When pressed, however, neither man was willing to give any detail as to why Alex and Olivia had been targeted and the police still weren't sure what exactly was behind the attack.




“I don't know,” Liv confessed. “But it's making my shoulder blades twitch.”


“Yeah, mine too. I wanted to be sure it wasn't just me. However, if we're lucky, putting them away will put an end to whatever they were involved in.”


“El... we're never that lucky,” Olivia commented wryly.


“Oh, I wouldn't say that, Detective,” Alex whispered, though Elliot heard her and he flushed.


“<Ahem> And on that note, I'm heading out of here,” he said, putting his empty tumbler on the table. “Cap said not to rush in tomorrow if you were feeling bad. Glad to see you're in good hands, Liv. Don't get up – I found my way in; I can see myself out.”


“Goodnight, El.”


“Night, ladies.”


They waited until he pulled the door closed behind him before they shifted and Liv sat up with a groan. Alex picked up her wine and Liv grabbed her whiskey before Alex stood and extended her hand. “C'mon, Detective. I want you to soak in a warm bath to help with the soreness while I find us something for dinner. And then I am going to love you as slowly and gently and thoroughly as you loved me this morning. I want you to feel all the love I have for you, Olivia Benson ; and how outrageously glad I am to be in your life again... and to have you in mine.”


Olivia cleared her throat. “You keep sweet talking to me like that, counselor. I think we may need to have a talk sooner rather than later.”


“Whenever you're ready, Liv,” Alex replied seriously, cupping the dark, smooth cheek. “I've done all the thinking about this I need to do already; I made my decision a long time ago.” She lowered her voice and gave Olivia a sultry, teasing grin. “Don't worry; it works out in your favor... promise.”


Liv dropped her eyes to the ground, but she couldn't stop the smile that spread across her lips as she melted at the words. “Ya know – you're ruining my reputation as a hard ass. Word's gonna get out and everyone will call me Detective Sergeant Mushball instead.”


Alex laughed. “That's okay, Sweetheart. It will go very well with Bureau Chief Love Muffin.” Now Olivia laughed, wincing only a little from the pain in her face and her ribs. Today the world had invaded, and tomorrow they would be back in the real world, but tonight there was only one another, and she was determined to make it last as long as she could.


She leaned forward and pecked Alex 's lips. “I have a counteroffer, counselor. Let's find something for dinner and have it delivered in an hour; then we can go and share that warm bath.”


“You sure an hour will be long enough, Detective?”


“I'm sure I'm going to need food by then. Now, do you feel like Italian or steak?”


“You choose; I'm going to go run the bath water. Come in as soon as you're done.” Olivia stopped at the kitchen and Alex continued on to the bedroom. She wanted to make it special for both of them. Alex went immediately into the bathroom and turned on the taps, throwing in a handful of bath salts and letting the water dissolve them as the steam started filling the room. She moved back out to the bedroom, wishing their day had not been so screwed so she would have had time to make a few plans. Instead, she pulled the covers back and hunted up a few candles, making a mental note to pick up more at her earliest possible convenience.


When they were lit in strategic places around the room, Alex went back into the bathroom to keep an eye on the water level. Nothing would ruin the evening faster than having to clean up a flooded bathroom. And she wanted Olivia to relax. She had the distinct, creepy-crawly feeling that today's incident had a much deeper, darker meaning – that that meant nothing but trouble.


Olivia stepped into her bedroom... and froze – mouth open in shock. She hadn't realized she had so many candles in the house. She'd have to ask Alex where she'd found them all; they certainly set the mood. Olivia smiled. She'd never had a lover who cared for her like Alex did, even in the earliest stages of newfound lust. Then her expression fell. Truth was, she'd never had a relationship that lasted past first lust; she wondered how long this would last.


“That's a very pensive expression you're wearing, Detective,” Alex said as she crossed the bathroom threshold and came to a stop within Olivia 's personal space, reaching out to touch her. Alex smiled when Olivia leaned into her hand. “What's wrong, Liv?”


“This,” she answered without thinking, then covering Alex 's hand with hers before she could move. “Not this - *us*,” she reassured, frightened by the amount of pain she saw in the blue eyes facing her. “God no, Alex . This – us - is the only thing I'm sure of in the whole world. I've just... this is all so new, so different. I've never had someone in my life who has ever tried to or even wanted take care of me the way you have, and you've only been here for two days.” She sighed. “I'm afraid it won't last.”


“Oh, Liv... this is all new to me as well. Remember, I was the Ice Princess before I left; very few people tried to see past that. So whaddya say we learn together and we'll make it last forever? I could get used to the idea of forever with you.”


“I want longer than forever,” Liv whispered. “But forever is a good start.” She looked at Alex when she said it, allowing Alex to see the painful, intense honesty of her words. Alex didn't answer with audible language; instead, she cupped both cheeks in her hands and kissed Olivia all over her face, mindful of the split lip and busted nose. Olivia just clasped Alex 's arms and held on, letting the sensations wash over and through her.


“This isn't moving too fast for you, is it, Liv?” Alex whispered into Olivia 's ear. “I don't want you to feel rushed or do something you're going to regret.” She pulled back enough that she could gaze into dark brown eyes. “I had three years to think about this – to come to a decision on what I wanted if I was ever given the opportunity for there to be an us again.”


“And I had three years to regret all the missed opportunities we never took before you left. I'm not going to spend the rest of my life regretting, Alex . I wasted enough time doing that.” Olivia looked down, then up again. “So no... this is not moving too fast.”


“That's the answer I was hoping to hear,” Alex confessed, sliding her arms down Olivia 's until their fingers tangled together. “C'mon... the bath is drawn and I want to get you in there to soak for a little while before dinner gets here. You're going to be sore enough in the morning as it is.”


“Yeah, and I don't want the cap to give me desk duty. I hate desk duty,” Liv whined. Alex just chuckled. “What?” Olivia asked in the same whiney tone.


“You're whining.”


“No I'm not.”


“Yes, you are... like a five year old child. The difference is – on you it's cute.” She tugged on the joined hands and pulled them both back into the bathroom. Liv took as deep a breath as her sore ribs would let her and smiled.




“C'mon... let's get you undressed and in the water.”


“You just want an excuse to get me naked again.”


“Really, Detective?” Alex smirked. “I'm glad to see your injuries haven't interfered with your deductive reasoning skills.”


“Smartass,” Liv muttered, reaching to remove her shirt, only to find her hands slapped away by a rather demanding lawyer. Alex chortled.


“Oh, Detective... if you're just figuring *that* out, you're due a very steep learning curve. Raise your arms, please.” Olivia did so slowly and Alex pulled up the shirt – only to wince and gasp when she saw the bruising. “Oh, Liv....”


“Yeah... it's a little sore.”


“I'll bet,” gently stroking the warm flesh and watching it tremble at her touch. “Are you sure you don't need to see a doctor about this, Sweetheart? It looks really bad.”


Olivia tipped Alex 's chin up until their eyes met, seeing so much compassion in the blue eyes looking back at her. “I'm sure, love. They're not broken – just sore. But thank you for caring so much.”

“All right,” Alex nodded after a moment. “Let's get you in the tub to start soaking,” starting to remove the remainder of Olivia 's clothes.


“Wait... I thought you were joining me,” Liv said as she climbed in and stretched out with a groan. “God, that feels so good.”


“I am,” Alex said. “I am just going to bring us each a glass of wine first. Then we can just relax and soak for a while before the food arrives.”


“You take amazing care of me, Alex .”


“You taught me how, Liv. And one day when we don't end up spending our time off at the station, I am going to pamper you with decadence.”


She was out the door before Olivia could respond. That was probably for the best though. Olivia was too busy blinking, trying to decide if she would survive any more pampering. Then she decided it would be a hell of a way to die, and she disappeared under the water with a shit-eating grin on her face.




Chapter VI


Alex couldn't stop the wry smile that crossed her face as she shook her head and closed the folder in front of her, moving it to the ‘read' pile and reaching for the next one. These kids were so young, so green, so idealistic – and their resumes read like they had been stamped from a cookie cutter.


She sighed. She didn't remember being so young... or so idealistic... though there were still days she certainly felt that green. Looking through these resumes, however, she felt old – much older than someone who hadn't even reached thirty-three should feel.


Alex opened the next folder and picked up her pen once more, making notes of the pros and cons of the candidate. She was so deep in thought, she missed the knock on the door, and only when Arthur stuck his head in did she realize he was there.


“ Alexandra ?”


She looked up and removed her glasses, dropping them on her desk and motioning him in with a smile at the same time. “ Arthur ... come in, please. What can I do for you?”


He didn't move, gesturing to her desk. “Are you busy? We can come back.”


WE? Who the hell is WE? She shook her head and picked up her glasses. “Nothing that can't wait,” she admitted as she closed the file. “I was just going over the resumes for the new applicants.”


Arthur nodded, satisfied that her work could wait for a couple minutes while they attended to the unpleasant matter that had been brought to his attention. He stepped into the room, followed by DEA agent, Jack Hammond . The smile that Alex had been wearing fell, and her expression became the stoic mask that she had always worn to court.


“ Ms Cabot ,” he finally offered, not extending his hand knowing instinctively it wouldn't be accepted.


“Agent Hammond ,” she conceded. She turned back to look at Arthur . “What is going on?”


“If I could, sir,” Jack asked. Arthur motioned for him to continue. “ Ms Cabot , I got a rather frantic phone call from Robert the other evening. Would you like to explain to me what happened exactly? Because I thought we had a deal.”


“So did I, Agent Hammond, but since you and your agency saw fit to break your part of the agreement, I no longer feel bound by mine. You'll have to find another way to make your operation work, because I am no longer willing to be a part of it.”


“ Alexandra ....”

“ Ms Cabot ....”


Both men spoke simultaneously, but Alex slapped the flat of her palm on the desk and glared at them both. “NO!!” she stated fiercely. “I've done my bit for the DEA and for the DA's office. There is nothing either of you can say to make me change my mind on this, especially since I never should have agreed to it in the first place. I will quit my position here before I allow you to try to maneuver me into doing anything further. Is that clear?”


“ Alexandra , let's not be hasty....”


“I'm not being hasty, Arthur . I am finally taking charge of my life again. I love my work here as a prosecutor, but you know as well as I do that I don't need to work for a living. And even if I did, there are plenty of offers from private firms that would leave me with a lot less stress.”


“All right, Alexandra ... all right.” He held up his hands in surrender. “You're absolutely right on all counts. May I ask what changed your mind? I was given to understand you were thrilled with the idea of being part of the operation to take out Rivera .”


“I was at first,” she responded honestly, knowing Jack was listening to every word. “It was such a high to be a part of taking Velez out of the picture, especially since he was the reason I had been banished. But the days grew into weeks and then months while I tried in vain to get back to New York , and the prospect of continuing lost a lot of its luster because of all the bureaucracy involved. Worse than working for the state of New York , Arthur – I swear; I wasn't even allowed to call and let anyone know what was happening. But the kicker was the fact that Agent Hammond and the DEA broke their word to me; I no longer have any obligation to them or the operation.”


Hammond opened his mouth to speak, to try and defend his actions. Alex glared at him, blue eyes burning, and hissed, “Don't! There's no excuse, and you almost cost me everything that was important to me - again.”


“I heard,” he nodded, “and I'm sorry about that. Believe it or not, I personally had nothing to do with the story that leaked out.”


“Then I suggest you look at your operatives and figure out which of them is the mole. And you might want to keep a really close eye on Robert . He started acting like he thought he was really my fiancé, then was foolish enough to go after me in front of Detective Benson; she took him down like a dog.”


“Maybe we should....”


“NO! You leave her alone.”


This time it was Jack that held up his hands in defense; Arthur covered his mouth so no one could see he smile at Alex's ferocity. He had forgotten how much he had missed it. “All right, all right. We'll keep the good detective out of things. May I ask – did you do anything to provoke Robert ?”


“Aside from telling him I was no longer interested in playing the part of his fiancée? No.”


Hammond nodded. “All right. I'll make sure he understands to steer clear of both of you. We'll find another way to make this operation work. I'm sorry we couldn't have worked it out, but I do understand your reasons. I had a home and a family once.” Jack rose and extended his hand which Alex accepted this time. “ Ms Cabot , take good care of yourself and that detective of yours. You both deserve a lot of happiness after what you went through to be together.”


“Thank you, Agent Hammond.”


He released her hand and nodded to the District Attorney. Then he walked out the door and closed it behind him firmly. Arthur met Alex 's cool, blue eyes. “I'm glad you're on our side.”


Alex rubbed her eyes and put her glasses on again, then gave Branch a wry smirk. “Somehow I doubt Agent Hammond feels the same way.”


“You might be surprised, Alexandra . He shouldn't have taken advantage of your vulnerability to recruit you and he damn sure should have made sure your detective friend was clear on what was going on. But I don't think he expected the outcome he just got either. I know he has a grudging respect for you; you're a rare thing in his line of work, Alexandra .”


“A stubborn, obtuse and obnoxious lawyer?” recalling those adjectives being hurled her way more than once during her tenure with the DEA in Florida . Arthur chuckled.


“I'm sure that crossed his mind a time or two, but that wasn't what I meant. Alexandra , despite everything, yours is a success story. Those don't happen very often. Try to give him the benefit of the doubt.” Alex shook her head but didn't say anything. “Enough about that. How are you settling in otherwise? It hasn't exactly been a smooth transition for you. The entire building knows there was a blowout between you and Detective Sergeant Benson, and the rumor mill has been churning for two days with you taking personal time.” She glared at him and he held up a hand. “ Alexandra , I'm on your side. I just wanted you to know what was going on; I was concerned.”


Alex 's shoulders sagged. “I know, Arthur ; I'm sorry. I'm not sure how people are going to react, and this is all so new. I haven't had a chance to settle... much.”


Branch leaned forward in the chair and clasped his hands between his knees. “ Alexandra , I think you will find that most people here don't care, except as it livens up the gossip mill for a few days. Something new will happen in another day or two and push it off the radar. Now seriously, how are you coping? You really have been through a lot in a very short amount of time.”


“I know, but honestly, Arthur ... I'm all right. I took care of the part that was most important to me. Everything else will fall into place.”


Arthur smiled. “I think I like the new you, Alexandra . It really is good to have you home.” He rose. “I'll let you get back to work. How is that coming, by the way?” gesturing to the stack of folders. Alex covered her eyes, trying not to smudge her glasses. Then she pulled them off and dropped them on the desk again.


“I don't remember being that young.”


Arthur laughed from deep in his belly. “You were, Alexandra , I promise you. And not all that long ago either. I need to get back to work, but I'll see you on Saturday.”


“You're coming?” Alex asked, surprise in her voice. Arthur Branch wasn't known for socializing outside his social circle. And while Alexandra Cabot fit into that circle easily, the detectives of the Special Victims Unit did not. He stopped and looked back at her with his hand on the doorknob.


“I wouldn't miss it, Alex . I'm honored they thought to include me.” Then he was gone, closing the door quietly behind him. Alex stared at the closed door for a long moment and then shook her head and got back to work.




“Hey, slugger... how ya feeling?”


“Bite me, El,” Olivia replied with a smile as she walked slowly in the precinct door. Truth was, she was still sore, though Alex had insured she was relaxed to the point of complete lassitude throughout her body. She picked up her coffee cup and wiped it out then filled it with whatever was in the pot. She took a cautious sip and grimaced, then crossed back to her desk and sat down. “Actually, I don't feel too bad. Still pissed it happened.”


“Good morning, sunshine,” Munch said as he and Fin came into the station. Fin dropped a bag on her desk before crossing to his and hanging his jacket on the chair.


“How ya doing, Liv?”


“Not bad, Fin, thanks. And thanks for the sugar fix,” passing him the bag. Then she looked back at Elliot . “So what's on tap today?”


“ Benson ! Stabler! My office now!” Cragen called from the doorway. Everyone watched them walk into the captain's office, then they all turned back to their work. Cragen remained silent until he shut the door behind them, gesturing them to take a seat.


“How do you feel, Olivia ?” he asked, clasping his hands in front of him on the desk.


“I'm fine, sir.” He looked at her carefully and she held his eyes, knowing he would bench her if she showed any sign of weakness. He finally nodded, convinced, and leaned back.


“All right. Did you get everything else taken care of that you needed to?”


“I have made enough progress on that front to be satisfied with the situation at the moment, sir. I believe the rest will sort itself out with a little time and effort. It won't interfere with my duties, sir.”


“Very well.” He turned to Elliot . “I need you to get back out there with Deacon and get me something on the Brooks case. We need a break on it. Olivia, I have a different assignment for you.” Her brow rose in question, but she waited quietly. “I know you want to be out in the field today, and actually that was the plan until about ten minutes before you walked in.”




“Stabler, get back to it. I want something by the end of the day. Benson , you're with me.”


They walked out of Cragen's office; Elliot spared Olivia a concerned look before moving on to Deacon's desk. Liv followed Cragen out the door and up to the crib.


“Girlfriend's not gonna be happy ‘bout this.”


Munch shook his head at his partner. “No, but she's the best chance we've got at getting anything out of those kids.” Elliot overheard and excused himself from Deacon.


“What's going on?”


“The call Fin and I took this morning at five-thirty a.m. – woman raped and strangled by someone we suspect might have been her husband. Meanwhile, there were three kids in the house when it happened. The only one who could get close to them was a female paramedic.”


“You think they saw something?”


“Given their reaction to every man that came near them? Yeah.”


“So why not call Liv to the scene? You know she would have come.”


“Cap gave us orders to wait til she got here. After what happened yesterday, he didn't want to bring her in early if it wasn't necessary, and Rochelle was happy to stay here until Olivia arrived.”


Stabler nodded. “Well, I've gotta get to work. Call me if something comes up.” He turned to see Deacon standing behind him. “C'mon, Deac. Let's go see if we can find something to break this case so the cap is happy.”


Cragen explained the situation to Olivia as they mounted the stairs slowly and they stood at the door watching for a moment before Rochelle saw them and stood with an infant in her arms. “You must be Detective Benson,” she whispered. “I'm Rochelle . And this little angel is actually Angel . The older one,” nodding towards a child of about six, “is Sammie. And her brother,” tilting her head at the four-year-old, “is Paulie. C'mon... I'll introduce you.”


Rochelle deposited the whimpering baby in Liv's arms before she could protest and took her by the arm to lead her closer to the two children. “Have they said anything?” Olivia asked in a whisper, rocking the baby to soothe her. Rochelle shook her head.


“Not since I arrived on scene. Apparently, they screamed and ran from each of the males who tried to approach them; a female paramedic unit was requested and they came right to me as soon as I walked in the door. But they haven't said anything. A neighbor gave us their names and ages.”


Olivia nodded and followed Rochelle to the table where the two kids sat coloring quietly. Olivia couldn't see anything in the colored lines and squiggles, but knew Huang might be able to discern something. She knelt down beside Rochelle and waited for the youngsters to look at them.


“Hey guys... this is my friend Olivia and she's gonna stay with you a while, ‘kay? She's not a paramedic like I am, but she is a detective, so she's pretty cool too.” Liv couldn't stop the smirk that formed at Rochelle 's words then smirk turned to a genuine smile when both tow headed children looked directly at her with eyes so blue she was reminded of Alex .


“Wow... you're pretty!” Paulie said. “Are you really a detective?”


Sammie grabbed Paulie's arm. “Shh, Paulie.”


“But Sammie....”


“It's okay, Sammie,” Olivia reassured her. “I really am a detective. They gave me a badge and everything – wanna see it?”


“They let girls be detectives?”


“Yep. Let me put Angel down on the bed,” looking at the infant who had fallen asleep in her arms, then at the makeshift baby's bed Rochelle had prepared for her on the cot. “Then I'll show you my badge.” She placed the child carefully in the center of the nest of pillows and covered her lightly; then she reached for her badge, noting both older kids shrink away from her. “Hey... it's okay; it's just my badge, I promise.” They didn't move any further away from her, but the fear didn't leave their eyes either. “I tell you what – Sammie, would you like to come get the badge?”


Rochelle and Cragen watched in fascination from the doorway as the kids slowly succumbed to Olivia 's spell. Sammie gingerly walked towards her, keeping a wary eye on Olivia 's face and hands, before she snatched the badge from Olivia 's belt and rushed back to Paulie. Liv stood perfectly still and slowly the two children gravitated back towards her.


“She's amazing,” Rochelle said. “She's gotten more response from them in ten minutes than I saw from them in half an hour – except for their initial reaction.”


Cragen nodded and took her arm to lead her downstairs away from the crib. “She's got a gift for dealing with the youngest victims, a true empathy, and kids recognize that. But thank you for staying with them until she got here. The police department appreciates it.” He extended his hand to her as they reached the precinct doors. She accepted it and shook it.


“I was glad to do it, sir. Will they be okay? I mean, they checked out physically and all, but....”


“I don't know,” Cragen answered honestly. “Their grandmother should be here before the end of the day, we hope. She lives somewhere in the mid-west.”


“Hey, Ro... you ready? We need to roll,” called a voice from the door of the interview room where Rochelle 's male partner had been finishing up their paperwork.


“Yeah, Rod. Call us in. See ya, guys,” she said, waving to the detectives as they left. Cragen turned to Munch and Fin.


“Tell me you found the grandmother.”


“We think so, cap. We got a call into her.”


“Good. Keep me informed.” Then he disappeared into his office.



Alex looked up at the knock on her door. She had made good progress on the stack of applicants, so she didn't mind the interruption. She just hoped it wouldn't be like the earlier one. One of those in a day was more than enough. Then Casey stuck her head in the door, and Alex 's eyebrows went to her hairline before her good manners kicked in.


“ Ms Novak ? Something I can do for you?” folding her hands on the desk.


“Call me Casey for starters. May I come in?”


“Please... have a seat.”


Casey crossed the threshold and stopped. “Actually, I came to invite you to lunch.”


Alex swallowed the questions that immediately came to mind. “Um... sure. I'd like that actually. Thank you, Casey .”


“No problem. I remember what it was like to be the new kid trying to fill your shoes. I can't imagine what it is like for you being the new kid again trying to live up to your own reputation.”


Alex looked at her wryly. “You'd think it would be easy just to be me again. Somehow, I don't think it is going to work like that.”


“Probably not,” Casey concurred. “C'mon... clock's ticking.”


“You in court today?” Alex asked, well remembering her own days in the SVU and the time she spent in court unendingly.


“No, for a change,” Casey said as they exited the building together and headed for the small deli nearby. “Of course, I'm going to pay for it tomorrow. Three briefs due and two arraignments. The only reason I missed doing an opening argument is because Petrovsky didn't want to start a trial on Friday afternoon.”


“Ow,” Alex commiserated with a chuckle. “I do remember those days. I don't miss that part, although I do miss sparring with Petrovsky.”


“And being sent to jail by her?” Casey laughed when Alex cut her eyes in her direction. “Sorry... it was one of the first things I heard about you. You really are quite a legend.”


“I really was quite an idiot; it could have cost me everything.”


“It didn't... may I call you Alex ?” The blonde head nodded. “It didn't, and that just added to your legend, Alex .”


They found an open table and snagged it quickly. “Yes, but I'm not a legend, Casey . I'm just a woman.”


“An extraordinary woman, Alex – you have to admit that. I don't know if you realize the impact you have had on so many lives, because of your life and death and life again. However, even extraordinary women need friends. So do you think we could be friends?”


Their waitress came over to take their orders before Alex could respond. Once she was gone, Alex tilted her head thoughtfully and met Casey 's eyes. “I thought we were already well on our way to being friends. Casey , you didn't have to warn me about Olivia , and you didn't need to stand up for me when I went to Arthur about it.”


“You heard about that?” Casey ducked her head, blushing.


“Oh yes. Several times, in fact – the first from Arthur himself. Thank you for that, by the way.”


“I had to,” Casey confessed. “I owed a debt.”


“To me?” Alex asked as their food arrived. Casey shook her head.


“To Olivia . She was nice to me when she had no reason to be.” She paused and Alex waited, hoping Casey would continue after she had a few minutes to eat. Finally, their eating slowed and Casey returned her attention to Alex . “Sorry... I was starving.” She took a long drink and sighed.


“When I was first brought into the SVU, Olivia was devastated. They all were, to some degree, and there was a great deal of resentment at my presence in the unit. Olivia came out of her shell of grief long enough to take the time to explain to me why everyone was being so hateful.” Casey shrugged. “Most of us only had the barest of details as to what happened and how you died. She made me realize exactly what the SVU lost when you died.”


“Did you know about us? Olivia and I, I mean.”


“ Olivia never said a word about it, if that's what you're asking. Alex , she didn't have to. It was clear in every word she said, in every nuance of her voice when she spoke about you. And it gave me a very clear reason why she especially had such animosity towards me. But she also made a real effort to see me beyond your replacement. We eventually became friends.”


“She's a good friend to have,” Alex said softly, signaling to the waitress and offering her card as she made a quiet request.


“ Alex , I invited you to lunch.”


“Yes, but I'm taking something with me for Olivia , so....”


“Well, thank you. Next time it will be my treat. And you're right – she is a good friend to have. She got Serena to give me wardrobe advice.”


Alex 's eyes went to her hairline. Though she had always loved the way Olivia dressed for her work as a detective, it could in no way be considered ‘courtroom fashionable'. She did have a wonderful sense of style although she rarely commented on anything unless it was hideous. Casey watched the thoughts run through Alex 's mind, correctly guessing the path they were taking.


“Trust me,” she said, patting Alex 's arm as the waitress came back with a bag and they stood to leave. “It really was that bad. She did me a huge favor, and by having Serena approach me, she left me my dignity.” At Alex 's confused look, Casey smiled and continued. “ Serena and I went to college together, but we lost touch when we went to law school. So Olivia did me a double favor by reintroducing me to an old friend.”


“How is Serena ? I haven't had a chance to catch up with her yet.”


“Much happier now that she is out of the DA's office and in private practice. You'll be seeing her Saturday. She was on the list of people who were invited to the party.”


“I'm looking forward to that,” Alex confessed as she flagged down a taxi. “I feel like I have been running nonstop, without going anywhere or seeing anyone. It'll be nice to have a little time to decompress and see some friendly faces.” A taxi pulled up in front of them. “I'm going to the one-six. Would you like a ride?”


“No... too much work still to do. Thank you for lunch.”


“Thank you for inviting me. We'll do it again.” She stepped into the cab and gave the cabbie the address. Casey watched them merge back into traffic, then turned and headed back to her office. Despite what she had implied to Alex , she had a ton of work to do. But it had been worth it.




Chapter VII


The noise level in the one-six when she crossed the threshold was just like Alex remembered it always being on any given day. She looked around and noted her four favorite detectives were all missing, but before she could open her mouth to ask a question, Cragen called to her from his doorway.


“ Alex , everything okay?”


“I was, um... looking for Olivia ,” holding up the bag. “I brought her some lunch. I guess I should have called first to make sure she would be here. I think I'm a little out of practice with how things work around here.”


Cragen smiled. “Actually, she is here; she's in the crib. C'mon, I'll explain it on the way up.” He gave Alex the bare-bones story and Alex smiled when they reached the door. Olivia sat curled up on the bottom bunk with a sleepy looking child on either side and a baby in her lap. She was trying to read, quite a feat since she was sitting mostly in shadows, but she was doing a credible job.


“I think I should have brought more food,” she commented. Cragen smiled. “Well, we already fed the kids. I think Olivia is trying to get them down for a nap.”


About that time, Liv looked up and saw them, an involuntary smile crossing her face when her eyes met Alex 's. Alex stepped into the room and Cragen gave Olivia a wave before heading back downstairs. The two kids looked towards Alex , then back to Olivia .


“She looks like Mama,” Sammie whispered. Paulie nodded his agreement while yawning widely.


“That's my friend, Alex . Would you like to meet her?” Both kids nodded, and Olivia motioned Alex over. Alex hesitated, her expression clearly unsure, but she put the bag down on the table and approached them slowly, kneeling when she reached the bunk. She kept one hand on Olivia 's knees for balance and waited for Liv to introduce her – first to Sammie and then to Paulie. “And this little beauty is Angel ,” Olivia said, passing the baby to Alex ... or trying to. Blue eyes met brown and Olivia easily read Alex 's trepidation. “It's okay, Sweetheart – trust me.”


Alex nodded. “Let me stand up first,” doing so and slowly extending her arms. Olivia slid from her place between Sammie and Paulie.


“Would you be more comfortable sitting down?” Alex 's hesitation was palpable and Olivia studied her carefully. “ Alex ?”


“I'm just a little nervous, Liv. I've never really been around kids.” She blew out a deep breath and sat down. “All right – I'm ready.”


“I'll be right here,” Olivia assured as she placed Angel in Alex 's arms. “She's been really good,” Liv commented as she watched blue eyes meet blue and shy smiles cross both faces. “I need to get Sammie and Paulie tucked in for a nap. Will you two be okay on your own for a couple minutes?”


“If you hear one of us screaming, come running,” Alex asked with a nervous smile. Olivia kissed her temple and moved the few steps back to the bunk where the two older children were watching Alex with sleepy eyes.


“She's not used to babies, huh?” Sammie asked when Olivia urged them to lay down.


“Nope, but I think she is doing pretty good with Angel , don't you?” brushing their hair back out of their eyes, unaware of Alex's on her with her sole focus on the kids in front of her. They both nodded slowly, eyes closing under Olivia 's tender ministrations.


“'Livia,” Sammie burred sleepily. “When c'n we go home?”


“Soon, sweetie,” Olivia assured her. “Your grandmother will be here soon.”


“' Kay ,” she mumbled before her breathing became deep and regular. Olivia sat with them a moment longer before turning back to Alex . She blushed under the adoration in her blue eyes.


“You're so good with them.”


“Lots of practice,” Olivia said, suddenly exhausted. “Way too much practice.” A smile suddenly lit her features. “She seems to like you.”


Alex looked down. “She fell asleep. Is that good?”


“You're a natural. You want me to put her on her cot?”


“Please,” Alex said. “I'll put your lunch out.”


“You brought me lunch?”


“Yes. Casey invited me to lunch and I picked up something for you. You should take better care of yourself, Liv. However, I've decided to take over looking out for you,” sliding a large salad and bottled water out of the bag.

“You think I need looking after?” Olivia said, cracking the water open and sucking down a huge swallow. Then she accepted the silverware Alex passed her and dressed her salad, waiting patiently for Alex to answer her question.


“I think,” Alex replied after a few minutes' consideration, “that you need someone to love and take care of you, because you get so focused you forget to care for yourself.”


“And you're volunteering?”




“You know that could be a very long commitment.”


“I'm in for the long haul, Detective. Now,” continuing before Olivia could respond – or not – “tell me about these kids.” So Olivia did, filling Alex in on the case as well.


“The grandmother should be here,” looking at her watch, “within the hour.”


“You're so good with them.”


Liv shrugged. “They're good kids. They don't deserve what happened to them.”


“At least they had you to talk to... even though there was nothing for them to tell... about the rape/murder, at any rate. Was George able to find a reason why they reacted so harshly to the male detectives?”


Olivia shook her head. “He couldn't even get in the room. They hid behind me when he came to the door.” She sighed, then got up and dumped the empty containers in the trash, keeping her back to Alex . “I suspect if their father didn't physically abuse and molest them, he did at least terrorize them verbally.” She shrugged her shoulders. “They wouldn't talk about it; they didn't talk very much at all.”


“But they listened to you, didn't they? While you told them how special and incredible and loved they were. They heard you, Liv, and they will be better people to have had you in their lives... even if it was only for a few hours.” Alex walked up behind her and wrapped Olivia in her arms. “Do you want me to stay with you?”


Liv turned around and looked in Alex 's eyes. “You'd do that, wouldn't you?”


“Say the word.”


“I love you.”


“Okay, enough fooling around with my partner, Counselor,” Elliot whispered from the door. Olivia smirked at him and she took Alex 's hand in hers as they walked to the door. He slid out of sight, in case the children woke up and Alex and Olivia braced themselves on either side of the doorjamb.


“Jealous, El?”


He smirked.


“Careful, Detective... she may be your partner, but she's *my* Partner. Do yourself a favor and plead the fifth; you don't want anything you say now to come back later and bite you in the ass.” Alex looked at Olivia and quirked an eyebrow in her direction. “However,” she added, turning her attention back to Elliot , “our verbal sparring will have to wait for another day. I need to get back to the office. I still have a few more files to go over before I can make any decisions.”


“Think you're gonna like being a bureau chief, Alex ?”


“I think it is going to be very different from what I am used to.” She shrugged. “I know I'm going to miss working with you guys.” She stopped before she could say anything else. “I guess I should go.”


“I'll walk you down,” Elliot volunteered. “Be right back, Liv.”


He wasn't gone but a moment, but he returned with a smile on his face.


“What are you grinning at?” Olivia asked him.


“You picked a real winner with Alex , Liv. It really is good to see you happy again.” He chuckled and Olivia just arched her eyebrow in question. “Sometimes I think our karma is linked. Alex left and you were unhappy, and I started having trouble with Kathy . Alex came back, then left again and you were miserable; Kathy and I nearly got divorced. You and Alex have been together for what... three days? And Kathy and I have had more real conversations about everything than we have had in the last year.”


“I'm glad for you both, El. Kathy and the kids have always been a stabilizing influence in your life.” They stood quietly, Olivia 's eyes on the kids and Elliot 's eyes on her. Finally, she turned and met his eyes. “So what's up, El?”


“Nothing. Deac and I just got back from picking up a suspect in the Brooks case. He's sitting in the box, so I thought I'd come see how you and the kids were doing.” He peeked around the door. “You've still got the touch.”


Then Cragen was escorting an older and younger woman upstairs and the process of transferring the children to their grandmother's and aunt's care began.




“So what are we supposed to do now, Jack? Alex was an important part of this operation. We can't just let her walk away!”


“What would you suggest we do, Robert ? Like it or not, Ms Cabot has no legal obligation to us or our agency. The one condition she made contingent for her help was violated, and then you went and turned into some sort of possessive jackass in front of the one person who matters to her. Ms Cabot is not going to help us anymore. Find another way, Robert .”


“Like what? I'm supposed to meet Rivera for lunch today to discuss the ramifications of my engagement to one of New York City 's most prominent families who is coincidentally also a respected member of the District Attorney's office. Now I have to tell him I've been thrown over for not just a lowly detective sergeant, but a woman.”


“Why does he need to know?”




“Why does he need to know?” Hammond asked slower. “Just string him along for a little while, then let him know you broke it off with Ms Cabot . That will give us time enough to get someone else in the DA's office or the police department – preferably in narcotics or vice.”


“You don't think he's got informants there already?”


“Not at the level you will.”


Robert gave a disgusted sigh and stood up from his chair. “It's not going to be the same thing, Jack – not even close. This is going to set us back months.”


“It can't be helped, Robert . Ms Cabot will quit the DA's office if we pressure her any further and that will do more damage than you breaking it off with her. Who knows – it's probably better to have her out of things. God knows she has been nothing but a pain in my ass.”


“I hope you're right, Jack , but I've got a bad feeling.”


“ Robert , I've had a bad feeling about this whole thing since Alexandra Cabot got involved with the Velez case three years ago.”




“Man, I'm wiped,” Olivia confessed as she opened the door to the apartment. “I always forget how much kids take out of you.”


“You want me to cook?” Olivia 's eyes widened comically. Alex glared at her from behind dark framed glasses. “Liv, not much good came from my time away from New York, but I did become quite a good cook if I do say so myself – just as a matter of self preservation. I haven't set the stove on fire in a very long time,” Alex added with a smirk.


“Um... sure – if you really want to. I'm not sure what I have.”


“You have a local grocer?” Olivia nodded. “No problem, then. So were they okay when their grandmother arrived?” Alex asked as she headed into the kitchen to see what Olivia had for groceries. Olivia followed her.


“They were glad to see her. Huang gave her some names she could contact to help when she explains about their mom.” Liv wiped a hand across her eyes. “I wish there was a way to make it easier. I wish I could take it all away.”


Alex stopped what she was doing and took Olivia in her arms. “I wish I could take it away from you. But I'll share the burden with you, if you want. I'm glad they have family who love them and took them into their lives and homes. They're lucky.”


“So am I,” Olivia confessed with a smile, leaning her forehead against Alex 's. “You um... you wanna take your jacket off... maybe stay a while?”


“What? Oh, sure,” sliding out of her coat and putting it in Liv's outstretched hand. “You've got stuff for pasta and pesto so I don't need to go back out unless you want something different.”


“Sounds great, actually. I'll run over to the bakery and grab some fresh bread. Anything else you want?”


“Only if you want a salad.”


“' Kay ... be right back.” Olivia leaned forward, intending for the kiss to be a quick peck. She hadn't anticipated Alex 's hungry reaction and when she licked Olivia 's lips and opened her mouth, Liv responded passionately. They took their time; Alex clenched her fists into the lapels of Olivia 's jacket and pulled her forward. Liv threaded one hand into loose blonde hair while letting the other slip around a narrow waist to slide down over shapely curves.


Alex moaned and slipped one hand to the back of Olivia 's neck, lightly scratching. She had already discovered it was a highly erogenous zone as far as Olivia was concerned and her comeback was immediate, tightening her grip on Alex 's ass.


“God, Liv,” Alex muttered, pulling back until their lips were just out of one another's reach. “If you don't stop, we're going to skip dinner and go right to dessert.”


“ME? I was just looking for a quick goodbye kiss.”


“Oh Detective... I don't intend for anything with you to ever be quick between us. I am going to savor every single moment and opportunity. Besides,” Alex teased, loosening the grip she had on the jacket and letting her hand trace the contours of Olivia 's torso, “you said you were tired.” She smiled when the brown eyes darkened to almost black and Liv's nostrils flared.


“Don't tease me, Alex ,” Olivia growled.


“Not teasing, Detective. Making you a promise.”


Those were the last words spoken for the next little while.




“You know, if this is how you say goodbye when I volunteer to go pick up bread, I can't wait to volunteer to change a light bulb or fix an annoying drip,” Liv commented. She ran her fingers through the sweaty blonde hair resting on her belly. “One thing is sure... I'll never look at the kitchen the same way again.”


Alex laughed and continued stroking the smooth skin beneath her. “I thought we should christen every room in the apartment. So that leaves the foyer and the living room.”


“It's good to have goals,” Olivia quipped, then jumped when Alex pinched the soft skin of her inner thigh. “Whaddya do that for?”


“Smartass,” Alex muttered, rubbing the same spot and smiling when Liv visibly relaxed.


“ Alex , you keep that up and you'll either put me to sleep or we're gonna have round two right here on the kitchen floor. And I'm not sure my ribs are up for an all-nighter on cold tile.”


“Oh shit! Liv, I'm....”


“Shh... I'm fine, Sweetheart. I'd just like to get up off the floor. My ass is getting frostbite.”


Alex laughed again and rose, extending a hand down and helping Olivia stand. “Can't have that, Detective. It's one of my favorite parts of your body,” caressing the body part in question. “Now, would you like dinner or should we just move on to second dessert?”


A rumble from two stomachs permeated the room and they exchanged blushing glances before breaking into chuckles. “I guess that answers that question. Let me get dressed and run across the street before they close shop for the night.”


“I'll um....” looking at her now wrinkled suit. “I think I'll go slip into something a little less lawyer like. Then I'll start dinner.”


Liv finished fastening her pants and stepped into her shoes. Then she leaned forward and brushed her lips lightly on Alex 's cheek. “Be right back, Sweetheart.”


“You better be,” Alex cautioned when a sense of unreasoning fear washed through her. Olivia noticed immediately and hesitated.


“ Alex ?”


Alex shook her head. “I'm fine, love. Just a chill. Let me go get dressed.”


Olivia nodded, and waited for Alex to gather up her clothes and walk to the bedroom before she left, locking the door securely behind her.




“ Alex , that was wonderful. Thank you.” They were cuddled together in the couch with the television on for background noise. Alex tilted her head back and Olivia removed her glasses before leaning down to kiss her. “Next time, I'll make curry.”


“Sounds great. I learned to enjoy cooking, but cooking for you was especially gratifying. Now what do you say to dessert?”


“Real dessert or Alex special?”


“Does it matter?”


“Nope,” claiming Alex 's lips once more, careful to put the glasses of justice on the table before focusing all her considerable attention on the woman she held in her arms.




“Come in, Mr. Claiborne . Please have a seat.”


“Thank you, Mr. Rivera ,” Robert said.


“How are things going with your new fiancée? Are you ready to make an announcement?”


“I don't think so, sir. Alexandra is still trying to resettle into her life here in New York . She just started working for the DA's office again this week. I'm not sure putting her on the spot by announcing our engagement is the best thing to do at the moment.”


“How do you figure?”


“Sir, Ms Cabot is from a prominent family. That alone would garner great attention if an engagement was announced. The fact that she is newly returned from three years in the witness protection program because of Velez's untimely demise would only cause greater scrutiny. I do not believe the attention would be beneficial to anyone at this time. A number of your business partners prefer to remain anonymous in the shadows.”


Rivera sat back in his chair, fingertips pressed together touching his lips while he considered Robert 's words. Finally, he nodded his agreement. “You bring up some good points, Robert . Perhaps it would be best to wait until her notoriety dies down a bit. But if circumstances change or the perfect opportunity presents itself....” Rivera gave Robert a knowing look. “We need to make sure she is firmly in our corner.”


Robert nodded his agreement. “Absolutely, sir.”


“And if all else fails, there's always blackmail. I'm sure if we look deep enough, our detectives will be able to find *something* we can use against Alexandra Cabot . No one is as squeaky clean as she appears to be.”


Robert affected an interested expression. “That is an idea, Mr. Rivera . Perhaps we should go ahead and work on that angle? Just in case things don't work out otherwise, you understand. Alexandra Cabot is much more valuable to us if she *is* as squeaky clean as she appears. But it is always good to have a back-up plan, don't you agree?”


“Yes, I certainly do.” And they shared another knowing look and a laugh. Rivera pulled out a file of the legitimate concerns Robert was in charge of handling. “Good – now let's get to work. There are several contracts I need you to review before we move forward with them. Things are finally starting to come together at the warehouse and I do not want to lose any customers because of turnover.”


“All right,” Robert said, accepting the file. “Shall we order now, sir?”


“Yes; I can't have my best lawyer starving to death.”


“Thank you, sir. I'll review these contracts after lunch and get back to you by the end of the day. Would you like me to call Dickson and have him start digging for dirt on Ms Cabot ?”


“Please. Now, tell me how things are going in the Parkman acquisition.” And their conversation turned to business for the remainder of their meal.




Chapter VIII


“Shit... yeah, hello?” Olivia growled softly, trying to keep her voice down so she didn't disturb Alex . At the first bleep of her phone, Liv had eased out of Alex 's grasp and sat up on the edge of the bed, knowing she was headed out the door on a case. No one called at two-thirty in the morning to tell you that you just won the lottery – it was always bad news. She scrubbed a hand over her face and through her hair, trying to stimulate some semblance of wakefulness while she listened to the uniform give her a brief description of the scene.


“All right. I'll be right there,” Liv said with a sigh and closed the phone. Then she jumped when a hand snuck around her waist to come to rest on top of her thigh. Olivia smiled and covered the long fingers with her own. “Go back to sleep, Sweetheart.”


“Gotta go, huh?”


“Yeah... I'm on call tonight.”


Olivia felt Alex sit up behind her, then her warm body pressed up against Liv's back. Alex pulled Liv's braided hair to one side and placed a kiss at the juncture of her neck and shoulder, feeling the shudder run up the length of Liv's body. “Anything I can do to help?” Alex asked, her breath causing goosebumps to trail in its wake.


Olivia turned her head, eyes crossing to keep Alex in focus at such close range. She'd never been thankful for the partial light her bedroom suffered from even at the darkest time of night, but she suddenly found herself grateful for the ability to see without turning on a light. Olivia leaned forward and caught Alex 's lips, feeling her respond immediately.


“I'd ask you to keep the bed warm,” Liv said a little breathlessly when they separated. “But I think it might be a moot point tonight. Go back to sleep, love. Get enough rest for both of us.” She leaned in for one more brief kiss, then pulled back with a sigh. “I never thought this would ever be a problem for me,” Olivia confessed, brushing wayward blonde hair off Alex 's face.


Alex blinked and slipped her glasses on to better be able to see Olivia 's pensive expression. She captured the hand at her face. “What's wrong, Liv?”


“Nothing,” she responded softly, shaking her head. “I'm being selfish.”


“No,” Alex responded with a genuine smile. “You're being a woman in love... and I like the way it looks on you. You can't stay and I can't go, so be careful out there, please. I worry.”


“Don't. I have every reason to be careful now. Now, I've got to go, but I'll see you later?”


“Count on it, Detective.” Moments later, Olivia was out the door and Alex slumped back to the bed and curled around Liv's pillow. She allowed the scent to surround her, feeling her body relax. Oh Cabot , she thought as she drifted back towards sleep, you could be in real serious trouble here. Still, she couldn't stop the smile that graced her features when she finally fell into sleep again.




Olivia pinched the bridge of her nose. It had already been a hellishly long day and it wasn't even lunchtime yet. The only high point had been Alex 's unexpected arrival shortly after dawn with hot coffee and breakfast for the squad. She hadn't made a big production of it; just done it as a matter of course and then disappeared red-faced to the cheers of the entire room.


Her cell chirped. “ Benson .” Pause. “Right... we'll be right there.” She looked at Elliot who was going over their second crime scene. “We've got a suspect in custody.”




Olivia shrugged. “I dunno. That was Munch ; he said unis picked up some guy for drunk and disorderly and he gave them a full confession.”


“And we believe him?” Elliot found their CSI team and let them know what was going on then he and Olivia headed back to their sedan.


“That's why Munch called. Cap wants us to interrogate him anyway. Said his story is a little too pat.”


“Yeah, criminals don't tend to be this accommodating – especially not this quickly.”


Liv yawned and nodded her head. “I know. Wake me when we get there, will ya? I'm gonna try and catch a few of those winks I missed last night.”


“ Cabot keeping you up late?” Elliot asked with a sly grin.


“You know better, El... when was the last time you knew me to kiss and tell?” with a shit-eating grin of her own. “Now, hush... I'm sleeping here.”


Sooner than she would have liked, they were back at the station. They were met at the station doors by a smirking Munch. Liv groaned. “That bad?”


“Cap had us call Huang in. He's in with our perp now.” They walked with Munch to the box where Fin stood watching George talk to the man. Fin looked over at them when they walked in and shook his head.


“ Guy 's got more conspiracy theories than Munch does. Maybe he should be in the box instead of Huang.”


Olivia and Elliot muffled their smiles and Munch glared at his partner. “I'll have you know that every theory I have presented has viable evidence to back it up.”


“Whatever... here comes the doc.”


Huang closed the door firmly and looked up at the four waiting detectives. “It will take more time, but I think you're dealing with a multiple personality disorder. I'm going to invoke Kendra 's Law for him; I'd like a little more time to talk to him and observe him.”


“Do you think he's our guy on these two rape/murders?” Olivia asked plainly.


“No – he doesn't know any of the things I was briefed were facts in this case. What concerns me is that he seems to be disturbingly lucid in describing other crimes. At this point, I'm not sure if they are things that he's seen or done in his mind or if they are real. I'll let you know as soon as I have something more to give you.”


“Thanks, doc,” Elliot said, clapping Huang on the arm. “Guess this means we need to get back out there.”


“More than you know,” Cragen said as he handed Olivia a slip if paper. “You've got another body with the same MO.”


“Three in the space of less than twelve hours?! Our boy's a fast worker!”


“I don't think so,” Huang cut in, not surprised when every eye turned and looked at him in disbelief. “No, sorry,” he added, holding up his hands. “I don't think this is a case of a single perpetrator. This is playing out like a hazing or perhaps an initiation. You'll find that your perpetrators are all young men – late teen, early twenties; products of single parent households. Look for a link between victims as well; it is highly likely that you will find similarities there. There may be some sort of hidden message.”


“All right, people, let's move. Thanks, doc,” Cragen said as the detectives scattered.


“You know,” Olivia commented, as she and Elliot headed out again, “this could put a real stop to Alex 's party tomorrow.”


“We'll work around it. Trust me – there is no way to stop it at this point,” keeping his eyes firmly on the road. It didn't matter – he and Olivia had been partners too long for her not to know immediately that he was trying to hide something.


“Ellllllllliiiiiiiiiiot?” drawing his name out the length of a city block.


“Yeeeeeeessssssssss?” returning her drawl.


“What's going on?”


“We're having a welcome home party for Alex tomorrow?”


“I know, so why are you so nervous about it, all of a sudden. It was your idea.” A thought occurred to her. “Wait... just how many people are coming to this thing?”


“Let's just say you and Alex need to decide if you want to confirm the rumors of your relationship to the New York legal world at large.”


“WHAT?!? God, El! When were you planning to tell me about this?? Or didn't you think this was something we might need to talk about?!”


“C'mon, Liv... cut me a little slack here. It's not like it is a big secret – it never was, despite what the two of you wanted to believe!”


“Excuse me?”


“C'mon, Liv... before Cabot left, it was clear to at least a few of us what was happening between you – remember that little talk we had about the chemistry the two of you had together? But you never said, so we never asked. When she left though, we knew; you became a different person. When she left again....” He let the thought hang as he pulled the car to a stop. “Hey, you're the one that went storming over to her office her very first day back, laying into her like a woman scorned,” he added as they opened their doors. “How could you not expect people to talk?”


He headed for the crime scene. Olivia stood by her door for a moment longer trying to collect her scattered wits. Then she pulled on her professional mask and walked over to join him. She needed to talk to Alex , but there was police business to take care of first.




Alex looked up at the knock on her door. “Come in,” she said, putting her pen down and leaning back in her chair. Her eyes widened when she saw Serena in her doorway. She pushed her chair back from her desk and walked around the desk to engulf her friend in a hug. “ God , Serena ....”


Serena just held on for a moment. “It's good to see you again, Alex . After Casey told me about your talk yesterday, I decided not to wait until tomorrow to see you. How are you? And is it true what I've heard about you and a certain gorgeous SVU detective?”


“Depends on what you've heard, but probably,” Alex said with a smile. “We have so much catching up to do. How are you enjoying private practice?”


“Yes, we do, and fine, but you didn't answer my other question yet – how are you doing, Alex ... really?”


Alex covered her face and groaned. “You never did let me get away with much.” She sighed. “Honestly, I'm a little overwhelmed at the moment, but it'll get better, right?” she added looking up at Serena with a bright smile that didn't fool the other woman for a moment.


“Don't play games with me, Alex . We were good friends once; I'd like to think we still are. Talk to me.”


Silence for a moment, then Alex pushed her intercom button. “ Maggie , I'm in conference and not to be disturbed.” Her assistant acknowledged her directive then Alex turned her attention back to Serena Southerlyn . It had been three years, yet in some ways she felt very little time had passed since they had been able to confide in one another. And about this – part of it, at any rate – she needed someone a little more objective to talk to.


“What's wrong, Alex ?” Serena asked after the silence lengthened to awkwardness. “What's overwhelming you?”


“Everything... nothing... I don't.... Do you realize I have been back in New York for less than a week? So much has happened – so much has changed. *I've* changed.” Alex stopped speaking. A lot of what she was thinking and feeling should be shared only with Olivia . But the Olivia parts....


Serena nodded her head. “How are things between you and Olivia ?” going straight to the topic she figured Alex would be the most likely to talk to her about. She shifted, crossing her legs and leaning back in the chair, giving Alex the impression of having all the time in the world.


Alex couldn't stop the blush that suffused her face with color. So much for the Ice Princess image .


“You do realize you two are the talk of the legal world, right?” Serena confided with a smile. “ Elliot 's little get together isn't so little any more. Everyone is going to be there... as much to welcome you home as to see if the rumors are true.”


“Damn it! That is *exactly* what I mean. This is still so new for us, Serena , and yet it's become like tabloid news around here.” Alex took her glasses off and let her eyes unfocus while her inner eye concentrated on Olivia . “God, things are so amazing with her, Serena .” Alex looked back at her old friend. “I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop.”


Serena blinked. “Why? Why not just sit back and enjoy what you have together now?” She held up a hand. “ Alex , you know there will be conflict and spark and passion with her always – there always has been with the two of you. Hell, some of your fights around here were legendary; why do you think people are so curious to see you on the same side of the fence, so to speak? Besides the fact that you make a gorgeous couple, I mean.”


“Actually, I am looking forward to fighting with her again – I love engaging that side of her and so does she, I think. That will be the sure sign I'm finally home. But that's not what I meant.” Alex closed her eyes and rubbed them, pushing her hands into her hair. Serena frowned; even on her most hectic days, Alex had never *not* been put together. But she appeared to be falling apart before Serena 's eyes.


“What did you mean then, Alex ? Help me understand.”


“I'm not sure I really do, Rena . It's a feeling that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck for no reason at all, but it's as real as you are sitting there across from me. It almost feels like since I finally have what I want most in the world, something bad has to happen to make it all even up.”


This time Serena stood and came around to Alex 's side, kneeling down until they were eye to eye. “NO! No, Alex ... you don't have to live that way anymore. You can't! You're right... something bad *might* happen, but then again, something might not. You can't live your life afraid of what might or might not happen. You just take the all good and hold onto it with both hands, so when the shit hits the fan, you've got enough to cover you until the mess is cleaned up.”


“I know that, Serena . It was one of the things I had beaten into my mind while I was gone for three damn years of exile! But that isn't making this feeling of dread go away. And I learned the hard way to listen to that little voice.”


“All right, Alex ; I want you to promise me something. I want you to talk to Olivia about this and I want you to get some professional help – real help, Alex . Not the kind the government gave you, but a real professional. I imagine the good detective would probably even go with you if you asked her.”


Alex nodded and closed her eyes. “I will. I am not going to screw up the best thing in my life again by not being open and honest and she's been so wonderful. I will always hate myself for having lost three years with her, and for the pain I caused her during that time.”


Alex didn't see Olivia slip through the side door, but Serena did, and she stepped back to allow Liv the chance to cup Alex 's face in her hands. Alex froze at the touch, recognizing it, but not quite believing it. She looked up slowly, to find herself staring into compassionate brown eyes.


“Nope – you don't get to do that, Alex . You don't get to hate or beat up the woman I love. Life does enough of that without us helping it in any way, all right?” Alex looked closer and saw the haggardness and fatigue in her lover's eyes. She took Olivia 's hands in hers and kissed the knuckles lightly, completely forgetting about Serena 's silent presence.


“Bad day?”


“Yeah, you haven't had lunch yet, by any chance, have you?”


Alex would have said no, even if she'd just gotten up from a five course meal – the need in Liv's eyes was that great. She shook her head but before she could say anything else, Serena spoke up.


“ Alex , I'm just going to....”


Olivia immediately stood up and turned to face her. “Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt...”


“You didn't, Detective,” Serena assured her. “I actually have to get back to the office. Not being a state employee has a lot of distinct advantages, but it does mean I have to travel to get here. But I wanted to catch Alex for a few minutes before tomorrow. It promises to be quite a blowout.”


“Mmm... so I've heard,” Olivia agreed with a grumble. “Are you sure you don't want to join us for lunch? I really didn't intend to break up your conversation.”


“Rain check for another day,” Serena promised. “I think the two of you need a little privacy today.”


Olivia nodded. Alex stood and squeezed Liv's fingers before giving Serena a firm hug. “Thank you,” she whispered. “For all of it.”


Serena returned the embrace. “See you tomorrow.”


The door closed firmly behind her before Alex turned back to Olivia . “I'm so glad you're here. But how did you get in here without Maggie seeing you? She's the proverbial watchdog out front. And how much did you hear?” the last added more softly.


Olivia pointed to the well-hidden side door. “Did you forget about those? All the bigger offices over here have them.” Alex blinked and shook her head.


“I never knew it was there; I didn't have anything like that when I was an ADA .” She narrowed her eyes at Olivia . “How exactly did you find out about it, Detective? Hmm?”


Olivia shrugged. “Abbie told me about it.”


“Do I want to know why?”


“Probably not,” Liv confessed.


“Right... did you say something about lunch, Detective?”


“Depends... am I in trouble now?” glancing up through thick, dark lashes.


Alex waggled her eyebrows. “Would you like to be? Liv, we knew we weren't each other's firsts; we were both sexually active adults long before we met. However, I most certainly intend to be your last.”


“Does this mean I am off the market, Counselor?”


“Oh yeah - as of about ten-thirty Tuesday morning, in point of fact, Detective. I have a building full of witnesses who will testify to that.”

Olivia took Alex 's hand in hers and led her towards the side door. “Yeah, we probably should talk about that.”


“We should probably talk about a lot of things,” Alex concurred, snatching up her purse as Olivia led her out the door. “Starting with what you overheard.”


“Everything... I overheard everything – from the time Serena asked you to help her understand,” Olivia acknowledged. “I didn't intend to, but there really didn't seem to be a good time to break in. At least until you started castigating yourself.” Liv eyes widened at the expression on Alex 's face and she laughed. “Just because I don't use them very often doesn't mean I don't know any fancy words, Alex .”


They left the building and by unspoken consent headed to a small, out-of-the-way café they had discovered several years previously. Alex waited until they were seated with their menus in front of them before she responded.


“I've never doubted your intelligence, Liv. You couldn't be the detective you are without being brilliant. It is just unusual for you to sound like a lawyer. But you didn't overhear everything... you didn't hear me tell Serena how amazing you are or how wonderful it is to really be with you.” Liv bit her lip and Alex was again reminded of the gaunt expression lurking in Olivia 's eyes. “Tough day?”


Olivia scrubbed her eyes. “Yeah and this case is giving me the creeps. But don't you think we should talk about the stuff you were discussing with Serena ?”


“No,” Alex stated matter-of-factly. “I think we should have a nice lunch together – talk about your case if you want or maybe where we'd like to go for vacation when things settle down. I will talk to you about the other, Liv, I promise - but not here. I want to be curled up in your arms in the privacy of our home when we do.”


Unexpectedly, Olivia smiled. “Do you really think of it that way?” Alex blinked. “Sorry,” Liv apologized, then sat back when the server came and took their order. When he left she leaned forward again. “I meant do you think of the apartment as your home?”


Confusion colored Alex 's expression. She nodded slowly. “Yes, I do.” She paused. “Shouldn't I? Don't you want...? I mean I thought....”


Olivia reached across the table and covered Alex 's hands. “You thought right – That's what *I* want. As far as I'm concerned you're not ever gonna leave. But things have happened so fast - we kinda just fell into living together; we never really talked about it. I didn't know how you felt... whether you wanted your own place or thought we needed a bigger place or....” Olivia let the thought trail off.


Alex let her thumbs caress the back of Olivia 's strong hands, taking a moment to admire them while she collected her scattered thoughts. “I think as long as you are happy to share closet space with me, we can manage just fine where we are right now. If we decide later we want more room, we can make that decision together.”


Olivia nodded her agreement but otherwise didn't respond verbally as their server chose that moment to set their plates in front of them. “I may be late tonight, though I'll call if it's going to be very late; this new case is... it looks like we may all be pulling a lot of overtime, though Elliot assures me we will be at the barbeque tomorrow come hell or high water.”


“You want to talk about it?”


“Not yet. I just needed to see you, so I asked for a little extra time for lunch. There's not a lot of information yet, though something about it is niggling at me. Thank you, though. It's good to know you are here to listen when I am ready to talk.”


“Anytime, Detective,” Alex validated with a smile. “After all, you know where I live.”


“I certainly do – thank God.”


“That goes both ways. Call me either way though, please. If you're going to be home at a reasonable hour, I will fix dinner and we can talk for a while.” Olivia looked up and gave Alex the most intriguing smile. “What, Liv?”


“I know we have a lot of things to catch up on – a lot of stuff we missed in one another's lives in the three years we were apart and things we never got around to sharing about ourselves in the first place for whatever reason. It's going to take months – maybe even years. I wonder if we'll still have new thoughts and feelings to share with one another in another fifty years.”


“Yes,” Alex replied emphatically.


Then they focused on eating, knowing there was still work to be done before they could go home for the day. But the silence was comfortable, and they were happy just to be together.




At a table some distance away in the same restaurant– close enough to see, but too far away to hear – two men sat observing the two women. They did nothing else... no pictures, no staring - nothing that would draw undue attention to their activities. They exchanged the occasional quiet word or two in conversation, but by and large they remained silent observers as they consumed their own meal.


When Olivia and Alex rose to leave, they waited a moment or two before following, watching as Liv escorted Alex back to her office before climbing into a police sedan that had pulled up alongside the steps. Then the two men went back to their own plain vehicle and headed in to make their report. Things had suddenly taken an interesting turn.




Chapter IX


“We got the ME's report on the first two vics ,” Elliot said by way of greeting.




“Definitely the same MO, but Warner said they were killed by two different people. One was left-handed, the other right.”


“So Huang was right,” Olivia said flatly. “What about the vics ?”


“ Munch is still looking into it.”


Liv rubbed her eyes. “Maybe I missed something at the crime scene.” Her phone rang. “ Benson . All right – we're on our way.” She turned back to Elliot . “We need to go back to the second crime scene; we might have a witness.”




“So what did you learn?” Cragen asked when they walked into the precinct.


“Not much,” Elliot said. “Someone who might have heard something early this morning in the vicinity of where our second vic was found.”


“He couldn't give us a description or even tell us what he heard exactly... beyond some strange sounds,” Olivia grumbled as she dropped into her desk chair. “We canvassed the whole area again and came up empty for any other witnesses or leads.”


“Well, I may have come up with something,” Munch cut in. “Looks like the doc was right on the money. All three vics had ties to Velez at one time or another.” Olivia 's head popped up and everyone looked at her before turning their attention back to Munch.


“It gets better,” Fin said as he turned away from the phone. “Word on the street says same thing has happened in all the boroughs – three rape/murders between midnight and noon .”


“Damn,” Cragen muttered, rubbing a hand over his head. “All right – John , keep digging; there has to be a reason these specific people are being targeted now beyond the Velez connection. Fin, use your contacts in narcotics – see what they're hearing. Elliot , I want a spread sheet showing every single similarity and difference in our three vics . I'm going to call the colonel and see about setting up a task force, see if we can get some information exchange going on.”


“What about me, Cap?” Olivia asked, trying to bite back a yawn.


“I want you to go home, Liv. Sixteen hours is long enough for one day. No arguments,” Cragen said, holding up his hand. “You have someone at home to go home to. GO HOME. We're doing all we can. Not much more is going to happen until we get a coordinated effort going. Besides, you need to be rested for Stabler's shindig tomorrow. I understand it is going to be quite the blowout.”


“So I heard,” Liv agreed sardonically. She slapped the desk and stood up. “All right, guys; I'll see you tomorrow. Try to stay out of trouble til then, huh?” with a wave and a rakish grin.


Jaws dropped around the room as Olivia walked out the door without another word or argument. The detectives exchanged wide-eyed looks. “Son of a bitch,” Elliot exclaimed with a smile. “Never thought I'd live to see the day.”


"I remember being that young and in love once," Munch mused.


"You were *never* that young, Munch," Fin commented drolly to the amusement of the rest of the room.


"Olivia's no spring chicken, you know."


"You know you're gonna be in real trouble if she hears you say that. She can still kick your ass."


"Careful, John... I'm young enough to keep up with Alex Cabot ," Liv couldn't resist saying loud enough for them to hear as she left the locker room. This time they waited in silence as her footsteps faded down the hallway. Munch got up from his desk and looked out the door to be sure Olivia had really left this time before turning back to the room and shaking his head. “I'm going to die tomorrow.”


“Yeah, and I'm betting it'll be Cabot who does the killing of your ass.”


“Some days it just doesn't pay,” Munch grumbled, then sat back down to start make a list of similarities between the three vics in their jurisdiction.




“He did not say that,” Alex said flatly.


“He certainly did. I have witnesses.”


Dinner had been burgers and fries that Olivia had picked up at Nita's on her way home. Now Liv lay stretched out naked on the bed, Alex perched gingerly on her ass rubbing the knots from her back. The oil was warm and smelled of sandalwood and Alex dug deep into her tissue, soliciting a groan that rumbled from Olivia 's body to hers when she hit a particularly tender spot.


“Old hen, my ass. I'll make sure John Munch understands *exactly* what you are not when I see him tomorrow.” Then she pinched the ass she was sitting on when Olivia 's laughter nearly dislodged her.


“OW! Whaddya do that for?” Olivia 's grumbling became purring when Alex proceeded to caress the spot she had just bruised. “Nevermind,” she mumbled, closing her eyes again. Liv never even noticed when her breathing deepened and she slipped into sleep. Alex smiled.


“Goodnight, Liv. Good dreams tonight, huh?” She slipped off Olivia 's body and into bed beside her, pulling the covers up over both of them and snuggling into Liv's warmth. Then Olivia shifted to accommodate her, surrounding Alex with her embrace and bringing happy tears to blue eyes.


“Love you,” Liv mumbled as she settled around Alex .


“I love you too, Sweetheart,” Alex replied, twining their fingers together and savoring the sensation for several long moments. She looked at the darkened ceiling and closed her eyes. “Please,” she prayed softly. “Please don't take this away from me. Please don't take Olivia out of my life again. I wouldn't survive it.” The tears that had gathered in her eyes rolled silently down her cheeks.


“ Alex ?” Olivia burred quietly into her blonde hair. “I'm not going anywhere. I wouldn't survive either.”


“I thought you were asleep.”


“I was; I just... I felt your misery.”




“Don't be,” Liv cut in. She kissed Alex 's temple. “I would rather share your misery and have you here in my arms than be sleeping without you. You take away the nightmares,” Olivia finished simply.


“So do you, Liv.” She pulled their hands up to rest between her breasts. “Go to sleep, baby. Tomorrow is going to be almost as long as today has been.” Alex felt Olivia slip back into deeper sleep, and with a smile, gladly followed her.




“ Alexandra , darling... you look marvelous,” Enrique said, holding her hands and looking her over intently before leaning forward and kissing both cheeks. “Coming back from the dead has been wonderful for you; I've never seen you looking so radiant. What can I do for you? And who is this?”


Alex reached for Olivia 's hand and pulled her forward. “This is my friend... my partner... Detective Olivia Benson . Liv, this is Enrique – my friend and hairdresser.” Liv extended her hand which Enrique accepted with alacrity.


“It is indeed a pleasure, Detective. Anyone who puts so much happiness in Alexandra 's eyes....” Olivia blushed, completely thrown off her stride. Enrique smiled and looked back at Alex . “Oh, Alexandra ... I like her. She's a keeper.” He released Olivia 's hand and glanced between them. “So what can I do for you two today?”


“I want you to cut Liv's hair... so it looks like this again.” Alex said, producing the single coveted picture she had managed to keep in her possession during her exile. Enrique took the photograph and studied it carefully, looking back and forth between it and Olivia . Without a word, he reached up and loosened her hair, running his fingers through it carefully.


“You have beautiful hair, Olivia . Are you sure you want to do this?”


She shrugged. “It will make Alex happy and it should make my morning routine easier. Do you... can you donate the hair you cut?”


“Absolutely, Detective. I actually have a friend who weaves wigs for cancer patients if that is okay with you?” She nodded. “Then let's get started,” patting his chair. A short time later, shorter than Olivia expected, Enrique was fluffing her hair around head and face. Then he held a mirror up so she could see front and back. “Gorgeous,” he commented simply. He turned to Alex . “You do realize that you'll never be able to walk down the street together again, right?”


That got two sets of eyes focused on him and he stepped back from the intensity of which he suddenly found himself the center. Alex straightened from where she had been leaning over Olivia 's shoulder. “Excuse me?”


“Are you kidding me? New York traffic already sucks. The two of you will bring everything to a dead halt for miles.”


“You're such a bullshitter, Enrique . You should have been a lawyer.”


“No, thank you. I get to meet much more interesting people this way. Now be off with both of you, but I want to hear about the reactions you get, Olivia ... if I don't hear about the traffic snarls first. Come see me again in a month – sooner if you want to keep the highlights... totally up to you.”


“What about...?”


“Don't worry about it, hon. Alexandra has an account.”




“Always, darling. I never gave up hope that you would be back once I heard you were really alive. Now go. We'll square things up later. I *know* you have other places to be on a beautiful Saturday besides inside my salon. Go... shoo!”


They were still chuckling when they climbed into a cab that would take them across town to Elliot 's home.




“Oh God, Elizabeth ... you totally saved my butt. When I mentioned a small welcome home party for Alex to Kathy , I didn't realize how big small was going to be,” Elliot admitted as he met Elizabeth when her car pulled up beside the house.


“I'm glad to do it, Detective... Elliot ,” she corrected herself when he held up a hand. “Thank you for letting me be a part. Now if you and Jax can manage the unloading, I'll go in and give Kathy a hand.”


“We've got it covered, Mrs. Cabot ,” Munch said as he and Fin came out of the house. He leaned over and kissed her cheek. Fin shook her hand and moved to take an armful of stuff from Elliot and he walked beside Elizabeth back towards the house.


“Am I very late? I expected to be one of the first here.”


“You are, Mrs. C. Me and Munch just came over early to give Elliot a hand setting up. The rest aren't due for another hour. Thanks,” he said, walking in the door she held open.


“Oh, Elizabeth ... I am so happy to see you. Please, come in,” taking Fin's load and heading to the kitchen. Fin went back to help with the remainder of the unloading, eyes widening as he met three heavily laden men coming his way. He held open the door for them to enter, then followed them back to the kitchen where Kathy and Elizabeth had already started unpacking the first load.


This was shaping up to be a hell of a party.




“You okay, Alex ?” Liv asked softly, casually slipping an arm around Alex 's waist and pulling their bodies closer together. She'd felt the shudder tremble through Alex 's body. The cabbie was smart and kept his eyes on the road; he'd seen enough in his tenure as a New York City cab driver to know how to mind his business and still be acutely aware of what was going on behind him. Alex ignored him and rested her head on Olivia 's shoulder, closing her eyes and savoring the peace that flowed between them.


“I don't think so,” Alex answered in a small, tremulous voice. Olivia waited, but Alex didn't say any more, leaving Liv to figure out exactly what was troubling her. Fortunately, Olivia Benson was well-trained in reading body language and she had excellent reason to understand Alex most of all. She leaned over and kissed the top of the blonde head resting under her chin.


“There's no reason to be afraid, Sweetheart. The people we are going to see today are your friends... all of them. And they're all thrilled for the chance to welcome you home.”


“Yeah, but who are they welcoming home?”


“You... whoever you choose to be, Alex . Sweetheart... you're the only one with expectations from you. Everyone else is just glad you're back. Cut yourself a little slack, huh? No one expects you to have all the answers. Hell, most of us don't even know the questions,” Olivia added with a grin, feeling Alex smile against her neck. “Besides, I'll be right beside you every step of the way if you want, but I think you're gonna be pleasantly surprised. You're a strong woman, Alexandra Cabot .”


“I don't feel very strong at the moment.”


“That's why you have me covering your six. It's always good to have a back-up plan when protecting your... <ahem> assets,” letting her hand slide down and briefly caress Alex 's jean clad butt.


“Don't start something you can't finish, Detective.”


“Any time you're ready, Counselor.”


Alex grasped Olivia 's free hand and tangled their fingers together. “Thank you, Liv. I know I'm acting schizoid; thank you for not only not freaking out on me, but for being my rock. One day... one day maybe I can explain how all this feels and you will understand why this is so hard for me sometimes and seems so easy others.”


Liv squeezed her hand in support. “Only if you want to share that with me, Alex . For now it's enough for me that you let me be here for you, especially considering how easily things could have gone wrong between us.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “There were so many things stacked up against us. Still could be, if we let them.”


“But we're not going to let them. That is the one thing I am sure about.”


“Then everything else is irrelevant,” Olivia assured her as the taxi slowed down in front of Elliot 's old place. Kathy had been diligent about keeping it up and Olivia admired the riot of color already prevalent in her window boxes.


“Wow,” Alex commented, sitting up and dropping a couple bills into the cabbie's outstretched hand. Then she slid out of the car and looked around. “I guess Elliot did manage to keep it small after all. After Casey 's warning, I was expecting cars lined up both sides of the street for blocks.”


Olivia shook her head; Elliot had shown her the list. She knew exactly how many people were hidden behind the walls and fence. “Well, let's go say hi to the guys and Kathy . They always put on a nice spread and I don't know about you, but I could use a beer.”


Alex didn't answer; just clutched Olivia 's hand and walked up the steps to the door. Liv waited and after a moment, Alex rang it. “A beer sounds good; I'm going to relax and enjoy the day with the guys.” Olivia just blinked. Alex seemed to have regained her equilibrium for the moment; Liv hoped it lasted once someone opened the door and Alex realized how many people she had touched.


Kathy was the one to open the door, and she just squealed when she saw Alex and pulled her into an unexpected hug. Alex was startled – she and Kathy had barely been acquainted when she'd gone into witness protection. But she returned the embrace with enthusiasm.


After a moment, Kathy pulled away with an embarrassed laugh. “Sorry... I know we don't really know one another, but I hope we get a chance to change that. You don't know the difference....” Kathy waved her hands, unwilling to say anything else and Alex looked at Olivia .


“I've only been back a few days,” she said, blue eyes wide and incredulous.


“But you were gone for three years,” Liv commented softly, before stepping forward to hug Kathy briefly, giving Alex time to recover her breath. “So you gonna invite us in and offer us a beer?”


“Yes, yes... come in, come in. Everyone else is already out back. Alex , your mother has been a godsend; just jumped right in and got everything on track.” They padded through the kitchen, and Kathy opened the door and snagged three beers, handing them around before leading them over to the patio doors. “This became a little bigger than I expected, so she was a real lifesaver,” opening the doors and letting in a cacophony of sound.


A yard full of eyes turned in their direction and a cheer rose. Alexandra Cabot froze in place, speechless for the first time in her life. Kathy slid out of the door and over where Elliot was manning the grill. Munch was next to him, capturing the moment for posterity. Alex reached behind her, searching for Olivia 's hand to ground her. She had never expected... this.


Olivia anticipated Alex 's reaction and placed one hand on the small of Alex 's back, rubbing gently in concentric circles. When Alex extended her hand back, Liv stepped closed until their bodies were touching, though no one could see her standing behind Alex .


“I'm right here, Alex .”


“I want you beside me, Liv. I need you here.”


“Are you sure, Alex ? There's no going back if we do this.”


Alex turned her back on the people waiting expectantly for her to walk among them again. It was time to settle this once and for all. “Liv, we don't have time to discuss all the implications right now, but I need for you to understand something. You're it for me. No matter what else happens.”


Liv took her hand and turned Alex back to face the waiting crowd. “In that case, Ms Cabot , we *will* talk later. But if we're gonna do this, let's do it right.” Olivia stepped up beside Alex and tucked her hand in the crook of her elbow. “Your public awaits.”


This time the cheer that went up was deafening... even though there was at least one attending who was less than enthusiastic about their open display.




By mid-afternoon, they had made the rounds, speaking to everyone and giving and receiving hugs until both were fairly certain their arms would fall off if either had to extend one more. Olivia did wonder if Alex had suggested the haircut just to take attention away from her since everyone commented on her new ‘do. But as promised, Olivia never left Alex 's side, and in return, Alex had not once released her grip on Olivia 's person, though it had shifted several times to accommodate other greetings.


Now Alex and Olivia were seated with Elliot and Kathy , feasting on ribs and beer and watching the rest mingle in a decidedly non-cliquey way. It was interesting to observe the interaction of these folks outside a work environment and good food and drinks had gone a long way towards breaking down barriers that otherwise existed.


At the moment, Arthur Branch , Lena Petrovsky, John Munch , Jack McCoy and Elizabeth Cabot were engaged in what appeared to be a lively discussion. Odafin Tutola , Serena Southerlyn , Melinda Warner and her husband were grooving on the makeshift dance floor, as were several other members of both the precinct and the DA's office. Don Cragen , Casey Novak , Liz Donnelly , George Huang and Alex 's assistant Maggie were cracking up like a group of kids.


“I'm sort of afraid to ask what those guys are joking about,” Liv commented to Alex , sucking the meat off a rib. “Damn, El... you did a fine job on the ribs.”


“Thanks, but... actually,” he confessed, scratching the back of his neck, “ Elizabeth prepared them. I just grilled them.” He looked back over the full backyard. “A lot has changed, hasn't it? There was a time none of these people would be more than civil with one another... much less sociable.”


“Yeah, but who is the guy who is acting like he's got a stick shoved up his ass?” Liv asked, noting his glare in her direction when Alex casually leaned against her body. “I don't remember meeting him. I would have expected it from Langan, but he was actually pleasant about us,” nodding towards the tall man who was currently trying to coax Casey Novak out onto the dance floor.


They chuckled when she capitulated and followed the sleek attorney over to the cleared space, then turned their attention back to their little group. “ Trevor is not a stupid man and at least socially, he knows when to recognize a lost cause.” That caused a trickle of laughter. “He's known I was a lost cause to him since the night you found us together at the restaurant.”


Alex and Olivia exchanged glances, reliving memories that were much less painful in light of their present circumstances. Kathy and Elliot watched the silent communication in fascination, then turned to one another with the smirk that comes with being an old married couple. Then they looked away, embarrassed. It was awkward, but now at least, they were talking and there was a chance that things might actually work out for them. And even if they didn't, now they had a much better chance of remaining friends.


“Isn't that Steele ?” Elliot asked after a moment, hoping to break the tableau that had gone on between Alex and Olivia . He was thrilled they were so well-matched and happy together, but their intensity was discomfiting to say the least. Not because they were women, but more because no one should know that much about their partner's love life.


Alex blinked and looked from Olivia to the man and back to Elliot . “Yes, it is. Jim Steele . We dated briefly. I broke it off when he decided we needed to be serious. Told him I didn't want to be serious with him.”


Elliot chuckled. “Kicked him right in the pride, huh?”


“I hope he gets over himself soon,” Liv mumbled. “Or I'm gonna go kick his ass.”


“Ooh....” Alex cooed as she wrapped her hands around Olivia 's bicep. “My big, tough hero cop.” She waggled her eyebrows above her glasses and grinned impishly.


“Careful there, Cabot . You never know when you might need one or what will happen when the fight's over.” Liv let her smoky gaze rake Alex from head to foot and Alex shivered in pure animal reaction.


“Liv, stop that,” Elliot whined. “You're killing me.” Kathy and Alex snickered; Liv just smirked at him knowingly. Elliot glared. “I hate you.”


“Jealous much?”


He growled and muttered under his breath, but Liv ignored him, turning to Kathy when Kathy laid her hand on her arm. Liv cocked an eyebrow in question and Kathy smiled at the familiar expression. “I wanted to tell you – I love your hair. It frames your face so beautifully. It's my favorite look of all the ones I've seen on you.”


“Mine too,” Alex concurred, running her hands through it and brushing the bangs off Olivia 's face. Liv blushed and dropped her eyes. Elliot snorted.


“Whipped,” he muttered. “OW!” much louder when three different hands smacked him in three different places. “All right! All right!” he surrendered, holding up his hands. “I need another beer. Can I get anyone anything?”


“No, Detective. In fact, I think Olivia and I should probably go.”


“Go? Alex , we're just getting started.” Alex looked at the sun that was much closer to the horizon than its zenith then turned back and raised a brow at him. “Okay... maybe not *just*, but there is plenty of life left in it too.”


“Exactly, Detective, and it's not going to wind down until we leave. I imagine Kathy would like her house back before sometime tomorrow. Besides, we promised my mother we'd see her home.”


“All right,” Elliot finally capitulated. “But only if you agree to doing this again.”


“Absolutely,” Alex said, then looked at Liv, who nodded and gave her a small smile. “We'd love to.”


“You want to say goodbye to everyone or just sneak out?” Elliot asked Alex , knowing what Olivia would choose. Alex bit her lip, wrestling between propriety and desire. Propriety won out, but not by much. She waited for Elliot to get everyone's attention. Then Alex stood on her chair and rested her hand on Olivia 's shoulder to maintain her balance, and she cleared her throat to speak.


“Thank you... all of you... for coming here today.” She paused and drew a deep breath. This was harder than any speech she had ever made in court. “I'll never be able to express what it means to me to know so many of you remembered me and came to welcome me home.” She bit her lip and sighed. “Thank you.”


She didn't know what else to say, so she squeezed Olivia 's shoulder and took her hand to step down for the chair. Then they were surrounded by well-wishers, none of whom wanted to miss the chance to speak to Alex again before she left. It had been a great day together, and a simply wonderful way to welcome one of their own home again.




Chapter X


“You have lovely friends, Alexandra . I can't remember the last time I had so much fun. And thank you for putting me in touch with Detective Stabler, Olivia . I enjoyed being able to participate. I think I even made new friends today.”


The three women were in the living room of Elizabeth Cabot 's penthouse. They hadn't wanted dinner after the spread at Elliot 's, so they were sprawled casually around the furniture with wine glasses in hand. At Elizabeth 's insistence, Olivia and Alex had taken the couch, though at the moment, Liv was tucked into one corner while Alex was curled into the other. She herself was curled into the armchair nearest Alex .


“I was surprised,” Alex replied honestly.


“Were you?” Olivia asked. “I thought you knew there were going to be a lot of people there.”


“I *knew*; I just didn't *know*,” Alex claimed defensively.


“Well, regardless... I had a wonderful time. Thank you both for including me.”


“I was glad you could come, Elizabeth . It was nice to see you having such a good time and Elliot confessed you saved his bacon when the party got so big. I probably should have warned you about Munch's latest theories though.”


“I find Detective Munch thoroughly entertaining.”


An awkward silence fell, pregnant with unasked questions. Alex reached out towards Olivia and Liv clasped her fingers, stroking them gently with her thumb and tugging until Alex 's head was in her lap. She took Alex 's wine and placed it on the table beside hers, then gently combed long fingers through thick blonde hair, feeling Alex relax into her.


“You seem to have the magic touch, Olivia ,” Elizabeth commented softly as she watched Alex drift into sleep. At Liv's questioning look, Elizabeth smiled and continued. “From the time Alexandra was a small child, she would get terrible headaches because she got so focused on achieving perfection in whatever project she was working on.”


“She still does,” Olivia confided, “or she did up until the time she left.”


“I never understood why she chose the law. I take that back – I know why she chose law. Her father was a very successful attorney and she was her daddy's girl. But choosing to be a prosecutor, especially when she was with your department... I worried about her.”


“So did I... even before we were really friends.” She looked down at the woman nestled so comfortably in her lap. “But that doesn't explain why you think I have the magic touch.”


“Oh... sorry. When Alexandra 's headaches got bad enough to get her attention over what she was working on, she would always come and climb up wherever I was and put her head down in my lap. At first, I was completely lost; all I knew was that she was whimpering and in pain. So I did for her what my grandmother had done for me. Grandmother called it the magic touch; it always took away the pain and put me to sleep. It did the same for Alexandra – only very few people seemed to have that touch.”


“I thought everyone could do this,” never stopping the movement of her hand through Alex 's hair.


“Oh, everyone can do that, but being able to relax someone enough that they drop off to sleep with conversation going on around them, not so much. “ Elizabeth paused and let the motion of Liv's hands soothe her. “ Olivia , how is she doing... really?”


“I don't think I am qualified to answer that, Elizabeth . No, wait....” she admonished before Elizabeth could dispute her words. “I know what I see, but Alex hasn't really discussed anything with me yet. We haven't even been together a week and I'm not gonna push her into sharing anything she doesn't feel comfortable with. She spent the last three years having people tell her who she could be and what she could and could not do. She'll talk to me when she's ready.”


“But what do you see, Detective?”


Olivia looked down at the woman resting so peacefully in her lap. “She's very fragile, Elizabeth . She's trying so hard to be strong; I mean - she is strong, but right now I think there is a lot of exhaustion and confusion. I hope going back to work at the DA's office wasn't the wrong choice for her.”


Elizabeth 's brow furrowed. “You think she is still in danger? Like she was before?”


Olivia started to shake her head, then stopped. “I don't know,” she said honestly. “I don't think so. I don't think Hammond would have let her come back if she was in any real danger.”


“But...?” Elizabeth saw Olivia 's hesitation and pressed. “ Olivia , please. I think I have a right to know.”


Olivia sighed. “They... the DEA... wanted to use her position as Bureau Chief to get an inside track on the new drug kingpin, Rivera . That's why she and Robert were ‘engaged'; they were setting things up to give Rivera misleading information. Her job at the DA's office was arranged by Hammond . Then of course, she threw it back at them when they broke their part of the deal by announcing the engagement before she got a chance to talk to me.”


“That's absurd; they put her right back in the same situation that got her sent into witness protection in the first place! Why on earth would she agree to something so ludicrous? My daughter is much more intelligent than that. She knows better... or she damn well should!!”


Olivia blinked. Elizabeth rarely swore. “I think....” Olivia hesitated to gather her thoughts. She was having issues with it on several levels as well, but she struggled to make her thoughts coherent for Elizabeth . “I think she agreed to do it because she wanted to have something here... just in case.”


“In case of what?”


“In case things didn't work out like she wanted them to.”


“I'm not sure I understand.”


Olivia shook her head. “I'm not sure I do either. But it's the only thing I can think of. Alex could explain it better.”


“But she hasn't?”


“Not yet. We still have a lot to talk about.”


Elizabeth nodded. “I guess you do,” she agreed. “But I'm glad you forced the important talk, however unorthodox your method. It's reassuring to know she has you in her corner regardless of whatever else happens.” Elizabeth paused. “She um... she does have you, doesn't she?”


“Yeah,” Olivia confessed. “She does,” unwilling to own up to anything more to Elizabeth . Alex should be the first to hear those words. After that....


“It works both ways, you know, Sweetheart,” Alex murmured from her spot on Liv's lap. “This is a forever kind of thing for me,” blinking open blue eyes and forcing them to focus on the brown above her. She had to return the dazzling smile Olivia bestowed on her; Alex reached up and traced the full lips until Liv caught her hand.


“That tickles,” she admitted softly, “among other things,” letting Alex see the desire in her eyes.


Alex sucked in a breath and bit her lip. “Sorry,” she whispered. She would have pulled away, but Olivia just held onto her. Alex smiled. No one had ever made her feel as treasured as Olivia did. Alex took the hint and stayed put, simply shifting until she was able to see Olivia 's profile and still see her mother in her periphery.


“So, Alexandra ... how much did you hear?”


“I heard Liv say I had her. That was enough to get my attention and bring me out of the delightful haze she had put me into.” She turned her head a little more and looked up at Olivia . “What were you two talking about anyway?”


“You,” Olivia answered, tweaking her nose. “What else?”


“Tell me, Alexandra ... do you still play?” deftly changing the subject and motioning to the grand piano at the far end of the room.


Alex nodded and swallowed hard. “For a long time, it was all I had left.”


“One day... soon, I hope... I want to hear about it, Alexandra . I'd like to understand - who you were... what you went through.”


“Will you understand if I'm not ready for that yet? I want to talk things through with Liv first. We need to understand before I can share with anyone else.”


“As it should be, Alexandra . May I make a request?”


“Sure, I guess.”


“Will you play? I've missed it.”


Alex blinked and eased into a sitting position. “Um... okay,” pushing her hair behind her ears and standing slowly to her feet. “Anything special you'd like to hear?”


“Anything you feel led to play. I would just like to hear your music again.”


Alex turned to Olivia . “What about you, Liv? Anything particular you prefer?”


Olivia shook her head. “I never even knew you played.”


Alex cupped her cheek, gratified beyond belief when Liv covered her hand and leaned into her touch. “There is a lot we don't know about each other, Detective. I am looking forward to a lifetime of discovering each and every thing there is to know about Olivia Benson .” Neither woman even noticed when Elizabeth slipped from the room.


The emotion of the moment hit Olivia in the gut. “I don't know about that, Counselor,” trying to play it off lightly with a joke. “There's some very ugly darkness there. You might not like what you see.”


“Everything, Olivia ,” Alex answered seriously. “I want it all. Don't you?” The tone of her voice was plaintive. “Liv, there are dark spots in my life as well – things I'm not proud of and things that make me feel shame and anger and disgust when I think about them too long. But I'm willing to share them with you so you know all of who Alexandra Cabot really is.”


Olivia tugged on Alex 's arm, pulling her back down, but this time she ended up in Olivia 's lap. “You make me feel so much, Alex – things I never thought I could feel, emotions I never expected to have for another human being. I *DO* want it all with you, Alex , but I've never done relationships before and it scares me. *I* scare me; I don't want to scare you too.” Liv looked up into compassionate blue eyes and bit her lip. “Do you realize that Elliot is the longest functional relationship I have ever had and that has only survived because he's like a brother? I can love him and fight with him and drink with him because at the end of the day, he goes home to Kathy or his new place and I go back to my apartment. The emotional bond we feel is that of extended family. That doesn't come close to what I feel with you or for you; that is something else beyond.”


“But do you want it, Liv? Really want it?”


“More than anything else in the whole world.”


“Then we'll work on it together and make this relationship be everything we want it to be.”


“We'll keep talking until we figure out what that is?”


“ Olivia , I'm a lawyer. I'll still be talking when the grim reaper comes knocking. But we'll love one another and talk to one another and support one another and even fight with one another just so we can make up. Beyond that, we can make it up as we go along. It's not like either of us are rule followers when it comes to getting something we want.”


Olivia chuckled and Alex looked at her with an eyebrow raised in question. “That is quite the commentary on our society when a police detective and a city prosecutor admit to breaking the rules on a regular basis for selfish reasons.”


“I never said a word about *breaking* the rules, Detective. We just tend to ignore them.”


Then the words stopped as Olivia drew Alex 's mouth to her own, and the two spent several long moments in lazily passionate exploration, mindful that they were in Elizabeth 's home. When that thought finally wrapped itself around both minds, they pulled away slightly, red color suffusing their complexions. They gazed at one another in embarrassment before looking around to discover Elizabeth was gone. They giggled softly.


“I feel like a kid,” Olivia professed.


“You *are* a kid,” Elizabeth declared as she stepped back in the room with a tray full of tidbits and snack foods. “I don't know about you two,” ignoring their intimate position, “but I'm starving.”


“Suddenly, so am I,” Olivia smirked. She turned to Alex , absently stroking the length of Alex 's thigh. “Are you going to eat?”


“I'd rather not. I play better on an empty stomach.” Alex shrugged. “It helps me feel the flow.”


“Just keep an eye on her when she gets into a zone, Olivia . Alexandra tends to forget everything when she plays, much like when she is working. The biggest difference is music relaxes her and work gives her those horrible headaches.”


“I am still sitting here, you know,” Alex grumbled. “You don't need to talk about me in the third person.”


“I just want Olivia to understand so she knows how best to keep an eye on you, Alexandra . You do have a rather bad history of neglecting yourself – especially when you become completely immersed in something.”


Alex glared at her mother, but it wasn't very effective... since she knew her mother spoke the truth. “All right,” she finally allowed with a little huff. “Once in a while I get carried away.” Elizabeth broke into gales of laughter. Alex cut her eyes in Olivia 's direction. To her credit, she wasn't laughing, but she was biting her lip so hard it was almost bitten through. Alex slapped her shoulder and Olivia did laugh.


“Sorry, Sweetheart. That focus is legendary.”


Alex narrowed her eyes. “I'm going to go play now,” standing up from Olivia 's lap and crossing the room to the piano. She ran her fingers down the length of its curves before she reached the keys. Then she took a deep breath and sat down on the bench. Olivia watched in fascination as Alex dropped her eyes to her lap and looked at her hands for a long moment. Then she took a deep breath and moved her hands to the keys and the melodies started to flow.


Elizabeth sat back and closed her eyes, relishing the sounds that wafted over her and throughout the room as Alex poured her heart and soul into the music she played. Olivia , on the other hand, watched in complete fascination. Alex was lost in the music and it seemed to bring out a glow from the very center of her being. The music flowed from classical to jazz to a contemporary melody whose familiarity tickled at the edges of Olivia 's senses.


After almost thirty minutes of uninterrupted music, Alex stopped playing and looked up into Olivia 's eyes. Then Elizabeth unexpectedly broke the tableau. “ Alexandra , do you still write?” Alex nodded but otherwise didn't answer. “Could you...?” leaving the rest of the question unvoiced.


For answer, Alex put her hands back on the keys and let her heart choose the song. It had been something she had labored over forever while she had been in witness protection – something she had written for Olivia . She had started it when she was still struggling with her feelings for and about Detective Olivia Benson. She'd nearly scrapped it completely before she was even properly settled into her new identity as ‘ Emily ', sure she had lost something she would never be able to recover. But when she had come back for Liam Connor's trial and saw the reaction to her ‘good man', saw Liv walk away from Hammond without reading her letter, Alex found herself compelled to finish. And the completed song had spurred her determination to get back to Olivia and share it with her. So as she brought the introduction to an end and moved into the body of the music, Alex closed her eyes, took a deep breath and sang, hoping the words from her soul would speak to Olivia 's.


I was never alive,
'Til the day I was blessed with you;
When I hold you late at night,
I know what I was put here to do;
I turn off the world and listen to you sigh -
And I will sing my Angel's Lullaby.

Know I'm forever near -
The one you can always call;
Right all you know to fear
Are the shadows on your wall;
I'm here close enough
To kiss the tears you cry -
And I will sing my Angel's Lullaby.

So tell me how to stop the years from racing;
Is there a secret someone knows?
I'll never catch all the memories I'm chasing -
I'll never be ready to let go.

And when the world seems cold,
And you feel that all of your strength is gone;
There may be one tiny voice...
Your reason to carry on;
And when I'm not close enough
To kiss the tears you cry -
You will sing your Angel 's Lullaby;
Let this be our Angel 's Lullaby.


“Oh, Alexandra ,” Elizabeth breathed when the last residual echo faded from her hearing. “That was amazing... simply the best you've ever written.”


“I had the right inspiration,” she admitted quietly.


“Well, I hope you find it again.” Elizabeth commented, “because I thoroughly enjoyed that. Now, come eat. I don't want you keeling over.”


Alex stood, knowing her mother was right, but it broke her heart to realize Olivia had nothing to say about the one song that Alex had written especially for them. Apparently it hadn't touched Liv the way Alex had hoped. Then she found her hands caught in Olivia 's and met the brown eyes that were swirling with a myriad of emotions.


“Thank you,” was all she said, but for the moment... for Alex ... it was enough.



“Why did you write that song, Sweetheart? Because that was for me, wasn't it?” They were tucked into bed together a little while later; Elizabeth had insisted and neither of them had had the energy to protest. Now Olivia was spooned up behind Alex and felt the blonde head nod her agreement.


Alex shifted until she could look Olivia in the eye. Even a penthouse couldn't completely eliminate the lights of the city and Alex could just make out the reflection in the dark brown eyes gazing at her with such wonder.


“It was. At first, it was a way for me to work through what I felt for you – how I wanted to be there and make a difference in your life like you had in mine and so many others. I watched you deal with so much ugliness and heartbreak and wasn't able to do anything to make it better; there were times I wasn't even sure you would welcome me as a friend, much less anything else. And then I realized you felt the same way I did, and it was all taken away between one heartbeat and the next. But it wasn't until I saw you walk away from Hammond after the Connors ' trial that I found the words I needed to finish it. It fueled the fire of my determination to come home.”


Olivia tightened her arms around Alex and was gratified when Alex snuggled deeply into her embrace. “I'm glad it did; I'm glad you're here with me.”


“So am I.” Alex took a deep breath, thrilling to their combined scent. “Do you think we could go to the park tomorrow if it's nice?”


“Sure. Should we pick up a Frisbee or something?” Alex chuckled and Liv gave her an inquiring look.


“You know... I don't think I have ever played Frisbee before.”


“Then we will definitely have to do that. But that's not why you asked, is it?”


Alex shook her head. “I thought we could go to your bench and talk. We've got to start sometime and I would prefer to be somewhere where we won't be overheard.” She shrugged. “Something I learned during my time in witness protection and with the DEA.”


“If that's what makes you comfortable, Sweetheart, you've got yourself a date.”


“I love you, Olivia .”


“I love you back, Alex . Goodnight, Sweetheart.”




The ringing of her cell phone brought Liv out of what had been a sound sleep. She realized as she snagged her phone off the nightstand that she hadn't had bad dreams since Alex 's return and wondered if it had been the same for Alex . She certainly didn't remember Alex waking with nightmares, but she made a mental note to ask.


“ Benson .” Beat. “All right, Elliot . I'll be right there.”


“Baby?” Alex blinked open sleepy eyes. “Again?”


“Yeah... El said there are kids involved.”


Alex reached up and covered Olivia 's cheek. “You need to go, but you be careful and stay safe.” She paused but didn't release her hold and Olivia didn't pull away. “I'll miss you. I sleep better when you're here – no nightmares.”


“Me, too. I'll try to get back as quick as possible.”


“Call me if you're going to be a while. I'll swing by the station and bring you guys some breakfast.”


“You don't....”


“I know I don't; I want to.”


“Thanks, baby,” leaning down for a brief kiss before pulling away to get dressed. Olivia watched Alex curl around her pillow and arched an eyebrow in her direction. Alex blushed and smiled sheepishly. “It's the only way I'll go back to sleep. It smells like you.”


Olivia pulled up the cover and tucked her in, kissing her forehead before snatching up her badge and gun. “Happy dreams, Alex ,” she said and closed the door softly behind her.


“Be careful out there, love,” Alex whispered into the dark.




Chapter XI


“What time did you get in?” Alex asked Olivia as they walked side by side towards the park.


“Couple hours after I left, I guess. I got to the scene shortly before social services and the family got to the precinct apparently. They were waiting when El and I got there with the kids. I didn't hang around once they were released into their aunt's custody; there wasn't anything for me to do really. And since I wasn't actually on duty....”


Alex threaded her hand through Olivia 's arm and tucked her hand into the crook of her elbow. “You're a good person, Olivia Benson . Elliot doesn't know how lucky he is to have you as a partner.” Liv blushed but gave Alex a rakish smile.


“Do you?”


“Know how lucky Elliot is? Only on a superficial level. But that's okay... he'll never know how lucky I am either.” This time Olivia 's blush was beet red and her expression almost shy. Alex smiled. She loved being able to keep the normally tough, unshakeable detective off balance. “C'mon,” tugging Olivia by the hand as they reached the green of Central Park . “I want you to teach me Frisbee.”


Laughing, they headed towards the grassy area where several people were enjoying the warm day playing Frisbee and catch and what appeared to be tag. Olivia spent a few minutes showing Alex the basics, then she moved a short distance away and they began tossing the Frisbee back and forth.


It was all rather tame and sedate but proceeding pretty well, so after a few minutes, Olivia backed up a few more steps. And then things got just slightly nuts; because it seemed that Alex Cabot, Assistant District Attorney and Bureau Chief extraordinaire – the same woman who walked gracefully in a straight skirt and heels and made it look easy - had more than a little hand/eye coordination problem when any distance was involved. And neither of them was prepared for the Frisbee to hit Alex right between the eyes.


She stood stock still after it happened, the shock of impact freezing her into place. Olivia, on the other hand, found her feet had wings and was by Alex's side almost before the Frisbee hit the ground.


"Oh, God, Alex ... are you okay? Lemme see, baby." She removed Alex's hand from where it had flown to cover her nose. Alex tried to blink the tears away, but they insisted on flowing from her eyes anyway. Liv wiped them carefully away, looking at the welt that was raised across the bridge of Alex 's nose. She touched it tenderly, wincing in tandem with Alex's flinch. "Sorry," she said softly. "I don't think it's broken, but it's gonna hurt like a son of a bitch for a few days."


"I'm sorry, Liv."


Olivia frowned. "What for, Alex? You didn't do anything wrong. I'm the one that clocked you, remember?"


"Yes, but it wasn't on purpose and I know that. I was hoping Frisbee might be different for me."


Olivia reached down and grabbed the Frisbee, then tucked Alex 's hand into her arm before leading her towards a vendor. She snagged two sodas and a small foil wrapper of ice from the man who had seen the accident, giving him the Frisbee with a wry smile. Then she led Alex into the shade of trees, headed towards her thinking bench.


Liv seated Alex carefully, offering the ice that Alex took with a glare and a resigned sigh. Then she opened both sodas, putting one in Alex's free hand and keeping the second for herself and taking a seat next to Alex. Immediately, Alex leaned against Liv with another sigh.


"Um, Alex ? What did you mean when you said you hoped Frisbee would be different for you? I thought you had never played Frisbee before."


"I hadn't," Alex confirmed instantly. Then she shifted the ice pack and grimaced as the cold hit warm skin. "I was hoping my coordination had improved with age." She peeked at Liv from behind the foil. "It hasn't," she added wryly.


"You didn't like phys ed very much, did you?" Liv teased gently.


"I hated every phys ed course I was forced to endure that wasn't about running, swimming or dance."


"Swimming was my sport of choice," Olivia confided. "But I enjoyed pretty much every athletic game I was allowed to participate in. We didn't have dance, but I was on the track, softball, basketball and swim teams in high school and in college. Played a little golf and tennis once in a while when I could fit it in to my schedule. Sometimes I miss the chance to play."


"No wonder you're in such fantastic shape. I ran to give me the breathing I needed to swim, but swimming was the only thing I did competitively. Dance was something for me... like my music, but not. Mother actually got me involved in dance to keep me from sitting at the piano all the time."


"You could have been a concert pianist."


Alex shrugged. "Maybe, but playing is something I need to feel to do. I'm a little selfish about sharing that much of myself."


Olivia reached out and covered the hand that held the soda. "Then thank you for sharing it with me. I hope you'll do it again."


Alex put her drink on the bench and threaded their fingers together. "Liv, you're the only person in the world I would share with everyday if you wanted to hear it."


Olivia squeezed the hand she held. "We're gonna need a bigger place then. 'Cause there is no room in the apartment we have now for a piano unless we move something out. Not that we couldn't do that. I mean... there is nothing there I am permanently attached to, except maybe the books."


"Liv?" Alex asked, slipping the ice from her face so she could look Olivia squarely in the eyes. "Why did you take me home?" She smiled sadly and wiped the wrinkle lines from the frown on Olivia's forehead. "You didn't have to invite me home with you; you could have let me continue living at the hotel."


"Are you having second thoughts about us living together, Alex?"


"No, Olivia Benson.; I most certainly am not! So don't think you're getting rid of me on *my * account. I'm not leaving you unless you throw me to the curb... you got it?"


Olivia couldn't help the grin that formed at Alex's words and the forcefulness of her tone. "Yes ma'am!" she snapped out. "I got it!"


"Good!" Alex nodded, though she couldn't stop the blush. "Now will you answer my question?"


Olivia let out a deep breath and looked across the park. "I was afraid – that if I let you go again, there wouldn't be another chance for us. And I wanted this with you. I know... no, I think that a lot of things changed for you while you were gone. I was hoping how you felt about me wasn't one of them and when I found out it wasn't, I didn't want to let it go."


"I'm glad," Alex confessed. "I didn't want to be alone – I didn't want to be without you and having you invite me to stay where I most wanted to be.... Do you know that was one of the hardest things about being in witness protection? Besides being away from everyone you know or care about, you can't really afford to let anyone be close to you. Even when Michael held me late at night while I cried for all I had lost, I was still completely alone."


"Did you have anyone in Florida ?"


"No. I wasn't going to risk anyone or anything else coming between us. My sole goal was to get Velez so I could come home to you. You don't know how many nights I laid awake in my bed there hoping it wasn't going to be too little, too late."


"I dated a few times after the Connors trial," Olivia said softly. "But it was like playing pretend to me. No matter how much I tried to tell myself to get over you and move on with my life, I couldn't help but wonder why I bothered. You were always right there with me."


"What happened to Elliot and Kathy?" Alex asked suddenly. "I always thought they were so solid."


"Elliot was an idiot," Olivia answered briefly. "He stopped talking to her, stopped sharing about his life and his work. Then he made the mistake of projecting that to me."


"Excuse me?" Light brows went into blonde hair. "Are you saying Elliot made a pass at you?" storms brewing in dark blue eyes.


"NO! He knows better. He just... he made things uncomfortable between us for a little while. But I straightened him out damn quick, though it wasn't quick enough to keep his marriage intact. He and Kathy are trying to put things back together – learning to communicate and talk to one another again."


"That's why this is so important to you, isn't it? That's why you have been so adamant about me sharing whatever I felt comfortable with as I was able to." Olivia just nodded, keeping her eye focused on their linked hands. "Oh, Liv...." watching brown eyes track to hers at her tone. "Things make so much more sense now to me. Thank you for being so patient about it. I promise you... I promise I will make the effort to talk to you about everything – even the things that hurt or are uncomfortable to talk about. I did without you for three years and spent all that time talking to you. I'm not going to let the fact that you are finally with me in real time change that."


"I kept a diary... a journal... in the form of letters to you. It was the only way I had of keeping you close. It was my secret."


"Would you... can I... would you mind if I read them?"


Olivia shook her head. "No; it would probably make it easier for you to understand. It would be easier for me than trying to explain."


"Maybe we could exchange journals then," Alex offered shyly. "I did the same thing." She couldn't stop the grin that formed. "I think it used to piss Hammond off, actually. He tried to threaten me about it; said I was jeopardizing my safety."


"What did you tell him?" Olivia asked, intrigued by the look on Alex's face.


"Bite me," Alex answered succinctly. "He learned pretty quickly when he could push and when to back off. That's one reason he hasn't pursued the Rivera situation any further with me. He knows the answer isn't going to change."


"Can I ask why you agreed to that in the first place? You had to know the danger you were walking back into."


"Jack assured me there would be very little danger to me. I was supposed to be the link to the DA's office until Robert could make better connections – 'innocently' helping him by introducing him to the right people because he was my fiancé." Alex rolled her eyes. "My *celebrity status* was going to be used to open doors that otherwise might not open so easily, even for a Cabot; we were going to break things off once he was established with the people he needed an 'in' with."


"Yeah, I know all that, but *why* did you agree to do it? You knew there would be some danger and you'd already lost three years of your life to witness protection because of a similar situation. Why would you take that risk again? Are you some sort of secret adrenaline junkie?"


"Well, though I probably would be classified as an adrenaline junkie, that isn't the reason I did this." Alex sighed. "Even though I made your knowledge of the truth contingent on my taking the assignment in hopes that it might make a difference in what happened between us, I honestly didn't know how you would react to my being back here or if you would even care anymore. I was hoping... but after what had happened between us during the Connors trial, I wasn't sure. At least agreeing to help Robert gave me a legitimate reason to be here if nothing else worked out."


"You were really that sure that I wouldn't be glad you were finally home?"


"I was sure you would never forgive me for my 'good man' comment."


"Alex," Olivia said seriously, turning until they faced one another completely and held both hands in hers. "Even if you hadn't come after me the other night, I would never have begrudged you the chance to be home again. I would have been angry... furious... at you for not wanting me to be a part of your life any longer, but part of me would have been glad you had beaten the system. And I know Elizabeth would have been thrilled regardless of the reason, though she does think you lost your mind for agreeing to do anything else for the DEA – conditional or not."


"I confess Hammond caught me in a moment of weakness. I think he thought what I feared," she admitted honestly, "that you wouldn't care. It's the only reason I can think of for him to agree to that condition so readily. And *knowing* beyond a shadow of a doubt that you didn't care would have made me a much more willing participant."


"So I've really put his shorts in a bunch then."


"Yes and no. Yes because he was honestly surprised at what has happened between us. No because despite everything, I think he did want things to work out for me. They really don't get a lot of happy endings in his business."


"Then why did he...?"


"I don't think HE did. I think it was Robert who let it slip – whether to Rivera or someone else."


"But if that's the case, that means Rivera already has contacts on the inside. Isn't that dangerous for you... once they find out the truth?"


"I don't know. I don't see what difference it makes if Robert is introduced to the right people in a timely manner. I could always make him out to be part of the reason I was able to return home – that his legal wrangling with the DEA ensured my ability to return to my former life. I already told Hammond I would quit the DA's office before I allow a public announcement to be made about the supposed engagement now. I don't think he'll do anything; he knew I was serious."


"What about Robert? Why did he overstep his bounds like that? Surely he knew how you would react if he tried to back you into a corner."


"I don't think he anticipated your reaction, Detective. I'm certain he never expected to be handed his ass on a platter. God, that was so sexy." Alex leered in Olivia's direction and enjoyed the light blush that crawled up the tanned skin. "As to the why... there was no real reason for it unless he is just that insecure – but then he shouldn't be a field agent. Jack should have warned him not to push like that... especially since he *knew* the conditions I had set."


Olivia's brow furrowed. "Did he complain about them when you made them?"


"Long and loud," Alex nodded. "But Jack assured him that not only was he not qualified to argue with me, doing so would only get him more and more conditions to meet." Alex waggled her eyebrows. "He was right about that."


Liv had to grin at the utter truth of that statement. Arguing with Alexandra Cabot was something she'd had to hone to an art form. "So if Robert was so obviously not qualified to take on this assignment," turning serious again, "why did he get it?" Olivia asked. This wasn't the conversation she had been hoping to have today, but she was finding it quite enlightening. And with the promise of exchanging diaries with Alex, she knew they would both find a lot of the answers they needed.


"Jack never bothered to explain to me why Robert Claiborne was chosen for this assignment." She bit her lip thoughtfully. "Come to think of it, I'm not even sure he is a real DEA agent. He was certainly never introduced to me as such."


"This just gets weirder and weirder."


"Yes, it does," Alex agreed with a frown. "I am beginning to have my doubts about how much truth I was told." She thought about it a moment and then shook her head to clear it. "Enough about this for today. Until I do a little research and ask a few more questions, we're not going to know any more about what is really going on. What do you say," Alex asked as she rose to her feet, "to a walk around the park and then maybe a long, leisurely lunch at the Plaza? I think we need to take advantage of the peace and quiet as long as it is ours to share."


"That sounds wonderful," accepting the hand Alex proffered and taking up a comfortable stride together as they started their walk. "Maybe we should find some time to go apartment hunting too. Not today," Olivia qualified quickly. "But sometime soon. It'd be nice to have a place together that gave you space to play. That was like... soul renewal for me. I could get used to that feeling very quickly."


Alex flushed. "That is the highest compliment you can pay an artist you know – allowing them to touch your soul." A pause. "Um... if you're serious about looking for a bigger place, I could contact Julia Rothschild. She and her family have been Cabot realtors for as long as I can remember. We could tell her what we are looking for and she would narrow down our options for us, so we don't have to spend all of our free time together looking for places all over the city."


"We can decide what we want first?"


"Yes – where, how big, how much... everything."


Olivia nodded. "All right. Sounds like a plan... let's do it."


Alex blinked, then broke into a small smile. "You think I'd remember that about you, but it surprises me every time." Olivia quirked an eyebrow and Alex bumped her with a shoulder. "Once you settle on a course of action, there's no hesitation. You just move forward full speed ahead."


"I've found I get a lot more out of life that way."


"I may have to learn how to do that," Alex pronounced, tucking her hand into Olivia's elbow and leading her off the path as they reached the side of the park where the Plaza was located.


"I think you've got it down, Alex," Liv smirked. "That would explain the DEA anyway."


"No... *that* I'm blaming on a blonde moment." Olivia couldn't stop the laughter, and after a moment, neither could Alex.




"You're sure about what you saw, Lorenzo?"


"Yes, Mr. Rivera."


"All right, my friend. Good work." Lorenzo accepted the praise with a gracious inclination of his head. "I want you to continue to observe the situation, but do not under any circumstance interfere without my express permission. We might be able to use this to our advantage."


"Yes, Mr. Rivera." The older man nodded and took his leave.


Before he made it to the door, Rivera called him back. "Lorenzo?" Lorenzo turned and waited respectfully for the boss to speak. "Assign someone to Robert Claiborne. I want to know what he is doing that he seems to have lost control of a woman who by all accounts was broken by her time in witness protection. He assured me she was a lock."


"Yes, Mr. Rivera," Lorenzo agreed again, and this time he actually made it out the door. Rivera turned his chair until he was facing the window. There were many things he had to consider.




"So Liv," Elliot asked as she came into the squad room early Monday morning. "How was your weekend?" waggling his eyebrows.


She smirked at him. "It was nice, Elliot. Except for being called in at oh-dark-thirty yesterday morning, it was pleasantly peaceful."


"Aw, c'mon Liv... you gotta give me more detail than that."


"I don't kiss and tell, El. You of all people should know that by now." She dropped a bag on his desk, then did similarly to Munch and Fin before taking a seat at her desk. "And besides... since when do you ask?"


"Since Alex Cabot came back into your life. Do you understand what a difference that has made in you? Liv, it's been less than a week and you're so different. It's like having the real you back again only more so than ever."


"It gives credence to the theories circulating about government cloning and the pod people they produce as stand ins for the actual human host."


Olivia raised an eyebrow. "Are you saying I'm a pod person, John?"


"I'm saying that the person you are sitting here today is much closer to the Olivia Benson I first knew than the woman who has occupied that chair for the last three years. It simply lends credibility to the pod people theory, given that the change in both instances is tied to one Alexandra Cabot, *who*, in point of fact, was part of an acknowledged government program."


Fin balled up his napkin and flung it at Munch, hitting him squarely in the forehead. "Man, will you just kill the conspiracy theory shit this morning? It is too damn early."


"Hear! Hear!" Olivia concurred heartily. "Just be happy I'm happy for the first time in what feels like forever. Should make for a nice change around here."


"All right," Munch agreed without much fuss. "But if you turn into Little Mary Sunlight, I'm calling in the Marines."


"Hoo-rah!" Stabler chirped with a leer.


"If I turn into Little Mary Sunlight," Olivia said drolly, "you'd better call in a firing squad - because I will probably go postal shortly thereafter just to minimize the saccharine overload." The entire squad room burst into laughter. Then the phone rang and their attention turned back to the seriousness of their work.


"Benson, my office," Cragen called from his doorway. She and Elliot exchanged a look, then Stabler shrugged his shoulders and turned back to the work already on his desk. Olivia stood and crossed to the captain's office, wondering what she'd done to merit a private session with Donald Cragen.


He closed the door behind her and motioned her to a seat before stepping behind his desk and taking his chair. He looked at her a long moment. "Olivia, how are things going for you? You seem to be in a much better frame of mind since Alex Cabot's return to your life."


Liv was more than a little nonplussed. Not that she and Alex together were much of a secret, but she'd never expected the brass, not even her captain, to ask her so directly. She stared at him wide-eyed for almost a full minute then swallowed hard and answered.


"I'm good, Cap. We're good. Things are fine, sir. Um... can I ask you why you're asking?"


Don Cragen smiled. "In this case, Olivia , it's just friendly interest. It's good to see you smile again. It's been a long time coming." Olivia nodded, but didn't respond otherwise. "Now," Cragen continued, his voice going more professional and less personal. "About those rape/murders that happened on Friday – you and the other detectives that caught those cases will be working together on a task force that will also include several narc officers. Since all indications are that the victims were tied to Velez, it puts Rivera and his organization at the top of the list for suspects." He paused and bit his lip pensively and she sighed, knowing what was coming.


"Let me guess – Hammond and the DEA want to be a part of this."


"They are simply looking for information at this point. Apparently, they already have someone in place inside Rivera's business."


"If it is who I suspect it is, Cap, it's gonna be a problem for me to stay on this case. I already had a run-in with him and took him down like a perp." Cragen raised an eyebrow. Olivia shrugged. "Let's just say I didn't know who he was at the time, and he was throwing his weight around and harassing Alex. He's lucky I didn't run him in for assault."


Cragen nodded. "All right, Olivia. I'll talk to Hammond and see what the story is. For now, though, stay on the case and see what you can come up with. The guys will help, but until I hear otherwise, you're the primary," handing her a list with the names of the detectives from the other boroughs that were also part of the task force.


"Okay, Cap. Any way we can get everyone in the same place for this?"


Don shook his head. "I doubt it... not this early in the game. At this point, sharing and analyzing all the data we have from fifteen different crime scenes is going to be a full time job. But set up a situation area in the corner... something we could use as a meeting space with all the information in one place if and when it comes to that."


"Yes, sir," she replied, standing and turning to the door. She put her hand on the knob when Cragen's voice stopped her again.


"Congratulations, Olivia. It really is good to see you happy."


"Thanks, Don. It's good to feel that way again too." Then she stepped back into the squad room to get to work. It promised to be a really long day.




Chapter XII


“ Alex , do you have a minute?”


Alex looked up as Liz Donnelly stuck her head in the door, then back down at her desk. The truth was she had plenty to do, but it was mostly busy work at this point. Her new nestlings had reported in and had already started working; her main job seemed to be answering inane questions. Had she ever been that green and naïve? The migraine she had building behind her eyes made her rue the day she had agreed to take the Bureau Chief's job. It also made Liz 's interruption most welcome, regardless of the reason. So she motioned Liz into her office, taking off her glasses and leaning back in her chair.


“Have a seat, Liz . What can I do for you?”


Liz looked Alex over carefully. In many ways, she was still the formidable, cocky lawyer that used to consistently drive Liz nuts; but underneath the veneer of self-confidence Alex projected, Liz could see a fragileness and vulnerability that hadn't been there before.


“Not a thing, actually,” Liz answered. “I came to check on you,” she continued unapologetically.


Alex 's brows rose into her hairline. “You think I can't do this job?”


Liz snorted. “Don't be stupid, Alex ! Of course you can do this job. I'm just not sure it's the right job for you now. You're pushing too hard to get back into a life that doesn't exist anymore. Is everything all right or is there something I can help with?”


Alex returned Liz 's scrutiny. For all their head butting, Liz had always backed her up whenever she could, even though she'd had to work hard not to laugh too much when Petrovsky had locked Alex up for contempt. While Alex was still trying to formulate an honest answer that she was satisfied with, Liz spoke again, leaning forward in her earnestness.

“ Alex , are things all right between you and Detective Benson?” She held up her hands when blue eyes blazed at her. “I think it's about time for the two of you to be happy together; personally I never could figure out what was holding you back before... I mean aside from the obvious.”


“The obvious was enough then, Liz .”


“And it's not enough now?”


“No. I lost three years with Olivia – friendship or otherwise - that I'll never get back. Life's too short to worry about what other people think or let that influence the way you live your life.”


“So this is serious with her then.” A statement, not a question. Alex nodded, then pulled something out of her drawer and passed it over to Liz . Donnelly accepted the paperwork, letting her eyes widen when she realized what she held. “Wow,” was what she said as she handed them back to Alex . “Can I ask when...?” vaguely motioning with her hands.


“I don't know yet. When it feels like the time is right, I guess.”


“Good for you, Alex . I hope it works out for both of you. You seem to have something together....” Liz trailed off. “It's good to know sometimes there are second chances.”


“Thanks, Liz ,” Alex said with a smile, sitting back and relaxing in her seat a bit.


“So you want to tell me what's bothering you? Because I know something is.”


“Why do you think that?” Alex asked.


Liz stood and leaned over the desk. “I'm a tough old broad, Alex and I've been around this business a long, LONG time. I learned when I was still wet behind the ears to notice everything that went on around here just to survive. I know enough secrets... well, let's just say no one here is squeaky clean and leave it at that. The point is,” she continued before Alex could break in with questions, “I remember the hard-assed, obnoxious kid you were when you started working for me. And I can see you lost that edge and drive while you were gone. You've still got a lot of friends, Alex . Just know I'm here if and when you need to talk about it, all right? I know I'm not Detective Benson, but I probably understand the job in this place a little better than she does.”


“Thanks, Liz . I'll keep that in mind.”


Liz moved to the door and hesitated with her hand on the knob. “One more thing,” she added, holding Alex 's eyes with her own. “Be careful. There are some rumors and gossip floating around that could spell trouble for you and your detective.”


Blue eyes that had shown confusion sharpened and drilled into Liz 's. “Like what?”


“Nothing concrete,” Liz confessed. “Mostly rumblings right now, but it's there. I thought you needed to be aware. I'll let you know if I hear anything definite.” A pause. “ Alex , I know for a fact there are a lot of people who were less than thrilled with your return to the DA's office and your subsequent promotion. That coupled with the fact that you apparently threw over your fiancé so you and Benson could have what many perceive to be an illicit relationship and you have the nerve to be happy together in it.... Just watch your back, all right?”


“I will, Liz . Thanks for the warning.”


Liz nodded her head, and after another moment's hesitation, walked out the door, closing it softly behind her. Alex stared at the closed door a minute longer, then turned her attention back to the work in front of her. She'd talk to Olivia later when they were alone. She refused to live in fear anymore, but Liv needed to be aware of what was being said. It could mean trouble for them down the line and at least this way, they could prepare for the worst.




“We've got nothing, Cap.”


“Whaddya mean we've got nothing, Olivia ? It's been three weeks. The guys put all the facts together on a spread sheet. There's gotta be something we can use. What does your gut tell you?”


“That there isn't even enough to merit an argument with Casey for a warrant. The only tie our victims have is that they were once associated with Velez in some way and they were all sexually violated before they were killed. They were different ages, races, from different backgrounds and economics. They were all raped differently, all murdered differently. Warner says there's no DNA evidence at the scene and the bodies were washed clean which suggests they were moved from where they were killed to where they were found.”


“And no one saw anything,” Cragen stated flatly. Olivia shook her head.


“No; we canvassed the entire neighborhood twice. And the beat cops in the area have been talking to people. There's nothing there.”


Cragen sighed. “Go do it again. Find somebody that saw something.”


“Cap, there's nothing there to find... not after all this time.”


“Liv, we got a call,” Stabler broke in. She looked at Cragen and he shook his head and waved her off. “Go on; we both know the odds of getting anything concrete on this case now aren't good. You can keep working it as other cases allow.”


“Yes sir.” Then she headed out the door with Elliot .


They arrived at the scene to find Fin and Munch waiting for them. Olivia cocked an eyebrow; Elliot voiced his question. “What gives?”


Fin shook his head. “It's bad, man. And we needed Liv on this one.”




“Thirteen year old victim,” Munch replied, looking at his notes. “Apparently killed her rapist. She's still inside with the body. She hasn't responded to anyone – not us or the uniforms that answered the call and we asked the paramedics to give us a chance to let you talk to her first, Liv,” motioning to the two men waiting patiently by their equipment. “We're hoping she might react better to a woman's presence.”


Liv nodded and handed her gun to Elliot for safekeeping. Then she stepped into the room and took a moment to compose herself before crossing to the side of the bed where a blood-covered child sat mute and unmoving in the face of a horror no one should have to witness... much less be a part of.


The male detectives followed Olivia in silently – Munch and Fin to examine the body and Stabler to watch her back. After a few moments, the girl was covered in a sheet the paramedics provided and Olivia was able to coax her into the back of the vehicle.


When they arrived at the precinct, Casey was waiting for them as was Alex . Olivia wondered, but decided to be thankful for small blessings and ask questions later. Alex rubbed Liv's arm wordlessly, then to everyone's surprise, she knelt down to be just below eye level with the girl who had stopped walking and looked at Alex silently. Alex didn't speak and neither did the child; then the girl reached out her hand and pushed a lock of blonde hair behind Alex's ear before resuming her walk beside Olivia to the interview room. Casey followed and Alex went into the box with the other detectives.


It didn't take long, and the girl was turned over to a woman who had been patiently waiting in the interrogation room with Casey and Olivia . Alex wondered who she was and why she was there, but just as suddenly the woman and the girl were gone. Olivia met Alex as she came out the door of the box. Alex 's arms were wrapped around herself and she looked a little lost. Olivia exchanged concerned looks with the rest of the squad and led Alex over to her desk, then knelt down beside her.


“ Alex ... Sweetheart? You all right?”


After a moment, blue eyes tracked to brown and Alex nodded her blonde head slowly. “I'll be okay, Liv,” she agreed after a moment. “It's just been a long time....” letting her voice trail off. “And I know what it's like to be a victim now – though not to that extent.” Her eyes welled with tears that she refused to permit to fall. “God, Liv... that was horrific.”


Olivia nodded and swallowed, glad the girl had been allowed to clean up at the hospital. “Yes, it was. And it's something she'll never forget, Alex – just like you. But she's in good hands now. She has a very good chance of surviving this and leading a productive life.”


“I'm glad she has someone, and I'm glad I have you.”


Olivia took Alex 's hands and rose before guiding Alex to stand up. “C'mon. Let's go get you some coffee and maybe a bite to eat.” Liv exchanged a silent look with Cragen and he nodded his assent. Before they reached the door however, Casey spoke up haltingly.


“Um, Alex ? What were you doing here for this anyway?” Every eye in the room swung her way and Casey felt the intensity of their focus. Every eye except George Huang , that is. He was watching Alex Cabot and saw the confusion wash over her face even as Casey continued speaking. “Not that you don't belong here, of course....”


“I *don't* belong here, though. Not for this... not anymore,” Alex said, shaking her head lightly. “I just got the feeling I needed to be here.” She paused and furrowed her brow in thought. Then she shrugged. “I didn't hesitate; I didn't even think about it. I dropped everything and came right over.”


The detectives traded looks, conveying their thoughts without speaking. Then the room moved into motion again. Cragen tapped Casey 's shoulder and she followed him into the office. Munch and Tutuola sat down at their desks and started making phone calls. And Olivia took Alex by the elbow and together with Stabler they headed for the coffee and food Alex had been promised.


“May I join you?” George asked just as they reached the door. He looked at Alex and the two detectives just waited for her decision. After a moment's hesitation, she nodded and the four of them headed out of the precinct together.




By unspoken agreement, Alex and George walked out towards the sedan together while Olivia and Elliot brought up the rear. Liv kept an eye on Alex and Elliot kept an eye on Olivia . Huang was conscious of everyone around him, but his focus remained on Alex . Alex just kept her gaze on something George suspected only she could see.


“How are you doing, Alex ? Really?”


She turned and looked at him, a hint of the old, sardonic Alex peeking out at him and garnering her a smile. Her lips twitched in response and she shrugged. “I'm all right most of the time,” she said, looking around at the city. “It's so good to be home, to be me again. But it is also surreal. I'm not who I was when I left.”


They reached the car and the two detectives climbed in front to allow George and Alex to continue their conversation in some semblance of privacy. This wasn't the way Olivia had imagined things playing out, but if it helped Alex , then it was all to the good in Liv's book. “None of us are, Alex ,” Huang replied softly. “Life went on while you were gone, and we went on with it.”


Instead of the fiery retort he expected, her answer was melancholy. “I know, George . I just wish I knew how I fit into it now. It's been almost a month since I came back, and still....” Huang waited for her to continue, but all Alex did was shrug and shake her head.


“How are things between you and Olivia ?” She jerked an eyebrow at him and it was Huang's turn to shrug sheepishly. “That made it around faster than your supposed engagement... obviously that's one rumor that wasn't true.”


“It's complicated....”


“Of course,” with a smile.


“But things with Olivia have been wonderful – very solid even though we are still tentatively feeling our way into this new facet of our relationship.” She paused. “ George , why are you asking me all this? You're not my therapist.”


“Part of it is professional concern,” he acknowledged. “But part of it is concern for a woman I knew as a friend and colleague. Are you seeing someone professionally?”


Alex shook her head. “No. Things have been so crazy, I haven't had the time to look for anyone; I wouldn't know where to start. Is there someone you can recommend?”


George nodded. “Sure. Do you want someone for couples or just for you?”


Alex looked at Olivia who was watching her closely in the passenger mirror. She arched a brow and Liv shrugged slightly and gave Alex the tiniest nod. George watched the silent communication in fascination. Considering how new they were to a romantic relationship, their ability to speak without words was astounding.


“Couples,” Alex said. “We want to deal with this together as much as we can. If it looks like I need more on my own, I'll worry about it then.


Huang nodded. “Can you come back to my office after lunch? I'll give you a few names to try.”


“Thanks, George ,” was all the agreement he got before Elliot was putting the sedan in park and they were all moving towards the restaurant. He opened the door for the restaurant and motioned everyone in ahead of him. Olivia hung back and Elliot took the hint, going inside to grab them a table. Alex and Liv swapped glances, then Alex followed.


“Thank you, George ,” Benson offered quietly. Huang just nodded his head.


“I'm glad to do it, Olivia . Alex is one of the good guys... and so are you. Besides, what you share is obviously very special.” She held his eyes but couldn't stop the blush that faintly colored her cheeks. They crossed the threshold when people trying to enter behind them jostled them through the door. Olivia glared and George frowned but they entered and scanned the room for Elliot and Alex . Stabler waved them over and they both acknowledged him before proceeding to thread their way through the tables.


Then they settled down to lunch and conversation became more general. It was surprisingly pleasant and they were all much more relaxed by the time it was over. It was with reluctance, but unexpectedly refreshed that they finally broke up and headed back to the real world.




“How do you feel?” Olivia asked Alex later that evening as they were curled up together on the couch. The television was on, but it only registered as so much background noise, they were so wrapped up in one another. Alex gazed into Olivia 's deep brown eyes, reaching up to cup the face that radiated such love and concern Alex felt it wash over her in waves.


“Cared for... loved,” smiling when Liv's lips twitched and an eyebrow rose into her hairline. Alex let her hands comb through the short strands. “And completely exhausted, if you must know the truth. I don't remember ever being as young or as naïve as these kids are. God, what are they letting out of law school these days?!”


“Listen to the old crone,” Liv mocked lightly. “Remember, I've got ten years on you Sweetheart.”


“Yeah, but they look good on you.”


Olivia brushed a kiss across Alex 's forehead and felt a little of the tension in Alex 's body relax slightly. “Flatterer,” she said with a smile. “How about otherwise? I know today was pretty traumatic. I'm glad you talked to George about it.”


“I'm glad he was able to recommend someone for us to go see. Thank you for that, by the way.”


“I told you we'd work on this together, Alex . I meant it.” A brief silence. Then, “Why did you really come to the station? Not that you weren't welcome – I did want to see you after I saw that little girl....” letting her words trail off. “But you never did that... before – I mean....” Olivia fell silent again as if not sure how to phrase her statement. Alex shrugged and cuddled closer into Olivia 's body, relishing warmth and strength when Olivia wrapped her arms more firmly around Alex 's shoulders and lending her own to Liv in return.


“I'm not sure. I just had this urge to check on you... see if maybe you wanted to go to lunch. It might have been what Liz said to me this morning.”


Olivia frowned. “What did she say?”


“Nothing for you to get upset about, honey,” Alex said soothingly. “She's on our side. She just wanted me to know not everyone in the DA's office is.”


Olivia snorted. “No surprise there. I doubt most of the NYPD would be either, if they knew the truth. We're lucky our immediate circle of friends don't seem to care.”


“That's because they are real friends.”


“Good thing – I'd have needed to kill them otherwise by now.” Alex jerked her head back and looked into Olivia 's eyes. “They've been keeping an eye on us.”


“That's sweet, Liv. I think Casey and Liz have been doing the same thing for me. I'd never admit this to anyone but you, but it's kind of a nice feeling... knowing there are people who care enough to be concerned and take an interest.”


“Did Casey say something too?”


“No, but she has made it a point to keep in touch – you know, just look in to say hi at some point during every day.”


“She probably still remembers what it was like to be the new kid... especially trying to fill your shoes.”


Alex nodded. “That could be. Whatever the reason, though, I appreciate the gesture. She's becoming a real friend and a person can never have too many of those.”


Olivia agreed with a nod and squeezed Alex a little tighter. They remained snuggled together for a while, then Alex shifted and slid onto Olivia 's lap. Liv smiled and accepted the new position graciously as it allowed her to caress most of Alex 's body, although she kept her touch light and soothing. When Alex started dropping kisses down her neck, her hands reflexively gripped around Alex 's waist.


“I thought you were exhausted,” Liv commented on an uneven breath that turned into a squawk when the nipping became a bite, then deliberate sucking on her pulse point.


“This makes me feel better,” Alex asserted. “Besides, I have missed you all week.”


“I've missed you, too, Sweetheart.” Olivia chuckled, then drew in a sharp breath when Alex bit her nipple through her shirt. She looked up at Alex in surprise. So far, their lovemaking had been slow and gentle while they learned more about one another. Though considering they had been together just under a month, the last week had seen Olivia working several sixteen and twenty hour days, and there was obviously a lot they still had to learn.


“You bit me!” Olivia stated, but Alex could see she wasn't particularly unhappy about the turn of events and smirked.


“I had to do something to keep your attention; it was evidently wandering if you found the need to laugh during foreplay.”


The very next sound was that of buttons popping and bouncing around the room. Alex looked down at her now very open and clearly ripped oxford shirt, then into Olivia 's sparkling brown eyes. She hissed in reaction when Liv dragged her blunt nails from the waistband of her sweatpants up her torso, tweaking both nipples before continuing on to thread her hands into the shoulder length blonde hair. She tugged Alex down until their lips were just short of touching.


“You have my complete and undivided attention, Counselor,” Olivia declared in a harsh whisper. “You always have.” Then she caught Alex 's lips in a fiery kiss and pulled their bodies together until there wasn't even room for air between them.


When they finally separated for air, Alex clasped Liv's face in both hands and growled, “Bedroom now, Detective!” She slid from Olivia 's lap and Liv rose right behind her. Alex grabbed Olivia 's hand and pulled her down the short hallway to the bedroom. Two steps short, Liv scooped Alex up unexpectedly and tossed her on the bed. Alex gasped but didn't have time to react before Olivia followed, leaping onto the bed and straddling Alex 's prone body.


“Now, Ms Cabot ... do I have your complete and undivided attention?” Liv trailed her fingers lightly up Alex 's body from hip to breast, leaning down and smiling when Alex twitched in reaction. She circled her naval and watched the blue eyes darken and the nostrils flare. Then she found herself on the bottom of the pile when Alex deftly flipped them over.


“Absolutely, Detective Benson . Do I still have yours?” But before Olivia could formulate a response, Alex took possession of both her mouth and body and proceeded to ravish her thoroughly – an experience Olivia was more than happy to reciprocate... once she caught her breath and her bearings.




“So you want to tell me what was so funny earlier?” Alex asked when she and Olivia were snuggled together naked under the covers.


“What? Oh.... Nothing really; it just occurred to me that as much as I missed you everyday while you were in witness protection, it couldn't compare to how badly I missed you this last week. I'm just glad I got to hold you for a few hours every night.”


“So I am. I have gotten quite addicted to being with you. I don't plan to ever give that up again.”


“Sounds like you're thinking long term there, Counselor,” shifting to look Alex directly in the eyes. Alex met her stare without missing a beat.


“As long term as you're willing to commit to, Liv.”


Olivia reached out to cup Alex 's face with one hand. “Are you sure, Alex ? This is still so new to us, and being Alex Cabot again is new to you. I don't want you to rush or to feel I rushed you into making a decision you'll regret later. I love you too much for that. I can wait....”


“I already did that, Liv - three years of waiting... of marking time til I could come home. I promised myself that if I got a second chance with you, I was going to make the most of it.”


“If it's left up to me, it'll be a forever kind of thing, Alex .”


“I like the sound of that, Liv – forever sounds just perfect to me.” Then their lips met again and the silence gave way to the sounds of love and passion as they pledged themselves to one another once more.




Chapter XIII


The ringing of her phone brought Olivia out of what until that moment had been an extremely restful sleep. She grabbed the phone off the bedside table before it could wake Alex . “ Benson ,” she answered softly, feeling a wave of arousal wash through her when Alex shifted to fit Olivia 's new position. She wrapped her free arm around Alex 's body and let her fingers gently caress the skin she could reach, smiling when Alex mewled in response.


“Ms Benson – this is Julia Rothschild . Alexandra Cabot had asked me to stop by your apartment this morning, but no one answered my knock and she's not picking up her cell phone either. I was hoping you might be able to put me in touch with her since this is the only other number I have to contact her unless I wait until Monday. Her mother is not answering,” she added before Olivia could ask.


Liv scrubbed a hand over her face trying to force a bit more wakefulness into her brain. The lassitude she felt throughout her body was pleasant but it did nothing to make her coherent. She cleared her throat and looked at the clock, noting with a mixture of amusement and chagrin that it was nearly eleven a.m.


“Shit,” she muttered, though not quietly enough for Julia to miss the mortification in her tone. “I'm sorry. We um... we overslept. Could we meet you in an hour?”


Julia couldn't keep the smile out of her voice. “Certainly. How about I meet the two of you somewhere for lunch?”


“There's a place called Nita's just down from my apartment.”


“I'll find it and meet you there at noon .” Julia Rothschild hung up the phone before Liv could answer. Liv looked at the phone a moment longer before shrugging and putting it back on the charger. A light stroking up her ribs made her look down into sleepy blue eyes.


“What was that all about?” Olivia altered her position until she was cradling Alex beneath her, but before she could respond to Alex 's question, her lips were captured in a brief but intense kiss. “Good morning,” Alex whispered, smiling at the dazed look on Liv's face.


“Hi,” Olivia smiled back, tracing Alex 's lips and sucking in a breath when Alex caught her fingers in pearly white teeth. Liv cleared her throat again, hoping to gather enough moisture in her mouth to talk without squeaking. “Um, did you forget to tell me about meeting with Julia Rothschild today?”


Alex jerked upright and only Olivia 's quick reflexes kept her jaw from being cracked by Alex 's blonde head. “Shit! Dammit! Oh, Liv... I'm so sorry. She called me yesterday before... everything... and it totally slipped my mind. I meant to tell....”


Her words were cut off when Olivia covered her lips. “ Alex , it's okay. But we should probably get up and get going. I told her we'd meet her for lunch at noon and it's already eleven.” She chuckled at the comical widening of Alex 's eyes. “We're just going to Nita's. So c'mon and get up. The sooner we tell her what we want the sooner she can find us a place big enough for you to have a piano.”


Alex removed the hand from her lips and brushed a kiss over Olivia 's knuckles. “You're really excited about this, aren't you?”


“Well, yeah,” Olivia answered instantly. Then her brow furrowed in confusion. “Aren't you?”


“So much,” Alex confirmed. “Finally my life is starting to make sense again; what I spent years dreaming about and hoping for is within my grasp. I'm grabbing on with both hands and holding on tight. No more letting go.”


“All right... I guess that means you'll have to take a shower with me then. It's gonna be a little hard to explain to Branch why we need to move your desk to the one-six though,” Liv teased gently. “I guess I could handcuff us together and lose the key.”


“Don't tempt me, Detective. I can think of several things I would like to do with your handcuffs and we don't have time for that right now.” Alex stood and took Olivia 's slack hand, pulling her to her feet with no trouble. It was an interesting shower to say the least.




Julia Rothschild was waiting for them when they walked up to Nita's front door. Alex couldn't stop the blush that rose at Julia 's knowing smirk, but she managed to introduce Olivia and Julia before ushering them inside and back to what Alex was fast learning was Liv's table.


Nita greeted them with a wave before marching back to their table. “Hello, Olivia ... chica,” squeezing Alex 's shoulder lightly. “Who is your new friend?”


“Nita, this is Julia Rothschild .”


“It is good to meet you, Julia . I am Nita,” she cut in before Alex could finish her introduction. Julia accepted her hand with a smile. She liked the woman's outgoing personality. “Now, what can I get for you? Three Olivia Specials?” Olivia and Alex nodded enthusiastically, then Alex turned to Julia .


“Do you feel adventurous?” Julia 's eyes widened, but she nodded gamely. Alex turned back to Nita. “Make it three specials, Nita.”


“And I will bring extra napkins,” the proprietress added with a smile before walking away.


“Should I even ask?” Julia inquired as she placed a legal pad on the table.


“Probably not,” Liv stated. “Just sit back and enjoy.”


“And in the meantime we can give you the specifics of what we are looking for in a new place. Now that we've made a definite decision to move, we'd like to find something as quickly as possible.”


Julia delicately cleared her throat. “Do you hate where you are living now, Alexandra ?” Alex shook her head and looked at Olivia who also gave Julia a negative response. “Then don't be so impatient. You've waited this long to find something new together; take your time and make sure you get what you both want. It's a lifetime investment.”


“Makes sense, Alex ,” Liv commented, focusing Alex 's attention on her. “Much as I can't wait to hear you play again, I'd rather not end up with something we're not gonna be totally happy with.”


“I know,” Alex agreed reluctantly. “I just feel like doing this is what I need to do... what we need to do to finally close out the old chapter of our lives and really begin the new. Does that make sense?”


Olivia covered Alex 's hand. “Yeah, it does. Look at this as the first step. We'll get there at whatever pace we choose, Alex , but we will get there.”


“I love you,” simple and heartfelt.


Olivia smiled. “Damn good thing. I'd hate for this to be one-sided.”


Julia cleared her throat delicately. “As lovely as it is to be a witness of what should probably be a private moment between the two of you, I think Nita is headed over with our lunch.” She blinked and her mouth dropped open. “How... what... what is that?”


Alex and Olivia chuckled and Nita laughed out loud as she put the plates on the table. “This is an ‘ Olivia Special '. Guaranteed to make you a believer after just one bite.”


Julia blinked again but didn't argue, accepting the plate and watching both Olivia and Alex dig in with relish. Surrendering to the inevitable, Julia shrugged and followed suit, taking the towel from Nita and tucking it into her collar before tucking into her meal. Her moan of satisfaction brought grins from both Alex and Olivia and then nothing was heard for a long time while the three ate.


When they were done, Julia pulled her tablet back out and proceeded to take down every single detail regarding the place they were looking for. They had a very clear idea of what they wanted; now it was time for Julia to find it.


“Well, ladies... it has been a very educational and a surprisingly pleasant dining experience, but I think I have everything I need to get started. So,” pulling out her wallet and snatching the check from the table. “Let me go get to work. I'll call you as soon as I have something for you to look at.”


Olivia tried to take the check from her, but Alex 's hand on her arm caused her to look down. “Don't try, Sweetheart. It's a business expense for her.”


“In that case, thank you for lunch, Julia . And thank you for coming to us despite the fact we made you wait until lunch. It's been nice to meet you.”


“Oh you too, my dear... well worth the wait. You certainly lived up to the reputation Alexandra attributed to you.” She smiled at the light flush she could see traversing up Olivia 's dark skin and turned her attention to Alex . “And you,” pointing a finger, “you hang on to this one. She's the real deal, Alex ... a definite keeper.”


“Thanks, Julia . You bet I am. She's the best thing to ever happen to me.”


They both turned and looked at Liv who was doing her best not to squirm under their scrutiny. Julia took pity on the detective and pulled Alex into her arms. “Your father would have approved, dear. She seems well-suited to you... and you to her.”


“We are; she makes me happy.”


“Good – stay that way.” And with those parting words, Julia scooted out the door, stopping briefly at the front to pay the bill. She waved as she stepped out the door, then disappeared from sight. Before they could even make a move to leave, Alex 's phone rang. She frowned.


“It's my mother.”


“You say that like it's a bad thing.”


“It wouldn't be normally, but she was supposed to be in the Hamptons .” She glanced at Olivia . “She never calls when she is in the Hamptons unless there is an emergency. Alex flipped open her phone. “Mother?” Silence and Alex pulled the phone from her ear to make sure she was connected. “Mom, what's wrong? Why are you calling?” A pause while she listened to Elizabeth 's end of the conversation, her hands clenching into fists and her eyes snapping fire. Olivia swiftly moved to lend her support, grateful when Alex relaxed back into her. Whatever Alex was hearing, her anger was directed somewhere else.


“All right, mom... thanks. We'll take care of it. Love you too – bye.”


Alex snapped the phone shut and leaned further into Olivia 's embrace for a long moment before straightening up and turning to look into deep brown eyes.


“Can we get out of here?”


For answer, Liv extended her hand and they threaded their way to the door, saying goodbye to Nita and picking up a bag of her cookies as they left. Even on the street, Alex didn't release Olivia 's hand, and so they walked hand in hand until they were back at the apartment.


“What's wrong?” Liv asked gently as soon as the door was closed behind them. Alex closed her eyes and took a deep breath, willing herself to calmness before speaking.


“That was my mother. There is some sort of big party going on in the Hamptons tonight. Not that *that* is anything new – it's why she went in the first place. Several times a year different families host a huge get together so they can hobnob and gossip and drink themselves stupid - you know,” waving her hands around. Olivia nodded her comprehension. “Mother has always gone because she picks up the best dirt,” Alex said dryly, smirking in Olivia 's direction. Liv raised an eyebrow.


“I know... society politics is smarmy.”


Olivia snorted. “*All* politics are smarmy.” Alex conceded the statement with a shrug and a nod. “So what did Elizabeth say to set you off so badly?”


“Apparently Robert showed up there this morning.”


“And?” Liv asked after a long pause. “I know you are still pissed over his presumption, but he hasn't been around since I tossed him out on his ass, has he? I know Hammond hasn't mentioned anything about him on the occasion I've seen him.”


That statement brought Alex up short. “You've seen Hammond ?”


“Yeah,” Liv shrugged. “He's asked to be kept in the loop with that string of rape/murders that seems to be tied to Velez. We don't tend to talk much beyond the case, but if there was a threat to you, even from one of the supposed ‘good guys', I think he'd at least mention it.”


Alex bit her lip and came to a decision. “I think I will call Agent Hammond. It's time to find out just what the hell is going on here.”




“Detective Benson ... Ms Cabot ?” Hammond greeted as he sort of collapsed on the opposite side of the tree they were currently stretched out beneath. Actually, Olivia sat propped against the tree ostensibly reading a book with Alex 's head comfortably ensconced in her lap. Alex had a legal pad and pen resting on her belly, but her eyes were closed, absorbing the sensations of Liv's hands running through her hair. Hammond kept his eyes studiously away from them, wiping the sweat from his face and sucking down water from the bottle he carried. “What can I do for you ladies?”


“You can start at the beginning and tell us exactly who Robert is and what he is supposed to be doing and why I ended up in the middle of the screw up his assignment seems to have become.”


Hammond sighed. “What happened now?” He continued before Alex could reply. “I will answer your questions, but obviously something happened recently to precipitate your call to me.”


“ Robert showed up at my mother's place in the Hamptons this morning. She didn't let him in, of course – they haven't actually been introduced to one another. She did say, however, that he indicated that he was a serious part of my life and that he would see her this evening.”


“What happens this evening?”


“There's a big blowout at the Remington estate. Most of New York Society and a lot of movers and shakers from Washington will be there.”


Hammond blew out a breath. “Damn,” he muttered, the epithet causing Alex to stiffen and Olivia to hesitate in her combing. “All right,” he finally breathed out. “I guess it's time you knew the whole story.”


Alex and Olivia exchanged glances and waited for Hammond to resume speaking.


“We have operatives in a number of different suspected drug operations. They range from street players and mid-level distributors to high level dealers and muscle. We even have a few accountants and lawyers, like Robert , who are placed highly enough to know what is going on throughout the organization they are part of.”


“When Ms Cabot emerged from witness protection for Liam Connors ' trial, Rivera was already maneuvering to take over from Velez. Despite the fact that Claiborne deals strictly with Rivera 's legitimate business, he has gradually been included in a number of Rivera 's business meetings... including those of a less than legal nature.”


“He did his research – knew how badly Alexandra Cabot wanted to come home to New York . He convinced Rivera that getting someone on their side in the DA's office could be good for business, especially someone with Ms Cabot 's contacts. It wasn't a bad plan actually – knowing Arthur Branch 's penchant for theatrics, it was reasonable to assume that he would make Ms Cabot an offer she couldn't refuse. You can't beat that kind of press with a stick.”


“Why? Why would he even *think* Alex would agree to it?”


“Which part? Detective, you have to remember that as far as Rivera was concerned, Ms Cabot was desperate to return New York and the life she had here; her accepting a new position in the DA's office fit her profile. Robert entering her life and winning her affections while she was alone and lonely and still at loose ends made perfect sense.”


“How did he know where to find her? After all, she was still in DEA custody for three months once Velez was dead. How did he manage to...?” Olivia waved her arms around. Alex frowned and caught Liv's hand in hers and brought it to her belly, stroking out the frustration.


“Once Velez was dead, we were less than careful with Ms Cabot 's whereabouts.” He felt Alex jerk. “My apologies, Ms Cabot . We didn't make it public or common knowledge, but we no longer safeguarded the information either. The loose ends I told you I was tying up were in fact making sure the investigators Robert employed on Rivera 's behalf could find you.”


“You son of a bitch,” Liv growled low in her throat. “You lying bag of shit!!” She didn't move – she couldn't with Alex still reclining in her lap, but the look she cut his way should have turned Hammond to cinders. “You deliberately set Alex up – AGAIN! You KNEW she would be in danger and you set her up anyway!! What the hell kind of an asshole are you??”


“Detective, wait... that's not true. At least not completely. I *did* set her up, but only to be part of Robert 's cover. There was never supposed to be danger to her.”


“ Hammond , you are a complete idiot!!! Aren't you the one who three years ago was lecturing us about the dangers of your job or our interfering with your investigations?? Why do you think that would change because Velez was gone?? She's not a trained DEA agent!”


“Look,” Hammond ground out forcefully, his exasperation clear. “All that was supposed to happen was they were to be engaged long enough for there to be an announcement. That would have led to parties and introductions. We figured we could use the cover long enough to get Rivera introduced into ‘the right circles' and then it would have been broken off because of a nasty fight. With a little luck, it would've been caused by something Robert could have used as supposed blackmail against Alex to keep information coming out of the DA's office for a while.”


“That has got to be the stupidest idea I have ever heard.”


“Well, in hindsight, I am inclined to agree with you, Detective. But at the time, it seemed like the best option we had.”


Olivia looked down at Alex . “And you agreed to this why again?”

“I wasn't told the entire truth, for one thing,” she said, raising up to glare in Hammond 's direction. “But I told you,” her voice dropping, “it gave me a reason to come home in case nothing else worked out.”


“So what was the point of getting Rivera into the right circles, as you call them?? He is a damn drug dealer!!”


“And he has his fingers in a lot of different pies. He was looking for a way to involve genuine business people in his ventures. Getting legitimate business and social contacts was his best opportunity to do that, and being introduced by someone as old money as Alexandra Cabot would go a long way towards being accepted... much more than simply flashing money around.”


“So what happened? Why did Claiborne leak the engagement before Alex even had a chance to pick up the phone and call me? What was the point of pissing her off? Was he really stupid enough to think she would honor her part of the agreement after he blew off his?”


“He was furious when I agreed to her terms.” Hammond sighed and slid down the tree until he was laying flat, covering his face with the towel. “He felt... still does, I imagine... that no one should be allowed to dictate conditions to an agent in the field undercover. So he decided to show her he was the boss and figured she'd just have to deal.”


“ Moron !” Alex snorted at Olivia 's contemptuous tone of voice.


“Pretty much,” Jack agreed. “He obviously didn't do enough research into the real Alex Cabot . He expected her to act and behave like so many in witness protection.”


“Well, my reaction must have been something of an unpleasant surprise.”


“Oh yes... and he certainly didn't expect to be taken down like a rookie either - especially by the woman whose fault it was he had to work under constraints. And though I doubt anyone but the four of us know about that particular event, the fact is he's losing face with Rivera the longer he waits to announce the engagement.”


“Why doesn't he just tell Rivera they broke up?”


“I can't know for sure since I've had no contact with Robert since just after Ms Cabot pulled out of the assignment, but I've come to the conclusion that Rivera has some sort of hold on Robert . Claiborne can't afford not to introduce Rivera to the right people; it's the only logical explanation I can come to for his behavior. He's never been irrational before.”


“Do you think he's been compromised?”


“Not as a DEA agent. Rivera wouldn't hesitate to kill him if he got made. Whatever hold Rivera has, however Claiborne's been compromised, I'm convinced it's personal.”


“Ya know, Hammond ,” Olivia said with venom, though her eyes never left the horizon. “You and your whole outfit suck.”


“I'm sorry you feel that way, Detective, though I can hardly blame you. I promise you I will personally take care of Robert before I let Ms Cabot be put into any more danger.”


“You'll forgive me if I am less than confident in your reassurance.”


“Given our track record, yeah, I will. But you may both want to keep your heads down for a while. If Claiborne decides to tell Rivera the truth behind why his ‘engagement' to Alex was broken....”


“You take care of Robert , Jack . Olivia and I will look out for each other.”


“I hope you can, Alex . I really hope you can.”


His words made Alex sit up, but when she looked, Hammond was gone. She turned back to look at Olivia . “You know the creeps you've always maintained Hammond gave you... the bad vibes?” Olivia nodded and arched a brow. “I'm starting to see what you meant.”


“Starting to?”


“For the longest time, he was the only friend Alex Cabot had. But I have to admit to being completely over him, the DEA... even to some extent the DA's office and the law.”


“ Alex ?”


“Just thinking out loud, Detective. I promised myself if I ever got the chance to live again, I was going to live like I was dying... cherish every single precious moment because I'd already been dead. Instead, I seem to have fallen back into the same type of rut I was in before. I think it's time to change that. To that end....” She stood up and brushed off her butt, then extended a hand down to Olivia who accepted it without question. “I think we should go to the Hamptons and see my mother.”


“We're gonna crash that party.” They headed beck towards the noise of the city that had become muted in the middle of the park.


“Yep. I want to see you in something black and slinky.”


“Hope the party starts late then, because we need to go shopping.”


“No problem. I'll take care of everything. Just leave it to me.” Alex opened her cell phone then paused. “You're giving in awfully easily, Detective.”


“Something you said made me think. Life is not a test run; we don't get a second chance to go through it – no reset button or do overs. We have to grab whatever happiness we can and hold on with both hands. So if going to the Hamptons and crashing some hoity toity society party is gonna make you happy, I say let's go crash!”


Alex pulled Liv over to a secluded part of the path. “I can't do to you what that declaration definitely deserves here, Sweetheart, but I promise I will definitely thank you more personally later.”


Olivia smiled. “I'll hold you to that.”


“I'm counting on it, Liv. Now see if you can get us a cab. I have a phone call to make.”




Chapter XIV


A knock on the door brought Olivia 's head around from the mirror she had been examining herself in. Alex hadn't been kidding when she'd said she could take care of everything. Her phone call had garnered them transportation to the Hamptons and her mother's house, where they were warmly welcomed by Elizabeth before being shown to their room. It had also, apparently, gotten them the clothing that had been hanging in the closet awaiting their arrival. Olivia had looked at Alex with a raised eyebrow, but Alex merely smiled and gave her a satisfied smirk.


Now, Olivia turned from the mirror to watch Elizabeth Cabot approach. She smoothed her hands nervously down the front of her dress then stopped, not wanting to wrinkle the smoothness of the silky fabric.


“Amazing,” Elizabeth commented. “Very, very nice.” Olivia 's short hair had been highlighted and fluffed around her face to frame it and the black dress she wore hugged her curves like a second skin. Her make up was flawless, accentuating her exotic loveliness.


“I clean up pretty well, huh?”


Elizabeth chuckled. “ Olivia , there was never a doubt in my mind that you were... are... a beautiful woman. But this,” motioning to Olivia from head to toe. “You are simply stunning. If there is any part of my daughter's heart you don't already own, this will certainly stake your claim.”


“There's nothing left for her to lay claim to, Mother, though there may be a fight in the offing as part of this evenings activities. I'm somewhat territorial, you know.”


Both heads turned as Alex Cabot crossed the threshold and Olivia couldn't contain her gasp. Alex 's hair was pulled up in a neat chignon, revealing the slim line of her neck. The blue dress she was wearing brought out the depth of her eyes not hidden by glasses and the sapphires she wore emphasized both. Olivia didn't even realize she had crossed the room until she was standing beside Alex , one hand gently stroking the smooth skin of her bare shoulders.


“Wow!” she whispered. “You look beautiful.”


“So do you. Turn around; I have something for you – the finishing touch for your outfit.” Liv did as Alex asked, then reached up to touch when the necklace was settled around her neck and on her chest. “It's only on loan,” Alex whispered, “so enjoy it.”


“ Alex , it's too much.”


“No such thing, Detective. Not for you and not for us.”


“Oh my – I almost wish I was staying for this bash,” Enrique said as he materialized from the room Alex had just emerged from. “I'd like to see the reaction when you two walk into that room together.”


“I can make sure you see that if you really want,” Elizabeth commented. “It's the least I could do since you rushed to get here to help them get ready.”


“Ooh... could you? I really would like to see it. They stopped traffic after I cut Olivia 's hair short, you know,” in an aside but loud enough for Alex and Olivia to hear.


“I imagine. They brought Alex 's welcome home party to a halt for several minutes.”


“We're standing right here, you know. You don't need to speak as if we aren't even here.” Elizabeth and Enrique giggled like a couple of children at the dryness of Alex 's tone.


“Sorry, daughter,” Elizabeth managed. “We need to go. I will take Enrique with me and send the car back for the two of you so you can make your entrance. I'm assuming you want to make an entrance.”


“I think an entrance is warranted.”


“I think you've earned it... and it will tickle Sara to be the one to reintroduce you back into society, Alexandra . A number of people attending tonight have been waiting for this occasion.”


“Well then... let's not disappoint them. We'll wait here for you to send Jax back with the car.” She turned to Enrique . “Thank you for coming up on such short notice.”


“Oh, Alex – I wouldn't have missed it and I never would have forgiven you if you had called anyone else.” Alex leaned forward and kissed his cheek, then Olivia did the same, causing him to blush.


“Thank you, Enrique ,” she whispered.


“Anytime, beautiful,” he replied before following Elizabeth out the door.


Olivia waited until they heard the slamming of doors and the car pull away before she turned to Alex . “You're making an entrance?”


“We're making an entrance. No more games; no more pretend and make-believe. I want people to know who Alex Cabot really is and what you mean to me” A beat. “Does that bother you?”


“Not at all.” Liv paused as though collecting her thoughts. “ Alex , I've always been proud to be seen with you... even when we were just friends. That always kind of took me by surprise, ya know?”


“Our being friends? Why?”


“Because we were always so different.”


“And yet so much alike,” Alex countered softly. “Liv, if you look at the evidence a little more closely, you'll see that the things we have in common far outweigh the differences – and they're much more important.”


Olivia nodded. “I know. I just don't want you to regret....”


“Never, Olivia . I will never regret anything I do with you... only the things I have missed with you will I regret. We don't have to make a grand announcement or be any more public than either of us is comfortable with, but I am not going to hide what we have either.”


“All right, Alex ,” catching her hand and tugging her closer. “Now that we've settled that, can we spend the rest of our time making out?”


For answer, Alex let her free hand rest on Olivia 's hip, pulling them until there was no space between them. Liv let her hand do the same, knowing the temptation to run her hands through Alex 's hair would be too much if she let her hands wander over Alex 's torso. Alex ducked her head and captured Olivia 's lips, teasing them open expertly with her tongue. Liv sucked on the muscle before returning the favor, wrapping around Alex 's tongue and stroking with deliberate intent. She swallowed the moan that rose from low in Alex 's belly, then moaned herself when Alex let her hands wander down the smooth surface of her silk clad ass.


Lack of oxygen forced them to separate briefly, but it was the ringing of the doorbell that finally tore them apart, still breathing hard. Alex leaned her forehead on Liv's and Olivia gently reached up and traced Alex 's lips. “God, you're good at that,” she murmured.


“I have the right practice partner; she's amazing.” The doorbell rang again, this time longer than the first. “We need to go,” Alex sighed.


“We should probably fix our lipstick first. I think people would notice otherwise.”


Alex turned and walked to the mirror, taking Olivia with her. She giggled at the picture they made, obviously well-loved and thoroughly kissed. “Good point,” Alex agreed, pulling her lipstick from her bag and applying it, watching Olivia do the same. Without warning, Alex grasped Liv's arm again and jerked her away from the mirror.


“ ALEX !!”


“One more minute of that torture and we won't make it to the party. A woman can only stand so much teasing before she does something drastic!” Laughing, they made their way downstairs and out the door where Jax was waiting to escort them to the Remington gala.




“ Elizabeth !” Sara exclaimed, gathering Elizabeth into a hug as she stepped from the car. “My dear, how good it is to see you. And you must be Enrique ,” extending her hand. “What a pleasure!” Enrique accepted it gracefully and brought it to his lips. “Please come in... both of you.” She led the way up the stairs and into the house. “I can't tell you how thrilled I was to get your call, Elizabeth . We're so excited Alexandra is joining us... especially since her young man showed up here earlier.” She led them into the study. “Although I must say I found it odd he didn't escort her. The rules are so different for young people these days.”


“ Sara , Alexandra doesn't have a young man. She doesn't have a man at all, and I don't think she ever will.”


“Don't be so pessimistic, Elizabeth . She's only been back a month. She'll find someone.”


Enrique watched, enthralled by this odd interplay between two old society friends. He was curious to see Sara 's reaction to what was coming.


Elizabeth took a deep breath. “ Sara , Alexandra has someone in her life – just not a young man.”


Sara blinked. “Is she happy?” after a long pause.


“Ecstatically so.”


“Then I can't wait to meet the young lady in Alexandra 's life. I can't vouch for how the rest will react, but I think the ones who won't make a fuss will far outnumber those who disapprove.”


“I hope so, though at this point I don't think it will matter to Alexandra one way or another. She's already given up everything once; I sincerely doubt she will give up the one sure thing that makes her happy. They should be here in just a few minutes.”


“Well then... let's make Enrique comfortable. Would you like to join Elizabeth , Lawrence and I or would you prefer to be out of the melee? As snotty as some of these people are, you might enjoy a special viewing area for their arrival more, but you are welcome to stay and join us as a guest tonight.”


“If it's all the same, Mrs. Remington , I prefer to watch and listen.”


“A very wise man. Come along and we'll introduce you to Lawrence .” Sara stopped and put a hand on Elizabeth 's arm. “Oh my dear....”


Elizabeth covered the hand on her arm, looking at Sara with concern. “What is it Sara ?”


“We need to get to Lawrence before Alexandra and her young lady arrive. I believe the young man purporting himself to be Alexandra 's fiancé has plans to make an announcement when she arrives. It was the reason he gave for not escorting her in – he said she wanted to make an entrance.”


“She did,” Elizabeth confirmed, “but not like this.” They stepped up their pace, hoping they weren't too late. Then everything seemed to unfold in slow motion and Sara , Elizabeth and Enrique paused to watch the entire scene play out in front of them and the rest of the party guests.


They didn't make an entrance, per se – that is to say... they weren't announced nor did they do anything to draw undue attention to themselves beyond walking in the door side by side. But they were so striking together that every head in the room naturally turned in their direction as Alex Cabot and Olivia Benson crossed the threshold hand in hand.


It wasn't meant to make a statement; it was simply the best way they could feel the support of one another on a physical level. Alex had asked with a single look as they exited the car and Olivia had responded by clasping her hand tightly. And that was they way they walked in the door.


When they were spotted, a cheer went up around the room and people surged in their direction, as anxious to greet Alex as they were to meet Olivia . New didn't happen in their circle very often and no one wanted to miss out on the experience.


From where he was standing beside Lawrence , Robert could see his last chance to force Alex Cabot into a temporary alliance at his side slipping from his grasp. So he decided to make a desperate move and throw everything on one last throw of the dice – confident Alex would not allow herself to be outted to her society peers.


“Who is the lovely young woman with Alexandra , Robert ? I believe I would like to meet her.”


“A poor relation, perhaps?” Robert shrugged. “I believe Alex agreed to take her under her wing to help her make a successful match.”


Lawrence looked at the younger man speculatively. Something wasn't quite right here, but he wasn't sure what it was. “Well,” he jested, “they seem to have stolen your thunder, young man. What a lovely picture they make together.”


Before Lawrence could stop him, Robert was calling for the attention of everyone in the room. All eyes, including those of Alex and Olivia , turned in his direction and waited to hear what he had to say. Alex squeezed Liv's hand hard enough for the detective to wince at the strength she exhibited.


“Ladies and gentlemen, I know many of you here do not know me yet, but my name is Robert Claiborne . It is a great honor for me to be here with you tonight for two reasons – the first of which is that is my distinct pleasure to welcome Alexandra Cabot back into your fold. And the reason it is my honor to do so is because Alex has agreed to marry me and become my wife.”


The reaction Robert expected wasn't immediately forthcoming – instead of cheers and congratulatory exclamations, there was nothing but complete quiet... even the servers circulating throughout the room froze. Then Alex 's voice cut through the strained silence, “Not in this lifetime, Robert ... or any other.”


“ Alex !” Robert felt his world crumbling around him with her denial. “Sweetheart....”


“Enough, Robert !” A path cleared in front of Olivia and Alex , leaving nothing but space between them and Claiborne. He sneered as he realized they were still holding hands, but before he could comment, Alex tore into him in a scathing tone of voice. “We are not engaged, Robert . You misrepresented yourself to me, insinuating yourself into my life in a time when I needed a friend. Then you lied to all the people in this room, claiming to be someone and something you're not. Now before I slap any number of charges against you, I suggest you walk right out the door without another word.”


“Dyke!” he muttered, but not softly enough not to be heard throughout the silent room. Olivia started towards him, but Alex held on tightly, seeing Lawrence take Robert by the scruff of the neck and escort him through the throng to the front door.


“I suggest you leave quietly, young man, and count yourself lucky that I don't call the police to remove you from my home. And leave Alexandra alone; she doesn't need friends like you.” Robert drew a breath to defend himself and Lawrence held up his hand and motioned to someone out of sight. “Don't. Alexandra is one of us no matter what; there is no excuse for what you tried to do.”


Robert wanted to retort, but found the door closed in his face and a security officer escorting him off the property. He went, not wanting to cause himself any more issues than he already had. He was going to have to come up with something to tell Rivera , though he was hoping he could somehow put the blame for this fiasco on Alex . Otherwise, he was going to be able to kiss years of undercover work goodbye. He peeled out of the estate, intent on doing some damage control.




When Lawrence shut the door behind Robert , a cheer rose up from the waiting assembly. No matter their feelings towards Alex Cabot personally, none of them appreciated an interloper trying to make fools of them or take advantage of one of their own. Lawrence smiled and nodded his head, making his way to Alex 's side. He took her in his arms and hugged her like she was his long lost daughter.


“Welcome back, Alexandra ,” he whispered in her ear. “It is so good to have you back with us.”


“Thank you, Remmy. It's so good to be here again.” And in many ways, it was as much a coming home for her as visiting the one-six had been. After a brief embrace, they pulled away and Lawrence turned his focus to Olivia .


“And who is this lovely young woman?” extending his hand and smiling at the confidence in her gaze and the strength of her grip. Alex stepped closer and put a casual arm around Liv's waist.


“Lawrence Remington, this is Olivia Benson . Liv, this is Lawrence Remington, otherwise known to the younger generation as Remmy.”


“It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Remington .”


”Enchanted, my dear. May I call you Olivia ?”




“Excellent. Let's see if we can find Sara and get this party back on track.” But there was no reason to look as both Sara and Elizabeth had headed towards them as soon as Robert made his faux pas announcement. Lawrence's words coupled with Sara's arrival was the needed impetus to get things moving again and the crowd surged around them, now more than ever anxious to welcome Alex home and meet her lovely companion.


Not everyone was glad to have Alex back, however, and they stood together in the far corner, watching the activity and snarking among themselves. Eventually, though, Olivia and Alex made their way around to them.


“You know, Cabot ... most people don't go to the extremes you did just to have their perversion overlooked. They just keep them private.”


“What perversion would that be, Marcy ? Would that be anything like what you do when you go out?” Alex smirked as Marcy paled. “Don't play with me, Marcy and don't presume that you could possibly understand what Olivia and I share. I may have been gone for three years, but I've heard a lot since I got back and I know what was going on before I left.”


“Oh get off the high horse, Alex – the only reason you're doing this is for the shock factor. Not the best idea for your political future, but maybe she's worth it and it will certainly get you press. Is she that good a piece of ass? If she is, tell me where I can get find one like her.” The man chuckled and those around him did the same. “Who knew there was a government conspiracy to create lesbians from straight women?” He reached for Olivia . “I could change that for you.”


Alex didn't have a chance to respond; Olivia had the man up against the wall with his arm so far up his back the slightest pressure would dislocate it. He winced and tried to dislodge her, then bit his lip to muffle a scream when she wrenched his arm again. The rest of his compatriots stopped laughing and looked on warily, but none made a move to help him.


“You're not man enough to handle a woman like me and if you reach for me again, I'm gonna haul your ass in for assault on a police officer. Are we clear?” He nodded vigorously and she released him just enough for him to relax. Then she tightened her grip again and he winced. “One other thing,” she added conversationally. “Watch what you say about Alex . You don't have to like her or approve of what she does with her life. But if you don't mind your own business, I'll make it mine to look into yours. And I'd be willing to bet your predilections run along the same lines as your friend Marcy . So unless you're willing to risk that sort of exposure....”


“All right,” he ground our when he realized she was done speaking. Olivia released him and he jerked away from her, straightening his clothing and trying to regain some sense of dignity. “Damn bitch!” he muttered, glaring at both Olivia and Alex .


“That's Detective Damn Bitch to you, asshole.”


“Oh, and she's common as dirt too. How precious, Alex . Who know you were slumming?” came the sarcastic comment from a not-so-natural brunette.


“Yes, but she so butch it's making me hot,” replied an obviously bleached blonde, licking her lips.


Olivia barely spared either woman a sneer before she turned to Alex . “No wonder you went into witness protection. I'd have done the same thing to get away from these people.”


Alex couldn't contain her laughter and took Olivia 's hand. “C'mon, Liv. There are more interesting people still waiting to meet you.”


“Well, I never!” the blonde snorted. Alex looked back over her shoulder.


“No, you haven't... and you never will.” And with that, the two women made their way back towards Sara , Lawrence and Elizabeth who were waiting for them to start the buffet service. From his perch on the balcony, Enrique silently cheered.


“Is everything all right, ladies?” seeing the icy stares from the group Alex and Olivia had just departed from. “You appear to have stirred up a hornet's nest among some of the younger crowd, judging by the holes they seem intent on burning into your back.”


“Jealousy, Remmy. I have Olivia and they have....” Alex paused dramatically and smirked. “... each other.”


“Well, would you mind if I borrow Olivia for a while? I would like to talk to you privately about what happened to you while you were away, Alexandra , and I would like to get to know Olivia a little better.” He turned to Olivia . “That is... if you wouldn't mind, my dear.”


She and Alex exchanged looks. “I'd be delighted, Mr. Remington .”


“ Lawrence , please or Remmy as Alexandra calls me. I expect us to become good friends.”


“I'd like that, Lawrence ,” taking the arm he extended.


“*I* would mind,” Sara cut in. She glared at Lawrence . “And so would Alex and Elizabeth , I imagine. You don't get to keep Olivia to yourself tonight. I want to get to know her as well, and there really isn't time without ignoring the rest of our guests.” She turned towards Elizabeth and Alex . “You will be here tomorrow?” They nodded. “Then join us for brunch at ten.”


“We'd like that.”


Lawrence sighed. “Very well. May I at least escort both of them to the buffet? I think everyone is ready to eat.”


Sara exchanged hidden smiles with Elizabeth and nodded. “You go ahead. Elizabeth and I will follow.” Lawrence gave her a self-satisfied grin and extended both arms. Alex and Olivia chuckled and accepted his escort, knowing the rest would follow. It was turning out to be a most interesting evening.




“I am most displeased, Robert . Tonight was supposed to solidify your standing in the social community which would have given me the legitimacy I require for the next phase in my business plan. And now you're telling me that not only has Ms Cabot disgraced you in front of her friends, but she threw you over for a woman?? Do you understand the damage this has done to my plans??”


“Yes sir; I do. But honestly, it wasn't my fault, Mr. Rivera . Everything was fine until she came back to New York and took up with that dyke detective friend of hers. I'm convinced Olivia Benson is the reason Alex threw me over once we got back. We should have gotten married before we came back to the city. Then all of this would have been moot.”


“Yes, hindsight is indeed twenty-twenty,” Rivera commiserated. “The question is - how do we repair the damage that has already been done?”


Robert paused thoughtfully. It wouldn't do to rush his answer, though he had been thinking of nothing else since his expulsion from the Remington soiree. Finally, though....


“Well, I only see two possibilities if we hope to keep Alexandra on our side.” Rivera motioned for him to continue and he nodded, letting out a relieved breath. “One is to blackmail her – I doubt someone with her political ambitions will want it to be confirmed public knowledge that she is a lesbian. Speculation is titillating; truth in this case would be a death knell to her career. I don't care how liberal the people of New York claim to be. They do not want an out dyke to be their district attorney or governor. The other is simply to remove the issue that is causing her rebellion – kill Olivia Benson .”


Rivera nodded. “I'll contemplate my options before I make a decision. At this point, considering what has already happened, I see no reason to rush to judgment. It could only make things worse and I do not want to deal with worse.” He sighed. “Go home, Robert ; get some rest. It will be a day or two before I do anything.”


“Yes, sir. Thank you, Mr. Rivera .” The drug lord smiled and nodded graciously, watching Claiborne leave. Once the door closed behind him he sat back and thought about his options. Robert had been in his employ since he had graduated law school, and until his recent involvement with Alexandra Cabot , been a good and loyal employee – knowing how to do his job and keep his mouth shut when the job required it. It was unfortunate that he was becoming less of an asset and more of a liability. Rivera didn't need liabilities in his line of work.


He turned his chair to the window, looking out over the expanse of his yard. There were times when being the boss meant making the hard decisions. He turned back around and picked up the phone, dialing from memory and waiting for the call to go through. After two rings, it was answered.


“Lorenzo,” he stated calmly. “I need to see you immediately.” Then he hung up the phone and turned back to contemplating the stars he could see.




Chapter XV


“So, Olivia ... what were your impressions on the evening?” Elizabeth asked as the three women settled into her living room for a nightcap. Enrique had departed shortly after Robert had been removed, having exacted a promise from both Elizabeth and Sara for details later. Things had run smoothly once the buffet was underway and Alex learned exactly how many friends she still had in this particular circle; she was gratified with the acceptance she and Olivia had found from most of what was definitely old money society. Now she sat back and sipped her wine, anxious to hear Olivia 's thoughts on everything that had happened.


“Honestly?” Elizabeth chuckled but nodded. “I think most of your friends are extremely gracious and at least on the surface they were fair and open-minded about Alex and me.”


“On the surface? You don't think they were sincere?”


“I don't know, Elizabeth . I don't know these people well enough to make that sort of judgment.”


“Employ your training as a detective, Liv. What does your gut tell you?”


Olivia turned and stared at Alex for a long moment before her gaze became introspective. “I think a majority of them were sincere to a degree – the older generation moreso than the younger and many of those were making allowances for the trauma Alex went through.”


“They think this – YOU – are a phase for me??”


“I think the people our age are curious how real this is... how committed we are to one another. I don't think most of them really care one way or another whether we love one another or not except as a curiosity and point of gossip; they figure you're following fashion and will eventually return to convention to win their approval.” Olivia held up her hand to stop the firestorm she could see growing in Alex 's blue eyes.


“And my generation?” Elizabeth asked with unbridled curiosity. She, of course, had her own opinion, but she was very interested to get Olivia 's sense of things.


“Your generation is much less concerned with the fact that we are a couple; they are more concerned with where I come from and what I do for a living and what my intentions are.” Liv snickered. “It was an odd mixture of the free love flower children mentality from the sixties and a strange awareness of old-fashioned chivalry.”


“When did you hear all this?? We were together all night – even though Remmy did try to steal you away from me for a while.”


“People were talking all night, Alex . I guess it was hard for the detective in me to miss.”


“I have to say that the nerve of this Robert fellow simply astounded me,” Elizabeth huffed before the silence grew awkward. “Where did he get off telling tales like that? Did he honestly think he wouldn't get caught??”


“I don't think he expected me to acknowledge my relationship with Olivia .”


“I don't think he's expected a lot of what he's gotten from you,” Liv teased with a smirk.


Alex shrugged and cocked an eyebrow. “Doesn't pay to be too predictable, Detective.” She twined her fingers with Olivia 's, frowning and focusing her attention on their joined hands. Olivia tugged on them gently, bringing Alex 's eyes back to hers while Elizabeth watched the tableau playing out in front of her with great interest.


“What are you thinking?”


“We've put him in a corner, Liv. We have no way of knowing how he'll react now.”


“ Alex , he's always been a wild card where we are concerned. Claiborne will do whatever it is he needs to do and we'll deal with it when the time comes. I refuse to waste any more time with you worrying about things I can't control.”


“Listen to her, Alexandra . Olivia is a smart woman.”


“And I'm chopped liver, I suppose.”


“Well, if the pate fits....” Elizabeth chortled. Alex just rolled her eyes.


“On that note,” she said, draining the rest of her wine and standing up, tugging Olivia up with her. She bent down and kissed Elizabeth 's cheek. “Goodnight, Mother.”


“Goodnight, you two.” Olivia gave Elizabeth a little wave then walked beside Alex up the stairs. Elizabeth watched them until they disappeared into Alex 's... their... room. Then she turned off the lights and went to hers.




“So what do you do, Olivia ? I believe I heard it mentioned that you were a detective.” Lawrence Remington carefully spread cream cheese on his bagel before adding lox and capers. He noticed all eyes and ears were focused in their direction, though no one stopped eating except Olivia . She put down her fork and picked up her glass, drinking deeply before wiping her lips.


“I am a detective with the Special Victims Unit at the one-six in Manhattan .”


Lawrence blinked. “I never thought.... That is how you met Alexandra , isn't it? I remember her speaking of the dedication of the members of the Special Victims Unit she was privileged to work with. I didn't realize....” He paused and cleared his throat. “Don't you find it a difficult burden to bear... especially as long as you have borne it?”


“Sometimes,” she admitted quietly. “Sometimes it hurts to see a child who's lost her innocence to a monster she called father. Sometimes it's hard to know that for every sick, twisted bastard we catch, a dozen more are waiting to take his place. Sometimes it's easy to want to drown the memories of every victim you've encountered in a bottle. But sometimes – once in a very great while – we get to see something good come out of the work we do. And that gives us the strength to keep doing what we do.” She reached out a hand to Alex who took it without hesitation. “And sometimes, but only if you're very lucky, you find someone who understands what drives you to work in the darkness, and they love and support you anyway.”


“It sounds as though you are both very lucky, Olivia .”

“We are, Remmy,” Alex responded. “This is beyond price. And those that don't like it or don't understand it can bite me.”


“Better get a tetanus shot then, Alexandra . I heard a lot of support for you both last night, but there was some backbiting from some of your contemporaries,” Sara commented. “Then again, I don't recall there ever being much of anything else coming from them.”


Everyone at the table snorted. Lawrence patted his mouth and picked up his coffee, sitting back comfortably. “So tell me about this Robert fellow, Alexandra . He seemed to know so much about you, I had no reason to doubt his word when he introduced himself as your fiancé and yet it is clear that he has no claim on you. And he obviously had no idea your heart had been bestowed elsewhere,” motioning to Olivia and their still linked hands.


“He was someone who befriended me while I was still in Florida and read much more into our friendship than I was willing to give him,” Alex hedged, not wanting to lie but unable to share the complete truth.


“He followed you here... like some sort of stalker?”


“Not exactly. He was from here. It was mostly dumb luck we met, and bad luck that I apparently encouraged him enough for him to think there was something more than just someone lonely for home.”


“Well, I for one think you are well rid of him,” Elizabeth chimed in. “There was something not quite right about his eyes.” She paused. “He reminded me of a weasel... or maybe a ferret.”


“I thought of him more as a jackass myself,” Liv muttered to Alex , causing her to almost spew juice across the table in a most unladylike fashion. The rest demanded to know what caused the reaction, and brunch ended to laughter ringing throughout the Remington household.




“I'm sorry, Ms Cabot ... Alex , but I think I've screwed up this case beyond winning.”


Alex closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. Ten o'clock on Monday morning and all she could think of was how long it was going to be until she got to the weekend and significant time with Olivia again. Olivia had gotten a call at almost midnight on Saturday and Alex hadn't heard from her since. That alone had successfully managed to ratchet up the tension level in her body until it radiated off her like a force field. She looked back at the fledgling prosecutor staring back at her.


“Then you go make a deal. You put the bastard away for as long as you can get. And then you go make nice and apologize to the detectives who busted their asses to put this case together for you. It's not their fault you screwed up, but they're going to be the ones who have to live with the consequences of knowing their work wasn't worth the effort they put into it because you flushed it down the toilet.”


Her voice never rose, but the young man was shaking in his shoes and biting his lip before she was finished. He nodded and she waved him out. He scampered out so fast, he nearly bowled Casey Novak over in the process. She caught herself on the doorjamb, re-establishing her equilibrium before knocking on the frame. She heard Alex audibly sigh, then invite her in. She peeked around the door slowly, making sure nothing was going to come flying first.


“Hey, Alex .”


“Hey, Casey ,” Alex replied with a smile. “What's up?” motioning her to a high-backed chair.


“That's what I came to find out. You've been chewing up and spitting out interns all morning. Everything all right?” Casey took a seat, glad to lean her head back and relax for a moment. It had already been a long morning for her as well.


“Aside from not being able to remember ever being that young and stupid?”


“ Alex , you're not *that* much older than they are – eight years at the outside, and some of them as little as three.”


“Maybe... but I was *never* this stupid either. These kids are making first year law school mistakes, and there is no excuse for it. They were the top applicants we had!” Alex took a deep breath and visibly tried to calm herself. “Sorry... long weekend and it's turning into the Monday morning migraine from hell for me. I shouldn't take it out on you or them.”


“Well, maybe a little on them,” Casey teased. “They need to learn to fear the wrath of Bureau Chief Alex Cabot and not revere you because you lived through witness protection and came back to tell about it. You're the new Liz Donnelly around here, you know.”


Alex groaned. “I'm not sure the world is ready for that... I know I'm not!”


Casey laughed. “It could be worse. You could have been me three years ago coming in to fill your shoes. Took me a long time to get through that.”


“Was I so bad?” Alex asked with a hurt tone. She and Casey had been making great strides in their friendship. She didn't want Casey to resent her. Casey snorted.


“No... you were that good and well-respected and I was an interloper as far as the one-six was concerned. And although you certainly aren't an interloper here, you still need to give it a little time. After all, you've only been back just over a month and things are settling down.” Casey paused and cocked her head at Alex . “Is everything okay?” she asked again. “You said it was a long weekend. Something go wrong between you and Olivia ?”


Before Alex could even draw breath to speak, Robert burst in the door without bothering to knock, slamming it behind him hard enough to rattle the glass. He didn't see Casey sitting there; Casey sat motionless at Alex 's signal and waited for the fireworks to start. Robert marched right up to Alex 's desk and launched into a tirade.


“How could you, Alexandra ?? How could you?!? Do you know how much damage you've done to my assignment?? Do you care how much danger you've put me in??”


“No Robert ... frankly I don't care. The fact is that you brought this situation on yourself. You took advantage of the situation and then refused to cede the only condition I made. So please don't try to turn this into my crisis. It isn't – I was out of this by your actions before I made it home.”


“I don't think you understand the seriousness of what is happening here, Alex ! Someone is going to die because of this!” Robert said in frustration, then he turned and spotted Casey . “Who the hell are you and why are you listening to a private conversation??”


“ Casey is my friend and we were actually having a private conversation before you barged in here.”


“Leave!” Casey didn't even flinch and he reached for her, only to stop at Alex 's words.


“I wouldn't, Robert ... unless you fancy a night or two in jail for assault on an officer of the court. Casey is the ADA for the Manhattan Special Victims Unit. You really don't want me to call Olivia down here to arrest you, do you?”


“Whatever,” he shrugged, turning his back on Casey though Alex saw the flash of fear in his eyes at the mention of Olivia 's name. “But you need to understand, Alex – this is serious. Everything I've built up with Rivera is going down the toilet because of what you did to me. Months and years of work just gone. The entire operation is in jeopardy. And now not only is my life in danger if I don't fix this, but yours and Benson 's could be as well.”


“What do you mean?”


“C'mon, Alex . You really think Rivera doesn't know about the two of you? Even though you didn't exactly announce it to all your society friends... even if I hadn't told him about you throwing me over for her... Rivera knew. He's been watching you since you came back to town although I'm not sure if that was for your benefit or for mine.”


“And you didn't think I needed to know this?!?” Casey shivered at the ice in Alex 's voice.


“Not really. You should have expected it. It's not like you're exactly new to this game, Cabot . That's why I can't believe you were stupid enough to think you could just walk away from this without consequences. God!! Do you get it yet??”


“ Robert , do yourself a favor and walk out of my office without another word. I am not going to help you. You have pushed my very last button and crossed the very last line with me. And if I ever see you within a hundred feet of me again, I'll slap a restraining order on you so quickly, the ink won't be dry before you land in jail. Do *you* get it yet??”


“You'll be sorry, Alex . The only way for all of us to get out of this is for you to drop Benson and....” He didn't get to finish before he was kissing the wall.


“I think Ms Cabot asked you to leave, dickhead.” Alex and Casey were on their feet before the words were out of Olivia 's mouth, but they weren't quick enough to keep her from slamming Robert into the wall like a perp. “Now personally, I've had enough of you and your whining. So as I see it, you've got two choices – you walk out of here a free man or you walk out of here in cuffs. The only difference for me is the amount of paperwork I have to do if I run you in.”


“Let go of me, bitch!”


Olivia turned her face towards Alex and Casey ; both women gasped at the obvious black eye the detective sported. “Why do they always, *always* use that word? Can't anyone, anywhere come up with something different for a change??” Robert shifted and Olivia tightened her grip.


“Let go of me, Detective. I'll leave peacefully and you'll never see me again.” He straightened his tie and jerked his suit coat into place. “Just remember, Cabot , the consequences will rest on your head.”


Olivia opened the door and pushed him out before closing it and locking it behind her. Then she leaned against it and slid to the floor, her exhaustion finally catching up to her. “Damn, that hurt.”


Alex knelt on one side and Casey on the other and with a look, they each took an arm and helped Olivia to her feet. Then they moved her to the couch and helped her sit back; Liv groaned and sighed deeply. Casey stood back, but Alex sat right down in Olivia 's personal space and put her arms around her, relishing the feeling of Liv's body relaxing into hers.


“I'm gonna fall ‘sleep if I stay here,” Olivia mumbled against Alex 's neck. Alex bit her lips to keep from laughing at the tickling sensation Liv was causing with her words. Alex raised a hand and brushed the hair off of Olivia 's forehead.


“When was the last time you slept?”


“Wha' day zit?” her words slurring as she leaned further into Alex . Casey covered her mouth with her hand to keep from laughing out loud and Alex gave her a smirk before turning her attention back to Olivia .


“C'mon Sweetheart,” easing Olivia back until she was reclining with her head against one end. “Take a few minutes. We'll have something to eat brought in and then you can go back to work. Cragen and Elliot can do without you for an hour or two,” she added before Olivia could protest.


“‘ave to fin' Casey .” Alex held up her hand before Casey could speak.


“ Casey can have lunch with us. Just rest for a few minutes.” She didn't say anything else – she didn't need to. Olivia was snoring softly.


Alex stood and pulled Olivia 's lower body onto the couch. Then she rubbed the back of her neck and exchanged a look with Casey . “What the hell is she working on?”


“I don't know. I haven't seen her since... Friday morning, I think it was.” Casey shook her head. “I'll tell you what – I'll go pick up something for lunch. That will give Olivia a chance to rest and you can stay here and keep an eye on her.”


“I'm not keeping you away from anything?”


“Nothing that won't keep a while.”


Alex nodded. “Then I appreciate it, Casey . Thank you.”


Casey closed the door behind her quietly and Alex stared at the sleeping detective on her couch for a long moment longer before she crossed back over to her desk and dialed a once familiar number. It rang twice before it was picked up.


“ Elliot , this is Alex . What the hell is going on?”


“ Alex ?”


“Please, Elliot . Don't play coy and don't be stupid. I have already had the Monday from hell and my lover, the missing girlfriend I haven't seen since a rather frantic phone call from you Saturday night is now sacked out on my couch dead to the world. Now I would like some answers, Detective, and I want them now, please.”


“What do you know?”


“Assume I know nothing from the time you called her in Saturday.” Elliot bit his lip and cursed in his mind. Why do I always seem to get stuck with this sort of stuff? Isn't this supposed to be Liv's job now or something? He sighed. “I'm waiting, Detective.”


“Fine,” Stabler huffed. “I called Liv in Saturday night because a body was found in Brooklyn .”


“ Brooklyn ?? Elliot , that isn't your jurisdiction.”


“No, but I've got friends on the force there. Alex , there was a note there addressed to Olivia attached to the body.”


Alex felt the cold chill skitter down her spine and back up again, making the hair stand up on the back of her neck. “What did it say?” she asked in a whisper.


“ Benson back off. It was written on the victim's shirt in his blood, Alex . Olivia has been working non-stop with the Brooklyn homicide unit since then trying to figure out what the hell is going on. She didn't make it in today but at least now I know where she is. Tell her Cragen said for her to get some sleep today, but she is to be here and not in Brooklyn first thing tomorrow morning.”


“I will, Elliot . Thanks for the information.” Then she hung up the phone before he could respond. He frowned at it when the dial tone sounded in his ear, then he shrugged. He figured he'd get the details from Olivia sooner or later, and in the meantime, she was in good hands.


Alex covered her face with her hands then rubbed the heels of her palms into her eyes, hoping to eliminate some of the burning she felt in them. How long she stayed that way she couldn't have said, but she jumped when a hand landed on her arm. She looked up then down into the sleepy eyes of her rumpled partner. A smile crossed her face at the shorter hair that framed Liv's face haphazardly. Alex lifted a hand and pushed it back from Olivia's face. Liv captured the hand and held it in her own.


"What's wrong, Sweetheart?"


Alex frowned. "Why do you think there's something wrong?"


Now it was Liv's turn to frown. "Because you were pressing your hands into your eyes. That always means something is bothering you."


"Well, let me think – my girlfriend dashed out of my mother's house in the Hamptons thirty-six hours ago with no explanation and barely a goodbye. I spent my entire day off worrying and wondering and finally, because I called her partner and not because she called me, I find out that my lover is tracking down a killer that, for whatever reason, obviously has her in his sights. Now," pulling her hand from Olivia's and standing to pace the room in a very prosecutorial manner, "to that, let's add the fact that the DEA agent from hell once again came to my office to harass me about the fact that his assignment is not going well and he blames me, I've got kids too stupid to pass first year law pretending to be prosecutors AND I have the migraine from hell from the tension in my shoulders and I'd have to say you can pretty much take your pick of what is wrong!!"


Olivia still knelt in the same position Alex had left her in, stunned by her outburst. But before she could kick-start her brain into formulating a response, Alex fell gracelessly back into her chair with an air of defeat, scrubbing her hands through her hair.


"Maybe I should give Robert what he wants; then maybe everything else will work out right for a change. And at least that way you would be protected," the last added at a bare whisper that Olivia didn't consciously hear as she jumped to her feet in reaction.


"WHAT?!?" Olivia exclaimed loudly, now wide awake and alert. "I know you didn't just say that! I know you didn't *think* it!! Have you lost your mind or is the migraine making you stupid??"


Alex glared at Olivia and she felt the room temperature drop around her, but it made a nice counterbalance for the fury she felt flowing through her veins. "Tread carefully, Detective. You don't want to say something we'll both live to regret."


Brown eyes blazed fire, but she kept her voice down, mindful of the rumors that would fly if their words were overheard. "Alex, how do you suppose giving in to Robert at this point will do any good?? It's all over your office and mine what happened between us here a month ago as well as bits of what happened Saturday night – I've already started hearing them.” She drew a deep breath, but it did nothing to calm her rage. “I meant it when I told you I wouldn't be the other woman or your dirty little secret! So are you trying to break up with me or do you really think that turning back to Robert for any reason is going to do anything other than get you labeled as a slut??"


The reverberation of the slap echoed through the otherwise silent room and Alex's harsh breathing was the only the sound to break the stillness. Olivia put a hand to her cheek, stunned that Alex had actually laid a hand on her in anger. She started to storm from the room; her own temper was burning hotly enough to curl her hands into fists that on a purely reactionary level wanted to retaliate and she didn't want to damage their relationship any more than it already had been with an instinctive reaction.


It was the sound of a thud that brought Olivia around to find Alex crumpled on the floor staring at her shaking hand. She was at Alex's side before she realized she had moved. The adrenaline their fight had caused to rush through her body pushed back the exhaustion that had forced her into sleep only a short time earlier and allowed Olivia to cradle Alex in her arms. Alex was much lighter and frailer than Olivia's solid frame so her weight was not difficult for the detective to manage; their nearly equal length made it harder to balance though and Liv stood awkwardly to her feet. Two steps and she sort of collapsed onto the couch with Alex clutching her tightly.


Alex kept deep blue eyes focused on Liv's face, reaching for the reddening mark with the same shaking hand that had made it. Olivia clasped the hand with her own, linking their fingers together forcefully and holding on as securely as she could without hurting Alex in the process.


"Oh God, Liv... I'm so sorry. I never meant...."


"Shh... I know. But I think we need to talk."


Alex nodded and closed her eyes. Then a knock on the door reminded them that Casey had gone to get them all an early lunch. Talking would have to wait just a little bit.




Chapter XVI


Casey was not stupid – she had come back a little sooner than her knock on the door had announced. What she overheard caused her to take the time to arrange a page before she was ready to enter Alex 's office. What she saw when she walked in at Olivia 's bidding broke her heart.


For the first time since her return, Alex Cabot looked frail... broken. And though there were no tears in her eyes or on her face yet, her whole body was curled into Olivia 's as if it was crying for her. One look at Olivia 's face made Casey wince internally, but she kept it from her expression and advanced into the room.


Casey placed the bags on the table and just as expected, her phone rang. She took the call, bewildering Munch with her nonsense, but he gamely played along, knowing he would get an explanation out of her later. Casey flipped her phone closed and dug through the bags to collect the coffee she'd picked up for herself, then turned back to Olivia who was watching her with unveiled interest and Alex whose sole focus remained Olivia.


“I've got to get back. Munch needs a warrant in the Nielsen investigation,” not mentioning she'd given that to him first thing that morning. She wanted to say more, but this was something they had to work out between them first. “I'll be around later if you need anything or want to talk or whatever.” She trailed off, shrugging her shoulders when she ran out of words.


“Thanks, Casey ,” Liv offered quietly.


“Yes, thank you,” Alex agreed, her eyes still locked on Olivia 's face. The door closed behind her with the distinct snick of the lock; only then did Alex release the tears that caused her whole body to tremble in reaction. Olivia held onto her as tightly as she dared. They would have to talk – she wasn't going to allow Alex or anyone else to go around hitting her no matter the reason. But she had been expecting this breakdown since Alex had seen the child in the squad room several days prior. It had been building since their first fiery confrontation the day of Alex 's return and that child had been that catalyst needed to bring everything to a head. All things considered, Alex had shown remarkable restraint in holding everything together as long as she had. Maybe now they could hash things out and finally take the steps they needed to take to truly having a life together.


The tears went on for longer than Olivia expected them to; it was as if Alex had saved all the tears she had never been able to cry for this moment in Liv's arms. Olivia felt the release of Alex 's pain – the burden of living up to an expectation she wasn't sure she could uphold in the wake of her father's death; the empathy she'd never been comfortable sharing with the victims during her tenure with the SVU; the loneliness she'd endured alone while she was in witness protection.


But mostly she felt Alex 's pain and regret for what had just happened. And that made the tension that had settled in the very center of her being uncoil; Olivia 's body relaxed and she lay back on the couch, hoping Casey had locked the door as she pulled Alex on top of her. Otherwise the scandal would be full-blown when the next little punk walked into Alex 's office to whine. What she wouldn't learn until much later was that Casey had not only locked the door, but redirected the interns until Alex decided she was ready to deal with them again.


Liv felt Alex sinking completely into her and herself relaxing into a state of hazy exhaustion. She became aware of Alex 's lessening sobs and tightened her embrace, brushing a kiss over the blonde head tucked under her chin. “Rest, Sweetheart,” Olivia murmured. “We can talk later.”


“God, Liv... I am so, SO sorry. I've....”


“Shh, Alex . I'll be all right.”


“What about us?”


Olivia opened eyes that had closed again as soon as the adrenaline rush wore off, struggling to keep them open long enough for Alex to see the truth in them. She kept one arm wrapped around Alex 's body and with the other she cupped one cheek, gently wiping the tears away with her thumb. “We'll be all right too.”


The need in the blue eyes was so clear and Olivia urged Alex 's face closer until their lips met in a soft kiss. It wasn't demanding or passionate, but it was full of the love and reassurance Alex needed to feel. Liv teased Alex 's lips and tongue with her own until at last Alex pulled away in a desperate attempt to gather air into her lungs again. She dropped her forehead onto Olivia 's chest, purring when Liv started rubbing the knots out of her neck and shoulders.


“God, you're good at that,” she mumbled. Olivia smiled.


“Close your eyes,” she directed, just before she dropped off to sleep. Alex looked up when Olivia 's hand stopped kneading and smiled sadly at the exhaustion so clearly evident in the detective's otherwise beautiful features. She studied Liv's face for a timeless moment, then dropped her head back to the soft, firm chest, positioning her ear over Olivia 's string heartbeat.


“I won't let anything happen to you because of me, Liv. I can't.”


Olivia didn't respond, but her grip tightened. Alex never realized when she fell asleep to the music of Olivia 's beating heart.




“ Alex ?” She wasn't sure at first if she was dreaming or if someone was actually calling her name. Then a hand on her shoulder shook lightly and Alex Cabot blinked open sleepy blue eyes to find Serena staring calmly back at her. She frowned and tried to clear the fogginess from her mind. Why was Serena here and how had she gotten in?


“ Casey called me,” Serena stated without preamble, keeping her voice a whisper so as not to disturb the still soundly sleeping detective. “She was worried about you guys. I used her key to get in.”


“ Casey has a key to my office?” Alex asked, her mind not quite running on all cylinders yet. Serena nodded, extending a hand to help Alex get off the couch without unsettling Olivia .


“Yes, but you'll have to ask her about it.” She led Alex over to the small bathroom in the alcove of her office, then took a seat in front of the big desk while Alex washed her face. She came back out looking much more alert and smiled wearily at Serena . “You all right?”


Alex sighed and shook her head. “No, but I will be.”


“You want to talk about it?”


“No - not until I talk to Liv. She deserves to hear things first.” They both glanced at the woman asleep on the couch. “I'm glad you dropped by though,” Alex continued. “I haven't seen you since the party at Elliot 's.”


“I know... I kept reminding myself to call you and always something would come up. Maybe we should try to have a monthly girls' night out – invite Liv, Casey , maybe Melinda or Liz or even Kathy Stabler .”


“That sounds good.”


Serena closed her eyes, trying to visualize her schedule. “I'll have to check my calendar; I'm drawing a blank at the moment. I'll talk to Casey . Have her invite Melinda ; then I'll ask Liz and Liv can ask Kathy . Once we know how many, we can figure out when and where.” ”


Alex nodded her agreement and Serena rose from the chair.


“All right. Now I'm going to head back to the office, but you call me if you need anything, okay? Either one of you. We're all a little worried.”


“Me too,” Alex confessed, the tired eyes looking back at Serena showing a measure of defeat in them. Serena wondered what could have possibly caused such a reaction in her otherwise strong, resilient friend. She had never seen that expression on Alex 's face before and it was more than a little disconcerting now. She knew Casey was at lunch with Munch, but she determined to corner her for an information exchanging session as soon as possible. She took Alex in her arms and just held her there for a long moment.


“Take care of yourself and Olivia , Alex . We all need you both in our lives. We know what doing without either of you is like – we've done it and none of us were happy with that scenario.”


“Thanks, Serena ... and thank you for checking in on us.” Serena brushed a ghostly kiss over Alex 's cheek, and with a last look at Olivia 's resting form, she was out the door. Alex returned to her desk to work, but most of her attention remained focused on Olivia . Then her interns figured out that her door was open again and she was forced to concentrate on the problems and questions they brought to her. She could only hope it would make the time pass faster so she and Olivia could go home, because regardless of everything that had already happened, it was still only Monday.




“So, Counselor,” Munch drawled in that Baltimore twang of his, “to what do I owe this distinct and unique pleasure? Is this to explain that rather cryptic phone call we had this morning?” He picked up his thick sandwich and took a bite.


“ John , what was Olivia been working on over the weekend?”


Munch stopped chewing and looked uncomfortable, but then he swallowed and answered her question as honestly as he knew how. “We're trying to find some sort of link between the victim and Liv besides the obvious, but so far we've come up empty.”




Munch shrugged. “For what it's worth... no match in the system. The only real open case Liv is the primary on is the five borough rape/murder, but that one has reached a dead end in all the precincts. All we've got are unfounded suspicions. Unless something new comes to light....” he shrugged and picked up his sandwich again. “ Casey , what's going on?”


So she told him what had happened earlier in Alex 's office with Robert and why she was concerned for both Olivia and Alex . “There's no doubt they love each other, John , but I'm worried all of this piling on top of them could break them apart if it doesn't let up soon. Considering all they've been through just to actually become a couple....”


“I know. We've tried to keep an eye on them, but there's only so much we can do without Liv wanting to kick our collective asses. However, I'll mention this to Fin and Elliot . We waited too long to see Liv happy again; maybe we can encourage this Robert character to go away quietly. I can't imagine what Cabot was thinking.”


“That's okay – I don't think even she knows at this point.” Casey 's phone rang at that moment and she excused herself to answer it. In a moment she was back with an interesting smile on her face.


“What?” Munch asked.


“Oh... apparently we're having a girls' night out,” not sharing with him the concern she could clearly hear in Serena 's voice. Serena had promised to explain later, knowing Munch's curiosity would get the best of him if Casey left him alone too long.


“Oooh, can I come?” Munch asked with a smile. “I always wanted to see what happens when you girls get together for fun.”


Casey smirked at him. “It's a lot like when the squad goes out to Mahoney's, except we go somewhere a lot nicer and there aren't any belching contests.” She took a swallow of coffee and picked up a fry. “Other than that, well... it's a girl thing.”


“You're not gonna tell me, are you?”


“Nope. The sanctity of the sisterhood must be upheld.”


“You do realize I am going to make it my life's goal to find out, right?” tilting his head to look at her over his glasses. “It's a conspiracy and I can't allow any conspiracy that crosses my path to remain uninvestigated.”


“You can try,” she smirked. “Just as long as you understand that there's enough law in this particular sisterhood to make you disappear into the black hole of conspiracy theories.”


“Oooh... women who play rough,” he snarked and wiggled his eyebrows.


“Careful, Munch...” arching a single brow at him. “ Cabot *has* been in jail before.”


Munch laughed out loud and held up his hands in surrender. “All right! All right! I give!” He finished up his sandwich and his tone turned serious. “I'll keep you posted; do the same?”


“Yep.” She dropped some money on the table. “You need a lift back?”


“No,” checking his watch. “I've got an appointment nearby. But thanks.”


He walked her to her car. “Bye, John . I'll be in touch.” He watched her drive off, then turned and walked the other way, knowing Fin would be around with the car shortly.




“Do what you need to do, Detective,” Alex said, just stopping herself from slamming the phone down. She clicked the intercom. “ Maggie , can you bring me the files on the Dickson case? I've got some angry detectives waiting on an answer.”


“Right away, Ms Cabot .”


“ Alex ?”


Despite her misgivings and feelings of guilt, Alex couldn't stop the smile that crossed her face at the sleepy sound of Olivia's voice calling to her from the couch. She rose from behind her desk and crossed the room to kneel at Liv's head, reaching out and brushing dark bangs away from her face, then moving to her hand to the place she'd slapped earlier. There was no mark, but Alex knew and so did Liv. Olivia not only didn't flinch away from her touch, but she reached up to hold Alex 's hand in place. “It's all right, Alex . It doesn't even hurt.”


“I'm so sorry, Sweetheart.” Olivia remained quiet, knowing Alex needed to say this... to get it off her chest and make things as right as she could. “I never meant to hit you; I never thought I would. As it is, I'm still not sure how I did. But I swear it will never, ever happen again. You are my whole world, Liv. I can't believe....”


Olivia shifted and tugged Alex off the floor to sit beside her, never releasing the hand against her face. Alex perched precariously on the edge, but her eyes never left Olivia 's. “You're right, Alex – it won't happen again. I won't let it and neither will you, but the fact is I've been waiting for you to reach your breaking point. I didn't push on purpose – I wouldn't do that to you,” she went on before Alex could voice her question. “But it's been building since you got back. I'm glad I was here to catch you when it happened.”


“So am I. I couldn't have done this alone, Liv. It would have swallowed me whole.” She took a breath and looked away and Olivia waited patiently. Finally, Alex spoke again. “I miss the person I was before I left the first time – brash and feisty and independent. I want to find her again... I want to be her again.”


Olivia nodded and swallowed hard, allowing her eyes to wander to keep Alex from seeing the pain she couldn't quite hide. “Would you like some company while you search or is this something you need to do on your own?”


Alex 's head swung around so fast, Liv was a little surprised she didn't hear bones popping. “What?!? I thought... I need....” Alex tried to pull away, but Olivia held fast.


“I thought and I need too, Alex , but I wanted to be sure that's what you wanted. After what you said earlier....” Her brow furrowed in thought and she cocked her head as though listening to an inner voice. Then her eyes flashed to Alex 's brown meeting blue in an intensity of understanding. “Oh God... you said that because you wanted to protect me.” She pulled Alex to her until they were breathing the same air, lips not quite touching but close. “Baby, I promised you I'd always be beside you. Please don't push me away because it's getting hard. That's when we need each other the most. We'll get through this... together.”




“Guaranteed, Sweetheart.” Olivia let one hand curl into the long blonde locks, urging Alex closer until their mouths met in an open-mouthed kiss that swiftly grew in strength. So lost were they in their passion that neither of them heard the door open until there was a gagging sound from someone inside the room.


“God, I'd heard you'd turned out to be some kind of perv, Alex , but I never thought I'd be forced to actually witness it. Figures you're a dyke – I know I wasn't the only man you were ice cold with. I think I might be sick.”


“I'm sorry, Ms Cabot . I tried to keep him out,” her harried assistant said from the door.


“It's all right, Maggie . I'll take care of it. Just get me those files please.”


While Alex 's vulnerability was most noticeable when it came to their budding relationship, it was equally obvious that they were both very protective of it. They were learning how to be part of a couple, and neither of them was willing to let the rest of the world intrude on their discovery process. Alex finished kissing Liv and pulled back; Olivia watched the transformation happen and knew that at least parts of the Alexandra Cabot she remembered weren't buried too deeply.


“Maybe if you'd knock, Jim , you wouldn't be exposed to things that are none of your business. But please don't pretend disgust when it is all too clear that the only thing bothering you about this scenario is you haven't been invited to be a part of it.” Olivia bit her lip to keep from laughing at the expression on the man's face; Jim Steele had the audacity to act offended.


“How dare you! This is a public building paid for by taxpayer dollars and you're a public servant on city time... both of you. I'm pretty sure what you're doing is illegal.” His voice was smug.


“No, it isn't,” Olivia assured him, sitting up behind Alex and running a hand through her wild hair. “But if you don't get the hell out of here, I'm pretty sure what happens next will be.”


“I doubt you want the kind of publicity that could come from this sort of exposure, Alex ,” trying to ignore Olivia .


“ Jim , I honestly couldn't give a shit. Would you like me to call Arthur for you?”


“You're serious,” his voice flat, but holding a hint of incredulousness as well. “You're not the Alex Cabot I remember. She'd have done anything to avoid a scandal... especially of this magnitude.”


“ Jim , was there something you wanted? Because you're right – I'm not the Alex Cabot you remember, and this Alex Cabot is completely over your posturing and your attitude. Olivia and I are together... in every sense of the word. This is a forever kind of thing for both of us. So unless you have a specific purpose here that doesn't involve stupidity coming out of your mouth, get out of my office.”


“Must have been quite a shock for your fiancé to find out you were a dyke, Alex , but then again... maybe you just haven't found the right man either.” She'd been afraid he wouldn't be able to resist that tired cliché, but before Alex could respond, Olivia was off the couch and moving toward him. Jim laughed. “Oh, isn't that special....”


Alex clasped Olivia 's forearm and shook her head slightly when their eyes met. Olivia braced when Alex used her grip on Liv's arm to stand beside her, then smirked when Alex slid the arm down around her waist. She allowed her own to do the same.


“Don't bother, Jim . Whatever we once had is long gone until there isn't even friendship left between us. Olivia is all that's right in my life. I assure you she is all that the man I could want and all the woman I have dreamed of. Now unless you would like me to allow Olivia to remove you by force, I am suggesting you take your prejudiced, chauvinistic attitude and leave.”


A knock sounded on the door and Arthur Branch stuck his head in the door. “ Alexandra , do you have a minute?” He looked around the room, noting the closeness of the two women and the aggressive stance Jim Steele was in. “Is there a problem?”


Steele looked at Arthur , then at Alex and Olivia realizing they hadn't moved away from each other in the DA's presence. He turned back to Branch. “No... I was just leaving.” Arthur waited, closing the door firmly behind Steele before turning back to Olivia and Alex .


“Is everything all right, Alexandra ?”


“I've definitely had better days, Arthur." Alex sighed. "What can I do for you?"


He gave her a half sigh. "I actually came down to talk to my newest bureau chief to see how she's settling into the job. But I think it might be better if I come back later."


"You can talk in front of Olivia, Arthur. She's my partner; we don't keep secrets."


He motioned them to resume their seat on the couch and turned a chair around to face them. "So tell me, Alexandra," leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together. "How are things going?"


A knock on the door kept Alex from answering right away. The door opened and Maggie stepped into the room. "Ms Cabot, I'm sorry to interrupt, but I have the files you requested and I have calls for you on lines two and six."


"Thank you, Maggie ," accepting the files. She turned to Arthur. "Can we talk later?"


"Of course. Call me and we'll set up an appointment when you're a little less busy." He looked at Olivia. "Detective, do you have a minute?" Olivia stood, extending a hand to Alex , then the two women exchanged glances. Branch watched, fascinated by the silent communication he could see going on between them. Liv looked at him and nodded.


“Sure. I need some coffee and I don't think Alex would object to a cup either.”


“Good... I'm buying,” Arthur offered. He held the door and Liv brushed a kiss over Alex 's cheek.


“Be right back, babe.” Alex nodded and Olivia crossed the threshold with Branch following right behind her.


They walked out of the building and down the steps by mutual unspoken consent. There was a coffee shop on the corner that the entire DA's office tended to use – Branch walked by it, going a little further down the block and ducking into a little mom and pop place Olivia would never had suspected was there. Arthur motioned her to a chair and she sat while he gestured to someone who obviously knew who he was. In moments, both of them had large slices of cherry pie a la mode and coffee in front of them. Liv was a little surprised but she dug in heartily, her stomach grumblingly reminding her that her lunch was still sitting on the table in Alex 's office and it had been an exceptionally long time since it had been filled.


Branch watched her scarf down the food like she was starving and signaled over a second piece. Olivia looked up startled when it was set in front of her and she blushed. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “I haven't eaten in a while and I hadn't realized how hungry I was.”


Arthur held up his hand. “Don't apologize, Detective.” A beat. “May I call you Olivia ?” She nodded and he continued. “I'm aware of what you've been up to lately. A police officer is targeted like that, it runs the grapevine pretty quickly. How are you doing – personally; I know how the case is progressing.”


“I'm tired... a little hungry, obviously. Otherwise....” She shrugged.


“Otherwise, you also have Alex to consider. Olivia , may I be frank with you?” He waited for her agreement. “Once upon a time, Alexandra Cabot was among the best and brightest New York City had working for it. No challenge was too tough and she was being groomed for the big chair. Her record with the SVU, while certainly not what any prosecutor wants, was a vast improvement over the numbers we had been pulling and had the incident with Velez not come up, she would have been transferred to major cases as the next logical step in her career path.”


Olivia tried to ignore his choice of words in regards to Velez and focused on what he was saying instead. She figured there had to be a point somewhere.


“As it is, she skipped a couple steps and was made a bureau chief at the behest of the DEA, and she is doing an excellent job... don't get me wrong. She's taken kids as green as I have ever seen them and started them down the right path. It will take a while, but I think we'll get some good prosecutors out of them with Alex as their mentor. She could still take the big chair eventually... if she wants it. But I get the impression her heart is no longer in the law.”


Liv sat quietly for a moment, organizing her thoughts when it became clear Branch was waiting for a response. “I'm not sure I'm the one you should be talking to. No matter what I do or don't think, the fact is that this is Alex 's life and Alex 's decision. I'll support her no matter what she decides to do... even if she decides she wanted to go back to Florida and be Mickey Mouse at Disney World.”


She paused and then continued more slowly. “I do know that this last month has been a hell of a roller coaster ride for her. A whole lot has happened, not the least of which was me pouncing on her almost the identical minute she resumed her life here in New York . Fortunately, I think that worked out the way she wanted it to.” Liv couldn't stop the smile that crossed her face and Branch smiled in sympathy. He had seen how happy they both were and knew it for the truth. “But the pressure from the DEA and Robert to help them take out Rivera has made some things more than a little difficult. Add being practically forced to come out to virtually every member of the society that was once your life and I think it would be fair to say she had a rough few weeks.”


“I understand that, Olivia . It's one reason I'm concerned. Is there anything I can do to help? I don't want to lose her; she too good a prosecutor. But I don't want her to be miserable either.”


“Just respect whatever decision she makes if the time ever comes for her to make one,” Liv answered him honestly. “And be her friend if she needs one.”


Arthur looked at Olivia with new respect. “You're a very wise woman, Detective Olivia Benson. I'm glad you came into Alex 's life. She needed someone like you.”


“I needed someone like her too... but thank you.”


The rest of their time in the restaurant passed in silence while they finished their pie. Then they headed back, making sure to pick up coffee for Alex .




Chapter XVII


“I hear Kathy is going out on a girls' night with you and Alex tonight,” Elliot said as he and Olivia headed back to the station house. For the last three days, they had been re-examining every possible lead they could dig up on Rivera , the multiple rape/murders and the victim that had been a message for Olivia . They all had a gut feeling they were linked; proving that instinct true was going to be something else again.


However, Cragen had called them back in, saying Fin and Munch had found something. So they were picking up lunch in preparation for what Cragen had warned them would be a lunch briefing. “Yeah,” she said. “ Alex asked.” She smiled, shrugging. “I couldn't say no.”


Elliot smirked. “She has you so whipped, Liv.”


“Willing surrender, El.” She snickered at him when he clutched at his chest. “How are things between you and Kathy ?”


He sobered considerably. “Better. At least we are talking. We're still going to counseling although I know I'm still missing a lot.” He shrugged. “I'm glad we're talking again; I hadn't realized how much I missed just talking to her. I'm real glad she hasn't cut me off from the kids.”


“I don't think she'd do that even if she never got over her anger with you. No matter what problems you've had in your marriage, you've always been a good father, El. You've got good kids.”


“Yeah, I know,” he agreed. “What about you and Alex ? You talked about having kids?”


Olivia 's eyes nearly bugged out of her head. “ Elliot !!”


“What?!?” She slapped him in the arm. “Hey I'm driving here!!” sending a glare her way. Olivia glared back but crossed her arms over her chest to keep from smacking him again. He gentled his tone. “What's wrong, Liv? You're great with kids. I think you'd be a wonderful mother.”


“ Elliot , Alex has only been home for five weeks.”


“Liv, Alex may have only been back for five weeks, but the two of you have been part of one another's hearts for more than six years. You can't tell me you haven't thought about it.”


“Actually, I can.” Elliot risked a glance at Olivia and found nothing but truth in her expression. He arched an eyebrow, inviting her to continue. “I'm not going to get into it, El. Alex and I haven't talked about a lot of it and she deserves to be the first to hear anything about that. But trust me when I tell you I haven't spent the last six years thinking about Alex and I having children – and I think it's safe to say she hasn't either.”


“All right,” he nodded. “I'm sorry.” Her eyes snapped to his profile at the unexpected apology. “If I'd thought about things, I'd have known better. I just think you'd make a great mom – you both would.”


“Maybe,” she said shrugging. “But we have other priorities to take care of first.” She opened her door after he put the sedan in park. Elliot cocked his head at the tone in her voice and turned to look over at her as she opened up the back door to retrieve their lunch.


“Liv, everything okay? Alex all right?”


“Yeah, mostly. I'm just... I dunno, El. I'm probably just being paranoid.”


He cocked his head at her. “I doubt it – that's not your style. What's your gut telling you, Liv?”


“Something's still not right.” She held up her hand. “We're doing okay – there are still some rough spots we need to work on, but for the most part we're fine. We've been talking a lot... especially in the last week,” not mentioning what had precipitated their conversation or what they had been talking about. That was too private to share with anyone other than Alex ... even Elliot . “But I'm worried about everything else. Between the pressure the DEA has tried putting on her and a job with the DA's office she's starting to really hate, and this threat against me... I'm just waiting for her to completely crack.” She looked at him and he saw pain in her dark eyes. “She's already fallen apart on me once, El. And I don't know what to do for her to make it any better.”


“Has she talked to anyone... other than you?”


Olivia shook her head. “She got some names from Huang when we went to lunch, but she hasn't called anyone yet. I'm getting a little....” She blew her bangs off her forehead.


“You just be there for her, Liv – whenever and however she needs you to be there for her. That's all a good partner can do. You be there for her and I'll be here for you whenever you need to talk or blow off some steam or whatever. Eventually, she'll figure it out; Alex is a smart lady.”


“You think so?”


“Think Alex is smart? Yeah - she knew enough not to let you go, didn't she?? Besides, I like living. I'm not gonna tell Alex Cabot she's being stupid unless I have incontrovertible evidence to back it up – and maybe not even then. Now, c'mon... we need to get inside and find out what Fin and Munch got. I am ready to be over with this whole case.”


“So am I. I need a vacation.” Elliot stopped walking so quickly, Olivia nearly ran into his back. “ ELLIOT !”


He turned and squinted his eyes at her. “Sorry. I think I need to get my hearing checked. It sounded like you said you needed a vacation.”


“I do – preferably a deserted tropical island with just me and Alex – and maybe a cabana boy dropping by to serve us perfect Mai tais once in a while.”

Elliot wanted to question her on that particular fantasy a little further, but reality got in the way before he could open his mouth to speak. “ Benson , Stabler... with me,” Cragen said as they stepped into the precinct. They exchanged glances and shifted back into business mode, then followed the captain into the interrogation room where Fin and Munch were patiently waiting.


They took the bags out of her arms before Olivia could put them on the table. She blinked and took the drink her partner offered her. Then she took a seat and leaned forward, pinning Fin and Munch with her gaze. “Please tell me you have something.”


“We have more than something, my dear Olivia . We have everything,” Munch gloated. He took a bite of his burger and chewed slowly. “Or at least almost everything.”


“Munch, lemme tell it before girlfriend here kicks your skinny white ass.” Fin turned back to Olivia . “I put some feelers out to my old narc buddies, figuring they could prob'ly get the lowdown on those vics faster than we could. Turns out they had all been key players in Velez's organization who refused Rivera 's invitation to join him. Now we still got no evidence more than word on the street, but they do all tie back to Velez and from there to Rivera .”


Fin took a deep gulp of his drink and resumed speaking. “The choice of vics was meant to bring the rest of Velez's stragglers into line.”


“Did it?”


Fin shook his head. “Dunno. Word is it was initiation for some of Rivera 's new blood.” He shrugged. “We're still working on it, but with no new evidence and no DNA....”


“In the meantime,” Munch commented, leaning back in his chair, “we may have come up with something on the Brooklyn murder. Obviously that was meant as a message for you, but it occurred to me that this might not be the first message you've been sent. At first we thought it might tie into the serial killings. We're still working on that angle. But we know the Brooklyn deal was aimed at you... as was the attack near your apartment. We're going to talk to the two gentlemen you and Alex apprehended.”


“You think they're tied together?”


“I think it's not beyond the realm of possibilities.”


“I agree,” Cragen spoke for the first time. “And you know who it points to as the most logical culprit.”


“Yeah, but getting evidence against a DEA agent is going to be a bitch. Hammond might croak if we have to bust his boy for murder,” Stabler snorted.


Munch held up his hand. “It's all still speculation, but we're going to check into it.”


“Meanwhile, you're being assigned to protective custody.” Cragen held up his hand before Olivia could open her mouth to protest. “Not *for* you, Liv, although I'm sure the guys will continue to keep an eye out on you. We think you need to keep an eye on Alex . If her... whatever Robert Claiborne was to her is behind this, she's the next most logical target. He hurts you worse by doing harm to her than to you and he knows that.”


Olivia scrubbed a hand through her shortened hair, glad once again she'd had it cut into something much more manageable. “Sonovabitch!” standing and pacing away from the table. She let her hands come to rest on the back of her neck and closed her eyes. They waited while she calmed herself; then she turned back to them and pinned Cragen with a stare. “How long?”


“However long it takes. This comes down from the top – they want this bastard caught. He's made it too personal. And you know how the department feels about that.”


Olivia sighed. “I know, Cap. I just think Alex has been through enough. I'm not sure how much....” She trailed off, but each of the detectives knew where her train of thought was leading and there wasn't one there that would disagree. Cragen stood and walked up behind her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.


“ Olivia , the two of you have been through a lot just to be together and I know these past few weeks have been rough for both of you. I want you to take care of Alex for a little while, and let her take care of you. I think you both need that right now. We'll take care of things here.” He sighed. “We don't want to lose either of you again, all right?”


Olivia blew out a breath and nodded her agreement, walking to the door.


“Liv, where ya going?”


She turned and looked back at Elliot . “I'm on protective detail, El. I've gotta go break the news to Alex . Wish me luck.” They all grinned at her and she smiled rakishly. She turned back to the door then looked back over her shoulder. “Do me a favor though, will ya?”


“Name it, girlfriend.”


“When you do nail this bastard, I wanna know why he needed to involve Alex in this at all.” She turned around fully. “I want to know,” she enunciated carefully, “what his REAL agenda is here.”


“You wanna be there to watch?”


Olivia grinned toothily. “You know it.”


They watched her walk out of the room and then exchanged glances. “I almost feel sorry for that Robert character. He shouldn't have messed with Alex .”


Munch looked at Elliot for a long moment. “I wonder why Hammond let him.” All eyes shifted towards him. “C'mon... Jack Hammond knew what a pain in the ass Alex Cabot was. She proved that her first few days in the program.”


“I don't think he did.” Three shocked, surprised faces whipped in his direction. Cragen smirked at their expressions and held up his hand to stop any speech. “No, I'm sure Hammond was well aware of Alex 's pain in the ass status. C'mon... we all knew within hours of her being assigned to the unit.” The detectives all chuckled their agreement. “So it is very possible that Hammond had no idea what this Robert character was doing until after it was done.”


“Then he needs to regain control or step away from his job.”


Cragen held up his hand. “We're not going to get into that debate. It's not our concern right now. Right now we need to be concerned with how to take care of this threat to Olivia and Alex as quickly and expediently as possible. I want my detective back.”


Munch slapped the table. “Fin and I'll head out to Riker's to visit Frick and Frack. I figure they'll be ready to talk to us after a month in lock-up. And they're our best bet for a connection right now.”


“Right,” Cragen nodded. “Get on it.” He turned to Elliot . “Drop the other. It's been shifted to cold cases - that came down from the top.”


He nodded and braced himself, pretty confident what was coming. “So you want me to...?”


“Keep an eye on Liv and Alex . There will be a small contingent working with you, but that is to be your primary focus for the time being.”


“You know she's gonna get pissed if she finds out, Cap.”


“ Elliot , she's not stupid. She knows we're going to do everything in our power to protect them while we bring this guy down.”


“The sooner the better if you ask me.


“From your lips to God's ears.”




“Tell me, Nick ... did you actually graduate law school or did they run a special on diplomas in your local Walmart? You do the research – you find the answers. You don't need to be in the DA's office if all you want to do is make deals. Think about it.”


Olivia watched the young prosecutor storm out of Alex 's office, then turned her attention back to the woman sitting behind the desk. She closed the door and slipped up behind Alex , putting her hands on Alex 's shoulders and bending down to whisper in her ear simultaneously.


“Rough day at the office, Sweetheart?”


Alex closed her eyes and relaxed into Olivia 's hug sideways and with a little effort. “Tell me again why I took this job.”


“Um... it sounded like a good idea at the time?” not sure what sort of response Alex was looking for.


“Well, it is sounding less and less like a good idea as time goes by.” Olivia moved around until she was standing in front of Alex's chair, the blue eyes slowly opening as realization dawned on Alex that Olivia was no longer behind her. Liv extended her hands and Alex accepted them without hesitation, allowing Olivia to draw her to her feet and guide them both to the couch.


Liv nestled her body into the corner and pulled Alex down beside her to cuddle in her embrace. Alex went willingly, closing her eyes at the contentment she felt wash through her. She tucked her face into Liv's neck, breathing deeply of her scent and feeling lips brush over her hair.


They had spent hours in this position at home, talking and sharing bit of themselves with one another – especially since their fight a few days earlier. Nothing had been taboo and they had come to understand a lot about themselves and each other.


“I'm glad you're here,” Alex said as she relaxed. Then she stiffened as the implications of what she said sank into her consciousness. “Wait... why are you here? I haven't had a chance to call you yet,” glancing at her watch. “It's the middle of the day. Shouldn't you be working?”


“I am,” Liv admitted without hesitation. “You're my new assignment.” Alex pulled back and glared at Olivia balefully. Olivia launched into an immediate explanation and though Alex didn't move out of her arms, she was shaking her head no before Liv could finish.


“No, Liv... don't you see? This is exactly the situation I was trying to avoid.”


“No, Alex ... it's not.” She took Alex 's face in her hands and forced her chin up until their eyes met. “He's targeting you now to get to me. I'm not going to let that happen. And neither are the guys.”


Alex took one of Liv's hands in her own and kissed it, then held it back to her face. “I can't do this anymore, Liv. I feel like I'm coming apart at the seams.”


“ Alex ... Sweetheart? You need to talk to somebody. I'll be right there beside you every step of the way for as long as you need me, but you need to talk to a professional about all this stuff. You're trying to deal with too much on your own and it's killing you. I couldn't live with that again; I've already been through that once.”


“I wouldn't want you to,” Alex confessed. “And I called George this morning. I have been listening to what you've been saying, it just took me a little while to get my ass in gear,” acknowledging Olivia 's efforts to get them into counseling. “I think he was waiting for my call. He got me an appointment with a female therapist friend of his at five this afternoon. I was going to call you about it, actually, but things have been a little crazy around here today.” She looked at Olivia seriously. “Is it a full moon out or something? Because it seems like the world as I knew it has gone nuts.”


“Well, the world has gone nuts, but I'm glad you called George . I've been worried about you.”


“I know... sorry.”


“Don't be sorry... just improve,” Olivia smirked, bracing for the smack she knew was coming. Alex obliged her and crossed her arms over her chest and pouted.


“I guess the honeymoon is over – you don't think I'm perfect anymore.”


Olivia couldn't contain her laughter. “Oh, Sweetheart – not since the day we met.”


“Why you...!” launching an unexpected tickle attack. Olivia bit her lips to keep from shrieking her surprise and her laughter. Then she returned the favor wholeheartedly, tickling Alex in return until they collapsed against one another, breathless. “That felt really good,” Alex said. “I needed that.” She snuggled back into Olivia 's arms, smiling when they tightened reflexively.


“So did I. Makes everything else sorta fade into the background.” A knock on the door stopped any further discussion and Maggie stuck her head in, looking around until she spotted her boss and Olivia cuddled up together on the couch. If she was surprised by Liv's unexplained presence, it didn't show on her face. Instead, she took a step into the office, holding onto the doorknob. Alex cocked her head in question.


“What's up, Maggie ?” But before she could respond, she was pushed aside.


“God... don't you two know how to get a room? Or do you think you can just flaunt your perversion on the public's dime?” Jim Steele turned his focus to Olivia . “Don't you have a job, Detective or are you using Alex to sponge off the Cabot estate?”


Alex jumped from the couch and walked right into Jim Steele 's personal space. This time, however, her reaction wasn't a slap – and only Olivia 's lightning fast reaction kept Alex 's bunched fist from making a forceful impact on his face. Steele stepped back involuntarily.


“Get. Out. Of. My. Office.” Alex hissed. “And don't ever, *EVER* come back in here again. I have listened to enough of you vitriolic bigotry.”


“I'm going to Branch with this, Alex . I hope you haven't gotten too fond of this office, because you're not going to be in it by the time I get done.”


“I think you think too much of yourself and your skills, Jim ,” Alex said, relaxing into Olivia 's touch.


“We'll see, Cabot .” He walked out, slamming the door behind him. Maggie exchanged a look with both Olivia and Alex before opening her mouth. Alex just shook her head.


“It's okay, Maggie . He's always been an ass. There's not a lot you can do short of getting a restraining order.”


“Which is distinct possibility at this point,” Olivia broke in. She turned to Alex . “What is his issue with you anyway?”


Alex sighed. “What isn't his issue with me? I refused to sleep with him during college even though he was considered the most eligible man in ‘my social circle'; I ‘took' the valedictory spot from him at law school even though he was never a viable candidate; I made ADA before he did; I became a Bureau Chief on the fast track to the Big Chair. Then factor in the little issue that I have the best looking detective in the tri-state area as my lover, girlfriend and significant other and it's no wonder his shorts are in a twist.”


Maggie snorted and both Alex and Olivia grinned wryly. “Sorry,” Maggie apologized. “How about I go get the two of you some coffee?”


Alex thought about it, then shook her head. “No. You know what? I'm calling it a day. Olivia and I have an appointment to go to shortly anyway, and I have had all the stupid I can deal with today. If Arthur calls ask him to call my cell; otherwise, I don't want to hear from anyone in this office until Monday morning. And Maggie – I want you out of here by five.”


“Yes ma'am. You two have a good weekend.” Then she shut the door behind her.


Alex moved back towards her desk to pack things up for the weekend. She straightened files and put things away. She pulled her purse from the top drawer and set it carefully in the center of her desk, then sat in her chair and leaned back, pining Olivia with a sad stare.




Olivia shook her head to clear it then tilted it towards Alex in question. “Why what?”


“Why did you prevent me from hitting him, when you let me hit you? Obviously you possess the skill and speed necessary to stop me.”


“I didn't actually think you would hit me, honestly.” Liv paused. “Besides, I wouldn't have you arrested for assault. I'm pretty sure that jackass would. He's obviously intent on making trouble for you any way he can.” She smirked and looked down at the floor, trying to lighten the atmosphere. “There seems to be a pattern here with you and troublemakers.”


Alex snorted. “It would certainly go a long way towards explaining you, Detective.” She propped her elbows on her desk and leaned her chin on her folded hands. “I just seem to attract trouble.”


Olivia arched an eyebrow. “Well, Ms Cabot – it seems we have a couple hours free before we need to go see our new therapist. Wanna see what kind of trouble we can get into together?”


Alex stood and put her hand in Liv's extended one. “That is the best offer I have had today, Detective. Can we stop and get some chocolate syrup?”


Liv's nostrils flared in response. “Let's go,” leading them out the back door and down to the street. It was going to be an interesting afternoon.




Chapter XVIII


“We've got to get moving, Sweetheart,” Olivia said. Alex conveniently ignored her, kissing her way back up Olivia 's naked body and cleaning off the odd spot of chocolate still clinging to soft skin with her tongue. Without warning, Liv groaned and put her hands under Alex 's arms, pulling her up bodily until she caught Alex 's lips in a consuming, fiery kiss.


It went on until Alex relaxed against her and two sets of hands started wandering again. “Oh God... Liv.” She knew they needed to stop, but it felt... so good. Here in Olivia 's arms, more than anywhere else, she felt like the Alex Cabot of old – passionate, confident and fearless.


“ Alex , unless we wanna go into the doctor's office smelling like sex and chocolate, we need to get into the shower now.”


“I'd rather stay here,” Alex grumbled, dropping her head on Olivia 's chest and relishing the strength and love she could feel flowing all around her.


“I know, baby, so would I,” cradling Alex 's face so she could read the truth for herself.


“But we need to take that first step... I know.” Alex kissed the breast under her cheek and hugged Olivia tightly. Then she slid from Liv's grasp and held out a hand to her. “C'mon, love... we don't want to be late. I imagine the doctor would have a field day with that.”


Together, they walked naked to the shower, closing the door on a squeal. Maybe being a few minutes late wouldn't get them into too much trouble with the doctor.




“Please, come in,” the doctor invited as they were ushered into her office, not commenting on their just out of the shower appearance. She came around her desk and extended her hand. “I'm Dr. Norris , Janet Norris . And you would be Alex and Olivia Benson . Dr. Huang has told me.... What??” she asked, noting the twin blushes the two suddenly sported. “Is that wrong?”


Olivia scratched the back of her neck sheepishly. “We're um... we're not Alex and Olivia Benson .”


“Not yet,” Alex murmured under her breath. The dark haired doctor caught it and arched a brow, but Olivia continued speaking as though Alex hadn't spoken, though she couldn't control the second blush that flushed the dark skin of her face.


“This is Alex Cabot and I'm Olivia Benson .”


“Does it bother you, Ms Benson ?” When a frown crossed Olivia 's countenance, Janet continued. “Would it bother you for Alex to take your name?”


“What? No! But it should be her choice... our commitment – not your misunderstanding. She's her own person – she always has been.”


“And that's important to you?”


“It's important for her.”


Janet held Olivia 's eyes for a long moment, then nodded in satisfaction before turning to face Alex . “You have quite the champion defender, Ms Cabot ; you're a very lucky woman.”


Alex nodded her head. “I know,” glancing at Olivia and sharing a shy smile. “She's been my rock. I'm not sure my sanity would have survived so far without Liv's support.” She dropped her eyes to the clenched hands in her lap. “Some days I'm still not very confident of my stability as it is.” Alex looked up when Olivia 's hands covered hers.


“It'll come, Alex . That's why we're here, remember?”


Dr. Norris observed their interaction. “May I ask how long you have been together?”


Alex pulled her eyes away from Olivia 's. “Technically – five and a half weeks.”




“She came storming into my office and forced a confrontation almost the minute I came back to town.” Alex spared Olivia another look, noting the detective's focus remained on their entwined hands. “Best thing that could have happened to us.” She sighed. “How much did George tell you?”


“Obviously not enough if I misunderstood your commitment to one another.”


“You didn't,” Alex said, looking at Olivia who caught her eyes and confirmed the words with a nod, though her eyes never left Alex 's gaze. “We've known one another for over six years, but this facet of our relationship is still very new for us – so new we haven't even had a chance to talk about doing anything formal or legal yet. It would be nice to have a chance to settle into our relationship first without all the baggage.”


“ Ms Cabot , if we all waited until no one had baggage, the human race would have gone extinct before they started making pictographs on cave walls. That is just the nature of human relationships. Tell me... have you been in love with one another for six years as well?”


Alex blinked. “You certainly don't pull your punches, do you, doctor?”


“ Ms Cabot , you will find that I am nothing if not blunt. Honesty has served me well for a very long time. Unfortunately, I've found that it rarely goes hand in hand with tact. So...?”


“ Dr. Norris ... is there a reason this is any of your business?” Olivia spoke up. “I thought we were here so you could help Alex deal with what happened while she was in witness protection and all the crap that has happened since she came home. Not talk about our private lives and things we are still working through together.”


“ Ms Benson , Ms Cabot has indicated that you are her rock... and have been... through all this crap, as you put it. Therefore, you are the single most important thing in her life and hopefully the same is true in reverse. But either way, I think it is important for me to understand the nature of things between you so I can determine the best course of therapy for Alex and for you together as a couple. Believe it or not, I'm not the enemy. I'm here to help... if you'll let me. Your choice.”


Olivia was silent for a long moment. Dr. Norris was much more than she'd expected her to be and Olivia was surprise by her willingness to show them the best way to shoulder their burdens together, recognizing their inherent need to do so. She glanced at Alex who had remained conspicuously quiet during the entire exchange.


“Well then, doc.” Liv finally said. “I guess you should probably be calling us Alex and Olivia .”


“And I'm Janet , unless you are uncomfortable with the informality.” Both women shook their heads and Janet nodded. “Good. Then we need to set some ground rules. George told me a little of what you needed when he explained why he'd sent you to me. Since we are here primarily for Alex , I would prefer if you do most of the talking,” addressing Alex . “You need to be the one to decide what to share and when. However, this is not meant to exclude you at all, Olivia . Once Alex brings up a subject, please feel free to participate in any way, shape or form you feel appropriate.”


“If at any time either of you feels uncomfortable with a subject, you only need to say so. We can always go to separate....”


“No,” Alex stated defiantly. “We are doing this together... especially through the hard stuff. We promised each other. If one of us gets uncomfortable, we can put the topic on the table for later, but neither of us is going to do this alone.”


Janet blinked. She suddenly understood George 's comment about Alex needing to find her true self again. Apparently, the formidable woman Alex had been before her ordeal with Velez was still there – she just needed some help uncovering her from all the protective layers she had amassed during her time away.


“All right, Alex . That's fine with me. It's wonderful to see two people who are so committed to one another. So why don't you start at the beginning for me and tell me how the two of you met. I think a little background would be the best place for me to start.”


Alex smiled and nodded her head, her expression becoming slightly unfocused as she let her mind go back to that very first day with the Special Victims Unit. Olivia closed her eyes and let Alex 's voice take her back to memories the same and yet slightly different from her own. This experience could turn out to be the best thing that the two of them had ever done.




"Well," Janet said some time later, "it has certainly been a roller coaster ride for both of you getting to this point in your lives I must say. The good thing is you have built a very solid foundation between you based on honesty and devotion to one another and the love and trust you share will make what needs to be dealt with easier to work through. However, you both need to understand and accept that this is going to take some time; despite the fact that we'd all like an overnight cure, the truth is it will take a while to get Alex to a place where she feels like Alex all the time again; it took time and some nasty circumstances to get her where she is now. But with love and support and patience, I know she will find her way back to where she wants to be."


"So what now, doc?" Olivia subtly glanced at her watch and realized they had been with the therapist nearly two hours and her eyes widened. Janet smiled.


“It's all right, Olivia . I expected as much; it's why you were my final appointment for the day. Now we set up an appointment for next week, though if you feel the need, Alex , we can do more than one session a week. Completely up to you.”


“I'm fine with once a week for now. If that changes, though, I'll call you.”


Janet nodded. “All right. So shall we try for the same time next week?”


Alex looked at Olivia who shrugged. “I'm on call but El will probably cover for me for a couple hours.”


“We'll be here, Janet ,” Alex said as she rose from the chair she'd been ensconced in for the better part of one hundred and twenty minutes. “Thank you for... well, thank you,” extending her hand. “I was very reluctant to come, but Liv made it easier for me to see that I needed to. And I'm glad she did. I can't tell you how much this has helped already.”


“I'm glad, Alex . I hope you both feel that way when we start working through the hard stuff.”


“We will, Janet . We want a real future together, and I know I have to make peace with the past first.”


“Can I ask a favor then... right up front?” Janet waited for Alex to nod, seeing Olivia 's eyebrow arch in the periphery of her vision. “When we get you to that point... when you're finally ready to commit yourselves to each other publicly... will you send me an invitation to the wedding?”


They both blushed, but Alex nodded. “You bet, doc.”


Janet grinned. “Excellent! Now, I need to get home to my husband, and I'd be willing to bet two beautiful women have something better to do together on a Friday night than hang around their therapist's office. So you to go have some fun and relax and I'll see you next week.”


“Same bat time,” Alex joked.


“Same bat channel,” Olivia and Janet finished together with a chuckle. Then Alex and Olivia took their leave and headed out to meet the girls.




“I sure hope Munch doesn't make good on his threat,” Casey commented as she brought two more pitchers of beer to the big table that now held eight women. Liz had invited Elizabeth with Alex 's blessing and the two older women were getting along famously, laughing over the antics of a different generation and generally enjoying themselves as a part of the group but also separate. The six younger women were currently playing pool, or they had been until Casey 's comment. But that brought seven pairs of eyes to her face as she set the beer down.


“Excuse me?” Melinda asked. “What does Munch have to do with a girls' night out?”


Liv's brows furrowed. “He didn't,” pinning Casey with a stare.


“Yeah, he did. I told him we were a little more upscale, but....”


“One of you want to fill the rest of us in on this conversation?” Kathy asked.


Casey chuckled. “Sure. Munch and I were having lunch the other day when Serena called me about doing girls' night out. Of course, that made him nosey and he threatened to discover the secrets of the sisterhood for himself since I was unwilling to spill for him.”


Olivia snorted. “I'm sure we can come up with something interesting to tell him later.”


“I'm sure we could make up something far more interesting than the truth,“ Serena laughed. “But I'm glad we decided to do this. I haven't had this much fun in a long time.”


“Neither have I,” Liz chimed in. “I never expected to be part of a Ya Ya Sisterhood at my age, but this has been fabulous – very enlightening. We should do this again.”


They all raised their glasses and clinked them together. “Hear! Hear!” they all agreed.


“Can we make this a regular event... maybe once a month?” A cheer went up around the table and the night went on with much laughter and merriment.




“I needed that,” Alex said as Olivia locked the door behind them. “That was a lot of fun. It was nice to get together with everyone.”


“Even with your mom there?” taking both of their jackets and hanging them in the closet.


“Yeah... who knew she was such a pool shark – she even gave you a run for your money. Besides, it was good to see her loosen up a little; I think she and Liz bonded.” Together they walked down the hall, stopping to snag two bottles of water from the fridge before entering the bedroom.


Liv chuckled. “I think so too. Though that could be trouble for you later.”


“It would be worth it,” Alex said. “I can't tell you how much better I feel.”


“All this from a night out with the girls?” stripping off her clothes and sliding into her pajamas. Liv headed into the bathroom, jumping when Alex pinched her ass. “Hey!” spinning around and taking a step back out of Alex 's reach, only to find Alex suddenly stalking her like a tiger. Then Olivia took the initiative and tackled Alex to the bed.


“My goodness, you're feeling awfully feisty tonight, Counselor,” Olivia said before she leaned down and captured Alex 's lips, nipping at them until Alex surrendered by opening her mouth. Liv's assault gentled but continued, her tongue invading Alex 's mouth and stroking tongue and teeth and lips. Alex reciprocated wholeheartedly, wrapping arms and legs around Olivia 's body like an octopus. Finally, Alex turned her head to try and catch her breath and Liv returned the embrace until there wasn't a spec of air between them.


After a moment, Alex pushed back slightly and Olivia loosened her hold enough to cup the planed face in her hands. “Thank you, Olivia Benson .” She traced the arched eyebrows, the high cheekbones, the full lips. “You make me feel... so much. I love you.”


“I love you, Alexandra Cabot . Thank you for coming home to me.”


“Thank you for being here... for waiting... for storming into my office. It gave me the courage I needed to take that step.”


Olivia tenderly allowed her fingertips to follow the delicate bone structure of Alex 's face. “I was just glad you came after me.”


“As angry as you were?”


“Yeah... the anger was mostly directed at me. I'd sworn I had given you up – that I would never let you get to me again.” Olivia shook her head and looked away until Alex grasped her chin gently and brought their gazes back together. Then Alex bit her lips at the tears she found in dark brown eyes.


“Oh Liv....”


Olivia shrugged her shoulders and bit her bottom lip, but the tears slid down her cheek anyway and Alex soothed them away with her fingertips. “Sorry.”


“Don't be. I know it hurt you... I know *I* did. But this helps make us better, right?”


“Yeah. I didn't mean to take away your good mood though. This has been one of the few times since you came home you've really relaxed and been the Alex I remembered.”


“Yeah, but I think it's going to happen more often now. I really like Janet . I think she's going to be able to help me get a handle on all this. And with you beside me... well, the FBI psych was right about one thing – I do need to work through all the crap that happened. The thing I could never make him understand was I couldn't work through anything until I made things right with you. Thank you for standing beside me and holding my hand.”


Olivia clasped Alex 's hand in hers, bringing it to her lips and brushing a kiss across the knuckles. “I meant what I told you, Sweetheart, but I'll keep reminding you until you know it for the truth – I'm not going anywhere.”


Alex closed her eyes and nodded. “I know that, love... I do. I just need to hear the reassurance sometimes. God!” she exploded, dropping her grip from Olivia 's body and flinging herself deeper into the mattress. “I HATE being so needy.”


Liv gave her a crooked smile. “I'm glad you can be needy with me, but don't worry, Alex . Your strength is still there. Maybe I can be needy with you once in a while?”


“Anytime, Sweetheart. I'll be your rock too. Let me up.” At Olivia 's questioning look, Alex grinned. “I have got to pee.”


“Can't hold your liquor, Counselor?”


“Beer goes straight through me. Besides,” she added as she rose from the bed. “I want to brush my teeth and shower off the smoke smell. Join me?”


“I'm so there,” Liv confirmed and followed Alex into the bathroom.




“That was Julia ,” Alex said late the next morning as she crossed back to the couch to curl up around Olivia 's body while she worked the Times crossword. “She's found a few places she thinks might work, but she's asked for a little more time. I think she has something specific in mind that hasn't become available yet.”


“That's fine, Sweetheart – whenever you and she are ready. I'm not in any rush to find a new place except as it makes you happy to have the space you need.”


Alex smiled. “I'm happy here, Liv. I'm happiest wherever you are. But I will confess I'll be glad to have somewhere to put a piano. I miss my music.”


“I've only heard it once, but so do I. You're very talented, Alex . If you ever decide to give up the law, you could always turn to music for a career.”


The blonde head shook. “No. Music is a passion for me... something I only share with those I care the most about. I could never subject myself to the lifestyle going public with something so personal would require.” She gave Olivia a sly smile. “No, if I quit the law, I would have to find something to do at home. How does the title ‘Liv's Sex Slave' grab you?”


The coffee Olivia had just sucked into her mouth went three different directions – up her nose, down her windpipe and spewing from her lips. She choked and gagged while tears ran down her face trying to catch her breath. Finally, she cast a baleful glance in Alex 's direction.


“A little warning might have been nice.”


“Sorry,” Alex apologized, though there didn't seem to be much remorse in her expression. “I just feel really good.”


Liv let her hands run lightly over Alex 's torso, smiling broadly when Alex 's breath caught at her touch. “Yeah, you do. However, we will have to investigate those feelings later.” Reluctantly, she pulled her hands from Alex 's body and stood. “C'mon, you promised your mom we'd meet her for a late lunch today. Then maybe we could go to the park for a while?”

“Yeah,” Alex agreed. “I'd like that.”




Lunch was nice and Elizabeth couldn't say enough good things about Alex 's and Olivia 's friends or the good time she had enjoyed the evening before.


“I am glad you invited me along, Alexandra . They are a good group of women; I was glad to spend some time getting to know them.”


Alex chuckled. “You enjoyed showing off your prowess with a pool cue,” she pointed at her mother. “And don't think I don't want to hear all about *that* soon. But we were glad you came too. We thought it might make you feel better if you could meet some of our friends a little more intimately than you were able to at Elliot 's party. I know you've been worried.”


“I still am, Alexandra . I always will be. You're my daughter and it kind of goes with the territory. But I can see you're doing better and it is nice to know you have friends close by who love and support you and Olivia . Sometime you will have to invite them all up for a weekend at the country house. I'm sure Sara and the girls,” referring to women of her generation, “would love to meet them.”


“I'll talk to them, Mother. We'll see if we can work something out.”


“Excellent,” Elizabeth agreed. “Now let's eat. I know you two have to have more interesting things to do on a free Saturday together than hang out with ‘mom'.”




Olivia had left only moments before to pick up some of Nita's cookies and some fresh bread for dinner at Alex 's insistence. Alex was trying to prepare stuffed chicken breasts but Olivia 's help had become more distracting than helpful, hence the need to send her out of the kitchen. Alex smiled; Janet 's words about weddings and commitment had fast-forwarded her thinking. Her mind wandered to the papers still safely hidden in her desk. Part of her wanted to give them to Olivia – had since she had drawn them before she'd even come home, hoping.... And though she didn't doubt Olivia 's love for her at all, she didn't want to push Liv into making a commitment she wasn't ready for. But more and more, Alex wanted a tangible acknowledgement of what was between them, knowing from experience that at any moment, things could disappear in a heartbeat.


As Liv walked down the sidewalk, her smile came unbidden at the thought of Alex cooking in her kitchen. So much had changed for both of them in just a few weeks. Her smile became melancholy as her thoughts turned to the rings she had stashed in the safe in her closet. She'd bought them on a whim a few days after Alex 's return, having seen them in the window of a specialty store one day when she and Elliot had been out. He'd been good, not commenting on her obvious fascination and refraining from asking questions when she took an extra hour for lunch the following day. Olivia knew that Alex loved her without reservation – the question was... were they ready to take the final step of commitment to one another? Olivia knew she was but she wanted Alex to be sure as well, and she had already been through so much, especially recently. They'd already lost so much time by not taking the risk, but was it fair to ask Alex to make yet another life-changing decision so soon? Olivia shook her head to clear it then opened the door to Nita's. Soon, but not yet , she thought.


The rest of the weekend was relaxed – no phone calls, no work-related responsibilities – only household chores and quiet talks; love and laughter. They deliberately put aside talk of Robert and Rivera and the DEA and focused on sharing more of themselves, and though neither of them brought up formal commitment yet, their thoughts never strayed far from it.




Liv lifted her head from where it rested against Alex 's chest, listening to her heart beating out a steady rhythm of life. She looked around the room lit by the bare coming of dawn, wondering what had drawn her from such a sound sleep. Alex 's eyes were still closed, her chest moving slowly up and down in the deep cadence of sleep. There was no sound in the apartment, save the clicking of the refrigerator, the hum of the fan and two sets of breathing.


Olivia 's brow furrowed. *Something* had woken her from sleep. She cast her focus inward, trying to remember what she'd been dreaming, feeling an uneasiness in the back of her mind, but there was only a big blank. Shrugging, Olivia finally relaxed back against Alex 's body, smiling in the near darkness when Alex 's arms tightened convulsively around her though she never actually woke up. Liv closed her eyes, but she couldn't shake the feeling that something was awry. She never did fall back to sleep.




Chapter XIX


“God, I hate Mondays!” Liv grumbled as she and Elliot headed out to what promised to be a bizarre scene. They had gotten the call before either of them had been able to grab coffee and she and Alex had been running late despite her lack of sleep. She couldn't shake the niggling feeling at the base of her neck either and that was just adding insult to injury as far as she was concerned. Elliot spared a glance in her direction.


“Bad weekend? From what little Kathy shared, your little girls' thing was a rousing success.”


Olivia rubbed the back of her neck. “It was,” she smirked, “and no, I'm not giving you details.”


“So the rest of the weekend sucked? C'mon, you idiots... move! Can't you see the flashing blue light?” He slapped the steering wheel in frustration at the traffic jam.


“No... it was nice. Quiet for a change and relaxing. We did chores and the crossword. It's just....” Her brow furrowed and Elliot risked a glance in her direction.


“What's wrong, Liv? Your Spidey sense tingly?”


“That's it exactly... like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.” She sighed and shook her head, turning to look out at the suddenly moving cityscape as Elliot found an opening and pushed them through it.


“Is it Alex ?”


Olivia 's dark head whipped around. “What?!? No, El. Alex and I are doing fine... better than fine, actually.” She paused and he waited. Despite the rough patches they had been through in recent months, they were still partners and best friends. And Elliot knew Olivia would eventually get to whatever was bothering her so badly... even if she didn't know what that was yet.


“So have you given her the ring yet?” finally broaching one subject that had been taboo thus far. “C'mon, Liv... you've gotta know she'll say yes if you ask her.”


“But is it fair to push her for a commitment right now, El? She's still trying to find her equilibrium here and every time it seems like she might be close, something else happens to knock it off kilter. I don't want to push her into something she might later regret.”


Elliot pulled the sedan into a spot behind a police cruiser and they exited, snapping on latex gloves and crossing to the tape. Both flashed their badges and the officer nodded and lifted the tape for them to step into the scene.


“Liv, have you ever considered that you'd both regret it more if something happened and you missed the opportunity to be everything to each other? You know how quick it can happen,” looking at her with knowing eyes. “Every day I regret all the things I missed with Kathy and the kids because of my stubbornness. Don't let that happen to you and Alex , Liv. You've been through enough and you both deserve to be happy. Life is too short to spend it on regrets and wish-I-hads.” He turned to the officer guarding the door. “Whadda we got?”


The officer shook his head and pointed his thumb towards the interior of the warehouse. “Nothing I would be able to explain without you having seen it first. Let's just say that kind of kink is something I didn't get when I was young and limber enough to give it a try.”


Elliot gave him a wry smirk and patted his shoulder before he and Olivia crossed the threshold into another example of man's inhumanity to man.


They took in the scene slowly, carefully noting everything they could without doing more than moving in a circle. They then exchanged glances and moved towards the CSI team. They had a lot of work to do.




“ Benson ! Stabler! My office.” Olivia spared a wistful glance at the coffee pot before following her partner into Cragen's office, taking the seat he gestured to. “So what do you have?”


“A real twisted son of a bitch, sir, but apparently not a very bright one. The crime lab boys were able to lift several prints as well as some fibers. With any luck, our perp's already in the system. If not....” Elliot shrugged. “We'll find him; it'll just take us a little longer.”


“Just try to be quick. The press is already jumping all over this one. Apparent suffocation by dildos and butt plugs makes for fascinating headlines. We started getting calls before you two arrived on the scene.”


“What the hell??” Liv asked, jumping up from her chair.


“Yeah, I have Munch and Fin checking into the leak. Meanwhile, keep on it. The sooner this is solved, the sooner it will go away.”


“ Hope we don't get a copycat,” Elliot mumbled. Liv just groaned.




“ Eric , you can do this. The detectives gave you a rock solid case. All you need to do is go in that courtroom and present it. All right?”


“Thanks, Alex ,” Eric said before leaving her office. Alex dropped her head into her hands and was still sitting that way when Casey knocked on the door. She looked up and an expression of relief crossed her face. She waved Casey in and the ADA complied, shutting the door behind her.


“Rough day?” Casey asked compassionately as she took a seat in front of Alex 's desk. “It's not even lunch time yet, chief,” giving her a sympathetic smile.


“Rough week,” Alex answered honestly. “You know about the sex toy case Liv caught Monday morning?” Casey nodded. In face, she was currently expecting to be paged for a warrant. When she had been in the precinct for a briefing earlier that morning, Olivia and Elliot were very close to having the evidence they needed to obtain one. She had borne the frustration they felt in being so close but not close enough, but made it very clear she had to have more before they got anything. Alex , however, didn't know about any of this and continued speaking.


“I think I have seen her a sum total of ten minutes since Monday morning. She didn't come home at all Monday night and I was asleep before she got home last night. I saw her long enough this morning for her to remind me how much I miss her when she's gone before she was out the door again.”


Casey chuckled and shook her head. “Damn, Alex ... you've got it bad.”


“No kidding,” Alex agreed wryly. “But I wouldn't change it either.” She straightened the papers on her desk. “But I'm sure you didn't come here to listen to me go on about missing Olivia .” Alex looked up and met Casey 's eyes. “So what can I do for you?”


“Actually, part of the reason I am here *is* Olivia .” She held up her hands before Alex could panic. “I'm expecting a call for a warrant and Elliot will make sure Olivia comes to get it.”


“You and Elliot having problems?”


“What?? Oh no... no more than usual. But I think Olivia is missing you at least as much as you're missing her. Stabler pulled me aside this morning after we got into it over the warrant they wanted. I promised I would try to be here in case something broke and since I am back from arraignments and don't need to be back in court until this afternoon....” She shrugged. “I'm just trying to do right by my detectives.”


Alex smiled. “I remember those days.”


“Do you miss them?” Casey asked candidly.


Alex slid her glasses from her face and chewed thoughtfully on the earpiece while she considered. “Mostly, no,” she replied with surprising candor. “I miss working with the detectives of the one-six. They are good people... people I am still proud to call friends. But the rest...? No. I don't miss the ugliness and the brutality and the endless nights that seemed to have so little justice for the victims that needed it the most. That thirteen-year-old girl brought that home to me so clearly the other week. I will always, ALWAYS stand by Liv and support her, especially as long as she works in Special Victims. But it's not something I ever want to do again.”


“So you like being a bureau chief?” Casey saw the hesitation, but before she could question further or Alex could respond, her phone rang. “Novak... yeah, I'm in Bureau Chief Cabot 's office. Can you have her meet me here? Thanks.” She looked back at Alex . “ Elliot ... Liv's on her way.”


“Why?” It was all Alex said, but Casey knew what she was asking.


“Because you're both my friends, and ten minutes is not going to make a difference in catching this nut job.”


“How can you be sure?”


“He is at work and under surveillance by an off-duty police officer who happened to be pulling a detail there. We'll know the instant he moves or be able to pick him up if they find something. Now, before Liv gets here, would you like to have lunch with me and Serena ?”


“Sure,” Alex said, “as long as you don't have to be in the squad room for the interrogation.”


Casey shrugged. “I will, but we'll worry about that when we get to it.“ Then a knock on the door interrupted them and Alex invited Olivia into her office.


She wanted to walk straight into Alex 's arms – it was clear from the expression on her face, but she settled for a long look before focusing on Casey and laying out the facts of the case. It didn't take but a moment and Casey was nodding her approval.


“I'll get your warrant, Olivia . Liz has been standing by to sign it since our discussion this morning. I'll be right back,” she added, slipping out the door and leaving the two of them in privacy for a moment. Alex just had time to stand before Olivia stepped behind the desk and took her into her arms, pushing gently until Alex was just seated on the desk and Liv was standing between her legs.


“God, I have missed you, Sweetheart.” She didn't give Alex a chance to respond verbally; instead Olivia dipped her head and their lips met in a passionate embrace. “I have to go,” she said long minutes later. “Keep the light on for me tonight?”


“I'll wait up for you,” Alex promised. Then Olivia walked out of her office, snagging the warrant out of Casey 's hand with a muttered ‘thank you' as she crossed the threshold.


The two lawyers stood in the doorway together and watched the detective sashay with a distinct swagger down the hall to the elevator. Olivia stepped in and turned to lean against the wall, smirking and waving at Alex and Casey before the doors slid shut. Liz crossed to stand beside them and Casey touched Alex 's arm.


“I've got to get back to my office, but I'll be by to pick you up for lunch when Serena arrives.”


“Thanks, Casey . I'm looking forward to it.”


Liz turned to look at Alex , taking her by the arm and leading them both back to Alex 's office. “So is Olivia the handful at home she is at work or out with the girls?”


Alex 's eyebrows nearly flew off her forehead and her mouth dropped open. Liz laughed. “Sorry,” less than sincerely, “though I have to admit it was worth it to see Alex Cabot completely flabbergasted,” she added with a smile. “You two fit so well together.”


Alex recovered quickly and smirked. “Yes, we do, and yes, she is. I can't tell you how much I missed her while I was gone. I couldn't live without her now.” Something in Alex 's tone made Liz cock her head.

“Bad enough to make it more permanent?” she asked. “ Alex , you've had those papers in your possession since you came home. Isn't it time to do something about them?”


“Before,” Alex corrected softly.


“Okay, before.” Liz tilted her head and pinned Alex with a stern look. “Before?”


Alex nodded and looked down at her lap for a long moment before raising her head to meet Liz 's eyes. “I wasn't sure... not after what I'd said to her in that hotel room, but I wanted it. I was hoping really hard.” She bit her bottom lip and gave Liz a crooked smile.


“So what's holding you back now? C'mon, Alex ... you were never a coward before. What is stopping you from telling the most incredible person you know that you want to spend the rest of your life with her - together as a couple?” Liz paused and gripped Alex 's forearm gently. “You of all people know how precious life is and how easily and quickly it can disappear.”


“I'm afraid she'll say no.” Liz 's eyes popped wide open.


“Excuse me?? Alexandra Cabot , have you lost your mind?? That woman is crazy mad in love with you! Why on earth do you think she'd say no to committing herself to you formally and legally??”


“Because we've already been through so much just to be together! What if she thinks just being together is enough, especially after the crap we've endured since I came home? I don't want her to feel like she is being pushed or maneuvered into something she really doesn't want.”


If Liz had glowered any harder, Alex 's hair would have caught fire. As it was, Alex felt like a dunce student waiting for the rap on the knuckles from a disappointed instructor. “ Alexandra Cabot !!! I should tell your mother on you! You *know* better – you know Olivia Benson better than that. Give her some credit for being a mature, responsible adult who loves and cares for you more than her own life.” A beat, then she continued in a softer tone. “ Alex , you didn't see the shell of a woman she became while you were gone. Trust your instincts. And if you can't do that, trust hers.”


A knock on the door and the trill of a cell phone ended the discussion and both women rose. Liz made a face before answering her cell and Alex squared her shoulders before inviting her visitor in.


“ Ms Cabot ?”


“Just a moment, Nicole ,” motioning her to a seat. She took Liz by the elbow and waited for the judge to put her call on hold. “Thank you,” she said sincerely. “I think I needed that kick in the ass.”


“Just make sure you do something about it, Alex . Don't put it off. I've got to go, so I'll see you later.” She pointed a knowing finger towards Alex and shut the door behind her. Alex took a deep breath to fortify herself them walked around her desk to sit and solve the next intern crisis. At least it would help the time pass until she saw Liv again.




“Nothing!” Elliot grumbled as he slumped back in his chair. “Tore his place apart and not one damn piece of evidence against this punk.”


“That's because the DNA wasn't his,” Munch said as he handed them the coroner's report. “It's similar, but not identical.”


“But the fingerprints...?”


“... could have been planted,” Olivia said, sitting up so quickly her elbows slapped the desk.
”Remember the tech mentioned they were awkwardly positioned.” Elliot nodded and leaned forward, his mind picking up Olivia 's train of thought. “So we need to be looking for a male relative.”


Munch shook his head. “I don't think so, Liv. Check the results closer. Your perp is a woman.”


“Sonovabitch,” she cursed out loud. “How did we miss this?”


Elliot and Munch exchanged glances. “Liv, Munch and I'll cover this... see if we can come up with a name or something. Why don't you go home and spend a little time with Alex ? She always puts you in a much better frame of mind.“


“Please,” Munch implored. “Your life is the thing male fantasies are made of.”


Olivia arched an eyebrow in his direction. “Was that a sexist comment, John ?”


“No – God's honest truth. Trust me on this – no conspiracies on this... statement of fact.”


Olivia held his eyes for a moment longer and then she shook her head chuckling. “You are so full of shit, Munch. But ya know what,” she added, standing up and straightening her desk. Then she snagged her keys and gave them both a rakish grin. “I gonna take you up on it and go home.” She walked to the door and turned back. “ Alex promised to wait up for me tonight. It'll be nice to surprise her and be early for a change. Night, guys.”


They waited until they heard the slam of the outer door. Then Stabler turned to Munch with a grin. “Nicely done.”


Munch returned the expression then sobered. “Thanks. I was hoping to get her out of here before she thought to ask about Dumb and Dumber.”


“Still nothing?”


“No. We know Claiborne got them released from Riker's the day before the body was found in Brooklyn , then they disappeared. No trace of them at all. Even our buddy Robert appears to have gone underground.”


“Yeah, it's becoming something of a concern.” Stabler turned to Fin as he came in the door.


“What's the word?”


“There is none. According to my sources in the narc squad, Rivera 's pulling back, takin' his business underground.”


“What?? Why?”


“Claiborne screwed shit up six ways to Sunday involving Cabot .”


“Yeah... so did the DEA.”


“Yeah, but Claiborne's fuck-up put Rivera 's organization in the DEA's sights instead of rockin' up his powerbase by being so in with the DA's office. Word is Rivera 's sure that steppin' back and away from Claiborne'll take the heat off his organization and focus their attention on Claiborne.”


“Has he made Claiborne as an agent?”


“Dunno. *I* think it means Claiborne's bein' set up as a patsy. If I was Rivera , it's what I'd do.” Fin shrugged. ”He'll disappear and run things quietly for a while. By the time the DEA finds him again, his base'll be secure. No one will challenge him for a while.” He sighed. “I dunno, man... it doesn't feel right lettin' him get away, but we got nothin' on him we can move on. And honestly... I'm not down with helpin' the DEA no more. They done Cabot dirty.”


“And our buddy Robert is playing right into Rivera 's hands.” Munch stated. Fin nodded.


“So where does that leave us?” from Elliot , clicking his pen before tapping it on the desk.


“As far as Rivera goes – watching and waiting. Claiborne is a wildcard; we are still looking for him and his compatriots, but.... In the meantime, we need to see if our male friend has a female relative with an agenda against him.”


The other two nodded their agreement, and they settled in again to work.




“Honey, I'm home,” Olivia called out as she stepped into her apartment. “I always wanted to say that.” Alex 's head popped out of the kitchen, then she looked at the clock and back at Olivia .


“Wow! You're home early.” She dropped the towel she was holding at the same time Olivia divested herself of keys, gun and badge. Then they met in the middle in a hot, open-mouthed kiss. Liv ran her hands down to Alex 's ass, cupping it through the silk shorts she was wearing and pulling her closer. Alex tightened her hands in Olivia 's hair, crushing their mouths together.


Eventually, they were forced to separate to breathe, but they adjusted for that by wrapping around one another in a tight hug and holding on for long moments before pulling away to gaze at each other at close range.


“Hi,” Olivia whispered.


“Hi,” Alex whispered back. “I missed you.”


Liv grinned. “I missed you too. So much that Elliot and Munch sent me home to get an ‘ Alex dose'.”


Alex arched a brow as she subtly urged Olivia 's lips back to hers. “An Alex dose, huh? Then far be it from me to keep you from getting your minimum daily allowance, Detective.”

Liv resisted Alex 's tugging, allowing their lips close without meeting. “I hate to tell you, Counselor, but even my reserve supply has been depleted. It's gonna take a while to fill them up again; we could be looking at an all-nighter.”


“That sounded suspiciously like a challenge, Ms Benson . Are you aware of the consequences of issuing such a dare to a member of the bar?”


This time Olivia brought their lips together, sliding one hand up Alex 's back to tangle in the hair at the nape of her neck. Finally, they separated again, chests heaving and foreheads leaned together. “Sounded more like a promise to me, Sweetheart.”


Before Alex could take another breath to respond, loud growling erupted from two stomachs. They exchanged startled glances, then burst into laughter.


“Well, that certainly killed the mood, but I could definitely eat. It's been a while.”


“How long a while?”


“What day is it?” Alex glared at Olivia 's flippant answer and Liv held up her hands in surrender. “El and I grabbed a bagel this morning, I think it was. I know, Alex ... I'm sorry. Can we argue about it after I eat?”


“We're not going to argue. Since you can't look after yourself, I am assuming that responsibility as of this minute. So, I want you to go get in the shower and relax a little bit and I'll finish up dinner.”


“You cooked again? Alex , you don't have to....” Olivia kissed the fingers covering her lips but she didn't remove them and Alex smiled at the gesture.


“I know I don't, love. I want to. I actually learned to enjoy cooking and became quite good at it while I was away. I like being able to share something good with you that came from all that.”


Liv kissed Alex 's fingers again, then drew them from her lips and held them against her heart. “All right, Sweetheart. I'll admit I like it too. I could get used to being pampered like this.”


“Just give me half a chance,” Alex muttered under her breath.


The buzzer went off on the oven, covering her words and Liv released the hand she held so Alex could go take care of whatever it was she had in the oven. Olivia followed her and then got shooed out of her own kitchen to go take a shower. She watched Alex for a minute longer... until a blush ran up her face at the attention. Then Olivia sauntered down the hallway with a pleased smile on her face. Despite how nuts things had been professionally lately, she was quickly coming to appreciate the domesticity having Alex Cabot for a partner brought to her personal life.


The water was hot and her thoughts wandered as she relaxed under the pounding water and hot steam. Elliot was right – she needed to make a commitment to Alex and let Alex decide if she was ready to make their relationship as permanent as the law allowed.


Decision made, Olivia stepped from the shower, trying to figure the best way to ask, not knowing Alex was in the kitchen thinking the same thing.


It was going to be an interesting evening.




Chapter XX


“Thank you,” Olivia said as she seated herself on the couch. She leaned forward and poured them each another half glass of wine before Alex shifted her so that she could take a seat between Liv's legs and lean back into her chest. “That was great, but this is better,” letting one arm drape around Alex 's waist.


Alex tilted her head back and gave Olivia a smile. “This is one of the most perfect places in the world to be as far as I am concerned,” mischief dancing in her twinkling blue eyes. “I would be perfectly content to give up the law and stay here on a more permanent basis.”


“I like the sound of that, especially considering how screwy the way things have been at the precinct lately.” Olivia shook her head to clear her thoughts; she didn't want to think about work tonight, but Alex easily picked up on her frustration and shifted a little to better look Liv in the eye.


“Is everything okay, Sweetheart?”


“Mostly, yeah. It's just my focus has been off a little lately.” She squeezed Alex around the middle. “And I wouldn't change it... not given the reason for it.” Olivia kissed Alex on the nose, closing her eyes and moaning when Alex moved to trace her lips with her tongue before invading her mouth. “God, you're good at that,” she said, eyes still closed when Alex released her lips. “No wonder I can't focus on anything but you lately. It does make work a little more difficult, but....” Whatever Olivia had been about to say was swallowed up when Alex kissed her again.


Alex altered her position so she was sitting more across Olivia 's lap, running her hands up the silk-clad torso and combing through the soft, short hair until she could gently scratch the back of Liv's neck. Alex felt the world move as Olivia shifted both of them until Liv was completely covering Alex 's length as they stretched out on the couch.


Then Olivia let her hands begin tracing a path up Alex 's body with slow, tortuous precision, removing their clothing as she went. Skin met skin and talking went to the wayside for a long while after that.




Alex delicately traced Olivia 's features, gasping when the smiling lips bit down on her fingers. Liv's tongue started teasing her fingers and she left her hand where it was, enjoying the tingles it was causing to spread outwards from the very center of her being. Her other hand came up and caressed the flesh of Olivia 's face, needing so desperately to remember everything about this moment.


“You are so beautiful,” Alex whispered, gazing into brown eyes filled with so much love it literally took her breath away. She didn't realize her own reflected exactly the same back to Olivia , which caused her to smile and release Alex 's fingers.


“Have you looked in the mirror lately, gorgeous?” She combed Alex 's hair away from her face then let that hand cradle her face. “I love you.” She paused and covered Alex 's mouth with her thumb. “Shh... let me talk a minute, ‘kay?” Liv waited for Alex to nod her agreement, then stroked her lips before resuming her speech.


“I never thought I'd say that to anyone... certainly not in the context of a lover. You say I make you feel... do you realize you do the same thing for me? Even when we first met, you made me feel... so much. And I know that loving you as intensely as I do is not going to change the fact that we are going to butt heads. It's in our natures and I think we both enjoy it to some extent.” Alex 's eyes twinkled in agreement and her lips curved into a smile.


“As long as we are never deliberately hurtful,” Alex said softly. “Besides, the more passionate the argument, the better the make-up sex,” she added with a wicked grin. Olivia chuckled ruefully at the truth of that statement for a moment, then sobered. Now was not the time to get sidetracked with thoughts of sex. They could resume that train after Liv said her piece. She cleared her throat.


“You said you thought about... well, *us* during the three years you were gone and I know we've been dancing around the subject since you got home a few weeks ago. But I think... I need to tell you what I've been thinking and feeling and then you can decide on where we go from here.”


“Yes,” Alex interrupted.


“Yes? But I haven't even said anything yet. You have no idea what you might be blindly committing to here,” Liv took a deep breath to try and ease the pressure she suddenly felt in her chest. “Maybe you ought to at least let me tell you before you pledge yourself to me.”


“Liv, any promise I make to you would be in my best interests, and I told you when the time came, I would say yes. But if I'm wrong....” Olivia shook her head and swallowed hard. This was more difficult than she had imagined it would be.


“You're not wrong. I just want you to know exactly what you're getting into if you say yes to me.”


Alex cupped Olivia 's face in both hands. “ Olivia Benson , I worked with you for three years before we were separated and I saw your heart and your compassion and your selfless dedication to victims of horrible crimes. I have lived with you almost from the moment I returned to New York . Unless you howl at the blue moon or something equally outlandish that only happens on rare occasions, I know *exactly* what I'm getting into. You are a beautiful person, Liv... inside and out. I don't think marriage or commitment is going to change the core person either of us is.”


“You're sure?” hope dawning in her brown eyes. “I don't want....”


Alex couldn't stop the sheer joy she was feeling from bubbling up inside her and this time she put her thumbs over Olivia 's full lips. “Shh....” she admonished. Then she slipped out from under Olivia . “Let me show you something,” padding naked to her briefcase in the hall. Liv watched her go, enjoying the view and smirking at the blush that colored Alex 's fair features when she felt Olivia 's lustful gaze raking over her body. She cleared her throat, and Liv just grinned – an expression she lost as soon as she got a look at what Alex held in her hand.


“ Alex ?”


“I wanted you to understand how sure I am, Liv. I had these drawn up before I even came home,” passing the folder to Olivia . “I wasn't sure about how you felt, but I knew how I did. And I wasn't going to leave anything to chance if there was even a possibility you felt like I did.”


“That's a lot of faith, Sweetheart.”


Alex nodded. “For a long time, it was all I had.” She motioned to the folder. “Would you be willing...?”


For answer, Olivia flipped open the folder and looked over the paperwork, her eyes widening as understanding sank into her consciousness. She raised her eyes and met Alex 's. “ Alex , this is too much. I can't....”


“Liv, if we were able to get married legally, all this would be moot. It would all go to you as a matter of course. The way things are, we have to plan for every eventuality. I just need to know that if anything happens to me, you'll be taken care of.”


“ Alex , if anything happens to you again, there won't be any need to take care of me. I won't survive it again,” her voice dropping to a whisper. “Besides, I can't do the same....”


“You've already done so much more, love. I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was homeless, and you took me in. And you never asked me for anything in return.”


Olivia bit her lip. “Actually, I do have something to ask.” Alex cocked her head, curious as to what could have possibly made Liv suddenly so shy. It was endearing and a little bit funny, considering they were having such a serious, life-altering discussion sitting around nude on the couch.


“Anything, Liv... you know that.”


Olivia stood and extended her free hand to Alex who accepted it and rose, then they walked side by side to the bedroom. Liv seated Alex on one corner of the bed. “Hold these?” handing Alex the folder and stepping into the closet to open the safe. She swung the door open and reached in, taking a deep breath and closing her eyes while pulling the box from within.


“If we're gonna make this legal, signing papers and stuff, I'd like to make it as legal and official as we can. I'd like to do it right – stand up in front of our friends, make our promises to one another publicly and maybe...” holding out the box to Alex, “exchange rings?”


Alex stared at the box for a long moment before turning her attention to Olivia who was suddenly focusing on the floor like she expected to discover gold there. Alex smiled and opened the box – then she gasped.


The engagement ring was gold with an infinity knot pattern surrounding the three-quarter carat diamond. The wedding bands were gold with a platinum infinity knot inlay. Alex picked one up to examine it closer and discovered it had been engraved – Always Live & Love Like You Were Dying. That was enough to bring tears to Alex 's eyes.


“Oh, Liv....” Alex rose from her place on the bed and tucked herself into Olivia 's body, smiling when she was surrounded by her embrace.


“You don't think I'm being corny?”


“I think you're being incredibly romantic, Detective Sergeant Mushball . I love the inscription.”


Olivia took the engagement ring from the box. “This one's engraved too – Forever... Olivia .


“You're going to make me cry.”


Olivia smiled and kissed Alex on the temple. “As long as they are happy tears. Can I put it on you?”


Alex held out her left hand, accepting the ring and the kiss that Olivia consecrated it with. Then she pulled Liv's mouth back to her own and indulged on a long exploration, welcoming Olivia 's tongue when it met her own.


“Dance with me,” Alex whispered when they separated, overriding Olivia 's protests until they were swaying to music only the two of them could hear. After a few minutes, Alex asked, “ Will you take me to the place where you got these? I'd like to get a ring like this for you.” Olivia opened her mouth to argue, but Alex stopped her. “I'd like to do things right too, Sweetheart, and that means you get a wedding set too... not just a band. Besides, I'd like to have your ring engraved as well.”


“It's hard to argue with motivation like that.”


“I know. There's a reason they gave me that JD diploma that hangs on my wall, you know. It's not all about the glasses of justice.”


“I happen to *like* the glasses of justice.”


Alex slid from Olivia 's arms and walked the two steps to her nightstand. She picked up said glasses, sliding them onto her face and turning around to face Olivia who was staring at her dumbstruck. “Would you care to demonstrate that affection, Detective?”


Olivia visibly pulled herself together and Alex felt the aura in the room shift – Olivia became the hunter and Alex was most definitely the prey within her sights. She stalked her slowly, circling behind her, sniffing at Alex 's neck and watching the goosebumps trail down her arm. She blew in her ear before lightly nipping at the lobe and watched them skitter down Alex 's torso to the top of her groin. Liv let her hands tease up Alex 's sides....


... then found herself looking up into burning blue eyes through the glasses of justice, trying to figure out exactly how and when she'd landed on the bottom of the pile on the bed. They gazed at each other for a timeless moment, their eyes reflecting their love and need. Then Olivia 's lips were captured with fiery passion while anxious hands teased and pulled at her nipples. And she gave up on the thinking and turned her attention to the loving instead.




“Can you take today off, Liv?” They were curled up in bed together, idly stroking bare skin, a pleasant lassitude running through their satiated bodies from a night spent making love. It was early morning – not yet dawn, but close enough that going to sleep now was somewhat pointless.


“Not the whole day, no. I'm due in court this morning to testify in the Reynolds ' case. I should be able to get away after that. Why?”


“ Julia called last night; she said she wanted to show us a property, but that this morning was the only time she could schedule to see it.” Alex smiled shyly. “I was going to leave you a note about it, since I expected you to be home late. But your coming home early threw everything else out of my mind.”


Olivia lifted the hand that now bore an engagement ring to her lips. “I can't imagine how that happened. That legendary focus appears to be slipping, Ms Cabot .”


“Oh, it didn't slip, Detective. On the contrary – all that attention was focused elsewhere... quite effectively, I might add.”


“God, isn't that the truth,” Liv agreed, stretching languidly. “I can't remember a time I ever felt so lucky... and so loved.”


“Me too,” Alex agreed. “There was a time I wasn't sure I would ever actually get to feel this way with you. To be perfectly honest, I'd rather stay here with you than do anything else. But since you're not going to be here, I guess I'll get up and go into work.”


“Go meet with Julia and look at this place she's so anxious to show us. You know what we want and if it's what we're looking for....” Olivia shrugged. “I'll try to get there, Alex , but the bottom line is I trust you to know what's right for us. If it feels like home, don't let it slip away because I'm not there.”


“All right. I'll call and leave you a voice mail as soon as I find out where this place is. Maybe we can meet for lunch regardless.”


“You've got yourself a date, Counselor.”


Their kiss was unhurried but full of passion and promise as was their lovemaking. After a brief, intense climax, they rested together watching a tiny shaft of sunlight slowly cross the floor towards the bed. Finally Alex turned her head just enough to look at the clock.


“I suppose you need to get up and get ready.” Olivia leaned up and checked the time. Then she sighed and nodded her head.


“Yeah, court days always take longer. One of these days, they'll have casual days.”


Alex chuckled, picturing some of the judges and other lawyers in casual clothes. “I wouldn't mind seeing that.” She rolled from the bed and put on a robe. “I'm going to go fix you some breakfast. I promised you last night that I was going to assume responsibility for your well-being. And as much as is humanly possible, I intend to keep that promise.”


Olivia got up and wrapped Alex in a hug from behind, kissing her neck. "You're too good to me."


"Nope. You've just been alone too long. But that's not going to be a factor for you anymore." She turned and pecked Liv's lips first. "Now go get your shower; breakfast will be waiting for you when you get out."


Olivia nodded and sauntered to the bathroom, well aware of Alex's eyes on her ass. She stopped at the door and caught Alex's eyes, winking and grinning at the blush that followed, not seeing blue eyes widen in surprise. Alex scampered out of the bedroom into the kitchen, wondering how long it would take for Olivia to notice.




"Not very long," Alex muttered, sticking her head in the fridge. She had breakfast to make.




A frown crossed Casey 's face when Olivia crossed her threshold. “You okay?” noting the turtleneck Liv usually only wore on very cold days. “You're not getting sick, are you?”


“No... I'm fine. You ready to go to court?”


“Yeah, yeah... just let me grab my briefcase.”


“' Kay ....” rubbing the back of her neck self consciously.


“Don't worry, Liv. It's completely covered and you look very imposing.” Casey bit her lips to stifle her laughter at the startled look in Olivia 's eyes. “ Olivia ... take a chill pill and relax. It's nice to know you're happy – you deserve to be... both of you do. Now,” shifting subjects to allow Olivia a chance to regain her composure, “let's go nail Reynolds ' balls to the walls.”




“Where's Olivia ?” Julia asked when it was clear that Alex was alone. “I thought you wanted to visit these places together.”


“We did... do, but Liv had court this morning.”


“So she called me instead. Hello, Julia .”


“ Elizabeth !” The two old friends exchanged hugs. “It's so good to see you. Come,” she said, beckoning to her driver. “Let me show you what I have found for your daughters.” Alex folded her hands over her chest, wondering what she could possibly have been thinking when she invited her mother along. Then she caught the twinkle of the diamond ring on her finger and smiled secretly. She wondered how long it would take for them to notice.


The ride was short, relatively speaking and soon they were debarking at their destination. “I'd heard rumors this place was going to be available soon – it's the reason I put off showing you anything else sooner. It's everything you and Olivia described to me. It's a little pricey, but trust me when I tell you it's perfect.”


“Well, let's go take a look,” Alex said, waving them inside. “I already called Liv and let her know where we'd be if she got free in time.”


Julia flashed her ID at the guard manning the desk and signed them all in before leading them to the elevator and keying in the penthouse. Alex arched an eyebrow at her.


“A *little* pricey, Julia ? This is more than a little out of the range we gave you.”


“It won't be, Alexandra .”




“ Alexandra , if this is what you and Olivia want, please let me help.” Elizabeth took Alex 's free hand in hers and looked into Alex 's eyes. “From the time you were born, your father and I put money into an account for you – something we could give to you and your husband when you got married. Since that now seems like a highly unlikely possibility - and trust me, Alexandra , I am thrilled you found someone who loves you as Olivia so clearly does - but since it seems unlikely that you will be getting married, use the money for something that will make you both happy. That's what it was intended for.”


Julia tried not to listen to a conversation not intended for her ears and gave a sigh of relief when they reached the top. “Ladies,” she invited as the doors opened.


They stepped out into a wide open space with panoramic windows, one whole side overlooking Central Park . Alex stuffed both hands in her pockets and let Julia show them around expounding on the virtues of the apartment. Alex fell in love with the chef's kitchen and the master suite was superb – spacious with a well-appointed bathroom. Even the second bedroom was large enough that they could have shared office space with plenty of room for Alex 's law library.


When the tour was finished, Elizabeth and Julia went into the kitchen and let Alex wander around alone. She stood at the windows for a long time, trying not to think but let the room speak to her. Finally, she turned around, just as Julia 's phone rang. Alex waited til she heard Julia hang up, but before she could speak, the realtor cut her off.


“ Olivia is downstairs. I'm going to go get her and bring her up.”


Alex nodded, suddenly nervous and then waited the longest two minutes of her life for Olivia to enter the penthouse. Julia was smart and had remained quiet on the ride up. Alex saw the shock flicker across Liv's expression before her detective's mask fell into place and she walked to Alex 's side. Julia went back to hide-out in the kitchen with Elizabeth for the time being.


“This is really nice,” Olivia commented, looking out the windows.


“Yeah, it is,” Alex agreed. “Would you like the tour?”


“Sure – you really like this place, don't you?”


“Honestly, yes and no. I love the view and of course having room enough to put a piano, assuming we can figure out how in the hell to get one up here. But it lacks the homey feel of the apartment we share now and I don't want to give that up for anything, no matter what the view or the space.”


“Take me around and let's see it. Maybe we can find homey possibilities since you like it so much.”


So Alex took Olivia around and Julia and Elizabeth moved into the living area while the two younger women investigated the kitchen more thoroughly. After walking through both bed and bath rooms, they returned to the view of Central Park hand in hand.


“You'd really like to live here, wouldn't you?” Liv asked softly, letting her hands slide onto Alex 's hips. Alex reciprocated the affection by tangling her hands together behind Liv's head. It was then that Elizabeth caught site of the sparkle coming from the ring finger of her left hand. She grabbed Julia 's arm, but managed to remain silent.


“Not if it will make you uncomfortable to make your home here, no.”


“I know this is probably a ridiculous question, but can we afford it? I thought we'd worked out what we could afford – somehow I don't think our figure is anywhere close to what this would cost us.”


“It wouldn't be if we were going strictly by our salaries....” And she told Liv about the trust her mother had only just revealed. They had yet to get into any other sort of financial discussion, though Alex knew before they married, Olivia would need to know the whole truth about what she was marrying into. “However,” she added, “we don't have to accept it and we don't have to live here. This is just a place.”


“And it makes you happy. Alex , I know you come from money. I've know that since the very first day you stepped into the squad room in impeccable designer clothes. It doesn't change the core person you are at the center of your being, and that's the person I fell in love with. I promise not to hold the fact that you are a beautiful, intelligent, extremely wealthy heiress against you. I'm not so selfish that I can't set my pride aside to see you happy.”


“Being with you anywhere makes me happy, Liv. You're smart, sexy, gorgeous *and* you love me. So if that makes you selfish, please keep being selfish. Now tell me honestly, do you want to live here or not? I am perfectly content to stay in the apartment we have now.”


“I'm not,” Liv stated candidly. “I want to hear your music; I want you to have all the things you deserve. I'd like to be able to give them to you, but if I can't, there is still no reason for you to do without because of it. I do have one request, though.”


“Anything,” Alex said without hesitation. “Name it.”


“I'd like to do some redecorating and remodeling before we move in.”


Alex blinked. “You know how to do that kind of stuff?”


“I have many skills.”


“Very impressive, Detective. If I know my parents, there will be enough money in the trust for you to be fairly creative. Just remember we have to live with whatever you decide to do for a while.”


“Trust me, Alex . I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.”


Alex 's answer was a long, passionate kiss – one that would have gone on *much* longer had Elizabeth not decided to break things up with a smack to the back of each of their heads.


“OW! Mother, what did you do that for? I was enjoying myself.”


“So was I,” muttered Olivia , though under her breath for fear of provoking another smack attack.


“I could tell,” Elizabeth answered dryly. “That was for not telling me about *this*,” catching Alex 's hand and holding it up so the light reflected off the ring. “How long were you going to wait until you told me? And you,” turning to glare at Olivia , “when were you planning to ask permission?”


“Mother... I'm a grown woman and have been for years. She has MY permission.”


“I know,” Elizabeth grinned. “I've been waiting YEARS for this day and you go and make me discover it for myself instead of telling me??” A beat. “I can't tell you how happy I am for you both. Welcome to the family, Olivia . You're in for a hell of a ride.”

Olivia chuckled. “I know... it's already been pretty wild so far.”


“Well, that would explain the need for a turtleneck,” Elizabeth commented bluntly blithely ignoring the twin blushes that raced up fair and olive skin alike. “Now what do the two of you say to the four of us finding a place for an early lunch? We have a lot to talk about.”


Alex turned to Liv. “I think we just lost control.”


“I don't think we ever actually had it.”


“Listen to your betrothed, daughter. She is a very wise woman.” Alex just shook her head and followed the rest onto the elevator.




Chapter XXI


“So,” Julia said calmly though her insides were jumping up and down. “What do you think?” after they were seated in the Plaza restaurant.


Alex and Olivia exchanged glances and Liv covered Alex 's hand with hers. “We'll take it.”


Julia clapped her hands together. “Excellent! I knew it was what you were looking for when I heard it was becoming available. I'll let the seller know and have the papers drawn up this afternoon. I'll bring them over as soon as they're ready.”


“So we can take possession...?”


“Today, if you'd like.”


“We'd like,” Alex said. “ Olivia needs some time to work her decorating magic.”


Both Julia 's and Elizabeth 's eyebrows rose into their hairline. “You decorate?”


“ Olivia is much more than a beautiful detective, Mother – which reminds me... how was court?”


The ringing of a phone pre-empted her response. “ Benson ,” recognizing Elliot 's number. “All right, El. I'll be right there.” She turned to Alex . “Court was good and Casey didn't tease. I'm sorry, but I've got to go. You'll be all right?” Alex nodded. “I'll call you as soon as I can.” Olivia trailed the back of her fingers along Alex 's cheeks, smiling as her eyelids fluttered closed. “Ladies, if you'll excuse me....”


She stood and nodded then walked away without a backward glance though she felt Alex 's eyes on her until she disappeared.


“I'll never get used to that,” Alex commented softly.


“Can you live with that, Alexandra ? I don't think Olivia will ever give up being a police officer.”


“I know, but I can't live without her.”


Julia cleared her throat. “Maybe I should get back to my office and get that paperwork started. I don't want to intrude and I think Elizabeth wants all the nitty-gritty details about this,” she added, holding Alex 's hand up and smiling. “It's beautiful... and so is the symbolism.”


“ Julia , sit down,” Elizabeth commanded. “I am not going to compel Alexandra to share any nitty-gritty details. She and Olivia are entitled to keep a few things private. I just want to know if they have set a date yet,” waggling her eyebrows in Alex 's direction. Alex dropped her head into her hands.


“I should have left with Olivia ,” she muttered, trying to ignore the laughter coming from across the table. “Mother, this only happened last night. I haven't even gotten Liv a ring yet.” Elizabeth decided to take pity on Alex and signaled the waiter over for their order. Then she turned the direction of the conversation to people they all knew.




“What've we got, El?” Olivia asked as she stepped from her sedan.


“A line on our sex toys perp. Seems our original suspect has a sister.”


“Do we have a motive?”


“Not yet, but I bet we do once we get her down to the station.”


Olivia looked down at her court clothes and gave a mental shrug. “All right,” unholstering her weapon. “Let's do this.”


Elliot nodded and did the same and they each took a side of the door before Elliot beat his fist against the door. “Police... open up!!” They both heard the slam of a door and with the understanding gleaned from being partners for so long, Elliot kicked the door in while Olivia headed for the back.


“Call for backup, El! She's running! Police... FREEZE!!!! Shit,” when the suspect leaped high enough to grab onto the top of the fence. Olivia ran faster, cursing the shoes she had on. She grabbed the suspect by the legs, trying to keep from being kicked in her face. She heard Elliot coming up behind her and held on for all she was worth. When Elliot arrived he and Olivia jerked the suspect off the fence and tackled her to the ground.


“Goddamn bitch!! What the fuck is wrong with you?? I didn't do anything!!”


“Yeah,” Olivia agreed, jerking the woman's arms up her back. “The innocent ones always run.”


“Fuck you, bitch!!”


“That's Detective Bitch to you, asshole!”


“You can't talk to me like that! I've got rights!!


“You sure do... Mirandize her, El,” Olivia said as they lifted the woman to her feet. Two uniformed cops came running up to take possession of the woman to give her a ride to the station. They waited for Elliot to finish reading the suspect her rights before leading her away. Liv ran a hand through her short hair and blew out a breath.


“You all right?” as they headed back towards the car.


“Yeah, but I'd rather have stayed and had lunch with Alex .”


He opened his door and looked over the roof at his partner. “You've really got it bad, Liv.”


“I gave her the ring last night, El.” Her voice was quiet, but Stabler heard every word clearly. His blue eyes lit up with excitement.




Olivia shrugged and looked at the ground but she couldn't keep the smile from crossing her face. “She said yes.”


“Yes!!!” he cheered, punching the air. “At least the turtleneck makes sense now. That must have been some celebration,” he teased, waggling his eyebrows in her direction before ducking his head down and sliding into the driver's side of the sedan. “Congratulations, Liv... it couldn't have happened to two nicer people.”


“Thanks, El... it's still a little surreal.”


“Hold onto that feeling, Liv, for as long as you can.”


“Just between us for now, El. I want Alex to announce it or not as she feels ready for it.”


“Your lips to God's ears, Liv, but I bet it makes the rounds faster than your fight did. You do realize that is already the stuff of legends.”


Liv snorted. “That's because Hogan place doesn't have enough real drama.” Elliot laughed and flipped on the lights and siren as they made their way back to the one-six.




“So why'd you do it, hmm?”


“I didn't do anything. You don't have any proof against me. This is police harassment.”


“Any proof against you for what?”


The woman shrugged. “Whatever it is you're accusing me of.”


“Uh huh... and you of course have no idea what those charges are, even though my partner has explained them to you twice already.”


“Your *partner*,” the woman spat, “tried to kill me. Jumping on me, jerking on my legs, tackling me to the ground. Bitch must be some sort of a circus freak to be that strong. I'll bet I've got bruises. I'm going to sue your ass off for police brutality.”


“Ya know, El... maybe you should talk to her... you know - like she was a kid. She's obviously not bright enough to understand like an adult.”


“I am not stupid!”


“Oh, but you were. You tried to frame your brother for your crime and you just did a shitty job! The fingerprints were awkwardly placed and finding his blood was odd given how and where you planted it. Then to top it off, you left DNA of your own, though I'll bet that was accidental. Why did you do it, huh? Why did you kill those two then try to frame your brother?? What did he ever do to you??”


“He raped me!!! He and his friends got drunk one night and took turns!! I was just getting a little of mine back!! They deserved what they got!!!” Her voice dropped. “They deserved a lot worse.”


Olivia and Elliot exchanged glances before they both turned to the mirror even though they were unable to see through it. Olivia sat down across from their suspect cum victim while Stabler left to find out what kind of scrambling was going on in the observation room in light of their recent discovery. Liv scrubbed her hands through her hair, making it stand up on end.


“Did you tell anyone? Did you come to the police?”


The woman shook her head. “No... who would believe a nineteen-year-old woman with a reputation for being a party girl?? No....” she stated again firmly. “This was something I needed to take care of myself. And I did – those two pricks are dead and my dear brother is going to jail for murder.”


Olivia rose from her chair. “I'm going to go get some coffee. Would you like something?”


“A coke please,” the woman responded calmly. “If it's not too much trouble.”


“No trouble at all,” Liv assured her, marveling at the dual personality so obviously a part of this woman's make-up. She stepped out of the interrogation room and went straight to the crowded observation room. “She needs a straight jacket and some padded walls,” she said without preamble.


“I'd agree,” Huang said. “Regardless what the truth is at this point, she's got some issues that need addressing.”


Cragen nodded. “We already called for an ambulance to take her to Bellevue . We'll keep her for seventy-two hours and see what else we can find out from her. Meanwhile, you two need to get back out there and see what you can find out about what she said happened.”


“I'll take her a coke and stay with her until the guys from the hospital get here,” George said. “Maybe she'll talk to me a bit.”


Olivia and Elliot nodded and headed out. “We need to stop for some lunch first. I promised Alex I would try harder to take care of myself.”


“Pick your poison, Liv. I don't think another hour is going to make a difference in this case.”


“I hate this kind of case. This job is hard enough without trying to find a cold trail that wasn't even there to start with. Sucks that she has practically no chance for justice.”


“But we'll try anyway and hope for the best.”


“I know, El... we always do.”




“There is still no sign of him, Mr. Rivera . Apparently, he knows there is a price on his head.”


Rivera snorted. “Considering the chaos he caused due to his disastrous involvement with Alexandra Cabot , he would have been wise to have left the continent.”


Lorenzo cocked his head. “You don't think he did?”


“I think his pride has been hurt too much to allow wisdom to guide his actions. No,” he sighed and rubbed a hand over his chin thoughtfully. “I think he is going to try to save face. Assign someone to keep an eye on Ms Benson and Ms Cabot . Eventually he is going to make a play for them. We'll take care of him then.”


“And them?”


“NO! I do not want the attention we would garner by involving them any further. Their deaths at our hands will bring nothing but more trouble. It's not worth it.”


“Yes sir,” Lorenzo agreed. “I will put my best boys on it with explicit instructions.”


“Good. Make sure they understand to leave the detective and the lawyer alone. Anyone who can't follow that will find themselves victims of an initiation ritual.”


Lorenzo's eyes widened but his only response was a nod of his head. That more than anything else Rivera had ordered had brought his organization into line. If not for Robert Claiborne 's screw-up trying to involve Alex Cabot in the business, however indirectly, the power base would have been secure and it would have been business as usual. Now they had to recover from a near loss of face – going underground protected the entire organization and granting mercy to Benson and Cabot showed Rivera 's benevolence as well as his intelligence.


Lorenzo just hoped it would be enough for the DEA to find someone else to focus their attention on. Otherwise the purging within their ranks would be massive.




Alex unlocked the back door to her office, hoping she could sneak in and get some work done without a lot of interruptions. The truth was, she was torn between wanting to tell everyone about what had happened and show off the ring she now sported, and wanting it to remain something precious between the two of them for just a little while longer.


So she compromised – sneaking in, but knowing if they spotted her, it would be all over but the shouting. It took her a minute to spot the single rose sitting in the middle of her desk, but she couldn't stop the smile it brought to her face.


Alex touched the silky petals gently, then settled down to work, sorting through the files on her desk. Soon, she was completely engrossed in what she was doing.


The hair standing up on the back of her neck made her look up to see her doorknob slowly turning. Alex got up slowly and moved into the small alcove by the hidden door, watching to see who was trying to sneak into her office.


After a moment, the door opened and Jim Steele edged his way into her office, closing the door but not locking it behind him. Alex frowned – she'd had just about enough of this clown, but her good sense told her to stay put and for once, she listened to it.


He started digging through the things on her desk, muttering to himself. Then he sat in her chair and began to open the drawers one by one, pawing through them and cursing when he reached the locked one that held her purse. Alex decided it was time to confront him.


“Something I can help you with, Jim ?”


He jumped up from the chair, whirling to face her with a look of panic in his eyes. Then he caught sight of her ring and sneered.


“No, but apparently you need a real man to show you what love is supposed to be about.”


She rolled her eyes at his clichéd, bigoted attitude. “ Jim , what are you doing in my office? The door was locked and no one knew I was here, so you can't say you were looking for me. So what are you doing here?”


“I want you out of here, Cabot . You took a position that should have been mine by rights to start with.

You and your kind disgust me - always taking things from those who deserve them.”


“You mean the highly intelligent, beautiful female lawyer kind? Yeah, I can see where that would bother you, but you should be used to it by now.” She bit her lips to keep from laughing as his face grew apoplectic and red with rage.


“Can't you be fired for being some sort of pervert or something?”


“If I was a pervert...” she answered, suddenly serious. “But I am just a woman in love with another woman. As employees of the city, the State of New York recognizes our domestic partnership even if they don't recognize our right to be married. Still doesn't make me a pervert. You don't have the same protection for being an idiot though.”


He roared and stepped forward but stopped cold when he heard Casey 's voice behind him. Alex didn't even blink having watched the door open silently behind him.


“I wouldn't, Steele . Your bigotry and snide comments have gone on against the women in this office long enough. Alex isn't the first, but she's going to be the last. I'll be going to Arthur this afternoon with a sheaf of complaints against you. I suggest you turn around and walk out before I call Detective Benson to dispose of you. Maybe if you're very lucky, Arthur will accept your resignation quietly.”


He laughed but it was strained. “You think I'm going to resign??”


“I think if you don't,” Alex said calmly, “I will have you arrested for breaking and entering, harassment and threatening an officer of the court for starters. Do yourself a favor, Jim ... walk away and find something in the private sector. We'll all be happier.”


“Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you? You think if I go away all your problems will be solved. I'm not the only one less than enamored about your return, Alex ; and I'm certainly not the only one disgusted by your lifestyle.”


“I am not concerned with yours or anyone else's personal issues with me. My personal life is just that... MINE. And frankly who I love and how I do so is none of your damn business! Walk away, Jim . Or I'll take the gloves off, and when it's over there won't be enough left of you for the scavengers to find.”


“Careful, Alex ... that sounded almost like a threat.”


“Not at all, Jim ,” she responded smugly. “That was a promise.”


“Well, let me make one to you,” his voice dropping to a growl. “A lot of the brothers in blue wouldn't take too kindly to finding out that an SVU detective was a big old dyke. Bad things happen to gay cops. Think about it.” Then he reached for her.


“I've heard enough,” Arthur said from the doorway. He'd come down at Casey 's behest – she'd called him when she saw Jim sneaking into Alex 's office. “ Steele , you're fired. You've got an hour to clean out your desk, and if I hear one word against Detective Benson, I'll personally file such a myriad of charges against you, the Supreme Court wouldn't even hear your case. Do I make myself clear?”


Jim grit his teeth together so hard it made an audible sound. “Yes. Excuse me,” he growled before stomping out of Alex 's office.


“Well, that was interesting,” Branch murmured. “I'm glad I finally had a reason to fire that jackass.” He turned to look at Alex . “Do I want to know what started this?”


She shook her head. “Probably not,” running her left hand through her hair. Arthur 's eyes widened.


“Oh, I see,” he grinned. “Never mind. Congratulations, Alexandra . She's a good woman. When can I expect an invitation?”


“Probably after we set a date,” Alex replied with a blush. Casey stepped up beside them and grabbed Alex 's hand in hers.


“Oh my GOD!!! This is so great!!!” Casey opened her arms and she and Alex shared a short hug. “Congratulations! I'm so happy for you both!”


“Thanks, Casey ... Arthur . This is still pretty new.”


“But obviously very serious. How did your mother take the news?”


“What news?” Liz asked from the door still in flowing black robes. “ Arthur , why did Jim Steele just nine-one-one page me out of court? What's the emergency??”


“I fired him.”


Liz 's brows rose into her hairline. “Personally? Wow, I guess that is news though it's certainly not an emergency for me. I'm not sure why he thinks I can or would do anything about it.”


“Probably because you were his mentor once upon a time. But that's not the news and we can talk about Steele in my office when you're done with court.”


“So what's the news then?” Liz asked, looking at Arthur , then Casey , then noticing the glow on Alex 's face. “You didn't??” she asked with a grin as she took Alex into an embrace.


“Yes, I did,” Alex answered, pulling back slightly. “And so did she,” extending her hand for Liz 's perusal. “Thank you for....”


“The kick in the ass? Anytime, Alex ,” Liz smirked. “I'm good at those. That is a gorgeous piece. Your detective has good taste... and now I understand the turtleneck she had on this morning.” She squeezed Alex 's hand before releasing it. “All right... now that I've had my excitement for the day, I need to get back to court.”


“And I need to get back upstairs,” Arthur said. “I'm sure Steele thinks he has enough friends in high places that he can make a few waves, so I'm going to rock his boat before he can put his oars in the water.” He looked at Liz . “Come see me when court is over?”


“Absolutely.” She turned to Alex . “Congratulations, Alex .”


“Thank you,” closing the door behind them then exchanging glances with Casey . “Thank you,” she said again. “How did you know?”


“What... that you were here? Or that Steele was?”


“Either... both, actually.”


Casey shrugged. “I didn't know you were here; that's what made me suspicious when I saw Steele lurking around your door. And when he jimmied it open.... He's been a pain in the ass to a lot of women in this office for years, but he never crossed the line like he did with you. He seems to have a special animosity for you.”


“Yeah... long story. Suffice it to say I have been a thorn in his side longer than he has been a pain in the ass here. So how was court? Liv didn't get to say more than it was good before she got a call.”


“We're in recess while the jury deliberates, but I expect a solid conviction on this one. Olivia nailed Reynolds ' balls to the wall. Personally, I think they just wanted lunch before they gave up the verdict.” They smiled at one another knowingly. Just then, Casey 's phone rang. “What do you want to bet?”


Alex shook her head. “No bet.” Casey took the call and nodded, then waved as she left, heading back to the courtroom.


Alex looked around her office and shook her head. She wasn't going to deal with this place anymore today. She decided to go to the precinct, hoping to catch Olivia . She knew she was being ridiculous, but all she wanted at the moment was a hug and she knew Liv would be more than happy to comply.


Besides, she wanted to show the guys her ring before they heard about it through the grapevine. She had a feeling they would squeal almost as much as Liz and Casey had. The thought brought a smile to her face and on that note, Alex locked her office door and headed to the one-six.




Chapter XXII


The sun was bright but there was still a chill in the air when Alex stepped out the doors to hail a cab. She stopped short when a clean cut, older man dressed in a black suit approached her. “ Ms Cabot , could you spare a moment, please? My employer wishes to speak with you.”


Alex looked around before spotting Nicholas Rivera standing casually at a hot dog vendor's cart across the street. She looked back at Lorenzo who was waiting patiently and nodded her head before following him to the other side of the road.


“ Ms Cabot , can I offer you one of New York 's finest hot dogs?”


“No, thank you, Mr. Rivera . I've already had lunch.” He nodded his acceptance and paid the vendor, then motioned away from the Hogan Place . She didn't move. “What can I do for you, Mr. Rivera ?”


“Walk with me, please. I only need a moment of your time, then I assure you that you and I will no longer need have any interaction with one another.”


Alex glanced at her watch then nodded. “All right, Mr. Rivera . I can give you five minutes before I need to be on my way.”


“Very gracious... I only need two.” He gestured again and they started walking with Lorenzo playing at being the rear guard. “ Ms Cabot , it has come to my attention that someone of our mutual acquaintance may be trying to do harm to you or your detective friend... Ms Benson , I believe it is?”


“ Robert Claiborne ?”


“Um...” he agreed noncommittally. “Although I do not believe you broke his heart, you did hurt his pride when you rejected him for the lovely detective.”


“And why do you believe he intends to do me and the detective harm?” Alex asked calmly, careful not to betray the unease she felt.


“He went a little... berserk... before he left my employ. I personally believe he is somehow responsible for the death of that individual in Brooklyn that was sent as a message to your detective friend, though of course I cannot prove it at the moment. And he has since disappeared – I have been unable to locate him.”


“ Mr. Rivera , I appreciate what you're saying. What I don't understand is *why* you're saying it.”


Rivera wiped his mouth and threw his trash away before spreading his hands. “ Ms Cabot , let's have frank speech between us. I have no quarrel with you or with Detective Benson and I would not want blame assigned to me if something was to happen to either of you. In fact, my business associates have been made to understand that no harm is to come to either of you for any reason on my account. However, I feel that Mr. Claiborne no longer has your best interests at heart and I would be derelict in my duty as an upstanding citizen if I did not give you the best warning I could. I cannot make you heed it, of course, but now there is truth between us.”


He waved his hand and a moment later, a long, sleek car pulled up beside them. “May I offer you a ride somewhere?”

Alex shook her head. “No thank you, Mr. Rivera . I doubt very seriously you want to go to police plaza. But thank you for the offer and for the information.”


He clapped his hands together and gave her a slight bow. “It was my pleasure Ms Cabot . I wish you and your detective much happiness together.” Then he slid into the car and the older man climbed in behind him and the car slipped back into traffic.


Alex watched it go for a long moment, then she shook her head at the surrealness of the entire encounter and flagged down a taxi to take her to Olivia .




Elliot and Olivia arrived back at the precinct after stopping at the hospital to speak to the woman they had arrested earlier with no clear plan on how they were going to try to get justice for her. By her account, it was a ten-year-old crime with no evidence and an expired statute of limitations.


“What are we supposed to do with this, Elliot ? Even if we could build a rock-solid case against this brother, we can't do anything with it.” Olivia scrubbed her hands through her hair in frustration. Elliot threw a file folder onto his desk and leaned back in his chair.


“Maybe we need to get this reassigned to cold cases. God knows we've got enough red on the board without trying to dig up information on something this old. Let's talk to the Cap. See what he thinks.”


They both rose with the intention of going to Cragen's office when the precinct door opened and in walked Alex Cabot . Stabler smirked at his partner before calling out a greeting to Alex as he crossed to enter Cragen's office. Olivia , on the other hand, went right to Alex and opened her arms. Alex fell into them with a sense of relief.


“How did you know?” she asked as Liv rocked her gently back and forth.


“Your eyes speak the loudest when your lips say nothing at all.”


“Geez, the mush factor in here is suddenly giving me a sugar rush,” Munch complained loudly as he walked in the door and headed for the coffee pot. Olivia and Alex separated but remained in a loose embrace glaring in his direction. Fin just popped him on the back of the head.


“Shuddup, fool, before your bony ass doesn't live to congratulate them.”


Munch's eyebrows went into his hairline and he swiveled in their direction. “Oh ho ho... congratulate them? Does that mean more than Olivia got lucky last night? Because Cabot wasn't the one wearing a turtleneck this morning.” He waggled his eyebrows. “I knew getting you out of here early yesterday was a good thing, Liv.”


“Better than you know, John ,” Alex answered over the growling coming from low in Olivia 's throat. She held out her hand and was suddenly surrounded by three male sex crimes detectives and one unit captain. There were hugs and congratulations exchanged amid much back slapping.


“So when's the big event?” Munch asked when things quieted slightly.


“We'd like to enjoy being engaged for a little while first, John . Besides, we haven't actually started talking about a date yet.”


“Let me suggest June on the beach. Sun, sand, surf, fresh air and bare feet at sunset.”


“Tell you what, Munch... when we get ready to make plans, we'll put you in touch with Elizabeth .”


“We will?” Alex asked uncertainly.


“Sure. Your mom loves Munch and with four weddings under his belt, he's got to have *some* ideas to contribute.”


“Hey Munch... if you ever get tired of being a cop, you can be a wedding planner. I hear people make big bucks doing that.”


“Stabler, if I ever get tired of being a cop, I'm moving to the beaches in Florida . That's where all the lovely co-eds go to spend spring break.”


“And where all the hurricanes come barreling through six months of the year.”


“Killjoy,” Munch mumbled before Cragen was hustling them all back to work. Alex took Olivia 's hand and led her up to the crib, knowing the guys would give them a couple minutes of privacy unless the building suddenly caught fire.


“Sweetheart, what is it? What's wrong?”


And Alex told Liv what had happened from the time she'd gotten to her office until she had reached the one-six. When she was finished, she groaned, “Do you think we could go to Julia 's for the papers and then go pick up a couple Olivia specials from Nita's? I wanna go home.”


“Absolutely. Then I have some ideas for our new apartment I want to get down... see what you think about them. You think Julia will have some blue prints or at least a layout with measurements we can have?”


“I'll call and ask her to get them,” Alex said.


“' Kay ... you want to rest here for a few while I go wrap a couple things up?” Liv smiled slyly. “It's not like we got a lot of rest last night.”


Alex yawned and closed her eyes, leaning back against the wall until Olivia eased her down onto the pillow. “So how come you're so chipper? Please tell me you at least feel a little tired. Aren't you the older woman in this scenario?”


Olivia pinched Alex 's ass hard enough to make her point without doing damage. “You don't need to remind me that I'm robbing the cradle, Counselor, and yes... I'm completely beat. I'm running on an adrenaline high from having the most beautiful woman in the world agree to marry me last night. And I haven't had near the stress you have today. Now rest... I'll be back as quick as I can.”


Alex closed her eyes and relaxed, using a yoga technique she had learned during her tenure in witness protection. She heard the door open but didn't open her eyes, hoping Olivia would ‘wake' her with a kiss. Instead, Elliot 's hand landed on her shoulder and he shook her gently.


“ Alex ?”


Alex blinked open blue eyes and squinted. “ Elliot ?”


“You all right? Liv shared the story you told her.”


Alex scooted up into a sitting position. “I'm fine... just more ‘weird' in one day than I'm used to anymore, I guess. I get more stupid now.”


Stabler chuckled. “Those interns driving you crazy, Chief?”


“God, were we ever that young?”


“WE?? Alex , I hate to break it to you, but you're *still* that young – you're just adult mature instead of college level reckless.”


Alex snorted. “Sometimes I wonder about that.” A beat. “ Elliot , can I ask you a favor?”


A frown creased his forehead, but his eyes never left hers. “Sure... name it.” Alex looked down at her hands and clasped them together in her lap. After a moment of continued silence, Elliot 's hand came into view as he allowed one of his larger hands to cover her more delicate ones. “ Alex ?” his voice gentle and coaxing.


“ Elliot , I know you love Olivia – you're even in love with her to some degree.” He jerked his hand away, but Alex was quick and held onto his wrist and raised her blue eyes to meet his blue ones. “Please don't, Elliot and please don't try to deny it – this is hard enough for me. I *know* you do. I've seen it in your eyes and in your actions towards her.”


“ Alex ....” He blew out a breath and ran his free hand over his short hair. Then he took a seat on the edge of the cot. “You're right,” he acknowledged. “I do – she's my best friend and my partner and she understands parts of me that even Kathy doesn't have access to.” His head dropped. “It doesn't hurt that she's gorgeous and has a great sense of humor when she chooses to exercise it. But I would never, EVER come between the two of you, Alex . You have to believe that. The two of you belong together and I do still love Kathy very much... as more than just the mother of my children.”


“I know,” she replied quietly. “But you love Olivia as well, and that's the important thing here.


He cleared his throat awkwardly. “So what's the favor?”


“Liv told you what I told her... about my visit from Rivera ?” She waited for him to nod. “I've got a really bad feeling about what he said, Elliot . It's like Velez all over again.” She shivered. “I want you to promise me that if anything happens to me – whether it's because of Robert or Rivera or I drop dead of a heart attack – I want you to promise me that you'll be there for her, Elliot . That you won't let her fall into the funk she did when I went into witness protection and you won't let her do anything stupid.” She held his eyes. “Promise me, Elliot . I need to know she'll be taken care of.”


“This is really bothering you, isn't it?” easily reading the answer in her gaze. “ Alex , I promise you'll I'll do everything in my power to take care of her. But you should know that I can only do what she'll allow, and last time, she didn't allow me to do much more than share a drink with her once in a while. I think you should focus on not letting anything happen to you, okay? Keep yourself safe for her sake if for no other reason – she needs you to. We're still looking for Claiborne as well as the two punks who attacked you and her. Have a little faith in us.”


“This was all supposed to be over, Elliot . We were supposed to be able to just live our lives and be left alone... live happily ever after, you know?” Stabler put his arms around Alex and held onto her, feeling her sob silently against his chest. “I'm scared, Elliot , and I'm tired of being scared.”


“I know... there are some days....” He shook his head. “Just remember you're not alone in this anymore, Alex . The squad's behind you and so are a lot of people at Hogan Place . I'd even be willing to bet a few of your friends in the Hamptons are too. All right? We're gonna catch these bastards and put them away for a long time.”


“All right,” she agreed, pulling away from him and wiping her eyes. “Sorry... I don't know what came over me.”


Elliot patted her shoulder. “It's all right, Alex . I'm glad you feel you can confide in me. And don't worry... we'll look after your girl. We all will.”


“Thanks, Elliot . I'm glad she has friends like you guys.”


“So do you, Alex . Don't discount how much we care about you.” He cleared his throat again. “You gonna tell Liv about this? You being afraid, I mean.”


Alex nodded. “We made a pact to be honest with one another, and I won't keep something like this from her. I'll talk to her once we get home.”


“What about...?”


“ Elliot , she knows. She told me she had to say something to you about it.”


“She thinks I was transferring my feelings for Kathy to her because she is my closest female friend and confidante and she was partly right. But she doesn't want to know that part of what I feel is just for her – because of who she is. It would destroy our partnership, Alex.”


"It would destroy your friendship, Elliot and I wouldn't take that from her... or you. You need each other; I understand that. I won't do anything to disrupt that. Just promise me you won't be stupid, Elliot. Don't you hurt her or all bets are off."


He held up his hands in surrender at the fire that burned out of her eyes. "I promise, Alex." He smiled. "I'm really glad she has you, Alex. No one has loved her as fiercely as you do... not even me. Now let me get downstairs before Liv comes back up here to take you home."


"Actually, I'll come down with you. I love Liv, but I know she has legendary focus when she gets involved in something."


"Not anymore," Elliot chuckled, offering her a hand up. "Oh, she's still got legendary focus... it's just not on her police work all the time anymore." He motioned her towards the bathroom. "You may want to take a look first," leaning against the table and crossing his arms over his chest in a casual attitude of waiting while Alex stepped into the small space to look into the mirror.


Neither of them heard Olivia slip away from the door and head back downstairs.




"Julia was funny," Liv commented later as they sat next to one another eating their 'Olivia Specials'. "You'd have thought she never sold an apartment before she was so excited."


"I think she was excited over her commission. She got ten percent off that sale."


"Maybe I should give up police work and go into real estate."


Alex snorted. “You could, but personally I think you'd miss chasing perps down the streets of Manhattan . Besides, ‘Detective Bitch' has a distinctive ring to it that I don't think you'd get to hear as a realtor.”


Now it was Olivia 's turn to snort. “Probably,” she agreed and turned back to eating her burger.


“ Elliot and I talked today. He came to check on me while you were downstairs. I lost it a little bit.” Liv cocked her head in a listening attitude, not revealing what she had overheard. She smiled comfortingly, knowing Alex would keep Elliot 's secret and Olivia herself would keep secret the fact that she knew everything they had talked about. It made her feel treasured. “I'm scared, Liv. I thought all this was supposed to be over and yet....”


“I know, Sweetheart,” combing her fingers through the hair that had fallen over Alex 's face and tucking it behind her ear. “But we'll get him. And then it really will all be over.”


Alex sighed. “I know. I just want it to be now.”


“So do I. But in the meantime, we have a life to live and a wedding to plan and a honeymoon to look forward to and a new apartment to move into.”


“I want to come back to the honeymoon part later,” Alex said saucily, “but I have a couple questions about the wedding and the apartment first.”




“Are you sure about Munch, Liv? I like John , but I know my mother is looking forward to hosting quite a bash. She's waited a long time for this, and I don't think we're going to be able to get away with a small wedding or an intimate reception. Is he up for that kind of thing?”


“ Alex , he's a Jewish man who's been married four times that thinks Elizabeth is a fantastic woman without wanting to bed her and is adored by her in return. I think they will have fun together and he will keep her from going completely overboard. Besides, the wedding and reception can be as big and fancy as she wants to make it as far as I'm concerned. When all is said and done, you will be mine and I will be yours and nothing will ever change that.”


“ Olivia Benson ... you say the most romantic things. But for the record, I already am yours. A few words spoken in front of our friends won't change that – it will just make it public record.”


That announcement required a more personal response and Olivia took her time exploring Alex 's mouth. She smiled into the kiss when Alex whimpered and turned up the intensity. “God,” Alex breathed heavily when they separated. “I'm so glad you're making an honest woman out of me.”


Olivia burst into laughter at the unexpected pronouncement. “And why is that, Sweetheart?”


“Because otherwise we'd be living in sin,” Alex declared with a hint of a drawl. And then they both burst into giggles. “God, what has gotten into me today?”


“Stress,” Liv said without preamble. “Apparently it makes you silly. It just makes me brood.”


“You don't need any help with that, love. You're already a professional.”


“Why I oughta.... Ya know, just for that, I'm not gonna show you what I was planning to do with the apartment.”


“That's not fair!! That was my other question.”


“Life's not fair.”


“I hate you, you know,” Alex growled, narrowing her eyes in Olivia 's direction. “Now be nice to me.”


“Why should I be nice to you... you hate me.”


“ARGH!” Liv was very thankful the remains of their dinner were safely on the coffee table because Alex pounced on her and started tickling her mercilessly. Olivia squealed and started laughing helplessly, trying to get back at Alex . But her laughter and Alex 's clothing hampered her efforts and she finally had to surrender.


Alex held her arms over her head cheering her victory; the next thing she knew, she was staring into deep brown eyes from very close. She cleared her throat delicately.


“Um... hi.”




“Um... something I can do for you?” letting her lips brush over Olivia 's.


“Nope. You hate me, remember?”


“Nuh uh,” Alex said, losing her coherence and closing her eyes as Olivia 's hands started to wander. “I love you with all my whole heart.” Then she dropped her head and captured the full lips just beneath hers, winding her hands into the short hair and rejoicing when Olivia 's hands found bare skin. “How do you do that?” she asked breathlessly.


“Do what?” Liv asked dreamily, smiling into Alex 's eyes.


“Make me forget everything but you.”


Olivia rubbed the back of her hand along the smooth skin of Alex 's cheek. For long moments they remained in the same position, stretched along the length of the couch exchanging tender touches and caresses. Finally, Alex slid down and put her head over Olivia 's heart, listening to the beat of her heart. “I love you,” she whispered.


“I love you too,” Liv replied softly. “Hey, you wanna see what I have in mind for our new place or would you like to be surprised?”


“I trust you if you don't want to share Sweetheart. I already know you have exquisite taste. But if you're comfortable enough with the idea, I'd love to hear what you have in mind.”


“Actually, it might be better if I show you.” She patted Alex 's side. “Let me up a sec. I'll be right back.” Alex shifted to a sitting position and Olivia slid out from under her. Alex watched her go down the short hall towards the bedroom and decided to take the time to clean-up their dinner remains.


She took the plates to the kitchen, scraping the remains into the garbage before washing the plates and putting them away. Then she went back and got their soda glasses and did the same. She could hear Olivia puttering around in the bedroom closet, then a small crash followed by muffled cursing.


“Liv? You all right?”


“Yeah, just clumsy tonight for some reason.”


“You want a glass of wine?”


“Sure... then I want you to go sit on the couch and wait for me, please.”


Alex 's curiosity was piqued, but she grabbed the wine and two glasses and went back to the couch. When she was comfortably situated, she called out, “Ready, Sweetheart.”


Liv came out of the bedroom, but stopped just short of the living room, looking around the wall. She looked embarrassed and Alex wondered what on earth could have flustered Olivia Benson so much. Even all the teasing she'd heard about the turtleneck hadn't made her look as unsure of herself as she looked right now.




“ Alex , I'm going to show you something I have never shared with another human being – not even my mother. I'm uh... I'm a little nervous.”


“Liv, unless you want to paper the walls in an Austin Powers motif with those horrific psychedelic flowers, I think it's safe to say you have nothing be worry about. I'm honored you feel that you can share... whatever this is... with me. I promise not to laugh, if that helps.”


“I just want you to be honest. No - actually, I want you to really like it, but I need you to be honest. Because it's gonna be our place... our apartment....”


“Liv, whatever it is will be fine. Just show me,” Alex said impatiently. Olivia nodded uncertainly.


“All right,” then she disappeared back into the hall momentarily before returning with an armload of what appeared to be sketchbooks. She set them gently on the table and took a seat beside Alex . Alex kept her eyes on Liv, watching her fidget miserably.


“May I look?”


“Please,” she whispered. “The suspense is going to kill me otherwise,” smiling nervously.


“Is there anything particular I need to see or an order I should look at them in?”


Olivia swallowed. “Um... well, these are a couple I couldn't bear to part with,” Liv replied, motioning to a couple of the larger books. “But this one has what I had in mind for the apartment.”


“But I can look at all of them... and you'll tell me all about this hidden talent?”


“I'll tell you all you want to know.”


“Then sit next to me and we'll go through this together.”




Chapter XXIII


The silence was deafening. Alex 's mouth was slightly open with the shock of staring at a likeness so accurate it was like staring into a mirror. It was a pencil sketch and if Alex was a betting woman, she'd guess the image was from a day in court – the only difference being that the image had been drawn through the eyes of one who loved her.


Page after page of her likeness was drawn from a variety of Olivia 's memories and some strictly from her imagination. There were others – Elliot and his family, a woman she supposed was Olivia 's mother when she was much younger, the guys from the one-six, children in the park – but mostly, they were of Alex or of Alex and Olivia together.


“Oh, Liv....” Alex breathed.


Olivia twisted her hands together. “That bad?”


“That stunning – mind-blowing, even. These are incredible – Liv, you should be showing in a gallery. In fact, I could make a few calls....”


“No, Alex ... please. This for me is like your music is for you. It's very private and personal and not something I am comfortable sharing with the world. I was kinda hoping you would start with the apartment one first so we could have worked up to the portraits... though at least you started with the tamer one,” the last muttered under her breath.


Alex 's eyes widened perceptibly behind her glasses. “You drew us erotically?” reaching for the second sketchbook, only to find her hand covered by Olivia 's before she could grasp it.


“Before you open that....” Alex cocked an eyebrow and waited. “I want you to know I didn't actually start this book, as badly as I wanted to, until after you were put into witness protection. My memories were all I had left of you – I didn't think it would matter at that point if I daydreamed a little.” She paused and Alex waited, sensing she wasn't done. After a moment, Olivia continued. “When you came back for the Connors ' trial, I stopped drawing again for a very long time... at least anything that I wanted to keep. When I did finally start drawing again, it had nothing to do with you or us. I couldn't.”


Alex cleared her throat, painfully conscious of how tight it was. “I'm sorry....” she started, but Olivia covered her lips.


“Don't be. We're past that now. I just wanted you to understand where the images came from and why they stopped so abruptly. Besides, it made me look outside myself for inspiration. That is what helped me to create the work in the third sketchbook... the stuff I'd like to put into our new home.”


“Maybe I should save the erotica for bedtime viewing and see what your soul sees when you look at the world through those eyes.”


“Your choice, Sweetheart. I know I have some new illustrations to add to that book after what we have actually shared together. You're a very creative lover, Alexandra Cabot .”


Alex blushed so hard Liv feared that the blood might actually burst forth from her skin. She felt the heat radiating from inches away. “Only because I've found incredible inspiration in you, Olivia Benson . Well,” she added mischievously, trying to lighten the atmosphere, “that and you are amazingly open-minded about trying new things. I never had a lover like you before.”


Liv lifted the ring to her lips. “And never will again, I'll wager.”


“No bet,” Alex said somberly, “because you are absolutely right.”


“So... are we looking at art or erotica?”


“ Art ,” Alex replied without hesitation. “I'm fairly certain the erotica will lead to hot monkey sex and I'd really like to hear what you have in mind for the apartment first. Then we can go look and decide what new positions to try or what favorites you need to add.”


Olivia took a big swallow of wine and choked. “God, is it getting hot in here?”


“Nuh uh,” Alex said with a smirk. “That's all you, hot stuff.”


This time the wine went flying.




“Liv, your work is phenomenal,” Alex said as she settled into bed later. “I can't wait to see what you do with the new place.” Liv dropped the sketchbook onto the bed on her way to the bathroom.


“Well, I've never had such a big canvas before and I've never worked with tile like that. Maybe it's something we could work on together?”


“Ooh... could we? I mean, you wouldn't mind?”


Liv spit and rinsed before she came back out of the bathroom. “I'd like it. It'd be nice to be able to share that with you.” Alex frowned and so did Olivia . “You don't have to, Alex . I wouldn't force you to do something you don't want to do.”


Alex blinked and shook her head. “Oh no... NO, Sweetheart! I want to... I absolutely want to. I was just thinking about what you said.” Olivia raised an eyebrow at her. “These are all you have here, right?” holding up the sketchbook. Liv nodded. “So you have others stored somewhere else, correct?”


“Good detective work, Counselor,” Olivia said with a teasing smile.


“I have a personal trainer,” Alex added wickedly. “She's the best,” waggling her eyebrows and causing Liv to laugh. It was a sound she never got tired of hearing. “Anyway, do you think we could go take a look at your other work sometime? I'd really like to see it.”


“Sure. I'm on call this weekend, but we could probably take a short trip.”


“Good,” opening the sketchbook. “Now let's see what kinds of daydreams you were having about me while I was gone.”


It didn't take long for the sketchbook to be put to the wayside and Alex started making Olivia 's daydreams become a nighttime reality.




“So, did Alex show you what cover-up to use or was it just not much of a hickey?”


“Shut up, Elliot .”


“Aw, c'mon, Liv. You're the only one of us around here getting any regular action lately,” Munch complained. “It wouldn't kill you to share a few of the less personal details.”


“ John , as far as I'm concerned, anything involving Alex is personal.”


“You're killing me... you know that, right?”


“Don't you people have something to do?” Cragen asked from his office door. “I realize it's slow at the moment, but I'm pretty sure I'm waiting on some DD-fives. Olivia ?” turning his attention to her. “Has anyone heard from Casey ? Did we get a verdict on the Reynolds ' case?”


“Yes, we did,” Casey announced as she breezed into the precinct. “Guilty on all counts *despite* the last minute shenanigans of his lawyer.” She looked around the room. “Can you arrest him for stupid?”


Elliot laughed. “Give us the code, we'll lock ‘em up.”


Liv snorted. “If we could do that, there wouldn't *be* any more defense attorneys.”


Even Casey laughed at that one. “So, drinks tonight?”


“I'm in,” Munch said.


“Sure,” from Fin.


Kathy and I have a date, but we'll stop by first.”


“Whoo hoo!”

“Way to go!”

“Congrats, El!”


He smiled and accepted their congratulations. Talking to Alex yesterday had helped him put to rest some issues that had plagued him for years, and he and Kathy had shared some serious conversation. It wasn't enough, but at least they had finally laid a strong foundation to rebuild on. “What about you, Liv? You and Alex gonna join us?”


“We'll try. We have therapy tonight, but we can come by for a little bit afterwards. As long as it's not Mahoney's – we don't go to Mahoney's.”


“None of us do, Liv,” Casey confided with a hand on her arm. “So how about Finnegan's at seven?”


Everyone agreed and Cragen nodded satisfactorily. “Wonderful... now that plans have been made for the evening, would it be too much to ask for a little work to get done around here, please? Casey , you have some paperwork for me, I believe?”


They waited until Cragen shut the door before they turned back to Olivia . “So....”


“Get to work, guys. I don't kiss and tell.”


Elliot blew her a raspberry. Munch and Fin exchanged smirks and turned their attention to their paperwork.




“Oh my....” Janet said as Alex and Olivia crossed the threshold into her office. “It seems a lot has changed in the week since I saw you last.” She took Alex 's hand in hers. “Congratulations – Detective Benson , you've got exquisite taste. May I ask what precipitated this? Last week you were worried about the baggage you were bringing in to your relationship.”


“Actually... you did. You mentioned it and it made me think – made us both think, in point of fact.” Janet waited for Alex to continue. “You were right about the baggage – it is always going to be there to some extent. But what we have, it should be celebrated and honored for the wonder that it is. We – of ALL people – know how quickly it can all be taken away. So we decided not to waste another moment not being everything that we can to one another. The rest we'll keep working on.”


Janet sat stock still for a very long moment just looking at the two of them. “You were very convincing in the courtroom, weren't you?”


“I had my moments.”


“You ended up in jail,” Olivia snickered. Janet 's brow rose.


“I would like to hear about that later,” the doctor stated unequivocally. “But I have to believe that any case you believed in you showed the same intensity and passion as you just displayed. All we have to do is dig for it, Alex . It's there waiting to be found. Now tell me about your week and then we can move on to whatever topic you'd like to discuss.”




Janet rubbed a hand across her forehead. "You know, Alex... I don't think I've ever met anyone who attracts trouble quite the way you do.”


“No kidding,” Alex muttered. “Trust me... if I could change that particular talent, I'd do it in a heartbeat.”


“Well, if it makes you feel better, I think it's probably made you into one of the strongest people I've ever met. You seem to be coping with it very well. How do you feel you're doing?”


“Most days I'm good but then fortunately for me, most days aren't like yesterday. And even when I have days like yesterday, I still have Olivia .”


“What about you, Olivia ? Do you have any sort of support system in place?”


“Yes, and so does Alex . Most of our friends and colleagues have been very supportive, and the ones that aren't pretty much go their own way.”


“How so?”


Liv smiled wryly. “Liberal hotspot or not, not everyone in New York is gay-friendly, especially in our professions. Fortunately, most of those that we have to interact with seem to follow a code of live and let live.”


“ Jim Steele being an exception?”


“ Jim Steele has had issues with me since long before we ended up in the prosecutor's office together. He just needs a kick in the ass.”


“He threatens you like that ever again, and he's going to get more than a kick in the ass.”


“Would you really do him physical harm, Olivia ? Especially if all he did was threaten with words?”


“So fast he'd never see it coming,” she said without hesitation. “I don't like him and I don't like his attitude towards Alex .”


“So you feel violence is your only recourse?”


“I think that violence might be the only thing he would understand. I hope not; it actually wasn't my first choice in our first two encounters. But I think he's had all the chances he's entitled to.”


“That's interesting. Alex , how do you feel about it?”


“Violence isn't ever a good choice, but Liv's right... sometimes it is all that some people understand. I'd rather just walk away. I've seen... we've seen...” she said, reaching for Olivia 's hand and stroking her knuckles with her thumb, “what happens when violence wins. It's just not worth the bad karma.”


Liv looked at Alex and held her eyes for a long moment. “All right, baby. We'll walk away. We've had enough bad karma to last the rest of our lifetimes.”


“Thank you,” Alex said softly.


The silence stretched on until Janet felt compelled to break it. “So tell me about your wedding plans.”




“I like her. I know I do most of the talking, but she guides the conversation really well.”


“Yeah, she does. Does it bother you that I want to beat the snot out of Jim Steele ?”


“Not really... I mean you've been very patient with him. Robert has seen more reaction from you. But I don't think Jim Steele is worth the crap it would cause. Besides, Arthur 's influence is far-reaching. He'll make sure that when he finally finds work, Jim Steele will be well out of our lives.”


Liv smiled as the taxi pulled up in front of Finnegan's. “Good,” she said as she opened the door and stepped out. “It's nice to have friends in high places.”


“I like the friends we have just fine,” Alex commented as they headed into the bar.


The detectives of the one-six already had a table and they were greeted enthusiastically as they stepped in the door. Olivia put her hand on the small of Alex 's back and guided them to the table. They took seats around the table and Casey poured them each a beer from the fuller pitcher on the table. Alex signaled for their waitress and ordered another round and munchies for everyone.


“This is nice,” Kathy said when they were all settled.


“Yeah, it is,” Olivia agreed. “We don't do it very often anymore.”


“It's definitely different than girls' night out.” The four women exchanged knowing glances and snickered. The men looked at each other, then turned their attention back to their beer. Some secrets weren't worth trying to extract, especially when they were out-numbered and without Cragen, they were - if only just. Then their food arrived and they concentrated on eating for a little while. And when conversation resumed, it moved on to other topics.




“You guys didn't have to bring me home," Alex protested as Elliot drove up in front of Olivia's apartment. "I know you're supposed to be on a date, and I'm pretty sure chauffeuring me home doesn't qualify as a date activity."


Kathy smiled and patted Alex's arm. "Alex, one day when we have the time, I'd like to sit down with you and tell you just exactly why chauffeuring you home is something both Elliot and I are glad to include as part of our date. Suffice it to say for now that we owe you – we both do – above and beyond what you said to him yesterday. And it's little enough to do for Olivia who has done so much for us."


"You want us to walk you up?" Elliot asked as he opened up Alex's door. "It won't take but a minute and we've got plenty of time until the late movie."


"I'll be fine."


"We'll wait here until you get in then," Elliot stated firmly. Alex nodded.


"Thanks, Elliot. I appreciate it and thanks for the ride home. Goodnight, guys." Then she went up the steps and into the building, flipping on a light and waving at them from the window when she was safely inside the apartment. Then she kicked off her shoes and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge before flopping gracelessly onto the leather couch to let her mind review the night.

Even with Olivia having been called to the scene of a crime, Alex reflected, it had been a good evening. It was the first time they had done something like that since her return home. The guys had been funny and it had been like old times sitting around the table telling war stories and sharing memories with the people who'd meant so much to her. It had been, in its own imitable way, a coming full circle, and it had been nice to have Casey and Kathy there to share it as well.


When the call had come in requiring Olivia 's presence at a crime scene, Elliot had risen to go with her. But a word from Liv and Munch and Fin volunteering to accompany her meant instead that Casey went with her three detectives and Alex was brought home by Elliot and Kathy to wait and wonder and worry.


She realized she must have fallen asleep on the couch, because the next thing she felt was a blanket being draped over her body and the tender touch of soft fingers on her forehead brushing her hair back out of her face. Blue eyes blinked open sleepily to gaze into smiling brown ones, though she could see heartache lurking behind the smile Olivia gave her.


“Hi,” she whispered, unable to manage anything louder right out of sleep. Alex scooted over and opened her arms. “Come here.”


Liv fell into them, unable to resist the desire to be comforted by Alex . They didn't talk – not yet... there was no need. In a little while they would, and Olivia would share a little bit of the burden she had picked up at the crime scene she'd been witness to. But for the moment, it was enough for them to be in one another's arms again.


When Alex felt Olivia finally relax against her, she kissed the top of the dark head nestled against her chest. “I didn't mean to fall asleep on you. What time is it?”


“A little after three. You get home all right?”


“Yes. When you guys left, Elliot and Kathy insisted on bringing me home before they went out.” Alex paused. “How was it? Are you okay?”


“Bad... and no, but I will be as long as I can stay here.”


“Baby, we can stay here forever as far as I'm concerned, but wouldn't you rather move this to the bedroom? At least you don't have to worry about falling off the edge.”


Olivia grinned crookedly. “I dunno, Counselor. I've seen you take up more than your share of the bed.”


“Hello, pot... this is kettle. Besides, I just use you as a mattress.”


“Yeah, you do that, don't you?” Olivia slid from the edge of the couch and held out her hand. “C'mon, kettle... we can talk when the sun comes up. Right now, I just want to hold you in my arms and breathe in your scent.”


Alex wrinkled her nose. “Then we should probably take a shower first. I still smell like a bar,” not mentioning Olivia 's innate need to wash away what she had seen. “Come on... I'll wash your back if you'll wash mine.”


“I never turn down that sort of invitation. Then we're sleeping in; the perp can cool his heels in jail until I get there in the morning.”


Alex grinned. “That's my girl.”


“Oh yeah.”




“You want to talk about it?”


“Not really. You shouldn't have to... not anymore....” Long, slender fingers covered her lips.


“Oh no, Detective – do you see this ring?” holding her left hand right up to Olivia 's nose so she had to cross her eyes to see. “This ring gives me the right to help you bear your burdens and soothe away the nightmares – not just share your happiness and joy. You don't get to do the hard stuff by yourself anymore. Now talk to me, Liv.”


A long silence followed by a sigh before Olivia started talking. “It was a kid, Alex ... a pregnant kid whose boyfriend got angry when she told him it was his baby. He beat the crap out of her until she lost it. And then he sat there smoking a cigarette until we got there. I thought Fin was gonna go postal on his ass... Munch nearly did. It was all I could do not to beat the crap out of him myself.”


“I can understand that, Liv. I'm not exactly having very charitable thoughts right now myself. How's the girl doing?”


“She's in the hospital; the doctors told me she was stable, but that I couldn't see her tonight. I was planning to go talk to her tomorrow.”


“And the boy...?”


“... is cooling his heels in jail for the night. I figure a Friday night in lock-up will put the fear of God in him. Then tomorrow I will introduce him to the fear of Olivia Benson .”


“Then you need to get a little sleep. Close your eyes.” Liv did as Alex bid and the sound of Alex's lullaby in her ear took her to a place where nightmares didn't live.




Olivia was gone when Alex woke up much later, though the note and flower on her pillow helped mollify her. Missing you already. Thank you for being my rock. Alex smiled at Olivia 's words and slipped from the bed, just as Liv opened the front door.


“Oh... I smell chocolate.”


“Yep, you sure do. Nita made chocolate croissants this morning and she kept a couple back for me.”


“Kept a cou... wait – you've already been to the precinct this morning?”


“Yep. Got my confession, got croissants, got you – life is good. So, um… after breakfast, you wanna go to the hospital with me? Then I thought maybe I could show you the rest of the art I've got stored away... see if there is anything you'd like to put in the new place.”


“And after that?”


“I figure we can improvise.”


“Sounds like a plan to me, Detective. Now feed me.”




Chapter XXIV


Their visit to the hospital was disheartening – the girl refused to talk about what had happened and her mother ordered them from the room. It was clearly going to be an uphill battle to get anything helpful from her. The only good thing to come from it was the fact that the victim did respond to Olivia; at least she might recover from what happened to her... eventually.


Their next stop was the jewelers where Olivia had bought their rings. Olivia introduced Alex to Bartholomew and then stepped away to give them privacy. She looked around for a few minutes but realized it wouldn't take much for her to get into real trouble in this place and moved to the front of the store that was set up specifically with patiently waiting spouses in mind.


"Something wrong, Ms Benson? Can I get you some coffee?"


"No thanks, Penny. I'm fine. Just waiting for Alex," motioning to the woman who was now deep in conversation with Bartholomew.


"She's lovely... congratulations."


"Yes, she is... thanks, Penny."


"Replacing me already, Detective?" Alex asked as she stepped over to where Olivia was. Penny blushed and excused herself. Liv stood and took Alex's hand, heading out the door with a wave. They headed down the street until Alex pulled them to a stop. "Are you avoiding the question, Detective?"


"Not at all, Counselor. I figured actions would speak louder than words."


Alex stood looking at Olivia for a long moment with her arms crossed over her chest. Finally, "That was a good answer," she admitted.


"I thought so," Liv said smugly. Alex pinched the back of Olivia's arm. "OW! Careful, Alex – I bruise easily, remember?"


"Yes... I'll be adding to that one later," Alex promised.


Olivia 's nostrils flared. "Let's go." Alex laughed, forcing Liv to smile. "You're so lucky I love you."


Alex didn't lose her smile but her eyes grew serious. "I know, Sweetheart. I count that as my first blessing everyday."


Nothing needed to be said to that, and they walked on in silence. When they reached their next stop, Alex reached for the door and motioned Olivia in before her, knowing once Enrique got a look at her finger, it was all going to be over.


He greeted them and gestured Olivia over to his chair. "Just a trim or highlights today?"


“ Enrique , I'm not even scheduled for an appointment today. Do you have time?”


“Honey, I will always, *always* have time for you and Alex . She gave me my start and you brought her home. That's reason enough.”


“Whatever you have time for then... thanks, Enrique .”


He waved off her thanks and tilted her back to wash the dark hair. “So tell me what's new with you lately. I haven't seen either of you since the Hamptons .” He set the chair upright and combed her hair through before reaching for the scissors. She motioned Alex over and repeated Enrique 's question, thinking Alex wanted to show her old friend her new ring.


“Well, we got a new place.”


“Oh... do tell,” he commanded as he started trimming. So Alex gave him a few details. “And when is the housewarming? I haven't seen an invitation,” he added pointedly. Alex chuckled.


”We've got some work we want to do first. Don't worry – you'll get one when they go out,” Alex added, tucking her hair back over her ear. And Olivia was thrilled Enrique had to pull his hands away from her head before he could clap them together and squeal.


“Oh. My. GOD!!! What is this???” he added, snatching Alex hand and bringing it closer to his face to examine it. “When did this happen???” with an accusing look in Olivia 's direction. “And *when*, EXACTLY, were you going to TELL me about this???”


“I think you did pretty well discovering it on your own, Enrique ,” Alex muttered wryly, motioning around the salon where everything had come to a complete stop and all eyes were turned in their direction.


Enrique looked around with a big grin. “They're engaged,” he announced. “Now back to work,” waving his hands at them. He turned back to Alex and opened his arms. “This is extraordinary, Alexandra . Congratulations!” He turned back to Olivia . “And you too, Detective. Congratulations to you both. So when is the big day?”


“You'll get an invitation, Enrique ... I promise. We just got engaged. We don't have a date yet.”


“Let me know and I'll set the day aside for both of you. We'll give you the works treatment to send you to your nuptials in style.” He looked back at Olivia . “And speaking of style, let me get back to the work of art I have going here. I'll save the highlights for another day, but you make an appointment for them soon, young lady.” Olivia arched her eyebrow at him, knowing she was almost old enough to be Enrique 's mother. He just put his hands on hips. “Don't give me that look.”


It wasn't long until they were out the door, headed to see Olivia 's stored art.


“One day I want to hear how you met him to give him his start,” Liv said as they took seats on the train to Long Island .


Alex turned to look at Olivia . “What did he tell you?”


Liv shrugged. “Only that you gave him his start. You don't have to tell me now... just some day.”


“It wasn't anything big. I found him when I was in my second year of law school and I loved what he did for my self-confidence. After he was the victim of a hate crime, I offered to be a silent partner if he decided he wanted to come to the city to set up shop and I sent a few of my friends to him when he did.” She shrugged.


“I have a feeling there is probably a lot more to that story. Maybe one day?” Liv asked wistfully.


Alex sighed. “He was the first person to make me believe I could be beautiful – that I was beautiful... inside and out. Until then, I really wasn't sure if people just said it was true or if it was because of who I was. Enrique didn't know for the first two years of our friendship who I was except a student and a client. He didn't know until I offered to partner with him.”


Olivia closed her hand over Alex 's. “ Alex , you once told me that my birth was nothing to be ashamed of – neither is your birthright. Nor is the fact that you use it to do good for others. I'm not saying you need to take out an ad in the Times , but please don't try to keep that beautiful heart hidden from me. I love what I see when I look at you... inside and out. Now, c'mon. This is our stop.”


Liv led them off the train, then hailed a cab to take them the short distance to the climate-controlled storage unit she rented. Then she led Alex inside and waited for her reaction. She wasn't disappointed.


Alex walked around slowly, absorbing the atmosphere first. There were several scents in the enclosed space – oil paint, charcoal, lead pencil... even a hint of cedar and pine. But above that it smelled like Olivia – spicy, sweet, a hint of musk. It made Alex smile and her eyes were twinkling when she faced Liv again.


“Show me,” she commanded in a sexy, throaty tone of voice.


And Olivia did – pencil sketches and charcoal drawings; oil paintings and water colors; one or two sculptures she had endeavored to create with varied success. Everything she had ever attempted or tried, Alex saw. And the drawings weren't always of people she knew. Some of them, Alex was sure, had come from what Olivia had seen sitting on her bench in Central Park .


There were some astounding cityscapes and other landscapes so intriguing Alex wanted to know where Liv had been to have seen them. Olivia just shrugged.


“Nowhere,” she confessed. “It's just something I'd like to exist somewhere.”


They spent hours in the storage unit while Alex went through and examined everything – some of it more than once.


“You have such vision, Sweetheart, and I see your beautiful soul in everything you've done... even the gritty stuff,” indicating some of Olivia 's street work. “I'll be honest... I'm having a very hard time picking and choosing. What about you?”


“I already decided to try doing the tile mosaic over the fireplace. Maybe we should think about it, Alex . It's not like we are limited to just using my art, but if that is what you want to do, I'm not gonna tell you no. We can always come out here again and pick out what we like best,” Liv said practically. “Why don't we go back to the new place tomorrow and take a look around? Maybe if we decide what we want to do there it will make choosing a little easier.”


Alex gently set aside the waterscape she was holding and stalked over to Olivia , pulling their mouths together fiercely and kissing her until they were both dizzy from lack of air. “You are so considerate, and I love you.”


“Good thing,” Liv said after she caught her breath. “I'd hate to be getting married to someone who didn't.” She paused when something caught her eye. “ Alex , are you completely sure you want to spend the rest of your life with me? This is gonna be forever.”


“Oh no, Detective – there are no doubts in my mind, and forever is only the beginning for us. You're not getting rid of me *that* easily. What happened? Where is this coming from all of a sudden??”


Liv motioned around the room. “I just feel....”


“Feel what, love?”


Olivia sighed. “I dunno – exposed... raw – like you can see so openly into the depths of my soul here and parts of it are dark and ugly, Alex . I had forgotten about some of these drawings, and they just put it right out there.” She sighed heavily. “I didn't expect to feel like this, but I do.”


Alex cradled Olivia 's face in her hands and held the brown eyed gaze with her blue. “I *can* see into your soul, Liv, but not just here in your work. I see it every single day in your eyes and your voice and your touch. And what I see is amazing. I meant what I said earlier – you have a very beautiful soul... even the parts that have endured so much darkness. Especially the darkest parts, because you have used them to forge the compassion and strength that you give to others.”


“Sorry,” Liv whispered. “I know better. I'm not sure where that came from exactly.”


“Don't be,” Alex reassured. “It happens; we'll work on it. I've been there before and probably will be again and you'll be there for me. That is one of the nicest things about being part of a couple.”


“Yeah, I'm enjoying it a lot more than I imagined possible. I never thought of myself as being someone who could invest in and be part of a real relationship. Thank you for changing my mind.” She took Alex 's hand in hers and they headed out of the storage facility. “Oh and by the way... I love you too.”


Alex smiled. “Let's go home and work on our plans for our future.”




The next three weeks passed swiftly, and though things at the one-six weren't exceptionally busy, there was always work to be done. Even things in the DA's office settled down a little for Alex as the interns became more comfortable in their roles as prosecutors. Rivera's surprise call on Alex was set aside as one of the odder occurrences they had heard of and even Robert and his cronies slipped from the front of their radar since no one on either side of the law seemed to be able to find them.


Instead every free minute Alex and Olivia had was spent at the new apartment turning it into their home. By mutual agreement, Alex had hired painters to come in the first week and paint the entire penthouse in a light shade of gray. Everything else they would do themselves.


Their first free weekend, their bedroom was finished and christened. They had chosen to accent it in shades of blue because it enhanced the art Alex had chosen from Olivia's work. She was still in awe of all she had seen in the storage unit Olivia kept her work in. She wanted so badly to share that amazing part of her lover with the world, but she respected Liv's need to keep that part of her private. Alex felt privileged she alone knew Olivia's secret passion – over and above Alex herself. Of course, she was never going to look at a storage unit the same way again either.


The en suite had been done in the same soothing blues they had used in the bedroom because they both found them so comforting and restful. In this room, Alex had asked Olivia to create a tile mosaic, similar to the one they had planned for over the fireplace in the living room. The one in the master bath was a rip curl with two dolphins jumping out in front of it. The fireplace wall was a personalized replica of a Native American mandala that showed the four basic elements in nature. Both projects were going to take longer than they hoped, but at least now they had been drawn out both on the wall and on paper – it was simply a matter of having the time to complete them. They would work on them together once the rest of the apartment was ready and they were moved in.


The second weekend they worked on the second bedroom – papering parts of this one in green – and the dining area which got accents of burgundy. Alex had hung several of Liv's pencil sketches in the bedroom and an oil landscape in the dining room and suddenly what had been 'the new apartment' was becoming more like home.


Liv hadn't told the guys about the new place yet but her whole demeanor had shifted. They would have put it down to being newly engaged, but although she came back from the weekend more tired than she left, there was no physical evidence to support that theory – and they had already witnessed Alex 's fondness for physical evidence. So their curiosity was growing by leaps and bounds and they decided to take action to satisfy it.


“We could just ask,” Fin pointed out as they waited outside Liv's apartment in the pre-dawn darkness the next Saturday morning.


Elliot smirked. “Yeah, we could, but where's the fun in that? Besides, Liv knows how to keep a secret.”


“I feel fairly confident that if Liv discovers us, her actions will give credence to the theory that women are actually stronger and more vicious than men.”


“Munch, that's not a theory... that's a fact,” Stabler said with a chuckle. “I lived with a houseful of them – I know. They just let us think we're in charge.”


“Hey!” Fin said, jerking his chin in the direction of the apartment. “Here they come.” They watched the women climb into the back of the limousine, then pulled into traffic behind it.


“They're following, ma'am,” Jax announced with his eyes on the rearview mirror. Olivia smirked.


“Well, they lasted a week more than I expected. Too bad their curiosity isn't gonna be satisfied any time in the near future.”


Alex smiled. “You're just lucky Mother asked us over for breakfast this morning so you can lead them around for a while.”


“They're just lucky your mother asked us to breakfast or we'd have stayed in bed all morning.”


Alex 's nostrils flared. “It's not nice to tease, Detective.”


“Who's teasing, counselor? They could have just asked.”


Alex rolled the partition up between them and Jax, not missing the twinkle in his eyes before they disappeared. “I'm not talking about teasing *them*.”


Olivia grinned rakishly. “Oh... feeling a little horny this morning, are we, Alexandra ?” Then she found herself on the bottom of a very small pile.


“You wouldn't think so, after last night, would you?” Alex asked conversationally as her hands started tracing a teasing path up Olivia 's body, watching the goosebumps trail in her wake. “But let me assure you that if spontaneous human combustion was possible, you'd already be picking up pieces of me scattered all over my mother's limousine. How did you know they'd be out there this morning anyway?” shifting the dialogue and letting her hand sneak under the soft cotton of Liv's t-shirt. Her fingers found an already erect nipple and proceeded to torment it and its twin while Olivia struggled to keep her mind on their discussion without losing herself to sensations she was suddenly anxious to give herself over to.


“Who?” she finally asked incoherently, losing her focus on anything other than Alex 's touch.


“The guys. How did you know they'd be waiting for us this morning?” stroking the smooth skin of Olivia 's belly. Liv reached up and pulled Alex 's head down until their lips were a hairsbreadth apart.


“Do we really *care* why they were there or how I knew they would be?” Liv growled.


“Oh yes, Detective,” Alex said, keeping her lips just out of reach by sheer will. “We do. Besides, I am going to play with you all day long so you remember never to tease me this early in the morning when you *know* it is going to be a while before we can do anything about it.”


“You are a *very* evil woman, counselor.”


“Thank you, Detective. They have a course on it in law school, you know.”


Liv's eyebrows popped into her hairline so high, Alex held her breath waiting for them to fly right off. “They have a course on how to torment your girlfriend into insanity by keeping her sexually frustrated all day?!? What sort of S&M law school did you go to??”


Alex laughed and Olivia took advantage of her inattention to pull Alex down into her body. They both moaned at the sensation and Alex submitted to Olivia 's needy kiss. “I promise to make the wait worthwhile, Sweetheart.”


“I'm gonna hold you to that, Alex .”


“You do that, Detective. Now tell me why it took the guys three weeks to decide to be nosey and how you knew they would resort to following us.”


“I think they were hoping I'd just spill my guts – though after seven years of working together, you'd think they would know better by now. Barring that, they know the only way they will find anything out is to ask – which may or may not get them an answer – or do a little detective work. I was surprised they didn't try to follow us last weekend.”


“You think they'll try again tomorrow once they figure out we're going to my mother's this morning?” as they got closer to the house in the Hamptons .


“Maybe... although if they figure out that we have movers at her place, we'll never ditch them.”


“Look at it this way, Sweetheart... if we can't ditch them, we'll put them to work.”


Liv laughed and Jax stopped the car to open the gate to the house. Then they disappeared up the driveway and Fin pulled up a short distance away.


“You think she is leading us on a wild goose chase?”


“I dunno, but I don't think so – this is Elizabeth Cabot 's house.” The other two turned to look at Munch. “What? She and I have been talking about wedding arrangements and she has a bit of private beach at the back of her estate here she was kind enough to show me.”


“And we're just hearing about this now... why?”


“Because everything is still very tentative. That may be why they are here – so Elizabeth can get some concrete commitment out of them. June isn't that far away.”


“So are we hanging?”


“I think so,” Elliot said. “At least for a little while. There's more going on than them visiting with Alex 's mom and I really wanna know what it is.” So they sat back to wait, even as Elizabeth was welcoming Olivia and Alex into her home.


“Come in, you two. I feel like I haven't seen you in forever,” greeting them both with a hug and a kiss and waving them towards the kitchen. “I have the movers coming at nine; I thought that would give us a little time to catch up and give you a chance to make sure you've chosen everything you're sure you want to take.”


“I'm sure, Mother. Just the piano and the desk. Liv and I are going shopping tomorrow to pick out new living room, dining and bedroom furniture together. We're keeping the leather couch for our office and other than that, we're pretty well set. The movers are coming to the apartment next weekend to pack up and move our books and clothes and personal stuff.”


“So the move is officially next weekend then?”


“Yes, but please give us a week or two to settle in before trying to give us a surprise housewarming. We've still got a few things we would like to do first before inviting people over.”


Elizabeth wrinkled her nose in Alex 's direction. “You spoil all my fun, you know.”


“Yes, but you love me anyway.”


“Yes, I do.” Elizabeth picked up her fork and motioned them to start eating. “Now, have either of you given a moment's thought to your wedding or would you like to hear what John and I have come up with for you? Don't look at me like that... either one of you. I know if I wait for the two of you to actually get moving on this, you'll both be old enough for grandchildren before anything actually happens.”


“You don't think you're rushing a little bit, Mother?”


“No, I really don't. I think six years is a sufficient courtship period, even if it wasn't in any way a traditional one. If either of you had been honest about your feelings before you'd have done this years ago. But if you really think I am rushing, tell me now.”


Silence while Alex and Olivia looked at one another. Then Liv shrugged slightly and Alex nodded once and they turned back to Elizabeth . “All right, Mother... spill it.”




“A moving truck? Why would a moving truck be coming from Elizabeth Cabot 's house? Liv doesn't have room in her apartment for anything else.”


“Maybe they got a new place... ya know, something bigger for them together.”


“Sonovabitch! Of course – I'll bet they've been moving a little at a time and *that's* what's kept Liv so busy the last couple weekends. But why didn't she just ask us for help if they were moving?? We could have gotten it all done at once.”


“So they could invite us over for an unveiling when everything was where it belonged? Women are weird like that, sometimes – they want everything ‘just so'. I had an ex-wife that wouldn't let me in the house until everything was in its place. It was a real pain when she decided to do spring cleaning and rearranging. I spent several nights in a hotel because of that.”


“I doubt that was the only reason,” Fin snarked. “So are we following or...?”


“Nah... let's let them have their fun and invite us when they're ready. I got better things to do today.”




“ Ms Benson , we lost our tail.”


“Thanks, Jax. I guess the moving truck made them decide they really didn't want to get involved,” snickering. She turned to Alex. “Wonder how long they'll hold out Monday morning before they start asking questions.”


“I don't know. Are we going to start working on the mosaics today?”


“I think so. The tile has been delivered. If we lay it out on the floor the way it needs to go on the wall, it should make it easier for us to put it up. I think we should probably do that in the second bedroom – we don't have a lot of furniture going in there so we should be able to spread out. We'll have to walk a little farther, but there's also less chance it will be disturbed.”


“Should we do one at a time?”


Olivia shrugged. “Let's see what we have for room and work from there.”


The movers brought the desk in first and Olivia started laying out the tile pieces for the mandala while Alex supervised the moving and placement of her piano. By the end of the day, the mandala was partially completed on the wall, the piano was in its place and an exhausted detective and counselor were very pleased with their progress.


“And tomorrow, we will go pick out furniture that hopefully can be delivered this week. I can take the day off if it can.”


“So can I. Have I told you how excited I am about all this?”


“No,” Alex replied with a smile, “but I can tell. So am I. I have a new song to play for you on our first night in our new place.”


“And now you're going to make me wait to hear it?? Talk about teasing....”


“It's only another week, Detective. It'll be worth the wait, I promise.”


“Yeah, I'm hearing a lot of promises, but I'm not seeing much delivery here. And honestly, if we weren't both about to drop from exhaustion, I'd do something about that.”


“So would I,” Alex agreed with a yawn. “Give me a few hours.” But Olivia was already asleep. “Oh, that'll be good for some teasing later,” Alex mumbled, before following Olivia into sleep.




Chapter XXV


“Hi, Alex ... um, where's Olivia ?” Janet asked, looking around her otherwise empty waiting area. “Surely she's not quitting after only five sessions.”


“No,” Alex stated emphatically. “But she's caught up on a case and I told her I'd be all right on my own tonight until she could get here.”


“So she is coming?”


“She's going to try. Why is it so important to you that she's here? I thought the sessions were for me.”


Janet motioned Alex into her office and offered her a bottle of water before gesturing her to a seat. “It is about you, Alex . But you are her primary concern, and you admitted you are more comfortable when she is with you. I don't want you not to be able to open up and talk because you're uncomfortable alone with me. You've been making wonderful progress so far.”


“And yet, less and less I am sure who I am anymore or who I'm supposed to be.” Alex sighed deeply. “Maybe it's a good thing Liv isn't here, actually. I'm not sure how to share this with her.”


Janet frowned. “Talk to me, Alex . What happened?”


“Are you going to tell me I'm an idiot if I tell you I've started having bad dreams?”


“No... tell me about them. Maybe it will help us figure out the other.”

Alex got up and walked to the window behind Janet 's desk, pacing back and forth in front of it. “ Janet , I should be happy... ecstatic even. I am in love with the most incredible woman who loves me back; I have a job that, while it isn't my dream job, is fulfilling enough and it is a step towards a much better position; we're moving into a brand-new apartment tomorrow; and we've even picked a date for our wedding. So why am I now starting to have bad dreams? I feel so selfish.”


“ Alex , take a deep breath and come sit down and tell me about your dreams. Are they something that has happened? Or something that you're afraid will?” Janet took Alex 's hand and led her over to the couch. “C'mon, Alex . There's no one here but you and me, and I'm just here to help. Let me.”


“Maybe it's because for so long everything felt so wrong and now so much is going right for me that I'm waiting for something bad to happen to take it all away again.” Alex sighed deeply. “In my dream I am back in New York , but Olivia 's not part of my life. I'm engaged to be married to Robert , but I'm screwing around with Jim Steele . My mother is dead; I don't have any friends. My detectives from the one-six aren't my detectives anymore; they don't even acknowledge I'm alive. And Olivia ... Olivia doesn't call me or take my calls. She goes out of her way to avoid me completely. It hurts so much.”


“When did these dreams start?”


“Honestly, I was having them before I came back... like my subconscious was working through all the possibilities I might have to face. They petered out after Olivia confronted me in my office.” Janet nodded her understanding. “But they started up again even more intensely after my talk with Rivera last week. Now it feels like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.”


Janet sat quietly for a long time digesting Alex 's words. Her voice, when it came, was unexpected and so was her question. “How are things with Olivia ?”


“Amazing,” came the answer without hesitation. “She's the one sure thing in my life. I think that is why the dream bothers me so badly – she's not there at all except when I see her back walking away from me.”


“Okay... how do you feel about making a commitment to her?”


“ Janet , I had the papers drawn up to make things legal between us the minute I knew I was returning home... even before I was sure I still had a chance with her.”


“What about the apartment... and the wedding? Do you think it's a case of too much, too soon? I mean in spite of the fact that you've known and loved one another for a number of years, the truth of the matter is you and Olivia have only been a couple for a few months. Maybe subconsciously you feel you're being pushed into something you really aren't all that certain about.”


“Like I was into my job?”


“What about your job?”


“I don't know – it is the next logical step in my original career path, but the reason I was given that position no longer exists. And some days, more often than not lately, I question why I am really there... a lot. I'm not convinced I'm cut out to be a lawyer anymore. Of course, some days I'm not sure I'm cut out to be much of anything anymore.” Alex ran her hands through her hair. Janet leaned forward and clasped her hands together.


“Well, as I see it, there are three separate issues we need to deal with here.”




Janet nodded. “The first is your dream. I'm a firm believer in dreams, Alex , and I think your subconscious is trying to tell you something. Now whether that something is to count your blessings or be aware of the danger around you or something left over from your days in witness protection, I don't know yet. But I think we need to figure it out and put your mind at rest. Otherwise it will eat at you until it makes you certifiable.”


“I feel like I'm there already.”


Janet laughed. “No... trust me. I've seen certifiable. You don't even qualify for a chair in the waiting room yet.”


Alex smiled wryly. “Thanks... I think.”


“Okay, your second issue seems to be with your job. This is where your identity crisis seems to be coming from.” A beat. “When you were in witness protection, what did you do... for a living, I mean. What was your profession?”


“I was an insurance adjuster at my first placement.”


“And how did you like it?”


“I cordially hated it and I was completely unsuited for it as well.”


“How so?”


“It was tedious... monotonous and boring, and I couldn't help comparing it to my job here. I wasn't even really helping anyone.”


“Did that bother you?”


“Enough that I asked Hammond to move me.”


“And when he didn't, did you contemplate suicide?”


“NO!” vehemently and immediate. “But I did consider leaving the program and coming home on my own.”


“But you didn't.”


“No – shortly after that I was brought back for the Connors ' trial.”


“And when it was over, you left again... why?”


“ Hammond promised me I could work with the DEA to bring Velez to justice so I could return home safely.”


Janet paused a moment, then asked, “ Alex , if you had stayed in New York after Connors ' trial, or if you had returned home of your own volition, what would you have done?” A look of confusion flashed across Alex 's face and Janet hastened to explain. “You obviously couldn't have gone back to the DA's office to be a prosecutor or a bureau chief – so what would you have done had you not come home the way you did under the circumstances imposed on you by the DEA?”


“I don't know,” Alex replied slowly and honestly. “I didn't actually think about it beyond simply getting home, and when the DEA and the DA's office set up the bureau chief's job for me, I took it as a matter of course.”


“All right. Then I want you to do something for me – actually, I want you to do something for you.”


“If I can.”


“You can. I want you to take a leave of absence from the DA's office. You need to take some ‘ Alex time' and figure out who you want to be and what you want to do with your life. Take Olivia with you if you want to leave the city, but you've got to do this for your sake.”


Alex nodded slowly. “And the third?”


“Talk to Olivia , Alex . Everything you have said to me and everything she has done have proven repeatedly that you belong together... that what you're doing is good and right and best for both of you. She's not going to think you are a nut job. And I'd be willing to bet she's been worried about you, even if she's not exactly sure why. She deserves that much from you.”


“She deserves much more, Janet , but it's a good start.”


“What's a good start?” Two heads turned in the direction of the door and Olivia stepped in. “Hi, baby... hi, doc... sorry I'm so late.”


“Did you get the bad guy, Detective?”


“Actually, yes we did. So what did I miss?”


“Quite a bit,” Alex confessed but didn't say anything else. Liv looked between Janet and Alex , waiting for one of them to elaborate. Finally Janet turned to Alex .


“Would you prefer to talk to Olivia alone, Alex ? I'm not going to tell her, but she deserves to know, remember?”


“Deserves to know what?” Olivia slipped from her spot on the couch beside Alex and fell to her knees in front of her, clutching at her hands with almost painful desperation. “ Alex , you're scaring me... talk to me, baby. What's wrong?”


So Alex told Olivia everything she and Janet had discussed in plain, unvarnished terms. She felt the relief sweep through Liv's frame as a palpable reaction to her words. Olivia put her head down on Alex 's knees and just breathed in for a few minutes after Alex was done. Alex pulled one of her hands free and cupped the back of Liv's head, stroking through the messy dark hair. Finally, Liv looked up, dark eyes holding a hint of tears she refused to let fall.


“Don't you *ever* scare me like that again! God, do you know what was going through my mind??”


“Nothing good I'm sure.”


Olivia blew her bangs back and sort of collapsed Indian style at Alex 's feet. “Well, for what it's worth,” she said shakily after a moment, “I agree with Janet about the job situation. Take the time now you should have taken before and didn't. The important thing now is for you to find what makes you happy. I'm not sure I understand enough about the importance of dreams to comment on the other, but if it puts your mind at rest, then I'm all for it.”


“Well, I have to say I'm extremely pleased with our progress so far,” Janet added. “The most important thing now is your job. I think the intensity of the dreams will ease up as well as most of the stress you appear to be under once you take care of that, Alex . The rest will be easier to deal with if there is less stress in your life.”


“Listen to her Sweetheart... she's making sense.”


Janet laughed. “All right... you two get out of here and go have some fun tonight.”


“Do we have plans for fun tonight? I thought girls night out was tomorrow night.”


“It is, but the guys are waiting at Finnegan's again if you feel up to joining them for drinks and dinner. I think Kathy was gonna stop by and Casey 'll be there too.” Alex nodded her agreement.


“Go on then, you two – get outta here. I'll see you next week.”


“Thanks, doc. I'll try to make it on time,” Liv said with a smile as they left Janet 's office. The doctor just waved at them and straightened up her desk to leave for the weekend. It had been a productive session and she felt good about Alex 's breakthrough. But now it was time to go home and spend some quality time with her family.




“Oh my God... you have got to be kidding me. Tell me I'm seeing things,” Alex said dryly as they approached the door to Finnegan's. They had gotten out of the cab at the side of the building and Olivia 's concern was focused on getting them safely through the Friday night crowd to actually get into the bar. She looked up at Alex 's face.


“Huh?” She followed the motion of Alex 's hand, looking in the window and noting the detectives of the one-six already gathered around one of the bigger tables. Then she realized what Alex was motioning to and she had the grace to look sheepish while she scratched the back of her neck self-consciously. “Oh, that... sorry. I forgot about that, though I'm surprised you haven't heard the rumors floating around Hogan Place ; although until now, I didn't know how much credence to give them.”


“Would you like to fill me in really quickly before they see us, so I don't look like an idiot?”


“Jealous much?”


“That's not fair, Olivia Benson , and you should know better.” The silence was uncomfortable and felt like it lasted much longer than it actually did. Alex started to walk away and Liv grabbed her hand to stop her.


“You're right, Alex – I'm sorry. It still makes me crazy when I think about him – it always made me crazy, knowing he was with you when I wanted you to be with me.”


Alex chuckled. “Sweetheart, he learned very quickly there was no room for him in my bed as long as you were in my life. I think he was actually a little jealous of me.” The disbelieving look Olivia was giving her caused Alex to continue. “Liv... nothing is more fascinating to a man than a woman he has no chance with. The fact that you completely disdained him and snubbed him unmercifully just made you that much more intriguing for him.”


“There's something twisted about that.”


“He's a defense lawyer... what did you expect?”


That got Alex the smile she was looking for. “Good point,” Liv agreed. “So are we okay?”


“We are better than okay. It's a little flattering that you still get jealous over something that happened years ago, but let me assure you, Detective – for the record – that you have *no reason* to be jealous of anyone. No one will ever take your place and I won't give you a reason to think otherwise. Now, would you like to tell me why Trevor Langan is hanging out with the detectives from the one-six? I can't believe there is any love lost there.”


Elliot had noticed them by the window, but a hand motion from Olivia kept him from wandering out to check on them. Instead, he made an effort to keep the conversational ball rolling so no one else's attention was caught by the two women. He figured they'd be in as soon as Olivia explained Trevor 's presence to Alex .


“I'd have to say he's here with Casey , though why she brought him here with the guys.... Anyway, they kinda, sorta hooked up at your welcome home party and have been on again, off again since then from what I can tell.”


“So I'm hearing about this for the first time...?”


“Probably because it is off more than it is on and you've had plenty on your own plate to deal with without listening to all the gossip making its rounds in the courthouse and DA's office.” She motioned towards the door and they headed inside to thread their way through the tables towards the back where the guys were waiting for them.


Alex nodded. “That's the truth,” she said, turning back so her raised voice carried in Olivia 's direction. “So from now on you're in charge of gossip collection and distribution so I can be aware of what is going on around me.” That made them both chuckle and they arrived at the table laughing.


“Share the joke,” Elliot commanded as they took their seats and motioned the harassed looking waitress over.


“Please,” Trevor begged. Clearly the detectives had made him uncomfortable about remaining with them and Olivia had to wonder why it was so important that he stay.


Alex look at Liv who just smiled and shrugged, sitting back and letting Alex take the stage while she was more than comfortable to simply watch after giving their order to the waitress.


“Oh, I just made Olivia my official gossip monger. Otherwise I miss out on everything interesting. The only thing that comes through my office anymore is whining. My interns have made me so glad I do not have kids of my own.” She turned to Elliot and Kathy . “I don't know how you've done it with four. These kids are all going to end up as defense attorneys and it's not going to be my fault!”


That broke the ice around the table and everyone laughed. Then Munch picked up the ball and got the men involved in discussing his latest conspiracy theory on key government figures being replaced by alien pod people. The women exchanged looks and Casey touched Alex 's arm.


“Thank you,” she said softly. “You didn't have to do that, but I certainly do appreciate it. When I saw him sitting at the bar alone.... I guess Olivia told you about him and me sort of dating.”


“Just now. He's the enemy, Casey ... nothing will ever change that as far as your detectives are concerned. But maybe he can be a decent enough sort if you can get past his being a slimy defense attorney you might have to face in court.”


“Yeah, that has been the hard part... but we're trying. Most of the time I'm not sure why.”


“Hot monkey sex?”


“ OLIVIA !!!” All three women looked at her in shock. She shrugged.


“What?!? I'm just saying....”


“You don't think I'm nuts, Liv?”


Olivia covered Casey 's hand. “Not my place to say, Casey . If you're happy, why not enjoy being nuts for a while?”


“Well, I don't care what the guys or Olivia think,” Kathy said, leaning forward deliberately and keeping her voice low. “He's hot and it doesn't hurt that somewhere along the way he had a mama who put some manners into him.” She covered her eyes. “I can't tell you the kind of time I've had trying to teach Dickie. It's better with his dad around more, but still....”


“You should teach him to dance,” Alex said and Olivia bit her lips to keep from laughing out loud at what she *knew* Elliot 's reaction would be to that idea. “It makes a nice balance to the other rough and tumble boy things I'm sure he does.”


“It would also get the crap beaten out of him at school. For now, I'll settle for manners.”


About that time, their waitress brought their myriad of orders and they settled down to awkward silence to eat. Trevor stood up – “If you'll excuse me, I think I see someone I know at the bar. I'd say it's been fun, but... Casey , maybe I'll call you later.” He took his plate and moved back to the bar.


“Well, that was interesting.”


“I really don't like that guy. Casey , you could do so much better than him.”


“ Elliot , leave the woman alone. Just because we don't like him doesn't mean he can't make Casey happy. Of course, I would be a much better choice, but....” Munch trailed off with a shrug.


“Can we not talk about this right now? I know you guys don't like Trevor ; I'm not sure if I do, all right? I'm sorry I invited him over; it was a mistake. Now, change the subject.”


Discussion foundered after that and they ate in discomfited silence. Elliot reached over and covered Casey 's hand. “I'm sorry, Casey . I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable.”


“I know Elliot , and I know you tried. I appreciate the effort... and the honesty. In a weird way, it's nice to know you guys care so much. I am sorry I made things awkward tonight.” She turned to Alex and Olivia. “We still on for girls' night out tomorrow?”




Casey nodded and stood. “I'll see you three tomorrow then. Goodnight, guys.”


“We'll walk out with you,” Olivia volunteered as she and Alex rose as well. “We've got an early start tomorrow.”


Munch looked at Elliot . “That's what we should have talked about – the new Cabot-Benson digs.” He turned and looked over his glasses at them. “Of course you realize we expect a tour soon.”


“I promise, John ... as soon as we're settled. We'll host an open-house.”


“We'll look forward to it, Alexandra ,” kissing her hand while Olivia glowered at him. “Would you ladies like an escort?”


“Munch, sit your skinny ass down before Benson punts it into next week.” Munch smiled and shrugged.


“I had to try so Casey can see my true worth,” and everyone relaxed and drew a sigh of relief as things shifted back into a more natural pattern.


The three women stepped out into the cool night and Olivia stopped Casey with a hand on her arm. “Are you okay getting home alone?”


She started to answer, but before Casey could open her mouth to speak, an unexpected and unwanted voice broke in.


“ Alexandra ?”


“ Robert ? What do you want? What are you doing here?”


“I'm sorry, Alex . I just need a minute of your time.”


Olivia took Alex 's outstretched hand and pulled her away from Robert , doing her best to stay between them. She pushed Casey and Alex towards the door, pulling out her gun and indicating her desire with a single nod of her head. Casey went inside to fetch the three remaining detectives while Alex stood in the doorway - close to Olivia but where Liv knew she was safe.


“ Robert Claiborne ,” pointing the muzzle at him steadily. “You're under arrest....” Then she spotted the dark vehicle speeding towards them and time slowed to an infinitesimal crawl. “ ALEX !!!! Get down!!” Shots rang out and Olivia reached out to knock Robert to the ground. By the time Casey and the detectives from the one-six made it out the door, the vehicle was careening wildly out of control.


“What the hell?”


Munch and Fin ran towards the overturned vehicle while Elliot and Alex rushed towards Olivia . “Hey, Liv... what happened here? Casey just....” He turned back to Casey . “Officer down! Officer down!! Get me a bus and whatever officers are in the vicinity for crowd control!”


“Oh God, Liv! No!! NO!!!” Alex dropped to her knees and pressed her hands of the bleeding wound on Olivia 's belly. “You hang on, Sweetheart. You can't die on me, do you understand? Hang on, baby... hang on for me now. You can't leave me here alone, Olivia Benson ! I'll follow you – I swear it.”


Elliot was torn – wanting to be by Olivia 's side but needing to take charge of the scene. He looked back down at Claiborne. “Don't you fucking move....” He noticed blood seeping from Robert 's shoulder. “ Kathy , can you...?” She moved to put pressure on it. Without being asked, Trevor and Casey started working crowd control.


Elliot knelt down beside Alex and put his hand over hers. “Damn it, Liv!! What the hell were you thinking? You hold on, you got that?” Three black and whites pulled up and the officers piled out to render assistance. Then the ambulance arrived and everything became controlled chaos.




Chapter XXVI


It was a nightmare he'd already lived through once, Elliot thought ironically as he looked around the hospital waiting room. Only the players had shifted and there were a lot more of them this time. Munch and Fin stood in the near corner, having just arrived from the scene after briefing Briscoe and Green on the facts they had so far. Langan and Casey sat nearby; he had brought coffee for everyone and simply stayed and this time no one questioned his presence – they had far more important concerns to worry about. Serena sat next to Casey , having been notified as soon as Casey could make the call and Elizabeth sat between Serena and Kathy .


On Elliot 's other side was Don Cragen and next to him sat a pensive Liz Donnelly . He was half-expecting Arthur Branch to walk in and in point of fact hoped he would if only on the off chance it might garner some reaction from Alex .


After her initial outburst at the scene, Alex had lapsed into stoic silence, hiding behind the mask he recognized all too well. She had kept pressure on the wound until the paramedics took over and then she had calmly followed them into the ambulance. One of the paramedics made a move to stop her when she flashed him her badge and a look. His partner nodded and Alex climbed in the back for the ride to the hospital. They had stopped her at the door to the trauma unit and Alex hadn't moved from the spot she had claimed that allowed her a view of the room Olivia was in.


Elliot had tried to get her to sit down; Elizabeth had spoken to her; both Serena and Liz and made an effort to talk to her – only to be patently ignored as Alex's entire focus remained on what was happening to Olivia in the treatment room. Though they all knew Olivia 's condition was grave, Alex was the only one who knew how dire it truly was. She had been in the ambulance when Liv coded.


“'Lex?” the raspy voice a bare whisper.


Alex smiled sadly hearing the strange derivative of her name as pain-filled brown eyes met hers. She rubbed the inside of her wrist along Olivia 's face, unwilling to touch her with her bloodstained hands. Alex eased Liv's hair back away from her face gently and leaned down to kiss her forehead. “Hello, beautiful... it's nice to see your eyes again. How do you feel?”


“ Col '... so cold.”


“You hang on – we'll be at the hospital in a minute and they'll get you warmed up. All right?”


“Love... ‘Lex.” Then her eyes had closed again and the machines she'd been attached to started wailing. Alex had wanted to scream but instead had pushed herself back into a wall to give the paramedic room to work and after a very long minute, the machines started beeping and blinking in a somewhat normal rhythm again. Then they had pulled into the emergency room and Alex had taken up her post just outside the trauma room, watching. She'd never realized how much it sucked to be on this side of the doors – waiting, hoping, praying.


Then the doctor stepped from the confines of the room and she stopped him with a still bloodied hand on his arm. “Doctor, how is she?”


He looked down into her eyes and knew the answer to his question before he asked, but asking it anyway because he was required to do so. “Are you family?”


“She is my fiancée.” He hesitated only a heartbeat, but it was long enough and Alex 's eyes hardened and she asked coldly, “Is that going to be a problem?”


The doctor sighed. It could be – he wasn't obliged to recognize their relationship and in fact was more than a little put off by the whole idea. On the other hand, bigotry did not make him all stupid, and he knew who the woman in front of him was and the weight she and her family carried in the city.


“No, Ms Cabot – it won't be a problem.”


“See that it isn't,” she stated unequivocally. “Now tell me....”


“It was touch and go for a little while – still is actually. She lost a lot of blood, Ms Cabot and I won't lie to you... the odds are not in her favor right now. If she makes it through the night, then I can offer you some hope, but the next twelve to twenty-four hours are critical for her.”


“May I go sit with her?”


“You're really not....” Blue eyes flamed and the doctor backtracked a little. “It's hospital policy, Ms Cabot , but I think I can arrange a few minutes for you.” He motioned to a nurse. “Can you help Ms Cabot get cleaned up a little and then take her in to the officer's room? I'm going to....”


“ Olivia ,” Alex broke in firmly. “The detective's name is Olivia Benson .”


The doctor nodded his understanding, trying not to say anything else that might set Alex off. “Please take Ms Cabot to Detective Benson's room. I need to go speak to the rest of the group that is waiting for a report on her condition.”


The nurse nodded – obviously the bloody blonde woman had some sort of hold on Dr. Timmons . He didn't show anyone the deference and courtesy she was receiving. She put it aside and led Alex into the trauma room Olivia was currently assigned to, escorting her to the large sink in the corner first. When she realized Alex never moved her eyes from Olivia 's form, she quickly washed the blood off her arms and dried them. Then she guided Alex to Liv's bedside and eased her onto the stool she'd pulled close by. Alex sat and curled a hand around one of Olivia 's limp ones, willing her to respond.


Before she left the room, the nurse turned and looked back at the two women. Alex had laid her head down next to Liv's and was quietly whispering in her ear. Olivia remained unmoving, although the monitors registered slight changes in both pulse and respiration.


Elliot had seen the doctor walk out of the trauma room and stood to his feet, causing a ripple effect around the room. He held up his hand, insuring no one moved and they waited until the doctor finished his discussion with Alex before they clustered together to hear what he had to say.


“You're here about Detective Benson?” Elliot 's eyebrow rose til they almost reached his receding hairline. He wondered what Alex had said to get the cooperation it normally took the flash of several badges to accomplish.


“Yeah... how is she, doc?”


“As I told Ms Cabot , we're going to have to keep a very close eye on the detective for the next few hours. She's in very critical condition, but if she survives the night, I believe she'll make it.”


There was a collective gasp and Elliot felt three distinctive hands clutching his arms. He cleared his throat. “Um... can I see her?” knowing the rest would understand why he asked for himself. The doctor shook his head.


“I'm sorry... Ms Cabot is in with her and I can't allow anyone else in there. Technically, Ms Cabot shouldn't be in there either, but she is a difficult woman to say no to.” Smiles all around met his words and Dr. Timmons allowed himself a brief smile as well. “It is possible that Ms Cabot 's presence could be beneficial to the detective if they are as close as she led me to believe.”


Everyone stiffened and braced for Elliot 's outburst, but it was Elizabeth that stepped forward to address the doctor with not a little fire in her eyes and voice. “They are engaged to be married, doctor. Is that going to be an issue for you?”


Dr. Timmons recognized the blue eyes facing him as the same ones he had just faced in Alex Cabot and shook his head. “No, Mrs. Cabot . It's just not common,” he ground out. “I'll make a note in Ms Benson 's chart that Ms Cabot is to be treated like a spouse,” he offered grudgingly.


“You do that, doctor,” Elizabeth instructed sweetly, though everyone in the room could hear the steel behind her words.


“I am going to send Ms Cabot out so we can continue Ms Benson 's treatment. There is nothing more any of you can do here tonight, so I'd like to suggest that all of you go home and get some rest. If anything changes, we'll notify the next of kin,” he looked at the chart he held. “I have an Elliot Stabler listed,” watching him nod his head. “Now if you'll excuse me, I need to check on Ms Benson .”


Dr. Timmons gave them all a brisk nod, then turned on his heel and left the way he came, silently fuming about the unfairness of being forced to treat degenerates, no matter what kind of hero they were made out to be. Maybe it had been poetic justice the detective had been shot. Then he opened the door to her room and stopped dead in his tracks.

Alex had twined the fingers of their hands together, careful not to disturb the myriad of tubes and bandages in and around Olivia 's body. Her other hand lightly swept the hair back from Liv's face and she kept up a litany of whispered words in Olivia 's ear. Even from a distance, Timmons could hear the difference in Olivia 's vital signs. Though not by much, they were a little stronger and he watched in silence as Alex brushed her lips over Liv's cheeks. That earned a reaction even Alex noticed and it brought her head up momentarily to look at the monitors before she leaned down and tried it a second time – this effort touching Olivia's lips.


Again the monitors registered a slight increase in Liv's heart rate and breathing and Alex sighed shakily, laying her head on Olivia 's shoulder and greedily breathing in her scent in reassurance. It was at once the most awkward and comfortable position she had ever been in. Timmons decided it was time to step forward and announce his presence.


“ Ms Cabot ?” Alex straightened and lifted her head from Liv's body without releasing the hold she had on it. She turned her head slightly and met the doctor's eyes, taken back by the multitude of conflicting emotions reflected in his eye. Clear still was the disgust and contempt he held for them that she had seen before, but now there was also confusion and understanding and sympathy.


Alex shook her head. What she and Olivia shared was not meant for public consumption; though many more people were aware of their relationship than would have been had she not been shot three years ago, they were still not looking to become poster children for gay marriage. On the other hand, if they could change a single person's bias by being themselves, Alex wasn't going to argue the point.


“I'm sorry to disturb you,” and indeed, the doctor did actually seem sincere, “but I need to ask you to leave now. Ms Benson needs her rest and from the looks of things, so do you. Besides,” he continued when she started to argue, “I need to check on her and it's better if I do that without an audience.”


“When can I come back in?”


Timmons sighed. “Actually, it would be better if you go home for the night and come back in the morning.”


“No,” flatly.


“ Ms Cabot , I don't think you understand – you're not actually supposed to be in here at all. I've done as much for you as I would for any spouse, but now I'm going to have to ask you to leave so we can do our jobs. Please don't make me call security to have you removed.”


A sudden wailing from the machines spurred the doctor into action and caused a number of medical personnel to come tearing into the room. Alex determined to stay at Olivia 's side, but the doctor called out, “Nurse, take Ms Cabot to the waiting room, STAT! Let's go people... MOVE!!” And then the door was closing between her and Olivia again and Alex was left on the outside looking in.


She resisted the nurse's efforts to move her from the door and finally the nurse gave up with a shrug and rushed back into the trauma room, leaving Alex alone. She looked briefly at the waiting area, wondering if their friends had heard the code, but a quick glance showed her mother, Liz and Kathy in quiet conversation; Serena and Casey involved in another; and her detectives talking to Lennie and Ed from homicide. Trevor was nowhere to be found. It crossed her mind to wonder who had died that the case had been turned over to homicide, but realized a bit selfishly that as long as it wasn't Olivia , she didn't rightly care.


Then she turned back to watch the trauma team work on the best part of her life, praying for Olivia to be all right.




They watched the doctor head back into Olivia 's room and they turned to look at one another. Before anyone could open their mouth to speak, Lennie Briscoe and Ed Green walked in the door and the detectives of the one-six immediately separated themselves from the rest and met them in one corner of the emergency room. Serena took Casey by the arm and led her to another corner. That left Kathy , Elizabeth and Liz to converse among themselves, which they did with ease, having enough in common between them to find plenty of interest to talk about.


When Trevor realized there was really no place for him, he slipped out the door. There were some things even really great sex couldn't overcome. He had a feeling their differences were going to be something that would keep him and Casey apart.


Serena tugged Casey down into a chair beside her. “All right, girlfriend... you want to explain to me what you're doing here with Trevor Langan ? Come on, Case... you deserve better than a slimy defense attorney, no matter how cute he's supposed to be.” An arched eyebrow made her giggle. “Being a lesbian doesn't make me blind, Casey . I can see. So...?”


Casey sighed. “So...? He was interested and the sex is incredible.”


“Oh honey... you are so much better than that.” Serena pushed a lock of hair behind her ear and took Casey 's hand. “I mean... if he makes you happy, that's one thing. But if all you've got between you is sex.... Casey , there are plenty that would be interested if you'd give them an inkling of encouragement. Hell, if you played on my team, I'd ask you out,” she added with a grin. “You have a lot to offer, hon – don't sell yourself short.”


“You're making me blush, Serena .”


“Don't – just accept the fact that you're a hot babe and better than a roll in the hay for someone like Trevor Langan . In fact,” Serena paused and looked around the room before continuing, “I have it on good authority that there are several individuals who find you um... shall we say appealing? John Munch is one of them,” throwing her dice on a single roll.


Casey chuckled. “You're kidding me, right? John Munch ?


“Yep. He hasn't said anything because he doesn't want to get shot down, but he has a definite interest.”


“And you know this how?”


Serena patted the hand she was holding. “ John and I have had a number of interesting conversations over the years, including but not limited to our tastes in women. Look, I didn't tell you that to make you uncomfortable. Just keep your eyes open and be aware; there are a lot of opportunities out there if you're open to them.” She looked up. “Uh oh.”


“Uh oh?”


Serena nodded and pointed to the corner where the detectives had been meeting. Casey 's eyes widened. “Oh shit.”




As soon as Lennie and Ed walked in the door, Stabler, Munch, Fin and Cragen all crossed the room to meet them.


“How is she?” Briscoe asked without preamble. Elliot shook his head.


“Not good... but she's hanging in there. Whaddya got?”


“Well, for one thing, your partner is a damn fine shot. She managed to kill the driver of that moving vehicle and wound the shooter. And he's already singing like a bird – pointing the finger for tonight's events at the man Benson saved tonight. So one of you wanna tell me who the hell Robert Claiborne is and how all this ties into Alex Cabot 's return? ‘Cause this guy has given us all kinds of shit to wade through and they both play a prominent part in his story.”


Elliot started to give them an abbreviate version of the events of the last few months when Jack Hammond appeared out of nowhere, furious and full of righteous indignation.


“Would any of you gentlemen like to explain to me why I just got a call from the director telling me to get my ass to the hospital because some crazy assed detective has ruined what was left of the Rivera investigation?”


He was up against the wall with Elliot 's arm holding him up by the throat so quickly, he didn't even have time to take a deep breath.


“You wanna go ask your goddamn director why one of your fucking rogue agents was left free to roam when he couldn't do his goddamn job? Why my partner is laying in the trauma unit dying because she was shot trying to protect his sorry ass??”


The rest of the detectives pulled Elliot away from Hammond , but none of them helped him as he fell to the floor clutching his throat and gasping for air.


“What the hell are you talking about, Stabler?”


“He means Liv got shot trying to protect your boy Claiborne who had a li'l somethin'-somethin' goin' on with Rivera while you thought he was takin' care of your business. Clear?”


Hammond shook his head. “Not really. Can I get that in English this time?”


Briscoe and Green exchanged glances with each other and the detectives of the one-six. Lennie took Jack by the arm. “C'mon, Agent Hammond . I think you need to be brought up to speed on a few things. ‘Your boy' Claiborne is looking at murder charges for a start and that's without considering his drug activities.” By this time, Casey and Serena had joined them.


“Gentlemen? Is everything all right?”


Not surprisingly, Munch walked over to them and put an arm around each woman. “Agent Hammond here was a little confused over some of the facts in the case as they have played out. But we are doing our very best to enlighten him.”


“Then allow me to suggest that we move this to a quiet corner of the waiting area and sit and discuss this like adults. Otherwise the hospital is going to ask us to leave and despite the doctor's recommendation, I am willing to bet no one here is ready or willing to leave until Liv is out of the woods.” Heads nodded and Casey motioned them to the far corner that was big enough for all of them and offered semi-privacy by virtue of being backed by two walls.


It was a much more sedate group that moved over to the corner and sat down. With a little luck, they would be able to figure out exactly what had led up to tonight's actions and finally once and for all put the whole business behind them.




“Oh my goodness,” Elizabeth exclaimed as Elliot pinned Jack Hammond to the wall by his neck. She looked at Kathy who was watching the scene with a mixture of fear and fascination. “He's very strong and seems to be quite passionate about his work.”


Kathy looked back at Liz and Elizabeth . “He takes his work very personally and he is very passionate about Olivia .”


The two older women blinked at her matter-of-fact statement and tone of voice. “Doesn't that bother you, dear? His caring so deeply for Olivia , I mean....” Liz remained quiet at Elizabeth 's question, but she waited to hear Kathy 's answer with interest. Kathy sighed.


“It's complicated,” she confessed. “I know Elliot loves Olivia – part of him is in love with her because she can share part of his life that I can't... he won't let me. That caused a huge part of the problems that broke up our marriage and is something we are trying to work on together now.” She sighed again. “On the other hand, I trust them both – I know they care about each other deeply and will do whatever it takes to watch one another's backs and get both of them home at the end of the day. And Elliot and I both know that Olivia is deeply and totally committed to Alex and always has been.”


“I have to say what a surprise that was for me,” Elizabeth admitted.


“ Alex and Olivia together?”


She shook her head. “Not exactly... I mean, I had always wondered why Alexandra seemed cursed with such abysmal taste in men. I know she was looking for someone like her father, but every man I heard about was so shallow and two dimensional. It wasn't until I met Olivia at Alexandra 's funeral that I started to understand why the men Alexandra dated were – to be frank – appallingly lacking. She'd found everything she was looking for in a female detective.”


“Did that bother you?” Liz asked bluntly.


“It might have,” came the honest reply, “if things had been different. As it was, Olivia and I developed our own friendship, and I learned to see and appreciate her for the person she was. So I understood when my daughter came home how very lucky she was to have found someone like Olivia who loves her the way Olivia does.”


“So what was the surprise?” Kathy inquired.


“The fact that Alex has been so open about their relationship. She hasn't taken out space in the Times or posted it up on a billboard. Quite honestly if Alexandra did something so completely out of character, I'd be inclined to believe some of John 's more outrageous conspiracy theories. But I believe she has been much more open about it than she would have been if she had remained here instead of spending three years in witness protection.”


“That's true,” Liz agree. “She was uptight before she left here... and completely focused on doing whatever it took to get to the big chair. Alex Cabot was her job with the DA's office, and that's just not true anymore. “


“Well, I like the change,” Kathy admitted. “I've actually enjoyed getting to see a more human side of her - she brings a smile to Liv's face and that's a good thing in my book. She spent a lot of years making herself miserable. It's nice to see genuine happiness for a change.”


Liz looked at her watch. “I wonder where Alex is. I thought the doctor was going to send her out as soon as he went back into Olivia 's room.”


Elizabeth frowned and looked around, seeing the detectives, Casey and Jack Hammond deep in a quietly, heated discussion about something or other. Serena was nowhere to be seen and Elizabeth assumed she'd gone to the ladies room or to get coffee or something similar.


“I think I'll go check on Alexandra . Perhaps the doctor relented and decided to allow her to remain with Olivia , but I would feel better knowing for certain. He didn't seem particularly happy about the fact that they are a couple. I can't imagine he would go out of his way to accommodate either of them more than the law deems necessary.”


“And unfortunately, their union won't be recognized by the state for another three months. Despite their long and interesting history together, they have only been living as a couple for three months. Legally, Alex has little recourse if the doctor throws her out of the room.”


“Excuse me,” Elizabeth said, standing and stretching muscles that were cramping from stress. “I'll be right back.


Before she could take two steps, the entire waiting room froze at the high-pitching keening sound that rose from the other side of the trauma unit doors. “NOOOOOOOO!!!!! Oh God, NOOOOOO!!!!!”


Elliot raced through the heavy doors while the others waited stock still and frozen by the agony they heard on Alex 's voice. The only glimpse they got before the doors closed was of Alex crumpled on the floor and Elliot sliding into place beside her to wrap her in his strong, tender embrace.


Suddenly, the night took a turn for grim.




Chapter XXVII


“Wait just a goddamn minute,” Jack Hammond hissed. “You meant to tell me Ms Cabot was contacted by Rivera and no one thought it was important enough to pass that bit of information along to me or someone else in the Agency? He's a drug lord and that is....”


He trailed off when Elliot placed a firm grasp on his arm. “That is just how it is, considering he was more upfront with her than the DEA has ever been with any of us. You expect us to cover your asses, but you're unwilling to reciprocate that. Be honest, Hammond – you never once had control of anything involved in this investigation.”


“What exactly are you implying, Detective?” Hammond growled. “And consider your answer carefully.”


“I'm not implying anything, Jack . I am stating a fact. The investigation of Rivera was a fuck-up from the start and you never really knew what was going on. And when it went completely haywire, you stepped back and hoped the NYPD would step in and do the dirty work and then clean up the mess you left.”


“I don't think that's a very fair assessment....”


“I think it's more than generous... especially given the fact that you involved Alex Cabot again, *knowing* it was a bad idea from the get-go. And that doesn't even take into account the fact that your agent is dirty and might have gotten my partner killed!!”


“He's not dirty, Detective. Just because things didn't go as planned....”


“Yeah, he is. The narc squad started putting together a shit load of evidence against him before he started harassing our girl. Dude's got issues, man.”


Hammond looked at Fin with disdain. “Have you ever tried speaking English?”


“You ever tried gettin' your head outta your ass??”


“Claiborne's going down, Hammond ,” Elliot said. “I imagine Rivera would be happy to cooperate with the NYPD in an effort to get a drug lord off the streets of New York , and you know what? We'll be happy to take him and let Rivera walk for now. He screwed with one of our own.”


“You can't do that.”


“Watch us. We tried doing things your way and all it got us was a shit load of trouble... twice. You don't get another chance.”


“We'll see about that, Detective.”


“No, we won't, Agent Hammond,” Cragen finally offered. “This discussion is over, and so is your involvement with any member of my squad.”


Before Hammond could make a retort, the entire waiting room froze at the high-pitched keening sound that rose from the other side of the trauma unit doors. “NOOOOOOOO!!!!! Oh God, NOOOOOO!!!!!” Elliot jumped over the chairs and raced through the heavy doors while the others waited stock still and frozen by the agony they heard in Alex 's voice.


“Oh my God,” Casey said and reached out to Munch just as Serena came around the corner. She smiled briefly until she noticed the panic and fear on the faces around her.


“What happened?? Where's Elliot ??”


Her voice broke the tableau and everyone jerked into motion, shifting back towards Elizabeth . All eyes were focused on the doors Alex and now Elliot were hidden behind – waiting and wondering at the silence and hoping someone would come out and offer them some good news. But the doors remained closed and the group clustered around Elizabeth and sat in nerve-racking silence.




Alex watched through the window as the machines continued to wail, grating against her nerves in a way nothing else ever had or likely would again. Medical personnel scurried around the room, but Alex 's eyes remained focused on Olivia 's still face – looking... hoping for the smallest movement to reassure her.


A nurse reached to turn off a machine and Alex crumpled, her soul screaming in agony. “NOOOOOOOO!!!!! Oh God, NOOOOOO!!!!!” The next thing she knew, she was wrapped in Elliot 's embrace, but she couldn't breathe, she couldn't see – all she could do was to hold on to Elliot and pray it would all be over soon.


Alex felt Elliot 's tears on the top of her head, but she couldn't even cry. Then he brushed a kiss over the top of her head. “ Alex ? The doc's here.”


Alex burrowed deeper into Elliot 's arms, doing her best to avoid being told a truth she didn't want to hear. She actually flinched when Dr. Timmons ' hand came into contact with her arm, cringing away from his touch with a visible shudder. The doctor didn't release his hold and knelt down to her level, calling out her name softly.


“ Ms Cabot ? Ms Cabot ? We got Detective Benson stabilized, but it's still very touch and go. She's going to need more blood – a lot more than we have on hand. Do you think some of your friends out there would lend us a pint?”


Alex sat unblinking at Timmons for a long moment trying to comprehend what he was saying. Elliot , however, caught on right away. He wiped the tears from his face. “All of them would, doc, and we can get plenty more if you need it. Let me go....” he trailed off, suddenly realizing Alex had a death grip on him and he couldn't move until she released him. “ Alex ... honey?”


“Liv's okay?”


“She's not out of the woods yet. She needs our help. You need to let me go so we can help her,” understanding with startling clarity just how strong and entwined their relationship had become. The Alex Cabot he had known before, while capable of intense emotions, had never been completely discombobulated by anything... especially not to the point of incoherence.


She turned to the doctor and clasped the hand he still had resting on her arm and it didn't even occur to him to be disgusted or put off by it. All he saw this time was a woman in distress because someone she loved was on the brink of death.


“Liv's not dead... she's okay?”


Timmons patted Alex 's hand. “We're doing our very best. Why don't you come with me and let the detective here go get me the help I need, all right? I think Detective Benson will do better with you in the room with her anyway.”

Dr. Timmons stood and offered Alex a hand up, which she accepted gratefully. She looked at Elliot and his heart broke – he had never seen Alex look as lost as she did right at this moment. He leaned forward and brushed her cheek with his lips, noting the chill in her skin. He cupped her face a moment, hoping to warm it. “I'll be right back,” he promised, and disappeared back through the trauma room doors.


The doctor patted her hand, as much to promote a little circulation as to get her attention. “C'mon, Ms Cabot . Do you know your blood type?”


This got him his first smile from her, tentative and uncertain though it was. “A-positive... Olivia and I share the same blood type, doctor, as does my mother.” He led her back into the trauma room and signaled a nurse over, whispering his instructions and leading Alex back to Olivia 's side. She took the stool she had abandoned and grasped Olivia 's hand in her own, holding on as tightly as she dared.


With her other, Alex tenderly stroked every bit of skin she could reach, reassuring herself that Olivia was truly still alive. A touch at her elbow made her growl and turn to glare at whomever had the nerve to bother her here and now. The doctor held his hands up in surrender and then motioned to the gurney they had pulled up beside Liv's bed.


“I thought you might like to stay in here with her while you made your donation to her personal blood bank. We can hook you up directly.”


“I don't have to leave?”


“Absolutely not. I want you to stay and talk to her. We'll arrange you so you can hold her hand as well.”


Alex lay down on the gurney and turned on her side facing Liv. Then she looked back at the doctor. “What changed your mind about us? An hour ago you didn't want anything to do with either of us more than was absolutely necessary.”


“I'm not sure my mind has been changed, Ms Cabot – there is a lot about this entire situation I don't agree with – your relationship with Ms Benson chief among them. However,” he continued before she could let loose with the fire he could easily see in her eyes, “even I can see that whatever is between you is real and not some sort of political statement. Besides, she is my patient, and I don't let my patients die... regardless of my personal feelings for their lifestyle choices.”


“Maybe you should consider why that is, doctor – what it is about us that disturbs you so much. And why you think of our love for one another as a lifestyle choice instead of just accepting it as love.”


Dr. Timmons looked pensive, but he didn't answer. Instead he reached over and patted her hand, placing it on top of Olivia 's. “Talk to her, Ms Cabot . She needs to hear your voice. It doesn't matter what you talk about – just let her know you're here. I'm going to go see how the donors are doing. I'll be back to check on you both shortly.”


Alex nodded and turned her attention to Olivia , rubbing her thumb over the back of Liv's hand and whispering to her about anything and everything she could think of, starting with their wedding plans. More than anything, Alex wanted Olivia to remember they had a lot of living together still to do.




As soon as Elliot crossed the threshold back into the waiting room, everyone stood and looked at him. He rubbed his hands over his face, knowing there were still traces of his tears left. Then he clasped his hands together. “She's still alive,” feeling the sigh of relief run through everyone in the room. “But she needs blood desperately – so if you're O-positive or A-positive, especially – let the nurse know if you can give a pint. I'm sure they'll take all types, but those are what Liv needs.”


Before he was done talking, everyone – even Jack Hammond - was moving to the nurse's station to start the process of donating blood – everyone except Kathy . She headed to Elliot 's side and took him in a strong embrace; she rocked him gently for a moment before releasing him, knowing he wouldn't allow her to comfort him more than that publicly. Later, when they were alone, she would hold him and he might relax his guard a bit. But for now....


“How is she?”


Elliot shook his head. “She's a fighter, but it doesn't look good.”


“How are you doing with all this?”


Elliot shrugged. “Let's just say I see bad things in Robert Claiborne 's future. He's gonna suffer for every bit of pain Liv is feeling.”


Kathy nodded, not surprised by the vehemence of his tone. “And Alex ?”


“I'm as worried about her as I am Liv. Strong as she is, I'm not sure she'll survive if something happens. She hasn't been through anything like this before.”


“One of the hardest things about being a cop's wife.”


“One of? I'd think waiting in the hospital would be the worst.” Kathy shook her head.


“Two different things, honey. Being at the hospital *is* the worst, aside from having someone come to your door too late.” She shuddered. “The hardest was always watching you go off every morning with a smile on my face. But I'd do it again because you're doing the job you need to do and I'd never ask you to do anything else. Now, c'mon Detective – let's go do our part to save your partner's life. I happen to know you're a match and I'm an O-positive.”


Briscoe and Green approached them and Kathy squeezed Elliot 's arm before walking towards the nurses' desk and leaving him alone with the homicide detectives. “Look, we're still on duty so we're gonna head back to the precinct and let everyone know what is going on. But we'll be back and I imagine you'll have a few more volunteers before the night is over,” Ed said.


“Thanks, man... appreciate it.”


Lennie nodded. “She's a good cop and we look after our own. Listen,” putting his arm around Elliot 's shoulders and leaning closer, “we're gonna let Claiborne stew tonight. The shooter – guy named Whitmore – he's given us enough for probable cause against Claiborne and ain't it great... it's after hours on Friday night. Claiborne is stuck as a guest of the city of New York for the weekend.”


“Interviewing him tomorrow?”


Ed grinned. “We thought we'd have lunch together at the precinct tomorrow if you'd like to join us.”


Elliot held out his hand and Ed grasped it, followed by Lennie. “I'll be there. I'll even treat.”


“See ya about noon then,” Lennie said as he and Green headed out the ER doors. Then Elliot crossed back to the trauma doors and headed into Olivia 's room to check on both Olivia and Alex . What he found made tears come to his eyes even as it brought a smile to his face.


Liv was attached to every conceivable type of monitor Elliot had ever seen or imagined and there were far more tubes inserted and baggies hanging near than he was comfortable seeing. But at least she was a little less pale to his carefully watching eyes. Then he regarded the thin red line that connected Olivia to Alex . Blue eyes met his and he padded over to Alex 's side.


“How ya doing?”


“'M tired... feel a little woozy. But Liv is doing better; we've been talking.”


“Really? Did she say anything?”


“Not yet, but she is an excellent listener. She looks better, doesn't she?”


“A little bit, yeah... but you look like you could use some juice or something. Let me get a nurse,” he offered, just as the doctor came through the doors.


“Detective... is there something I could help you with?” a touch impatiently.


“Yeah, actually. Can you have someone get Ms Cabot some juice or something? I think she's gonna pass out in a minute.”


Dr. Timmons looked at Alex and realized no one had hooked her up to an IV. “Dammit!” he cursed roundly, making his way to her side. “Excuse me.... God, do I have to do everything myself??” quickly and efficiently setting up an IV drip and slowing the blood flowing from Alex to Olivia . Then he turned back to look at Elliot . “Aren't you supposed to be donating a pint, Detective? I have it on good authority that you are a match for Ms Benson .”


Elliot looked startled and glanced furtively at Olivia and then Alex . For the first time, the doctor looked amused, though he didn't actually crack a smile.


“No, Detective. The nurses told me we had two A-positives – you and Ms Cabot 's mother – and a whole host of O-positives. The couple of people that aren't either type we have asked to wait so we can get everyone home safely. So, please....” motioning towards the swinging door, “let's get you hooked up.”


Elliot patted Alex 's hip. “I'll be back to check on you too.”


“So will I,” the doctor commented dryly, “but I think she'll be all right as long as you're in here with her. Keep talking as long as you can. I'll send a nurse in with some juice and cookies for you.”


“Thank you, doctor... you don't know how much....” Alex broke off and bit her lip and this time Timmons actually smiled.


“You're right – I don't; but I'm glad I could help. Maybe I will rethink a few things.” Then he took Elliot 's elbow and escorted him from the room.




“C'mon, Detective – the sooner we take it from you, the sooner we can put it into Ms Benson .”


“So you think...?”


“I think this is the very best chance she's got, and she's doing her part by fighting to stay alive. So we're going to do our part by doing everything we can to keep her that way.”




Two hours later, the waiting room was filled again, only this time it was with tired, slightly blood depleted detectives and lawyers... and Jack Hammond . Elliot hadn't believed his eyes when he'd walked back out from the room he'd been ensconced in. He'd heard the sounds of several more traumas come through the doors, but the nurse assigned to collecting their blood hadn't said a word and frankly, he really didn't care. His only concern was making sure Liv survived.


But he hadn't expected Hammond to hang around after the verbal knockdown-drag out fight they'd had before Olivia coded. And he certainly hadn't expected the snort he got when Jack caught his surprised expression.


“Despite the fact that we are in disagreement over the perceived guilt and dispensation of Robert Claiborne , the fact remains that Olivia Benson is a damn fine police officer. I wanted to help.”


Elliot nodded curtly. “I'm sure it's appreciated,” wanting to say more, but Kathy 's hand on his arm reminded him he had more important things to deal with.


“Look, Stabler... we're going to stay out of this for now. I talked to my director. If you've really got that much evidence against Claiborne, we're going to let him go down. We figure he'll try to strike a deal to keep his mouth shut about being a DEA agent and we'll be able to deal more directly with him then.”


“You really think he'll be that stupid?” Hammond cocked his head in question at Elliot 's words so Stabler elaborated a little more. “Telling that kind of information marks him for the hole or for the chair. That kind of thing doesn't stay a secret in prison for very long.”


“Detective, I've come to the conclusion that Robert Claiborne isn't all that bright so we'll just take what comes.”


Elliot smirked. “Director's kid?”


“I'm betting there's a family relation somewhere in the picture. It's the only excuse for a screw-up like him to be an agent. And it would explain why he always got approval for things I found questionable. Doesn't alleviate my responsibility for going along with them, I know. Maybe it's time I got out of this business.”


“I think we all have days like that, Jack . Just... if you're really gonna let us handle this, just walk away and let us do our jobs. Don't come to his rescue. Either he'll talk or he won't – it really doesn't matter. We've got him dead to rights.”


“And Rivera 's going to come out of all this smelling like a rose.”


“I figure if Rivera is as smart as I think he is, he'll set Claiborne up to be the scumbag drug lord Rivera really is and force the DEA's attention away from him for a while... except as an innocent victim – an honest businessman who got taken in by his shyster lawyer.”


Hammond shook his head. “You're probably right. Sometimes this job makes me tired.”


This time Elliot chuckled tiredly. “You should try being a parent.”


Before Hammond could comment, the doctor stepped from the trauma area and over to their group once more. “I just want you to know that we have Ms Benson stabilized for the moment and the transfusions are progressing smoothly. Ms Cabot has maintained that she will remain by the detective's side and in light of the evidence we have supporting her need to be there, I am going to allow it for now. As soon as she is stable enough to move, we will be putting Ms Benson into a private room at Ms Cabot 's insistence in the critical care ward. However, I'm going to have to be adamant that the remainder of you go home and get some sleep now. It's been a very long night for all of you, and the next few days are going to be just as critical to Ms Benson's recovery.”


“Thank you, doctor – can we see her before we go?”


“I'll allow you, Detective Stabler and Mrs. Cabot to speak to Ms Cabot briefly, but I'm afraid more than that will be disruptive. You will all be allowed to visit them for a short time tomorrow in the CCU ward. I have made sure the nurses understand that Ms Benson has a large extended family. Now if you'll excuse me....” stalking to the back before anyone had a chance to thank him.


Elizabeth Cabot stood unexpectedly and cleared her throat. “I know it's not really my place, but I feel the need to say something to all of you. Thank you... for what you've done for my daughters tonight. I know they're not technically a family yet, but they have been in their hearts for a long time and I know you all have been part of that.” She looked at the band-aid on her arm and smiled. “Of course, now I can tease Olivia about being a ‘blue-blooded snob' since I heard she gave my daughter grief about that once upon a long time ago.”


The group chuckled and the rest of those in the waiting area wondered what the joke was and why so many police officers were in attendance.


“Unfortunately,” she continued apologetically, “I do have one more favor to ask.” Elizabeth sighed and bowed her head. “As some of you are aware, Alexandra and Olivia acquired a new apartment recently and have been moving in bit by bit. Tomorrow was supposed to be their actual moving day – the last of their stuff out of the old apartment was to be taken to the new. Obviously, they are not going to be able to do that, so I was wondering if someone would be willing to come to the hospital long enough for me to go take care of things. I would feel better knowing someone who cared about them was here with them... at least until Olivia wakes up and can insist my daughter take care of herself.”


“Actually, Elizabeth ... if you'd rather be here, Casey and I can handle the movers,” Serena volunteered. “As long as everything is marked or there is a list we can follow.”


“Are you sure you don't mind, my dear? I know Alexandra had everything written down, but I believe the movers were coming early – around seven, she said.” Serena groaned, causing another chuckle to ripple around the exhausted group.


“Figures she would still get up at dawn on a Saturday. Doesn't the woman *ever* slow down?”


“Quite a bit since her return, in point of fact,” Elizabeth said with a grin. “But they were anxious to get this move finalized. They wanted to be settled in time for the wedding.”


“We'll be happy to do it, Elizabeth ,” Casey assured her. “Do you have keys for us to get in?”


“I'll get them from Alex while we're in the back. Thank you all so much for being here. Now I understand why Alexandra fought so hard to come home. I would have too with friends like you.” Then she took Elliot 's arm and they walked swiftly into Olivia 's trauma room.




Bleary blue eyes blinked open when Elizabeth laid a hand on Alex 's hip. “Mom?” Then she turned and looked at Olivia . “Dammit... I was hoping it was a bad dream.”


“No, but she's hanging in there, so don't you lose hope. I wanted to let you know that the doctor is sending all of us home now, but I will be back in the morning. Casey and Serena volunteered to take care of the movers tomorrow, so I'm going to give them your keys, all right?”


Alex nodded her head. “Thank you, Mother.” Elizabeth slid over to the table where Alex had thrown her purse and Elliot stepped into the space she'd vacated.


“She's tough, Alex ... she'll be all right.”


“She better or I'll kick her ass.”


“Me too,” Elliot agreed with a smile. “Is there anything we can do for you... anything you need?”


“Aside from Liv opening her eyes? No, I'm okay for now.”


Elliot nodded. “All right. I'm interviewing Claiborne tomorrow, but I will stop by on my way in, then I'll be here afterwards.”


“Nail his balls to the wall, Elliot ,” Alex said in a cold voice, her eyes suddenly bright and sharp in their loathing of Robert . “I want him to go down hard for this.”


“He will, Alex ... I promise that.”


“All right,” Elizabeth cut in as she returned with Alex 's keys. “I will be back in the morning with more comfortable clothing for you, Alexandra .” She brushed a kiss over the messy blonde hair. “Try to get some rest – Olivia is going to need you to be strong for her.”


“Listen to your mother, Alex . Moms know best.”


“Suck-up,” Alex accused dryly.

He kissed her temple. “How do you think I survived in a house full of women?” smiling when his words got a tiny grin out of her. “We'll be back in the morning.”


“Thanks, Elliot . Thanks, mom. Would you thank everyone out there for me too? They'll never know what it means to me that they were here.”


“Already done,” Elizabeth said briskly. “Now close your eyes. The night will pass faster if you sleep.”


Alex turned back on her side facing Olivia , clutching her hand and whispering to her before she closed her eyes. Elliot and Elizabeth stood at the door until her breathing evened out in sleep. Then they headed out to herd the rest out for a little of the same before morning came again.




Chapter XXVIII


“You're late,” Briscoe commented as Elliot walked in the door with his hands full. Ed stepped forward and relieved Stabler of part of the load he was carrying and they both followed Lennie into the interrogation room.


“How's Liv?” Green asked before they crossed the threshold.


Elliot shrugged. “About the same – still unconscious, but the doctor thinks she's finally stabilized. He's cautiously optimistic.” He put his bags on the table and opened them, handing around Styrofoam containers negligently while Ed set up the drinks.


“What about Cabot ?”


“She's getting a crash course in being a cop's wife. I left Kathy with her and Elizabeth . If anyone can teach her how to get through this without losing her soul, it'll be Kathy . But Alex is tough and stubborn – my money is on her having the mettle to not only stick it out, but show the rest of us how to do it with class.”


“Good – now can we eat? The smell is making me crazy. Can't wait to see what it does to Claiborne.”


“Briscoe, you are a mean sonovabitch,” Elliot laughed. “No wonder we get along so well.”


With great relish, they dug into the Italian food Elliot had brought, moaning in delight. “God, I love Luigi's fettuccine. Nobody does Alfredo sauce like Luigi.”


“Or marinara and garlic bread. Damn fine choice, Detective.”


“And it will leave such a fine aroma in the air during our interrogation of Claiborne... much better than prison food, I'd be willing to bet.” The three of them smirked and continued to eat until the only thing left was sauce that they mopped up with the remainder of their bread.


“Well, I feel much better now – ready to deal with the sleaze. Let's bring Claiborne in and stick it to him, ‘cause he's a real piece of work.”


After a few minutes, a uniformed officer escorted a beaten and bruised Robert Claiborne into the box, clicking his cuffs into place and nodding to the detectives as he took his leave. They exchanged glances and Elliot leaned against the door, allowing Briscoe and Green to take the lead for the moment. He would step in when the time was right.


“What the hell happened to you?” Lennie asked, taking the seat across the table. “Oh, let me guess... you decided to announce your status as a DEA agent to the holding cell at large and got the crap beaten out of you. Am I close?”


“Look, I don't know what kind of game you're playing, detectives, but I think the time has come to stop playing and release me. I am an agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration and I have been working undercover against Nicholas Rivera as his lawyer for the last several years. No matter what it is you *think* I've done, I can assured you it was all sanctioned by the director of the DEA.”


“I think we need to read Mr. Claiborne his rights and the charges against him again.”


“I am aware of my rights and the charges against me – I'm a lawyer, remember? Now I demand you release me. You have no reason to hold me.”


A knock on the door made Elliot turn and open it only to be met by Munch and Fin. Briscoe stood and motioned his fellow detectives out the door. He turned back to Robert . “Don't go anywhere.”


“Is this a private party or can anyone join in?” Munch asked once the door was closed.


“Hail, hail... the gang's all here,” Green said dryly. “What are you two doing here anyway?”


“Same thing Elliot is I would imagine,” was Munch's rejoinder. “We were in the box – we want to see this ass go down. Oh... and we spoke to Rivera – a distraught and honest businessman who has assured us of his complete cooperation against drug lords like Claiborne.”


“So he's going to set Claiborne up?”


“He don't need to – Claiborne's as dirty as they come all by hisself. Rivera 's just gonna make sure he comes out of all this slick and clean as a whistle.”


“Well, I told Hammond how this was likely to play out and he swore old Bobby boy in there was gonna be left swinging in the wind. So I say we go in and apply a little pressure... see how long it takes him to squirm.”


“Personally, I am waiting to see how long it takes you to swing,” Briscoe answered. “C'mon... we've got work to do,” opening the door and stepping back into the box with Stabler. Green, Munch and Fin went back to the observation room to watch.


“Hey, you lost a detective – did he have to go get the keys so you can let me out of here? I told you I was clean.”


“ Robert Claiborne - You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you at government expense. Do you understand these rights?”


“Of course I understand these rights – I'm an attorney! What I don't understand is *why* you are reading them to me AGAIN. I've explained to you that I am an agent working for the DEA and everything I've done has been authorized by my director. Now I *demand* that you release me.”


Elliot moved so fast, Lennie didn't see him flinch until he had his fist wrapped in Robert 's shirt so tightly that his face was quickly shifting from pink to red to purple. Then Elliot whipped his hand forward and slammed Robert 's face into the table.


“You are not in a position to make demands, asshole. You have the right to shut the fuck up to keep from saying anything stupid, but you don't have the right to DEMAND anything from us. Nod your head if you understand your rights?” Robert nodded rapidly against the table.


“Detective Stabler, do you think I could question the witness now?”


Elliot bowed slightly and smirked as he released Robert 's collar and listened to him gasp and wheeze for breath with a distinct sense of satisfaction. “Please, Detective Briscoe... be my guest. But you might want to tell your alleged DEA friend that we've already been in touch with his so-called director and they have disavowed any knowledge of him.”


“You lie!” Robert screamed.


“'Fraid not,” Lennie confirmed conversationally. “And we've got a shit load of charges to go through. Would you like to call a lawyer now?”


“I will act as my own council... and I have nothing to say.”


“Then you can listen as we go through them. Who knows – Detective Stabler has been known to be quite persuasive in interrogation – you might change your mind after a session in here with him. Word has it you've even got the scoop on the Hoffa murder, but let's start with the drug charges first. Then we can talk about the RICO violations and embezzling and move on to the murder and assault charges.”


Robert snorted. “Drug charges?!? RICO... embezzling... MURDER??? Are you trying to blow smoke out my ass??” Briscoe held his eyes for a very long moment before Robert 's eyes fell to the table. Then several minutes more minutes passed as Lennie read the list of drug related charges against him. Finally, Lennie drew a deep breath and set his list on the table.


“Now, before we move on to the more serious charges, is there anything you'd like to say?”


“I'd like to make a phone call.”


Briscoe and Stabler exchanged glances, then Stabler plugged in a phone and brought it to the table. “We'll just wait outside,” knowing Munch, Fin and Green were still watching and listening to everything Claiborne said.


“Whaddya think?” Briscoe said when the door was closed. “Has he shit himself yet?”


“If he hasn't, he probably will after this phone call. Bet he's calling the director.”


“No bet. No wonder nothing gets done right when nepotism gives you that caliber of agent.” Elliot almost spewed his coffee across the room. “I can't wait to hear how he's going to justify the attempted murder of a police officer. Five'll get you ten he blames Whitmore and claims he was an innocent bystander who owes his life to the good detective.”


Elliot scowled. “He plays that card, Len, and I'm gonna go postal on his ass.”


“He plays that card, and I'll stand back and watch.” He jerked his head towards the observation room. “Think we oughta go in there... see who he called and what he said? I figure Munch is dying of curiosity to know what sort of information this jerk's got on Hoffa .”


“Yeah, I noticed you threw that in there. Gotta tell you – it was all I could do not to laugh.” Then they walked into the observation room and looked at the three detectives looking back at them.




“ Hoffa ? Please, Lennie... everyone knows Jimmy Hoffa was cremated and made part of the Astroturf that was put in the Detroit Silverdome. However, you might be interested to learn that the call our friend made was to the director of the DEA – the same director who accepted the call long enough to tell Claiborne he was on his own. I think Hammond got to the director first and filled him in on the details of the case – including the mound of evidence we have against his agent.”


“How long you think we should let him sit in there?” watching the man become increasingly agitated. Elliot crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the wall.


“As much as I'm enjoying watching him come apart in there, I'd like to get back to the hospital to check on Liv.”


Briscoe nodded. “All right, Stabler – you're with me. The rest of you....”


“Yeah, we know, Len,” Green assured him. “Now go kick his ass.” The two detectives headed back into the box where Robert Claiborne impatiently waited while the other three turned back to the window to watch things unfold.


Before Elliot opened the door, he turned to Lennie. “Would you mind....?”


“Not at all... personally I'm surprised you waited this long.” He motioned them forward. “After you.”


Elliot went in first and crossed to the table, smiling maliciously when Robert flinched away from him before crossing his arms and giving Elliot a sullen look. Briscoe took up a stance in the far corner of the room and crossed his arms as well. Elliot put his hands on the table and leaned over.


“Now that you've had time to make your phone call... think it over a bit... do you have anything to say about the crimes you've been charged with as they've been presented to you so far?”


“I am being set up; I am completely innocent and being framed... probably by the NYPD.”


Elliot straightened. “Why would we do that? We have enough real criminals to worry about in this town without wasting time framing innocent people. But I don't care nearly as much about the drug charges as I do the rest of them - murder, attempted murder of a police officer, assault on a police officer....” He let his voice trail off and gestured to the paper. “There are several lesser charges as well, but those are the ones that bother me the most. Do you know why?” his tone almost conversational but his eyes blazing anger.


“Because you're a cop?” came the negligent answer, “And you think your life is more valuable than anyone else's?”


Robert jerked his head back in response to the slap Elliot applied to either side of his head. “I don't like you and I don't like your attitude.”


“That doesn't mean you get to commit assault on me, Detective. I haven't done anything wrong and when I get out of here, I'm going to sue your ass for police brutality, assault and battery, unlawful imprisonment and any other charge I can come up with.”


Stabler straightened and looked at Briscoe. “I haven't seen any police brutality against this suspect. Have you?”


“Not a thing.”


“Nice try,” Elliot smiled. “Now... you want to tell me what could possibly be worth the death penalty? Because that's what the DA is gonna go for, you know – that attempted murder of a police officer pissed a lot of people off. So why'd you do it, Robert ?”


Claiborne shook his head. “I didn't do anything, Detective. I'm innocent in all this, remember? Detective Benson ,” smiling, but gritting his teeth as he said her name, “saved my life.”


This time Elliot moved slowly enough Robert could see him coming but he still didn't anticipate his actions. Elliot kicked out swiftly and the chair underneath Robert went sailing across the room into the wall. He dropped straight down, cracking his chin on the table and biting his tongue. Elliot grabbed him by the hair and slammed his head into the table again before laying a forearm against the back of Robert 's neck and leaning all his weight against him.


“No, Bobby ...” hissing in his ear. “You're not innocent. You see, Liv's good - she shot the driver, so things didn't play out according to your plan. We got the shooter alive and he's singing like a bird to escape the death penalty.”


“You'd take the word of a criminal over me?” Claiborne reached behind him with his free hand, but Elliot caught it and wrenched it up the middle of his back until Robert cried out in pain.


“You bet, Bobby-boy. See, you went off and fucked around with my partner... you nearly got her killed. Whitmore – he's a stooge, just following orders. But you... you had something personal against her, didn't you? Didn't you??” throwing himself off Robert and crossing his arms as Robert slid to the floor – one hand covering the spot on his shoulder that a bullet had grazed. He looked up at Elliot with hatred in his eyes.


“Yeah, I did – fucking bull dyke. She ruined everything! I had it all figured out and then she came along and screwed everything up!! I wouldn't be here now if it wasn't for her!!”


Elliot moved to stand behind Claiborne and Lennie stepped forward and dropped into the chair across the table from him. “How do you figure?”


Robert just glared and slumped more firmly on the floor. “I don't owe you an explanation.”


Elliot slammed the chair down beside him and jerked Robert to his feet, only to thump him into the seat and pin him in place with a strong hand on the damaged shoulder. “You might want to rethink that attitude of yours, Bobby-boy. I've been really nice to you so far; you don't want to know what could happen if I get pissed off. And you're trying my patience.”


“Listen to him, Claiborne. This is his partner we're talking about – it can get a lot uglier. She dies... I guarantee you it will.”


Elliot squeezed and Robert winced under the pressure. “ Talk , Bobby . This is the last time I'm gonna ask you nicely. Why did you arrange to have my partner killed?!?” his voice rising exponentially with each word.


“Because she was in my way. She took Alexandra away from me, and Alex would have solved all my problems. She had it all – money, respectability, connections. I needed those to complete my assignment. I thought she understood that, and then Benson had to step in and fuck everything up. I had to get her out of the picture.”


“So you...?” Lennie prodded.


“So I took care of it. She couldn't take a subtle hint, so I had to arrange for more direct action. Bet she got the message this time.” He didn't see Elliot move, but Robert bit his tongue again when his head slapped against the table. “Shit!”


“Let me make sure you get the message, asshole,” leaning all his weight on Claiborne's wounded shoulder. “You fucked up. You should have walked away when you had the chance. You were off the radar, man... totally free and clear as far as we were concerned, but you just couldn't leave well enough alone. And now you're gonna die, man. One way or other, you are going to die, and I for one am going to be happy to watch that. You wanna know why?”


“You might wanna let him breathe if you expect him to actually give you an answer,” Briscoe pointed out drolly. “Somehow I don't think you want him to die of accidental asphyxiation.”


Elliot eased up but kept a firm hand on Claiborne's back. “You wanna know why, Bobby ?” a little more conversationally. Robert remained quiet and Elliot clapped him hard on the bad shoulder. Elliot leaned forward. “I'll tell you why, because no one should die being as stupid as you are. I'm going to be glad to watch you die because you couldn't just walk away and let them be happy. You had to make my partner a target.”


“Sounds like she may be more than a partner to you, Detective. You sure you're not wishing Alexandra had been the target instead?”


The punch was so hard it knocked Robert completely off the chair. Elliot twisted his hands in his shirt and lifted him up, slamming Claiborne into the table so hard it rattled the window and Lennie jumped up and backed away from them before deciding it was time to pull Elliot off Claiborne.


“Olivia Benson is my partner and my best friend and I would never, EVER wish the kind of pain on her that taking Alex away from her would give her,” resisting Briscoe's efforts to pull him away. “I hope you burn so deep even Satan can't find your ass.” He slammed Robert 's head one more time, then pulled away from Lennie's grabbing hands. “I'm all right, Len,” holding his hands up.


“You sure?”


“Yeah, can you finish this? I wanna go check on Liv and Alex .”


“Yeah, we can cover this. You go on; we'll stop by later... let you know how it goes.”


“Thanks, Len. I appreciate it.” Then Elliot left without a backward glance. Briscoe clapped Claiborne on the back and gestured to the chair he'd pushed back to the table.


“Have a seat, buddy – we've still got work to do.”




“ Ms Cabot ? Ms Cabot ?” Alex slowly opened her eyes and blinked dazedly around the room before coming to rest on Olivia 's face. She stroked the soft skin, willing the beautiful brown eyes to open to no avail. “ Ms Cabot ?” forcing Alex 's attention away from Olivia and to the voice calling her. She turned slightly and found the doctor looking back at her.




Timmons smiled at her. “Good morning, Ms Cabot . I'm getting ready to go off-duty, but I wanted to check on Ms Benson .”




“I firmly believe she'll pull through, Ms Cabot . The blood she received last night stabilized her and the coma we induced this morning will let her body repair itself with less stress. Dr. Richmond will be assuming her care now.”


“Thank you, Dr. Timmons . You saved her life... and mine.”


“No, Ms Cabot ... I just put her back together. Your friends gave us the tools we needed, but you saved her life.” He paused and looked at his hands. “I can't say you've changed my mind, but you have made me think. I hope... well, let's just say I hope things work out.”


“Maybe one day you will even be glad you met us.”


“Maybe one day,” he agreed. “Good luck to you both.”


“Thank you, doctor.” Alex laid her head back down by Olivia 's, wincing as muscles unaccustomed to such awkward positioning protested their continued mistreatment. Alex ignored them as she rubbed her thumb over Liv's wrist and spoke to her in low tones. Dr. Timmons stopped at the door and looked back at them for a long moment. Then he turned and headed out of the hospital.


Elizabeth was just coming in as he stepped out the door and she nearly bowled him over. “Oh... my apologies, doctor. I wasn't looking....”


“It's all right, Mrs. Cabot . In truth, I wasn't paying much attention myself. Can I help you with anything?”


“No thank you, doctor. There's not much here. I was actually just putting my phone away and forgot to look where I was going. Is everything all right?”


“Yes, Mrs. Cabot , and I've turned over the care of your daughter's... of Ms Benson to Dr. Richmond . She's the best internist on our staff. I'm sure Ms Benson will receive excellent care from her.”


“Did it really bother you so badly, doctor, to have to treat someone who sees the world differently than you do, that you would simply hand off her care as soon as possible?”


“ Mrs. Cabot , I realize you are a rich and powerful woman, but I resent the implication that I would allow my personal feelings to interfere with my treatment of a patient. The fact is I am a trauma doctor – I ceased being Detective Benson's doctor as soon as she was transferred from the trauma ward. Just because I do not agree with their relationship does not mean I won't do my job; I went out of my way for them. So please do not accuse me of bigotry or misconduct, especially when you don't have all the facts.”


Elizabeth Cabot had the grace to blush. “I'm sorry, doctor. You're absolutely right. I didn't mean to come across so accusatory. I just want....”


“You just want what is best for you daughter; for everyone to accept her and Ms Benson for who they are as people and what they are to each other. I can understand that. But you can't force people to be accepting or open-minded, and you certainly can't hope for a lifetime's mindset to change overnight. Be thankful they have given me something to think about without pushing it into my face. I have a lot of thinking to do because of them. And I apologize for being so short and abrupt. It has been a very long shift for me. I need some sleep.”


“Maybe not today, as I think you probably want to get home and I need to go check on Alexandra and Olivia, but perhaps one day you will allow me to take you to breakfast to make up for my hasty words. They really were completely uncalled for and I can only plead exhaustion.”


Dr. Timmons hesitated then pulled a card from his pocket. “I imagine you are going to be here quite a bit over the next few days. I am off tonight, but when Ms Benson is out of the woods in a few days, give me a call. We can go have coffee and maybe even a bit of adult conversation.”


“As opposed to....”


“'God, I am so tired my eyelashes hurt' conversation.”


Elizabeth laughed. “I know how that feels and I like the sound of some adult conversation. I think I would enjoy that very much.”


“Good,” Dr. Timmons said firmly. “Now go see your daughter and see if you can get her to at least take a nap on the couch in that lovely private room. She's not going to be able to walk in a day or two otherwise.”


Then he headed out to the parking lot and Elizabeth watched him go. She shook her head in disbelief at the whole bizarre encounter, and made her way into the hospital to take care of her daughter by birth *and* her daughter by choice.


God, it felt good to have a family to care about again – even when it was as scary as hell. She wondered how the rest of the extended family was doing and how long it would be before they started showing up here. Elizabeth walked faster. She wanted to get Alex taken care of first. Then together, they could worry about the rest.




Chapter XXIX


Three days passed – three days where Alex didn't move from Olivia 's side except when her mother or Kathy forced her to lay on the couch briefly or take a quick shower. Three days watching Olivia breathe steadily in and out, unmoving. Three days learning the hard way what it meant to be a police officer's wife and praying it was the only time she would ever experience this part of cop life.


Alex had met Dr. Richmond early that first morning – Hi, I'm Dr. Virginia Richmond , and yes, my parents did indeed exercise a warped sense of humor when they named me – she said by way of introduction. Alex found she liked Dr. Richmond very much, and the woman was never too busy to answer questions or soothe whatever concerns Alex had about Olivia 's care and treatment. Better, she had no underlying issues with them as a soon-to-be-wed couple and that made it easier on Alex .


Elizabeth had collected clean clothing for Alex as she had promised and at Alex 's request, had also brought along their diaries. Alex spent hours every day reading to Olivia from them, knowing that the sound of her voice was important to Liv's recovery and determined to do her part.


Kathy spent a number of hours with them as well, understanding better than most Alex's need for silent support though there were any number of other visitors as well – some more surprising than others. Arthur and his wife stopped by; Lena Petrovsky and her husband; Liz Donnelly, Jack McCoy and a number of officers and detectives Alex wasn't personally acquainted with and a lot of them she was. Their most surprising visitor was Abbie Carmichael , who showed up at the hospital on Saturday evening with Lennie Briscoe and Ed Green .


They made small talk for a few moments, then Elliot excused himself to speak to the two detectives, correctly surmising they had something of interest to share. By a quirk of fate, Kathy and Elizabeth had left a short time earlier to pick up some dinner for them, and that left Abbie and Alex alone with Olivia .


“How is she?” Abbie's voice husky and her Southern twang more in evidence than ever before.


“The doctors are optimistic, but she's going to have to remain in the coma for several days.”


“And how are you?”


“I'm all right,” Alex replied almost too quickly. Abbie just raise an eyebrow at her response.


“C'mon, Alex ... this is me you're talking to. We may have been rivals, but we were also friends. And I haven't been gone so long I don't remember how special Liv is or how much you wanted her even way back when. Don't try to deny it, Cabot . I live in a town full of politicians – I know how to read these things and I've learned to have a long, long memory for secrets like this.”


“God, Abbie... what do you want me to say?! I'm terrified of losing her, all right? Is that what you wanted to hear me say??” There was a noticeable elevation in Liv's vital signs and both Abbie and Alex turned and looked at Olivia . Abbie wrapped an arm around Alex 's shoulders.


“Shh... I'm sorry, Alex . I shouldn't have pushed so hard. Obviously Liv is very in touch with your emotions. I just don't want you to hide behind that Cabot façade you're so good at, all right?”


“I won't, Abbie. Besides, when did you become a psychiatrist?”


“Living in DC qualifies me – they're all head cases.”


Alex chuckled and rested her head on Abbie's shoulder and it was quiet for a number of minutes before Alex sat back up and looked into Abbie's eyes, knowing she couldn't lie this close. “So why are you really here, Abbie? Oh, I know you and Liv were really good friends once upon a time, but it's not like you've been in touch recently... at least not since I returned. So what's the real story?”


“You're too damn smart for your own good, Cabot . I'm here to deal with Robert Claiborne and Nicholas Rivera .”


Alex held up her hands. “I don't want to know – not right now. Maybe when Liv is awake and doing better, but not right now.”


Whatever response Abbie was going to make was lost in Elizabeth 's return. Instead she said, “I need to go for now. The detectives should be done explaining the situation to Elliot . But I'll be back to see you both before I leave.” Then she disappeared out the door, leaving a flummoxed Alex and Elizabeth to regard each other soberly, wondering what the hell was really going on.




On the fourth morning, Dr. Richmond came in the room with a smile on her face – it made Alex instantly suspicious. Virginia placed a calming hand on her arm. "Alex, relax. I'm here to take Olivia out of her coma. I'm very pleased with her progress and how well she's healing. It's time to bring her back to you. Now," the doctor went on more seriously, "you need to understand that she is going to be in some rather intense pain and she may be a little disoriented for a while – it's perfectly natural. You just keep doing whatever you've been doing because it seems to be helping."


Alex nodded watched as Dr. Richmond slid into place across from her and began removing one set of IV tubing from Olivia's arm. "It could take a little time before she actually wakes up. I'm just removing the medicine we were using to keep her in a coma. Depends on her metabolism as to how quickly the remainder of it cycles through her system."


Alex nodded again, but didn't take her eyes off of Olivia's face. She didn't want to miss the moment Liv woke up – because despite the reassurances of two doctors and numerous friends and colleagues, Alex wasn't completely confident of Liv's recovery and wouldn't be until she was safely out of the hospital and home again. So she watched and waited. And Elizabeth watched and waited from the other side of the door, knowing Alex needed to greet Olivia's return in private.


Some time passed before brown eyes fluttered open, only to slam shut immediately. Alex took her cue and flipped the lights off before moving to stand at Olivia's side once more, gently tangling her fingers through the matted brown hair.


"Liv... Sweetheart – open your eyes. Let me see you."


Olivia tried to speak, but her voice came out as a whispered croak. Alex rubbed some of the ice chips the nurse had left over Liv's lips, then spooned them into her mouth when they parted. "'Lex?" blinking again and looking up blearily into bloodshot blue eyes. "Hurts...."

"I know, baby... I'm sorry. It's going to hurt for some time to come. But I am so, so glad to see you again. Welcome back."


"Wha'... how...." she closed her eyes as thinking became too difficult and Alex soothed her tenderly, stroking her face and speaking in low tones.


"Shh," she admonished. "It doesn't matter now. The important thing is you're back with us and we're going to focus on getting you well. I promise you'll get the whole story soon."


Olivia nodded, a bare motion Alex was aware of only because one hand was resting on Liv's face. "Love...."


Alex leaned down and kissed Olivia's lips, then her eyelids before resting her forehead against Liv's. "Oh Sweetheart... I love you too – so much. Now you rest a little bit. I'll be right here when you wake up." Olivia nodded again and her breathing quickly evened out in the healing rhythm of sleep.


Only when she was sure Olivia was asleep again did Alex move away from her – only then did she curl up on the couch that had been her only source of rest in the four nights she'd stayed in this room and cry. Alex never even heard her mother come in; she tried to pull away and hide her tears when she wrapped Alex in a hug. But Elizabeth held onto her and Alex eventually relaxed into her touch and cried away days and nights of terror, pain and frustration. It was a healing catharsis.


"Thank you," she said raspily as her tears abated. Elizabeth kissed the top of her head.


"I know it wasn't always true, and I wasn't always there for you like I should have been Alexandra, but I'm glad I can be a real mother to you now. She's going to be all right, you know. I've never met a stronger woman than she is, except for possibly yourself."


"I don't feel very strong right now."


"I'm sure – it's been a very long few days for both of you. But it's going to get better... you'll see. You have a new apartment to finish decorating together and a wedding to plan... a honeymoon to take. And that is just the beginning. You have the rest of your lives to spend together. Maybe you're just hitting the bumps early to get them out of the way."


"God, I hope so. We'll end up black and blue otherwise."


Elizabeth chuckled. "Are you feeling any better?"


Alex cocked her head. "Actually, yes," she said with a note of surprise in her voice.


"Well then... I have some phone calls to make and you have a nap to take – no arguments, Alexandra. On the off chance Olivia wakes again before you do, I will awaken you. Otherwise, you'll do as your mother says this time, please."


Alex closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. "Actually, that sounds great. I can't remember the last time I was this exhausted. You'll be right here?"


"I won't leave the room... I promise." Elizabeth slid out from under Alex and laid her down, picking her feet up and tucking her into the makeshift bed. "Now go to sleep. I don't want Olivia upset at me for not taking care of you properly.


"Night mom," Alex said drowsily as her eyes fluttered closed. Elizabeth watched her fondly as her breathing slowed and deepened. Then she moved to the chair beside the bed and picked up the phone, dialing Elliot first.




"Thanks, Elizabeth ... bye." He hung up the phone and turned to his expectantly waiting detective friends. "Well, Liv woke up very briefly this morning. Alex was the only one in the room with her at the time, but Elizabeth talked to the doctor for a while. They expect her to make a full recovery and if things continue to go well she should only be in the hospital another week or so."


"I don't envy the one who has to explain that to Liv... we know how much she enjoys being 'cooped up' in the hospital."


"Who's telling her about Claiborne?"


"Abbie volunteered," Elliot replied, leaning back in his chair. "But I promised her I'd go with her. I can't believe they let that little shit cut a deal."


"Me either, though I don't 'spect it'll help his sorry ass none."


"You know something?" Munch asked, turning his head toward Fin.


"Nothin' definite, but Claiborne broke the code – on both sides. Code breakers don't live long in prison... even in solitary. Rivera will have him put down and it'll be traced back to a government agency – mark it, my man."


Elliot held up his hand. "Don't need to, Fin. You say so, I believe you. I just hope they make him suffer like a sonovabitch before they finally kill him."


"Not to worry... word on the street is Rivera is big on pain and suffering. Makes folks more compliant and easier to keep in order."


"Hey, did we ever get anything on those rape/murders... on the street, I mean? We know there is no physical evidence against anyone."


"Nothing but rumor, and now there won't be that even. Rivera will drop off the scope til the heat dies down and by the time he resurfaces, the rumors will be gone and the DEA will be hunting new game."


"So no matter what Claiborne says or does at this point...."


"He's a dead man. It's just watching how he goes down and who he takes with him."


The phone rang a second time and Munch picked it up. "All right... I'll tell him. Bye, Ms Carmichael." Elliot and Fin both raised an eyebrow in his direction and waited. "Claiborne's dead," he said without ceremony. "Guards found him hung by the neck in his cell this morning. Apparently, he hung himself."




"I'm not buying it. It's a little too convenient."


"You think Rivera had it done somehow?"


Munch nodded. "Yep. I figure Claiborne was his last loose end. Now he's gone by apparent suicide – Rivera comes out of all this smelling like a rose. Because we all know whatever evidence Claiborne might have been able to offer died with him."


"Did Carmichael offer any reason why the director was so boss about hangin' Claiborne out to dry? I got the feelin' it was whacked."


Elliot shrugged. "Best she could figure was a combination of things. Apparently, Claiborne was very deep into the illegal side of Rivera 's business – drugs, gun running, you name it – as part of the organization. That would have been all right if he hadn't been lying to the director and Hammond about it. Rivera has evidence that proves beyond a doubt that Claiborne was the top dog of the entire illegal organization and that he was using Rivera's honest business concerns to front for him and launder his dirty money. He wanted to do the same with Alex's name and connections."


"Well, I'm glad he's dead. He was a skank and not good for our favorite bureau chief. She and Liv fit."


"True that," Fin agreed. "Though I'm bettin' Liv's gonna be pissed she missed makin' him suffer for what he did to her and Alex."


"Maybe," Elliot agreed, "but I imagine she is gonna be so focused on Alex it won't be more than a passing thought. Speaking of...." turning to look at Munch, "what's the deal with the wedding? This gonna push it back?"


Munch shook his head and lifted his palms. "I dunno... I don't know. Elizabeth and I haven't had a chance to talk about it. I guess it'll depend on Liv and Alex and how Liv's recovery goes. The arrangements are very simple so they don't need to decide for a couple more weeks."


"You sure you wouldn't rather be a wedding planner, Munch? You seem to have the knack."


"Maybe when I retire, my friend. It's gotta beat being a bar owner – especially if it's a cop bar."


Fin held up his hand. "Don't start," he commanded. "We've got work to do." He looked at Elliot. "You gonna go see Liv?"


He checked his watch. "I need to call Abbie first. Then yeah. Alex needs to know what is going on even if Liv isn't awake."


"Stabler, my office," Cragen called out across the precinct. Munch and Fin exchanged glances and turned back to their work. Elliot stepped into Cragen's office and closed the door before sitting down at the captain's insistence.


"What's up, Cap?"


"I want you to work with Agent Hammond to collect all the evidence from Rivera's house."


"Cap? Doesn't that fall under narcotics?"


"Usually, yes... but you're looking for evidence on those fifteen rape/murders as well as that body in Brooklyn that targeted Olivia. I'm not too concerned about the rest, but I would like to close those... especially the Brooklyn murder. That one was personal."


"All right, Cap... when? I need to call Abbie and go over to the hospital." Cragen shook his head.


"No... this is a priority. This has to be done first. Carmichael will stick around as long as is necessary, and Olivia will probably sleep for the next day or two. I talked to the doctor just a few minutes ago. I know she and Alex need to know what is going on, but this is more important."


Elliot grit his teeth. "I don't think so, Cap. I think they deserve to know the truth now. They've earned the right to some answers."


"I'm not disagreeing with you, Detective. I'm just saying they are going to have to wait. You and Carmichael can go to the hospital as soon as you are done helping Agent Hammond. Now get on it, Detective – find that evidence and get it back here as quickly as possible. That's an order."


"Sir, yes sir," Elliot mocked before rising and opening the door, not surprised to find Agent Jack Hammond standing in the doorway.


"You ready, Detective Stabler?" Elliot brushed by him to snatch his jacket from the back of his chair.


"Let's go," he said on his way out the door. Hammond sighed and followed slowly. He had a feeling it was going to be a long day.




Alex blinked opened her eyes slowly, realizing almost immediately that she was no longer alone in the room with Olivia and starting violently when she recognized who the visitor was. Nicholas Rivera held out his hands in a conciliatory gesture, but otherwise didn't move, sitting comfortably relaxed in the chair that had been brought in for Elizabeth 's use. Alex scrubbed her face, trying to jumpstart her brain to what was going on. Rivera waited patiently for her to look at him again, his hands folding in his lap. Alex cleared her throat.


"Mr. Rivera? Is there something I can help you with?" feeling the surrealness of the entire situation.


Rivera smiled gently. "Not at all, Ms Cabot . I just wanted to be sure you and your detective were going to be all right and to insure that you know that as far as I am concerned, you and I were equally used and fooled by the same evil man. I sincerely hope this will be the last time our paths cross."


"So do I... no offence."


He nodded, satisfied, and rose from the chair. "None taken, but in that case, Ms Cabot, I will take my leave of you. First, however, allow me to wish you and your companion much happiness together." He didn't offer her his hand, which Alex was secretly thankful for, not sure that she should accept it. She watched him walk out the door, wondering what had happened while she'd been asleep. Then she noticed the brown eyes looking back sleepily at her and nothing else mattered.


"Hey, beautiful... how do you feel?" crossing to stand by the bed, offering Liv some ice chips.


Olivia blinked. "Sore... tired... confused... grungy," taking several breaths between words.


Alex smiled and combed her fingers through dirty hair. "Well, I might be able to help with the confused and grungy parts, but I'm afraid you're going to be sore and tired for a little bit longer. Let's get the nurse in here and...." A hand on her arm caused Alex to stop talking and look back into Olivia's dark eyes. "What, Sweetheart?"


"Was that Nicholas Rivera in here?"


"Yes, but don't ask why; I'm not sure I know yet. As soon as I get a chance to process it, I'll let you know. But I think it is good for us – you and me. Now let me see if we can get a nurse in here so we can clean you up."


Olivia smiled weakly. "Only if you're doing the cleaning."


Alex smiled and kissed her forehead. "Absolutely," pressing the call button. Almost immediately a nurse arrived, followed by the doctor and Elizabeth. Dr. Richmond nodded her agreement to Alex 's request and Elizabeth stepped back out of the room, not wanting Olivia to be uncomfortable with her presence while she was being examined. Alex chanced to wonder where she'd gone that Nicholas Rivera had been given the opportunity to come in, then turned her attention back to Olivia as the doctor started checking Liv from top to bottom and several spots in between.


The nurse returned with two basins of warm water and disappeared again to retrieve the rest of her supplies. Then she took a position opposite of the doctor, forcing Alex to move to Olivia 's head. Neither Alex or Liv minded the move though – it allowed them to focus on each other and for Olivia that was a blessing. Dr. Richmond and the nurse worked in tandem while checking the incision and the various nicks and scrapes Olivia had acquired and removing most of the extraneous equipment she was still attached to.


When Virginia was satisfied, she nodded to the nurse who left and then turned to the two women whose attention remained on each other. She cleared her throat delicately and two sets of eyes turned her direction. Dr. Richmond smiled at them.


“Well, everything looks very good; I'm extremely pleased with your progress and healing, Detective. Tomorrow we will get you up and start you walking. I will order a soft foods diet for you until I think you're ready for more solid food... at least another day or two.”


“How soon can I go home?” Liv asked, her voice rough and raspy.


Dr. Richmond smiled. Alex had warned her about Olivia 's lack of love for hospitals and doctors – not that it was unusual for police officers especially to feel that way. “That depends on you, Detective. The sooner you're able to walk around without pain and keep down solid food, the quicker I can release you to go home. However,” placing a hand on Olivia 's shoulder before she could move more than an inch, “we'll start that regimen tomorrow. I want you to rest a little more, eat a little food, take baby steps. You'll get there, Detective; we just want you to do so with as little residual issue as possible.”


Olivia sighed and nodded.


“Good,” Virginia agreed. “Now... I think Ms Cabot asked to give you a bath, so I'll leave you to it.” She turned to Alex . “Hit the call button if you need help or when you get finished so Elizabeth knows it's safe to come in again.” She walked to the door and paused. “I want to make sure she's all right as well. She came out of your room fairly quickly.” Then the doctor left and Alex and Olivia exchanged glances before Alex moved to help Liv situate herself.


“God, that hurts,” Liv groaned as she shifted.


“We don't have to do this now, Liv.”


“ No , Alex . I wanna be clean. Actually, I'd like to take a shower.”


“Maybe tomorrow,” Alex soothed. “I think Dr. Richmond would have mentioned if that was an option. Besides, you wouldn't deny me the opportunity to be your nurse would you?” smiling seductively at Olivia and blinking big blue eyes.


“That's not very fair,” Olivia pouted. “I was prepared to argue with you.”


Alex gave her a full grin before pulling the pillow from behind Olivia 's head and wetting it in preparation to shampoo it. “Now you know my real secret of success,” soaping her hands and running them through Liv's dark locks. Olivia moaned in sincere appreciation of Alex 's skill.


“That feels wonderful,” she said, closing her eyes in relief and simply abandoning herself to the pleasure of Alex 's gentle touch. “Thank you for being here, Alex . No one has ever taken care of me and made me feel like you do.”


“Nowhere else I'd rather be, Detective,” carefully rinsing all the soap from Liv's hair and wrapping it in a towel. “And the feeling is definitely mutual. Let me know if I start hurting you, all right?”


It was a little awkward, but Alex managed quite well, all things considered, and Olivia felt much better than she had. Then Alex pushed the call button and waited for the parade of people she expected to wander in. She wasn't disappointed.


Two nurses came in to provide Olivia with fresh sheets and a third carried a tray that held chicken broth, mashed potatoes and jello. Liv grimaced in Alex 's direction. The nurses moved and shifted Olivia around until she was biting her lip and sweating viciously before they were done making the bed. Alex wiped her face tenderly, then grabbed the comb Elizabeth had brought, hoping to distract her from the renewed pain she found herself in. Elizabeth stood to one side once the nurses left and helped her breathe, holding her hand and forcing Liv to focus on her counting.


Finally, Alex was done and Olivia was as relaxed as she was going to be. Then Elizabeth looked at Alex with one hand on her hip. “Would you like to tell me who the man was who had me escorted out of this room a little while ago?”


“ Nicholas Rivera ,” she responded dryly. “Would you like to tell me why you went?”


“Because it was better to walk out of here under my own power on the pretext of getting coffee than it was to make a scene that could have gotten all of us hurt. He was quite the gentleman in asking, but it was made clear to me that my presence would not be tolerated either.”


“You made the right decision – it was just a little disconcerting to wake up with him in the room.”


“Is everything okay?” The question came from Elizabeth , but Alex turned to look at Olivia . Elizabeth stepped to the couch, out of immediate sight but not out of hearing.


“I think so. He said all debts had been settled between us. I think that chapter of my life is finally closed.”


“Good,” Liv said as firmly as she could manage. “It'll be nice to officially start our life together with a clean slate.”


“Very clean,” Alex agreed. “I'm more convinced now than ever that you and Janet are right... about my job situation. I'm going to take some time off – see if I can find something that fits me... with the person I am now. There is a lot of adjusting... and readjusting... I need to do – things that got pushed to the side in my haste to come home and jump right back into a persona I'm not sure is mine anymore. I think I just need a little time to be Alex – figure out who that really is.”


Olivia squeezed her hand. “Take all the time you need, Sweetheart. I'm not going anywhere.”


“Except home with me as soon as I can get you out of here. Because if there is one sure thing I know about Alex , it's that she and Olivia belong together. Now eat up. You heard what Dr. Richmond said. And I've got serious plans for you when we get you out of here.”


It took a little while, but there was nothing left when Olivia finally declared herself finished.




Chapter XXX


Visiting hours were almost over when a light knocking sounded outside the room. Alex and Olivia looked at one another just as the door opened and Abbie stuck her head in before pushing the door wider to allow both her and Elliot entrance to Liv's room. Liv blinked before allowing a wide grin to cross her face. Abbie took it as an invitation and crossed to gingerly wrap Olivia up in a hug.


“You're looking a little better than the last time I saw you,” Abbie commented, dropping a kiss on the top of Liv's dark head. “How are you feeling?”


“Tired... really sore. What are you doing here?”


“Somebody had to deal with the Claiborne situation. I volunteered when I heard what had happened to you. Had to find out what happened to my best girl, didn't I?” ignoring Alex 's glare. “Didn't anyone teach you to how to duck?”


“Yeah... Elliot ,” cutting her eyes in her partner's direction. Abbie laughed and Elliot pushed her out of the way to stand at Olivia 's side.


“Don't you blame me for your lack of coordination,” kissing her forehead like he was taking her temperature. “I taught you better than that. Not my fault you're too damned slow.”


“Be nice to me, Elliot . I'm hurt.” Olivia shifted and grimaced. “And these beds aren't helping a whole lot. I'll be so glad to get outta here.”


“Any idea when that might be?”


“At least a few more days. The doc wants to be sure there aren't any complications.”


“Good,“ Elliot agreed. “We want you back well.”


“So why are you two really here?” after a brief pause. “Because if it was just to visit, you would have come earlier,” Alex pointed out as she tried to make Olivia more comfortable.


“Actually, we'd have been here earlier if the cap hadn't sent me out with Hammond to collect evidence against Claiborne and see if there was anything the DEA could use to catch Rivera .”




“Well, we've got evidence to tie Claiborne to those fifteen rape/murders that happened across the boroughs as well as the murder that was aimed at you.”




Abbie took over. “ Robert Claiborne was found dead in his cell this morning... an apparent suicide. Closer examination showed his suicide was aided by one or more persons. There were a number of bruises on his torso and Warner did a rush on the tox screen once she found them – Claiborne had some sort of acid injected into his veins.”


“How in the hell...?”


Abbie held up her hand to Alex and shrugged her shoulders. “Homicide is investigating, but I don't expect a lot to come of it. The general feeling is Claiborne got the kind of justice he deserved.”


“What about Rivera ?”


“He's clean – there wasn't one shred of evidence in Claiborne's possession to show that Rivera is anything other than the honest businessman he purports himself to be. Claiborne managed to completely screw the DEA's case against Rivera ; they will be years trying to recover from this debacle. The only one they can charge for anything at the moment is their own dead agent.”


“Well, that explains why Rivera made the comment he did about our paths never crossing again.”


Elliot straightened and Abbie couldn't stop the look of consternation that crossed her face as realization of what Alex meant dawned on her. “ Rivera was here?”


“Yes... he stopped by earlier today. He basically indicated that things were square between us. I for one am happy to let him go just to have a semblance of normality in my life again.”


“You don't mean that,” Abbie accused. “What happened to the crusading Alex Cabot I remember?”


Alex 's eyes flamed and Abbie forced herself not to take a step back. “She spent three years in witness protection! Nearly losing everyone and everything that means anything to you tends to change your outlook!” Alex would have continued but Olivia reached up and twined their hands together, forcing Alex 's attention solely on her.


Without losing Alex 's gaze, Olivia answered Abbie. “It doesn't matter, Abbie. The Feds will get him or they won't. He's not our fight.”


“You're serious.” Abbie said flatly.


“We paid our dues already! No more!” Alex said heatedly. “If you don't like it, Carmichael , you can go to hell!”


Abbie held up her hands and moved around the bed to put an arm around Alex 's thin shoulders. “I live there, Alex , remember? I'm in Washington , DC making deals with the devil... how much closer can I get?” wincing when her levity didn't even garner her a twinkle. “I'm sorry, Alex ... you're absolutely right. Rivera really isn't your problem. I've just never known you to walk away from something like this before.” She looked into blue eyes and understood with sudden clarity just how much they had aged. “I guess being away took more out of you than I realized.”


“I'm sorry, too, Abbie,” rubbing her eyes but refusing to relax again. “I'm just a little tired.”


“C'mon, Cabot ... let me tuck you in before Elliot and I leave.” Abbie drew Alex over to the couch and eased her down. Elliot stepped closer to the bed, pulling Olivia 's attention away from Alex .


“You gonna be all right, Liv?”


She focused on Alex once more, watching as she allowed Abbie to tuck her in. Then she looked back at Elliot . “I hope so, El. This has been real hard on her. Can we be sure it's finally over?”


“As sure as we can be of anything, Liv. Cabot attracts attention and Rivera doesn't want that. He has nothing to lose by walking away now. His power base is weak, but with Claiborne gone and his organization gone underground, he has all the time he needs to build things back up. If the DEA is good, they'll catch him before he gets that strong. If they don't, it's not our issue.”


“You ever think we've gotten too jaded to keep doing this job?” shifting and wincing with the movement.


“Some days... yeah, I do – especially on days when we have to deal with everybody else's shit. We have enough of our own.” He pulled the cover up and tucked her in, much like Abbie had done for Alex . “For what it's worth... I think we're done dealing with DEA shit for a while. Hammond has been called back to Washington , and with a little luck, we won't hear from him if he comes back. Now,” smoothing her hair back, “close your eyes and go to sleep. I know it's gonna be a while before you are healed enough to hit the streets again, but the sooner you get started, the better.”


“Yes, dad,” Olivia smirked at him though her eyes remained closed. Abbie had already crossed to the door, dimming the lights and waiting for Elliot to join her. As Stabler turned to go, Olivia caught his hand. He gently squeezed hers and waited. She opened her eyes briefly. “Thanks, El,” was all she said.


“Anytime, partner.” Then he and Abbie escaped out the door and down the corridor before anyone could question their presence in the hospital at this late hour.




The next few days went swiftly for Olivia and Alex . Olivia was up as often as she could manage, determined to prove to Dr. Richmond that she was ready to be released. On Friday, at Liv's behest Alex went back to work, wanting to tie up her loose ends and give Arthur her notice. While she was gone, Arthur came to the hospital to talk to Olivia .


The authoritative knock made Olivia 's eyebrow arch; usually she got a light tap followed by a head being poked into her room. When no head followed, her second brow climbed into her hairline and she called out, “Come in?” Only then did Arthur Branch open the door and step into the room, looking around before settling his gaze on Olivia who was casually dressed in NYPD PT gear. She was sweating and appeared tired.


“Detective Benson ... is now a good time?”


Olivia tried to straighten and grimaced when she moved wrong. Instead, she gestured to the couch. “Please, have a seat; what can I do for you?”


He sat. “First of all, my name is Arthur , Olivia . I thought we had settled that between us before, but I've noticed you try to avoid addressing me at all costs. I'd like it if you felt you could call me by my name.”


“All right... Arthur .”


He slapped his knees. “Good... now that we have that settled... again – how are you doing?”


Olivia blinked, feeling discomfited. “Um... a little better, actually. Ready to go home.”


Branch smiled. “I think everyone feels that way when they're stuck here. It's not like room service at the Ritz.”


Liv nodded, feeling more awkward by the second. Arthur Branch was still not a real part of her circle of friends and even though they were theoretically on the same side of the law, there had been many instances when his side and her side clashed. And unlike Alex , who made it a point not to be strictly tied to the social class she'd been born into, Arthur Branch lived in those same circles as part of who he was and the job he did.


“I'm sorry, det... Olivia . It isn't my intention to make you uncomfortable. I'm here, aside from legitimate concern for you, because I am deeply troubled about Alexandra .” He looked at Olivia , but her skill at waiting was developed from years of stakeouts. Branch realized he could wait for days if she didn't want to make a comment, so he continued speaking.


“You know why she was originally offered the position of Bureau Chief just as you are aware that particular reason no longer exists. I think you should also understand that she would have been offered something similar had she come back home without strings. She's a damn fine lawyer and someone I was always glad to have as part of my team.”


“But...?” Liv prompted. “C'mon, Mister... I'm sorry – Arthur . You and I have been through this before; you're talking to the wrong person.” She knew her next session of physical therapy was coming soon and she was hoping to rest a little before that happened. Branch took the hint.


“I don't think I am, Olivia ... not in this case. Her heart isn't in it – not anymore. I've watched, waiting to see that spark... that fire and passion for the law that she used to have, but I haven't found it. Maybe if I had put her back in SVU or major cases... I don't know. Don't get me wrong – she's been great with those kids; performed miracles with a few of them. But it's obvious to me at least that it isn't where she wants to be.”

“What do you want me to tell you? Arthur , no matter what else, this is Alex 's business – not yours until she comes to you with it unless it is affecting her job performance, and not mine unless she's at risk.”


He clasped his hands together and leaned on his knuckles. “ Olivia , can I tell you a secret?” He looked at her steadily and waited for her nod before he continued. “I may have to go back to Washington in the not too distant future. Some issues have arisen that will possibly require my attention for an extended period of time, and I was hoping to appoint Alexandra in my place.”


Olivia 's eyes widened. Before Velez, Alex would have jumped at the chance to be the district attorney, even for a brief tenure. Now, however....


“What about Jack McCoy ?”


“Jack has other ambitions and frankly, as selfish as it's going to sound, appointing Alexandra Cabot - with her good looks, social standing and ‘hero appeal' – will bring much better press than putting in someone like Jack McCoy. Technically, she is a step above Jack in the DA's office so that puts her in line for this particular job first, regardless of her relative youth.”


Olivia ran a hand through her hair. Of all things she'd been expecting, this kind of news wasn't even in her top hundred. “When will you know if you're needed in Washington ?”


Branch shrugged. “It could be weeks; it could be months; it could be never. It depends on how the situation down there plays out.”


“One piece of advice... wait until you know you have to go and when before you talk to Alex , all right?”


Arthur held her gaze for a long moment before nodding his head and standing. “Is there anything I can do for you, Olivia ?”


“Unless you can talk the doc into letting me out of here early....”


“I don't think so,” he replied candidly. “I want Alexandra on my side and somehow I think that would land both of us in the doghouse. But if you like, I'll bring real food over for you later. God knows there's only so much hospital food even an iron stomach can tolerate and I need to talk to Alexandra anyway. I actually expected to find her here.”


“I sent her to work. I'm supposed to be in therapy three times today and she needed the distraction. She's been cooped up here for a week.”


“I'll come by later then. I hope you're out of here soon, Olivia .”


“Thanks, Arthur ... me too,” closing her eyes as the door shut behind him. She hoped Alex caught him at the office before they both left for the day. That was her last conscious thought until she felt the physical therapist shaking her awake for her next PT session.




Elliot poked his nose in Liv's room a short time later, frowning when he found it empty. He stopped a passing nurse who looked at her watch before answering. “Oh, Ms Benson 's in therapy. It'll probably be another fifteen or twenty minutes before she's done, but you're welcome to wait, Detective.”


Elliot nodded and went into the room, taking a seat on the couch and stretching out with a sigh. It had been a hell of a long week in what had been a hell of a long couple of months since Alex had come back into their lives. He closed his eyes. In some ways he couldn't believe Alex had only been back what amounted to a few weeks and in others it felt like she had been back forever.


“Oof!” he grunted as something hit him in the gut. His eyes popped open, then he glared at his smirking partner, rubbing the spot she had poked. “What the hell'd you do that for?”


“I'm in therapy busting my ass while you sleep on the job and you ask me why you're getting abused?” She eased onto the bed and blew out a breath when she was settled. “God, I'm tired of this hurting.” Olivia slapped the bed. “This shouldn't be taking so long.”


Elliot sat up, but remained where he was – allowing her some space to process what he was about to share. “Liv, be glad you're around to hurt. We lost you once.”


“Twice,” she corrected quietly. “Once on the ride over and once here. I remember.”


Stabler's eyebrows nearly jumped off his forehead. “Do you?” He leaned forward. “What was it like?”


She shook her head. “Not something I can talk about yet, El... sorry,” her eyes full of pain and regret.


He shrugged, covering up the hurt he felt at her inability to confide in him. “It's all right, Liv. I'm just glad you decided to stick around here with the rest of us. Oh,” went on hurriedly before she could hear the tremor in his voice, “IAB cleared the shooting. You'll be able to return to work as soon as the doc clears you.”


“Good... I'm hoping that will be two weeks – three tops.”


“More like four to six, Detective,” Dr. Richmond said from the open doorway. “I don't think you understand the massive amount of trauma your body underwent from not only the gunshot wound, but also the surgery to repair the damage. We're not running a race here, Ms Benson ; it's going to take time.”


“But doc,” she whined, causing Elliot to cover his mouth with his hand to hide his grin. “Six weeks?? What I am going to do for six weeks?”


“I'm sure we can come up with something, Detective,” Alex purred from the door. “I can think of any number of possibilities.”


Olivia 's eyes grew round as the look in Alex 's eyes and the tone of her voice led her right down the garden path. She glanced at the doctor without actually breaking eye contact with Alex . “Are you sure six weeks will be enough, doc?” she croaked. Virginia and Elliot burst into laughter; Alex grinned widely and Olivia flushed, though she couldn't stop her smile either.


“I'm going to miss you girls when you leave here.”


“Leave?” Liv perked up. “Does that mean I will be getting out of here soon?”


“How does tomorrow sound?”


“Not as good as today, but I'll take it,” Olivia said with a grin. “Thanks, doc.”


“Don't thank me,” Richmond said. “You're the one that's done all the work, and there's going to be a whole list of instructions and do's & don'ts you will need to follow once you go home.”


“Doesn't matter, doc. It still means I get to go home and live.”


“I like that attitude, Detective. Now if I could just clear the room,” giving Elliot a significant glance, “I'd like to take a look at how you're healing.”


Elliot scrambled to his feet and muttered, “I'll wait outside,” before closing the door behind him. Alex crossed to the couch and dropped the briefcase and suit jacket she'd picked up at their apartment earlier. Then she walked back over to Olivia 's bedside, running her hand through silky brown hair and kissing her forehead.


“How was your day?” distracting Liv from what the doctor was doing.


“Exhausting,” Liv replied honestly. “I don't remember chasing down perps being as hard as this physical therapy is. But I'm getting there. I just wish the scar wasn't so ugly.”


“I think it's beautiful, Sweetheart – just like you. It means you are still here with me and that makes it a perfect part of you as far as I am concerned.”


“Kinda like yours do for me,” Olivia agreed. She looked up when Dr. Richmond tapped her belly.


“I'm very pleased with your progress and in time the scar will fade to something much less prominent. If it bothers you,” having overheard Liv's complaint, “I can recommend a plastic surgeon that will make it nearly invisible. But that will need to wait until the original damage has healed. Otherwise, you have one more round of therapy before you go and then I'll release you in the morning. You'll still need to come in for therapy and check-ups and for now I am going to keep you listed as off-duty for the next six weeks. If that changes, well... we can talk about it if and when the time comes.”


“Thank you, Dr. Richmond ,” Alex said. “What you and Dr. Timmons did for us....”


“We did our jobs, much as the detective was doing when she got hurt. However, what you have done to Zachary Timmons is beyond price and we all thank you for that.”


“Excuse me?” Olivia said, looking from one to another. “Who is Dr. Timmons and what did we do?”


“ Dr. Timmons was the trauma surgeon who put you back together,” Alex answered quietly with a hand on Liv's shoulder, “but I don't know what we did to him. That night is something of a blur for me still.”


“You opened his eyes a little and made him think out of the box. I'm not saying the man isn't still a homophobe, but at least he's had something to think about beyond the stereotypes.” She patted Olivia 's leg. “However, that is neither here nor there at the moment and I'm pretty sure your detective friend would probably like to come back in. I'll leave detailed instructions with the nurses for your care and therapy at home and write up the order for your discharge along with how to reach me if there is any further problem, all right?” They nodded. “Okay... well, good luck to you both,” she added before walking out the door.


Surprisingly, Elliot didn't immediately come in and Alex walked over and stuck her head out the door. “He's not here,” she said. “He must have gone to get some coffee or something.”


“That's all right,” Liv said, reaching out a hand and gently tugging Alex towards her. “That means we have time for a private hello,” pulling until Alex hitched up her skirt slightly and sat on the bed. They looked at one another a moment before Olivia tangled her hands into what had been neatly blonde tresses and brought their lips together for a passionate kiss. Only a throat clearing separated them, and still it was a slow, drawn-out parting that left them both breathless.


They both blinked and looked up, expecting to find Elliot , but instead saw Arthur Branch – envelope in one hand and laden restaurant bag in the other. “May I come in, ladies? I promise not to stay long.” They motioned him into the room and Alex accepted the bag he offered while gesturing him to a seat on the couch. He held up the envelope. “I suppose you know why I'm here.”


“You're not going to change my mind, Arthur . I need to do this. I've got to find out who Alex Cabot is now. My life hasn't been my own for the last three years and it crossed into the ridiculous when I finally came home for good... and except for what has happened between me and Olivia , it seems like everything has totally been beyond my control. I need to get some of that back.”


“And quitting your job as Bureau Chief accomplishes that how?”


“It will let me take a step or two back to really look at things – find out if this is really what I want to do with my life anymore. I told you before I was having trouble coming to terms with all this. Now that my business with the DEA is finished, I want to take some time for me... and Olivia ... so we can decide what we'd like in our future together.”


“I have an option I'd like to put on the table.” Arthur watched as Alex looked directly at Olivia , waiting for a sign before she turned back to him and nodded. “I would like you to take a leave of absence instead of resigning. That way the door is open if and when you decide you're still a prosecuting attorney. It's still in you, Alexandra – it always will be. And it could be, sooner or later, that you'll find that spark and drive that once made you tell me not to get too comfortable in the District Attorney's chair.”


“You didn't,” Liv stated flatly, drawing two sets of eyes to her. Arthur chuckled and nodded.


“She certainly did... on the day I was introduced to her by her uncle and my friend Judge William Franklin . She was his law clerk that summer and she looked me dead in the eye when she said it. I knew then I wanted her on my side for sure.”


“I was young,” muttered Alex .


“You still are,” Arthur assured her, “relatively speaking. But you are also warmer, more compassionate and human than the Ice Princess I first assigned to SVU six years ago. And those were hard changes to make, but they were good ones. All I'm asking is that you don't throw away the dream behind those changes. Take a leave of absence while you're thinking.”


“You realize that I still might never come back to the prosecutor's office.”


“Even for the chair?”


“Even then. I just don't know right now, Arthur . I want to take Olivia and go home and just live for a while - go to Hawaii or New Zealand or just walking in Central Park; climb Kilimanjaro or Everest or even Pike's Peak ; sit in our living room watching bad television or the rain fall outside the windows or roast marshmallows in the fireplace. I may never get past that.”


“You won't,” Arthur said solemnly. “When you really love your partner, you want to do all those things. But you will also eventually reach a place when you will need more, and when you do, I'd like there to still be a place for you in my office. Who knows – maybe you'll be ready for the chair when it is ready for a new District Attorney.”


She smiled. There was a very good reason this man was so successful at his job and even she was not immune to his charm and charisma. “All right, Arthur . You win. I'll take a leave of absence *with* the understanding that it is indefinite.”


Branch slapped the envelope with his palm. “Good enough. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll go and let you two eat in peace. I promised the good detective real food earlier and this should fill the bill nicely. I'll have my secretary type up a new letter and you can stop by and sign it sometime Monday.” Alex nodded and rose with him as he stood and moved to the door. “I'm glad you're doing better, Olivia . You're one of the good guys.” Then he was gone and Alex and Olivia were left looking at each other as the scent of Italian food wafted throughout the room.




Chapter XXXI


Olivia told Alex about Arthur 's earlier visit to her as they shared fettuccini Alfredo , salad and garlic bread. Liv couldn't actually eat much, but she certainly enjoyed what she was able to consume. Alex had just leaned forward to clean Alfredo sauce off the corner of Olivia 's mouth when the door unceremoniously opened even as a knock sounded and John Munch stuck his head in the door, sniffing the air with obvious intent.


“Oh, it smells wonderful in here, ladies. I hope you both saved some room for cake and ice cream,” opening the door wide to allow the others to come in behind him. Fin came in carrying a sheet cake and Melinda Warner and Don Cragen both carried small coolers with ice cream. Casey and Serena followed them with more coolers filled with soda and Elliot and Kathy brought up the rear with bags containing cups and plates and utensils.


Soon the room was crowded with happy, laughing people perched on the floor, the couch, the single stool and in Alex 's case, on Olivia 's bed. Once everyone was served and had something to drink, Liv looked around the room at the friends she called family.


“What is all this?” she asked, trying to hide the tears she felt welling up. “What are you guys all doing here?”


“Well,” Munch said, clearing his throat, “a little birdie told us that not only did IAB clear you today, but you're being released from pris... I mean, the hospital tomorrow.” He lifted his glass at the chuckles garnered by his Freudian faux pas. “We thought that deserved a little celebration. We're glad you decided to stick around with us.”


“Hear! Hear!” the rest chimed in raising their glasses. Olivia put her cake on the tray and tangled her fingers with Alex 's.

“So am I, guys... thanks.”


The shrill ringing of a cell phone quieted everyone as they reached for their various devices. “It's me,” Alex said, answering the phone where she sat as she was basically unable to move. “Hello?.... Oh shit, Janet . I'm so sorry. After this week, I completely forgot to call you.... No, we're in the hospital. Olivia was....” She broke off and Olivia neatly intercepted the phone from her hand.


“ Janet ? Olivia .... Yeah... yeah.... Sure... uh huh.... Room twenty-one thirty-three. We'll be here until tomorrow. Okay, we'll see you in a bit... bye.” She turned to the rest of the room. “Sorry.”


“Do we need to leave?” Kathy asked.


“No,” Liv assured them. “Not for a little while... I have to hear all the precinct gossip first.” That brought another round of laughter and Munch cleared his throat and started speaking. Twenty minutes later he had the entire room in stitches when the door to Olivia 's room opened and Janet stuck her head in. Her eyebrows went into her hairline.


“I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that the nurses haven't been by in a while.” Everyone had the decency to look abashed but not to the point of actually moving. Janet stepped further into the room. “However, I promise not to tell if I could get a slice of that cake and something to drink.”


That caused movement and soon Janet found herself somewhat comfortably ensconced on the couch surrounded by Alex 's and Olivia 's colleagues and friends, observing their interaction and comfort levels. It was quickly obvious to her that these people were family to one another and she was glad to know they both had such a strong support system behind them. She would find out why they were all here later, but for the moment, she brought her mind back to the present where Casey was nervously twisting her hands together while she spoke hopefully to the rest of the group.


“So I had a couple ideas,” she was saying. “Some sort of street party type fair to give the kids some fun or a runway action to raise money for them.”


“Why not do both?” Alex suggested. “I'll help you, if you'd like. And I'm sure my mother wouldn't mind getting involved either. She has a number of charities she supports and contributor contacts.”


“Would you? I mean, are you sure you have time? I'm not sure how I'm going to fit hosting one event into my schedule. And yours has to be worse.”


“Actually, as of today, I am officially unemployed. I have taken a leave of absence from the DA's office. So I'll have plenty of time to help you.” She looked around the stunned room. “Come on guys... it's not like I confessed to being Jack the Ripper or something equally heinous. I just need some time to figure out what I really want to do now that the drama of the last three years is finally over.”


Elliot moved from his spot against one wall and kissed her cheek. “I think it's a great idea. Good for you, Alex . Good for you both.” Before anyone else could move or take a breath to speak, the door opened again and this time, a scowling nurse stuck her head in.


“I'm going to give you ten minutes to clear this room before I call security.” Five police badges, one ME's badge, an ADA and a Bureau Chief badge were flashed in her direction. “Doesn't matter,” she stated firmly. “There are too many people in here and you're eating contraband. I want all of you and this mess out of here in ten minutes,” she said before closing the door.


“You know, I have half a mind to go see what sort of human that clone came from,” Munch muttered.


“You got half a mind, all right,” Fin agreed. “Now git yer skinny ass over here and help us clean up.”


“Fin's right about cleaning up,” Cragen pointed out. “We really do need to go and let Olivia rest... even without Nurse Hatchet threatening us with rent-a-cops. It was nice to meet you, doc,” he said extending his hand to Janet before picking up the cooler he'd brought and waiting for Munch to do his duty as doorman. Within three minutes, the room was empty save Janet , Alex and Liv. The only evidence of what had gone on was the pile of plastic now residing in the trash cans.


“Wow,” Janet commented softly. “That was....”


Liv chuckled lightly. “Yeah, but they're good people.”


“The best,” Alex concurred. “We're lucky to have them.”


“Yes, you really are. Friends like that are hard to find and hold onto. Make sure you do,” Janet added, pointing at them with her fork. Just then, Nurse Hatchet stuck her head back in the door and scowled in Janet 's direction.


“Did I not make myself clear? I said everybody out. What part do I need to explain to you?”


Janet held up her hand to forestall any explanation Alex or Olivia might have offered the nurse. Instead, she rose and placed her cake on the tray table before taking the nurse firmly by the arm and leading her to the corner farthest from the bed. Neither Alex nor Olivia could hear what was being said, but it was clear the nurse was being dressed down by the fierce expression on Janet 's face and the one of shock on the nurse's. After several minutes, the nurse nodded and left the room without a backwards glance. Liv and Alex looked impressed.


“Whaddya tell her, doc?”


“Not much. I told her who I was and explained the consequences of her continuing bad attitude.”


“Way to go, doc!” Liv grinned, then frowned. “Although I don't understand her change in attitude. She hasn't been like that. In fact aside from the fact that this is a hospital, I can't really complain about this place or the people.”


“You'll still be thrilled to leave though.”


“Well, yeah... isn't everyone? Besides, they complain if Alex climbs in the bed with me.”


“Yeah, Jimmy and I had the same problem once,” Janet agreed, throwing away her plate and resuming her seat closer to the bed. “Now, tell me what happened that you ended up here.”


Nearly an hour later they were done with the telling and Janet sat back wide-eyed. She cleared her throat. “Okay... well then, I guess I can understand why you missed your appointment this evening then,” garnered shaky smiles from them both. “We'll add this to our list of issues to work through,” holding up her hand before they could protest. “I know you think you've dealt with it, and you have on a surface level. But this goes much deeper and will come back to haunt you if we don't take care of it. I am glad to see such a strong support system for you both though. That will help a lot.”


They looked at one another and Janet waited patiently, knowing they were conversing with one another without saying a word. It was one of the nicest things she and Jimmy shared as a couple; it was just a bonus that it drove their kids crazy with it in the process. The thought brought a smile to her face and when she refocused on Alex and Olivia , they were looking back at her with a questioning expression on their faces.


“Sorry,” she said with a grin. “I was thinking how much you two remind me of my husband and me and how we drive our kids to distraction with that silent communication thing couples tend to develop. Your kids are going to hate you both – you've already got it down pat and you're not even married yet.”


They looked at one another again, eyes wide and blushing beet red. Kids?? they mouthed. Janet laughed and waved them off.


“A discussion for another time. But... would you like to increase our sessions to two or three times a week while you have that kind of time to spend on it together? I think it would be beneficial to take advantage of the opportunity, but it is strictly your call.”


“Can we talk it over, Janet ? There is so much living we want to do,” Alex asked. “I know we need the therapy... *I* need the therapy – but I don't want it to get in the way of us.”


Janet stood up and covered their joined hands with both of hers. “Absolutely, Alex . As long as you keep up the weekly sessions, I think living is the best thing you can do right now. Celebrate your lives and your love and the fact that you are together in spite of everything.”


“Thanks, doc. I knew there was a reason we like you,” Olivia said with a smile that quickly turned to a grimace when she moved too quickly. “I'm all right,” she said as she blew out a breath. “I just have to remember not to move like that. I just want this be over with now.”


“It's only been a week. Frankly, I'm glad you're still around to feel it.”


“So am I, Alex . But I've never been real patient.”


Alex opened her blue eyes wide, sliding the glasses of justice down the bridge of her nose. “No, Detective... really? I never would have guessed that about you.” She grinned.


Olivia gave Alex the most mature response she could think of – she stuck out her tongue... only to find it caught between Alex 's thumb and forefinger. Liv shook her head and raised an eyebrow. Janet just laughed at them.


“Be thankful, Detective,” Alex said in a low voice. “If the doctor wasn't here, I would have done something else with that tongue of yours.” Olivia and Janet both blushed and Janet cleared her throat again before speaking.


“Ahem... yes, well... on that note, I'll be heading out myself, but if either of you need me, I am only a phone call away. And if it is too difficult for you to get out for the first couple weeks, Olivia , please let me know. I will be happy to come to you.”


She started to answer before realizing Alex still had hold of her tongue. Liv reached up and removed Alex 's fingers, then flexed her tongue while glaring in Alex 's direction. “Thanks, Janet .”


She patted Liv's legs and squeezed Alex 's hand. “Goodnight, ladies.”


They watched her go, then Alex shifted to rest her head on Olivia 's shoulder. “I'm glad we're going home tomorrow.”


“So am I,” Liv agreed, clasping Alex 's nearest hand. “Even though there is gonna be a lot for us to do.”


“No, Sweetheart. There might be a lot for me to do, but you're not going to be doing much of anything for a little while except healing. The unpacking will get done when it gets done and the mosaics will be finished when you feel up to doing the work yourself or supervising me and not before. I'd prefer not to have to come back here ever again - especially because we were impatient.”


“Me too – the beds just aren't working for me.”


Alex chuckled and sat up so she could look down into deep brown eyes. “Me either. I am looking forward to sleeping in that big, king-sized bed of ours with you.” Alex read Liv's desire and leaned down, capturing her lips with a fierceness and intensity that left them both dizzy and breathless.


“I'm looking forward to a lot more than that,” Olivia said hoarsely after a moment. Alex smiled.


“So am I, Sweetheart,” brushing the dark hair out of Liv's eyes. “But for now,” she added, sitting up and sliding from the bed, “we both need some rest so we can get out of here in the morning.”


Olivia tugged on the hand she still held in her grasp, urging Alex down until they were breathing the same air again. “Thank you for taking care of me. I love you,” kissing away Alex 's first reply.


“It's mutual, Liv. I love you back. Now go to sleep. It'll make tomorrow come that much faster.”


Olivia wanted to argue, but the fact was, she was exhausted, and before Alex had stepped away from the bed, she was already asleep. Alex stood and watched her lover sleep, her rhythmic breathing steady and reassuring. Alex brushed a kiss over Liv's forehead, then moved over to the couch to get a little rest. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.




They expected to find moving boxes neatly stacked in the different rooms they had been labeled for, waiting to be opened and put away. Instead, they found the furniture was set up and in place and everything else was put away. The only things not where they belonged were the mosaics that were still laid out carefully on the floor of the second bedroom.


“Come in, my darlings,” Elizabeth welcomed when they continued to stand in the doorway of the elevator. “I was hoping to be out of here before you arrived, but you are earlier than I expected.”


“Mother... did you do all this?” Alex asked, motioning around the penthouse before easing Olivia over to their new, overstuffed leather couch. She helped Liv to sit, then dropped into place beside her so Olivia could stretch out with her head comfortably ensconced on Alex 's lap. Without thought, Alex 's fingers sifted through the brown hair, her touch gentle and causing Liv's eyes to close as her body relaxed. Elizabeth watched their interaction with fondness for a moment until she realized Alex was waiting for an answer to the query she had posed.


“This? You mean putting things away? Heaven's no, daughter. I found it like this when I got here.”




“I suspect it was your friends Casey and Serena ... they're the only ones who have been here. Lovely young women really, especially to have taken care of all this without being asked. I just requested that someone to be here while the movers were here; I didn't expect... well, let's just say it was a pleasant surprise for me when I walked in this morning to prepare things for you two to come home.”




“ Alexandra , it wasn't to be nosey; I truly wanted to make sure things were prepared for you – sheets on the bed, towels in the bathroom and food in the kitchen. I will admit to looking around once I saw the living room had been put away and I am intrigued by the art you've found for this place. It's very interesting, but I don't recognize the artist.”


“We can talk about it later, Mother. Not that I don't appreciate everything you've done... God, I do – very much. But....”


“But you'd like to be alone to settle into your new home together.” Elizabeth crossed over to the couch and knelt, brushing Alex 's hair back behind her ear, sliding the dark framed glasses from her face and placing them on the table. Then she cupped Alex 's face and smiled into the blue eyes that were so like her own. “I was young and in love once too, daughter. I'm not so old I don't remember what it felt like with your father.” Her smile grew to a grin at the blush that crawled up Alex 's fair skin and patted her knee before slowly standing and straightening up. “I'll give you two a few days to settle in, and then I'd appreciate a phone call so I can bring you up to date on the wedding plans.”


“All right... thanks, mom.” A beat. “Oh... before I forget – you might want to give Casey a call. She needs some help with a charity project and I told her you might be willing to lend a hand. I volunteered my help as well before you ask, but I think you have the contacts she needs.”


“All right, Alexandra . I'd like to help her if I can. I really do like your friends, daughter. Thank you for sharing them with me.” She walked to the elevator, picking up her purse and turning back. “I'll just leave this...?” holding up a tiny jeweler's box. Alex held out her free hand and Elizabeth dropped the box into her outstretched palm.


“Thanks, mom. I'll call you later.”


Elizabeth smiled and waved until the elevator doors closed.


Alex looked down, wondering if Liv had been playing possum so as not to have to discuss her art with Elizabeth . But her breathing was slow and rhythmic and didn't change even when the elevator dinged its return to the top to wait until it was needed again. So Alex leaned her head back and closed her eyes, not even realizing when her breathing slowed to match Olivia's and sleep overtook her.




A light tickling sensation on her belly woke her and Alex woke with a start when she recognized the change in light meant morning had shifted into afternoon. She looked down into twinkling brown eyes, seeing her shirt had been unbuttoned so Liv could nuzzle bare skin with her lips.


“Hi,” Alex said huskily, feeling goosebumps chase up her skin following the trail of Olivia's lips. “Been awake long?”


“Nuh uh... just long enough to get your shirt unbuttoned.”


“Sweetheart, unless you are suddenly pain free, that probably took you over an hour. Are you hungry?”


“Yeah, actually and really stiff. I think I stayed in one position too long.”


“Well, let me go see what my mother brought us for food and then we'll see about loosening up those muscles and doing your therapy,” Alex said as she eased out from underneath Olivia's head, tucking the box into her pocket before helping Liv sit upright. Alex smirked. “Nice case of bed head.”


Olivia stuck out her tongue and snarled. “Be nice to me.”


“I am. I didn't have to tell you... I could have just laughed.”


Liv shifted forward and pushed up off the couch, glad for Alex 's steadying arms around her when her vertigo went to hell unexpectedly. Alex eased her back down and Olivia took a deep breath. “Damn, that hurts,” she muttered.


“Take it easy, Liv... please?” She smoothed Liv's hair back. “There,” Alex smiled tremulously, “no more bed head,” kissing her chastely. “Now let me bring us something to eat and then we can take care of the rest later, okay?”




“Cross my heart.”


“All right,” Liv agreed reluctantly, closing her eyes. Alex sauntered into the kitchen to find soup waiting to be warmed and a light green salad in the fridge. In spare minutes, Alex had it all ready and was putting it on the table, knowing it would be easier to manage there than on the couch. Then she called Liv, waiting to be asked before helping; it was a lesson she had learned early and quickly during the initial therapy sessions.


Olivia grunted and groaned as she got up but eventually made it to the table under her own power, smiling widely at Alex before she sat down. “This looks good. Your mom?”


“Yes – that's why she was here when we got home.”


“That was nice of her,” Liv said, chewing slowly and sipping her water.


“She um... she also had to pick something up for me,” Alex stammered, wondering at her sudden nervousness. It wasn't like Olivia didn't know about the ring already, and it wasn't like they weren't already engaged. Still, it was different, having the shoe on the other foot, so to speak – Olivia could still say no or decide she didn't like the ring or....


“ Alex ?” A touch on her hand brought Alex back to the present to find Olivia regarding her with loving concern. “Sweetheart, are you all right?”


“Yes, I just....” She swallowed hard and took a deep breath. “I didn't realize how nerve wracking this was. Mother... my mother went to the jeweler's for me today to pick up your engagement ring. It was ready.” She stuck her hand in her pocket and pulled out the box that held a ring identical to hers. Only the inscription was different. Alex took it out of the box and stood so she could kneel in front of Olivia . “Marry me?” she asked simply.


Liv set her fork down and cupped Alex 's face in both hands. “Yes,” she whispered, rubbing their noses together. “Yes, yes, yes!” They sealed their promise with a kiss once more, tongues dueling for dominance until Liv twisted then gasped in pain. “Dammit!” she ground out. “I hate this!”


“Shh, baby. I know you do, but it will get better, do you understand me, Detective? We are not going to let this stop us from living! My mother would never forgive either of us if we missed the wedding she's been planning.” A tug on her arm brought sparking blue eyes to meet twinkling brown.


“Do you think I could have my ring in that case?”


“What?? Oh,” realizing she still held it in her hand. Alex blushed. “Sorry... I wanted you to see the inscription first,” placing it in Olivia 's palm so she could read it. Always My Angel .


“Put it on me?” offering it back to Alex , who took it and reverently slid it onto Liv's ring finger before kissing it much as Olivia had consecrated hers. “This makes it even more real, doesn't it?”


Alex smiled. “Yes, it does. Now eat – you need to regain your strength. The sooner you do that, the sooner we can start counting the ways we can expend it together.”


Liv grinned and admired her ring a moment more before turning her attention back to eating, hoping she could prove the doctor wrong and have her recovery not take four to six more weeks. Abstinence by her choice when Alex was hundreds of miles away was a walk in the park compared to forced abstinence when the object of her desire was gently stroking her arm just inches from her. She was determined to have a more intimate touch sooner rather than later – although not until she had therapy... and a bath... and a nap. But after that... abso-frickin-lutely!!


Of course, things did not pan out exactly like she hoped they would. The first few days out of the hospital consisted of eating, sleeping and exercising. Liv was working hard and could barely keep her eyes open for more than a few kisses. By the end of the week, however, they were able to indulge in some heavy make-out sessions as long as they remained mindful of Olivia 's still healing wound, but that only added to their frustration level.


Elizabeth and Munch had their wedding plans on track, and after a particularly intense therapy session with Janet , Alex came out of the closet carrying two suitcases. She put them on the bed and started putting clothes in them. Liv came into the bedroom and stood stock still, wondering if the frustration that was starting to make them snipe at each other was causing Alex to leave to regroup – not that Olivia could blame her if she was. But still the idea hurt.


“ Alex ?”


“You want to pack your clothes, Liv, or do you want me to do it for you?”


“We're going somewhere... together?”


“Unless you'd rather stay here,” Alex answered without turning around. “I just thought we'd take advantage of some of this down time we have and see a bit of the world together.” Olivia sagged against the wall and the movement brought Alex around to face her. “Sweetheart,” noting her pallor, “are you all right? Come sit down a minute.”


Olivia let Alex lead her to the bed and took a seat to get off her suddenly nerveless legs. She ran shaky hands through her hair and blew out a breath, accepting the glass of juice Alex was pressing into her hand. “Sorry,” she muttered. “I'm not sure what happened.” Alex knelt in front of her.


“I'm not going anywhere without you, Liv. I promise... never again.” She clasped their left hands together so their rings rested side by side. “This means us together always, all right?”


Liv nodded. “I know that, really. I'm not sure why I freaked out.”


Alex covered her cheek with one hand, then stood up and offered Olivia her hand. “Come on... pack your art supplies and let me finish getting our clothes in the suitcases so we can get out of here for a little while and just live a little.”


“Where are we going?”


“Anywhere you want to, love, but I thought we'd go to Hawaii for a few days, then maybe New Zealand or Australia for a week or two if we felt like it. We don't have an agenda. I promised Janet we would call in for our appointments and my mother has all the wedding arrangements under control. Personally, I think she and Munch are having a great time putting the whole thing together without us. I thought you could call Elliot from the airport so he knows what's going on and other than that we can just go where the wind takes us for a little while.”


Liv put her art supplies on the bed and moved into Alex 's arms. “I love you.”


Alex returned the embrace as fully as she dared before kissed Olivia deeply, not stopping until two sets of hands began to wander. Only then did they reluctantly separate. “God, you're good at that,” she muttered. “Hold that thought, though. We need to get to the airport first. Then maybe we can join the Mile-High Club together.”


Not surprisingly, it didn't take either of them long to finish packing and soon they were heading out the door.




Chapter XXXII


Olivia wouldn't have believed anything could have beaten the feeling of joining the Mile-High Club – more than once - in the comfort of a private jet. But then they had arrived in Hawaii ; she pulled Alex 's hand tighter around her waist as she let her mind replay the events of the morning.


It had been very early in the morning when the plane had finally touched down on the runway in Hawaii, and even later when they had finally reached their hotel and settled into bed without unpacking, completely exhausted and wonderfully sated for the first time in almost three weeks.


When they woke, hours later, Alex suggested they go down to the beach and Olivia immediately declined. Alex met brown eyes sadly.


“I still haven't convinced you how beautiful you still are to me?? How attractive and utterly desirable I find you?? What a badge of honor and courage I find the scar you wear now to be?? It's a good thing I quit the DA's office then, if I can't convince you of something so fundamental.”


“ Alex ... Sweetheart, I know... it's not so much about you as it is about me. It's changed the way I see myself. I can't help but know it will change the way others see me as well.”


Alex didn't respond verbally. Instead she took Olivia 's face in her hands, lightly tracing the curves and planes she found there – eyebrows, cheekbones, jaw line, lips. The tickling touch of her fingertips on Liv's lips made the brown eyes flutter closed and Alex followed the same path with her lips. When she reached Olivia 's lips, she gently teased them open with her tongue – first the corners, then the outline and finally the fullness of the lips themselves. When Alex felt Olivia 's surrender, strong arms pulling her tighter into Liv's body, she smiled and proceeded to ravish Liv's mouth until they were both breathless. Then she removed Olivia 's arms from her neck, and moved them to the headboard with the simple command, “Don't move.”


Then she slowly slid down the firm body beneath hers, lavishing every inch of skin she came in contact with licks and nips and love bites. When she reached the full breasts, dark nipples stood at attention and almost quivered in anticipation and Alex didn't disappoint. She suckled and flicked and pinched until Olivia was writhing and moaning almost constantly. Alex took her cue and moved lower.


Alex stopped completely when she got to the scar, looking at Olivia and waiting until she was sure she had Liv's complete and undivided attention. Then she worshipped each and every single inch of blemished and disfigured skin that Olivia 's injury had caused to her belly. Liv watched until the sensations coursing through her body forced her to close her eyes and simply feel. And when Alex slipped even lower, Olivia just rode the waves of release until she was helplessly spent and cradled in Alex 's firm embrace.


“Do you understand now?” Alex asked softly. Olivia had nodded and shifted their positions until she was able to start her own trail down Alex's body, pushing aside the residual ache in her guts and focusing her attention on making Alex feel as incredibly loved and beautiful as she felt. She didn't miss a spot, smiling when her touch made Alex giggle then glare down at her. Liv resumed her southerly journey, meticulously mapping out the terrain of Alex's body until Alex shivered and shook and shouted her release to the rafters – feeling, at last, a missing piece of herself slide into place.


Olivia climbed back up Alex 's body and held her until her trembling stopped. Then in a surprising move, Alex shifted them both until she was wrapped around Liv's body. “This okay? You're not uncomfortable or in pain?”


“This is perfect,” Olivia answered, pulling Alex 's hand up between her breasts. “I could stay in your arms forever.”


Alex kissed Olivia 's temple and they fell asleep tangled together.


Olivia smiled again as movement behind her brought her back to the present and the warm body pressed into hers. “You wanna try to go down to the beach now?” Liv asked Alex , giggling slightly when she flexed her fingers. Alex slid her hand down and pushed up onto her elbow.


“Liv, are you sure?”

“Yeah. No one's gonna be looking at me anyway once they get a look at you in that electric blue bikini I saw you pack,” Olivia replied as she turned over slowly to meet Alex 's eyes. “Besides, I'd like to do some drawing, have a Mai tai, watch you dance a hula,” waggling her eyebrows. “Tomorrow maybe we can do a volcano walk or something.”


“Nothing like starting with the hard stuff,” Alex said with a grin, kissing Olivia 's nose before sliding from the bed under appreciative brown eyes.


“Well, I'm not sure I'm up to hang gliding off the cliffs or parasailing yet. But I would like to try those things when I'm a little stronger.”


“Me too,” Alex agreed with a grin. She laid both suitcases out, opening them and pulling a bit of blue material from one and a scrap of black material from the other. She tossed the black at Olivia who caught it with barely a wince, then she went back to digging, not stopping til she triumphantly pulled another handful of cloth from each case.


By this point Olivia was dressed and she walked up behind Alex and dropped a series of kisses up her neck. “Thank you,” she whispered, knowing Alex would understand how much she appreciated the gesture of the sleek one-piece suit by the simplicity of her words. Alex held the top up and Olivia reached around for the ties to fasten them. Then Alex stepped into the bottoms and turned to face Liv, tying a sarong low around her hips before fastening the second around her own.


“I told you I was going to make it my mission in life to take care of you to the best of my ability.”


Liv gave her a crooked smile. “You're doing a much better job than I ever did.”


“Purely selfish on my part, Detective. Purely selfish. Are you going to bring your whole backpack down to the beach or just your sketchpad?” Liv snatched up her pad and pencils and hand in hand she and Alex headed downstairs towards the beach.




They next few days passed in similar fashion – lovemaking, some time on the beach, and whatever fun activity had been chosen for the day. They flew over the island to see the volcano, tried tubing, took surfing lessons – though that one Olivia struggled with because of her belly and she spent most of her time lying on the board body surfing instead. Still it was fun and they had a good time learning.


Alex wanted to ski, but knew there was no way Olivia 's stomach could handle the stress being pulled behind a boat by a rope would cause. But Liv could read her desire so they reached a compromise. Olivia rode in the boat and Alex skied behind it. Alex got a tattoo, but Liv declined. “I've had enough needles stuck in me recently, thanks,” was her only comment. But she held Alex 's hand while hers was being done, neatly distracting her from what was happening.


They took walks together and went shopping; tried a new restaurant and cuisine every night. They took an island cruise and went skinny dipping underneath a secluded waterfall. They went to a luau and watched the sunset wrapped in each others arms every night. Liv made some amazing sketches and Alex took some incredible pictures. But best of all, they spent hours and hours alone together just being Alex and Olivia , talking and sharing and loving one another as they planned their future.


After eight days in the islands, Liv asked Alex , “Would you mind if we went home for now instead of going somewhere else? As much as I'd like to see those places with you - and I would, don't get me wrong – I'd like to go work on our murals. I'd like to get them done so when we come back from our honeymoon, we can have a housewarming and invite our friends. Elliot is chomping at the bit to see our new place... all the guys are, and I really do feel inspired to get them finished.”


“Of course, Liv... I told you we'd do what we wanted with this time together and if you want to go home, I'm ready to go home with you. I have a list of places I'd like us to go together; we can just add them to the list.”


“Can I see this list?”


“Absolutely... you can even add to it if you like.” Alex cleared her throat. “It was one of the things I put together while I was still in witness protection. It gave me something to dream about.”


Olivia cocked her head and smiled. “I like knowing I was part of your dreams... even then.”


“Always,” which declaration called for lovemaking that was lit by the colors of the sunset and gilded by the light of the moon and stars as their silver light streamed through the open curtain. It was a fitting end to their trip.




It was early evening when they arrived back at their penthouse and they sighed in relief to finally put their bags in their bedroom and curl up together on the couch.


“It's nice to be home,” Alex commented as they watched the lights of the city slowly blink on around them.


“It's nice to be anywhere with you,” Olivia replied, tightening her arms around Alex 's warm body currently curled up in her embrace. “But I do like it here.” Alex tilted her head back on Liv's shoulder until she could look into the brown eyes that looked back down at her. “What?” she asked.


Alex smiled. “You seem... content – more settled. Except for your calls to Elliot , you haven't mentioned the one-six or talked about work at all since you came home from the hospital.”


“Neither have you, Alex . Does it bother you?”


The blonde head shook. “No, Liv... not at all. I just don't want you to feel you can't talk about your life at the SVU just because I'm not in the DA's office anymore.”


Olivia smiled. “Well, in all fairness, I'm a little out of the loop there right now since I've been gone for nearly a month.”


“I know,” Alex said as she sat up. “But that is sort of my point. Always - up until now anyway – you would have been fighting tooth and nail to stay in the loop... be a part of what is happening there despite what the doctors or the powers that be said.”


Liv paused, considering her words as she thought about Alex 's. “I think,” she finally said slowly, “that having this time with you has kinda put everything into perspective a little bit differently for me. Having you here with me... being with you... is the most important thing in my life. Not that the guys won't always be important to me and the unit won't always get my best when I am at work – but it's not all-consuming for me anymore. I have a life beyond that now.” She hesitated and then looked into Alex 's eyes with a sheepish expression. “I'll probably still work late and I'll always care about the victims. But you've given me so much more to care about. You deserve my best too.” She held up Alex 's ring between them. “You deserve my best most of all – because you took all of me... warts and all... without hesitation or regret over who I was or where I came from. You helped me put the past behind me and made me look forward to the future.”


“I did all that?”


“Yep,” Liv answered succinctly. “I'd still like to find the man who raped my mother – I think I always will until it happens; she deserves that much justice and I'd like to know if I have any sort of family out there somewhere. But it's no longer my motivation.”


“That is one reason I left the DA's office. My reason is here... with you... and right now I can't see beyond that. I don't want to.” Alex blew out a breath. “After our honeymoon, when you're back at work, I'll decide what I want to do professionally. But right now, I want to focus on us. Everything else will fall into place when the time is right.”


“We've both changed a lot, huh?”


“Yes,” Alex agreed. “But I like the changes we've made.”


“So do I.”




Elizabeth started to call out as she stepped from the elevator, then stopped dead at the sight in front of her. “Oh my,” she murmured, seeing Liv sitting casually on top of a ladder perched right next to the fireplace. Then she saw why Olivia was sitting there and walked around quietly to get a better look at what she was working on.


Without warning, Alex came out of the second bedroom with one hand full of neatly lined tiles. “I think these are the ones you want, Liv, but... Mother?” glancing up and seeing her mother in her peripheral vision, then turning to look directly at Elizabeth . “Um... not that you're not welcome, but why are you here?”


“I think I'm discovering who your fabulous unknown artist is,” Elizabeth replied matter-of-factly, “though that was not my original intention. I did try to call first, but when I got no answer from any phone, I was concerned. I came over to see if you were all right and brought lunch with me.”


Alex and Olivia exchanged chagrined expressions. They had turned off their phones so they could work on the murals undisturbed. Alex had planned to call Elizabeth later to let her know they were home and invite her for dinner; she had discounted the fact that her mother would be notified when the jet arrived and her pilot was available for transport again.


“Sorry, Mother – I was going to call later.”


“It's all right, Alexandra . I hope you don't mind me dropping by, but I really was concerned when Alfonzo alerted me to his availability and I couldn't reach you. I promise not to make this a habit.”


“So what did you bring for lunch?” Liv asked as she slowly backed off the ladder.


Elizabeth looked around carefully as though making sure no one was spying on her. Alex and Olivia followed her example, wondering who or what she was hiding from and what she could possibly have brought for lunch that would cause her to act that way. Finally, satisfied that no one was around who would comment, Elizabeth held up a large, plain brown bag.


“ Olivia Specials.”


Alex burst into laughter and Olivia 's eyes twinkled in delight. “How did you know?”


“ Julia told me. I thought they might be appreciated after a week of island food.”


Olivia reached for the bag and headed towards the kitchen. “They're always appreciated, Elizabeth . Thank you.”


The Cabot women followed a little more slowly, grinning at one another over Liv's excitement. “So is everything all right, Alexandra ? I did not expect the two of you home so soon.”


“Yes... we just wanted to come home. Liv wanted to work on her murals and I wanted to be where she was. Besides, she's teaching me how she creates them. I haven't had this much fun in a long time.”


“She spent the morning walking back and forth collecting tiles for me to put above the fireplace,” Olivia said to Elizabeth as she set two plates on the small kitchen table and went back to the counter for the third. “I'm not sure I see where the fun is in that,” directing her words to Alex .


“Trust me, Olivia . She's having fun. I haven't seen Alexandra this happy in a long time.” She took Olivia 's hand. “Thank you.”


Liv ducked her head to hide the blush, then busied herself putting her plate down before motioning everyone to sit. Elizabeth released her hand to take a seat, then cupped a hand under Olivia 's chin to bring Liv's eyes up to meet hers. “Sometime soon I would like to talk to you about your art and why you are hiding your light behind a bushel, so to speak. But not now,” she said, freeing Olivia 's chin and looking at both younger women. “Right now, I would like to bring you up to speed on the plans for your wedding. We still have time to change anything you're not happy with, but....”


“Mother, Olivia and I are together – that makes us happy. Everything else is just icing for us.”


“You mean that.”


Alex nodded. “Yes, I do. Besides, I trust you implicitly. You have impeccable taste.”


“All right – can I at least tell you what John and I have planned or would you like to be surprised?”


“I'd like to know,” Liv answered quietly. “I've never been to a real wedding. But um... can we eat first? Olivia specials are best if they're eaten hot... and I'm starving.”


That got chuckles from both Cabot women and the three of them settled down to eat.




“Well, that was interesting,” Liv commented after the elevator doors had closed behind Elizabeth 's retreating form. “I never expected it to be so involved.”


“Mother knows this is a one time deal,” Alex said as she held the ladder for Liv to resume her place to begin working on the mandala mural again. “She's going all out because she knows there won't be a second chance to do this again. At least all we have to do is go for fittings.”


“Can I confess a deep, dark secret?” Olivia smiled shyly at Alex 's arched brow. She picked up the tiles she had carefully placed there before they had stopped work to have lunch with Elizabeth and started placing them, keeping her focus on them while keenly aware of Alex's sharp gaze on her. “Even with all the formality involved, I'm looking forward to it.” Liv paused briefly. “When I was a little girl, I read a lot. It was my babysitter and it took me to places and showed me things....” She shook her head. “Before I really understood the circumstances surrounding my conception and birth, I dreamed about being a princess.” She hesitated and put the few remaining tiles back on the mantle and looked at her hands.


“Liv?” Alex asked when the silence went on too long. She came around into Olivia 's line of sight and took her hands. Brown eyes caught blue. “Sweetheart?” noting the tears that just hovered on dark lashes.


“On my eighth birthday, my mother, in a drunken stupor, explained to me in no uncertain terms where I'd come from and why I had no father... why I'd never amount to anything. I never dreamed about being a princess after that. I never thought I'd ever have the chance....”


“Oh Liv....”


“ Alex , for the first time I feel like a fairy tale princess.”


“Oh no, love... you're my real life princess.”


“And you're mine,” Olivia confirmed, loosening one hand from Alex 's grip and cupping her face instead. “Do weddings always bring out the mush in people?” she asked with a crooked smile.


Alex grinned. “I would say so, yes... just like babies turn full grown adults into babbling idiots.” They chuckled, then Olivia turned back to her mural. “Liv,” Alex asked after a moment of hesitation, “do you want to be more involved in our wedding plans?”


“Huh? Um... no – why would you ask me that? I think Elizabeth and Munch are doing a great job.”


“You said you had dreams; I just want to be sure they're being fulfilled.”


“Beyond my wildest, Alex .”


“Good,” Alex said with a grin. “Now... what next?”


Olivia turned back to the mandala and motioned. “Maybe... I think we can move to green for a while. You wanna give it a try?”


“Not yet, but soon.”


So they settled back into a rhythm, a comfortable silence surrounding them.




The next day, they headed out to the small bridal boutique Elizabeth had given them. Technically, they shouldn't have gone together, but Alex figured Elizabeth had already given Adrianne a head's-up on them. She was correct in her assumption and as soon as they entered, she and Olivia were separated and whisked off to different viewing rooms.


“Um....” Olivia hesitated. “Can't we do this together?”


“No, Detective. That was the only explicit instruction Mrs. Cabot gave us. It's considered bad luck, you know. Now, do you have an idea of what you would like to wear?”


Olivia nodded. “I know exactly what I would like.”


“Excellent,” Adrianne nodded. “You tell me what you would like, and I'll do my best to make it happen for you.”


Several hours later, Alex and Olivia met in the front of the boutique, smiling shyly before they headed to the one-six to check–in with the guys.




“Well, well, well... if it isn't our little lost sheep,” Munch greeted them as he rose from behind his desk. “How ya feeling, Liv?”


“Baa,” she answered with a completely straight face. The entire room looked startled before bursting into laughter, welcoming her back with hugs and back slaps. Elliot was last and she held on a moment longer. “Can we talk?” she asked quietly.


“Sure,” he said motioning to the interrogation room. “What's up?” he asked, closing the door behind them and taking a seat on the table.


“I wanted to make sure you were gonna stand with me – when Alex and I... you know – get married.”


“I'd be honored, Liv – you know that. Thanks for asking me though.” He smiled when she blew out a nervous breath. “How're you feeling about all this?”


“Scared as hell, but right at the same time – like I'm finally where I belong. I can't imagine us not being together, El. She's so much a part of who I am.”


“That's a good thing, Liv. It gives you something to hold on to outside the ugliness of this place,” gesturing around the room. “I didn't know how much I needed that until it was gone.”


Liv took a seat beside him. “How's that going anyway?”


Elliot looked down at the floor but couldn't stop the smirk that crossed his face. “Better than it's been in a long time. Maybe Kathy and I needed a break from each other to make us... make *me*... realize what we had together.”


“I'm glad, El. You deserve to be happy.”


“So do you, Liv. Hold onto this tight with both hands.”


“I intend to,” she replied fervently. “Now let me go rescue Alex from our colleagues before Munch sets her up with his latest theory and Fin winds up pulling him outta here by his ear.” They slid from the table and Elliot laughed as he opened the door.


“I'd pay good money to see that.”


“See what, Detective?” Casey asked as she walked in the precinct. Olivia crossed to stand behind Alex and wrapped an arm around her.


“ Olivia wearing a ball and chain,” Elliot quipped before Olivia could respond. She glared at him and Alex laughed. Casey just arched an eyebrow.


“Isn't that the whole point of the upcoming nuptials?” she inquired drolly. She turned her attention to Munch in the ensuing laughter. “Speaking of... John , I told Elizabeth she could count on Serena and me to be there early. Now if you'll excuse me,” to Alex and Olivia , “I need to take these three away now. I'm glad to see you're doing so much better, Olivia . We miss you around here.”


“Thanks, Casey . I think the doctor might put me on desk duty next week.”


“And then you'll be out for two weeks for your honeymoon,” Elliot grumbled. “Have I told you lately how much we all hate you around here?”


“Bite me, El... jealous much?”


He glared. “I hate you SO much,” he muttered, then gave her a wink before headed into the captain's office followed by his laughing cohorts. Alex and Olivia exchanged smiles before heading back to their apartment. It had been a good day.



Chapter XXXIII


The next week passed swiftly. Olivia returned to desk duty with Huang's blessing and Alex spent the time working on the bathroom mural after asking Olivia for specific instructions to follow. She found she enjoyed the project very much, giving her a focus and an outlet that brought pleasure and a sense of accomplishment. And it allowed her a chance to think about the future as well – immediate as well as far reaching.


Alex had a number of options and she knew that. But to be very honest she was quite happy being unemployed at the moment – working on the dolphin mural and playing the piano and rediscovering New York . Alex knew herself well enough to know that would last very long – she was too driven. Soon she would sit down and begin to seriously consider the opportunities that she had for the future – whether that was remaining at the DA's office or going into private practice or teaching or even going into politics as a judge or state representative. All possibilities and all things she and Olivia would eventually need to sit down and discuss and decide together.


But first there was a wedding and a honeymoon to enjoy and that thought made her smile.


Alex was still smiling when Olivia stepped off the elevator and into the penthouse Friday afternoon. She sat down beside her on the piano bench and Alex cradled Liv's face in her hands, memorizing everything about it before pulling Liv's lips to her own and stealing the very air Olivia was breathing with a hot, open-mouthed kiss. Only when they started to slide off the piano bench did Alex pull away slightly, and then only to lean their foreheads together.


“Hi,” she whispered.


“Hi,” Liv whispered back. “Um... I think I'm gonna go back out and come in more often if that's the kind of greeting I can look forward to.”


“Or you could stay right here and we could pick up where we left off,” Alex offered. “Your call, Detective.”


“I'd actually like to move this to the couch or better yet, the bedroom so we don't slide off and break something. But I think people might notice if we didn't show up for rehearsal tonight.” She paused and got up off the bench, extending a hand and pulling Alex up along side her. “Oh... Liz has decided to take us all out afterwards, and she's being very secretive about it. She called the station this morning and extended the invitation to Elliot and the guys as well.”


Alex 's brows rose. “Sounds... intriguing.”


“Well Casey and the guys seemed excited. Guess we'll know tonight.”


“I guess we will.” Alex glanced at the clock then back at Olivia , her brow furrowed. “Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but what are you doing home so early?”


“Cragen sent me. Said my twitching was making the whole squad nervous.”


“Are you nervous about something, Detective?” Alex asked, picking up her glasses and slipping them onto her face.


“No,” Liv replied hastily. “But I'll be really glad when this wedding is over with and we get to settle down and just live.”


“Perhaps we should get an early start on that. I'm in the mood for ice cream for lunch. Then I would like to come back here until we need to go to rehearsal. I have a song I would like you to hear.”


“Something new?” Alex nodded and Liv led them both back to the elevator. “Good. What with everything that's been going on lately, you haven't been playing. I miss it.”




They had gone to the creamery for ice cream, then walked hand in hand through Central Park until they reached Olivia 's thinking bench. They sat side by side, leaning back and watching life flow around them. “I've spent a lot of time alone here,” Olivia stated, “just thinking.”


“I know,” Alex confided without looking at her. “I knew if a case went awry or we had a blow up, I only had to come here to find you. I spent many hours watching you - just out of sight,” pointing to an area of trees off the path, “making sure you were okay.”


“Why didn't you ever let me know you were there?”


“No... this was your place. I wasn't going to come into it without an invitation... unless you were in trouble. Although I will admit there were a couple times, I nearly did.”


“Well, I'm glad you're here with me now,” Liv admitted. “Maybe I won't have to come here alone anymore.”


“Only when you want to, Liv.” Alex stood and tugged on her arm. “Come on... I want to share my music with you, then maybe we can take a nap before we have to meet everyone at the restaurant.”


“I can't believe your mother rented a banquet room at the Tavern on the Green for our rehearsal.”


Alex shrugged. “She said it was easier than expecting everyone to try to get to the Hamptons house at a reasonable hour on a Friday evening. I'm inclined to agree with her.”


“So am I,” Liv said as they entered their building. “I just never expected....”


“I know, but it's Mother's favorite and she insisted. Trust me - I am ever grateful I never had to face her in court. My win/loss record would have been atrocious. Now, would you like to sit beside me on the bench or....”


“I'd like to lean on the piano actually. I've discovered as long as the lid is down, I can see and hear perfectly there. On the bench, I'm in the way and on the couch I can't see your face. You have a very expressive countenance when you're not wearing your game face, counselor.”


They crossed into the penthouse and both took a moment, as they always did, to admire the warmth and hominess they had created together for themselves. Maybe one day it would be old hat to them and they would become blasé about it; for now they would savor the newness they had in it.


Alex took a seat on the bench and Olivia leaned gracefully against the body of the piano, watching entranced as Alex limbered up her fingers by running up and down the keys before her strokes became swift and sure and changed to a haunting melody.


Then she closed her eyes and began to sing.

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up: To more than I can be.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up: To more than I can be.

There is no life - no life without its hunger;
Each restless heart beats so imperfectly;
But when you come and I am filled with wonder,
Sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up: To more than I can be.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up: To more than I can be.

You raise me up: To more than I can be.

“I was going to use that as part of my wedding vows tomorrow,” Alex said without looking up. “But I decided it was too personal to share with anyone but you.” A hand on her chin lifted her face until blue eyes met sparkling brown.


“That was incredible, Alex . Thank you for sharing that with me.” Olivia reached out and took Alex 's hand, gently urging her up from the piano bench. “C'mon... let me show you what you do to me,” leading her to the bedroom.


They were almost late for their own rehearsal.




Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, but when Alex rolled over, she was alone in their big bed. She sat up slowly and looked around, spotting Olivia out on the deck. She wasn't moving, content to sit with her feet propped on the railing, a distant smile on her face. Alex slipped from the bed and wandered out to lean against the doorjamb, waiting for Liv to notice.


Almost instantly Olivia turned to her and her smile widened into a grin. She held out her hand and Alex joined her, wrapping her arms around Olivia 's neck and brushing her lips over Liv's cheek before dropping into the chair beside her and swiping her coffee.




“Ah,” Alex said as she swallowed a mouthful. She passed it back to Liv with a smile. “Thanks... I needed that.”


Liv looked down into her nearly empty cup. “So did I,” with a pout. Alex rolled her eyes and stood up.


“Come on, you big baby. I'll fix you another cup,” then found her mouth being explored with a thoroughness that took every bit of coffee flavor out of Alex 's mouth. “Wow,” she said when Olivia pulled back. “I needed that even more. Good morning.”


“Good morning, Sweetheart.” Liv asked as they went back inside. The coffee machine produced cups a single serving at a time and Olivia insisted Alex get hers first. She chuckled when Alex moaned into her cup after the first sip. Alex just glared at her for a moment before breaking into a smile of her own.


“So I like my coffee... sue me.”


“Nah... I'd rather marry you.”


“You do realize we may be the only two sober, hearing members of the wedding party after last night,” Alex commented drolly.


“That's okay,” Olivia said as she swallowed the first satisfying sip of her second cup. “We're the only two who really need to be sober and hearing. Besides, we have some really good blackmail material that we'll be able to use for years to come.” She arched an eyebrow in Alex 's direction. “Do I wanna know how Liz knew where to find disco bowling in New York ?”


“ Olivia , *I* don't want to know how Liz knew where to find disco bowling in New York . But it was worth it to see Munch try to teach Fin how to dance disco. And we have pictures. Now come on, Detective... we have a wedding to get to.”




The Hamptons estate was already a beehive of activity when Alex and Olivia arrived just before lunch. They waved to Casey and Serena who were busy working with the caterer and the decorators, then entered the house. Elizabeth smiled and welcomed them into her home.


“I'm so glad you girls are here,” taking one of each of their hands into both of her own. “Look at you... both glowing and so beautiful. I'm glad last night's festivities didn't do any lasting damage to either of you.” She looked around conspiratorially and chuckled. “I'm not sure the same can be said for the rest of your compatriots.”


“Even better, Mother... we have pictures. Are we in time for lunch?”


Elizabeth nodded. “I was just going to call Casey , Serena and John in. They've been quite busy this morning, even though I assured them there was no need. I gave them a little hair of the dog – seemed to work wonders.”


“I'll bet,” Liv mumbled.


“Come,” Elizabeth invited. “Let me call them for lunch, then we can adjourn to the dining room. Enrique should be here around three. Your clothes are in your room, Alexandra . Olivia , yours are in what were Alexander 's rooms. I know,” she said, holding up her hands. “I know you're not having a traditional type service. I thought I would give you the option of choosing to surprise one another instead of dressing together. Now, go to the dining room. We'll be right in.”


Lunch was a mostly quiet affair. Munch, Casey and Serena were still coping with the residual fun from the previous night and Alex and Olivia were too happy to tease much and after a jibe or two, they settled down to enjoy the assortment of light foods Elizabeth had had prepared. Conversation flowed easily once their initial hunger had been sated and Casey , Munch and Serena found it helped ease away the last of their hangovers as well. Then Enrique arrived and they split up to finish making their preparations for the evening.


He went to Elizabeth first, knowing she was the hostess for the evening. Then he knocked on Alex 's door. “Wow!” he commented softly as she bade him enter. “ Alex , you look stunning.”


“Not yet, Enrique – but soon.”


“You have the look of a woman in love, Alex – content and very happy. I'm glad you found Olivia .”


“I'm glad Olivia found me. Now... make me fabulous – sweep the hair up off my neck and very light make-up....” She stopped speaking when his finger covered her lips.


“Trust me, Alex ... I'm a professional.” Then he settled in and got to work. Alex just sat back and let him do his magic. When he was done, she kissed his cheek and thanked him. Enrique blushed and stammered and headed to Olivia 's room, secretly hoping for a repeat. Lucky him – he got his wish and Liv grinned as he tripped out of her room and back towards the front of the house. Elizabeth had promised him a place to change into his own formal clothing for the wedding.


Around six, people started pouring into the estate. The wedding party was first - Elliot and Kathy arrived followed immediately by Liz Donnelly with Abbie Carmichael and Jack McCoy tagging along. The Remingtons were the first guests – easy since they were so close by, then the Branches, Don Cragen , and before long people were entering the grounds faster than Elizabeth could put names to faces.


Julia was there, as was Nita, Fin and Huang and Melinda Warner ... even Lena Petrovsky had come for the nuptials. Friends and colleagues of both women showed up in support of their union the dissenters having been weeded out weeks before. Soon the backyard was filled with all manner of smartly dressed people mixing and mingling with others from walks of life other than their own and finding common ground between them.


At seven o'clock , doors opened simultaneously on either side of the second floor landing and Alex and Olivia froze for a moment, taking one another in. Though they had shopped separately for their wedding attire, they had arrived at amazingly similar outfits. Both were a cream color – silk in nature, casual pantsuit in cut. Alex had a long jacket, collarless, with a plunging neckline that just hinted at her cleavage and clung to her thin frame. Olivia had opted for the shorter vest-style top that accented her breasts and toned arms with a collared jacket on top for when the evening got cooler.


Olivia 's hair was just a little wild and mussy, a look that Alex adored. Alex 's on the other hand, was not up as she requested, but framing her face the way Liv preferred to see it. Enrique was a very smart man.


Neither of them wore shoes, but Alex had a pearl necklace on while Liv opted for a thin gold chain. They reached for one another, hands clasping even as their eyes roamed one another from head to foot.


“Wow,” Liv whispered reverently. “ Alex , you look fabulous... absolutely beautiful.”


“You're gorgeous, Liv... just breathtaking.”


Their lips met briefly, knowing they couldn't smear lipstick or mess up hair at this point in the day. They had an hour or so of mingling with their guests to do before the actual ceremony. Unconventional, admittedly, but with a summer sunset wedding, it met their needs to have part of the reception ahead of time.


Hand in hand they walked down the stairs and through the house until they were standing in the French doors looking out on the friends who had gathered on the back lawn for their ceremony. A cheer went up when they were spotted and they exchanged smiles and squeezed one another's hands tightly before acknowledging the hail with a wave and heading down into the melee to meet and greet their guests together.


After an hour or so, about thirty minutes before sunset, Alex and Olivia separated so they could walk the beach to join one another in front of the priest who was waiting just at the waterline. With a very few words, Elizabeth and Munch moved the congregation to the beach to watch the brief ceremony. Liz and Elliot took their places on either side of the minister and waited.


Alex came from the east and Olivia from the west and the visual was apropos to their life. Alex walked as a beacon of light in the darkness while Olivia glowed with light as she walked into the dark. When they reached each other, they clasped hands and the crowd closed in around them to watch their joining.


“Friends,” the minister intoned solemnly, “we have gathered today to bear witness to the union of Alexandra and Olivia – a couple whose love has survived much simply to be. Already they understand the frailty of life and love, the loneliness of separation, the pain of death. With that knowledge, they have made the choice to embrace the happiness and fulfillment they know together and have asked all of you to share in their joy this day.”


Alex and Olivia were only peripherally aware of his words. They were totally focused on one another, eyes exchanging promises they had made to each other long ago and were now, finally ready to speak aloud. The priest continued to speak. “ Alexandra and Olivia have written their own vows for this occasion and it is with great pleasure that I ask them now to exchange them.”


There was a momentary lull... until Elliot elbowed Olivia and she glared at him. Then she realized the reason for it and shrugged sheepishly and bit her lip before turning back to Alex . She cupped Alex 's face in one hand and drew a deep breath to speak.


“When I was a little girl, I always wanted to be a princess; I never thought I'd be lucky enough to fall in love with one,” drawing a smile from Alex . Alex brought her free hand up to cover the hand Olivia was using to caress her face. “ Alex , you have changed so much for the better in my life. Instead of gray, I see color. Instead of despair, I know hope. Instead of loneliness, I have love and understanding in my life. I promise to love you, take care of you, lend you my strength when you're tired and comfort you when you're sick. I pledge to walk beside you until death and beyond; to fight passionately with you but to never go to bed angry. I promise to always be faithful to you alone and to be a supportive and loving spouse.” She pulled her hand from Alex 's face and captured Alex 's left hand in hers. “From the rising of the sun to the setting of the same until time is no more... with this ring, I thee wed.”


Olivia lifted their joined hands to her lips and sealed her promise with a kiss on the ring she had just placed on Alex 's finger. They stared for a long moment until the priest cleared his throat gently and brought their attention back to their surroundings. “ Alexandra ?” he prompted.


Alex cleared her throat nervously. Prosecuting criminals was much easier than baring her heart in front of so many, so she allowed her legendary focus to narrow to the brown eyes that were gazing at her filled with the same love she felt.


“You wanted to be a princess. I always wanted my very own hero, but I never expected to find one in real life - certainly not carrying a gold shield and a gun with serious brown eyes.” Olivia grinned at her and looked down bashfully until Alex lifted her chin so their eyes met again. “Liv, you brought so much into my life. Before you, I only existed. You gave my life meaning and reason and taught me that caring is worth the cost. I promise to love you, take care of you, lend you my strength when you're tired and comfort you when you're sick. I pledge to walk beside you until death and beyond; to fight passionately with you but to never go to bed angry. I promise to always be faithful to you alone and to be a supportive and loving spouse.” She turned and accepted Olivia 's ring from Liz , then slid it onto Liv's finger. “From the rising of the sun to the setting of the same until time is no more... with this ring, I thee wed.”


Alex lifted their joined hands to her lips and sealed her promise with a kiss. After another minute of silent promises, they turned back to the minister who smiled at them benevolently.


“When two people come together in love – heart to heart, body to body, soul to soul and mind to mind – they create something beautiful. I consider it a privilege to bless all these unions, and despite what bigots and nay sayers would like to believe, I don't believe God condemns love. So by the power vested in me, and in front of this vast company of family and friends, I am happy to pronounce you well and truly married to one another - to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do you part. Ladies, you may kiss your bride.”


As the sun touched the horizon, they stepped closer to one another, each of them dropping one hand to the other's hip. Using their free hand to cup the other's face, they looked into one another's eyes before brushing their lips once, twice, then allowing the kiss to become passionate. It went on until the crowd around them started to whoop and cheer. Slowly the kiss wound down and they pulled apart and leaned their foreheads together.


“I love you,” Olivia said softly. “Forever.”


Alex smirked. “Well, that's a start Detective. We can negotiate terms later. And for the record, I love you,” Alex replied.


Olivia couldn't help it – she laughed and she and Alex hugged tightly. The priest held up his hands and waited for the applause to die down. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great privilege to present to you the new Cabot-Benson family... Mrs. Alexandra and Mrs. Olivia Cabot-Benson .”


Another cheer rose and the brides, blushing and all, turned to hug Elliot and Liz before leading the crowd back to the lawn. They went straight to the cake, decorated in gold leaf and topped with a personalized topper, complete with badge, gun, briefcase and glasses of justice.


They stopped short... looking at it and exchanging smirks before turning to Munch and applauding him. He accepted the accolades from them with a bow. Then Alex and Olivia proceeded to cut the cake, feeding one another with a tender devotion most had not expected from two such volatile personalities. Then they shared a sip of champagne before walking to the dance floor hand in hand.


Alex smiled when the song started playing and rested her forehead against Olivia 's. Liv had asked to be able to choose the music for their first dance together. Tim McGraw 's voice washed over them and they moved around the floor in a world of their own.


“You think they'll last?” Kathy asked Elliot as Alex and Olivia slowly danced to the music.


“I think they have a better chance than most,” he answered honestly. “They've been through so much just to be together. I don't think they will let anything tear them apart.”


“Like we did?” Elliot shrugged and nodded, keeping his eyes on the newlyweds. “Maybe we should try again, then,” Kathy stated matter-of-factly.


“Really?” Elliot said, raising his eyes to hers.


“Really,” she replied, wrapping her hands around his arm and leaning her head on his shoulder. He covered her hands with his and grinned. And when the song changed, he led her out onto the dance floor and they danced.


After half an hour or so, Elliot stepped to the mic and tapped his glass. “If I could have everyone's attention – before my partner and her bride take off for... parts unknown,” catching Olivia 's glare before he revealed the location of their honeymoon, “I'd like to ask you all to raise your glasses in a toast.” Everyone complied and Elliot turned to face Alex and Olivia . “To two women who mean so much to so many here and everything to each other – may your yesterdays be the worst of your tomorrows and may you always know the happiness that you feel together today. Cheers.”


“Cheers,” the assembly responded.


Alex and Liv saluted them in kind then Alex stepped up to the mic. “Thank you... all of you... for not only welcoming me back into your homes and hearts but also for sharing in this day with Olivia and me. It means a lot... to both of us to know so many people do care. Now, please – stay and enjoy our hospitality. We have a plane to catch.”


She took Liv's hand and they disappeared back into the house to prepare to leave for the airport. They had a honeymoon to start.






“That was a nice send off,” Olivia commented as she and Alex buckled in for take-off. “I wonder who came up with the idea for rose petals instead of birdseed.”


“I don't know, but I like it – much more romantic than getting pegged with birdseed.”


The plane shuddered as it rolled down the runway, and in mere moments they were airborne and headed to Italy .


When the captain issued the all clear, they unstrapped themselves and Alex moved to speak to the stewards. Then she locked the door and stalked towards Olivia like a lioness after her prey. “Now, Detective....” she said, kicking off her shoes and slowly unbuttoning her long coat. “We have quite a long flight ahead of us. Any suggestions on how we can spend our time?”


Olivia rose from her seat and slid her hands over Alex 's bare skin, running them up from her waist in a teasing pattern until she reached Alex 's breasts. She let her thumbs torment the hardened nipples still hidden beneath lace before they moved on to trace the prominent collarbone and up to the strong, firm jaw. When she reached Alex 's lips, Liv gasped when her fingers were sucked into the hot, wet cavern of Alex 's mouth as Alex showed her exactly what her ideas for passing the time involved.


After a moment of this intimate seduction, Olivia 's lips replaced her fingers and she pushed Alex 's open jacket to the floor and opened the lace bra that stood between her and her first goal of the evening. It took her a minute to realize that while she had been focused on getting Alex naked, Alex 's focus had been on achieving the same with her, and their torsos met in an explosion of skin on skin. Alex reverently traced the scar on Olivia 's belly until, impatient with the teasing touch, Liv stripped off their pants and guided them back to the couch to explore one another to ecstasy.


They did so slowly and with great attention to detail, revisiting places with touches that caused them to shudder out their first orgasm as a married couple together. When they came down from the bliss of their union, they cuddled upon the couch and basked in the afterglow.


“God, I love you,” Liv said as she pulled a light blanket over them, having been specifically put on the back of the couch for that purpose. “Do you think it will always be so good between us?”


“No, Sweetheart,” Alex answered seriously. “I think it is only going to get better. We have a lifetime to work on it. We have a lifetime to love and explore and live like we were dying.”


“At least we know where we're involved it will never, *ever* be boring. I'm looking forward to that,” Liv confirmed.


“So am I, Liv... so am I.”


As they headed towards the dawn of a new day, Alex and Olivia settled down into a sleep no longer plagued by nightmares of the past, but dreams filled with possibilities of the future.


And on Monday morning - when Munch, Casey and Serena all walked into the precinct together sporting scarves and turtleneck sweaters - the rest were left to wonder about what other possibilities might unfold for the people who called the one-six home.



02/07 – 06/07


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