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.


Author's Notes: This fic is actually the result of writer's block on something else. It's what happens after an SVU marathon in an effort to get the mind off the block and discovering that producers and writers in all genres of television have a knack for leaving plot holes and loose ends. I have taken a few liberties – otherwise, I would simply be rewriting the episodes the way they were originally written, and where is the fun in that? It did cure the writer's block though. J


A/N 2: This was supposed to be a single, stand alone story. However, Pink and Fluffy were happy to inform me they had more to say on the subject, so this has been revised to allow for the sequel.


The Storyteller's Cardinal Rule is in effect.



By D



Unrequited love. Surely that was the most painful thing she had ever experienced, until....




She wasn't sure how it had happened. Certainly she had never planned to fall in love. Hell, the entire first year she had known the woman it seemed every moment spent in one another's presence was fighting and arguing with each other. It had been a throwaway comment from her partner that brought everything into sharp focus.


“Sounds like foreplay to me, Liv.”


Now Olivia knew Elliot had the imagination of a rock – it was what made him such a good detective. He just didn't see things that weren't there. But foreplay?? She wondered where he had gotten *that* idea. True, she and Alex had slowly, very slowly, been working towards a genuine, solid friendship both at and outside work, but that didn't make their famous arguments any less spectacular. Friends or not, there were many times they were still on opposite sides on their interpretation of the law when it came to getting the job done.


Now Elliot 's observation planted a seed, even while she brushed it off. “I think you need more sleep, El. You're starting to imagine things in your old age.”


He didn't answer verbally – he didn't need to. His smirk spoke volumes. Besides, Munch and Fin were more than happy to add to the witty repartee.


“No, he's right, Olivia . Reminds me a lot of my second wife. We got into some serious fights, but oh man... it was always a prelude to the hottest make up sex.”


Fin groaned. “God, Munch. I didn't need that visual. It's not nearly as hot as....”


“Enough, guys. Besides, who says I swing that way? What makes you think she does? I think you've just got that macho male fantasy thing going; it's making you see things that really aren't there.” There was frustration in her tone... and something else.


“Me thinks the lady doth protest too much there, Liv,” Fin said with a sly smile. Then the other half of their conversation walked in the door and took up residence leaning against Liv's desk. The three men exchanged knowing smirks and Olivia took a deep breath before bringing her eyes up to meet Alex 's and for the first time let herself imagine... possibilities.




As she had become more comfortable with her SVU ADA position, Alex had started joining them once in a while for after work drinks, and the guys issued invitations as often as Olivia did. But slowly, as their friendship progressed, Alex and Olivia began to share the occasional meal that wasn't work related. Instead, they talked about life and politics and music and theatre. Almost like a real date, Olivia mused, though she never said that much to Alex .


Despite the niggling the guys had managed to plant in the back of her mind, Olivia never allowed herself to cross the lines of friendship that she and Alex had set for one another. It was something she treasured too highly to allow the maybe of something more between them to ruin. Olivia figured friendship was enough, especially since she had no clear indication from Alex that she wanted more. She could easily explain the looks and touches between them as those that close friends shared; even Elliot couldn't convince her that there was more there than Olivia was willing to see.


“Liv? What are you so afraid of? She really does care for you. And if a happily married, Catholic man can see it....” He paused.


“I need her friendship, El... I'm not willing to risk that,” she admitted. He opened the door to the restaurant and they spotted Alex immediately. Olivia schooled her expression, but Stabler muttered ‘Wow!' under his breath. It almost made Olivia smile; red was definitely a good color on Alex . They made there way to Alex 's table, the conversation flowing between them until Alex 's date returned to the table.


Olivia 's jaw tightened and her eyes held a momentary hurt before the walls went up and her emotions were shuttered behind them. Alex watched it happen and felt the detective's warm demeanor shift to cold and curt. Her eyes followed Elliot and Olivia as they exited the building before turning her attention back to Trevor Langan .


“What a cold-hearted bitch Benson is,” he commented, picking up his napkin and replacing it in his lap. “I don't know how you can stand to work with her day in and day out.”


Alex daintily wiped the corners of her mouth before folding her napkin and laying it on the table. Then she pushed her chair back and stood. “You know, Trevor , you're an ass,” stated in unequivocal terms. “ Olivia Benson is one of the most warm-hearted, caring people I know, and she happens to be my best friend. Now, if you will excuse me, I seem to have lost my appetite.”


He thought about making a fuss, but figured making a scene wouldn't further his cause any. He let her go, and Alex walked out as quickly as she could, hoping to catch her detectives before they left. She could just see the taillight in the distance when she stepped from the restaurant and her head dropped in defeat. She had hoped.... Surely she hadn't imagined what she felt happening between her and Olivia ... had she? Alex 's shoulders slumped in defeat.




As they drove away, Elliot didn't say a word. Olivia 's silence spoke volumes.




Unrequited love. Surely that was the most painful thing she had ever experienced, until....




Loss. Surely that was the most painful thing she had ever experienced, until....




“No!! God, NO! Not now!! Not when we are so close to having everything together!!”


This wasn't how things were supposed to be; this wasn't supposed to happen. And she certainly wasn't supposed to just be gone – not like this.




Though it was nothing obvious, Alex could feel the distance Olivia was maintaining between them. Not that she could blame her, at least in one respect. Given the baby steps they had been making towards the possibility of something more than friendship between them, it had to have been completely disconcerting for Olivia to find her out on a date with a man... and especially with Trevor Langan. On the other hand, Alex thought sourly, I can't even be sure Olivia feels anything more than friendship for me. But she couldn't dismiss the truth she felt in her heart. And she knew she was going to have to be the one to take the first step if things were going to change.




“All right, gentlemen,” winking in Olivia 's direction. “Is there anything else?” Fin and Munch were already moving towards the door and Stabler headed for the coffee pot. “Do you have a minute?” Alex asked Olivia , leaning down to whisper in her ear and squeezing her shoulder lightly.


Olivia looked into Alex 's eyes, the blue orbs wide open to her at this close range. Obviously, whatever Alex had on her mind was really important to her. She found herself nodding almost before she considered the implications behind Alex 's request. Olivia stood and placed her hand at the small of Alex 's back, an automatic gesture she wasn't even conscious of making. Elliott watched, wondering what was going on. Since finding Alex on a date with Langan, Olivia had been more quiet and withdrawn. The only time she had instigated physical contact with Alex was when she was escorting the prosecutor away from the courthouse. Though come to think of it, Alex never allowed that sort of physical closeness from any of the other detectives – just Olivia .


He sighed and filled up the cup Cragen shoved in front of him. “Think they'll ever figure it out?” he asked Elliott , jutting his chin in the direction Alex and Olivia had disappeared. Stabler almost choked on the coffee he had just swallowed. The Captain clapped him on the back, then walked away before Elliott could formulate a response.


Did everyone but the two of them see what was between them?


“Detective,” Alex asked when they were a few steps away from the squad room. Olivia dropped her hand from the ADA 's back and shoved her hands in her pockets before she looked at Alex , waiting for her to speak. “Would you be available for dinner this evening? I'd like to explain to you about the other night.”


Olivia dropped her eyes back to the ground. “ Alex , you don't owe me any explanations. You're a grown woman, entitled to date whoever you'd like to without having to justify it to anyone.”


“So we have a date tonight, right?”


Olivia 's head snapped up so fast, it was a wonder it didn't fly right off. Her dark eyes met Alex 's blue, seeing hope, fear and.... Olivia was afraid to analyze it further, but what she saw made her head bob in agreement. Alex broke into a wide smile.


“Good. I'll pick you up here at six.” Then she was gone, leaving Olivia to watch her disappear with the most intriguing little grin on her face; a grin she wiped clean before returning to the squad room... and Elliot . There were some things a woman just didn't want to share with her male partner, even when that partner was her best friend. She needed time to decide what this meant – for her and for Alex .


And so the courtship dance between them began once more, only this time it was deliberate and definitely moving towards something far more intimate and permanent.


Then Velez came along.


Despite the danger Alex was in, or maybe because of it, they finally found the courage to act on their feelings. Alex had refused the offer of help or protection, but she had called Olivia later and asked the detective to come to her apartment. That night, everything between them was slow and sure and deliberate. Touches stoked the fire of their desires that had long raged between them and brought sensations, scents and sounds to the foreground, driving them both to the edge of the precipice and over it. And as their heartbeats slowed, they spoke in hushed whispers of love and possibilities. But they never made promises they weren't sure they could keep.


The following evening, that future and those possibilities were lost in a haze of gunfire and a wash of blood.

“ Alex . No!  No, no, no, no, no, no!!  No, no, no.  Somebody call an ambulance!  Call 911 now!   Alex .  It's okay, Alex .   Alex , look at me. It's okay, sweetheart.  Stay with me.  Stay with me.  Stay with me, Alex . They're coming right now. You're gonna be okay.   Alex , you're gonna be okay.  Look at me.  You're gonna be just fine.  You're gonna be just fine.  Now, just stay with me. Alex , Alex , Alex , Alex .  It's okay.  Look at me.  Look at me.”

The look on the doctor's face as he stepped from the trauma room said it all and Olivia crumpled. This couldn't be happening... not now. Not since we finally admitted the truth of the love between us. Then came Hammond 's cryptic message and Elliot and Olivia headed out to meet him.


When Alex stepped out of the SUV, Olivia started crying and Alex couldn't stop the tears from glistening in her own eyes, though she didn't permit them to fall. “I am so sorry about all this.”


“Your funeral is tomorrow.”


“And you're both expected to attend.  For the time being, Ms. Cabot 's better off dead.  If Velez can get to Zapata , he can get to her.” The instructions from Hammond sounded suspiciously sympathetic.


“Witness protection,” Stabler commented.


“Until Velez is extradited or otherwise dealt with.”


“How long?” Olivia asked, looking at Alex who had no answer to give her. Then the feds were hustling Alex away and Olivia and Elliot watched until they were out of sight. “No!! God, NO! Not now!! Not when we were so close to having everything together!!” Elliot held her as she cried.


This wasn't how things were supposed to be; this wasn't supposed to happen. And she certainly wasn't supposed to just be gone – not like this. It would be a while before the loss and pain and anger she felt simply became emptiness.




Loss. Surely that was the most painful thing she had ever experienced, until....




Betrayal. Surely that was the most painful thing she had ever experienced, until....




Olivia couldn't believe her ears. She had waited so patiently for Alex to come home only to hear that it didn't matter - *they* didn't matter anymore in Alex 's new life.


“I've been seeing someone. He's a good man. And he... he holds me at night and calls me... Emily .” She never got a chance to finish; never actually realized she'd lost Olivia in her rambling until she spoke.


Olivia schooled her features, unwilling to let Alex see just how cutting her casual words were. “It's hard being someone you're not.” She moved out of Alex 's range and looked out the window, careful to keep her eyes off her former... your former what, Liv? You never made promises to one another. You never made it that far. She broke into whatever inane remarks Alex was directing towards her about her current lover. She really didn't want to hear it.


“Look, Alex ,” she said without ever turning away from the window. “I'm... I'm... glad you've found... someone... and I hope you'll be... very happy with him.” Olivia drew a deep, shuddering breath. ”But I think you should probably turn in before your big appearance in court tomorrow.” She crossed to her bag and retrieved a file, blowing out a breath before extending her arm. “Here - you didn't see this,” handing her Connor's file.


Alex looked at Liv in shock and disbelief as she thumbed through the pages. Olivia had risked her job to give Alex this inside look at the man who had tried to kill her. She felt hope blossom briefly... before it was abruptly crushed by Olivia 's next statement.


“Just some light bedtime reading. You take the bed; I'll be fine here on the couch. Good night.”


The words were so final, they made Alex 's breath catch in her chest. She had hoped she and Olivia could stay up and talk... get back some of what they had lost together in the agonizing months they had been separated... maybe share some of what life had been like for both of them since her departure. Had she misread the situation between them so badly? Had their friendship before meant so little to the detective that she no longer wanted to spend any time with Alex ? Had their one time together as lovers simply been just that... a one night stand? Disheartened, she let her shoulders slump, feeling a palpable sense of loss – more than she had when she'd been whisked into witness protection. At least then she could relive the memories they shared. If she couldn't keep Olivia in her memories, what was left?? She felt her world shattering.


“Good night, Liv,” she replied disconsolately. She went down the hall to the bedroom, realizing she had never quite made it into Olivia 's bed, and now felt there was precious little chance of it ever happening. Then she made a decision and quietly turned away from the bedroom door before slipping silently back down the hall to watch Olivia unobserved.


Had she not been looking for it, Alex never would have seen the strong shoulders shudder with silent sobs. It almost broke her resolve. She nearly rushed over to Olivia and just held on until she could make Olivia listen to her. Given a chance, Alex knew they could figure things out together – even if it meant she stayed in Manhattan instead of returning to the witness protection program. Instead, knowing she couldn't put Olivia in danger like that, Alex dropped her blonde head and she turned back to the bedroom, leaving the detective to her private grief.


Elliot was waiting for her the next morning when Alex got up. Olivia was gone.




They heard the footsteps coming down the hallway, and Olivia 's shoulders slumped in defeat when she realized it was a single set and they were distinctly male. Agent Hammond stepped into the squad room and looked around at each of the detectives before gazing directly into Olivia 's dead eyes. It was all he could do not to flinch when he met them.


"Where's Alex?"


“Marshals are moving her and Antonio to new identities. She said to tell you goodbye.”


Olivia didn't say anything else; she simply retrieved her coat and walked out the door. Elliot made a move to follow, but a touch on his arm stopped him and he brought his eyes up to meet Hammond 's. He jerked his arm away and started out again.


“Let me, Detective. Please. I have a private message for her,” he added in a lower voice.


Elliot nodded and Hammond scurried out the door after Olivia , followed by Stabler at a slightly more leisurely pace.


Hammond saw Olivia hit the sidewalk and knew if he let her get away, he had little chance of tracking her down in the city. Agent or not, this was her home turf and as a detective, she certainly knew how to blend in if she needed to.


“Detective Benson !”


Olivia hesitated, wanting nothing more than to disappear, but knowing that just meant another visit from the agent if there was something he really needed from her. So she waited, and Hammond hastened down the steps.


“I'm sorry to hold you up, Detective, but I had a message I was asked to deliver to you privately,” extracting an envelope from his inside coat pocket and pressing it into her hand.


Olivia recognized it immediately. She had seen that handwriting cross her desk numerous times during Alex 's tenure as the SVU ADA and there was the faintest hint of familiar scent....


He waited silently, expectantly, having been given specific instructions to hang around for a response. What he got was not what the reaction he anticipated.


Olivia took a long, deep breath and tucked the envelope back into the breast pocket of his coat. “Goodbye, Agent Hammond . Please tell Alex I really do wish her well in her new life.” Then she turned and walked down the sidewalk, slipping into the masses of people without a backwards glance.


Hammond dropped his head to his chest then looked at a car parked nearby. He could have sworn he saw her tears from where he stood. He didn't even flinch when Detective Stabler came up behind him, eyes firmly locked on his grieving partner. Hammond pulled the envelope from his pocket and passed it to Elliot .


“I don't suppose you'd be willing to hang onto this until she's ready to read it?”


Stabler didn't even look at it; he simply tucked it into his own coat and walked back up the stairs without speaking. There was nothing anyone could say to make this right again.




Betrayal. Surely that was the most painful thing she had ever experienced, until....




Cast away. Surely that was the most painful thing she had ever experienced, until....




“Hey, Liv... did you hear the latest?”


Olivia looked up at her partner, a little annoyed he'd interrupted her train of thought for whatever new gossip he wanted to share. It wasn't like she cared, really, but Elliot continued to make sure she knew what was going on in the office outside the job and she didn't want to hurt his feelings. With his separation from Kathy and the likelihood of a divorce, he was having issues enough of his own without continually worrying about her. And God knew he did enough of that anyway – he cared too much - and had since Alex had disappeared out of their lives... again. So much so that Olivia had been compelled to talk to Kathy to make sure she wasn't part of the reason behind their break-up.


She had been gratified to know that Kathy not only didn't blame Olivia for her marriage trouble, but that she and Elliot were in counseling even though they were still separated. Kathy also sympathized with Olivia over the loss of Alex and confided it had been one reason she'd agreed to at least try to talk through things with Elliot . That had surprised her actually – it wasn't like they had been much of anything to one another to the outside world... except best friends , Olivia thought bitterly. No one knew we were one-time lovers . Not that she didn't treasure that friendship and all it had been, but they had been on the cusp of something more and it had been stolen from them. Worse, it had changed the people they had been, and Liv wasn't really sure she liked the person she had become in Alex 's absence. But she didn't seem to be able or inclined to do anything about it either. She wondered if Alex ever thought about her... about them... and what could have been.


Olivia returned her attention to Elliot who was watching her with the oddest look on his face. “I'm not even gonna ask where you just went off to.” She cocked a questioning eyebrow at him. He shook his head. He knew better than to tease Olivia when she got that expression; it always meant Alex had been close in her thoughts. And while she didn't take kindly to being teased at any time, it was worse when it had anything to do with Alex . On the other hand....


“Velez is dead.”


“And here they went and made you a detective sergeant for those skills? El, if that's the latest you've got, you're even further behind than I am. Velez died three months ago.” Twelve very long weeks, as it became completely apparent that Alex was never coming home.


Stabler chuckled. “No, I knew that, but do you know what that means?”


“One less open case for us to worry about?” She was trying very hard not to be sarcastic, but when Alex had been put into witness protection more than two years prior, her job had been all Olivia had allowed herself. And she'd focused all her energy on it. She had known the minute Velez had been killed and by whom.


But as the days had passed and she'd gotten no word from Alex ... no word from Hammond about Alex ... Olivia realized that there wasn't going to be one. Alex had obviously made the decision to remain as whoever she was now instead of returning to her life as ADA Alexandra Cabot.


The look on Elliot 's face was one of exasperated amusement. “Cute, Liv. It means....”


" Elliot , Alex is never coming back. She has a new life now and we're not part of it.” Stabler had never realized just how much pain and anger could be put into a harsh whisper until just that moment.


“That's odd,” he said with a smug look on his face. “Latest word is she's the new ADA Bureau Chief. Started this morning.” He took a deep breath. Though he didn't relish the next bit, he didn't want her to hear this part through the office grapevine either. She deserved better than that, and she would hear this – no doubt about that. “She's engaged to be married, Liv... guy named Robert , I think.”


He'd known that the few dates she'd had accepted after the Connors case had been her effort to forget what Alex obviously still was to her... in her heart and in her life. But the look on Olivia 's face made him instantly sorry he'd said anything. When the blood drained out of her olive-skinned complexion, it became a green color that quite frankly, scared him to see on his partner. Immediately, he moved to her side of the desk and knelt beside her chair, taking a suddenly cold hand in his own.


“Liv? Olivia , look at me!”


“What did you just say?” her voice barely a whisper now.


Stabler closed his eyes. He hadn't wanted her to hear about this from anyone but him or Alex , but this was far harder than he'd imagined it to be. He didn't know what kind of reaction he'd been expecting, but this one certainly wasn't what he had hoped for. He'd watched Olivia exist from day to day for the past thirty-three months, though it had gotten noticeably worse after Alex 's brief appearance for the Connor's case. He wondered what had happened to his partner during that brief interlude that had killed all the hope she'd found and held onto once they'd known Alex was alive and going into witness protection. Something fundamental had changed, but Liv had never shared what.


More than once he had been tempted to open the envelope Hammond had left in his care, but it was obviously a private missive from Alex to Olivia . He had wanted to give it to her, had even tried once, but Liv had returned it without a second glance. Then she glared at him as she made him understand what a bad idea it would be to ever try it again.


Elliot drew a deep breath and pulled out the envelope that held Alex 's note from nearly a year before and put it on Olivia 's desk. Then he met Liv's eyes, and it was all he could do not to flinch from the burning in them. “I said Alex is back and starting work as an ADA Bureau Chief today.


“I see,” she said, removing her hand from his. “Would you excuse me, El? I think I need some air.” She snatched up her leather jacket and walked calmly out the door. Stabler blinked his eyes, snatched up the letter and grabbed up his own coat before following, flipping his phone open to call Casey Novak . Someone needed to let Alex know that Olivia was headed her way.


Elliot caught up with Olivia shortly after she hit the sidewalk heading to the DA's office. He didn't say anything; there was really nothing he could say to alleviate the emotions he could feel rolling from her. He was there simply for support and to watch his partner's back. For her part, Olivia was grateful for his presence and his lack of words.


She didn't even wonder when they were met by building security and escorted to Alex 's new office digs. She'd expected as much, knowing Elliot would do everything in his power to make this as easy and private as he possibly could. The guard knocked once as though he was expected and then opened the door for Olivia to step past him into the inner sanctum. Elliot took a seat in a chair outside the door.


Olivia stepped into the office with her hands jammed into the pockets of her coat. She stared for a long moment at the woman who for so long had completely owned her heart and for the better part of the last nearly three years had occupied her mind as well. Alex looked good, Liv admitted to herself, though she couldn't imagine Alex as less than stunning. She was different, however; uncomfortable, almost - with a cool wall up in her eyes and a stiffening in her posture Olivia hadn't seen directed towards her since their first initial meeting. She wondered what she'd done to rate that reaction from Alex , then stiffened her own spine, accepting the new truth between them with no outward indication of the turmoil she felt.


“So, it's true, huh? You came back home and we didn't even rate a damn phone call?? Don't... please,” Olivia said, her tone becoming a whisper and holding up a hand when Alex drew a breath to speak. She drew her own shuddering breath and looked down at the floor, unwilling to hold Alex 's gaze any longer. “I just needed to see it for myself. I guess I should have taken that not-so-subtle hint you gave me months ago when you told me you'd found a ‘good man'. I didn't realize that meant the complete exclusion of the rest of us from your life if and when you came back... home. On the other hand, it's probably just as well.”


Alex 's eyebrow went up in question but Olivia didn't see it. Her focus was still pointedly on her feet. She gave an answer anyway, though still not the one that Alex was looking for.


“I really did mean it when I wished you well in your new life, Alex . That was all I ever wanted; I had just hoped it might include me someday, and now I see that's not possible.” She shrugged. “All things considered, though, it's probably for the best,” she reiterated, trying desperately to convince herself.


“Liv, this isn't about you; it never was.” Alex spoke for the first time and realized her error immediately, but it was too late.


Olivia 's dark head shot up. “I *know* it's not about me, Alex . I was hoping it was about us, but there never really was an us either, was there? Just one night....” She shook her head to keep the tears from forming. “I'm sorry to have troubled you, Counselor. It won't happen again.”


“Liv, wait!!” Alex and Elliot called after Olivia in an eerie duet. Olivia was out the door before Alex could circle her desk. Alex heard Elliot call out to her and she sent him after Olivia . The next thing she heard was Stabler's footsteps racing to catch up to his erstwhile partner, and she closed her eyes and took a deep, shaky breath. This wasn't at all the way she'd imagined their reunion to be, and it was going to take more than a minute to recover from it. Alex knew Elliot would keep an eye on Olivia until she got her equilibrium back and was ready to approach Sergeant Benson .


For his part, Elliot jumped from his chair as soon as the door reopened. He hadn't been expecting it; there hadn't been any screaming or cursing, and Liv hadn't been in there long enough for them to talk or make-up or anything along those lines. With more than two and a half years of silence between them, a solid month wouldn't have been enough for that. So she was out the door and halfway to the elevator before he called out, “Liv, wait!!” hearing the odd echo coming from behind him. He stuck his head in Alex 's door. “ Alex ?” Concern colored his voice when he noticed her pallor.


She waved him off. “Keep an eye on her, Sergeant. I need a minute to catch my....” She covered her eyes with her hands. “Please, Elliot . I'll be all right.”


He looked doubtful, but the truth was he was even more concerned about his partner. So he nodded and took off down the hall, catching up to Olivia coming out of the stairwell as the elevator reached the ground floor. He'd been lucky. Then they walked out the door and down the steps before she turned to him and spoke.


“ Elliot , you're my best friend and my partner, but right now I need some space. Please tell the cap I'm taking a couple days to clear my head. Don't worry,” having correctly read the fear in his eyes, “I'm not going to do anything stupid,” handing him both gun and badge. “I just need a little time to process everything and I need to be alone to do it.”


He nodded, hating the possibilities left open by accepting her hardware, but understanding her reasons. “Can I ask where you're heading?”


“Home for now. After that... the park... a bar... Canada ? I dunno. As soon as I figure out what's going on, though, you'll be the first to know.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek, squeezing his arm in goodbye. Then she walked away from the DA's office without a backwards glance.




Cast away. Surely that was the most painful thing she had ever experienced, until....




Hope . She'd had hope for a future together, until....




“Leave the bottle.”


Sean eyed the detective dubiously. He could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times Olivia Benson had had more than a couple beers. She was very mindful of what had killed her mother and as a result kept a very tight reign on her own drinking except after the very worst cases. However, she'd only requested the bottle after he poured her third shot, so he figured she was trying to forget something serious by getting falling down drunk.


“You got someone to take you home tonight, detective?”


She patted his hand. “ Sean , do you see the nice young man in the corner back there trying to blend in? He's drinking a beer, I think.” Sean glanced up and back to Olivia so smoothly, she wondered if he'd ever considered being a police officer. He nodded and she smiled at him. “He's the babysitter my illustrious partner has keeping an eye on me. I'm sure he'll make sure I get home safely.”


Sean released the bottle. “All right, detective. As long as you're covered....”


“She is.” The voice behind her made Olivia freeze. “I'll have the same thing she's having,” Alex said as she took the seat beside the detective. Olivia didn't turn her head, but immediately threw the next shot down her throat and poured another. Alex 's long fingers covered the top of the glass.


“We need to talk.”


“We already did.”


“No. You did. Now it's my turn.”


“Counselor, if it's all the same to you.... Look, I get it. You don't have to keep explaining it to me, all right? Now, please. I'd like to get drunk in peace.”


“I am not concerned with your desire to get drunk, detective. Now you can come with me peaceably back to your apartment and let me have my say or I will ask the very kind officers who accompanied me here to escort us. Your choice.”


It was silent for a very long time before Olivia sighed. “ Sean , keep my bottle for me, will ya?” He nodded and pulled it away from her, screwing the cap on and tucking it under the counter. “Thanks, Sean . You're a good man,” feeling Alex flinch beside her with her choice of words and just not caring. “C'mon, Counselor. Let's go. I have a bottle to finish,” dropping enough money on the bar to cover her and Alex 's drinks.


Olivia was only a little unsteady on her feet but she kept her hands wedged in her pockets to keep from reaching out to Alex . It was only a block or so before they were climbing the steps and Olivia was struggling to get the key in the door to let them in. Not unkindly, but with just a touch of impatience Alex took the keys and unlocked the door herself.


The place was scrupulously neat. Cleaning had been one of the ways she had marked her time away from work. She took Alex 's coat and hung it up beside her own. Having Alex here, after all this time, and after what she'd said earlier made Olivia a little uncomfortable, but....


“You want something to drink?”


“No, thank you. I'd like you to sit down and give me your attention. I think you owe me that much.”


A myriad of retorts came to Olivia 's lips, but she bit them back and shrugged. “I need to get some water then.” And she slipped into the kitchen. She stood with the refrigerator door opened and downed half a bottle of water before grabbing a second and moving back out to her living room... and Alex. Olivia gestured to Alex , offering her a choice of seats and taking the room's only chair when Alex took a spot on the far end of the couch.


Then the room lapsed into silence. Finally Olivia couldn't stand it any longer.


“Counselor, I hate to seem impatient, but I thought you wanted to talk. If you'd rather just sit here quietly, I'll be happy to leave you alone and go back and finish my bottle.”


“NO! You're going to listen to me, Benson,” dredging up her ADA persona with startling ease and standing up as though she was going to argue a case. “You owe me!” she reiterated. This time Olivia did not let it pass by without comment and she rose to her feet as well.


“I *OWE* you??? *I* owe *you*??? How in the HELL do you figure that, huh??? Dammit, Alex !! You basically told me to get out of your life. You made the decisions that led to our separation; even when I asked, you wouldn't pull back until it was too late – too late for you and too late for us. We finally... and then it was too late. And I couldn't protect you! I couldn't protect you, and you had to die!! Then you found someone else, and you still think I owe you??” She took a deep breath and Alex just waited, stunned by the turn of events. She doubted she would have heard any of this if Olivia hadn't already had several drinks in her. Liv resumed speaking a little more calmly after a moment. “I'm sorry, Counselor. I'm sure I sound very selfish; I guess I am. But having you back here again, knowing I failed and it cost me everything... it wouldn't have been so hard for me if you had stayed in witness protection. I could keep pretending you would one day come home to me.”


For a very long moment, the only sound in the room was that of heavy breathing as the two faced off with one another. Then Alex smiled.


“Detective,” Alex said in a calm, clear voice. “I know you never read that letter,” dropping the sealed, tattered envelope onto the table. She reached out towards Olivia , then stopped before she made contact. “Stubborn... I am curious how someone as dense as you seem to have become made sergeant,” smiling slightly at the look of outrage that crossed Olivia 's face. “God knows I love you, Liv, but you don't make it easy sometimes." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Especially when I know that everything that happened to separate us is my fault!! Mine, Olivia – not yours!!” For the first time since the lawyer emerged, Alex looked uncertain, her voice suddenly filled with pain. She held out her hand again and Olivia noticed it was shaking. She took it in her own, latching on to the most important part of Alex's words, the fury in her eyes becoming something much softer.


“Still? You still love me?”


“Always, Liv. It's why I came home. Don't you still love me?” a little uncertainty in her voice.


“I never stopped – not even.... Alex , all I ever wanted was your happiness. I know we never made promises... we only had one night together before.... But I always hoped that your happiness would eventually include my having a place in your heart and in your life. I'd thought we were working towards something more permanent between us before Velez and it hurt so much to find out... to think.... I'm sorry for making assumptions. I just....”


“Shh... no, sweetheart; you didn't. What I said to you before... about my good man... was completely misleading. I actually like the possessiveness you show towards me. I just don't think either of us imagined the changes our separation could cause us." She sat down, suddenly exhausted. Olivia sat down next to her, inordinately pleased when Alex curled up into her as had been their custom before. The comfort and familiarity of the action put twin smiles on both of their faces. The expression had become so unfamiliar, it hurt.

They were silent for a long time, but this time the silence between them was comfortable and they absorbed strength from one another. Finally, Alex spoke softly. “What you and I have... what I want us to have... is intensely personal. You have always been part of my life - even when we were fighting; even when we were just friends. And there will always be a place for you in my life. Being separated from you gave me plenty of time to realize the truth - 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 the answer without hesitation. “In whatever capacity you need me in, Alex. If you want to talk or if you need some space to adjust to being Alex Cabot again... even if we need to take things slow and just be friends for now – I just want to know there is a chance for us... a place for me in your life somewhere.”

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. I want to stay like this with you forever."

It was almost a proposal, but Olivia wasn't going to jump the gun on this, not given their fragile emotional states. There would be time for proposals and promises tomorrow; tonight was about reconnecting. She 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.

There was more that needed to be worked out between them. And the time would come when they would need to say the words, but for now the sensations they were creating between them were enough. Finally, there was hope for a real future again.

Hope . She'd had hope for a future together, until.... Until her hope became her reality and life was worth living once more.





Return to the Annex