DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and its characters are the property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I donít usually write first person, but the muse spoke, and I obeyed. (also my muse likes to wake me up at 2 am and make me write, which I figure is explanation enough.)
SHOUT OUT: To serenitymeimei you are my cheerleader! Any mistakes are mine!
SEQUEL/SERIES: This story is a sequel to Awakening.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Philadelphia and Florida.

By racethewind10


I'm standing in the corridor of the hospital again. Not entirely knowing what I'm doing…again. This feeling of being hopelessly adrift has become almost familiar to me over the past few days. You would think it would get easier right? No such luck.

It's been a week now since my first visit to this particular hospital. I fervently hope it's my last. They are sending Julia home. I only know because I told the doctors to keep me updated. She would never say anything, despite our relationship.

Relationship. That's funny. I have no idea what we have, but I don't really think you can call it a relationship. We aren't colleagues, we certainly aren't friends. We started out so angry at each other; two wounded souls lashing out at what we saw as the threat to our families. God, we fought like animals - hell she nearly killed me. And yet, one week ago, it was her I watched over as she lay, broken and alone in that hospital bed.

I'm still not entirely sure what drew me to her in the first place; nor am I able to completely grasp what keeps brining me back here to sit silent vigil.

True, Captain Julia Millfeild is a victim. Though it was her sister that her father molested, Julia carries the burden and grief of standing helpless witness to a loved one's destruction and eventual death.

It's more than her pain as a victim though. More even than our shared history: brief but turbulent that it is. There is something more about Julia that calls to me.

Part of it may be just how eerily alike we are, both in physical appearance and in spirit. Her anger and determination when I met her were a physical force, sparking around her, and she drew an answering fire in my soul almost immediately.

It goes beyond that though, and my conscious is apparently unwilling to quantify the answer. So here I am; unsure of the why, but also knowing without a doubt that I do need to be here.

My musings are interrupted by a nurse as she opens the door to Julia's room and wheels the injured woman out into the hall.

Something in me gives a phantom cry of pain at the sight. The woman in the wheelchair is not the Captain of the local police force - not the angry, stubborn, fierce opponent that I fought with about the innocence of my brother - this woman may have been deemed physically fit to leave the hospital, but I can see her soul bleeding from here.

Would that wounds of the spirit were as easy to heal as those of the flesh, and I know that at least a part of what draws me here is her pain. Just as I pressed my hands over the gunshot wound in her side to try and stem the loss of her blood, now there is a part of me that must try and repair the damage to her soul.

The nurse nods at me and walks off, leaving Julia in my care. Dull chocolate eyes rise to look at me, and I am again struck at how alike we are, right down to our response to the situation at hand.

Confusion and then anger flares in her gaze.

"Detective," it's not quite a sneer. "What are you still doing here?"

"Helping your sorry ass out Captain," I reply, trying to be as annoyingly superior as possible. I want her mad right now – anger is better than depression for people like us.

Julia doesn't disappoint me.

"I don't need your help Detective." This time it is a sneer.

"Fine," I smile. "Stand up." What I am about to do is cruel, but she has to admit that she needs help. It's the first step, and sadly, it's always the most painful.

With what might have been a snarl if she had any energy, Julia braces against the chair and shakily stands. It's not pretty, but she gets the job done, and stands there, a smug, cynical smirk masking the physical pain I know she's in. Yep, that's got to go.

I reach out and hand her an overnight bag (and yes, I cheated, there are a couple of books in there)

"Here you go then," I challenge, moving just a bit closer. I know what's coming.

Without thinking she grabs the bag from me. The reaction is immediate. Her right side is unable to take the weight and she drops the bag with a surprised cry, her body crumbling into the wheelchair where she sits, pale and shaken, breathing rapidly.

I pick up the bag, moving behind her and pretending to ignore her weakness.

"What the hell was that?" She hisses.

I figure it's probably best to clear the air now, so I turn back and face her, ignoring the twinge my heart gives at the sight of her so shaken and vulnerable. I tell myself it's just sympathy. I know how much this is costing her; I've been there, and like I said, we are too damn alike.

"That was getting you to admit you aren't 100% so you don't go and do something stupid, like try to walk out of here on your own and pretend you don't need help." Our eyes lock, dark chocolate gazes reflecting this contest of wills back upon each other.

She is the first to look away, and my heart lifts a bit to see her wry smirk, before she looks back at me, anger again clouding her features.

"Why the hell are you doing this Detective? What is it to you? Revenge? Is this some sick payback for me trying to get your brother arrested?"

I figured this was coming. After all, I would have a damn hard time trusting me were I in her place. I consider my words carefully before I speak; it's too soon for heart to hearts. Right now, I just need a foundation. I need her to trust me, and I need her to stop hating herself. The rest will come later.

I take a risk and drop the 'tough cop' act. Kneeling down so our eyes are nearly level, I reach out and lay my hand lightly atop of hers. It's cold and I feel her tense at the contact, but she doesn't pull away and a small part of me nearly cheers.

I hold her gaze and let down some of my walls - trying to let her see in. We are cops, and reading people is what we are good at. I am banking on that right now.

My voice is soft when I speak.

"Julia, listen to me. This isn't revenge. I told you when you woke up, you made the right choice, and I understand why you did what you did. And I can't, for one second, sit here and pretend that if I had been in your place, I wouldn't have done the same damn thing. Hell, you were on to me for helping Simon when he might have been a rapist and I barely knew him!"

The hand under mine is trembling slightly, and without thought I squeeze it, trying to get through to her. Her eyes are holding me, and I can't look away, so I continue.

"I can't even begin to imagine what it was like to watch your sister slip away, but I do know what it's like to hate your father, to lose your family, and I know what it's like to wake up alone." The "and hurt" goes unsaid. She doesn't need it spelled out; I know she can see it in my eyes.

I am pleading with her silently to trust me, to let me in: hanging over a precipice, I have no idea why my heart is pounding so hard, all I know is that I need for her to be ok with this.

Something flashes briefly in her eyes: too fast for me to tell what it is, but a wave of relief washes through me as she swallows and nods.

I nod in return. Nothing more is said. I squeeze her hand one more time and stand, picking up her bag and moving to push the wheel chair toward the exit.

"What is your Captain going to say about your little vacation?" she asks in an odd, careful tone. We have reached some kind of truce and she seems loath to break it.

I shake my head and chuckle darkly, thinking of the conversation I had with Cragen after I lost it in the interrogation room and beat up a suspect.

"Lets just say my absence from the squad room might be a good thing for a while," I say bitterly. I am still not proud of that. It's part of the reason I can forgive Julia. What I did was hardly better.

She turns to look at me and raises one eyebrow, and I find my self telling her about my anger, about losing it in the interrogation room and the fallout. I haven't even talked to Elliot about all of this, though I suspect he knows anyway. We are too close for him not to. He is a good partner though: he hasn't said anything. It's easy to talk to Julia; a little too easy, and I trail off, suddenly unsure.

She looks back at me.

"Did you get a conviction?"

"Yeah, DNA got him."

She simply nods. "Good."

I am more than a little surprised at her response, and she must sense it because she turns around again, pinning me with her dark stare.

"It happens Olivia. You're human, and he was a scumbag. You've been at SVU for how long?"

Unsure of where this is going and not all that fond of having the conversational tables turned on me, I answer, "Eight years."

"That's almost 4 times the normal sex crimes assignment. And in all that time, how many times have you lost it. Not thought about it – we all do that, it's the nature of the job - but truly lost it?"

She can see the answer in my eyes before I speak and just nods again.

"You got messed up because of what was going on with your family. It happens. You're a damn good cop Olivia - I don't have to know much about you to know that. It turned out alright, cut yourself some slack and move on."

I stop and move around to face her, the irony of the situation not lost on me. She is sitting there, counseling me about guilt.

"Only if you agree to do the same."

I see the walls slam down and she tries to evade.

"Don't Julia. Don't try to make what you did so much worse. What did you just tell me? 'It turned out ok' so let it go. We both made mistakes: big ones. It's over now, ok?"

And somehow, saying it, I even start to believe it just a bit. I watch her face, and my heart lifts to see that she is starting to believe it too.

She shakes her head and flashes that wry smirk again.

"God aren't we a pair. What a mess. Take me home Benson, before we start holding hands and singing Kumbayah."

I can't help but chuckle as we make our way out the hospital doors. She's right. We are a pair, and we certainly are a mess. Somewhere inside me though, there is a tiny, unacknowledged hope that maybe by helping her heal, I can help myself.

It's overcast outside, the sky darkening early. There is a drizzle in the air and it gives the streets a slick look and shrouds the trees and homes in grey mist.

Julia is quiet on the ride home, and it's not until I pull into her driveway that she starts and turns to me and frowns.

I can see the question in her eyes, but she's not going to ask. I answer anyway.

"Your old partner let me know where you live. She was there one night when I came to see you."

And God had that been an odd experience.

It was late, and I was exhausted. I had visited Simon that afternoon, and the emotional roller coaster we always seemed to travel on when we talk had left me drained and raw. I was past questioning why the only thing that I wanted (besides a hot shower) was to sit in a quiet hospital room and watch the rise and fall of a near stranger's chest as she slept. I just knew it seemed right.

The metal handle of the door was cold underneath my hand and the lights were dim as usual. I blame my exhaustion for not noticing her at first; that and she blended into the shadows.

Walking into Julia's room I was caught short by the presence of another woman in the chair I normally occupied.

A strikingly attractive African American woman sat by Julia's side, her gaze alert and wary, raking me from head to toe.

Her clothes were casually elegant, and her long hair was loose, but the eyes, and the way in which she held herself: alert, poised and with her right hand inching toward her hip screamed 'Cop.'

Clearing my throat I stepped back, suddenly unsure of my place here.

"Who are you?"

What can I say, my brain was as tired as the rest of me, and I didn't feel like dancing around the issue.

Raising one dark eyebrow she returned, "I should be asking you that, don't you think? Seeing as how I'm Julia's old partner, and you are most certainly not a New Jersey cop."

Julia's old partner? I don't know why that surprised me so much, but it did. Maybe it was the gentle way in which the woman was holding Julia's hand, or the obvious protectiveness in her stance, but I would have said "lover" not "partner."

She had me pegged though, and I relaxed a bit knowing who she was.

"Detective Olivia Benson, Manhattan SVU. I uh, I worked this last case with Capt. Millfeild."

Ok, so that was a pile of bullshit, but this woman hadn't been around and I wasn't willing to tell her anything yet.

Her expression however, said she knew damn well I was pulling a fast one.

"Funny," she said, looking back to Julia and relaxing back in the chair. Her thumb was stroking the sleeping woman's knuckles, but there was no tenderness in the cop's expression when she turned back to me and spoke.

"That's not quite how Julia put it."

Shit. I was busted.

Unable to respond, I waited, watching her. She was looking at me, her eyes searching for something. I don't know what she found, but she released me from the almost magnetic pull of her dark gaze and looked back at Julia.

"She says she almost got you killed and tried to falsely arrest your brother. And that you saved her life and talked him down when things went south."

Although that was exactly what happened, I felt compelled to defend the injured woman who was the object of our conversation.

"She just lost her sister, and then found out her father molested her. She was acting out of grief, and the rest was an accident."

I found myself caught in that piercing gaze again before the woman gave a small smile and stood.

Walking over she held out her hand. "Serena Fletcher. I'm with the Bronx two-three now, working homicide."

Her grip was firm and her expressive eyes were warm now. She was almost as tall as I am with an attractive, athletic figure. There was a calm that seemed to surround her and I could easily see where she would have been a good counterpoint to Julia's more fiery, impulsive nature.

Feeling like an intruder I mutter something and turn to go. Serena stopped me with a gentle hand and that damnable knowing gaze.

"It's alright, I was just leaving. And I don't think I'm what she needs right now. Good night detective."

And with that she walked out, leaving me completely confused.

We talked once or twice after that: brief conversations in passing. But it was enough for me to gain a better idea of just who Julia was, the kind of cop she had been, and what it cost her to lose her sister.

Despite our brief acquaintance, I came to like Serena quickly. Her quiet way was comforting and she seemed to understand my presence. (Better than I apparently did) We formed a strange bond in our care of Julia, one that I had a feeling I would need at some point in the future.

"You met Serena?"

Julia's voice pulls me from my memory and I nod, unsure what to say. I am shocked when I see a slight stain of color spread across her cheeks. Captain Julia Millfeild is blushing!

I debate whether or not to tease her, but she beats me too it.

"Well, how embarrassing."

"Oh, it's ok, she didn't' give me all the sordid details of your life," I pause, "Yet."

I grin and she smirks back before her expression grows wistful.

"Serena was good for me," she nearly whispers it, and I can hear the longing in her voice.

Suddenly aware of herself, she snaps back to the present and glares at me. I can see the uncertainty behind the bravado though, and I think I may have been right earlier: Julia and Serena were more than just patrol partners.

"You mean she managed to put up with all your shit?" I tease back, and am rewarded by her startled smile.

"Yeah. It takes a hell of a woman to put up with me. I don't think you're up to the task Benson." She's smirking at me, and I am forced to admit it's a sexy expression on her.

"Oh yeah?" I challenge back, getting out of the car and walking around to help her out. "I'll have you know I'm an expert at putting up with stubborn, overbearing, overly independent, control freak cops."

"Hmm, makes sense," she shoots back, using my shoulder for balance. "After all, you have to deal with yourself."

I can't help it, she's too close to the truth, and I laugh. It's the first real laugh I've had in too long, and I can tell it surprises her.

"You're pretty when you laugh. You ought to do it more." Her voice is soft.

I stop, surprised and uncertain. The moment stretches and I feel her pulling away, and suddenly realize how much I don't want that to happen.

"Yeah well, It would ruin my reputation as a hard ass and then where would I be."

It's a lame attempt at humor, and she knows it, but it's the effort that counts.

She smirks at me again and we slowly make our way to her front door.

"And God forbid anyone ruin our reputations as overbearing hardasses, right Benson?"

"Exactly," I agree.

She has a small, tidy porch, and I feel her lean more against me as we traverse the few steps. It's a sharp reminder of just how fragile she is right now, and I support her the best I can.

Using the keys that the hospital gave me from her personal effects, I unlock the polished oak door to reveal a warm, but sparsely furnished one story home. It's small and tidy and I can see a few small homey touches here and there.

"Bedroom?" I ask.

It's a mark of her pain that there is no attempt at our earlier banter. She just points and clings to me. I don't bother to turn on the lights: the cloudy light from outside filters in through the window - bathing the room in soft greys and cool shadows.

By the time we reach the queen sized bed, she is panting. I throw the thick down quilt back and ease her down, lifting her legs into bed and taking off her shoes.

I leave her to get the pain pills and when I come back, she's got her shirt rucked up and is picking at her bandages. I distract her with the medication and a glass of water I got from the kitchen and ease down beside her.

Gently I peel away the tape to reveal the wound beneath.

My heart clenches at the sight of the angry red area, crossed with tiny, neat stitches. It's already healing, but the sight of her flawless skin so violated tears at something in me.

Biting my cheek, I reach down and retrieve some ointment and spread it ever so carefully over the stitches. I concentrate on not hurting her and try to ignore how soft and warm her skin is.

I take out another bandage and lay it over the wound, pressing the edges against her skin, letting my fingers trail gently against her flesh. I watch the play of muscles across her abdomen. My gaze is snared and for a moment and I sit entranced, unaware that my fingers are whispering back and forth across her skin, just above the bandage.

Goose bumbs rise under my fingers and I tear my hand away, heat stealing into my face. I busy myself with re-arranging her shirt. A gentle touch on my wrist stops me and I look up to fall into her chocolate gaze. I don't know what I expected to see, but it's not the gentleness I find there.

Before either of us can move, her eyes flutter and Julia yawns; the drugs kicking in quickly in her weakened state.

I can't help but bite my lip. She's fighting the exhaustion and it's cute. Her hand is still on mine, but the moment of tension has passed.

I reach down and grab the comforter, tucking it around her shoulders as she slowly loses the battle to stay awake. It's an oddly intimate moment, and I feel a swell of tenderness toward my charge.

I turn to leave, and as I do, she reaches out, holding me in place with the lightest of touches.

"Thank you Olivia," she sighs. Her words echo those she spoke when she first woke up to find me beside her in the hospital, and now, as then, I reach out to her. Brushing my fingers across her temple I tuck the blankets tighter and smile softly.

"Get some rest Julia, I'll be here when you wake up."

We fall into a routine with surprising ease; I cook and help her change her bandages, she rests in bed or on the couch, walking a bit each day to try and regain her strength. I let her push herself just a little too far - she thinks I don't let her do enough. Every day it's a haggle, but one I secretly enjoy and have a strong suspicion she does too.

I've been spending time with Simon too, slowly trying to repair the damage the last few weeks have caused – trying to become a family.

For a while I thought it was going well. He and his fiancé are working through things – thinking of starting a family. I'm happy for them, but at the same time, it puts certain aspects of my life into stark relief and there is a part of my heart – one that I rarely acknowledge – that is left a little too raw.

This last visit abrades that small sliver of my soul and more, and by the time I get home I'm a wreck. Home. Funny, that in a short time Julia's house has become my home. I can't even put my finger on why. Our days are quiet, like the eye of a hurricane, I know that events move on outside, but here, within these walls, it is still. Manhattan is waiting. Eliot, my case load, it's all out there, but somehow when I walk through that oak door to the welcoming quiet of Julia's small house, or - more often lately now that she is stronger - her gentle smile and a warmth in dark chocolate eyes, I feel like I have found a safe haven.

Today I need that desperately. Simon and I have been going over our pasts, and of course, he talks about his dad. He can't believe that his father was a rapist; refusing to acknowledge it still, and now he's angry with me for bringing it up. I know that a part of him still blames me for coming into his life at all, and I'm not even sure about the decision myself.

All the old bitterness and betrayal came rushing back to me, chocking at my soul until I had to leave or risk shattering our already fragile bond.

Walking up the porch steps I push open the door and head to the living room. A part of me is relieved that Julia is not around. She is usually asleep this time of day and I desperately need to regroup.

I collapse exhausted into the plush fabric of the couch; feeling like my body has taken a physical beating. My heart is battered and torn, and as I drop my head into my hands, the weight of the past months comes crashing down on me.

Suddenly Julia's house is no longer a haven but a trap. The walls seem to close in on me, and I gasp, fighting for air. My heart feels like it's been shredded with hot knives and I fist my hands in my hair, welcoming the sharp pain in an attempt to ward off tears.

I bite my lip, fighting for control. I will not lose it, not here, not now. The tears are choking me, but I will not let them go.

Suddenly there is a presence beside me. I look up shocked as Julia sits down slowly beside me. Tears are pricking the backs of my eyes and I look away, unwilling to let her see my weakness.

She doesn't let me run though, and I am drawn into slender arms and held close to her slim body.

It is my undoing. I lean into her shoulder and let go. All my anger, frustration and fear that I have buried since I first learned I have a brother is finally released. I cling to her, my anchor in the storm of emotion. Her hands stroke my back and I can feel her cheek resting against my head.

The storm is brief: I am too exhausted to sustain it for long and I don't resist when Julia leans back against the couch, holding me close to her uninjured side. She doesn't speak and I am grateful - just hands me a tissue and continues to hold me. I breathe in her scent and it centers me. My head is resting in the crook of her shoulder and we are pressed together, stretched out on the couch. My body is heavy with weariness, but my soul feels lighter now for having released some of the tension and there is a large part of me that despite my pain, is rejoicing at the feeling of being held and comforted. It's been far too long.

I can feel sleep stalking me and as I willingly surrender to it, I realize that it is not this house that is 'home' to me, but the woman in it. Here, in her arms, as improbable and unexpected as it might be, I have found true sanctuary, and that realization carries me gently off into much needed oblivion

I wake sometime later to find Julia asleep beside me and I watch her for a moment. The planes of her face are softened in sleep and I reach up to stroke a slice of hair from her face.

She stirs at the contact and blinks blearily at me.

"Hey, you doing ok?"

Her voice is husky with sleep and the sounds dances pleasantly down my spine.

"I am. Thanks."

"Just returning the favor."

I nod and suddenly become aware of the fact that it's dark out, and Julia shouldn't be sleeping on the couch.

"You need to be in bed, this can't be good for you," I chide.

"I think I'll live," she smirks as we stand and I help her toward the bedroom. She really is walking better, but I am reluctant to let go of her. I get her settled and turn to go back to the couch when she stops me with my name. Her voice is soft, but when I turn, her eyes are commanding.

"Stay. Please."

I shouldn't, though I can't think of any specific reason why, and while my mind is debating, my body moves on its own; slipping off my shoes, jeans and jacket, grabbing a pair of sweats from the dresser, and sliding in behind her. I try to keep my distance, but any good intensions I might have had, die when Julia rolls onto her uninjured side and presses her body along side mine; laying her head on my shoulder and wrapping an arm across me.

The sheer rightness of it is almost excruciating, and I gently wrap my arms around her, snuggling closer. The heat of our bodies gently surrounds me, lulling me to sleep and as I surrender to Morpheus' embrace, it is with a deep sense of contentment.

I wake before Julia the next morning: not surprising – she is getting better, but she's still not 100%. The light creeping gently in the curtains is soft, caressing her face, and I indulge myself in simply watching her. She is beautiful, sleep lending her a peace that escapes her waking life.

I am loath to leave the warm haven of her bed. It is a strange feeling, since I have rarely been comfortable sleeping with another person. Then again, this is hardly a normal situation for me. Julia's soft breathing is tempting me back to sleep, and with little debate I give in, snuggling back against her and letting myself drift off.

Nothing is said the next day, but there is a closeness between us that wasn't there before. I stay with Julia today because I can't bear to talk to Simon right now and the time passes quietly.

The evening is warm and Julia walks out and around her small backyard, slowly working on some exercises the doctor gave her to do. I lean on the back porch and watch her. I am pleased to see her getting better but at the same time, I am troubled; I can feel the end of my time here looming, just over the horizon, and it tightens my heart.

Julia still tires easily, and after dinner she heads to bed. I hesitate, fiddling with cleaning up the kitchen until I hear my name spoken softly behind me.

She's dressed in her usual tank top and boxers, but for some reason, tonight I notice the smooth ivory of her skin and the lean muscle shifting beneath it. She is still slightly underweight from her trauma to her body, but it does nothing to detract from her beauty. Rather, it's as if a part of her has been stripped away to reveal the stark core of her; bringing her spirit closer to the surface. It stirs something deep in my heart, causing it to beat faster.

If Julia is aware of my thoughts, she gives no indication. She merely raises one eyebrow and asks neutrally, "You coming to bed?"

"Yeah, I'll be right there," I find myself saying. Not having conscious control of my actions around her is really becoming a habit, but one I don't actually feel any urge to break. I walk into the bathroom, changing into my own sleepwear and completing my nighttime ritual of face washing and teeth brushing.

Sliding under the covers, I am still unsure of this new territory until, like last night, Julia presses against me and I realize just how much I have wanted this all day. I listen to her breathing even out and soon follow her down into sleep my arms wrapped gently around her.

The next morning at breakfast Julia is pensive, and I feel the twinges of fear wrap around my spine, wondering if we have somehow gone too far.

"Would you, ah. Would you drive me somewhere today?"

I am surprised. In our time together it is the first thing she has asked of me.

"Sure, where do you need to go?"

She looks at me, and I see the ghosts in her eyes.

"The cemetery."

I feel like someone punched me. I had managed to put aside parts of the tragedy that led us here, and now felt terrible for it.

"Of course, whenever you're ready," I say softly, wanting to reach out to her but unable for once to do so as she turns away.

The day is bright, almost painfully so, but the light is watery and the breeze is cold. The first green blush of life is shading the trees and the grass and the wind whispers softly around the headstones.

I stay near the car, hands shoved deep in the pockets of my leather jacket as I watch her make her way toward her sister's resting place. My only company is the occasional chirping of a bird and the cold touch of the breeze on my face. Julia is the only thing that stirs in this quiet place, and my eyes follow her dark figure. She is standing now, her head bowed, too far away for me to hear if she is speaking.

I close my eyes and breathe deep, trying to draw what heat I can from the weak sun as I lean against the warm hood of the car, preparing to wait. I lose track of time until I am torn from my doze by a soft cry carried on the wind.

I look up just in time to see Julia's knees buckle and I sprint toward her as fear spikes through me. What if she's re-opened her wound again? Panic chokes at me until I get closer. She is kneeling, one hand fisted in the damp grass and the other covering her face. Her shoulders are shaking and I realize she is crying. Mentally hitting myself, I slow to a walk, tasting the bitter tang of adrenaline and trying to calm my pounding heart.

I am close enough to hear her words now and I turn to leave until what she is saying penetrates my awareness.

"I'm sorry Kathleen, God I'm so sorry, I failed you…"

Over and over again, she is nearly chanting the litany of self-recrimination. I can't walk away now. Without thinking about whether or not I am intruding, I drop to my knees beside her and draw her into my arms. She leans into me and I hold her close, whispering that it's not her fault and that her sister would understand, trying to lead her back away from her crushing grief.

Eventually the sobs quiet, but I don't move. My knees are cold and soaked from the grass and my legs are stiff, but I will not let go of her. I can feel her warm breath on my neck and my hands stroke her silken hair.

Presently she speaks. Her voice is hoarse and halting, but as she goes on, it gains strength.

She tells me about her sister, Kathleen; about their childhood, their friends, their family, and eventually about her drug use, her slide into depression and finally how Julia was called to the hospital to say goodbye as her sister's body succumbed to an overdose.

She tells me about her father and mother and how she still doesn't understand how a man could do that to his child. I hear the survivor's guilt in her words – guilt that she was spared the rape visited on her sister – and I grieve as well.

I don't know how long we sit there, but the sun has gone down in the sky and I'm starting to shiver from the cold. I can feel Julia shiver as well and I look at her concerned. When she raises her eyes to mine though, I feel the first stirrings of relief and hope.

She is exhausted, but her eyes are clear: sad, but un-shadowed, and I know she will be alright. It won't happen overnight, but it will happen eventually.

"Ready to go home?" I ask gently, still holding her.

She looks at me for a moment and then I see the tiniest of smirks tug at her lips before it vanishes and she simply nods.

I help her stand and then impulsively clasp her hand, warmed when she squeezes back.

She whispers goodbye to her sister and we slowly make our way back to the car, and home.

Three days later the phone call I have been dreading comes. It's Elliot. He is careful on the phone but I can hear his concern. Bless him for it, but I could cheerfully shoot him for his timing. I know it's not really his fault though, Cragen must be pushing or he wouldn't call.

I hang up the phone to find Julia leaning against the door frame to the kitchen, watching me quietly.

"Your partner?" she asks carefully.

"Yeah, we've got a case, and the Captain has decided I'm out of the dog house I guess." I can't quite look at her, my throat closing. Suddenly I get angry at myself. I knew this wasn't going to last, and what the hell am I getting all emotional about anyway? It's not like there is anything between us. Hell, she'll probably be glad to see me gone.

Steeling myself I turn and face her. Julia's face is carefully blank: cop neutral, and she nods.

"When do you leave?"

"I should go soon. Elliot wouldn't call me before he absolutely had to."

"He's a good partner?" she asks, and I hear a note of genuine wistfulness in her voice.

"The best," I answer with absolute conviction.

She holds my gaze for a moment, and then that smirk appears, "so he's pretty good at dealing with, how did you put it? 'Stubborn and overbearing hardasses'?"

I can't help but laugh. "Yeah, Elliot's had to learn to deal with the worst of me that's for sure, but he manages somehow."

She nods, and there is no smile on her face when she speaks, "Good, you deserve someone who can watch your back."

And before I can interpret that she turns away, leaving me standing in the suddenly empty kitchen.

It doesn't take me long to pack my things and as night approaches I find myself torn between desperately wanting to stay one last night and severing whatever connection we have built quickly – to get the pain I know is coming over with as fast as possible.

In the end, Julia decides for me.

"You coming to bed? It's probably the last decent sleep you're going to get for a while if you're going back to a full case load."

I can only nod and follow her to the bedroom. I climb into bed willingly, and if there is a desperation to the way we hold each other that night, we don't speak of it.

My leaving the next morning is brief, both of us walking on eggshells. We have existed in our own little world for almost three weeks now, and there are no words for what we created. I make her promise not to overdo it, she softly thanks me and then I am leaving; driving back to city and trying to ignore the mysterious pricking of tears behind my eyes.

It's been two weeks since I left Julia's. We haven't spoken. I have a full case load, Elliot and I are doing fine – he seems happier now, working at finding some balance with his family – we nailed a couple of nasty perps, things are going great.

"What the hell is up with you Liv?"

Slamming my locker shut I turn and look (no I'm not glaring) at Elliot.

"I don't know what you're talking about. I'm fine."

"You've been cagier than my teenager when she knows she in trouble and pissed off at everything lately." An almost gentle look crosses his worn features. "Is it Simon?"

I almost bark with laughter. No it's not Simon, but that's a convenient place to put the blame. To be honest I don't know what the hell is wrong with me, and in a rare moment of verbal honesty, I tell Elliot so.

He gives me that look, the one I hate because it makes me feel like he knows exactly what is wrong and is just waiting for me to figure it out. Thankfully though, he just nods. Sometimes there are no words for things.

It's the end of a hell of a day and I am exhausted. The thought of going back to my apartment doesn't appeal to me though, for some reason, it's not "home" anymore.

I head down the street and end up at the local bar the guys and I usually frequent. The beer is good, the food is better and cops off duty know enough not to ask you annoying questions when it looks like you've had a shitty day.

Later, drink in hand, I look for a quiet table when my wandering gaze is arrested by a striking, dark skinned woman. Her hair is up, but the clothes are the same elegant style and when she turns I find myself held in the fathomless stare of Detective Serena Fletcher.

Unable to look away I nod and she gestures to me, saying something to her tablemate, who smiles and takes off.

I make my way through the press of uniforms and plain clothes and sit down across from her. She smiles warmly at me and I instantly feel the effect of her quiet aura as it teases a smile from me in return.

"Detective Benson, you look like you've had a long day," she states with gentle amusement.

"Yeah, long week more like it. How are you?" I ask, trying to change the topic.

She smiles again and I can tell she sees right through me.

"I'm fine. I talked to Julia the other day," she takes a sip of her beer, but those dark eyes are watching me like a hawk and though I do my best, I know that I have given away something of what Julia's name evokes in me.

Since the topic is open, I take the plunge, "Oh yeah? How's she doing?"

I try to make it casual, but the sparkle in Serena's eyes tells me I failed.

"Edgy, restless, not sleeping and making other people's lives miserable. You know, just like you are."

I nearly choke on my drink, how did she…

"I ran into your partner the other day. He didn't say anything of course, but I know Julia and the effect she can have on people."

Uncomfortable now, I lash out, "You mean the effect she used to have on you? You were more than just partners right?"

If my aim was to wound, I missed. Serena simply smiles and shakes her head gently. "Oh yes, she certainly had that effect on me, but we were always better friends and partners than lovers. I never had enough fire for her." This last is said with a pointed look at me.

"My real question Detective, is what the hell are you still doing in Manhattan right now?"

I gape at her. She's crazy. It can't be that simple…can it? I think back to the quiet peace of Julia's home, to our comfortable silences and easy conversations; I think of the heat and weight of her body pressed against mine and the feeling of her arms wrapped around me and I have a sudden, burning desire to get that back.

Serena's knowing chuckle is the last thing I am aware of as I throw a couple of bills on the table and leave the bar.

I drive in a daze, only the sting of wood under my knuckles waking me when I knock on a familiar oak door.

A light comes on and then she is there, hair highlighted by the hallway light. She's in a black silk robe that I don't ever remember seeing in my time here, but the way it hugs her body and accentuates the creamy cast of her skin makes my mouth suddenly dry. She looks magnificent and my heart aches.

I walk inside and stop, suddenly unsure. I turn and face her. Julia is standing in front of the closed door with an expression in her dark eyes I can't interpret.

"I uh. My apartment, it wasn't…it wasn't my home." I look away, frustrated at my complete inability to express what she has come to mean to me.

Suddenly there is a warm hand on my cheek and I am falling into eyes so dark they seem to match her silk robe.

She walks up to me until she is so close I can feel her heat and the whisper of silk against my shirt. My heart is pounding when she speaks, low and husky, in the way that makes my belly cramp.

"I am going to kiss you Olivia. If you don't want this then so help me leave now, because I'm not going to stop. I don't think I can. Tell me you don't want this," she growls.

I stare at her and see clearly for the first time. That unreadable expression is suddenly, painfully, achingly clear: desire, written hot and large on her features.

My knees tremble and I lick my lips. I want her I realize; more than anything I want her to kiss me, but she is waiting, and somehow I find the power to utter, "Kiss me Julia…please."

I see the flames blaze in her eyes and her expression goes hungry, and then her lips are on mine. It is not gentle. There is too much between us now for taking things slow. I moan at the feeling when she yanks my jacket off and presses her silk clad body to mine. She uses it to slip her tongue into my mouth and I open to her willingly, drinking her down greedily.

Julia presses me up against a wall and yanks my sweater from my jeans, running her fingers over the skin and quivering muscle she finds. In return I pull at the tie of her robe, parting it to wrap my hands around her waist and trace the hot satin skin of her back, feeling the play of muscle beneath my hands.

Somehow we stumble toward the bedroom. Julia ruthlessly divests me of my clothes and her hands are everywhere – cupping, caressing and exploring and leaving a trail of fire in their wake.

I finally manage to pull the robe off of her and am struck for a moment at how beautiful she is. With one hand I cup her cheek, sliding the other up her ribcage to cup her breast in my palm, rubbing my thumb over her straining nipple. She arches into my touch and sighs, and the sound does crazy things to my body.

Pulling her close again, we both moan at the feeling of our naked skin bodies against each other. I can feel the pounding of her heart against my own breast and I grow heavy and wet at having her in my arms.

With a shove, I am pushed back onto the bed and then Julia is on top of me, her mouth devouring mine and her body pressing me into the mattress.

I have never known this; the touch of another woman's hands on my flesh, though as her velvety lips latch on to the pulse point in my neck and gently suck, any question of why is lost in the wash of sensation her mouth is creating. My body responds to her touch like a finely tuned instrument, thrumming with a need so intense my soul feels on the verge of tearing loose from my body. My heart is racing and each surge of blood races through my body to crash against the growing pressure between my legs like the stormy sea against a breakwater - until the only thing I know is the need for release her touch is promising.

With feather touches she strokes my thighs and I open myself to her, completely exposed and vulnerable. Her hands still and a stab of fear pierces the fog of my lust. My eyes open and I am shamed to feel myself tremble. I look at her, and my breath is stolen at the awe and desire I see so clearly in her lust darkened eyes. I watch as she reaches toward me and strokes my cheek with infinite tenderness. My eyelids flutter and I lean into the caress. Unable to do anything but react, I watch as her gaze grows liquid and her voice breaks as she whispers to me, husky and reverent, "You are so beautiful Olivia."

It is not the words themselves, but the way she says my name that makes my heart break loose from its sudden fearful chains and soar with an emotion I cannot yet name. My body however, needs no such answers and I reach up, tangling my fingers in her silken hair and draw her down to me, drinking from her lips, parting them, and offering everything I am to her through the joining of our mouths.

She takes, and yet she gives; wrapping her body and soul around me even as her hands resume their journey across my skin, exploring planes and hollows, curves and swells.

She kisses her way down my throat and across the line of my collar bone, leaving a rain of fire that calls forth an answering flame within me, and I writhe beneath her. Her hair whispers over my chest, a cool counterpoint to her heated touch. She moves lower and takes one of my aching nipples into the liquid fire of her mouth and teases it with her silken tongue and I am gone, helpless under her.

Her hand is stroking my other breast and down over my ribcage, but her mouth is creating electricity: lightning that dances through my blood and down my spine to strike at my core. Moaning, I fist one hand in her hair and clutch at the damp satin skin of her back.

She moves over, switching hands and mouth, and I arch into her mouth as she bites, just hard enough to send white heat shooting through me. Her fingers are teasing higher and higher on my quivering thighs, and suddenly she is there, stroking my aching, soaked flesh. I am beyond ready for her, and plead, shameless and wanton for her touch.

Her touch is like a whisper and I arch my hips. I don't want a whisper, I don't want gentleness; I want her to take me. I want to feel her buried within me, and I tell her so. She raises her head and looks at me, all her barriers stripped away to reveal her own desire, naked in front of me as I am to her.

When she pushes into me it is not fast or hard, but slow and relentless. I am so wet it is easy, but she goes slow, adding a second finger, then a third, then a forth, until I can feel myself stretching. I spread my legs farther, encouraging her until she is there – as I imagined – buried deep inside me and I am near to weeping with the excruciating pleasure of it.

She withdraws slowly – so slowly I might scream – and then returns, going deeper as she leans up to kiss me.

My hips arch to her, desperate to pick up a rhythm, but she holds back, going slow, torturing me.

I can't breathe for the wanting, but still she denies me, her hand moving damnably slow, she strokes me, finding the places that make me arch and cry out. She presses deeper and swallows my cries with her mouth and I cling to her, my anchor in a tempest of sensation.

Finally, she increases her pace and my hips buck in response, rocking against her. There is no holding back, and as she begins to thumb my clit, I can only thrust against her, my head thrashing on the pillow and my pulse pounding in my ears. My breath rasps in my throat, catching as she fastens her mouth to my mine and thrusts into me.

I can feel the first tremors start in my belly, the coiled spring of passion wound tight: too tight – she thrusts hard and presses my clit and I come screaming off the bed. The bonds holding my soul to my body shatter, and as my muscles clench around her hand, I am thrown free, spiraling up and away on the power of my orgasm.

Her fingers do not still however, and she brings me again, drawing out the aftershocks until I can take no more.

Spent and trembling, I collapse; my body heavy, sated and languorous, even as my heart feels free for the first time in too long.

I am not aware of the tears on my face until soft lips kiss them away and I hear her softly whispering words of safety to me.

Too weak to move far, I reach out to her and she moves into my arms. I bury my face into the satin flesh of her neck and breathe down her scent and heat, using her body to anchor my spirit. I am not a crier, but the sheer power of my release has snapped some tether in my soul and I find myself adrift.

Gradually I return to myself, my heart and breath regaining some semblance of a normal rhythm. Slowly I become aware of the rapid beating of her heart beneath my cheek and the heat of her flesh. Her hands are slow and gentle on my back and in my hair, but I can feel the tiniest of tremors in her slender limbs.

Reaching out, I trace my fingertips down her hip and along her inner thigh and am rewarded when her breathing hitches and her heart races faster.

Propping myself up, I look down at Julia, my lover. That realization warms a part of me I thought long dead, and I am finally able to give name to the emotion swelling my heart.

That I am in love with another woman, with this woman, should scare me. But it doesn't. My heart knew long ago, it's just my mind that has finally caught up. The only thing I feel now is the desire to give her what she has given me. To that end, I lower myself to her and kiss her, reveling in the feeling of my body pressed atop hers, and the responses I evoke with my tongue.

She quivers beneath me, and I explore her slowly – taking note when my touch causes her to moan and gasp.

I have never known this: the feeling of another woman's flesh beneath my hands and lips, but as I take a pebbled nipple into my mouth and explore its texture, I know only the rightness and joy of it.

I hold her to me, unwilling to be distanced even as I lavish attention on her breasts and my fingers wander across the planes of her body.

I return to the haven of her mouth as my fingers find the wetness between her legs. I take my time learning her body, lost in the feeling of my fingers stroking need soaked flesh. Her heat, her cries, the way she responds to my touch – it is more intoxicating than any drug, and she is not alone in moaning when I finally slip my hand inside her.

She cries my name, begging, and I push deeper, feeling her clench around me. She is so wet, and I whisper to her, telling her how amazing she feels as I move in time with the thrusting of her hips, pushing deeper each time.

I feel the prick of her nails on my back, and drive into her harder, tearing a cry from her throat. Our movements are erratic, and I stroke her clit until she chokes out my name. Her body goes taught, wire strung, and she clenches around my hand. I feel her come and her beauty in that moment steals my breath.

I am loath to move my hand from the warmth inside her, but the desire to hold her in my arms is stronger, and I move up her body and take her in my embrace.

She is trembling still, her breath coming in ragged gasps and I feel a thread of awe that I have this power over her.

She clings to me and I hold her tight, reveling in the feeling of her nestled in my arms.

As our bodies cool, the chill of the night air creeps in and I draw the blankets around us. As I do, my hand brushes the scar on her side and my heart aches when I realize how close I came - how close we both came - to never having this.

She catches my gaze and draws my hand up, pressing it over her breast where I can feel the steady beat of her heart.

"I'm here Olivia, I'm alive and whole and I'm not going anywhere. Not unless you want me to leave."

The last is said with a hint of uncertainty and I am reminded just how fast our relationship spun out of control. And yet, looking at her, losing myself in her shadowed chocolate gaze that so closely mirrors my own, I can't think of anyplace I would rather be.

"No," I attempt to reassure her, reaching out and stroking her cheek. "I don't want you to go anywhere." My voice breaks under the weight of my emotion and need, but I feel no shame in it.

I watch as my words sink in and my breath is stolen once more as she smiles – not the sexy, cynical smirk she wears so often - but a full, unfettered expression of joy. It draws an answering smile from me, and Julia pulls me close as we snuggle down into the warm cocoon of our bed.

I know there will be rough times ahead; for us the future is still so uncertain. There is a great deal between us that has been left unsaid. As I lay here though, with my head pillowed on the swell of Julia's breast and the rhythm of her heartbeat lulling me to sleep, I am at peace in a way I have never been before. Though I may never admit it aloud, here, in this moment, with this woman, damaged as we both are, I have found the missing part of my soul. No matter what comes I will fight with everything I am to keep that. Feeling her arms tighten gently around me and her lips pressed against my hair, my last coherent thought before I drift off is the incredible certainty that I have found someone willing to fight for me as well.

The End

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