DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and all characters are property of NBC and Dick Wolf. Jill Kirkendall and her sons belong to NYPD Blue. The others belong to me.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Builds on the relationship supposed in my previous fics, REMAINS, CONTACT and CONNECT.
SPOILERS: through Season 5.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Hilliard MacKenzie

Part 1

"I've gotta tell you, you're setting a record for protected witness quickest to become a pain in my ass."

Alex smiled at the gravely voice at the other end of the phone.

"What else do you have to tell me?"

DEA Special Prosecutor Abbie Carmichael sighed, but her amused tone belied any real frustration.

"Agent Hendley has apparently succumbed to your sparkling personality – that or she wants to avoid your wrath because she has volunteered to keep an eye out for you, in spite of the fact that she's technically on vacation that whole week."

Alex exhaled, relieved. She had decided to carry out her plans anyway, but the blessing of her protectors, the DEA, was nice to have. The idea to get away for the holidays had come from Jodi Hendley, the agent who had spent more than a month living with her, posing as her sister.

The agent was originally supposed to stay for a couple of weeks but the sting on a Methamphetamine operation in a neighboring county and subsequent discovery of a multi-state drug ring had kept her there longer.

Alex had been more grateful than not for the company. Being thousands of miles away from New York, coupled with her unwanted new life, had begun to take its toll and though Jodi always called her Cate, it was nice to have someone around who had an idea of who she really was and what her situation entailed.

Jodi had proven to be an easy roommate and an asset as Alex acclimated herself to the south. The agent was originally from the mountains of North Carolina and hearing her speak of her family's home in a rural area outside of Asheville, Alex was reminded of her own family's "weekend home" in Greenwich, Connecticut. Located on four mostly undeveloped oceanfront acres, it was where Alex had spent Christmas every year of her life, including last Christmas when Olivia had been with her.

It had been the first time Alex brought someone with whom she was romantically involved. Aside from a few friends in her high school and college days who had spent the holidays with her, Christmases had been a time for family at the Greenwich house that had originally been built by her father's grandfather and was named Charleston Cove after the Charleston, South Carolina-native bricks that formed the house's façade.

Thoughts of Charleston Cove filled her with an empty longing and deep sadness. She didn't know when she would see the place again. Jodi had noticed her melancholy and suggested Alex might come with her to North Carolina for the holidays.

It had been Alex's idea to rent a house near Jodi's family's place, so that she wouldn't encroach on the family and so she could have some time and space for herself. Jodi saw no real risk in it and, though she was to be on vacation from Christmas Eve through the Monday after New Year's, she volunteered to be the DEA point person for Alex and ensure her safety during the holiday.

Alex had contacted Abbie, herself, playing on their old professional acquaintance for the favor. She also had requested that an "old friend" from New York fly down to be with her during that time. This aspect of her plan had taken longer to be okayed but in the end Abbie acquiesced. Several traded phone calls had culminated in the one she was on at the moment.


She waited to be sure she had the Texas native's attention.

"Thank you."

"Merry Christmas. Don't say I never gave you anything."

"Will do. Happy holidays. Say hi to Jill for me."

Abbie had long ago confided in Alex about her longtime, onging relationship with former NYPD detective Jill Kirkendall. Kirkendall and her two sons had relocated to DC with Abbie when she took the job at the DEA.

"You do the same for Olivia."

Abbie's words caught Alex off-guard.

"How did you figure it out?"

"I've suspected for some time and, of course, you just confirmed it. So, how long?"

Alex smirked. They thought they had everyone fooled.

"Uh… We've been and off for a couple of years."

"Well you have good taste. She's obviously nuts, but you lucked out. Way to go."

"Thanks. Seriously, thanks Abbie."

"Thanks, Maureen."

Olivia's smile was genuine as she received a mug of steaming coffee from the teenager. Elliott's eldest daughter smiled at her as the younger Stabler, Kathleen, sidled up, wrapping thin arms around the detective's waist.

"Olivia, I'm glad you spent Christmas with us."

Olivia ruffled the girl's hair affectionately with her free hand.

"I am too, kiddo."

Elliott and Kathy joined the cluster.

"Girls, Grandma and Grandpa are loading their car. Can you give them a hand?"

The girls dutifully agreed and trotted off to the front of the house, Kathy shepherding them past the kitchen table that was still laden with all manner of leftovers from Christmas lunch.

Olivia shot a curious glance at her partner.

"I know a contrived situation when I see one. What's up?"

Elliott smiled.

"You have another gift to open."

Olivia's eyes widened. The Stabler family had already given her several. Elliott pulled a shirt-sized box from behind his back. The wrapping paper was unusual and Olivia couldn't remember any other presents opened earlier in the day being similarly wrapped.

"What is this?"

She accepted the box, which was remarkably light.

"It isn't from me."

Their eyes met and in that moment she realized the gift in her hands was from Alex. Her eyes traveled the package, taking in all the details. She ran her fingers over the wire ribbon bow enjoying the texture and the idea that Alex had held it in her hands, too.

"I thought this was what I was getting last night."

Alex's mother had called Olivia a week earlier, inviting her to a Christmas Eve gathering at her Park Avenue residence. Olivia had been surprised at the invitation and accepted, figuring there was something to it. It turned out that there was.

"How was last night?"

"She gave me Alex's car."

Elliott's eyes widened.


"She gave me the keys and said Alex wanted me to have it."


"No kidding."

Alex had a 2002 pearly black Audi TT Coupe that was slick, fast, and gorgeous. Olivia loved the car and was often privileged enough to be allowed to drive it when she and Alex went out, although of the two of them, Alex was the bigger speed demon.

"Of course it's hers again when she comes back."

From the moment the DEA-driven sedan pulled away carrying Alex to her new protected life, Olivia's mantra had been, "she'll be back." That was what she had said to Alex's mother the previous night as she slipped the proffered remote control "key" into her pocket.

Alex's mother, Jeanne-Marie Cabot, who bore a strong resemblance to Candice Bergen, had responded by pulling Olivia into an embrace. The loss of the woman they both loved had given Jeanne-Marie and Olivia something significant in common, and as a result Alex's mother had gone out of her way to be kind to the detective.

Olivia was suddenly aware of Elliott's gaze. She met his eyes.

"You gonna stand there or open it?"

She smirked at him and began to remove the wrapping, uncovering a plain white gift box. She pulled the lid off and unfolded two sheets of blue tissue paper. She knew what was in the envelope right away.

An electronic plane ticket lay atop a larger envelope. She removed the ticket, eyes scanning the printed information.

Passenger: Olivia Benson. Friday, December, 26, 2003. US Air Flight 919. Depart New York - LaGuardia: 9:30am. Arrive Charlotte, NC: 11:39am. US Air Flight 4207. Depart Charlotte, NC: 12:40pm. Arrive Asheville/Henderson, NC: 1:30pm.

Her eyebrows knit together. She had expected a trip to Georgia.

"I think the letter will explain everything."

She looked up at Elliott.

"So you knew about this?"

It was more a statement than question.

He shrugged, nodding.

"She wanted to surprise you."

"Then she accomplished her goal."

Olivia set the box and plane ticket on the kitchen counter, and quickly opened the letter. The mere sight of Alex's distinctive handwriting gave Olivia an unexpected rush.

She unfolded the letter.


I hope you haven't made plans for this week… Elliott has arranged for you to be out of the office until Monday, January fifth. I would love for you to spend some or all of the time between now and then with me in the mountains of North Carolina. I've rented a cabin and have the blessing and protection of the DEA. It will be a great chance to catch up and get to the heart of what's between us.

If you decide to come, Agent Jodi Hendley will meet you at your gate at the airport. There will be a rental car waiting for you and Jodi will make sure you get to the cabin safely.

I really hope you'll come, but I will understand if this isn't right for you. I'm leaving for the mountains on Christmas Eve and won't have a secure phone with me, so if you need to contact me, call Jodi. Her business card is enclosed in this letter.

I love you. Merry Christmas.

Olivia's voice was soft and full of emotion when she spoke.

"What did you tell the Captain?"

"That your latest suitor wanted to take you away for the holidays and that it was a surprise."

She smiled and closed her eyes, wiping away welled tears. When she opened them, Elliott was making his innocent face.

"What? It's true."

Part 2

Alex watched the wintry mountain landscape out the passenger-side car window. Against her wishes, Agent Hendley had insisted that Alex come spend part of Christmas day with the Hendley family at their sprawling farm.

She had met the entire clan, who all believed her to be a DEA colleague of Jodi's; and she enjoyed an abundant meal of everything from deep fried turkey to sweet potatoes, collard greens, and homemade cornbread, to Jodi's grandmother's homemade blackberry cobbler.

Stuffed with more food than she ever remembered eating at one meal in her life, Alex was now being returned to the rented cabin where she would await the arrival of her one true Christmas gift.

"She'll be here tomorrow."

Jodi's comment snapped Alex out of her thoughts.


Alex's attempt to play off the comment and its implications didn't fool either of them. Jodi simply smiled.

"How did you two meet?"

Alex had told Jodi about Olivia and realized she had no reason to be anything less than honest about her feelings.

"We worked together in New York. She's a detective with the squad I worked with."

That was how they had met, but her thoughts went back to the night they had first crossed the line into something that had grown bigger than either of them could foresee.

Olivia turned over, flipping her pillow, attempting to find a comfortable position in which to sleep. She sighed and looked at the clock.

Two thirty-seven. Since opening the plane ticket and note from Alex hours earlier, her mind had been on autopilot, racing excitedly with the prospect of seeing Alex again.

After their first night together neither she nor Alex would have imagined that their relationship would have lasted beyond a one-night stand, and they certainly wouldn't have believed that it would become so important to them both.

"You want to get out of here?"

Alex's simple question had begun it all. The ADA had spent the better part of her time at Captain Cragen's birthday party in extremely close physical proximity to Olivia, casual touches and intimate conversations teasing a torrent of "what if's" from Olivia's active imagination.

At Alex's suggestion they had made their exit, Olivia clueless about the blonde's intentions from there.

When they reached the street, Olivia caught her eye.

"So what's the plan?"

Alex smiled her bright, gorgeous smile and laughed.

"The plan? The plan… Have you had dinner tonight?"

It was nearly nine, but the detective hadn't eaten since a late lunch earlier in the day.

"No, and I'm hungry."

"What are you hungry for?"

"What did you have in mind?"

Less than ten minutes later they were seated at a cozy table for two at the popular Shaffer City Oyster Bar, that was only blocks away from Munch's Chelsea apartment, the site of Cragen's party.

Their waiter, an averagely attractive young man whose ultra-high energy level was such that it left no doubt that he was an out-of-work stage actor, stood poised to take their order.

With Olivia's blessing, Alex rattled off their request.

"We'll start with a bottle of Bouchard Meursault and a dozen Atlantic clams. Oh and two Roasted Beet Salads."

As the waiter departed, Alex returned her attention to the table and to Olivia, who was impressed that Alex didn't even look at the menu before ordering.

"You've obviously been here before?"

The blonde smiled.

"A time or two, yes. They have great oysters. I'm particular about them – especially when they're raw."

Olivia smiled.

"Good thing to be picky about."

After a fabulous dinner of striped bass and lobster pot pie, and an entire bottle of wine, the two women wandered back out into the night. Their conversation had been nonstop and ranged the gamut of topics.

As their meal came to an end, they finally broached the topic of relationships. Olivia took note of the fact that Alex used gender non-specific pronouns, as did she, though neither had come out and said anything directly about it.

There were several people out on the unseasonably mild Saturday night, but both women were so focused on eachother that they barely noticed as they strolled leisurely down the street.

Olivia's curiosity was getting the better of her and the wine had lessened her inhibitions so she decided to do a little digging.

"Earlier you said you were in a dangerous mood. Why dangerous?"

Alex smiled.

"Actually, I said I was in a dangerous mood in which to be around colleagues."

"Yet here you are, with a colleague…"

"Yes, but you're…"

Olivia's arched eyebrow encouraged her to go on.

"From the start you've put me at ease. I feel a sense of familiarity with you for some reason and I don't usually get that, or feel it as strongly as I feel it with you."

Olivia nodded.

"It goes both ways."

Blue eyes lingered on the detective long enough to convey the fact that Alex had more to say but wasn't sure she should.

"The point being, I trust you and feel like I can be myself with you, dangerous moods and all."

It was Olivia's turn to let her gaze impart understanding beyond what was being said.

"You evaded my question nicely."

The blonde laughed, a sparkle in her eyes.

"Yes, well, I am good at that. No, I just… it's been a while since I was… involved with anyone and I'm…"

"In the mood for love?"

Olivia didn't add "simply because you're near me," still unsure that she was reading the signals right. She had been flirted with and hit on my a number of women and she knew Alex's behavior could easily be construed as such, but she couldn't get past the idea that she didn't think the ADA would ever get involved with someone she worked with.

Alex smiled wryly.

"Something like that."

"I know what you mean."

Alex studied her.

"I have heard from a number of people that you're quite the heartbreaker so I find it hard to believe that you have any shortage of dates."

Olivia chuckled.

"Rumors of my love life have been greatly exaggerated."

It was the blonde's turn to laugh, a sound Olivia found incredibly intoxicating, so she went on.

"It's fair to say that I do get a number of offers but I am increasingly discerning about which ones I accept."

Alex nodded.

"That makes perfect sense."

They had come to an intersection and both women paused. Olivia turned to Alex and noticed how the streetlight above illuminated the semi-transparent blouse that clung to the blonde's incredible curves. She realized what she was doing and raised her gaze to meet clear, blue, very amused eyes.

It wasn't the first time Alex had caught her looking. Olivia felt her cheeks redden and she attempted to mask her mild embarrassment with a question.

"So, uh, where are we going?"

Alex thought for a moment.

"I know it's late but I'm not ready to say goodnight yet."

Olivia wasn't ready to leave this woman's presence either, but she was still unclear about the nature of Alex's interest. She thought of inviting the blonde back to her place and was trying to think of a way to suggest that without it sounding like a come-on, when Alex interrupted her thoughts.

"How about my place?"

Olivia swallowed hard and smiled. She prayed her voice wouldn't crack when she spoke.

"Sounds great."

Alex's apartment was in an elegant older building on East 88th, less than a block from Central Park. The doorman opened the door for them as they neared.

"Good evening, Mark."

"Miss Cabot."

He met Olivia's gaze and smiled warmly. The detective followed the blonde into a plush lobby. Old marble floors, high ceilings, and an abundance of ornate molding framed a gorgeous reception area and bank of four elevators.

Alex pressed the call button and then turned her attention to her companion, who was still taking in the surroundings. When she noticed Alex was studying her, Olivia commented.

"Nice building."

"Thanks. My apartment used to belong to my brother, Mallory, and he gave me a great deal on it when he moved."

"I didn't realize you had a brother."

"Actually, I have four. They're from my father's first marriage so technically they're half-brothers."

"Do they all live in the city?"

"No. They grew up in Greenwich and the two oldest, Trey and Brantley, still live there. The younger two, Mallory and Cullen, live in the city."

"Are you close?"

"They're a good bit older than I am, and they were only with us for weekends and some holidays growing up. I like all four of them, but only see them occasionally now. I run into the two who live in the city quite a bit, and we see eachother on holidays. I have cousins who lived in the same building as we did growing up and I'm still very close to them."

They stepped into the elevator.

"Do your cousins still live here?"

"Two of them. Molly, the oldest, is pretty much my best friend. We went to Brearley together and even roomed together in college."

"You're lucky to have had so much family around."

"I know you were an only child. Do you have any extended family."

"Other than the Stablers, no."

Alex smiled.

"It's great that you're close with Elliott and his family."

"I'm very fortunate. Kathy's wonderful, very understanding of Elliott's and my friendship, and their kids are wonderful. It's like having nieces and nephews. One of his kids, Kathleen, reminds me a lot of myself at that age."

"You told me about where you grew up, but where did you go to school when you were a kid?"

"Marymount, on scholarship."

Alex's eyebrow arched at the name of the well-to-do school.

"Catholic girls' school?"

Olivia smiled and nodded. Alex's eyes lingered on the detective, seemingly imagining.

"Were you a hellraiser?"

"I had my moments, but more often than not I was dancing, playing drums, or buried in a book."

"You danced?"

Olivia smiled at the surprised look on Alex's face.

"Yes. Ballet, tap, jazz - all of it. And I've seen you move enough to know that you have had some dance training as well. Yes?"

Alex was impressed.

"Very observant. Years of classical ballet, much to my dismay."

"You didn't enjoy it?"

"I loved to dance, still do, but I was somewhat of a preppy tomboy hybrid in my youth and wanted to spend most of my time outdoors, running track or cross-country, or playing soccer."

Olivia laughed at the idea of sporty young Alex.

"You were a tomboy?"

Alex smiled. The elevator door opened and they stepped out into a small entry hall with black and white marbled floors and rich, golden yellow walls.

One set of cherry-stained French doors faced them. Olivia looked at the blonde.

"You have the whole floor?"

Alex nodded and unlocked one door, standing aside so Olivia could enter.

"The building isn't very big."

Alex had been a keen observer of human behavior for most of her life, a skill learned from her father, internationally renowned attorney and US Senator, the late Talmadge Cabot.

"Alex, you can be anything, do anything, or get anything you want in this world if you learn to read the people around you, know what motivates them, and know how to work with them."

From an early age, on their frequent runs through Central Park her father would point out various people whom they passed and ask Alex what she saw.

"Tell me who they are. Tell me what they want."

She donned her keen observation skills again and turned them on the detective. What did Olivia want?

Since she arrived at the party earlier in the evening and saw Olivia, something inside her clicked and Alex ignored her mind's vigilant opposition to co-worker flings and had been following her instincts, attention drawn to the beautiful, dark detective.

She had been surprised to observe how this attention affected Olivia, who clearly was enjoying it and doing her fair share of flirting in return.

Alex trailed as Olivia walked from the entry hall to the large living room. The detective's eyes roamed the space, following a wide opening into the dining room.

Though the apartment was extremely well decorated, Alex's style was casual. Muted earth tones in brown, blue, green, and gold, with highlights of deep plum and dark red here or there, adorned walls, rugs, and furniture.

There were many windows, all nearly spanning the length from floor to 14' ceilings. Warm, honey-gold hardwood floors ran the spans of the space and Olivia's shoes echoed when she walked.

Olivia's eyes eventually turned to Alex, who spoke.

"Not what you were expecting?"

Olivia smiled warmly.

"Exactly what I expected. The address threw me, but this…"

Olivia swept her hands, indicating the rooms.

"This is all you."

She gets it.

Alex was surprised at the sense of relief and joy that filled her following Olivia's comment. She felt the overwhelming urge to wrap her arms around the tall detective and draw her into a kiss, but she fought the urge.

"Can I see the rest?"

"Of course."

Alex ushered her into the long, galley-style kitchen that had recently been redone in shades of green and stainless steel.

"There is a laundry room at the far end, and a back entry from the stairwell."

Olivia turned to the ADA.

"Where are the rest of your books?"

Alex smiled again at Olivia's perception and started down the hall. The detective spotted the staircase at the far end of the hall.


"Technically this is a one and a half story apartment. I'll take you up in a minute."

Alex stopped at an opening where two wide pocket doors were half-opened and waited for Olivia.

Brown eyes took in the wonderful wood-paneled room, lined with countless tomes. A huge fireplace mimicked another on the other side of the wall, in the living room. A well-worn leather armchair and ottoman sat between the fireplace and one of the two sets of French doors that led to a terrace beyond.

An old desk that was also piled with books sat closer to the other set of French doors, flanked in back by a wall of built-in bookshelves, all filled to overflowing. A pair of Tiffany reading lamps with large dragonflies in stained glass cast a golden glow around the space.

"I could so easily spend my life in this room."

Alex had no reply for that, the intimate tone of Olivia's voice choking her. Olivia's gaze turned to Alex and the blonde hoped the low lighting prevented her from noticing Alex's breathless look.

"How many bedrooms?"


Alex preceded Olivia up the stairs, talking as she walked. At the top of the stairs, Alex walked straight to the bank of windows ahead. Beyond was a gorgeous view of Central Park and the city lit up beyond.

Olivia came up beside her.

"Incredible view."

Alex nodded.

"You should see it in the morning. The light is incredible."

Olivia hazarded a sideways glance at the ADA who was silently chiding herself for such blatantly un-contemplated words. She cleared her throat and motioned.

"The guest bedroom is in there, and the bath is down here."

Olivia smiled at Alex's obvious discomfort.

"And I'm guessing from the chaise lounge that this area and your comment about the sunrise, that this is your quiet morning retreat area."

"It would seem you know me too well, already. You are right. This is my little indoor Zen garden."

Olivia smiled and started back downstairs. Alex followed, surprised when Olivia naturally rounded the corner at the foot of the stairs and strode through the open French doors and into Alex's bedroom.

Various shades of blues and pale orange comprised the palette of the large space. A huge bed decked out in a blue striped down comforter and fluffy pillows, faced a bank of windows similar to those on the upper floor, a fantastic view of the park framed beyond.

Olivia passed through the space slowly and Alex was surprised to realize she didn't feel at all violated by the woman's wanderings. Instead a more certain sense of intimacy between them seemed to grow and Alex caught herself watching the detective's body move, imagining…

She followed Olivia through a hall that opened onto two walk-in closets, and to the final door that opened into a grand bathroom, complete with glass stall shower and huge garden tub.

Her exploration over, Olivia turned toward the ADA smiling.

"It's all so very… you."

"You have no idea- "

Alex caught herself mid-sentence. Olivia's gaze held Alex's eyes.

"I have no idea?"

Alex smiled nervously.

"That dangerous mood again. Want some hot tea?"

Olivia 's fingers gently grabbed Alex's arm as the blonde turned to go.

"You obviously don't have to finish your sentence but don't let your mood stop you on my account. You haven't let it stop you all evening – why stop now?"

Alex's smile widened from nervous to busted.

"Do you really want to go there?"

"Yeah, I do, but I don't get romantically involved with colleagues."

"Neither do I."

"Sure you don't need anything else?"

Alex's cheeks reddened as her thoughts returned from that first brush with intimacy to the present. She had been lost in such thoughts during the drive back to the cabin.

Back at the cabin, Jodi had seen Alex safely inside. The previous day when they had arrived, Jodi took Alex into town to pick up all the food and firewood she would need for the weekend. Olivia would have the rental car for them to use when she arrived, but Alex had stocked up so that they wouldn't have to go anywhere for the first couple of days.

Alex had her DEA-issued cell phone, which was unsecured but usable in emergencies, and Jodi was to check in via phone once a day.

"I have everything."

"See you tomorrow."

Alex watched the agent drive away and realized she had nervous butterflies about seeing Olivia again. They had never openly discussed their feelings, even during their stints as lovers, and now they had to.

She went inside and closed her eyes and sighed, leaning back against the door. The only image that filled her mind was Olivia.

The End

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