DISCLAIMER: Law & Order and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and its characters are the property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Listen to Ravel's Bolero for Chapter Eleven. Also, starting in Chapter Twelve, several lines of dialogue and scenes are taken from the L&O SVU episode: Trophies. No copyright infringement is intended.
SPOILERS: SVU through season 12 (including Loss, Ghost, and beyond)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To raedmagdon[at]yahoo.com
By Rae D. Magdon
Sliding one leg onto the bed and curling her knee, Alex reached down to undo her right garter clip Jesus, she had been so busy watching Alex's face that she hadn't even noticed the matching garter set and slowly, teasingly, she pulled the stocking down, lifting her leg and pointing her toe until the silky material was peeled back, revealing inch after inch of pale, smooth flesh. As the rich alto voice of a clarinet took over the melody, Alex went to work on her other stocking, keeping direct eye contact with the camera as she pulled it over her calf and past her ankle, letting it dangle from one toe for a moment before tossing it carelessly onto the foot of the bed.
The music changed, becoming high and bluesy, a desperate, seductive cry descending into a whisper, but Olivia's mind barely registered the modulation. Instead, she was watching Alex's slender hands as they lifted the hem of the white tank top, displaying the twitching muscles of her stomach as she climbed fully onto the bed, leaning forward to give her enraptured audience of one a teasing glimpse of her cleavage before kneeling and turning around.
"Oh God," the detective groaned, her eyes absorbing every detail as Alex pulled off the shirt, showing the naked expanse of her back and the wings of her shoulder blades, which Olivia desperately wanted to kiss. As if in answer to the words, the blonde turned around and gave her lover a seductive smile from over her shoulder, blue eyes half-lidded and clouded with lust.
Olivia licked dry lips as Alex slowly turned forwards again, revealing high, firm breasts and obviously excited pink nipples. The brunette's fingers twitched as she imagined cupping them, using her mouth on them, kissing everywhere around the attorney's chest and shoulders... as if she had read Olivia's mind, Alex's hands came up to squeeze her own breasts, closing her eyes and tilting her chin back as a smile played over her lips. The flute returned, this time with a distant trumpet, and Alex's eyes finally opened for a moment and locked with Olivia's over time and space, saying without words everything that Olivia longed to hear: I love you. I miss you. These hands are your hands. This is really you touching me.
Before she realized what was happening, Olivia's fingers were fumbling with the button and zipper to her slacks, sliding into her pants without her permission. She paused, hand shaking, more than a little embarrassed and not sure if she could or should continue. But this wasn't some shady sex video on the Internet. This was special, something Alex had made just for her, and damn it, she was going to enjoy her present. If this was the closest she could come to touching Alex for the next few weeks, she would take it. And right now, it looked and felt pretty damn amazing.
A saxophone called out, singing over the orchestra, sighing, almost crying for a lover's touch. And that was when the prosecutor slid one hand down her stomach, across her abdomen, breaking her path and pausing to swirl around her navel before dipping just below the elastic of her panties, painting a line from hip to hip.
Olivia chewed on the corner of her mouth, making a soft, desperate sound of joy in the back of her throat as Alex spread her legs. For once, she completely approved of Alex's expensive taste in computers, because the resolution was perfect. She could see everything, the dark patch of wetness coating the red underwear, the curved outline of Alex's outer lips, the texture of her skin, God, everything. For a moment, she felt like she was really there, that she could even smell her lover, taste her...
And that was when Alex's hand crept beneath her underwear, cupping herself fully, groaning as her fingers met slick warmth. Without consciously choosing to do so, Olivia copied her, sliding fingers against her own swollen flesh, gasping at the amount of wetness she felt. A trombone's slide mirrored the slide of Alex's underwear as the attorney peeled it off, dragging it down to her knees and finishing the job with her legs, bringing the hand that she had been using to touch herself up to her mouth and swirling her tongue around her fingers, tilting her head back to reveal the vulnerable curve of her swan's throat.
Christ. Alex was completely naked. Alex was completely naked and touching herself in a video she had made just for Olivia. Just because she loved her. That thought made Olivia's hips jerk against her hand, and she almost closed her eyes and whimpered, but stopped herself at the last possible second, not wanting to miss a moment of the show even though she could replay it as many times as she wanted.
Oh God, replay... The thought that she could save and keep this present to watch as often as she liked made Olivia's heartbeat spike.
Her gaze locked on the computer screen, she watched Alex spread her legs again, revealing all of herself to Olivia's hungry eyes. Even though it was not the first time, the sight made the detective's eyes sting a little. Every inch of Alex was perfect; her hips, her thighs, the soft, neatly cropped strip of golden curls just above smooth, bare lips, lips that peeled apart to show pink, glistening inner folds, glossy and smooth like the inner sweep of a seashell.
Olivia's formerly dry mouth began to water and she wetted her lips as memories of making love to Alex crashed over her in waves. In the video, she was sure Alex was thinking about the same thing, because she was lost in her fantasy, fingers slipping hungrily in and out of her folds as she imagined that her hand was Olivia's, that her lover was really there with her.
The entire orchestra was playing now, crescendoing and then fading in swells of sound, echoing the call from earlier and washing over Olivia as pleasure washed over Alex, who purposely arched her hips up, eyes still locked on the camera as her thumb swiped over the swollen bud that was clearly aching to be tended to. Her eyes said: this is all for you, Olivia. This is how you make me feel when you're with me.
And knowing that when Alex came home, she could make full use of the gorgeous body on display sent Olivia's inner muscles into tight, coiling spasms. But it wasn't enough, never enough. Still twitching, she watched as Alex reached for something behind her pillow, pulling out the object and holding it up for Olivia to see.
The sight of the familiar red Jackrabbit was exciting and erotic. It had resided in Alex's bedroom drawer for the past year, even before she had started seeing Olivia, but the detective had been more than happy to use it on the blonde once she discovered its hiding place. The knowledge that they had shared this particular device made Alex's choice seem even more intimate.
When the attorney took the tip of it in her mouth, cheeks hollowing as she wrapped her tongue around the shaft, Olivia nearly fell out of her chair. That was something she had never imagined she would find enjoyable at least not until meeting Alex. In fact, the adventurous blonde had been the one to suggest using her mouth on their strap-on even though Olivia couldn't feel it... well, Alex had never really 'suggested' it, she had just gone and done it, and the visual stimulation and pressure between her legs had brought her closer to the razor's edge than she had imagined just as they were doing now.
Having made her point, Alex gave the toy's flared head one last kiss before she trailed it down the side of her throat and circled one breast, making sure to keep her legs spread in order to offer her lover the best possible view. When she finally moved back between her thighs, Olivia temporarily forgot how to breathe. And when Alex switched it on, letting the low hum accompany the rhythmic pulsing of the orchestra in the background, Olivia suddenly remembered that her body needed air and started gasping.
Every image, every small detail enraptured and enthralled her, building her need higher. Alex's touches were rough, possessive, coaxing, just as she imagined Olivia's might be. Her breath hitched and she let out a soft mewl as the first inch of the rabbit slid inside of her, making the muscles of her thighs jump. Olivia groaned, squeezing with her hand and biting furiously at her lower lip, forcing her eyes to stay open even though they were starting to burn. She was afraid to blink, unwilling to miss a single moment.
When the entire toy was fully embedded, Alex gave it a little extra shove, letting her hips take the pressure and sighing as the extension made small, tight circles over the bundle of nerves straining to be touched.
And then she started thrusting Oh God, thrusting dragging it in and out, rocking her hips to meet each press. Her blonde hair came out of its loose knot as the back of her head rubbed against the pillows, tumbling over her shoulders in a cascade, and it only made her look more desperate, more wild, more needy.
But the best part. The best part was that she was mouthing Olivia's name.
When the orchestra built up to a final fortissimo, cymbals crashing, Alex's body stiffened, her muscles locking up tight as the shuddering pulses of her orgasm ripped through her, tearing down the last of her defenses and finally making her scream. And it was the most beautiful sound Olivia had ever heard, because she knew it was for her. Just the sight of Alex's release was enough to trigger her own, and she finally gave in to temptation and closed her eyes for the briefest moment, her body overcome with sharp, stabs of pleasure. She did not need to see the image of her lover's climax was seared into her mind and memory.
The music's final chord melted away, leaving only the gentle hum of the toy as Alex's body twitched with aftershocks and soft, contented murmurs of pleasure. It took both of them a while to recover, and Olivia was grateful that Alex had not edited this part out piecing herself back together, relaxing in the warm glow of the gift she had just shared.
Suddenly remembering where she was and what she was doing, Alex seemed to come back to herself, adjusting her crooked glasses and giving Olivia a bright, beaming smile. "I hope you got as much pleasure out of that as I did," she said. The detective caught the small movement of her hand and read the thought as it crossed Alex's mind. She was feeling a little exposed, a little raw, and was thinking about covering herself, and Olivia was touched when she didn't, leaving all of her glorious nakedness open for her lover.
"I love you..." After those quiet, sincere words, murmured in Alex's familiar, breathless alto voice, the video file cut to a close up of her lover's face. Alex was still topless, but she was wearing a fresh blue thong and her hair was pulled back again. "Hope you feel a little better now, baby," she cooed, blowing Olivia a kiss over the tips of her fingers. "I'll be home and back in your arms soon." For a moment, the unguarded expression of loneliness on Alex's face made Olivia's heart stutter, and she wanted to reach through the computer and hug her.
But soon, the 'I-miss-you' expression was replaced by a 'this-is-me-being-serious' expression, one that Olivia was very familiar with. She automatically straightened in her chair, hissing a little as her fingers brushed over still sensitive flesh. "I trust you with everything I am, Olivia, and I know you would never show this to anyone... but this is just a friendly warning: if you ever utter a word about the existence of this video to anybody, even as a joke, and especially to Munch or Abbie Carmichael, you won't be having sex with me again for the rest of your natural life. Because they will look for it."
After a brief pause to allow Olivia to digest the threat, Alex's shy smile returned. "I know I said it before, but I love you... bye..."
For just a moment, Olivia felt crushed and utterly alone as the image of Alex froze, coming to the end of the video. But she perked up immediately after she realized that she could always watch it again. And again. And again...
It was shaping up to be a really tough day for Olivia as she stared down at the unresponsive face of Joan Arliss, the woman she had hoped to interview. Her skin was a sallow pale color with streaks of yellow, but she didn't seem to be experiencing any stress. She was clean and looked relatively well cared for. The detective sighed, shaking her head slightly. Her job tended to make her pessimistic about children, the elderly, and the handicapped. She was always alert, checking for signs of abuse even when there weren't any.
The laundry cart case had spiraled into a decades-long serial killing spree that she wasn't technically supposed to be investigating. Fin had helped track down the owner of an engagement ring that they had discovered in Gambel's little trophy box by going through old police reports, but apparently, the victim wasn't able to give her any more information.
Vivian Arliss, Joan's daughter and caretaker, looked up from where she was wiping her hands on a white towel, pulling Olivia from her thoughts. She looked old beyond her years, perhaps because of stress, and she had several very visible tattoos. "And you're her sole caregiver?" Olivia asked.
Feeling where Olivia's gaze lingered, Vivian said, "what, you think because of the ink I can't take care of her? You should have seen me before I sobered up. I was a wreck."
"Sorry, I just meant that taking care of an invalid is a lot of work." Although Olivia had never had to care for someone as dependent as Joan Arliss appeared to be, she had been forced to help look after her alcoholic mother when she was just a child. Sometimes, the burden and the memories still weighed heavily on her.
"When my Dad died, I promised him that I would keep her at home for as long as I could, so I do it for him." For a moment, Olivia felt a flash of pain as she saw the smile spreading across Vivian Arliss' thin lips. Obviously, she cherished the memory of her father and remembered him with great affection. Olivia could only give Vivian a silent nod of approval. After a pause, Vivian asked, "what did you want to talk to her about?"
"We recovered your mother's engagement ring." Olivia reached into her coat pocket, pulling out a plastic bag. Vivian's eyes followed the crinkling noise, focusing on the engagement band inside.
Vivan shook her head. "I'm sorry. You must have the wrong Joan Arliss. She has hers on."
"Um, she probably replaced it. This was stolen forty years ago."
Olivia watched cautiously as Vivian took a step backwards, shaking her head in disbelief. "Really? She never said anything about it..." They both turned to look at Joan, who was still resting silently in her bed, hands folded comfortably over the sheets. The new engagement ring glinted on her finger as it caught the light coming in through the open window. "Boy, you robbery cops never give up, do you? That's a long time. Why did you go through all the trouble to track her down?"
Olivia tried not to let her discomfort show on her face. A tight, coiling fear was beginning to burn in her gut, and she had a feeling that she had just opened up a door that she wouldn't be able to close. Glancing nervously to her left, she decided to make her escape before she made things worse. Forty years ago... Vivian Arliss looked to be about forty years old... "I think I've made a mistake. I've taken up enough of your time." Her mind was racing as she turned to leave the room, going through all of the possibilities. Perhaps this was a secret that was meant to stay hidden... If Joan Arliss had been attacked, if this was her engagement ring, could Vivian be the result? Part of her didn't want to know, and part of her was terrified of not knowing. She could only imagine what Vivian might be thinking.
"Hey, wait..." She ignored Vivian's voice calling after her as she walked down the front steps, forcing herself not to look back. "Hey, Detective... Wait! What's going on?" Olivia finally turned as Vivian followed her out of the house, approaching her car. "Did something happen to my mother?"
"I was just tracing back the ring," said Olivia, brushing the anxious woman's questions aside.
"To what?" Vivian said sharply, refusing to give up. Olivia reached into her pocket, trying to pull out her keys, but ended up letting them fall back into her coat. "You're hiding something, Detective. Tell me."
Parting her lips and taking a deep breath, Olivia turned back to face Vivian Arliss. "Vivian, I'm not a robbery detective. I'm with Special Victims Unit. And your mother's ring was recovered during a recent rape and murder investigation."
Vivian's brow tightened with concern as she tried to make sense of that information. "So the victim had my mom's ring?"
"Her attacker did," Olivia corrected. She turned her head to one side, unable to meet Vivian's confused, hurt-filled eyes. "Sometimes men take a souvenir from the assault"
"Wait," Vivian interrupted. "Whose attacker? My mom's? My mom's attacker?" Olivia didn't answer. "My Mom was raped." It was a statement, not a question. "When?"
Olivia had been expecting that question next, and so she was prepared with the answer. "In February of 1970."
"1970," Vivian repeated. With an angry growl, she whirled around and headed back into the house, muttering to herself. "I was born in November of 1970... So that was nine months..." Olivia put it together in an instant, but nothing made sense anymore. If Gambel Jr. was their rapist and trophy collector, Vivian was too old to be his child and Joan was too old to be his victim. Could Gambel Sr. have started the collection before passing it on to his son? She squinted, trying to determine whether Vivian looked anything like Gambel...
What if it wasn't Gambel? There were other ways he could have gotten the box. Any rapist could have passed it to him. Olivia took a deep breath, trying to remember. What other trophies had been in the collection? A bracelet... a ring... a handkerchief...? A handkerchief. Her own mother had always carried a handkerchief. Always. Even on the night she was raped.
Suddenly, Olivia found herself studying Vivian Arliss for an entirely different reason. She and Vivian were the same age. Did they look alike? What if...
Both of them tensed as a sound shattered the awkward moment. A boy with brown hair and a yellow T-shirt was bouncing a basketball on the sidewalk, running around the side of the house from the backyard. "Mom!" he said, calling out to Vivian with a big smile.
When he approached her for a hug, the startled Vivian slapped the ball away, watching it roll to a stop on the grass of the front lawn. "Stop!" She closed her eyes, tension radiating from her body as she headed back into the house, slamming the door behind her. "Just... stop!"
It was only when Vivian was gone that the boy seemed to notice Olivia at all. He whirled on her with accusing eyes, his face angry and betrayed. "What did you do to my Mom?"
Olivia stepped away from the car, reaching out a hand, keeping her arm close to her body so that she wouldn't appear threatening. The kid was obviously upset, and she didn't want to do anything to agitate him. Sometimes, years of working with angry, scared, and abused children came in handy. "She's going to be okay," Olivia said gently. "She just... She just got some bad news and so she's a little bit upset."
Vivian's son stared at the ground, kicking his sneaker on the sidewalk in anger. "She's going to have another one of her headaches." Turning away from Olivia, he walked back the way he had come, following the line of the white picket fence. The detective let her eyes close. They suddenly felt heavy, and her shoulders slumped a little. How many times had she made that same excuse for her own mother?
"She never wants me around," he mumbled glumly. "That's why her pills make her feel better."
Staring at the boy's retreating back, Olivia knew what she had to do. This family was hurting, and she had obviously disrupted whatever fragile peace existed with her bad news.
Dr. George Huang leaned forwards on his desk, studying Olivia Benson with intense dark eyes as he tried to choose his words. "You think that Vivian Arliss is your half-sister?"
"Everything matches," Olivia protested, determined to make her case to the skeptical-looking psychologist. "After I told her about the ring, I found her drinking in the back yard and asked some questions. Both of our mothers went to the same college. They were attacked around the same time. Vivian's mother even looks like mine. She has dark hair, she's tall, she's thin... Lots of rapists have a type."
Huang shook his head, still not convinced. "The possibility is so remote..."
"We couldn't identify one of the trophies in Gambel's box," Olivia went on, ignoring him. "It was a handkerchief. My mother always carried one. What if it's hers?" The frightened question, uttered on an unsure breath, forced Olivia to break eye contact with Huang. She glanced at the wall instead, remembering.
"I wish that you had come and talked to me right after the shooting."
"I'm not imagining these details." Olivia leaned back into the chair across from Huang's desk, folding her arms over her chest and sending him a frustrated glare.
"Maybe so, but you're associating them in ways that aren't rational. Why did you tell Vivian about her mother?"
Olivia stared at him as though he had grown three heads. "I had no choice!" What did Huang think she was, crazy? Vivian had followed her out to her car and insisted that she explain herself. Did she really have a right to keep the information secret once she put the pieces together? "She demanded to know why I was there."
"Nobody forced you to tell her."
"She had to know..."
"Or did you do it for yourself?" Olivia was deliberately silent, refusing to answer the question. She didn't have an answer to give anyway. "Have you talked to Alex about any of this?"
That question was not any easier to respond to, but she tried. "No," Olivia admitted. "There hasn't been time. Besides, I'm sure she's busy... saving the world and stuff..."
"I think you should." Logically, Olivia knew that keeping all of these recent developments from her girlfriend was unwise. Emotionally, she didn't want to deal with any of it. "How are you coping with her absence, Olivia?"
"Badly," the detective admitted. "I roll over in bed and... she's not there. Then I can't fall back asleep. It's... I don't know. My life feels gray everywhere." Although the sentence seemed to make more sense in her head, Dr. Huang nodded as though he understood. Olivia wasn't sure whether he did or not. She did know one thing, however. Alex would understand. After this appointment, she had a phone call to make.
Sitting at her desk, Olivia stared somberly down at the two pictures in her hand. One was of a young, angry looking woman named Vivian Arliss. The other was Olivia's biological father, Joe Hollister. He was smiling. Sometimes that smile haunted her, and she wondered if she had inherited it. Her interview with Huang left a lot of questions racing around her mind, and she was no closer to finding answers. Most of her life had been spent seeking the answers to her questions, and sometimes she wondered what the point was.
She heard footsteps behind her, but didn't react. "Liv, it's not possible," came Elliot Stabler's deep voice as he finally approached, closing the last few feet of distance between them and standing at her shoulder.
"Yes, it is." The papers rustled as she lowered them back to the surface of her desk. "Look at Vivian, then at my father. There's a physical resemblance. My father was a junkie, and Vivian grew up to be one, too." She reached up to massage the strained muscles in her throat with her right hand. For some reason, her entire body felt sore and exhausted.
"You grew up to be a cop, so..."
Olivia ignored Elliot's attempt to comfort her. "We could get our DNA tested." Reaching into a drawer, the detective pulled out a bag with a crumpled can, showing it to her partner. "I went back to Vivian's and I grabbed this out of her garbage." She passed the evidence bag to Elliot before looking away.
"Liv, there's no way Jason Gambel crossed paths with your old man. He died fifteen years ago."
Olivia chewed on her lower lip, shaking her head and slapping her palm down on her desk in frustration. She reached for the two photographs perhaps the photographs of her only remaining family and tossed them aside.
Reaching back to stretch her shoulder, she leaned back in her chair and placed both hands above her head. Elliot leaned on her desk, perching there much like Alex Cabot had years earlier. Not quite as pretty, maybe, but at least he was there for her. Joe Hollister wasn't her family. He didn't deserve that title. And Vivian Arliss was still an unknown. But Elliot? He was her family. Her partner was like a brother to her. And Alex was the person she loved most in the entire world. That had to mean she was family. She did have a brother, Simon, even though their relationship was strained and awkward. And what about Abbie? Serena? John and Fin were her friends, too. Maybe she had more family than she thought.
"Okay, so maybe you're right. It is possible that somebody else gave Gambel those trophies, but what's the connection?" She just couldn't understand how a trophy from a rape case over forty years old had gotten into Gambel's hands. If it wasn't her father, then who?
"Gambel is scared to death of going back to prison. Why?"
Olivia gasped as Elliot's realization suddenly hit her. "His last cell mate." She stood up to join her partner. "How about if you and I try and track down a name?"
"Doesn't Meatball's Strip Club sound like a gay bar to you?" Elliot asked, forcing his eyes to take in the strippers working the poles in the dim blue light. He didn't want to look at them, but he figured it would seem odd for a man to enter a strip club without checking out the half-naked chicks gyrating on stage. Strippers weren't really his thing. Too many unpleasant associations.
He and Olivia were both slightly uncomfortable in this environment, not sure what to expect. Jason Gambel's credit card had gotten a hit here, and Cragen gave them the go-ahead to follow up. However, before they left, Olivia and Elliot had printed out the name and criminal record of Jason's last cellmate a guy by the name of Walter Burlock. He was the right age, and according to his sheet, had just been released from prison. If their suspicions were right and Burlock had given Gambel the box of trophies, he could easily be using Gambel's credit card as well. A strip club like Meatball's seemed more in line with Walter Burlock's tastes than the timid Gambel's anyway.
"It does sound like a gay bar," Olivia said, sounding amused about something for the first time in days. "Not that I've been to a lot of those," she added.
"I'm sure you haven't been to a lot of bars like this," Elliot said. "Hopefully, you picked up your dates at higher class places than this joint."
"Well, does the DA's office count?" Olivia quipped.
Elliot smiled, glad to see his partner's sense of humor returning. "Alex doesn't count as one of your regular dates," he said. "She's your girl."
"The only dates I'm allowed to have nowadays are with you," Olivia said. "Alex makes damn sure of that."
"Just don't tell my wife, partner." Adjusting his tie, Elliot and Olivia ambled up to the bar. "Walter Burlock?" he asked the bartender. According to the computer guys, Burlock had shared a cell with Gambel for five years and was released from prison two weeks ago. He hadn't checked in with his parole officer or registered as a sex offender, either.
"Yeah," said the bartender, wiping out a glass with a white rag. "Been runnin' a tab all night."
As Olivia turned to look over her shoulder and case the room for any possible threats, Elliot took the credit card that the bartender passed him. "We were right. He's been using Gambel's credit card." He held it up to show Olivia.
"Where is he?"
The bartender stopped working for a moment to point. "Over there, gettin' a lapdance from Tanya."
Rolling her eyes, Olivia followed Elliot as he strolled confidently through the room, heading straight towards the man in the baseball cap that the bartender had pointed at. Noticing the detectives heading towards them and sensing trouble, the blonde girl servicing Burlock left his lap, covering her breasts and fixing her miniskirt as she headed for safer ground.
"Hey!" Burlock said, reaching out a large hand. "I already paid you! Get back here, bitch!"
Elliot interrupted, putting his own hand in the middle of Burlock's back and shoving him face first onto the seat, restraining him with a firm grip to the neck. "Ow! What the hell are you doin'! Get off my back."
As Elliot kept Burlock pinned, Olivia pulled out her cuffs with a grim smile on her face. "Ya like bracelets as trophies?" she said, letting the handcuffs lock in place with a satisfying click. "Try these."
"Come on, sweetie, pick up," Olivia mumbled, tapping her foot impatiently as she stalked around the crib holding her cell phone to her ear. Waiting for Alex to pick up seemed like the longest few seconds of her life. Finally, there was a click and a relieved voice came through the earpiece.
"Liv, thank God. You haven't called in a while. Where have you been? Is it a case?"
Olivia sighed, hanging her head and sinking onto one of the used beds that she had been sleeping in. Going back to Alex's apartment hurt too much. Besides, she had been afraid of what she would find. Both Alex and Abbie had left several messages on her phone asking her to call them, but she had been consumed by this latest disaster for the past day and a half. This was the first quiet space of time she had found to herself, except for the brief moments when she had been left reeling with disturbing thoughts and questions.
"Yeah," Olivia answered, "a case. Alex, honey, we need to talk." Her hands were shaking, but she remembered Huang's advice. Talking to Alex would do her good. She needed a chance to explain.
There was a brief silence on the other line. "Okay. May I say one thing first?"
"I love you."
Immediately, Olivia's muscles relaxed, switching out of 'cop mode' as she talked to her lover. "I love you, too." Alex waited, ready to listen. "Remember how we found that box of trophies a little while ago that we matched to several rape victims?"
The attorney nodded, realized Olivia couldn't hear her, and spoke up. "Yes."
"Well, the guy with the box, Gambel, had a cell mate in prison named Burlock. We picked him up, but couldn't pin any of the rapes on him, either." Olivia closed her eyes and hung her head, pressing the phone tightly to her cheek. Now came the hard part. "And... well... before that, I tracked a ring from the box to a woman named Joan Arliss."
Although Alex's prosecutorial experience and sharp mind allowed her to keep the characters in Olivia's story straight, she was still confused. "None of this sounds like anything out of the ordinary for you, Olivia. What's wrong?"
"Joan Arliss had a daughter named Vivian. She's like me, conceived through rape."
"And she reminded you of yourself?"
"More than that. Before we found out about Burlock, I thought she was my sister. There was a resemblance. Our mothers went to the same university and were raped about the same time."
On the other end of the connection, Alex gasped. "You thought she was your... but she's not, right? I know about your brother, Simon, but"
"No, she's not. Like I said, this guy Burlock is the one who raped Vivian's mother. But we had to let him go. She's got a kid, Alex... Calvin. His name is Calvin and his mom's a junkie... I see Vivian and think, what if I had become like that? And I see that boy's eyes and remember how awful it was every time my mother looked for herself in the bottom of a bottle of bourbon or Jack Daniels."
Alex chewed on her lip, feeling helpless to comfort Olivia from so far away. If she were in New York, she would know what to do. She would take Olivia in her arms and hold her close, kissing her hair and murmuring endearments. She would tuck Olivia in bed and lie down next to her, even make love if that was what Olivia needed, but all the way in Africa, she had no clue how to help. Her lover was hurting, and she couldn't do anything.
"Olivia, I'm going to tell you something you probably don't want to hear."
The detective raised her eyebrows. "Something I don't want to hear?"
Alex could hear the question in Olivia's voice, and she clarified her statement. "First of all, I'm coming home in two weeks."
"That's something I very much want to hear."
"You didn't let me finish. I'm coming home in two weeks, but until then, I need you to remember that this isn't your problem."
Olivia's head shot up. She immediately went on the defensive. "What do you mean, this isn't my problem?"
"I told you that you wouldn't want to hear this," Alex reminded her. "Hear me out. It's horrible that Vivian's mother was raped. It's also horrible that you had to cut this guy Burlock loose. It's horrible that Vivian is a junkie and probably an alcoholic, and it's horrible that her son has to deal with the consequences of her choices. But it's not your fault, and it's not your problem."
"Of course it's my problem, Alex," Olivia snapped. "Their lives are falling apart around them, and it's my job"
"Exactly. It's your job. So do your job. Try and get Vivian help. Check in on Calvin to make sure he isn't being abused or neglected, and report his mother if you have to. Try and find more evidence against Burlock so you can put him away. Guys like him never stop, and they always leave a trail behind. But Olivia, you can't save the whole world. Do your job, and once you've done what you can, you need to forget about it, go home, and get some real sleep. You have your own life to live."
"The bed is too big." The loneliness in Olivia's voice pierced through her heart like the blade of a knife. Her chest physically ached. She had been expecting more anger, but not overwhelming sadness.
"I know," Alex whispered regretfully. "So is mine."
"Explain this to me again," Serena said, throwing one arm over her forehead and staring at the ceiling. "Explain to me why, exactly, you dragged me in to Alex's bedroom as soon as we walked in the door, started kissing me, took off my shirt and pants, pinned me to the bed, and then told me we probably shouldn't have sex."
The evening had started out passionately. Dinner was romantic. The off-Broadway show was colorful and thought provoking. The bottle of wine they shared afterward (courtesy of Alex) was excellent. Talking and hand holding led to kissing, clothes were removed, and to Serena, it seemed like she and Abbie were about to reestablish their physical connection. But the tall Texan had stopped her, asking to be held for a moment and quietly confessing that she wasn't sure if having sex was a good idea yet.
Abbie didn't know how to explain, because she wasn't quite sure of the answer, either. "Well, I can answer the part about Alex's bedroom. I figured thinking about how pissed she would be if she knew we were in here would act as a deterrent."
Serena saw the joke for the avoidance it was. "Abbie..."
"I want to, Serena. I really want to. I think we're ready, but how do I know for sure?" With her cheek still resting on Serena's stomach, Abbie wondered how she had gotten to this point. Over the years, the federal prosecutor had found herself in sexual situations for a variety of reasons. She had sex when a partner was readily available. She had sex when she was bored. She had sex because it was fun. She had sex because her body desired it.
But in all her experience, she couldn't remember having sex because she was in love.
She sighed. "You know I've been seeing a therapist?" It was a rhetorical question, because both of them knew that Serena hadn't known. However, she managed to hide her surprise.
"Yeah," Abbie confirmed hesitantly. "I think it's helping. The last two times I tried therapy, I ended up banging the therapist, so it's probably lucky that this one's a good ol' boy. No temptation if there's the wrong parts."
Serena wasn't surprised, but she didn't seem disappointed either, which was a minor relief to Abbie. She buried her face in Serena's stomach, feeling the ACLU lawyer's voice vibrate in the cavity of her chest. "Doesn't that violate the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship or something?"
"Serena, I've done a lot of things I regret. Sex was my way of coping. Yeah, I had sex with two of my therapists. I've done random strangers in dance clubs. I've had sex for promotions at work"
Abbie felt the body beneath her flinch. "Please tell me you never had sex with Jack McCoy."
That coaxed a small smile from the concerned Texan. "You know I haven't. First of all, he's a man. Second of all, he's... well, he's Jack. Even if he was a gorgeous woman and not completely stuck on Claire after all these years instead of a grumpy old man, I still wouldn't touch our Jack with a ten-foot pole. His charming personality works better than any bug spray. Even the mosquitoes are afraid of gettin' too close."
Serena giggled, breaking some of the tension. "Our Jack? And are we really going to talk about McCoy in our underwear?" she asked.
"Yeah, I guess we are." Abbie decided to continue. She didn't know when she would work up the courage to give this speech again. "I can remember tossing out a pity fuck if a female friend was hard up. I've had sex on dares or bets, for winning and losing at cards, and to manipulate people. Up until these last few months, I had sex whenever I was angry, stressed, happy, drunk, or... too haunted by memories of college to stand being alone."
"I wish you would tell me what happened..."
Abbie closed her eyes. "You're smart. Don't tell me you haven't figured it out after all these years, Ser."
"You're right." It was the elephant in the room. The topic Serena tiptoed around, afraid to broach such a personal subject with someone as flighty and inconsistent as Abbie had proven herself to be until recently. Over the years, she had seen the signs, but felt helpless and confused whenever she tried to figure out how to help. "I know you were sexually assaulted, but"
"Did Jack tell you, or was it Alex? Or did you just guess?"
Serena sighed. "No one told me directly. I picked up a comment here or there... it wasn't hard to put the puzzle together. Why does Alex know?" Honestly, Serena felt a little hurt that Abbie had trusted Alex enough to talk about her past, but not her.
"Because I had a nightmare and she heard me screaming my fool head off after too many drinks."
Serena reached down, stroking Abbie's hair as the prosecutor rested against her bare stomach. "I know you were sexually assaulted, but I don't need to know the details unless you want me to listen. I'm more interested in knowing how you felt, what you think of yourself now, and how I can help." That was not the answer Abbie had been expecting. Even Alex had tentatively tried to pry details from her after making sure that her friend was calm again. She supposed that Alex couldn't help it. She was a sex crimes prosecutor, after all, used to grilling both victims and perps on the stand. But Serena's quiet, gentle acceptance and sympathy overwhelmed her.
"You help me just by being here," Abbie said. "I used to have sex because it filled the quiet spaces in my head. Didn't give me any time to think." She lifted her head, meeting Serena's eyes. "I was date raped in college by a nice boy I thought was my friend. I was a virgin at the time. Planned on gettin' married before I had sex, too." Abbie gave a self-deprecating snort. "You can see how well that turned out."
Serena knew enough about loss to realize that no words would help Abbie now. The emotional wound had scarred over as the years passed, but it still pained her. She had no understanding, no frame of reference, but her instincts told her to pull Abbie into her arms and hold on tight.
"They never did anything," came Abbie's quiet voice from somewhere near her shoulder. "It was his word against mine. I said I didn't want it. He said I was a lying slut. I stared to believe it. That was probably the lowest point of my life... until I realized what I had thrown away. It brought everything back."
"I'm here." Holding Abbie's cheeks in her hands, Serena leaned in for a soft, gentle brush of lips. "I'm here for whatever you need."
Somehow, the kisses became deeper and more passionate. Abbie wasn't sure how it happened, but her hands gripped Serena's hips as she left a string of kisses along the blonde's jaw, enjoying the salty-sweet taste of her skin. "I don't... think I can stop this time..." she whimpered, amazed at how helpless her own voice sounded to her ears.
Serena's eyes were glazed over, and she was beyond caring. "God, Abbie, you don't have to stop... I want you."
That made Abbie's sore heart swell with pride. Serena wanted her. Even after she had gotten all teary-eyed and mushy on her, Serena still wanted to touch her, be with her, love her. The unconditional trust and acceptance was like a strong drug. It made Abbie's head spin. Her own need was burning bright, but she could tell that Serena needed this even more than she did, not just physically, but emotionally as well.
"Serena, may I please...?"
The blonde hissed in response, clearly wanting more, but not sure how to articulate it. Finally, she took hold of Abbie's hands with her own trembling ones, bringing them to her waist so that they could ease the strings of her cotton underwear down together. Somehow, even though they had done this before, everything felt completely different. It was new and a little frightening, but also wonderful.
Not wanting to rush things, Abbie began lavishing attention on Serena's breasts with her hands and mouth, trying to express just how much she wanted and adored the slender woman beneath her. Maybe the words caught in her throat sometimes, but there was more than one way to say 'I love you'. After how long she had waited, Serena deserved to have those words however Abbie could give them.
As she kissed in a half circle around one of Serena's tight nipples, Abbie let her hands wander down her lover's flat stomach, tracing hearts and circles as she went. Serena's skin was so soft and warm that it made her palms tingle and ache.
"Abbie... Abbie, please..."
"Please what? Whatever you want, love. Anything."
Kissing up along her throat, Abbie bit down the way she remembered that Serena enjoyed. The blonde lawyer's neck was extremely sensitive, and she loved having it rubbed, kissed, or nipped. Abbie enjoyed the sounds she made when she used her teeth and savored the way that the brief pain made Serena press tighter against her. When she finally ended her lazy trail up along the column of Serena's throat, Abbie stopped at her lips. Releasing the kiss, they paused for a moment while Abbie's hands re-learned a beautiful pair of long, silky legs.
"I want your mouth on me," Serena finally had the courage to beg.
The dark-haired attorney was helpless to resist her lover's pleas. Without lingering too long, she worked her way back down Serena's naked form, pausing to kiss her fingertips and nuzzle the insides of her elbows, sucking briefly at the tips of both breasts, and circling her navel.
Abbie nipped at each protruding hipbone before settling between her lover's thighs, her heart pounding so loudly over their heavy breathing that it echoed in her ears. She was nervous, but also enthralled as she spread Serena's legs. Carefully, she lowered her mouth to waiting sweetness. The taste was familiar, but completely new and exciting at the same time. For a moment, she was too overwhelmed to do anything but press soft kisses to Serena's outer lips, all of her technique and experience leaving her completely.
Nuzzling deeper and soaking in the needy whimpers coming from the slender woman above her, she racked her brain for anything she could remember about their previous times together, all those years ago... Slow. She likes it slow. Circles around her opening
Relieved that her short-circuiting brain had a piece of information to latch on to, she let instinct take over.
Abbie panted heavily, her chest rising and falling, skin glistening with sweat. Serena continued tracing the shape of her mouth with soft, pointed kisses, her hand cupped protectively between the Federal prosecutor's legs. She still had two fingers buried deep inside of Abbie's warmth, and Abbie could feel Serena's wetness where the blonde lawyer had been rocking frantically against her thigh.
"Are we still alive?" Serena teased, letting Abbie feel the formation of the words on her lips.
"Dunno," the Texan slurred. "Ya mighta killed me. Sure feels like heaven."
Serena chuckled softly. "Sweet talker." Gently withdrawing her fingers, she settled down to rest against Abbie's shoulder, holding her lover's naked body close and soaking in as much warmth as she could from her skin. "Abs?"
"Thank you..." Serena had been prepared to say more, but the rest of her words deserted her as she looked into endless brown eyes. Instead, she pressed kisses to each of Abbie's dimples and the cute cleft at the center of her chin, hoping that was enough to convey her message.
"Thanks for what, sugar?" Abbie drawled, still curious.
"Thank you for being here with me right now... just the two of us. Before, it always seemed like you were running from something or running to something, maybe both, but in this moment, you're really with me. Does that make any sense?"
Abbie nodded and bent down to kiss the crown of Serena's head. "Perfect sense, darlin'."
Stretching her arms over her head to get the kinks out of her shoulders, Abbie forced a reluctant Serena to abandon her comfortable resting spot. "Hey, little lady, how 'bout I go get us each a glass of wine before bed while you hop in the shower and wash your hair." She smiled teasingly at her lover. "You'll hate yourself in the mornin' if you don't get some conditioner in it tonight."
Serena sat up beside the brunette and gave her another soft peck on the lips. Even though they had only just rekindled the physical part of their relationship, emotionally, it felt like they had already been intimate for years. In a way, they had been, although their contact had been sporadic since their first break-up. "It'll be the fastest shower in the history of the universe, I promise."
"Red, I assume?"
"You don't have to dig out more of Alex's good wine. I'm sure Olivia has some beers in the fridge." The ACLU attorney turned and set her feet on the floor, revealing her naked back to Abbie's hungry gaze. She turned to smile at the Texan over her shoulder and winked saucily. "Unless you'd prefer to join me in the shower..."
"Change of plans," Abbie said, hurrying to follow Serena into the bathroom. "I share a shower with you, then we go and finish off the bottle of wine we already opened."
Serena reached out, taking her equally naked girlfriend's hand as they headed into the master bathroom. "Hmm. Looks like you've got yourself a deal, Cowgirl."
Olivia tapped lightly on the window of the squad car, two cups of coffee in hand, one for her and one for Elliot. "Can't believe you have to walk six blocks to get a decent cup of coffee in Brooklyn," she muttered as Elliot reached over to unlock the passenger's side. She slid in beside him, passing him his cup.
The police had been sitting on Burlock at Jason Gambel's residence since his release yesterday afternoon, and after an uncomfortable night in the crib, Olivia and Elliot were there to personally take a shift. No one wanted to give the scumbag the opportunity to commit another crime. Pushing thoughts of her own role in Burlock's release aside, Olivia closed the door behind her to keep in the heat.
"The last Uni said Burlock went in at 5 PM yesterday and hasn't left since."
"Fin texted me. He's got eyes on Gambel at a local hotel," Olivia added.
Elliot raised his eyebrows. "Kicking a guy out of his own house?" He pressed his lips together, shaking his head. "Says a lot about the kind of hold Burlock has over him." Adjusting his tie, Elliot took a sip of his warm coffee, grateful for the pick-me-up in the middle of a long day.
The moment of silence was interrupted by Fin's voice over the radio. "Gambel's on his way back home, comin' round the corner."
"Well, either Gambel suddenly grew a pair, or Burlock ordered him here." Elliot's expression made it clear which of the two options he considered most likely. Jason Gambel was a coward through and through. He set his coffee back down and gripped the handle of the driver's side door, preparing to jump out if necessary. "Should be interesting."
As they watched through the front windshield, Gambel suddenly appeared from behind a parked car, his shoulders hunched as though he was expecting a blow, glancing around nervously from side to side. He huddled in front of the door to his house, passing right by Olivia and Elliot without a second glance and reaching down to insert his key.
The two detectives watched as he slipped into the dark interior of the building, closing the door behind him. "You think Burlock called Gambel to go on the prowl again?" Olivia asked doubtfully.
Elliot shrugged, nonplussed. "When you get the itch, call your bitch."
"I hope they leave soon. I can't wait to put Burlock away."
Before Elliot could agree, the door to Gambel's building swung open again. The same frightened man exited, looking dazed as he stumbled down the steps and onto the sidewalk. Olivia gasped, her eyes widening as she saw the bloody handprints covering Gambel's blue collared shirt. His fingers were coated in blood as well, and he had obviously clutched his hand to his chest in surprise or fear.
Without even pausing to look at each other for confirmation, both detectives opened their doors and rushed out of the car. "Gambel, don't move," Elliot ordered as they drew their guns in sync, jogging towards the building.
Gambel held up his crimson-stained hands, not even trying to find an avenue of escape. When Olivia came closer, she could see the emptiness in his blank stare. Gambel clearly wasn't all there, if he had ever been in the first place. "He's dead," the young man said, waving at Elliot's chest. "There's blood everywhere..."
Elliot swallowed, and only Olivia could hear the tension in his throat muscles as he forced out a gruff response. "Thanks for helpin' us out." While Elliot held up the nose of his gun and breeched the doorway, Olivia put a hand on Gambel's back and shepherded him towards the car, not wanting him to escape. If Burlock was really dead, Jason Gambel was their prime suspect, and he needed to be taken into custody before he went loony on someone else's ass.
'Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy,' she thought to herself as she noticed that Fin's black, unmarked car had pulled up behind them. Relieved that she wouldn't have to take Gambel in alone, she kept her hand on his arm as Fin stepped out of the vehicle. "Fin, arrest him for the murder of Walter Burlock."
"Guess ya whacked him good," Fin said, reading the utter shock in Olivia's expression and cuffing Gambel's wrists. He gestured for her to go in and give Elliot back-up as he put a hand on Gambel's head and forced him into the back of the squad car, reciting his Miranda rights.
Olivia didn't notice. She had already entered the house, gun drawn in case she ran into trouble. "El?" she called out, passing through the entryway and heading deeper into the building, "you there?"
"Kitchen, Liv. Gambel was right. The bastard's dead."
Following the sound of Elliot's voice, she hurried into the kitchen, ignoring the trash on the chairs, tables, and the surface of the counter. Walter Burlock's body was crumpled in a heap on the floor. Thick black blood pooled around his head, matting the gray hair on the back of his crushed skull. A slightly dented frying pan rested above his head, along with a lonely looking black baseball cap, the same one he had been wearing at the strip club where they picked him up.
Despite the hatred she harbored towards Burlock for the lives he had ruined, Olivia couldn't help but frown at the display of gruesome violence. No matter how many cases she worked, it never got easier. At least Burlock deserved it. She couldn't say she felt sorry for him, even if the condition of the body made her grit her teeth a little to ease the uncomfortable tossing of her stomach.
"Looks like Gambel blitzed him," she said, walking around the body and examining it as Elliot moved to stand beside her.
"Definitely hit him with a cast iron more than once. Lotta rage."
Olivia snorted. "Gambel fits that description," she said sarcastically. She eyed the crime scene, noticing the blood spatter on the clean white refrigerator and stained wooden cabinets.
"Who're you trying to kid, Liv? The blood is congealed and starting to crust. That body's been there for hours."
Olivia shook her head, unwilling to believe what both of them were thinking. "Vivian couldn't have done this... Her first priority is Calvin."
Elliot was doubtful. "Doesn't mean she couldn't have come here last night."
"Gambel could have left his hotel unnoticed, come back here, killed him, and then come back again today to discover the body.
"Or Vivian could have come here last night, batted her eyelashes, and then batted him with the first thing she saw." Elliot turned to glance over his shoulder at the murder weapon. "A pan on the stove."
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