DISCLAIMER: The characters in the story are the creation of Dick Wolf and I'm using them without permission for entertainment and not for profit. The story is my own.
SPOILERS: Set after Alex comes out of witness protection, so there may be some spoilers for those who have not seen the show (or L&O) to that point. I've taken some minor liberties with canon, but they shouldn't be too distracting.
FEEDBACK: To Alcina_to_Zauberflote[at]sympatico.ca
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Blood is Thicker
By Allie



Alex's eyes felt gritty with exhaustion as she headed for the small room where she'd last seen Olivia. The detective was asleep in the armchair and Jamie Preston was sleeping on the gurney with the head raised and the walls and rails forming barriers to prevent him from rolling off the narrow mattress and onto the floor. Even in sleep Olivia looked tired and Alex felt guilty about waking her, but as she pushed open the door the detective's eyes flew open.

In her first unguarded moments of awareness, Olivia looked confused and then she smiled sleepily at Alex because she was happy to see her and had probably forgotten she was supposed to be annoyed with her. Alex's chest tightened with the love she felt and for a few seconds she couldn't speak. "Good morning, Detective." She offered Olivia a slightly loopy smile that she hoped would be blamed on lack of sleep. "I come bearing gifts."

"Bless you, I'm starving." Olivia stretched, revealing the smooth, tanned skin on her belly. "Can you keep an eye on him while I go out and brush my teeth? I'll be right back."

Before Alex could reply, the detective had left the room with her overnight bag. Left alone with Jamie Preston, Alex put the coffee tray down on the waist-high Formica cabinet that lined one wall of the small room and walked over to the gurney where the little boy lay. He was stretched out on his back, one sturdy leg sticking out from under the white blanket that covered him. With his hazel eyes closed, long lashes resting against flushed cheeks, and his dark hair falling over his forehead, he looked so innocent that it was difficult to imagine the violence that had touched his young life only hours before. One of his arms was flung out to the side, fingers sticking through the bars on the gurney. Alex gently moved it back to his side and adjusted the blanket to cover his leg.

You don't want children?

Are you offering, Counselor?

The question had hurt. It had been meant to hurt, even though Olivia had obviously regretted the barbed question as soon as it had been asked. Nevertheless, Alex had had no defense to the pointed reminder of what she'd chosen not to have: her own family. With Olivia?

Olivia approached the examination room and hesitated before walking in. The expression on Alex's face made her pause before announcing her return. Was that regret? She wondered what Alex regretted and she hoped it was her decision not to deepen their relationship. As Olivia looked on, the ADA adjusted the blanket over the child – it was an unnecessary gesture, almost as if Alex were fussing. The ADA wasn't the type to fuss, so Olivia thought the action betrayed inner turmoil that was, as always, carefully hidden. "You know, couple of those would look good on your campaign flyers."

Alex spun around, looking startled. Her short laugh sounded forced. "Children as accessories? No. My political career will be more Janet Reno than Hilary Rodham, I think."

Olivia thought about the implications of that comparison. "You think Clinton had a kid as an accessory?"

"No, but Reno reached one of the pinnacles of public-service success without even a nod toward the traditional image of a good man at home, motherhood and the ability to bake cookies. Clinton emphasized the so-called traditional aspects of her life when it was politically expedient."

Olivia made an effort to absorb the explanation, then decided that thinking about Alexandra Cabot's political motivations was too much to ask of herself on an empty stomach and picked up a container of coffee and her sticky bun. "Thanks for breakfast."

"You're welcome."

"Any news on his family?"

"He has a grandmother who lives in New Jersey, but she's out of town. State Police are trying to track her down, so she should be here within the next few days." She leaned against the wall and watched with amusement as Olivia closed her eyes in ecstasy as she took her first bite of the sugary, toffee-covered bun. "We've also arrested Brown. It appears, from the evidence gathered so far and the interviews with witnesses, that he set the fire in the shelter's laundry room, then attempted to 'rescue' the little girls. He gave Lara Stoppard sleeping pills in Kool-Aid and she's in a coma from his miscalculation of the dose. Officers found her in a minivan where he'd stashed her – probably as a temporary measure until he could get her out of town."

Olivia put down the bun. "Is she…?"

"The doctors say it's too soon to tell."

"How many others? How many fatalities?"

"Five so far, but at least three victims are still critical. Dozens are still in hospitals around Manhattan and one firefighter's career is probably over because he suffered a crushed pelvis when the ceiling came down in the room he was in."

Olivia closed her eyes. "No matter what the system does to Brown, you know it won't be enough. You were right when you said that even when we win, we don't. I mean, if he's put to death, that only means he won't have to live with the knowledge of all the lives he's shattered, including those of the little girls he was planning to rape when he set that fire."

"I know."

There was a knock on the door and an orderly came in with a tray. "Breakfast for the young man – ordered by the intake nurse."

"Thanks," Olivia said with a small smile, "he'll probably be hungry when he wakes up."

The orderly looked at the child, who frowned in his sleep. "He certainly does look like his mommy. They say that's lucky for a boy."

Olivia's smile faltered and she said softly. "I hope that turns out to be true."

"What's going to happen to him?" Alex asked after the orderly had left.

"Foster care until his mother is well enough to take him home or until his grandmother is found and makes a decision on custody. The hospital social worker should be here in an hour." Olivia sounded close to tears.

"He's really gotten to you, hasn't he?" Alex asked, rhetorically. "I can't pretend to understand, but I can imagine what it might be like if I suddenly found out I wasn't an only child and had a nephew…"

"He's not responsible for everything that's happened. My mother getting raped, his mother getting raped and beaten… But it really seems as though he's going to be punished for it. He's so small and so vulnerable and he's going to end up in the overburdened foster care system because his grandmother happens to be out of town when he needs her and his next closest relative has only bitter genetic connections to him."

"Liv, you've dealt with victims who were just as young as he is and much worse off."

Olivia raised her eyes to look at Alex. "But none of them was ever so closely related to me that strangers thought he was my son."

A knock on the door saved Alex from having to respond. "Olivia, I didn't realize you were the one who'd been stuck with that baby overnight." The woman was olive-skinned with short, black hair and she looked fresh and professional in a cream suit and pumps. She suddenly seemed to notice that Olivia wasn't alone. "Oh, hello, I'm Maribel Piquero, I supervise the social workers assigned to hospitals on the West Side. We're swamped today, so I'm stepping in to deal with some of the urgent cases."

"Alexandra Cabot," Alex said, accepting the hand Piquero offered to be shaken.

"I was told we need to place a toddler until relatives can come to claim him."

"He's ten months old and I don't think he's walking yet. Is he classified as a toddler?" Olivia already didn't like where the conversation was going.

Maribel Piquero frowned. "We'd consider him an infant, which changes everything. I'll have to go back to my office. To be honest, it's really tight right now. It's not that we don't have homes, it's that the screening process is backed up."

"So what's going to happen to him?" Alex was curious.

"We can probably find him a bed in pediatrics for a few days until he's placed in a foster home or until his family claims him."

"A bed? But there's nothing wrong with him. He's wrenched away from his mother because she's severely injured and now he's going to just be warehoused…?"

"Olivia, you know we do the best we can with limited resources. I never work fewer than twelve hours a day and I still can't keep up with the cases that get referred to me."

"I'll take him."

It was impossible to say who was most surprised by Olivia's statement, but from the look on her face, Alex suspected it was Olivia. "Olivia, unless you're next of kin, have permission from the next of kin or you're a registered foster parent, you know that isn't going to happen."

"So make me a registered foster parent. What do I need to do?"

"There's an application process and then a home inspection has to be arranged…"

"C'mon, Maribel, you can fast-track this. You said yourself that you need more foster parents and I'm offering…"

"You have a demanding job, Detective. Just where do you propose to find the time to care for this child?"

"Olivia's on leave for the next week, on the orders of Captain Donald Cragen." Alex supplied, not knowing why she was facilitating Olivia's hare-brained idea.

"And we don't expect it to take more than a few days for the kid's grandmother to come and get him. Come on, Maribel."

"I owe you, so after this we're even. He stays here tonight and I will send someone to do a home inspection first thing in the morning. From what I recall of your bachelor pad, you haven't got a hope in hell of getting it baby-proofed by tomorrow morning, but I can't delay longer than that. As you've pointed out, he's been through a lot and I checked on his mother before I came down here and she's not going anywhere for weeks."

"Fine. All I need is a chance."

"You got it." Her expression softened. "It's not that I don't think you'd be a good foster mother, Olivia, you know that. But I know you; you've always been able to care for the victims and then let them go. This kid's obviously different and I worry that if you've gotten this attached overnight, you'll end up broken-hearted in a few days. But, as I said, I owe you, so I'll give you a break and let you have a copy of the inspection checklist that the case worker will use."

"Thanks, 'Bel." Olivia said, softly.

"Don't thank me yet – I'm not sure I'm acting in your best interests, but my job is to act in the best interests of the child, not stubborn SVU detectives." She turned to leave, glancing over at the child on the gurney before she did. "Cute kid. Looks familiar, must look like a baby in a diaper commercial. Right, I'm going to make arrangements with pediatrics and then I'll meet you up there when you drop him off and give you the checklist and the application package." She smiled at Alex. "Nice to meet you, Miss Cabot. Olivia's hard work, but I'm sure you'll find that she's worth it."

Olivia and Alex were both silent when Piquero had left. "Sorry about that. You introduced yourself without giving your title and there aren't too many other explanations for us being together having coffee in this room at seven in the morning."

"You don't have to apologize because somebody assumes…"

"Go on, say it Alex. Because somebody assumes we're lovers." She smiled bitterly. "Don't worry, Maribel won't gossip."

"I never assumed she would. Is she an ex-lover of yours?"

"Would it bother you if she were?" Olivia asked wearily. She sighed. "She's someone I know from the early days in SVU. She'd just got her MSW and started working with battered women. We were kind of becoming friends when she became a target of a vengeful ex-husband. I was in the right place at the right time, the knife that was intended for her throat ended up in my arm, the assailant ran and she wound up staying with me for a while until he was caught."

Alex noticed Olivia hadn't answered the question and took that as confirmation that Olivia and Maribel had been lovers, albeit at what had probably been a difficult time for both of them. She accepted that Olivia wasn't going to elaborate on the relationship and asked instead, "How are you going to get your home ready for that inspection tomorrow?"

"I don't know, but I hope Stabler has a couple of hours off today, because I'm gonna need all the help I can get."

"Are you sure about this, Liv?"

"Yes. I can't even imagine how many times during my childhood somebody should have stepped in and taken me in when my mother wasn't in any condition to take care of me. But at the same time, I'm glad I was never put into the system because there really wasn't a time when I felt as though my mother didn't love me – even if she couldn't cope. I have the chance to be that temporary solution for this child. I couldn't live with myself if I abandoned him."

Alex nodded. "I have to go. I need to go home and get ready for work. Brown's arraignment won't be until tomorrow morning, but there's a lot to coordinate before then. The DA's office can't afford any technical glitches with this one."

"You'll do great," Olivia said, with the reassuring smile that always made Alex feel as though she could take on the world and win.



Wednesday night, the night she and Olivia were supposed to have been at the opera, found Alex clutching two shopping bags and trying her best not to get soaked by the rain as she rang Olivia's doorbell.

"Who is it?" The disembodied voice, hardly welcoming, came through the tinny speaker next to the panel where the residents' names and buzzer codes were listed.

"It's Alex."

There was a clicking sound as the outer door was unlocked and Alex stepped into the small lobby. Olivia's building didn't have a doorman, but, as Olivia had pointed out, at least four cops lived there, so the residents were armed.

Alex deposited her wet umbrella inside the front door of Olivia's apartment and stepped out of her shoes. "That is the summer storm to end all summer storms," she remarked as lightning flashed across the sky outside, followed closely by a clap of thunder.

"Come in and I'll pour you a glass of wine to distract you from the noise." Olivia smiled at her and Alex felt her heart melt. "Your jeans are soaked. You wanna borrow a pair of pants? The air conditioning is on, because I can't open the windows with that monsoon going on outside."

"Yes, please." Because she hadn't been expecting company, Olivia wasn't wearing a bra and the top she wore had spaghetti straps; it concealed little and badly. With the little blue top she wore some kind of workout or yoga pants that clung to her hips and thighs before flaring over her calves. Alex was sure they were very comfortable for Olivia, but they were having the opposite effect on her. She started to think that her spontaneous visit had been a bad idea. Further evidence that she simply was not good at spontaneity.

When she came out of the bathroom after changing into a pair of cotton drawstring pants that fit her surprisingly well, Olivia handed her a glass of wine and asked, "Why aren't you at the opera?"

"Wouldn't have been as much fun without you, so I compromised." She rummaged in one of the bags she'd been carrying and pulled a DVD out triumphantly. "You couldn't go to Un ballo in maschera, so I brought the opera to you. Ok, so the production is twenty years old and it's Covent Garden and not the Met, but Domingo sings the role of the king. I also brought Thai food."

Olivia looked moved. "Alex, you know you didn't have to…"

"I know I haven't hidden my reservations about your decision to take in Jamie and I don't think that was, is, fair to you. It's my way of saying I'm sorry." She looked around. "The place looks different."

"It damn well should. Everything that the nosy case worker would have considered hazardous is hidden away or more than four feet off the floor. I had the whole squad over here on Monday night getting it ready. Come, I'll show you," she said enthusiastically.

Alex trailed behind her as she pointed out where her computer desk had displaced her dining table and her dining table was pushed up against a wall, partly blocking access to a bookcase. "Once we got that stuff out of the den, it was ready to be transformed."

As she spoke, she pushed open the door to what had been a small study with a tiny window overlooking the apartment building next door. Alex gasped. A white crib, complete with Winnie the Pooh bumpers, had been set up on the far wall and there was a matching chest of drawers under the window. Olivia's cream leather office chair was still in the room, but its original function had been disguised with a Pooh cushion. There was a wicker hamper and the walls had been decorated with borders around the ceiling and above the base boards. Although there was a lamp with a yellow and blue shade sitting on the chest of drawers, the soft light in the room came from a night light on the wall. Olivia's filing cabinet and mini-stereo were still in one corner, but beyond that the room had been converted into a nursery.

"Wow. Olivia, this must have cost a fortune…" A lot to spend on a cop's salary for a child you'll only have with you for a few days. Alex's worry over what Olivia was doing increased threefold.

"No, I only had to pay for stuff like the baby gate across the doorway to the kitchen, some kitchen gear and the other safety gadgets like covers for the electrical outlets and locks for cabinets… Oh yeah, and the decorations in the room." She shrugged. "I made a decision to spend a coupla hundred dollars to save a little boy who might be one of my closest living relatives from the random nature of foster care. Even if I never see him after tomorrow, I know I did the right thing."

"But the furniture…"

"It turns out Elliot's relatives are still reproducing and his youngest brother was about to redecorate the nursery because his baby is three and has outgrown the crib. It all goes to Goodwill when my stint as a foster mother is over."

Alex walked into the room and looked down at the little boy who was sleeping in the crib. Once again a hand was flung above his head and he'd kicked off the covers. She fought the urge to reach in and tuck him in properly. She could understand Olivia's desire to protect this child – she just couldn't understand her own.

"C'mon, dinner's getting cold and you promised me an opera." Olivia's voice interrupted her uncomfortable thoughts.

Alex managed a pained smile as she walked past Olivia to re-enter the living room. "How have you two been getting along?"

"He's a pretty easy kid, I think, although I have no idea what I'm talking about. He forgives me for not really knowing what the hell I'm doing, eats most of what I offer him, drinks milk and orange juice. I wish he'd sleep through the night, but the pediatrician had warned me that he's teething so it might be rough. All in all, I think he'll survive until Rhonda Preston gets here tomorrow night."

"Have you heard any more from the lab?"

"Yes. Melinda called me." Olivia's movements became jerky as she made her way to the couch and collapsed onto it before reaching for her wine. "I have a lot of markers in common with Gladys, but none in mitochondrial DNA. We have the same father, so Jamie's my nephew and the dead guy, identified as John Stirling, was his father. Gladys Preston really had great men in her life. Her father was a rapist and so was the father of her child."

She blinked and then stared at the rain streaming down the window. "Fin says she's showing signs of waking up and for that I'm happy for her mother and the people who love her, but considering what she's just learned that Stirling is capable of…." She squeezed her eyes shut for a few seconds and when she opened them again there was a bleakness there that made Alex feel helpless. Before the lawyer could say anything, Olivia continued quietly. "She's probably going to be pretty traumatized when she regains consciousness. I hate to spring on her just what her father was capable of, if she doesn't already know."

Alex sat next to Olivia, close enough for their thighs to touch. "Olivia, it's very possible that she knew about Stirling before that night. She'd obviously had a relationship with him and the amount of damage he inflicted was severe; she was very close to death. You and I both know that domestic violence tends to escalate. It's unlikely that it got to that point in a first attack."

Olivia nodded. "Fin says Gladys and the baby moved into the building six or seven months ago and neighbors never saw any male visitors – just her mother. Sounds as though she might have left him."

"And he found her. But she fought back…"

"Good for her." Olivia felt a small, illogical thrill of pride in a stranger with whom she happened to share some genetic code.

She suddenly became aware of how close Alex was. The odd thing about having sex with someone else while she'd been on vacation was that it seemed to have made her want Alex Cabot even more. Perhaps it was just the fact that after more than a year of abstinence as she'd waited for Alex to be ready, last week had reminded her of how great it felt to touch someone and to be touched by someone. She had no regrets about sleeping with Natalie Quinlan on the last two days of her holiday; she'd been honest and told Natalie that she was in love with someone else – someone she could never have. Natalie had not had a problem with it and they'd even spoken twice since Olivia had been back. The only unforeseen repercussion of her little fling had been a reawakening of sensual awareness and her body's insistence that if sex with Natalie had been good, sex with Alexandra Cabot would change her life forever.

Olivia stood up. "Let me get the food and some plates. I wish the Thai place around the corner was as good as the one in your neighborhood." She was on the verge of babbling, but she needed to put some space between herself and the ADA or she just might make a fool of herself by kissing Alex… again.

Alex watched the detective's ass as she walked away and the ADA felt her body react in an elemental way that sheer force of will could not control. She wanted Olivia and it felt distressingly right to want her. To make the situation worse, Olivia loved her, she was sure of it. Olivia wanted her, that was still obvious despite whatever had happened during the detective's holiday. Sex with Olivia would be great. She hadn't needed the kiss or the way they'd instinctively known how to touch each other to confirm that. Sex with Olivia could put her next career step, the Manhattan DA's office, in jeopardy and it would make a successful run for the Governor's mansion almost impossible.

Olivia walked back into the room carrying bowls and chopsticks, hips swaying slightly as she took those long, loose-limbed strides and nipples clearly outlined against her thin cotton top. So you have to wait for Jack to step down before you become DA. So what? Alex's body asked.

Alex stood up. "I'll get the food. I left the bag by the door."

Somehow, despite the tension in the room, they managed to have a semi-normal conversation while they ate. Probably because Olivia had reminded Alex of the first time they'd bumped into each other at Lincoln Center. Alex had been in full evening wear: navy blue evening dress, diamonds, the works. Olivia had been wearing a black trouser suit and a white blouse with the collar open to reveal a simple gold necklace. Alex had been at the bar on the upper level of the opera house because she'd needed to get away from the people she'd been with.

"Detective!" She hadn't been able to hide her surprise or her relief.

Olivia had smiled wryly. "The lower classes do sometimes enjoy the opera, you know counselor."

Alex had had the grace to look embarrassed. "That's not it… you're just so comfortable at…"

"O'Hara's with a room full of cops and sawdust on the floor?" Olivia had raised one eyebrow and Alex had found herself fighting off a blush.

"I'm normally smoother than this," Alex had admitted with a grimace. "May I buy you a drink?"

"I think you owe me." Olivia had accepted. "Now since I don't believe your seat is at "Family Circle" level, what the heck are you doing here?"

"I was in the company of the most insufferable, self-important, tone-deaf, grandstanding social climber that anyone could have the misfortune to be around…" The words had rushed out, having obviously been repressed for the first half of the evening. As soon as she'd said them, Alex had covered her mouth in embarrassment. "Oh my god, that was so rude… Forget I said it."

Olivia had found herself laughing out loud at the usually unflappable ADA's show of humanity. As they'd waited in line for their drinks, Alex had asked, "Are you here alone?"

Olivia had nodded. "You're right and most of my friends prefer O'Hara's, but the opera is a habit that my mother got me into and I love it, possibly more than anything else I do… except maybe rock-climbing."

It had been Alex's turn to laugh. Olivia's two pastimes said so much about who the detective was: brawn, sensitivity, passion and compassion, all rolled into a gorgeous package. "Well, I wish I'd been wise enough to come on my own, but I came out of witness protection too late to subscribe for this season. I can probably get single seats for most of the performances I don't want to miss, but a production of Figaro, which David McVicar crossed the Atlantic to direct, just naturally had to be sold out. So when Jeremy asked me if I'd like to accompany him, I thought it would be worth the sacrifice, even if he annoys me. After all, we're with a group of friends…"

Olivia had smiled sympathetically. "So you're a Mozart fan?"

"Not really – not for opera anyway. I mean, the music is gorgeous, but that can sometimes create a stark contrast with the mediocrity of the characterization."

Olivia's opinion of the ADA had gone up a notch. Not many people dared to criticize Mozart. "I know what you mean. This one's the exception for me, well this one and La Clemenza di tito. I guess I like the way Figaro deals with the politics of class."

"Exactly! And, of course, the music is… Mozart."

They'd been barely halfway through their drinks when the five-minute warning had come for the end of the intermission, because they'd been talking instead of drinking. It was probably the longest conversation they'd ever had that had not been related to work. Twice more that season they'd attended the same performances and each time they'd agreed to meet at the bar, ordering their drinks beforehand and chatting their way through the intermissions.

It had made sense to buy seats next to each other the following year, although Olivia had refused to allow Alex to pay for her tickets and an NYPD detective not being able to easily afford Alex's usual tickets had resulted in the compromise on seating. "Be a chance for you to see how the rest of us live," Olivia had teased, not feeling the least bit guilty that the blonde would not be seeing and hearing the opera from her usual perch at the front of the first balcony.

As they settled down on the sofa to watch Verdi's Masked Ball, part of Olivia still considered them to be an odd pairing. Olivia wasn't even sure she wanted to be Captain and Alex was sure she wanted to be State Governor – she'd admitted as much to Olivia when they'd been having post-opera drinks at a bar on Broadway.

"You'll have to live in Albany. Can a Manhattanite really adjust to that?" Olivia had joked, her stomach churning because she couldn't imagine a lesbian governor being the first choice of voters in rural regions of New York State, meaning that Alex would have to be straight, closeted or celibate in order to attain her goal.

"I've spent my life adjusting to a lot of things. I even adjusted to working for an insurance company when the lives of the people I love were threatened. I know that I can do a lot of good if I realize my plans." The steel in her voice had left no doubt in Olivia's mind that Alex was going to get to where she wanted or die trying.

Olivia knew that her persistent love for Alex was a waste of time. Alex had the self-discipline to ignore any reciprocal feeling and it would be in Olivia's best interest to avoid Alex's company and start dating other people – not just for sex, but for companionship and love. Her attempt to compartmentalize her life and get companionship and love from Alex, while getting sex from someone else, was just stupid.

She forced herself to concentrate on the opera as it played out on the television screen. The young Domingo was dashing as the king, Gustavo, and his earnest love for his best friend's wife, Amelia, was appealing. The first time she'd seen the opera she'd been thirteen and had complained bitterly to her mother that the man singing the part of Gustavo was "a troll" and she hadn't been able to believe that Amelia could love him when her husband was so much better-looking. Her mother had laughed and urged her to listen, instead of looking. "It's very attractive to have someone love you. You have to listen to the excitement in Gustavo's voice when he sees that Amelia is going to be at the ball. Even if they never admit their love, you listen to them sing about each other and know that on some level the connection is felt."

Olivia had smiled. "That's really romantic, Mom."

Her mother's eyes had turned bleak. "It's fiction," she'd said coolly and Olivia had felt a shiver go through her.

As Amelia begged the fortune-teller for a potion to make her stop loving Gustavo, Olivia whispered, "Oh my god," and stood up. Leaving Alex in the living room, she went to the bathroom, splashed water on her face and looked at herself in the mirror. She looked tired and it wasn't just because she'd offered to take care of a teething child. It was because her life was so screwed up. She remembered when her ex-boyfriend had come into town just after Alex went into witness protection. He'd wanted to take up where they'd left off and when she'd turned him down, he'd offered her a night of sex. Her response had been that she wanted stability in her life – not what he'd been offering. But this thing with Alex precluded any hope of a stable, normal life.

"Olivia?" Alex was standing in the doorway looking puzzled and more than slightly worried.

Olivia's brown eyes were pools of sadness as she said, "I've seen that opera at least half a dozen times… and for the first time, I understand."

Alex felt a fluttering of fear. "What do you understand?"

"I understand wanting to do something… anything… to stop loving somebody. I understand how loving somebody special who's been chosen by fate for greatness can be intoxicating and consuming, but it can also bring you a life of pain because it's hopeless and it only prevents you from living the ordinary life that… fate has chosen for you."


"Don't tell me you don't see the parallel, Alex. Or am I flattering myself by thinking you love me despite the fact that I'm completely unsuitable for you in terms of your career goals?"

"No," Alex admitted softly. "I love you. I'll always love you."

Olivia looked at the absolute certainty on Alex's face and, for the first time since Alex had returned from witness protection, she started to sob.



Olivia was crying as though her heart was breaking and Alex knew exactly how that felt. "Please Liv… Please, baby, don't."

Hearing Alex call her "baby", the same endearment that had slipped out as they'd kissed for the first time, wrenched Olivia's aching heart and she cried harder. She struggled for control. "I promised myself I'd never…"

Alex stepped closer to her. "Never what? Never show me how much my ambition hurts you? Do you think I don't know?" She wrapped her arms around Olivia and held her as she cried, ignoring the tears that burned her own eyes.

Eventually, Olivia's sobs stopped and she pulled away, clearly embarrassed. She turned away from Alex and pulled tissues out of a box to blow her nose loudly. Everything about her body language screamed for Alex to leave her alone to lick her wounds, but Alex didn't leave.

She stared at the back of Olivia's head and said sadly, "I never wanted this, you know. In all the planning and preparation, I never imagined that there would be… this."

"A dumb cop who falls for you?" Olivia's voice was filled with self-contempt.

"Don't give me that self-pitying bullshit, Olivia. You're a cop right down to your soul, but we both know that you don't have even a nodding acquaintanceship with 'dumb'."

Alex sounded annoyed and that pissed Olivia off. "So why am I standing here pining over a woman who wants nothing to do with me?"

"This isn't about what I want! This is about what I have the opportunity to do. What I want is for this empty, superficial shell of an evening to be the real thing. I want to come home to you, have you hand me dry clothes, then between the two of us we'd make dinner, we'd eat, watch a DVD…" She paused for breath, oblivious to the tears that spilled down her cheeks. "Then later we'd clear up and go to bed… make love, fall asleep together." She gulped and then said in a calmer tone, "What I want has nothing to do with what I'm actually trying to do with my life."

Olivia had turned around halfway through the tirade. She'd seen the tears and the raw pain that twisted Alex's features. The words, the images, stole her breath away and left her speechless. And as she stood there staring in stunned silence, Alex turned around and rushed out of the room.

Olivia gathered herself to follow and found that Alex had already picked up her handbag from the end of the couch and was by the door trying to put back on her damp shoes, but haste made her clumsy. She saw Olivia approaching and said, "I'll return your pants this weekend, after I've had them cleaned." The words, spoken louder than was strictly necessary, seemed to be projected as a barrier to keep Olivia from coming any closer.

"Forget the pants, Alex. Please… don't leave."

Alex shook her head stubbornly. "You were right. I have to. We have to stop doing this. We're both work-obsessed and what little free time we have, we spend together – the opera, Downbeat, lunches to bitch about work… I can't do it any more. It makes me," she hesitated as Olivia stepped closer, invading her personal space, "want." Alex took a shaky breath. "You were right to go on holiday and you're right to want a full life with someone who is able to meet all your needs."

"This isn't easy on you, either. We both know that."

Alex grimaced. She didn't deserve Olivia's empathy. "But I'm the only one who can stop this. All I have to do is accept one strategic dinner invitation or have one catered dinner party with you as my guest and it would be over." She offered Olivia the same small, bitter smile that she'd given her when she'd said good-bye before entering witness protection. It was a smile that acknowledged the irony of being alive, but not fully alive. Being capable of having a future, but denied the future that she wanted. "My choice."

Olivia looked hurt, but she also seemed determined to make Alex face the fact that not everything about the situation was one-sided. "Alex, do you remember why we were never seriously tempted to sleep together when you were our ADA in SVU?"

Alex didn't try to deny the attraction that had always simmered between them. "It would have jeopardized too many cases and what we were doing was so important… critical."

Olivia allowed her lips to twitch in an attempt at a smile. "We were good together, weren't we? You and your four detectives?" We closed so many cases and got so many convictions that poor Novak just can't live up to it. "So we ignored everything else and concentrated on the work. Besides, we got to see so much of each other and in such safe circumstances that, for me at least, it took the edge off the craving."

Alex shrugged and looked puzzled. She didn't know why Olivia had brought up their past working relationship.

"Don't you see, Alex? I still believe in the good that you can do. I still believe that what you can achieve with your drive and your sense of right and wrong, when combined with your talent, connections and resources, is even more important. More important and to more people – not just a few dozen SVU victims a year." She was close enough to touch Alex and, unable to help herself, she trailed a finger down the ADA's cheek. "I want you to realize your ambitions because I think it's the right thing to do. I respect and, having spent a lot of time thinking about it, support your ambitions."

Alex closed her eyes, all her senses focused on the soft fingertips that now traced the line of her jaw. Olivia was letting her go. Pain ripped through her chest, paralyzing her with its intensity. "Which is why you were able to have your holiday romance."

"She reminded me of you," Olivia admitted quietly and a shudder went through Alex. "Not the way she looked," the detective explained, remembering Natalie's long, brown hair and unusual, slate-gray eyes, "but just in the way she took on the world full-throttle and with absolute confidence."

"Olivia… I want to be happy for you. I hope you get everything you need… deserve. But I can't hear you talk about her. I don't want to wish that someone else becomes a… victim of our…" She couldn't say "relationship", because it wasn't, really. "Morally, I want you to have found someone who gives you… everything, but…"

"She isn't a victim. She knows I'm in love with somebody else; I was completely honest. She had her own reasons for being with me, even though she knew going in that there was a part of me she couldn't have."

And you think that knowing she can't have you will stop a woman from falling completely and hopelessly in love with you? Alex felt further tears threatening and swallowed hard as she fought to hold on to her dignity. "I need to leave."

"Do you?" She rested a gentle hand on Alex's arm. "Since we both agree that this evening is an illusion and we can never have the real thing, would it be so wrong to keep the pretense going for one whole night?"

Alex's heart started to pound in her chest and her eyes were wide as fear, hope and the stirrings of physical want warred for dominance inside her. "What are you suggesting?"

"That we pretend it's real; that everything is possible. That for tonight we forget about the outside world and just be us… in love… at home." Her voice cracked because she wanted to be close to Alex so badly that it made speech difficult.

Alex shook her head. "Just kissing you in my office made it so hard to concentrate on anything for the next few days. How can you think that… doing more than that will somehow help the situation?"

"Alex," Olivia said quietly, "if you want to put distance between us after tonight for the sake of our sanity, your career and my ability to function; if tonight is going to be all there is of this… closeness we've had since your time in SVU, I don't want any regrets about how we end it." Seeing the weakening in the blond woman, Olivia drew a painful parallel that only the two of them could appreciate. "When you were in witness protection and you tried to accept that you weren't coming back, didn't it haunt you that we never got to say a proper good-bye?"

"Yes. You know it did." She'd lain awake through so many nights, filled with regrets and memories of things that had almost happened, words that had been on the verge of being said and a soft pair of lips that she'd never got to kiss.

Olivia knew she was being manipulative, but she didn't care. She was letting Alex have the future her way, but in exchange, she wanted, at least, to have that one night. "And do you think that you'll have fewer regrets if you leave now, so that all we'll have in the future are memories of a love that we never got to express… and continued companionship at the opera?"

"I don't know if I can," Alex said hoarsely.

Olivia looked crestfallen and she moved back almost imperceptibly. "I understand," she replied. She'd always suspected that her feelings ran slightly deeper that Alex's and this situation seemed to be the final proof. Suddenly she wanted Alex to leave so that she could begin grieving in private for something she'd managed to lose, twice, without ever having really had it.

"No, Olivia, you don't understand." This time it was Alex's hand that breached the space between them, tilting Olivia's chin up, so that the detective was forced to look at her. "I'm not trying to leave because I don't love you enough to want one night with you before we attempt to move on. I'm trying to leave now because I don't know that I'll have the strength to move on if we make love."

"Then don't think about leaving. For tonight, let's just pretend that this is forever. Let's finish watching a DVD and go to bed, make love… fall asleep together." Her voice was warm and persuasive. She wasn't sure that what she was doing was fair, but then she wasn't sure that what Alex was doing was fair, either. "One way or the other, tomorrow is going to hurt like hell, Alex. So…"

As she'd been speaking, their mouths had moved closer and closer together, so by the time she spoke the last word, her breath brushed against Alex's lips. Alex whimpered and tried to turn away.

"Alex?" Olivia asked softly.

Alex looked helpless and her lips trembled. "I know… I know intellectually that this is going to make it more difficult but, god help me, I love you too much to walk away right now."

The first kiss was soft and Olivia's eyes drifted shut. Alex pulled back to look at Olivia, as though memorizing the reaction on the detective's face. Olivia opened her eyes and her unguarded look of love made the ADA feel light-headed. She leaned forward to kiss her detective again, this time exerting more pressure so that Olivia's lips parted. Alex moaned, cupping Olivia's cheek as she deepened the kiss.

Olivia trembled and put a hand on Alex's waist and then slipped it under the blond woman's shirt to stroke the soft, warm skin. The reality of having the woman she'd loved for so long in her arms almost overwhelmed her and she tilted her head to the side, wanting to have more of Alex. The hand on the ADA's waist moved up, taking the cotton shirt with it as the detective caressed bare skin, making Alex gasp at the contact, breaking the kiss.

"I love the way you taste," Olivia said, huskily.

"And I can't wait to taste you… all of you." Alex replied, her voice so low it sounded like a growl.

"Does that mean you don't want to watch the rest of the opera…?"

"Shut up," Alex said, before kissing Olivia again.

Olivia took that as a "no".




"Go back to sleep. It's Jamie. I'll be back as soon as I can." Olivia reluctantly disentangled her limbs from Alex's, looking at the clock as she got out of bed and hunted on the floor for her abandoned clothes. They'd only been asleep for half an hour, but she wasn't going to complain about having her sleep interrupted when it would have been so much worse if the little boy had woken up earlier.

"D'you think he heard us?" Alex was obviously cringing, even though her eyes were still heavy-lidded with sleep.

Olivia kissed the tip of her nose. "He slept through the refinishing of my upstairs neighbor's floor. Not even you can get that loud."

"I was thinking more about you." Alex was smiling as she snuggled into Olivia's recently-vacated pillow, savoring her lover's warmth and smell. Olivia shivered as she watched, then she reluctantly tore herself away from Alex to attend to the baby.

She pushed open the door to the nursery and saw him sitting up and trying to shove his entire fist into his mouth, to ease the discomfort from his emerging teeth. He had drooled onto his shirt and his diaper was probably wet, so he looked pretty pathetic. When he caught sight of her, he pulled himself to a standing position and started to wail. "Up!" he demanded.

"Shh! It's ok. Liv's here and Alex is trying to sleep so she can go to work tomorrow to kick legal butt and take names." She picked him up and hugged him to her.

"Doooo!" Jamie made his second demand, farting loudly as he said it.

She found herself laughing softly. "I'm going to miss you," she told him. "You make me look so cool and urbane in comparison. Of course, the fact that I have to compare myself to someone who's not even a year old in order to look sophisticated is kind of pathetic, but that's the joy of it: you can't talk, so you can't tell anyone."

"Doo," Jamie replied.

"Yes, you can have some juice, although I'm probably not supposed to give a baby juice at two in the morning. Lucky for you I have no idea what I'm doing baby-wise and if I had itchy, achy gums, I'd like to think somebody would break the rules for me, too." She continued talking to him as she changed him and then she hitched him onto her hip and headed for the kitchen. She poured some juice into a sippy cup, handed it to him and carried him back to the makeshift nursery. He was cranky, clinging to her neck like a monkey and refusing to be put back in the crib, so she sat in the chair and held him in her lap while he quickly lost interest in the juice and chose instead to chew the short spout on the cup.

Having already learned that he was soothed by the sound of her voice, she started talking to him again. "It's a crazy world out there, Jamie. But I figure you're a smart cookie and you're probably going to do ok. I'll get to meet your grandma tomorrow. I wonder what you call her? Grandma? Nana? She's going to be so happy to see you…" As she chatted, his blinks got longer and longer and she smiled at him.

"You're so beautiful," she said softly, when she was sure he was asleep, then she placed gentle kiss on his soft curls.

"So are you." Olivia looked up to see Alex leaning against the door jamb staring at her. Alex was wearing the cotton shirt she'd been wearing earlier, but she hadn't bothered to button it and she was naked underneath.

"You're biased," Olivia demurred with a smile.

Alex nodded, because she was finding it difficult to speak. Her hands bunched into fists as she looked at them. It was so easy to imagine them as mother and son. She wondered if DNA accounted for the eerie bond they seem to have formed so quickly and with such ease. She had the feeling that Olivia would want that some day: family, to provide for herself what her parents had so spectacularly failed to provide for her.

Alex felt a fresh sense of loss. Her childhood had been happy and that had largely been because her parents had been so much in love in addition to doting on her. They'd instilled discipline in her and perhaps they'd gone overboard in teaching her to have high expectations of herself, but she'd once thought that if she ever had a child, she'd want to pass on the sense of safety and confidence in unwavering parental love, which had been her parents' gift to her. She felt vaguely uneasy about her choice not to take that path and she knew her unease stemmed from what she saw between Olivia and Jamie.

The cup the baby was holding fell to the floor and Olivia stood with him and put him down in the crib, pulling a light blanket over him, even though it would be off within the hour. She saw the expression on Alex's face and said, "Sweetie, you're not supposed to be sad, remember? Tonight we pretend it's forever."

"Come back to bed with me and remind me," she invited urgently and Olivia took the hand she held out, allowing herself to be led back to the bedroom.

A few hours later, Olivia let out a shaky breath as the world slowly came back into focus. The room was getting brighter as the first signs of dawn lit the sky, supplementing the glow of the bedside lamp. She closed her eyes again, partly to savor the feeling of Alex sliding up her body and lying on top of her and partly because she didn't want to acknowledge the arrival of the new day and the end of their magical night together.

"You're so damn beautiful when you come," Alex whispered, kissing Olivia's damp temple, then her cheek and finally her lips.

"I'll always love you, Alex."

"I know. In my head I wish I didn't believe that, but in my heart I cling to it because it's the only thing that's going to keep me from going insane."

"What time do you have to leave?"

"No later than six. I need to be at my desk by seven – especially since my cell phone has been on vibrate in the bottom of my bag all night."


"None. My body is very, very happy that there were no interruptions…" This time the kiss she shared with Olivia was deeper. Olivia lifted a hand lazily and cupped the back of Alex's head as they kissed, making a sound of satisfaction as Alex's body moved restlessly against hers.

"I can't believe I want you again," Alex's statement was issued on a moan.

Olivia expertly rolled Alex off her and pinned her hips to the bed with one strong thigh. "Good, because you're about to have me again…"

Her mouth eagerly made its way down Alex's body, slowing only when it got to the blond woman's hips. "I love you," she said, softly as she feathered kisses across prominent hip bones and made small circles with her tongue over heated skin, tasting sweat and herself and something else, something uniquely Alex.


"A lawyer at a loss for words is a good thing," Olivia murmured as her mouth continued its sensual journey across the top of Alex's left thigh and moved languidly to the top of the right. She opened her mouth wide, so that Alex could feel the various textures of teeth and tongue and soft lips, placing biting, open-mouthed kisses along Alex's skin, moving from the front of her leg to her inner thigh. Alex's legs parted in surrender and Olivia whispered, "God, you're beautiful."

"Please, baby."

"Not yet…"

Alex whimpered as Olivia shifted her weight, giving herself leverage to flip the ADA on to her stomach. "Oh…" the blond woman said softly as she found herself pinned between the mattress and a very hot, very naked police officer. She writhed beneath Olivia's weight, the texture of the cotton sheets providing a soft abrasion of her sensitized breasts that felt so good in combination with the feeling of Olivia's body on her that she moaned in satisfaction.

Olivia laughed softly. "It gets better," she promised, biting slightly less than gently into the back of Alex's shoulder.

"Oh god," Alex gasped, feeling close to sensory overload. Olivia lifted her weight off Alex, only to grasp the ADA's hips and lift them, so that Alex's breasts were pulled along the sheet. Alex found herself on her knees – completely exposed and feeling vulnerable in a way that made her shiver with anticipation.

They'd played this game earlier and she knew what to expect, but it still made her gasp when Olivia entered her – a delicate penetration with one teasing finger accompanied by the scraping of Olivia's teeth along the skin of her back.


Olivia took her time complying with the plea, the fingers of her left hand stroking lightly over Alex's pubic mound and seeming to accidentally brush the blond woman's clit, as one finger of her right hand continued the light, teasing penetration. Delicate muscles responded to the touch by tightening around Olivia's finger.

"Please…" Alex couldn't manage more than one word at a time, but Olivia got the message and deepened the penetration. Alex's hips moved back, trying to get more of her lover. Olivia responded by inserting a second finger and moving deeper into the woman she loved beyond all reason. She continued the slow, deliberate thrusts with her right hand and Alex's hips started to move in an involuntary counterpoint as the fingers of Olivia's left hand moved lightly over the blond woman's clit with each stroke.

"God…" Alex gasped, collapsing forward and trapping Olivia's left hand in a delicious position.

Olivia followed her down and inserted a third finger, stretching her with each deep thrust. They were both bathed in sweat, but they were almost silent. There were occasional gasps and soft, incoherent sounds of pleasure, but mainly there was the sound of their bodies and the rhythmic shifting of the mattress as they made love for what they both accepted would be the last time.

"Gonna… come… so… hard…" Alex gasped, each word punctuated by a strong movement of Olivia's hand, before she lost the ability to speak.

As orgasmic shudders shook her body, Alex dug her fingers into the mattress and was aware of nothing but explosive pleasure and the reassuring presence of the woman she loved.

As they held each other afterwards, Olivia said softly, "Thank you for the most incredible night of my life."

"Ditto," Alex slurred, blue eyes opening halfway to focus on Olivia's face.

"I love an eloquent woman," Olivia joked.

"Good. Hoping to be, later."

Olivia smiled. "You should try to sleep for a while. The alarm won't be going off for an hour and you have to work."

"Don't want to miss any time with you," Alex protested, as her eyes closed again and she fell asleep.

Part 10

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