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Alex sat there staring at the folder on 'The Ghost' but couldn't concentrate any longer. She'd been completely absorbed by the information Olivia had presented her with, but she couldn't soak up any more of it. She knew what she needed to do tomorrow. What buttons she'd try to push and when. She may not be the prosecutor, but damn she was going to win this case. Except right now she was done with the case file and was left with her thoughts about the woman sitting on the couch next to her. It was the first time they'd had the chance to be alone together since this whirlwind back into reality started. She almost laughed out loud at the irony of the thought. Alone together... what an odd saying. She'd spent all this time being completely and utterly alone, regardless of who she was with. And now? At this very moment in time? Now she felt the least alone she'd felt in well over a year, all because she was in the same room as one Olivia Benson.
So how is it that the first thing she found herself rattling on about when they finally had a chance to talk was that damn claims adjuster? It wasn't supposed to come out like that and Alex was kicking herself for it. She'd picked up on Olivia's wince at the idea of them in bed together, but that wasn't what she'd been trying to emphasize. It was Emily, not Alex, who was desperately trying to claim some sense of normalcy in her life by doing what she felt it took to stay sane. Dating the guy next door in Smalltown, USA was supposed to be normal, right? But no matter how hard she tried to convince herself it was what she needed to do to suppress the desire to scream at the unfairness of it all, she never felt any less guilty about it. Never felt like she wasn't betraying everything she believed in and everyone she loved by living the lie. And by everyone, she knew it was just Liv. The woman who she associated with every pure feeling she's ever had about love or trust. But is she justified in trying to defend the distinction between Emily's actions and her own? She is Emily.
Olivia glanced over at the woman sitting next to her. Alex was sitting with her head in her hands, elbows propped up on her knees. She'd been intent on the file for a good half hour, and they'd mostly sat in silence, Alex asking for a clarification of something in the file every once in a while. But it was clear to Liv that the contents of that file weren't what had been consuming Alex's thoughts for the past few minutes. She'd definitely switched gears, and although she wasn't sure where Alex's thoughts had led her, she had a pretty good idea.
She gently placed her hand on Alex's shoulder with a simple "Hey."
Alex looked up and directly at Olivia, the conflict apparent in her eyes. "Hey."
"C'mere..." Alex couldn't resist the small tug on her arm, encouraging her to slide over ever so slightly and lean back into the crook of Olivia's arm, her head resting against her shoulder. She felt Liv shift so they were half way lying down, Alex with her feet tucked under her curled up into the warm embrace.
Liv's hand began aimlessly running through Alex's hair, and the tender caress almost sent Alex over the edge. She didn't deserve the love of this woman, not after the pain she'd seen in her eyes at her careless actions. She knew she couldn't take back what she'd done, and the realization of that combined with the feel of Olivia's touch opened up the emotional barrier she'd had in place for over a year.
Olivia's chest tightened when she caught sight of Alex's first tear flowing down her face. She'd been amazed at the strength and resolve Alex had shown since she returned. Not that she would have expected to see any different from her ADA. That's what made her who she was. But now, in their isolated room, in a small corner of the big city, they could draw comfort from each other, and for the shortest period of time, be the people no one else would ever see.
Olivia silently brushed away the tear from Alex's cheek and placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head. "I missed you."
"Really?" It was almost a whisper, and the most insecure word she'd ever uttered in her life.
Olivia was taken aback by the doubt she heard in Alex's voice. How could Alex think that she hadn't missed her? She'd thought about her constantly, wondering where she was and what she was doing. Dreaming of the moment when she would have her wrapped up in her arms.
"Yes Counselor, really. Trust me." She hoped that the certainty in her voice would convince Alex just how much she meant it. But something about what she'd just said had the exact opposite effect.
Alex's tone changed and the insecurity was gone, but it was bitterness that took over. "That's not who I am anymore, Liv, so please don't." Olivia was obviously confused at Alex's statement, but Alex didn't give her a chance to reply. She quickly sat up and looked at Liv.
"Counselor... What you called me. That's not me." She sighed in frustration and continued. "Most of the time I'm not even Alex anymore. I'm Emily from Tulsa who's dating a claims adjuster, remember? I'm sorry Liv, but I'm not the person you think you missed. I don't even know how to be that person anymore..." The frustration was quickly turning into anger, and she got up and paced towards the window, wanting nothing more than to scream.
Olivia followed her across the room, standing next to her but completely at a loss for what to say. Alex had been through so much, and Olivia couldn't stand the idea of not being able to take any of that pain away. "Alex. You have to believe me when I tell you..."
Alex turned towards her and cut her off before she could even get going. "Don't start Liv. Just don't. The 'I can relate to the victim and make her feel better' thing isn't going to work this time. I'm tired of being a fuckin' victim. But victim or not, there's no way to deny the fact that I've changed. I 'died' and the person who took my place...I don't even like her right now. She went into hiding when she should have stayed and fought like hell to keep her life. She gave up everything, but for what? It didn't help catch Velez, it didn't get justice for Livia Sandoval, and it didn't even save my mom, because while I was off hiding, she died too. I never even got to say goodbye. Don't you see Liv? Nothing I do in my life means anything anymore. You don't know me any more, so how can you have missed me?"
Olivia tried to catch up with Alex's train of thought, but the anger building up in her for everything they'd been through won out and overtook any sense of calm she wanted to display. "Alex, that's bullshit and you know it! Yeah, you changed. But people do. It's what we have to do to cope with the world we live in. You think that makes you a different person, but you're wrong! You..."
"Stop, please. I don't want to hear it. You don't think I've gone through the justifications in my head over and over again? But the truth is, no matter how much I tell myself it was the right thing to do, I know that it wasn't. It's what Emily would do out of fear. Not what Alex Cabot would have ever done. I didn't live my life in fear Liv, and now that's all I do. I hate who I've become." Olivia caught the hiccup in her voice and although she knew Alex was still angry, she felt, more than saw, the sadness that was overtaking her. Olivia didn't just want to make Alex see that she was wrong, she had to convince her that she was a thousand times stronger than she was giving herself credit for. Why couldn't Alex see in herself what was so obvious to Olivia?
"Too bad, Alex, because you need to hear it. Going into Witness Protection wasn't a cop out. It wasn't the easy thing to do. So stop feeling sorry for yourself and stop feeling guilty about choosing to live. You think that you ran away, but you didn't. You chose the only option that would allow you to come back and fight another day when the timing was right. And yes, you had to sacrifice a hell of a lot when you made that decision, but it was the right decision to make at the time. And if for one second you think you're the only one who's been a little more scared in their day to day life, or the only one who's had to compromise a bit to feel a little more normal, then you're wrong."
Alex was fuming again, not ready to completely abandon her anger. "Don't even try to pretend that you can relate Liv. You have your job, your friends, your life. You get to wake up every morning and still be Detective Olivia Benson. Not some fucked up scared version of the woman you are..."
"Damn it Alex, don't you get it? I lost you! I let you get shot, I let them take you away, and I couldn't protect you from Velez or anything else. Every day I wonder if you're safe, and I hate myself for the fact that I couldn't be the one to keep you safe. You think that didn't change me? You don't think I wake up every morning knowing in my heart that I am not the woman I thought I was? Because I thought I could protect you, and I failed. I let my guard down, and you got shot! And I am barely living without you everyday." She ran her hand through her hair, desperately trying to calm herself. She didn't want to fight with Alex. How could she make her see and understand?
Alex, amidst all her anger, was somewhat shocked that Olivia was still holding the guilt of that night. Although deep down it made sense, she was Olivia after all. The woman held on to pain like a trophy, but God, Alex didn't want to be the cause of it. "Liv, it wasn't your fault. You know that. But everything you just said, that's who you are. You care so much about people that you let things tear you apart. You haven't changed as much as you think. So please, stop. Because I'm not the person you can't live without. I'm just... lost."
Olivia wasn't about to give in. She wasn't going to stop trying until she made Alex see what she meant. So she walked up behind her and tried again. No anger, no hurt, no fear just the truth. "Alex, I'm sorry. But you have to believe me when I tell you that I missed you. Not some preconceived notion or image of you. The 'you' standing in front of me right now. The 'you' that I fell in love with. The strong, compassionate woman who came back from the dead to face her demons because she knows it's the right thing to do. The woman who knows herself so well, and is so confident in every step she takes, that the idea of not being able to be that woman one hundred and ten percent of the time drives her crazy. That's who you are Alex. I'm sorry you can't see that right now, and I wish there was something I could do to prove to you that you're not nearly as lost as you feel you are. But if you've ever trusted me, you have to believe me on this."
Alex continued to stare out the window, her arms wrapped around her stomach, protecting herself, although from what exactly, she was starting to wonder. "I can't do this Liv. I can't fall into your arms and pretend like I'm still the person I was two years ago. It's the same way I can't be Emily and pretend I'm not me. It's just too much."
"I know. And I'm not asking you to be anything you're not." Olivia slowly snaked her arms around Alex's waist, covering her arms still held protectively around her stomach. "Right here, right now, I want to help you be you. Nothing more. I promise." She felt Alex begin to relax again, and with a small tug, she was leaning back into the detective, wrapped up in her arms.
"What about what I did? With James? Doesn't it change things for you?" Olivia was floored by the fear she heard in those questions. She held on to Alex just a little tighter, pulling her just a little closer, before she answered.
"So Mr. Claims Adjuster has a name, huh?" But it wasn't in anger. The fact that she was nuzzling Alex's neck as she asked helped relieve a bit of the tension too.
"Yeah, James Carter, winner of the Wisconsin 'Average Joe' award for being...nice."
"Ah, that type." She rested her forehead on the top of Alex's shoulder blade, knowing she had to be honest with her, all kidding aside. "Alex, I'm not going to say that the idea of you sleeping with someone else was the visual I'd hoped for. So yeah, it hurt. But God, you've been through hell and back enough times, you deserve a little bit of comfort in your life. I wish I could have been the one to give it to you, but honestly, since I couldn't be there, I'm glad you found someone who could make you feel a little more... I don't know normal? I wish the circumstances were different and we could do the whole happily ever after thing. Unfortunately our timing sucks, eh?" She felt more than heard Alex chuckle, and she knew she wasn't too off base with her assumptions about why Alex had started dating this other guy. "Alex, I want us to be together, but if we can't, I never want you to feel like you have to be alone. So don't beat yourself up over it, ok?"
"Ah yes, this coming from the queen of not beating herself up over things, huh? But thank you. For understanding, and for being your amazing self." Olivia didn't have a response, but gently kissing Alex's neck seemed to be as good a response as anything.
Although distracting as it was, Alex wasn't quite ready to switch topics yet. "And Liv?"
Another small nip before she responded. "Yeah?"
"I missed you too."
Alex could feel Olivia's smile on her neck.
"Really?" If it was physically possible, Alex would have fallen even further back into Olivia's arms.
"Smartass." Alex felt Olivia smile again, Olivia's breath caressing her neck as she let out a small laugh. She shifted around in Olivia's arms so they were facing each other, still wrapped tightly in her embrace. She caught Olivia's eyes with her own, and held on. "Yes, Ms. Olivia Benson, really."
"Good, because I'd hate to be alone in my sappiness."
"God knows you wouldn't be alone there. Or anywhere for that matter." And her eyes gazed down briefly, a hint of shyness covering those beautiful blues.
Olivia placed her hand under Alex's chin, bringing their eyes back up together. "You too you know. You'll never be alone, okay?"
"Yeah, I know."
The smile was instant on both their faces. "Good. Now, Counselor, can we head back to the couch? I have to say, that was the most comfortable I've been in a very long time."
Alex caught her wording, but it didn't sound so bad anymore. Didn't make her feel so alone in her other world. "I would have to agree with that, Detective. Lead the way."
Olivia complied, taking Alex by the hand and leading her back to the couch. They resumed their earlier position, but this time there was no lingering discussion in the silence. It was just them being them, and neither could hope for anything more.
Minutes passed and they visibly relaxed into each other's embrace. Neither of their minds had stopped, but there was a calmness between them now. Alex was the first to break the silence verbalizing one more thing she'd been too worried about bringing up earlier. "Can I tell you something?"
"You scared the crap out of me yesterday."
"Scared you? I didn't see you yesterday." Olivia couldn't help but be a little confused by the statement.
"I know. But when Cragen came all the way out to Wisconsin, the only thing I could think the only reason I could figure he would come out there, personally, was because..." She paused for a second. How could she phrase it? There was no turning back now that she'd started down this path so she might as well continue. "Because I thought something happened to you. From the moment I saw them walking up the path all the way up until Cragen told me what was going on, I was holding my breath, praying that he wasn't going to tell me you were gone. And I've never felt as much fear not when Velez was after me, not when I was shot and could've died, not ever felt as much fear as I did at the thought of something having happened to you. At the idea of never getting to see you again, never getting to be here, like this, safe from the rest of the world in your arms " She trailed off, not knowing what else to say and wondering if she'd already said too much.
"I'm sorry I couldn't be the one to come out there. I pleaded with Cragen but he refused. Elliot and I were too much in the middle of everything, and he wouldn't let us go. I wanted to be there believe me. He was furious with us for not having told him. I mean I think deep down he understood, but there was no reasoning with him when it came to allowing Elliot and I to go talk to you..." She kissed the top of Alex's head, no other words coming to mind. She had wanted to be the one to go, but it was selfish. She wanted to see Alex, to be the familiar face in the sea of craziness. She hadn't even considered what kind of effect Cragen showing up unannounced, and with out her and Elliot, would have had on Alex.
"What if something does happen, Liv? And God knows I pray every day that it doesn't. But once I knew what was going on, and that you were safe, I realized there was no reason Cragen would have come out to tell me if something had happened to you. My world would fall apart, and no one would understand why, and Liv, I don't know how to live with that idea. I could face Velez, and most of the time I can handle the idea of people somewhere in the world being after me. But the idea of something happening to you and I don't know..." There was no point in finishing her sentence. What could she say? She rolled over so her head was buried into Olivia's chest, arm draped over her waist holding on like she'd never let go.
Olivia held her equally strong. She understood Alex's fears, but only because she had the exact same fears day in and day out about something happening to Alex. She didn't even know where Alex was. But every day she wondered if she was safe.
"Hey, nothing is going to happen to me. And I do enough worrying about you for the both of us, so you shouldn't let yourself get wrapped up in thoughts like that, ok?" She wanted to be comforting, but she knew they were just words.
"But the problem is that you don't worry about you. You put your life on the line all the time and if something ever happened to you, I couldn't take it Liv. And the hardest part of it all, is that no one would know to tell me. Know one gets that I can't just read it in a paper, or hear it from an agent days later. That I'm not just some former friend or acquaintance. That I have to be here, with you, for you I don't know." She sighed into Olivia's chest, spent on trying to vocalize her own thoughts. Nothing sounded right in her mind, but it was important to her and she hoped Olivia could see that.
"Alex, I told Elliot."
Alex looked up at Olivia, confusion in her eyes. She told Elliot? "What?"
"I get it Alex. It's not like I haven't had the exact same thoughts about what could happen to you. You're in Witness Protection but for the last year, all I've thought about is that you're safe, and that all I want is to see you again. But that if anything ever did happen, I'm scared that no one would know that I need to know. And the first time that thought crossed my mind, I told Elliot. Everything. How I feel about you, and about how I was pretty damn sure you felt the same way about me. And he gets it and if anything were to ever happen to me, Elliot will find you. I promise you that."
Alex sank back down into Olivia, not knowing what to say to her admission. How did she know her so well? Know how to take care of her, even when she couldn't be there to take care of her? "Liv I don't know what to say. Thank you."
"Shh... you don't have to say anything. I did it as much for me as for us. You being gone, it was killing me. Slowly and painfully and Elliot saw it all. I had to tell him everything for anything to make any sense."
"Wow. I had no idea he knew anything when he was here earlier." And at that moment she realized that Elliot Stabler had the second best poker face she'd ever seen, second only to Olivia's of course. "What did he say?"
Olivia laughed at the thought of her partner's reaction to her admission of some amazingly intense feelings for a particular ADA. "I think it was something along the lines of 'No shit, Sherlock. Is there a point to your story?'"
Alex joined Olivia in her laughter. "So I guess that explains his quick departure when you arrived."
"Oh yeah, I'm thinking he figured first time alone together, we'd be instantly jumping each other."
"Alone together..." Alex whispered.
"What?" Olivia questioned. She couldn't quite make out what Alex had just said.
"Oh... nothing. Just thinking out loud."
"Yeah..." And she was. She wasn't alone. "I love you Liv."
"I love you too babe." And they lay together feeling as complete as either had felt since this whirlwind began.
This time Olivia was the first to break the silence. "So about that 'instantly jumping each other' idea?" She couldn't keep the smile off her face at the thought of the beautiful woman currently sprawled across her.
"Could be. You?"
"Been thinking about it."
Olivia sat up, lifting Alex off her chest as she rose. She stood, pulling Alex to her feet. "Let's go, gorgeous. I've got plans for you."
"Plans, Detective? What might they be?"
"Ah, now that would be telling, wouldn't it?"
"Why yes, it would." She smiled at her partner. "So..." Alex held her hand out to Olivia, and with her one step behind, they made their way to the bedroom, to be alone together.
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