DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and its characters are the property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
SPOILERS: Takes place in season 13, may be some spoilers. And David Haden? Does.Not.Exist.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To thepartyafteryouleft[at]gmail.com

Flight Pattern
By The Party After You Left



Alex Cabot was quite sure she was slowly going insane. It had been obvious to her for quite a while months, at least, despite a change of scenery from Africa to New York and she didn't even allow herself the luxury of wondering if perhaps only sane people thought they were losing it.

No, she'd seen far too many people on the witness stand, defendants & victims alike, who had known they were sliding into the murk and were powerless to stop it. Knowing might be half the battle, but Alex did nothing by halves. She knew this slide into La-La Land would be all or nothing, and nothing seemed to have been passed several exits back on this turnpike.

She didn't need to be a doctor to know she wasn't clinically crazy. Depressed, maybe. Anxious? Most certainly, and she'd concede that any medical diagnosis beyond that was above her level of expertise. Now, legally insane? That, she understood. Ding ding ding, we have a winner! Charlie, why don't you tell Ms. Cabot what she's won?

She wasn't sure, really, if her particular problem was that she couldn't distinguish fantasy from reality, or if she knew and simply couldn't control herself. But either way, she was not a happy camper. She'd been out of control before. She didn't like it, she'd never forget it, and she sure as hell didn't want to repeat it.

So, then, what to do about Olivia Benson, the conductor on this particular crazy train? Alex had known her for 12 years, give or take, and had been under her spell for most of that time. It wasn't like Alex to float along in some nebulous state of unrequited love. She most generally did what she wanted - where, with whom, and how she wanted. But it did take her time to work up to things. And for things that really mattered, she was okay with that - if it isn't worth waiting for, she reasoned, it usually isn't worth having.

Knowing what she wanted, but having no idea how to get it, was not something she understood. But her whole life, especially those parts of it that were entwined with Olivia's, were such a stop-and-start clusterfuck that all she'd managed to work up to was the unenviable state of affairs in which she found herself now: frustration beyond any she'd ever known, maddening, endless and horrifyingly real.

Changing clothes in her office, she stashed her suit and briefcase in the car in the parking garage at 180 Park Row, and stretched a bit on the sidewalk before taking off in the direction of Columbus Park, vowing that a run to clear her head would be the beginning of the end of what she'd begun to think of as The Benson Conundrum.

Something would happen. Soon.

Olivia's phone rang just as she shut her locker and turned toward the squad room door, heading home at 5:30 to start a long-overdue weekend off. The new detectives were, finally, settling in, and Olivia felt herself relaxing back into the job, and making her way in this new, post-Elliott world. She hit the ANSWER button with her left thumb, waving at Fin & Rollins on her way out into the hall.


"Hey there, hot stuff. I know my name pops up on your screen, so why the formal greeting?" Julie's sweet voice, a light and playful soprano, carried Olivia through the hall and down the steps, into her Friday night.

"Sorry, hon, force of habit. How's your day?"

"Better now. Slow night and no patients in labor, so I'm heading home now. That's at least two-and-a half hours before I expected to start our weekend together, and I'm not complaining."

Olivia could see her smile, rising up from the edges of her heart-shaped mouth into the corners of her green eyes. It hadn't been long since they'd met, just a little over a month, but Olivia would chance a guess that Julie's right hand was twirling around in her loose curls while they talked."

"Glad to hear it," Olivia smiled, too. She wasn't giddy, really, but pheromones did do fun things to one's mood.

"Just glad? Or very glad?" Julie asked, in a voice that was half-teasing and half in need of just a bit of reassurance.

"Very, very glad," Olivia responded with a laugh as she unlocked the car.

"That makes two of us, then. How about your day, Sugar?"

Olivia loved that. Sugar. It got her every time. Julie's family was from New Orleans, so even though she had been born and raised in Poughkeepsie, and had no real accent to speak of, her speech was peppered with these little bits of southern comfort. Sugar was the sweetest, at least so far. Olivia slid in the driver's seat and started the engine.

"My day?" she asked. "Well, let's just say it's looking up."

Julie heard the low growl of the Mustang's engine, and felt her own throttle ratcheting up with it. "Why don't you head my way now, Officer, and let's kick things off a little early?"

"I think I can make that happen. See you in a bit."

Olivia eased out into traffic, smiling as she thought of Julie calling her officer. She spent her days in a hospital, not a precinct,so the distinction between an officer and a detective didn't mean to her what it meant in Olivia's world. But the feeling of power and invincibility that radiated off of the tough cop was not lost on her. Olivia didn't mind having that effect on people, as long as it was a healthy interest rather than an unhealthy fascination. Julie didn't ask lots of questions, didn't seem to want any real details about how Olivia spent her work hours, all good signs tipping Olivia's internal scale to the "not a creep" side.

Navigating the Friday afternoon traffic heading up the Hudson Parkway, Olivia recalled her first meeting with Julie, in mid-August at New York Presbyterian Hospital. She and Amaro had caught a case a relatively easy one to stomach, though even those were beyond the capability of any rational person to understand and they were cooling their heels waiting to interview the victim in the ER. The doctor had briefed them: 20 year old female, Fordham student, assaulted, raped and brought in by her roommate. Family upstate in Rochester.

The doctor told them it would be at least 20 minutes to finish cleaning and stitching some cuts on her head, so Olivia headed down the hall to the cafeteria for something passing itself off as a chai tea latte. As she noticed the wall clock nearing 6 pm, and knowing this would be at least a few more hours of work tonight, she grabbed a granola bar, too.

"Oh, none taken,"Olivia offered, with a slight grin of her own. "Cops do like donuts, right?"

"Well, when I saw your badge and gun, my mind took me back to the cops my uncle worked with in Biloxi. They surely didn't have any as beautiful as you, though."

"$3.72. Lady, it's $3.72." The cashier's voice called Olivia back to the matter at hand.

"Sorry," she murmured, and paid the kid with a five, throwing the dollar and change into the tip jar. Her surprise was a little unsettling, but it had been a while since anyone had flirted with Olivia Benson. She took her time grabbing a java jacket, stalling on her way out the cafeteria door to see if her admirer would follow. And she did.

With that, she stepped into the waiting elevator as Olivia turned to head back toward the ER. Just then, she noticed Amaro. He'd been walking toward her, but had stopped about 40 feet up the hall, and waited. Had he taken all of that in? She continued toward him, her brisk, no-crap demeanor quickly returning. As she reached his side, she said, "Sorry, just got waylaid a minute by a member of staff. Didn't mean to keep you waiting."

"She's not my...we don't...I just..." she started, stopped. Why in hell was she so flustered? Nick waved her off.

"Hey, none of my business, if she's not the one, then love the one you're with, right?" He shrugged, tipping his head to the ER. "Anyway, doc says we can go in now, but they're finishing the rape kit. Thought you might me a more welcome sight to the vic than I would."

"Yeah, yeah, right. Thanks Amaro." Olivia headed in to do the initial interview. This guy...she didn't know yet, really, if this would work. He's no Stabler, Olivia thought. And I might be okay with that...

A car horn interrupted her reverie, and she moved forward, leaving one interminable red light behind, heading slowly and surely toward another. She never understood people's rage in traffic. What the hell was the point? Five minutes is nothing. As she reached the next red, her phone beeped its text notification, and she laughed to see a message from Julie. Someone else needs a lesson in patience, she thought.

Hurry up or I'm starting w/o u officer

Olivia laughed, and reflexively thought, Detective. It's Detective.

But she thought it in Alex's voice, heard Alex calling her "Detective," the word a double-edged sword. Sometimes a caress -Alex could make that one word, those three syllables, sound like pillow talk. Sometimes, though, it was a slap in the face, a wedge between them.

Just a few weeks before, an argument had left them both so mad that it was all the stubborn attorney could concede in terms of civility, her willingness to use Olivia's name a casualty of a fight between two ethical people about who could be more ethical. They'd fought in Cutter's office, Olivia inexplicably finding herself agreeing with Mike that the accusations against the Italian diplomat were too compromised by the victim's lies, leaving them with a case they couldn't win.

Alex was all righteous anger and indignation, and quite clearly felt ganged up on. She'd given Olivia a withering glare on her way out the door, looking at her as if she were a heartless stranger. Who was this person in Olivia's body, and what the hell was she playing at? Neither of them knew the answers to those questions. Alex's call the next morning, about another report she needed, was brusque and utterly without warmth.


"Cabot. I need that report on the Wilson case."

"Sure, I'll get it for you. Got a minute to talk?"

"No, not really. When can I expect the report?"

"Alex, I know you disagreed with me about Miriam, just let me..."

"We disagree about a lot of things. I'm over the shock."

"Oh, come on, just give me thirty seconds. I owe you an explanation."

"You don't owe me anything but that damn DD5. Please have it on my desk by three o'clock, Detective."

That was the last thing she'd said, and the fact that she'd even said please was more a sign of her impeccable manners than of any desire to be kind. Hanging up without a goodbye, Alex left Olivia's head buzzing, and not just because of the dial tone in her ear. Alex had fired a shot across the bow, turning Olivia's title into a weapon.

Storm warnings ahead.

Olivia decided not to enlighten Julie further on the use of titles in the NYPD, and why officer was something so much different from detective. Not yet, anyway. Maybe being called officer was okay for now. She drummed her left hand on the wheel, ran the right through her hair.

Damn it, Alex. Get the fuck out of my head.

Alex started her third lap, skirting the park and a couple of surrounding blocks, determined to pound out a little frustration before the remote but very welcome possibility of a relaxing Friday night. The last couple of months since she'd returned from the Congo had been a much bigger adjustment than she'd expected. After all, it wasn't like coming back from the dead, and she was certainly among the few who'd know: suddenly awakened coma patients, prodigal WITSEC graduates, and Jesus Christ.

The Congo had done just what she'd expectedrevived her, stoked her fire, put her head back on straight in all ways but one. And damned if that one hadn't reared her beautiful head, front and center as usual.

She noticed a couple settling in on a bench, facing Baxter Street, and the rear entrance to the Criminal Courts building, with its engraved portico. JUSTICE IS THE FIRM AND CONTINUOUS DESIRE TO RENDER TO EVERY MAN HIS DUE. She was reminded of lunches here with Liv, when they were friends. Giving a little shudder, shaking off the memory to bring her focus back to her own two feet, Alex heard someone say "No" and took a second to realize it was her own voice. Talking to yourself, Cabot. What a fine, slippery slope lying before us. Shall we?

She ran faster. If she couldn't shut that voice up, she'd wear it out. She'd come home to New York to find all kinds of disarray, not least of which was the new faces in the SVU; Stabler gone, and filling out his retirement papers; and Benson in a foul, ugly place way beyond Alex's reach. She'd known something was up by the monosyllabic replies to her two texts, letting Liv know her travel dates, then announcing her return to the land of the living after vanquishing an unexpectedly wicked case of jetlag.

She'd hoped for an invitation to get together, any opening for an evening to catch up, but it was not to be. No "how was it," no "glad you're home." No anything, really. Then a quick visit into her office the week before she started back to work had finally suggested some reasons for the brush-off. She'd heard about the events at the 1-6, but Novak had filled her in over lunch, detailing the aftermath of a shooting in the precinct that ended with Stabler being forced to kill a teenage girl. she could only imagine how traumatized the entire squad must be.

The first day back on the job had come with a call to the precinct to deal with a rape charge against an Italian diplomat. As eager as she'd been to see everyone, Casey's news update inspired dread rather than anticipation. They'd seemed okay, though, Cragen, Munch and Fin all the same-welcoming, if a bit morose. Benson, though, was locked down and on high alert. She ignored Alex at first, and in Cutter's office she'd gone so far as to support Mike's order not to prosecute DiStasio because of inconsistencies in the victim's background. Alex was mortified that Olivia, of all people, would be so skeptical of the woman's story, and she made no effort to hide her disgust as she left the room.

Benson just seemed, well...defeated. She was beaten down in a way Alex couldn't have imaginedall her usual swagger and sass replaced by cynicism and distrust. Confirmation of Stabler's retirementand his decision to let Olivia hear it from Cragen through the grapevinewas a kick in the head that she didn't need. Alex tried to make plans, meet for drinks apart from the squad, anything to reach out and be some kind of support, but she couldn't get Liv to commit.

Things between them at work had grown more and more tense in the weeks since, finally erupting in a showdown during the Jake Stanton trial. Alex had felt, frankly, more than a little betrayed by Olivia, and told her as much.

It seemed like since Alex had walked back into her role with the SVU after her leave of absence, Olivia had less than nothing to say to her: every word an argument being brandished, a confrontation foreshadowed. And God knows the relationship between them, such as it was, had been a struggle for most of the time they'd known one another. Two strong women, hell-bent on being invincible and hiding any vulnerabilities as an act of self-preservation.

Theirs wasn't just a man's worldit was a world of ugliness, and stomach-churning cruelty. It was hard to let your guard down, even to take comfort in a friend who traveled the same road you were on. Alex thought they'd established a separate peace over all these years, an understanding and a relationship that wasn't quite all she'd wanted from the detective, but which was nonetheless one of the only things that helped them both hold it together emotionally.

But now...now, Olivia's walls were not only up, but heavily fortified. Losing a partner of 12 years would do that, especially when he couldn't even bother to tell you himself. But Olivia was wary, angry, hard & brittle. It worried Alex, and what frightened her even more was Olivia's recklessnesscalling Ellis to come and represent Stanton was a stunt she'd never expected Benson to pull, and had Alex chosen to report it to Cragen, Olivia would've had some unwanted vacation to think it over. But she also would've never forgiven Alex, and that was a chance Alex wouldn't take.

Winding down her run, Alex considered one more worry currently plaguing her at the moment: Why did she spend so much goddamn time thinking about Olivia Benson?



Olivia arrived at Julie's a little after 6:30, having made a quick stop to grab wine and flowers, mentally calculating how long it might have been since she did either of these things for a date.

Julie met her at the front door of the apartment, wearing yoga pants, a little purple LSU tee-shirt, and a mop of curls damp from the shower. She smelled fresh and clean, like freesia, and she immediately reached out, grabbing the wine with her right had while snaring Olivia's belt loop with her left, bringing her visitor across the threshold and into a slow kiss with one fluid motion. Breaking it off after a long moment, Julie smiled, stepped around Olivia to close the door, and then headed into the living room, pausing long enough to throw a glance back over her shoulder to the grinning detective still standing in the entryway. Olivia blinked and cleared her head a bit before following Julie, proffering the bouquet of irises as they reached the sofa.

"For you, hon," she said. "And the wine, of course."

"Thanks, Olivia, they're almost as beautiful as you are," she replied, putting the wine on the coffee table to accept the blooms, then pulling Olivia close for another kiss.

"Shouldn't you be putting those in water?"

"Probably. Shouldn't you be kissing me?"

"Definitely," Olivia conceded, and spent the next several minutes doing just that. After the long, languid kisses and wandering hands seemed to thoroughly relax Olivia, Julie pulled away with one last caress of a thigh.

"Hey, where you goin'?" Olivia's voice was heavy and thick-desire, exhaustion, and a million other things combined to make it sound like she'd just woken up.

"Just getting these in water, silly, like you suggested," Julie replied as she rounded the corner from the foyer into the kitchen.

"Did I?" Olivia asked. "I don't recall. Your kisses are like amnesia."

She followed Julie in to the kitchen.

"Amnesia? Really? Is that the diagnosis you wanna go with? Because I'd suggest a more thorough exam, myself."

"Well, doctor, see, I got on the internet, and WebMD said..." Olivia trailed off as they both started laughing. They didn't talk about work much at all, but one thing Julie had shared was how many of her patients called or came in with rare diseases and imagined complications they'd conjured up while surfing the Web. It was akin to the misconceptions people had about police work from watching too many 10pm TV shows, really, but it always made Olivia laugh.

As she watched Julie drop the flowers into a beautiful, square glass vase, she noticed the divine smells coming from the pots on the cook top.

"Mm mm, thought we were going out for dinner, but something smells delicious."

"Well, we were going out, but since I got off early and had some time, I thought I'd cook for you," Julie explained. "We're not meeting Nina and Angie until 10, so a nice dinner at home means I have you all to myself for more than 3 hours. Dinner will take, I don't know, an hour. Then what?"

Julie's wicked smile said she knew exactly what. She winked and turned to the stove to tend to dinner. "Just sauteed shrimp and some pasta, a quick salad. Hope that's okay"

Olivia took one long step toward the stove, putting her hands on Julie's hips and pulling her close, leaning down to nuzzle her neck before whispering in her ear, "I can get behind that."

"Behind what, precisely?"

"All of it," Olivia said, as she buried her mouth in Julie's neck and used her right hand to give Julie's breast a soft squeeze. She was rewarded with a low moan as Julie's head lolled back onto Olivia's shoulder, and she knew dinner would be just an appetizer.

The sun had set as Alex finished her run. She cooled off as she walked back to her car, fishing her key out of the Velcro pouch laced onto her right shoe. She made a point of waving to the woman on duty in the little guards' booth at the gate, and made sure the safety was off the pepper spray she carried in her running shorts. She walked the three ramps up to the floor where her Mercedes was parked, keeping an eye out for cars as she kept to the middle of the ramp, refusing to use the stairs or the elevator.

She wanted to laugh about how cautiouseven paranoidshe'd become over the years, but she supposed it really wasn't funny. She just continue to pile one safety precaution on another, both literally and metaphorically, and her therapist would be able to retire off of Alex's visits alone, even if another patient never darkened her door.

The irony was not lost on Alex that everything she did, had done, would do, to protect herself wouldn't have been any help in anything she'd been through. Steering clear of parked panel vans won't keep you from getting shot any more than avoiding the person you love -trying, in fact, not to love them would keep your heart from breaking. But when nothing is certain, sometimes our little routines and superstitions are all we have, even if we won't admit them to anyone else.

Safely in the car, she locked the doors and backed out, driving down the ramps she'd just climbed and giving a wave and a 'thank you' to the guard as she swiped her card to open the gate. She didn't know anything more than the guard's name Betty and Betty had no way to know that Alex's history included some rather frightening violence.

But Betty was an observant woman, and had very quickly realized that a mix of fear and caution caused Alex to make herself very visible with her waves on her way in & out, and one night a month before, when Alex had sat in her car making a call, Betty sent another guard up to check on her. That had earned her Alex's undying gratitude, and an effusive thank you card. And the woman was getting a hell of a Christmas tip.

Once Alex was out in traffic, she placed a call on the car's Bluetooth to her friend Kate, firming up their evening plans.

"Hey, Alex." Kate's voice was clear and bright through the Harman/Kardon speakers, the car being one indulgence Alex never tired of.

"Hi, Kate, how are you?"

"Good, can't complain, but ready to do something that isn't my job. We still on for tonight?"

"Yes, absolutely," Alex confirmed, "just heading home now from a run."

"Good, because if you were calling to tell me you were still at work, or begging off, I was going to have to kill you."

Alex laughed. "I've been killed by people far tougher than you, but no, I'm free and someone else is on call for warrants or new cases, so at least I won't have to be the reason you end up on Death Row."

"Death Row?" Kate gave an incredulous laugh, simultaneously amused by the joke and pleased that her friend was able to have even a small laugh about her nightmare in witness protection. Many years on, it was still a tough subject. "6 to 10 tops, Cabot!"

"Oh, Kate, you forget, I know people. Some of them even like me. You'll go away for longer than that if you so much as harm a hair on my head."

"And you forget: I work for the finest criminal defense firm in the five boroughs," Kate parried.

"Oh, I never forget that, don't worry," Alex said. "I just refuse to think about it. At least the weaselly tactics of your colleagues fund the worthy pro bono work you do otherwise I'm not sure we'd still be friends. I eat defense attorneys for breakfast."

"Really?" Kate countered. Gleeful malice appeared in just the single word, but she continued, "Could have sworn that your plate was full of SVU detectives."

"Okay, that's it," Alex said. "Pick a place, name a time, and get off my phone. We are NOT having that discussion."

"Fine. 8:30? We'll grab dinner at Little Owl on Bedford. I made reservations. And then, who knows?"

"I know," Alex insisted. "You'll be out getting into trouble, and I'll be going home to my bed to sleep. But I won't destroy your dreams quite yet. See you there."



Olivia woke with a start, and was immediately disoriented. Where...what time...did I sleep all night? After a few seconds, she got her bearings Julie's apartment, Julie's bed, Julie's hand on her stomach. An hour of leisurely sex had given way to a nap, and the quickly darkening October night had played tricks on Olivia's sense of time only 9:15, the clock said, not the 4 am. it felt like. She rolled slightly to her right, kissing Julie's forehead.

"Hmm, what is it?" Julie's mumble was still full of sleep.

"9:15 hon, we should get dressed if we're going to make it to the bar by 10."

"Oh, I suppose," she replied. And, with a kiss and a quick grope, she was up and headed to the bathroom. Doctors, like cops, tended to wake up quickly and shake off the remnants of sleep almost immediately. Olivia lay in bed a few more minutes, until the water was on and she heard the shower door open and close, then followed Julie in.

When she slid into the shower, Julie said, "I thought you weren't coming."

"Well, I was just waiting for the water to get warm," Olivia replied, her mouth set in a slight smirk. "As for whether or not I'm coming, I suppose that's up to you."

Julie smiled a wolfish smile, put her hands on Olivia's face, and slowly moved then downward: collarbone, breasts, stomach, hips, legs, and then one quick motion up the inside of Olivia's wet thighs, her right hand into Olivia's heat, water from the showerhead mixing with her arousal, and the slow-then-fast of it all made Olivia gasp. As Julie pulled her hand back toward her own body, the heel and thumb dragging through the sensitive folds of skin, she smiled at the low moan she'd earned from the detective.

"Oh, yes. I definitely think you're coming."

By 10:30, Alex and Kate had enjoyed a great dinner, and at least one too many glasses of wine.

"We shouldn't have ordered that second bottle, " Alex said as they sat at the table, waiting to settle the check.

"Oh, stop it. It was a delicious Malbec, you don't work tomorrow, the night is young and I haven't really seen you in a year." Kate picked up the check the waiter had left, placed her card in the folder and laid it back at the edge of the table.

"I was going to get that," Alex argued. "And I'm driving to Connecticut in the morning, and I saw you in May, and again just a few weeks ago."

"You were too slow, May was at your cousin's wedding where I saw you for all of six minutes while you greeted all of your relatives on your whirlwind visit home from Africa, and a few weeks ago was lunch at a hot dog cart by the courthouse. Bang, I win."

Alex couldn't help but laugh, and threw up her hands in mock surrender.

"Damn lawyer. Fine, the prosecution rests. Drinks on me at...where are we going again?"

"We're going to Henrietta Hudsonwipe that look off of your gorgeous faceand I'm counting on you paying for drinks."

Alex protested. "Henrietta Hudson? Kate, really? It's called a 'bar & girl.' That is so not my scene."

"News flash, Cabot, you're so deep in a social hole, you don't have a scene. But you do need to get out among the living dance, drink, maybe even get laid."

Alex winced at the words, though whether it was at the crudity of the words or the truth behind them, Kate couldn't be sure. "I get out."

Kate guffawed at Alex's less-than-forceful assertion. "Oh, yeah, you're out at charity events at the Met, sure, and if I thought the woman of your dreams was a 75-year-old blue-haired opera groupie, I'd leave you to your own devices. But you obviously need a kick in the ass and I'm going to give it to you."

Kate's blue eyes, just a shade darker than Alex's own, were flashing, and she ran a hand quickly through her short, sandy hair. She was fired up and Alex knew better than to tangle with her when she was like this. But Alex loved to argue, lived for it, so she stuck her neck out anyway.

"I'm not at a point in my life where I..."

"...am ready for a relationship." Kate cut her off. "I know, I know, you've said it a million times. Truth is, you need to get your shit together, Alex, truly. I've known you for 20-some years and I love you, but you can spend so much time thinking about things, you forget to do them, Cab. Time to fish or cut bait."

"With who, Kate? There's not even any prospect on the horizon." Alex was embarrassed to hear a whine in her voice when she spoke. What the hell was wrong with her? She steadied her voice a bit before continuing, "There hasn't been anyone serious since Robert, and then Madeline , and we all know neither of those debacles were my finest hour."

"Alex, stop beating yourself up over that whole thing. God knows he has, and who gives a shit what that bitch thinks?" Kate paused, putting her hands over Alex's and sighing deeply. She looked at Alex, waiting for her friend to raise her eyes before she went on, wanting to be certain that every word was heard. "You were at sixes and sevens emotionally, Alex, and as much as I know you hate to admit that you even have emotions, not one person blames you for starting a relationship that didn't work out, or for ending one when the obvious became impossible to ignore. It was a perfect storm for you."

"Oh, I knew it wasn't..." Alex began.

"Shut up," Kate interjected. "Shut up and listen, just once. There is someone, and you know it. You're head over heels for that cop you work with, and if you don't tell her soon, I will. And I promise you, you're not going to like that."

"I love that you care so much, Kate, I do," Alex turned her hands over, clasping Kate's in her own. "But this is so much more complicated than that. I just can't, it's...it's not that easy. Trust me on this."

"No," Kate said, but her smile took the edge off her refusal. "No, I won't, but I will give you a break, for tonight at least. Besides, you do remember a simpler time, do you not? A night out doesn't have to end in a relationship. A lot of women would love to date you, Cabot. Hell, there just might even be one or two who'd sleep with you. After all, you are sex on a stick in your Louboutins."

Alex sighed in resignation, because she knew that Kate was a dog with a bone when she thought she was right. And because she knew Kate was right.

Kate let go of Alex's hands to sign the check, tossed her card into her wristlet, and looked expectantly at Alex, pretty sure she'd finally gotten through, and even more sure that their friendship wouldn't be any the worse the wear for her blunt honesty. Alex could be skittish, and had never worn her heart on her sleeve, but loyalty was her strong suit.

Alex smiled as they stood up, and helped Kate pull on her jacket, stopping before she settled the garment on her friend's shoulders. Kate shrugged it the rest of the way on, and turned to Alex.

"What? I can see your wheels turning."

"Kate, why didn't we ever date? After all of these years, everything we have in common, why did we never take a tumble?"

"Because we're way too much alike, Alexwe'd kill each other. Besides," Kate grinned as she put her arm around Alex and steered her toward the door, "I'm not among the legions who swoon for you, Cab, but it's okay that you've got it bad for me." She laughed at the playful shove Alex gave her as they stepped outside. "Now, come on, let's find you a woman."

Olivia and Julie arrived at the bar in the West Village, and made their way into the space, looking around to see if they'd somehow managed to beat their friends' arrival.

"Don't see them," Julie spoke loudly to be heard over the music. "Maybe they're not here yet!"

Olivia laughed and grabbed Julie's hand as she started to lead her in the direction of the bar. "I don't think so, Jules, that was a long shower we took. I see them."

She'd spotted Ninathank God she was tall, because her partner Angie was just a shade over five feet, like Julie herself, and they could've been looking all night in that crowd. Nina and Angie waved them over; they'd grabbed a spot at the far end of the bar with its backlit wall of bottles. Olivia followed Julie over, glad to have a night out to shake off whatever rust and cobwebs were lingering.

"Don't look now, but someone is checking you out."

"Sure they are." Alex was far more interested in her drink. Kate had been telling her all night that one woman after another was throwing appraising glances her way. "You've cried wolf too many times."

"Not this time, though." Alex started to turn her head, and Kate practically squealed. "I said don't look now, Alex!"

Alex waited a moment and turned her head. She didn't notice anyone paying her any attention. "Where?"

"Over by the bar, tall, gorgeous."

Alex continued her glance around the room, stopping suddenly and whipping her head back around. "Shit, it's Olivia."

"Olivia? As in, the cop?"

"Yes. Jesus, Kate, stop staring."

"Too late. I think she's heading over here."

A second later, Olivia arrived at the table where they were standing with their drinks. She had a longneck in one hand, and a cute little redhead in the other.

"Alex, hey!" Olivia smiled at her, and at Kate. "It's good to see you."

"And you. Olivia Benson, this is Kate Merritt. Kate, Olivia." Olivia shook hands with Kate, and then introduced Julie to the two blonde women. They made small talk for a minute or two. The situation was inexplicably awkward, and Alex said as little as possible to avoid prolonging it, praying that Kate wouldn't invite Olivia and her date to join them for a drink.

She was saved by the petite woman with Olivia, who said, "Hey, looks like Nina and Angie finally got the bartender's attention, babe. Drinks are ready." They said their goodbyes and headed over to join their friends.

"Well, I can see why that's been haunting your dreams, Cab. She's unbelievable."

"Enough, Kate, don't."

"Hey, I'm just kidding, Alex. She is beautiful, though."

"And apparently seeing someone."

"Well, can't leave something like that sitting on the shelf too long."

"Let's get the hell out of here, Kate. Tonight's not my night."

"Let's finish our drinks, come on. You see her every day, what's the big deal?"

"Nothing. No big deal. I just..."

Kate wanted to calm her friend, was willing to leave but hoped Alex would relax and stay a bit longer. "Alex, she clearly digs you. Did you see how she was looking at you?"

"No, Kate, I didn't. I was too busy looking at her date. For fuck's sake, lay off. I'm leaving." Alex was furious now, and Kate suspected she was also a little shocked and a little hurt.

"Hold on, I'm coming with you." She directed this to Alex's retreating back, headed toward the door. "Wait for me."

They got outside, the cooling air chilling Alex immediately as it hit her reddening face. Alex just stopped, and leaned her back against the brick at the corner of the building's facade. Kate stopped in front of her.

"Alex, sorry, wanna go somewhere else?"

Alex didn't answer, just leaned over and put her head in her hands. Her breathing was shallow.

"Cab, come on, we've done enough damage for one night, I suppose. Let's just go home." Kate turned to the street, looking to hail a taxi and get them away from here as quickly as possible. Just then, a car passed, and a sound like a gunshot boomed out on the street. She realized it was a backfire, but even as her brain processed this, Kate heard a scream, and turned to find Alex on the ground.

"Alex, holy shit, oh my god. It's okay, hon, it's okay, just a backfire. Everything's fine."

But it wasn't. Alex had just come apart right in front of Kate's eyes. She helped her to sit up, leaning against the building, but Alex was crying, having trouble breathing, eyes darting around and unable to focus.

"Help, someone, my friend needs help."

Inside, Olivia had heard the noise and looked out the window, alarmed for only a millisecond before she recognized it for what it was. She went back to her beer, but a moment later she heard someone near the front of the bar yell, "Hey, someone outside is calling for help." Olivia left her beer on the bar, and both she and Julie immediately headed that way.

"Excuse me, police, excuse me." Olivia repeated herself as she pushed through the curious crowd, itself migrating toward the door to find out what had happened. She and Julie made it outside, and noticed a small crowd to the left at the edge of the building. She arrived at the edge of the crowd just as she heard someone say, "Call an ambulance." It was Alex's girlfriend, Kate. And Alex was hunched over next to her, on the ground.

"Oh, God, Alex," Olivia pushed through the last little knot of onlookers, and knelt down next to her friend, then looked up at Kate, who seemed to be zoning out a bit. "What happened, Kate?" No answer. She grabbed the woman's hand, and raised her voice, forcing her to focus. "Kate, what the fuck happened?"

"It was a backfire, just a car, we were trying to hail a cab and..."

"Is she hurt?"

"No, I don't think so, but it sounded like a shot and she just..." Olivia just said, "I know, I got it." And suddenly Kate remembered: this woman had been there when Alex was shot, had saved her friend's life. The detective put one hand on the blonde's shoulder, then turned around and told Julie, "No ambulance, we're good, just give us some space here." She looked up at the group, already dispersing but not quickly enough. "Kate, can you get these people out of here?"

Julie had knelt down near Olivia, and the detective turned to her, speaking quietly. "Any advice?"

"Panic attack, probably. Let's just calm her down, get her breathing normally. Should be okay." Olivia nodded her understanding, and turned her attention to Alex. She scooted a bit closer, hand still on her shoulder, and spoke calmly and quietly.

"Alex, it's me, I'm right here. Kate's right here. You're okay. Just breathe, Alex, just keep breathing." Olivia was stroking her back now, a hand on her knee. Kate had cleared the crowd and was back, kneeling down on Alex's other side, holding her hand. Julie stood and backed up a few paces, giving them some room.

Alex's breathing began to even out, the look of panic on her face slowly subsided. After a few minutes, she looked up, first at Kate, then at Olivia. She seemed to be tuning back in to everything around her, and looked puzzled as to the unusual position she found herself in. Finally, she spoke.


"Yeah, Alex, it's me honey, I'm right here."

Alex threw her arms around Olivia's neck, and sobbed for a long moment before finally asking, "What happened?"

As realization dawned on Alex that she'd just completely freaked out in front of a bar full of people and Olivia Benson, she looked mortified. Once she could stand, Kate got her into a cab and told Olivia she'd get her home, not to worry, and thanks for the help.

"So, what was that?" Julie asked, when they were left alone.

"Alex?" Olivia asked, her distraction apparent in her thousand-yard stare.

"Well, yes, Alex, but more specifically, what just happened?" Julie repeated, her voice rising in a question. And she waited. When no answer, no further explanation, was forthcoming, she continued, asking the question she'd had in mind since they'd been introduced inside. "She's your ex?"

Olivia seemed to register that last word, and her eyes finally met Julie's.

"Ex? Oh, no, she's my..." Olivia started strong, but faltered. What was the answer? "Uh, my ADA."

There. Safe. Not even a word, just letters. No one could read 12 years of bullshit into an acronym, could they? Apparently, yes.

"Your ADA?" Julie asked.

"Yeah, the Assistant District Attorney assigned to our squad."

Julie didn't respond with the first thought she hadthat she didn't need to have that part explained to her.

Instead, she said, "Really? Seemed like...more."

"Well, friends, of course. We've worked together forever." She knew this must all seem very strange and dramatic to Julie, who was missing a crucial bit of information. But she didn't feel like explaining the night she had been covered in Alex's blood. A detective of Olivia's caliber and experience was always very careful not to give too much away, but she forgot that Julie wasn't a suspect, wasn't hiding anything herself, which made Olivia's evasiveness that much more obvious to someone who wasn't expending her own energy on obfuscation.

"Sure," Julie said, though now her doubt was evident, even to someone as preoccupied as Olivia. "Is she okay?"

"Oh, yeah, she'll be fine, I'm sure. Just shaken up for some reason," Olivia replied, forcing her focus back to Julie, back to here, and now, and to some mundane words to anchor herself against whatever the hell had just happened, whatever she'd seen in Alex's anguished face. She'd deal with that later.

Julie just nodded. She was going to let this one go. She had a pretty good idea that the beautiful woman had been shaken up by Olivia herself, and she decided she didn't want to know more. Not now, at any rate. Not until she had to. But there was something there, no matter what the official story was.

Years of being coworkers didn't begin to explain the alarm in Olivia's face, the tender care she'd taken of the blonde woman, the fact that the detective had called her honey. Alex had called her Liv, had looked at her like she was the answer to a prayer.

Kate had gotten Alex home and settled in, and offered to stay the night, but Alex wanted to be alone. She was exhausted. And embarrassed. What had she done? In that moment or two of internal chaos as she struggled to gather herself, what had she given away?

It was the shock of seeing Olivia and (what was her name? Jodie? Jamie? No, that's not it.) Julie, but it shouldn't have been shocking, not at all. She and Olivia weren't a couple, never had been, and right now only their long years of association even let Alex still consider them friends, because they surely hadn't acted like it in recent months. Alex had come and gone one too many times, she feared.

Olivia dated. Of course she did she was a beautiful woman. But they'd somehow never run into one another before, and Alex had never had to face the reality that Olivia wasn't waiting for her, wasn't hung up on the memory of that one night, seven years earlier. And now that Alex was finally face-to-face with that awful truth now that her worst fears were confirmed it had hit her harder than she'd ever imagined it would.

Hours later, when Olivia woke in the night with a start, immediately checked her phone, Julie put a hand on her back. "Bad dream?"

"Just thought I heard my phone. Must have been dreaming." Olivia swung her feet over the side of the bed, and stood, heading toward the kitchen. She returned a minute later, with a glass of water and a face that conveyed worry and exhaustion, even in the darkened bedroom.

"Babe, something wrong?" Julie asked, patting the bed beside her.

Olivia sat back down, pulled her legs under the covers. "Yeah, I'm sorry to wake you. Just worried about Alex. I hope she's okay ."

"I'm sure she is. Her girlfriend took her home, right?" Olivia nodded, knowing Julie was right. "She'll be alright, then. All that adrenaline, she probably crashed pretty hard when she got home. You need some sleep, too, hot stuff."

Olivia sighed, shrugged, rolled her head around on her neck to shake out some lingering tension there. "Right, I do. 'Night, hon." And she rolled over to the wall, but neither of them slept right away.



Alex had indeed crashed hard. Her frantic thoughts didn't last long, and when she fell asleep she was spared any dreams. She woke at 6, and decided to get an early start on her long-planned trip to visit her aunt & uncle in Connecticut. Her beloved Uncle Bill had retired from the bench two years prior, and he and Aunt Jean had sold their Upper East Side apartment and decamped to the waterfront in Branford. They were tired of city living, but not willing to move all the way to East Amherst. After all, there's no Broadway in Erie County, and Jean Harriman loved to indulge her affinity for musical theater.

Alex drove out to their house, enjoying a crisp, clear early fall day as she wound through Mamaroneck, then Rye. Uncle Bill was her mom's younger brother, and he and his wife had been one of the few constants in Alex's life since she had come back from Witness Protection. They'd been there to take care of her mom's estate when her dad couldn't, then to take care of her dad when he was ill. And now they took care of Alex, or tried to, when she'd allow it.

Though Alex's dad was a lawyer, it was Uncle Bill she idolized, emulated, and turned to for advice. He'd been undeniably proud of her when she became an ADA, rather than turning to the easier money of corporate law, for which she'd been heavily recruited out of Harvard. Even when she came home, and Aunt Jean was frantic with worry about her insistence on returning to the DA's office, her uncle supported her all the way. "Jeanie, she'll never be happy doing anything but prosecuting." He knew her as well as anyone.

He and her aunt had never had kids of their own, so they both doted on Alex and would move heaven and earth to make her happy. She'd been sad when he retired, but he'd definitely earned it. The fact that he was winding down his career with a position at Yale Law was a source of much teasing between them, but she was proud of him, and envied the students who'd learn from a man who knew the law backward and forward.

And, teasing aside, she'd rather have him at Yale, where he was a quick drive away, than at Harvard. She missed having dinner with him every other week or so, but a trip up to Connecticut was just what she needed every couple of months. This one was as necessary as it gets.

She took her time on the trip, stopping for coffee in Darien, and enjoying the foliage, just beginning to turn.

She arrived at their house a little after 9, and they were surprised but excited to see her so early in the day.

"Alex, what are we going to do with you?" Aunt Jean greeted her in the driveway. "You probably take one Saturday off a year, and you're here in plenty of time for breakfast. Were you up with the roosters?"

Alex laughed, hugging her aunt, while her uncle got her overnight bag from the backseat. "Aunt Jean, you've been up here so long, you've forgotten we have alarm clocks in Manhattan, not roosters."

She felt her uncle's arm around her shoulders, and he pulled her close for a kiss on top of her head. "You know we're glad to take you as soon as we can get you, Counselor."

"Enough of the Counselor business, Bill," Aunt Jean chided her husband. "When she's here, she's our Alex. The New York County DA's office can get by without her for two days."

Coming here was balm for Alex's soul. When they moved here, she thought she'd miss their house in New York, which had been the closest thing she'd had to a family home for some time. But now, only a couple of years on, it felt like they'd been here forever. She knew she'd find family pictures all over the house, and that the room she always stayed in would be just as she'd left it, a picture of her Mom, Dad and brother on the bedside table. It felt like home.

They walked straight in, dropped Alex's bag at the foot of the stairs, and went onto the deck, where there was hot coffee and warm muffins and a brilliant view of Lamphier Cove. She relaxed immediately into one of the chairs and set about catching up with her aunt and uncle, and filling them in on her life.

The three of them had a lovely day, taking a long walk after breakfast. Alex joined her uncle on the boat for a while after lunch; he wanted to gossip about the denizens of the Manhattan judicial machinery, and was more than happy to let Jean skip the jaunt in favor of a trip to the grocery. Jean had asked them both if they had any requests for dinner, or for breakfast the next day, and in response received two whatevers.

She laughed on her way out. "You two are exasperating never short on opinions or arguments until it's something that will help me."

On the boat, Bill told her all about his students at Yale. "Frightening, Alex, truly. I fear for the future of our country's legal system."

"I'm sure the same was said by my professors," Alex laughed. "And probably by yours, and Dad's."

"Well, you may have a point there, but it does prove one thing," Bill replied.

"What's that?"

"You and I are getting old, Ace."

Alex smiled, not just at the joke, but at the use of the nickname he'd had for her since her childhood. Uncle Bill loved to take your initials, and make them into a nickname that he then called you all the time, whether you liked it or not. AC become Ace, Evan's EC quickly became Echo, Joe Cabot was Jock. No-one but Uncle Bill called her Ace. She sometimes pretended not to like it, but if he ever stopped, she'd be very disappointed.

After the boat trip, Alex read for a while, and helped with dinner. After they ate, the chill air on the deck called to them. A fire in the pit and some after-dinner drinks were the most relaxing thing Alex could imagine.

"How are you getting along, Alex?" Aunt Jean was always worried, and Alex was as good a thing to worry about as any other.

"I'm doing okay, Aunt Jean," she replied.

"Just okay?" Bill asked.

"Yeah," she admitted. "Just okay. I'm glad to be back home from Africa, you know, but I'm feeling restless and distracted. I've had a little trouble settling in, and I'm not sure why."

"I heard there was some drama at the Special Victims precinct at the beginning of summer." Bill did still hear most of the news, along with his gossip.

"There was, not long before I got home," Alex assented. "Elliot Stabler, one of the detectives I've worked with since I started there, had to shoot a teenage girl in the precinct. She died, and suddenly every move he'd ever made was under a microscope."

"I know of Stabler," Bill said. "Bit of a hothead, no?"

"More than a bit," Alex laughed. "The shooting was totally justified, though. Everything in his jacket was clean, really, but when there's a lot of stuff, cleared or not, IAB's just looking for any reason. He retired, and I walked back into a circus there."

"And Benson?" Jean asked. Both sets of blue eyes looked at her; her husband, wondering how she knew a Benson from a hole in the wall, and her niece, wondering how she remembered everything Alex had ever told her.

"She's...fine, I guess," Alex said. "I was out last night with Kate Merritt, and we ran into Olivia with her girlfriend. Shortly after that, as Kate and I were leaving..." Alex felt she could omit that the reason she was leaving was Olivia, and the girlfrienda car backfired on the street right beside us. I had a panic attack and made a fool of myself, so you could say I've had better evenings."

"Oh, sweetheart," Aunt Jean began, "are you feeling okay now?"

"I'm good, really," Alex assured. "I'm still seeing Dr. Jackson, and things are getting better."

"Do you have lots of those panic attacks, Ace?"

"I hadn't been having them at all, and not very often now. I think the work I'm doing with the shrink has just brought some things up that I have to deal with, unfortunately."

They sat in companionable silence for a while, before Alex's eyelids grew visibly heavy. Aunt Jean reached over to her and took her hand. "You should get some sleep, baby girl."

"Oh, I never get to see you guys. I hate to turn in so early," Alex protested. "It's only 9:30."

"It won't kill you to get an extra hour or two, Ace," Uncle Bill suggested.

"Okay, then, but just this once," Alex gave in without a fight, a dead giveaway since childhood that she was exhausted. She rose, and hugged first her aunt, then her uncle, before heading up to her room.

After she was gone, Bill looked at his wife in disbelief. "What on earth are you asking her about Detective Benson for?"

"Not your concern, Judge Harriman. This is my courtroom, not yours."

He couldn't argue with that, really, as he'd surrendered his control over their homelife decades ago, so he barked up another tree. "Jean, you know, if the defense attorneys and jurists of New York could hear you calling that shark of a prosecutor baby girl, they'd fall out of their chairs."

"She needs that, Bill, and I don't care what any damn lawyer thinks, including her, and you. She has to be a shark out there, but here she just has to be Alex. She's our baby girl, and I won't let her forget it."

Upstairs, in a room overlooking the cove, Alex lay in bed and pulled the covers up over her shoulder, content here in the most peaceful and loving place she knew. She slept well, and long, and all of her dreams were of her brother. In them, he was healthy and whole and here, and she wasn't orphaned and alone, the last Cabot. The tears on her pillowcase were tears of happiness.



"Come in." Alex was elbow-deep in work how the hell could there be so much stuff on her desk on a Monday morning? and she welcomed the knock at her door. Until it opened, anyway, and revealed Olivia Benson wearing a black cotton jacket over a red v-neck shirt, and a look of concern that told Alex this wasn't a professional consultation.

"Alex, hey," Olivia began, "how are you?" Her tone gave away the fact that she thought Alex might be fragile, might need to be wrapped in cotton wool and put on a high shelf. And that was all true, but Alex didn't like it, and sure as hell didn't like Olivia knowing it. Hated it, in fact.

"Olivia, hello, what brings you over to the vipers' den?" It might have been a joke, but there was no lightness in her voice, and no smile tugging the corners of her mouth. Olivia decided to ignore it altogether.

"I need to talk to you," Olivia began, and Alex cut her off.

"Which case do we have?" she asked, looking down to the files littering her desk.

"Not a case, a visit. Remember those?" No answer. "How are you?"

"Fine, why do you ask?"

"Alex, come on, don't."

"Don't what? Answer you?" The attorney was doing all she could to cut this line of questioning off.

"Stop, please. You know why I'm asking. Friday night...your reaction, at the bar. Are you okay? I've been worried."

"Don't be," said Alex, a little more sharply than she'd intended. She softened, just a bit. "Don't worry. I was overtired, had a bit to drink. I'm sorry to have made a scene. But I do appreciate your concern."

"Alex, I know you, so don't bullshit me. You were..upset. Really upset. I..."

"Olivia, don't handle me. I'm not a victim who needs to be talked down off a ledge, not a problem you need to deal with."

"No, you're not, that's true. You're my friend, and you looked like you needed..." Olivia knew she needed to choose her words very carefully here. "I don't know. Not help, just...someone. Do you want to talk? I know it's been awhile."

Alex startled her with a firm slap of her hands on the desk. That was it, all she was willing to put up with.

"It's been awhile because you've done nothing but ignore me, Olivia, and brush me off at every turn since I got home. So don't lay that out there like it's just whatever."

"Jesus, Alex, why are you so angry? I don't deserve this. I'm here. I've had a lot on my mind but I'm here now. Talk to me. What was it? What can I do?"

"You can let it go, convey my apologies to your friend for disrupting your evening, and just forget it. Forget the whole damn thing. Please."

Alex had delivered the plea while staring at her desk, her clock, anything but Olivia. Having finished, she finally looked up at the detective, tapping her pen, sighing. A set of gestures carefully crafted to dismiss. Olivia had seen it before, and she wasn't going to be put off so easily.

"Alex, look, your girlfriend seemed nice, I'm happy for you. If you're worried that I'll tell someone I saw you at a gay bar, I won't. You know that I've never said a word. " The pen stopped tapping, but Olivia didn't notice. She should have. "Your secret is safe with me, Alex."

And then, something she couldn't ignore: a look Olivia couldn't identify crossed Alex's face, followed by a bitter laugh she didn't like. The attorney stood up quickly, shoving her chair hard into the wall behind her and practically throwing her heavy pen on the desk. When she spoke, her voice was uncharacteristically loud.

"You said you know me. You don't know a goddamn thing. My secret? I don't have a secret. I'm not in any closet. I just...ah, fuck it, never mind. I'm not explaining myself to you. It's fine. I'm sorry, for everything. Have a good day, Olivia."

Alex stood there, crossing her arms and setting her face into a stare that brooked no further discussion. Olivia knew she had just received the kiss-off from Alex. She'd seen it happen before, but never to her.

"Okay," Olivia said, hands up in a gesture of surrender. "I'm not going to...what the hell, Alex?"

She should have known that Olivia would try one more time, despite the white flag her hands were supposed to represent. She just stood there, waiting, until the detective continued.

"I got it, I'm going. I don't know what to say, but you know I'm here if you need anything."

Olivia walked out, not knowing what else to say and not wishing to chance the wrong thing. The door closed behind her, closing the scene as it had opened: one woman on either side of the door. But now Olivia's concern was compounded by confusion, Alex's embarrassment competing with anger and desperation, both in states they found a bit foreign, and more than a bit disconcerting.



October passed, and Alex managed to avoid the detective and the squadroom more than she'd have thought possible. She had a few meetings at the mayor's office they wanted her thoughts on some of the things she'd seen in the Congo, and how they related to sex trafficking issues cropping up in New York. Casey took on a case or two more than she normally would have while Alex was back and forth to meetings in City Hall, and even a luncheon at Gracie Mansion.

Alex was happy to bring her experience to these meetings, happy to do any good she could for the women who were now seeking asylum in New York, as well as those who were being trafficked into the city against their will. But she hated the hobnobbing and politicking. Odd, she knew, for someone who'd once planned to be the DA, or even the Governor. Many probably still expected those things of her. The Mayor himself always made a point of greeting her, keeping tabs on her career. He'd known her dad, and knew her uncle, of course; more importantly to a man like him, he felt it was wise to keep someone like Alex close, and to make an ally of her.

"Alexandra," he greeted her during their first meeting at City Hall. "Can't believe you're back in Sex Crimes. Being a legend around Hogan Place, surely you could have had your pick of assignments. I'd expected to see you turn up in Major Case. Do I need to talk to the DA about this?" He smiled, but it was an oily smile born of far too many backroom deals made and promises broken.

"Thank you, but that won't be necessary, Mr. Mayor," she explained. She, alone amongst the ass-kissers and political climbers around the room, refused to address him as Your Honor. He wasn't a judge, hadn't even gone to law school, and Alex reserved that particular honorific for jurists, not for billionaire MBAs. "I did have my choice of assignments, but my heart is in Special Victims."

"Well, we're certainly glad to have an ADA of your caliber helping the most vulnerable New Yorkers." He turned his attention to the meeting's other attendees, and Alex gratefully moved away, sitting at the far end of the table. Her enthusiasm for sycophancy had waned significantly over the years.

Despite the distaste she had for the politics of this task force, she didn't mind the time out of her office. It meant that she'd hardly seen Olivia since their encounter in her office in late September, and she thought a cooling-off period was in order. She needed time to adjust to the fact that Olivia was seeing someone, and that that someone wasn't her. But the task force meetings wound down in late October, on hiatus as the Mayor prepared for the city's budgeting cycle and the myriad holiday events that would claim his time.

Alex was back in her office full-time when the 1-6 caught an ugly case of rape and murder. Her number was up, so she strode into the squad the next morning to be debriefed. Fin and Rollins were the leads on this one, but it already looked ugly, so it was going to be all hands on deck. A young dancer, understudying with a Broadway company, had been brutally raped, strangled and then repeatedly stabbed post-mortem. Her body was found 3 days after she went missing, in a dumpster not two blocks from the room in which she now sat. It was nowhere near her work, nowhere near her apartment, so perhaps the location would be helpful in leading them to the monster who'd done this.

She greeted everyone, and left her briefcase in a chair while she walked over to get coffee. Feeling someone behind her, she didn't need to turn to know that it was Olivia.

"Glad you're back, Alex," she said, pouring coffee into Alex's mug, then her own. "How was the high life over in Civic Center?"

"Not all it's cracked up to be," Alex said. She was not quite ready yet to be this close to Olivia, and was determined to say as little as possible.

"We missed you, you know," Olivia said. "Casey's great, but doesn't quite put us through our paces like you do."

"I'll assume that's a compliment," Alex said, "and just say thank you."

"How have you been?"

"Fine, Olivia...and you?" Alex asked, because she'd been raised to be polite. But she didn't really want to know. Then Cragen came out of his office, mercifully obviating any possibility for the detective to answer, or to ask any further questions of the attorney, who Olivia noticed was squirming under the attention.

"This one's ugly, gang," Cragen said, as they convened around the table. "What do we know so far?"

Fin, and then Rollins, sketched out the case. So far, no real leads: no jilted lovers, no angry co-workers, no crazy neighbors or mysterious stalkers noted, no fluids, no hairs or fibers that they could connect to anyone or anything. They were following up on any promising information gleaned from canvassing the area around the dump site, and talking to everyone who'd known the girl. She'd been in New York for 6 months, moving from Minneapolis to try to make it here, then make it anywhere.

Questions were asked, theories offered, assignments made. Alex offered her services as soon as they had anything firm to necessitate a warrant. The meeting broke up, and she returned to her office. Having the case meant regular visits to the squad to follow up, and regular reports from the detectives as they questioned some potential suspects. The updates mostly came courtesy of Fin and Rollins, or Cragen, and Alex was just fine with that.

Then, not two weeks later, a break in the case. A victim escaped from a rapist, and details of her attack matched what little they knew about the first case. This girl was 19, looked like the first victim, had also moved to the city within the past year. She was a voice student at Juilliard, and had been performing in a club on the Upper East Side. After leaving the club on a Saturday night, she was blitzed on the sidewalk as she headed to the subway station.

The perp took her to a warehouse, raped her, and then tried to strangle her. She managed to land a lucky blow to his temple with her wrists bound, using the side of her fist as a club. He was knocked out and she escaped, screaming in the night. A cabbie had picked her up and taken her to St. Luke's-Roosevelt. Amaro and Benson had been on call, and went to question her. They were immediately struck by the similarities to the first case, now growing colder by the day, and were dreading the moment the girl found out how close she'd come to dying a horrible death. She was able to give them some details; though the rapist wore a mask, he'd had a tattoo on his forearm that she'd seen when his sleeves rode up, and she'd heard his voice. Unfortunately, she hadn't seen where he'd taken her. He'd thrown her in a van and blindfolded her before taking her to the warehouse, and when she ran out she was so frantic that she couldn't retrace her steps later to tell them exactly where she'd come from before the cab found her. They did know the warehouse was only a few blocks from the 1-6, but nothing more specific than that. It was, at least, something to go on.

They had a sketch artist work up a drawing of the tattoo, and Fin and Rollins took it to everyone they'd talked to in connection with the first victim, seeing if anyone recognized it. Benson and Amaro did the same with everyone and anyone who knew the second victim, while uniforms canvassed tattoo parlors from Fordham Heights to Battery Park, and all points in between. Lots of heads were shaken, lots of folks with no answers, though many of them clearly wanted to be of some help. It only took one, though, and they kept going. Alex was still in the loop, getting a few warrants, offering a thought here and there as they pursued suspects and questioned witnesses.

The details of the second attack gave them a little more to go on. They hadn't known if the first victim, Jill Keller, had been grabbed off the street, forced into an alley, or surprised in the hallway outside her apartment. She was last seen leaving the theater late at night, but hadn't called anyone, hadn't bought anything with a credit or debit card, hadn't been seen on any subway surveillance tapes or transit card logs, didn't have an alarm at home to turn on, or off. She could have taken a cab, but they couldn't even nail that down, so they didn't know if she'd ever gotten home that night. There was no sign of a disturbance in her apartment, so they figured the worst of it had taken place somewhere else, but that didn't rule out her building as a possible point of contact with her killer.

They kept on, doing old-fashioned detective work, hoping against hope that hard work and pounding the pavement would give them the break they needed before another attack.

It didn't.

Only four days after Kelly Moss had escaped from her attacker, the next victim wasn't so lucky. She was found beside the Long Island Expressway, in several bags. Raped, dismembered. She hadn't been dead when the torture had begun. There had been a delay of several hours before someone called in Manhattan SVU. Amaro responded first from midtown, where he was questioning a potential witness. He called Benson from the scene; she was already en route, Captain's orders.

"It's our guy, Olivia. And he's pissed. Kelly getting away has pushed him even further than he probably was ready to go. He's losing control."

"I was afraid of that. But maybe this is how we'll catch him. Maybe he made a mistake this time."

Except, they didn't know if he did, or not, because they couldn't ID the victim. No-one was reported missing who fit the description, no prints came up in AFIS, no DNA in CoDIS. Nothing. They were getting discouraged. Numerous meetings with the ADAs and the Chief of Ds had brought a few more ideas but nothing was panning out.



Then, on a Tuesday morning, as the squad was starting its day, a pair of suits walked through and straight to Cragen's office, where they entered without knocking, closed the door, talked for five minutes, and left as menacingly as they'd come.

Rollins looked at Olivia and Nick, eyebrow raised. "That looks like IAB. Wonder what's up."

"Not IAB," Fin offered from his desk. "We know every breed of snake and rat they got."

"Feds," Olivia said, but didn't elaborate.

A moment later, Cragen emerged, and called them all to the conference table. "Where's John?" he asked, taking a quick mental roll call.

"At the ME's, Captain," Fin explained. "Hoping Warner can give us anything to ID our 3rd vic."

"Unlikely, I'm afraid," Cragen replied. "But you'll have to fill him in."

"On what?" Amaro asked.

"We have...a situation." Cragen looked around at the four faces, settling last on Benson's questioning eyes. "Our vic was living under an assumed identity in Witness Protection."

"Oh, shit," Rollins said. "That's just great. How much is that going to complicate things?"

"More than you even want to know about," Fin said, his eyes on Olivia the whole time. Benson remained silent.

Cragen gave them all the details he had. The victim was Hannah West, a 27-year-old photography student at Parsons. But the search for DNA and fingerprints hadn't turned anything up because there wasn't anything. At least, nothing that would come up with any hits. The search had, however, alerted DOJ and the Marshals that one of their charges was being looked into. Their visit to Cragen had told them why, and then they shared some details with him. Hannah West was actually Haley Wagner, whose husband had been moved into the program 4 years prior, in exchange for his testimony against an organized crime figure who still had more than enough favors he could call in. The couple had been received their new identities after an acquaintance was shot in a case of mistaken identity. The Feds had swooped in and taken over the scene and three days later there was a car accident, an exploding gas tank. Jon and Hannah West were dead, and Jeff and Haley Wagner turned up in New York with manufactured histories. Though they'd since divorced, the Marshals told Hannah she wasn't safe unless she stayed Haley, and stayed hidden. And they had kept her safe...from the threat they knew about. This maniac was the joker they couldn't have known was in the deck.

All of this meant that David and Pamela Byrne of Joliet, Illinois were going to find out their daughter was alive, only to find out she was dead. No-one wanted to notify them. And no-one wanted to notify the ADA, either.

"Okay, I'm going to work with the feds to notify the parents. Who's telling Cabot?" Cragen looked around, expecting Benson to speak up. Her head stayed down, studying the now-cold coffee in the bottom of her cup. "Liv?" The only response was a shake of her head as the detective stood and turned her back, studying the case files displayed on the screen at the end of the table.

"Anyone?" Cragen tried again.

"I've got it, Captain," Munch offered. "I'll go talk to Alex."

"Wonder what's gonna be a bigger kick in the head," Fin said. "The message, or the messenger?"

Olivia turned, and glared at him for a moment. "Go to hell, Fin." She left the room, grabbing her jacket on the way out of the squadroom.

"You gonna tell me what that was all about?" Rollins asked Fin as they walked out to the squad car and headed out to speak to their victim's ex-husband. Now that they had a name and an address., it was somewhere to start.

"Long story," Fin said, "and I'd spare you the agony, but I think it's probably something you'll need to know."

"Okay..." Rollins said. "Sounds pretty heavy."

"Yeah, it is. 'Bout 8 years ago, we were working a case, an undercover was murdered. The thing got deeper and deeper, ended up at the top of some Colombian drug lord's food chain. A DEA agent was murdered, couple days later Cabot was shot, lay there outside O'Malley's bleeding out in Benson's arms. She died, or at least we thought she did. Turns out the feds had squirreled her away in Witness Protection. Benson and her old partner, Stabler, knew about it, but the rest of us didn't find out until another murder a year and a half later came up a match for ballistics on her shooting."

"Holy fuck."

"Right. She came back to testify, but got shipped out again until the threat was eliminated. It was pretty bad, all the way 'round: Benson and Stabler blaming themselves for not protecting her, Cragen and the old DA, Branch, beating themselves up for not pulling her off the case before the bodies started piling up. Even after she came back to testify, it was just hell on everybody knowing she was out there somewhere, in danger and by herself."

Rollins couldn't believe this story. It was like something out of a freakin' movie. And it explained a little bit of the ADA's frosty demeanor. But the answers she'd gotten so far just brought up more questions. "How long was she gone?"

"Total, about two-and-a-half years. Then, when she came back, she was incommunicado for another three. One day, she just shows up at a scene, comes walkin' up the street with the Captain, back in the saddle and crackin' the whip at SVU. We're all just starin' at her, and all she says is What have we got? No explanation, no how you been, just...back."

"Like a ghost." Fin nodded. That was as good a way to describe it as any. He had nothing but respect for Cabot; she was one tough mother. But he didn't understand it, any of it. Rollins continued, "But that whole thing in the squadroom a while ago, between you and Olivia? What was going on there?"

"Benson and Cabot were tight, had been for a long time. Not that she'll let anyone know it, but this shit is going to rock Cabot's world, and Benson knows damn well she oughta be the one to tell her. Instead, she goes all mute and lets Munch go over there and break the news. It's bullshit, and I just called her on it."

"They got a thing goin' on?"

"Not now, I'm sure. Cabot's gotta be way too smart to put up with the way Benson's been acting lately. But I think they mighta, years ago. I don't know. They both keep their shit pretty well under the radar, so I'm just guessing. But whether they were knockin' boots or not, Benson's the closest thing Cabot's got to a friend around here, and this shoulda been on her."

"Now Cabot will pull herself off the case," Rollins was talking through it, trying to absorb this information. "That'll throw a wrench in the works. Damn it, we need to find this guy, now."

"You're half right, Rollins," Fin said, as they pulled up to a stoplight. "We do need to find this guy, no doubt, like yesterday. But Cabot? Naw, ain't no way in hell she'll back off this one."

Sgt. John Munch took his time getting over to Hogan Place, phoning ahead to ask Cabot's assistant if the ADA had a few moments for him in her schedule. Assured that she did, he spent the brief trip considering what he had to tell her, and how best to do that. Even walking down the hall to her office, he wasn't exactly what he'd say. He stopped to chat with Ellen, who waved him in after a bit of small talk. "She's waiting for you, Sergeant. You can't keep flirting with me to delay the inevitable."

John looked at the womanearly 60s, wavy silvered hair, and dimples you could hide inand couldn't deny either charge. He was flirting, and he was trying to put off the point of his visit. "Ellen, how do you know me so well?"

"Detective Munch, you've made a lot of trips to this office over the years. And you have the same look everyone else has when they have some news they'd rather not share with her."

"Well, wish me luck then," John laughed. "I drew the short straw." He headed into the office, closing the door behind him.

Alex looked up as he entered, her writing interrupted by his arrival. She took in his normal uniform of black suit, black shirt, black tie, and also didn't miss the fact that his mood appeared black, as well. "Sergeant, what brings you over to my little corner of the legal universe?"

"Mind if I sit?"

"No, by all means. Can I get you anything, coffee or water?"

"Thanks, but I'm good. Just need to update you on the case."

"I've been getting updates from Detective Tutuola lately, so I'm a bit surprised to see you here," Alex said, continuing to examine John for any clue as to the purpose of his drop-in. When he didn't continue, she prompted, "What's going on?"

"Our third victim..." Munch began.

"The rape and dismemberment on the LIE," Alex jumped in, eager to move this along. She had a pile of work calling her name, and her weekly meeting with the EADA in less than 30 minutes. Diffidence wasn't John's normal MO, and this only piqued her curiosity. "Have we ID'd her?"

"Unfortunately, we have, Counselor. And the captain asked me to come and bring you up to speed."

"Well, thanks, but you could have just called," she offered.

"Actually," John said, "I couldn't. It's not good, Alex."

That was unusual. John had a million nicknames for her, but if he was trying to ensure her undivided attention, he'd managed that simply by calling her Alex. She waited.

"Our victim was known as Hannah West..." he began.

"Known as?"

He decided he wouldn't prolong this. "She was in Witness Protection. Her real name was Haley Wagner, and her family thought she'd been killed in a car accident four years ago."

"Oh, my god." Alex said only that, nothing more. Her hand went over her mouth, and all color seemed to drain from her face. She took a few shallow breaths, seemed to be fighting with herself to remain calm. What were the chances?

Munch waited. He, like Fin, didn't think he was the one who should be delivering this news, but he had known Alexandra Cabot a long time, and he thought what she needed now was just time to process this information. He sat quietly, not wanting to push the attorney at all.

Finally, after a moment that seemed like it could have been an hour, she spoke. "Who is notifying her family?"

"Cragen, and the feds," he supplied. "Her ex-husband, the reason she was in the Program, is here in New York. Fin and Rollins are with him now."

"How horrible." That seemed to be all she could articulate. She just shook her head, eyes fixed in the middle-distance. "Horrible."

"I can only imagine how upsetting this must be. Is there anything I can do?" He felt strongly that, were this someone else, he would offer some more comforting words, some commiseration, a hug. He felt just as strongly that the woman in front of him wouldn't be able to accept any of that from him.

She brought her focus back to the detective in front of her. "No, thank you, Sergeant. I'll be fine."

"Okay," he said, standing slowly as he noted that her focus had shifted off of him again before the word fine had even stopped reverberating in the room. She was lost in thought, and he made his way to the office door, not wishing to intrude. As he gripped the doorknob, he turned back toward her. "If you need anything..."

She forced a smile. "Thank you, John, for coming over here to tell me. I appreciate it." His smile, like hers, was forced, and he left, allowing her the few remaining minutes she'd have before her meeting to gather herself.

Ellen spoke to him quietly as he left, "Everything okay, Sergeant?"

"Not really, Ellen. This case is taking its toll on everyone. Keep an eye on her, would you?"

Ellen simply nodded. She'd been with the ADA for 5 years, first in Appeals, now back in SVU. Ms. Cabot said very little that wasn't work-related, and had never elaborated on an ordeal that Ellen knew about only through office lore. She would never want anyone to worry over her, of that Ellen was sure. But not worrying wasn't something Ellen did well.

Alex sat alone in her office, disturbed by what John had told her, and by what had happened to Haley Wagner. That possibility that she could die, for real, as Emily or as Sarah, with no-one to mourn her had been her worst fear. It had consumed her during the early days, when only Olivia and Elliot had known that Alex Cabot still existed. She knew that many protectees never returned to their "real" lives, but to now know that a family would have to have a second funeral for a daughter they'd long believed dead...she couldn't even wrap her mind all the way around this.



Olivia was dealing with her own feelings of helplessness and terror, seasoned with a healthy dose of anger and guilt. She knew Fin was right: she should have been the one to talk to Alex. But dammit, it had been Alex's choice to cut off contact. It had been Alex, just a couple of weeks before, doing all that she could to avoid a simple conversation in the squadroom. And now Fin expected her to go out of her way to go drop this bombshell on their ADA?

If they'd found this guy before he found Hannah. If she'd noticed the gun in the girl's hand before she shot up the squadroom, and before Elliot shot her. If she'd pushed Alex to the ground, covered her body, taken that bullet herself. If, if, if. This was the litany of regret and self-incrimination pounding her brain as she walked home late that day, not willing to be civil to a cabdriver or any fellow passengers on the subway.

Two miles in the cool air calmed her somewhat, but she was still crackling with anger and frustration when she got home. Julie could sense her mood over the phone an hour later. "Why don't you come over here, babe? I'll throw something together and we can just chill."

"You don't even want to deal with me tonight, Jules," Olivia said.

"Hush. I've got ways to deal with you. Now get over here."

Olivia did as she was told, needing to occupy her mind with anything that wasn't the job, and the case, and the years of failures that had picked today to come home to roost.

She got to Julie's a half-hour later, and let herself in to an apartment that smelled of garlic and rosemary. And Julie.

Julie must have heard the door close, looked around with a smile from the kitchen counter, where she was brushing butter onto some French bread. "Hey, hot stuff, how are you?"

"I've been better, to be honest," Olivia conceded. She stirred the marinara, kissed Julie briefly, picked a cucumber out of the salad bowl on the counter-top. "Everything looks great, hon."

"So do you," Julie said, sliding the bread into the warm oven and pulling Olivia into a deep kiss. "Good enough to eat, in fact."

"What about dinner?" Olivia laughed.

"If you were any kind of detective," Julie said, "you'd have noticed that the oven's on low, the sauce is simmering and the pasta's not in the pan yet. There's time."

"Every time you have me over for dinner," Olivia noted, "you end up having me for dinner. Why is that?"

Julie could only laugh. "Guess you're just that delicious."

Olivia looked at her, wondering briefly if she was using Julie, and if Julie knew it, or minded. I don't deserve you, she thought. And you don't deserve this. Then she decided, just this once, to ignore that voice and take what was being offered. In just a few seconds, Olivia had picked Julie up and moved her to the couch. She settled the petite woman on her lap, Julie's thighs straddling her own, and quickly pulled her shirt up and over her head. She wasn't wearing a bra, and her nipples peaked despite the warmth of the apartment.

"Behind on your laundry?" Olivia joked.

"Just didn't want to waste any time," Julie said, her voice a touch deeper than normal, her green eyes now hazel and a bit unfocused. She took Olivia's mouth in a long, deep kiss, and pulled Olivia's shirt off, then quickly pulled down the cups of her bra. Olivia moaned as Julie's teeth grazed first the right nipple, then the left.

As good as that felt, Olivia needed to be in control of this, since she wasn't in control of anything else. She reached up, lifting Julie's chin with one hand, then wove her fingers through the loose curls and pulled the doctor's head toward her. The kiss was hot with desire and longing. Olivia's left hand slid down Julie's back to her hips. Pulling her a bit closer, while the right hand grabbed Julie's breast, just a bit rough. Julie gasped. Olivia pulled her hand back, just a bit, but Julie growled, and placed her own fingers over Olivia's.

"No," she whispered. "Don't you dare fucking stop."

From there, it was on. There was no more talking, no permissions asked, and none needed to be given. Olivia picked Julie up and laid her on the plush rug in the middle of the room, pulling her pants off quickly, and kneeling over her. She looked into her eyes, left hand tracing the delicate nose, and the gorgeous mouth, until Julie parted her lips and wrapped them around Olivia's first two fingers, gently sucking then biting. This sent Olivia over the edge, and she removed the hand that had been sliding up and down through Julie's folds.

The absence of the touch was noticed immediately, and Julie would have complained if her mouth had been free. But it was obvious there'd be no need. Olivia took those fingers, already slick with Julie's moisture, and put them into her own mouth, licking them clean and then burying them completely, never losing eye contact with her partner. And then she took those fingers, and wasted no more time in burying them inside Julie.

She stroked in and out, her left hand now on top of Julie's stomach, pressing gently in just the right spot as her middle finger curled inside and made magic happen. Only a couple of minutes later, the doctor came, her orgasm intense but slow, coursing through her in waves. As her shudders subsided, Olivia removed her hand, once again licking those fingers thoroughly. She then placed one hand on the floor on either side of Julie's shoulders, and lowered herself for a kiss.

"I taste good on you." Julie smiled, blissed out and completely relaxed.

"After dinner, I'll remind myself how good you taste on you," Olivia said.

A few hours later, they were resting in bed, satiated by good food and better sex. Julie was pleased that Olivia seemed more relaxed, acted like she might even stay the night.

"So, what got stuck in your craw today?" she asked.

"Nothing, just an argument with someone at work." Olivia tried to downplay it. She hated to drag her bad moods over here to Julie.

"The ADA?" Julie asked.

Olivia tried not to betray her surprise at the mention of Alex. "Not exactly," she answered warily. "Why do you ask?"

"Well, you don't say much, but seems like you two butt heads pretty often," Julie explained. "I know you said she wasn't your ex, but I'd never have guessed that from the way you act."

"It was about her," Olivia admitted, not sure if she should offer any more of the story or not. "There was a detail on this case we're working, something that's gonna hit her personally pretty hard. Someone felt I should be the bearer of bad tidings, and I disagreed."

"Why you?" Julie wasn't going to let this rest, not entirely, so there had to be some answer here. There had to be something Olivia could say that would be just enough, without being too much.

"We're friends, like I told you. Two women in a man's world for a long time, the only two women. We bonded. Then, on a case we were working years ago, she was shot, declared dead, thrown into witness protection."

A light went on. Julie had read about this case, of course. It was on the front page of every paper in the city. "She's that ADA? Well, that does explain a hell of a lot. No wonder she freaked out that night at the bar."

"Yeah, it's quite a story." Olivia couldn't say any more without giving away how emotionally invested she was in finding out how it would all end.

"You were with her when she was shot?"

"Right. And only my partner and I found out later that she was really alive."

"That's a hell of a secret to keep." Julie was starting to see that, ex or not, Alex Cabot was an important part of Olivia's own story.

"Yeah, it was," Olivia said. Then she closed off, deciding she was done reliving that particular nightmare. "But it's over now, and it's not my job to deliver every bit of bad news to her for the rest of my life, just because I was the last one out of the bar with her that night."

Julie didn't want to ask any more questions, sensed Olivia wouldn't answer anyway. They lay quietly for a while longer. About 15 minutes later, Olivia sat up, leaned over to kiss Julie. She knew what that meant.

"You're not staying tonight?"

"No, hon, I'd better head home. Early day tomorrow and all." She got dressed, said goodnight and let herself out. Julie spent the next hour wondering what she didn't know about all this.



The police work paid off. A week later, comparing notes, Amaro and Munch realize they've both talked to the same guy Amaro in connection with the first vic, Munch in connection with the third. They took a photo lineup to their surviving witness, and she picked out the guy first thing, knew him from a photography store. Fin called Cabot for a lineup, and she was met outside the interrogation room by Tutuola, Rollins, Munch and Cragen.

She got a good look at the guy sitting in the chair facing the one-way glass, cuffed to the table and more than a bit agitated. "Looks pretty mild-mannered," she observed.

"Aren't those always the ones?" Rollins said knowingly.

"Too true, Detective," Alex agreed. "So, who is this guy? What's the connection, and how did we miss it until now?"

Typical Cabot, Fin thought. Bring her the moon, she wants to know why it isn't full. Bustin' your balls over how much sooner you shoulda found this piece of shit.

"Kyle Morgan, Counselor," Fin explained. "Works in a photography store, full-service joint, not too many of 'em left. They sell equipment, print pictures..."

"And teach classes," Rollins finished. "Third victim was a photography student, shopped there. First victim was an actress, had her head shots printed there, but paid cash, so no receipts. No-one we talked to ever mentioned the place, and we had no record of her using them for anything."

"Second victim, our singer, had taken a class there, just wanting to indulge a hobby she'd picked up from her sister," Fin explained. "She didn't even think to mention it, hadn't really shopped there. The sister bought her a gift certificate for the class, birthday present, and only when we connected our two murder victims to the place did we know to ask her."

"Well, I'll be damned," Alex said. "Connect the dots. But why are we doing a lineup? She never saw the guy's face, am I right?"

"She heard his voice, and saw his tattoo, Counselor," Rollins said. "I think she can do this."

"Well, thinking's not good enough, I'm afraid." The ADA had the tone she always used just before she rained on the parade. "You can't show the tattoo, she never got a look at his face, and the voice...it's just too risky. I can't let you do this."

"Alex, it's our guy, I'm sure of it," Cragen finally spoke.

"I hear you, Don, but we're going to need something else. If we're going on nothing more than a voice, then we're screwed here. If he alters his voice in any way and she doesn't recognize it, that's exculpatory evidence that could kill us when we finally get to court. But let's go in and rattle his cage." She looked around at the four cops. "John, you with me?"

A few minutes later, Cabot walked back into the squadroom, and picked up her briefcase from the conference table. Olivia, across the room waiting with the victim, had been avoiding her, but seeing the attorney in the squadroom instead of overseeing a lineup wasn't a good sign. She escorted the young woman into an interview room, closed the door, and joined her colleagues in staring daggers at their ADA.

"What's going on?"

Fin answered. "Cabot says we can't do a lineup. Too much chance of the victim not knowing which guy it is."

"Not just not knowing, Detective Tutuola," Alex clarified. "That would be a hurdle, but not an insurmountable one."

"Then what the hell's the problem, Alex?" This from Olivia, the first direct volley she'd sent into the attorney's court since the case began.

"The problem, Detective, is that while choosing no-one would be unfortunate, choosing the wrong person would sink this case before we even get away from the dock, and you know it."

"Bullshit. You can't get it gift-wrapped, Counselor. We're doing the best we can here."

"If that's your best, then it's not good enough." Alex didn't back down. They'd danced this tango before, and she remembered all the steps.

"She knows what she's looking for in this lineup. Is it too much to ask you to work with us?" Olivia had stepped into Alex's space now, and there was no room for anyone else to add anything even if they'd been willing to speak.

"I don't care to know what the hell you meant by that, Benson. I want this bastard as much as any of you do," Alex said. Her voice was now menacingly low, steely, and intended only for Olivia, who was certainly close enough to hear every word. The rest of them had to strain. "But I won't risk my case and I won't allow you to risk your career by tampering with a witness. Don't question me, Detective. I know how to do my job. Now you do yours."

She turned her back on Olivia, who was now fuming with barely controlled rage, and picked up her briefcase. Alex walked a few steps, then turned back to the detectives and their Captain, all standing, waiting for whatever would happen. "Cut him loose," she said, her eyes making contact with Cragen's before scanning the group and finally settling on Olivia's, pupils so dilated with anger her brown irises were barely visible. Alex's voice practically dared one of them to challenge her. "Call me when you have something."

They delayed the paperwork as long as they could, but eventually had no choice but to let him go. Cragen ordered a detail on him, but someone, somewhere, fucked things up. By the time they had the evidence they needed to get an arrest warrant, the son of a bitch was in the wind.

This time, Olivia decided she'd be glad to be the one to deliver the news to Cabot. When the ADA came walking into the squadroom that afternoon, the detective seemed to take great pleasure in letting her know that she had allowed this guy all the opportunity he needed to get the hell out of Dodge. Alex's visit was short, and not at all sweet. She felt her detectives should have had the evidence sooner what they were giving her now was more than enough, and had been there all along. If they'd done the legwork sooner, she thought, there'd have been no need at all to even consider a lineup, which was a disaster waiting to happen.

The detectives, on the other hand, felt like Cabot's refusal to authorize the lineup had failed to buy them the time they needed to connect the final link in the chain of evidence. Now Morgan was out there, God knows where, and there wasn't a damn thing any of them could do but sit and wait.

After three days of waiting, and of virtually no communication between the ADA and her squad, Alex finally could take no more. This was stupid and childish, and she was going to put an end to it. And she knew she'd have to make peace with Olivia, before the rest could fall into place. She arrived in the squadroom on a Friday morning, and walked straight up to Olivia's desk.

"May I have a word with you, Detective Benson?" Her voice sounded fairly pleasant, but Olivia knew it was not a request she could refuse. She stood up, missing Amaro's raised eyebrow and Fin's sidelong glance as she followed Alex to an interview room.

"What can I do for you, Ms. Cabot?" Olivia waited to speak until the door was closed and they were alone.

"You can stop being such a bitch, for starters," Alex said. She knew this would get the desired response, and it did. All professional pretense was gone, and Olivia looked at her and saw her, not the uncooperative ADA she'd walked in here with.

"You're out of line, Alex."

"Probably," Alex admitted, and this took Olivia completely off guard. "I came to apologize."

"Then apologize," Olivia said. "I'll listen."

"I'm sorry to have questioned your abilities, Olivia. I'm upset by this case, and I'm upset that I couldn't do more to help before this guy was out of reach. But if you really believed the things you said to meif you really think that I don't care about this case, or about every case we workthen I'm doing something very wrong here."

"Alex, I'm sorry, too," Olivia allowed. "This has got me so wound up, it's just pushing every one of my buttons. You've put your career on the line for us enough times that I know better than to ever question your dedication."

"Thank you, I appreciate that," Alex replied. "Despite what you may all think, I'm not here to make your jobs any harder than they already are."

"I know that. This whole case, the brutality of it, the frustration, then finding out we had to break the hearts of parents who'd already thought their child was dead. I can only imagine what it must be bringing up for you, Alex."

"I'm just..." Alex started, then stopped, removing her glasses briefly and pinching the bridge of her nose before continuing. "I'm not comfortable discussing that, but I do appreciate your apology. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

She was out of the room, and down the hall, before Olivia could even eke out a single syllable. She watched the retreating head of blonde hair through the open door, and wondered what was going through Alex's mind.



Another week passed before there was any news, but this was worth waiting for.

"Cabot's on the way over. They picked up Morgan in Baltimore."

"Another rape?" Olivia asked.

"No, " Cragen explained. "A lucky break. Baltimore PD was sitting on a bar for illegal gambling. When they got what they needed off a wired informant, they sealed the exits and went in. Our guy was there, minding his own business, and got caught in the net.

"He put up a fight?" Fin asked.

"Oddly, no. He must have hoped that he'd somehow slip through if he kept his head down."

"No such luck, thank God." The voice was Cabot's, punctuated by the clacking of her heels as she entered the squad room.

"Charm City comes though," crowed Munch. "Second finest police force in the world."

"Nice to see some civic pride, John, " joked Cragen. "I think this is a great opportunity for you to pay a visit to your old stomping grounds. Cabot's going to need an escort to claim our prize so John, you and Fin win the trip of a lifetime."

"Aight, Captain, when do we go?" asked Fin.

"Counselor?" Don asked, and they all turned to Alex.

"Well, it may not be quite so simple. Turns out Morgan fled to Baltimore because it was one of his old haunts. He was wanted there for jumping bail, so I can't just serve the extradition warrant. We'll have to go to court, but it should just be a formality. I'm trying to get a hearing on the docket in Baltimore for tomorrow afternoon, so we'll leave in the morning," the attorney explained. "Don , a word?"

Don held the door, ushering the ADA in before closing it behind them. "Have a seat."

"No, this'll only take a minute," Alex waved off the proffered chair. Then I've got to get back to the office to get going on the extradition paperwork."

"Sure," Don replied, leaning back against the front edge of his desk, hands supporting his weight on either side.

"What can I do for your, Counselor?"

"Captain," she began, "I have a request." Cragen noticed she had moved behind the chair, and had already lifted her hands from the chair back, crossing her arms in front of her. Protective gestures, both. Don tried not to notice those things, hated always to consider means, motives, evasiveness, 'tells,' but 33 years with a badge doesn't just turn off and on whenever you'd like. He waited another second, but could see that the normally loquacious ADA was going to need prompting.

"Request?" Cragen repeated. His voice seemed to bring her back from a brief sojourn deep in her own thoughts.

"Yes, please. I'm glad to have Sergeant Munch along on the trip to Baltimore, but could you send Detective Benson, too?"

"Instead of Fin, you mean?" Alex nodded. "Counselor, is there a problem with Detective Tutuola that I'm unaware of?"

"No, no, of course not. Detective Tutuola is an exemplary professional." Alex paused, though, and seemed reluctant to supply the but that had to be coming. Don waited her out. A few beats more, and then a sigh. "In light of the circumstance..."

Alex pulled up short again, and Cragen noticed that her arms were still tightly crossed, and her eyes were now avoiding his own, locked instead onto his brown tie, and more specifically on to an infinitesimal fleck of Dijon mustard that he hadn't wiped off at lunch time. Even in a state of obvious distraction, this woman missed no detail, however small. He decided to try to make this easier for her, if he could.

"Counselor," he began, then thought better of it. "Alex."

Bingo. She looked up, seemed to be shaking off an unpleasant daydream.

"Sorry, Captain, it's just..."

"Out with it.' He cut her off. "What's wrong, Alex?" He could see her thinking three, four sentences ahead, deciding what to say, how to say it. And he could see her resign herself, at last, to the unadorned truth. He'd made a living noticing these things.



"Right, sorry. Don. When I was in Witness Protection, Baltimore was my last stop before I came home. I haven't been there since, haven't been to revisit any of my stops. With this damn case, though, it's been on my mind more than it should be. I just thought..."

"Alex, who could blame you? Can't the DA send someone else down there?"

"Probably. But I won't ask. This is my case, our case. I'd trust Casey, or Mike, but nether of them is available. Besides, I fought my way back here to SVU and I won't hand off a case to someone who knows little and cares even less."

"Of course," Don said, thinking that he should have known this one would never pass the buck, no matter how much it cost her. "Say no more. Benson and Munch it is," he assured her. "I'm surprised Benson didn't knock her chair over volunteering to go with you."

"It was so long ago," Alex said, uncrossing her arms to give a dismissive wave. "I'm sure she's forgotten the details. Lord knows I've tried to. I'm feeling more than a bit silly to have given it any thought at all."

This was the mostthe only thing, reallythat Alex had ever said to Don about her time in the Program, and though the years had served only to make her more striking and self-assured, he was struck by how very young she suddenly seemed.

It reminded him of the young ADA she'd once been, and he thought of all that must have happened in WITSEC. Her assumption that Olivia wouldn't recall the details confirmed two suspicions: that Alex had shared at least some of her story with the detective, and that Alex still didn't know how deeply her ordeal had affected the squad. Each of them, really, but Olivia most profoundly.

"Alex, sit, please." Hesitation. "Please, just for a moment."

She acquiesced, moving to the front of the chair she'd used as a bulwark, sinking into the seat and crossing her legs. Cragen joined her in the other seat, rather than his own desk chair. He didn't turn toward her, allowing her to maintain a little space, and he noticed her more relaxed posture was belied by her white-knuckle grip on the chair arms.

"Look, Alex, I can't imagine for one moment what you went through. What you continue to go through. But you have to know that we are your squad. We're here for you."

"I shouldn't even...it's been seven years. I don't think about it much, but damn it if it doesn't show its ugly face at the strangest of times. Having a good memory is a great asset to a lawyer, but a curse in so many other ways."

"Give yourself a break, Alex. I know you don't do that often, but on this, I'm not asking you. I'm telling you."

"Is that an order, Captain?" A slight smirk tugged at her mouth.

"Well, I know you don't work for me..." That earned him a smile that spread across her face, and almost reached all the way to her eyes.

"...but yes, it is an order. None of us have forgotten losing youor getting you back, for that matter. I can guarantee you that Olivia hasn't forgotten anything she knew, anything she felt, anything you've shared with her. Not one single detail. So why in hell should you expect yourself to have amnesia?"

Now, finally, a real smile, the kind none of them gave or received enough of in this job. He'd earned it, Alex thought, and her long-standing admiration for him only grew. To say so much, provide so much reassurance, and yet pry so little...she felt how much he cared for her, and it emboldened her a bit. Without thinking, she reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezing hard.

Her voice was thick, but her words were clear. "Thanks, Don. Truly. I got very lucky the day I was assigned to SVU." He smiled at her, briefly closing his other hand over hers.

"Lucky?" he asked, eyes twinkling. "All evidence to the contrary, Counselor."

Alex laughed, a welcome sound to both of them. "Well, maybe 'luck' isn't the word for it. But I appreciate your help, your..."

"Nothing. It's nothing, Alex. Anytime."



Cragen's phone rang as they stood up, and Alex saw his mood darken, and could tell from his side of the conversation that it was another case dropped in their laps. It seemed there was never a break from the cruelties humans could inflict on one another. When he hung up, they moved out of his office and entered the bullpen. They sidestepped through the usual bustle and over to the space between Amaro's and Fin's desks.

"Change of plans," Cragen boomed, as several sets of eyes looked up toward him. "The hits just keep on comin', gang. Another caseroommate came home from a trip and found the victim raped and badly beaten in the home, but no sign of a break-in. Fin and Rollins, head over to the scene, E. 76th and Calumet. Amaro, victim's in the ER at Lenox Hill. See if she's in any condition to talk, and make sure the rape kit gets priority at the lab. Munch, Benson, you're heading to Maryland with Cabot. Work out the plans with her, then head out for the day. We'll see you when you come back with our perp. And someone had better bring me back some Berger cookies, or your asses will be chained to a desk for a week."

He retreated to his office, and the usual din resumed. Three detectives headed out, while Olivia rose and joined Alex near Munch's desk.

"Detectives," Alex began, but was quickly interrupted.

"Alex, please, call me John. After all, we're off on a romantic trip to my old hometown, so you can lose the formality."

"Really?" laughed Olivia. "You're going there?"

Munch was irrepressible, though. "You know, some call Baltimore The City of Firsts. Give you any ideas, Teflon? I have it on good authority that our chaperone, the intrepid Detective Benson, can be bought off for the price of a pit beef sandwich and a Siren Noire chocolate stout."

At this, both women laughed.

"Sergeant Munch, as tempting as that all sounds..." Alex began.

"You're being far too polite, Alex," Olivia jumped in. She felt like she was in a tenuous detente with the attorney, and wanted very badly to continue it. "In a three-ring circus like this, the chair may work on some lions, but others only respond to the whip."

"I'm the lion in this scenario?" mused Munch. "Could be worse, I suppose."

"Point taken, Olivia. Can it, Munch."

Olivia put a hand on Alex's shoulder, offering a quick "atta girl," and them took her hand back quickly. Gestures of familiarity, once welcomed, now seemed more than a bit risky. Alex noticed, but willed herself not to react by reaching out to touch the detective's elbow, or grab her hand. She already felt a bit exposed by her earlier vulnerability, and that had been in the privacy of the captain's office. Touching two members of the SVU squad in one day would represent an unprecedented breach of decorum for the normally reticent attorney. John broke the brief silence with a chuckle.

"Fine, Alexandra, but one day you'll regret playing hard to get. So, what's our itinerary?

"I'll have to call down there, make arrangements. I think we'll leave in the morning, fly down. It's easier than dealing with the motor pool, and probably cheaper than driving. I'll arrange with Extradition Transport to have an agent meet us there. I'll probably have them transport Morgan by van, but once he's on the road, we'll fly back. Should be home by 7 or 8 tomorrow night, I'd think."

"Sounds good," Olivia said. "Meet at your office, or at LaGuardia?"

"Not sure yet. Probably at the airport, if we get an early flight. But I can call you both this afternoon with details, if that works."

"Great," Munch said, "but remember to call our cells. The captain told us to take the afternoon, and I'm making sure Benson actually does it so I don't look like the lazy one when I hightail it out of here."`

"I'd love to, but I have nine files on my desk, and..."

"Ten minutes, Olivia. That's all I'm giving you. Lock 'em in the drawer or hand 'em off to Amaro. I'll wait." Munch stood, slipping on his jacket and locking his desk drawer. "Tick tock..."

Olivia headed to her desk, as Alex followed her, continuing on toward the door.

"Impressive, John," Alex called back over her shoulder as she crossed the threshold. "I've never seen anyone get her to mind like that."

John laughed as Olivia snapped her head up, looking first to the now-empty doorway, and then over at Munch, perched on the edge of Fin's desk.

"Well, stop staring at me Olivia, and get ready. You're down to 9 minutes."

Olivia swallowed hard, momentarily thrown for reasons she couldn't name, and quickly turned back to her desk and those damn files.

Alex arrived back at her office and immediately started in on the to-do list she'd scribbled on the way over. With only a quick break for yogurt from her office refrigerator, she'd accomplished most of it by 4 warrants sworn, indictment in hand, transport arranged, travel finalized. Just waiting on the AG's office to send over the last document she'd need, working on a few bits and pieces for other cases, and putting the finishing touches on a luncheon speech for the NY Women's Bar that she'd let Judge Barth rope her into.

She'd envied here detectives their unexpected afternoon off, and wouldn't mind an early day herself. Of course, "early" for her meant 5 o'clock, but she'd take what she could get.

Forty minutes later, the speech finished and only a courier from the governor's office yet to arrive, her phone rang and she groaned, hoping there was no complication on the other end.


"Alex, it's me." She heard the familiar voice and the overly familiar greeting, and sighed. Complication, thy name is Olivia. She decided to play along.

"Hi, me. What can I do for you?"

"Just checking in to make sure everything's set for tomorrow."

"Yes, it is. I meant to call you earlier. Flight's actually out of JFK. Is that okay? I know it's a trek out there, but there was nothing nonstop from LaGuardia."

"Sure, no problem, no sense routing to Cleveland to..."

"Detroit," Alex interrupted. "US Airways wanted us to go visit Detroit on the way."

"Detroit," Olivia laughed. "Sure, even more convenient. Why not?"

"Right, so we're on Delta flight 4051, 8:55 a.m. Want to meet at the gate, say 7:45? I'll call Munch and let him know."

"Sure," Olivia began, then stopped herself. "Wait, no. Let's ride together."

"Okay, but isn't that a bit roundabout for John?"

"Not Munch. Me and you. I'll pick you up."

"Olivia, you don't have to do that. I don't mind driving and..."

"But I want to. I...I just want to."

"Because?" Alex couldn't help but ask. This was not like the detective, but it was like her friend, thought it had been a long time since she'd extended herself in any real way, a few months even since her visit to Alex's office after their encounter in the bar.

"Alex. Don't make me explain. I don't think I can. Maybe there is no reason. Just let me pick you up."


"Fine?" Olivia sounded like she couldn't believe Alex had given in so easily.

"Well, I can't argue if there's no reason. So pick me up. What time?" Silence coming down the line. "Olivia, you there?"

"Sorry, I was stunned that there is actually something that you can't argue with."

"Touché, Detective," Alex granted her the point. "But what time?"

"Well, that all depends." Olivia's voice was quiet, her words almost tender, and Alex hated the fact that it took so little to make her feel so soft, so open.

"Depends on what?"

"On how long it'll take us to make the drive from your apartment. I don't know where you live, Alex."

Two sentences and Alex's insides twisted into a knot, reminding her in a rush that they weren't close, hadn't been in a long time, and a ride to the airport was unlikely to even chip away at a wall they'd built so high.

"Right, sorry. It's 250 Mercer, in NoHo. Just phone me when you're close."

"I'm always close. I'm just over at West 3rd & 6th Avenue. That's only a few blocks, so I'll text when I leave the house. Around 6:45?"

"Yeah, yeah, that's fine." What else could she say?

Olivia hung up and a moment later she arrived at her building, let herself in and stepped briefly aside to let her downstairs neighbor by. She checked her empty mailbox nothing ever came anymore, now that the bills were all autopay and she took the elevator up to 4.

The apartment was cool and dark, relatively neat, and a welcome respite from an unseasonably warm December afternoon. Julie was working, so her unexpected free time had been spent wandering, alone, through the streets of lower Manhattan: a few stores she'd wanted to visit, a gallery, and gelato for lunch. It was the kind of hooky you almost never get to play when the myriad demands of adulthood begin pressing down.

She'd enjoyed ittime alone with her thoughts was something she'd always craved, and while nothing with Julie was demanding, it was an adjustment to give up any of her precious free time. The relationship, mostly free of drama, was nice. More than nice, really. But Olivia was a solitary creature. She'd accepted that long ago, and knew that while she could bend herself to accommodate another, could modify her routines a good deal, she couldn't change her fundamental nature. She was grateful that Julie hadn't asked her to.

They tried to spend the day together whenever work allowed, and spent the night together a couple of times a week, either here or there, but there'd been no talk of moving in, or of anything more permanent than a toothbrush added to the medicine cabinet. No demands made, no ultimatums issued. They weren't seeing anyone else, either of them, but even that had been arrived at casually, over tacos and margaritas one night about two months before.

So now: the question. Julie was perceptive, perhaps even more than she'd given her credit for. But Olivia had resolved to keep moving forward, to take Alex at her word and to butt out of the attorney's life.

There could be only one answer to Julie's question.

"Really? Because I'm not asking for a ring. For anything, really. Just to know where we stand."

"Ego much?" she joked.

"How about you, Dr. Landry? Got 'em stashed in every seedy motel from here to Baton Rouge?"

"Well, I did, but action's been a bit lacking lately," Julie replied. "They're all too afraid of my bad-ass cop girlfriend."

"Did you tell them there's really nothing to be afraid of? I'm all bark and no bite."

"I'm not so sure about that," Julie said. "Besides, I think you're just enough. For now."

"Okay, then."

Olivia decided to ignore the trip looming tomorrow, and whatever she knew she'd end up saying to Alex in Baltimore. She called Julie's cell.

"OLIVIA!" The greeting, practically a shout, brought a smile to the detective's face.

"Hey babe, didn't think I'd actually reach you. I was ready to talk to your voicemail."

"Well, talk to me instead, hot stuff. What's going on there? Keeping the streets safe from perverts and degenerates?"

"Trying to. But that means a change of plans, as usual," Olivia answered. "Turns out I'm heading to Baltimore in the morning to pick up a suspect who's being extradited."

"Which case?"

"The Morgan case, actually. Baltimore arrested him in a sheer coincidence."

"That's great news, babe, right?"

"Yeah, actually, but it means I'll be home late tomorrow night, so I'm calling to reschedule our date."

"How 'bout tonight then? I should be off by 6:30 or so." Julie sounded happy, and the mood was catching.

"Thought you had a thing tonight?"

"Yeah, but that 'thing' got canceled. And I'd rather you be my 'thing' tonight."

Olivia burst out laughing, and immediately agreed. "I'd like that."

"Yeah, I thought you might, darlin.' Besides, if we don't do it tonight, it'll be three or four more days before we can manage a get-together, right?"

"Right you are. Meet for dinner then? I'll have to turn in fairly early. I'm picking up the ADA on the way to JFK in the morning."

"ADA, JFKyou and your alphabet soup," Julie teased. "Well, fuck dinner then, woman. It's take-out and a booty call for you. I'll be there about 7. Call that Ethiopian place by you and have a big mess of Doro Wat and a pile of Injera bread ready with some cold St. George's. I'll make quick work of it, and then I'll make slow work of you."

Olivia was laughing now, and could barely respond. "That so, ma'am?"

"You bet your sweet ass, honey. I'll be home on the sofa by 11, while you're lying naked and spent in your bed, too keyed up to sleep but too exhausted to say more."

"Doctor's orders?"

"Yeah. So take your shower now. I know how you are about washing off the day, and I won't want to be kept waiting. See you at 7."

A click on the line was Julie's goodbye, and Olivia went to shower and change, find the menu and get ready for Hurricane Julie.

Julie was true to her wordshe'd been done with dinner by 7:40 and had Olivia wet and wanting by 8 o'clock. She'd done all the heavy lifting, and was curled behind Olivia by 9:45, stroking her back and massaging her thighs. She cooed a few sweet nothings into Olivia's ear and as the detective grew increasingly drowsy, Julie jumped up and dressed.

"You really have to go?" Olivia's voice floated up from the edge of sleep. "Sleep here."

"Oh, but I'm not sleepy, hot stuff. I'm meeting a few girls for drinks, and you need some shut-eye. Field trip tomorrow, remember?"

"I didn't take you for the love-'em-and-leave-'em type." The voice was teasing, but beyond tired.

"Oh, I'll be right here with you in spirit babe, but you need to be in dreamland. I just wanted to give you something to think about for the next few days."

"You did a good job, then," Olivia replied, smiling into her pillow. Julie kissed her cheek, then her forehead.

"Call me tomorrow, if you have time. Safe trip, babe." Julie left the room and gathered her things on her way out, proud of herself for not inquiring if the ADA who'd be hitching a ride was the same ADA she'd met in the bar.

Olivia was asleep before Julie's key turned in the deadbolt.



And now the alarm was going off. How in hell was it 5:45 already? Olivia dragged herself out of bed and got ready, cursing enthusiastically when she realized she was out of coffee. Great start to the trip. The time she'd save not waiting on the drip of coffee into her travel mug would have to be spent at Starbucks. She knew there was one on just east of Washington Square, on the way to Alex's, so she'd just text the ADA once she had coffee in hand.

By 6:30 she was in line, giving the barista her order, absorbed in checking flight status and headlines on her phone. Standing off to the side, she looked up when she heard her order calleda Venti nonfat cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso, and a Grande Americanoand almost laughed out loud when she saw a familiar blonde head step up to claim the coffees. "Thanks," came Alex's voice through the din of the early-morning caffeine rush.

The attorney turned the other direction to the condiment bar, preparing to put a Splenda in the Venti cup. Olivia quickly texted her, and a second later, as Alex replaced the lid on her cup, heard the familiar tone of the message alert. The blonde lifted her phone from the side pocket of her bag, finding a two-word message:

Coffee thief

She looked around, finding Olivia only a second later, and walked over.

"Not guilty." Alex made her plea with a smile, and handed the Americano to the detective. Like a well-timed punch line, the barista called out the same order againthis time, the coffees Olivia had orderedand both women laughed. Each of them grabbed a second cup from the counter and headed through the fray toward the door.

"Great minds think alike?" ventured Alex.

"Yeah, suppose so. But this is too much coffee, even for us."

Alex, paid to think on her feet, grabbed a couple heading in the door. "We arrived separately and ended up placing two orders. Want these?" she offered. The man smiled, and they took the drinks. "Day's looking up already," his wife said. "Thanks!"

As Alex turned to Olivia, there was a genuine smile on her face and a twinkle in her blue eyes. Olivia hadn't seen either for quite a while. She held the door for Alex and they headed to the Mustang, electronic locks clicking as they reached the curb.

"I was going to text you from here," Olivia said.

"And I was going to be walking home by the time you texted, ready and waiting with coffee when you pulled up outside my building. I didn't think you'd want to park."

"Ah, but I have this. " Olivia gestured to the NYPD placard on her dash as she started the car. Alex grabbed it and put it in the glove box as they pulled into traffic.

"Abusing your position of power, Benson?"

"Hardly," she replied with a quick glance at her passenger. "Getting coffee for an ADA on a rendition errand is all kinds of official business."

Traffic wasn't horrible, and they made good time up 3rd Avenue and through the Midtown tunnel, Olivia half-listening to NPR while Alex double-checked that she had all the documents they'd need in Baltimore. As they turned onto the LIE, Olivia broke the silence. "How long have you lived on Mercer?"

"Nearly three years. I got a great deal on the place and I just love it. I'll have you up sometime soon to see it."

"Never figured you for a loft dweller, Cabot."

"Well, at one point, I wouldn't have either. But it just seemed right, for some reason, and I'm glad I did it. The old place on 78th had too many memories, and a few ghosts who weren't paying their share of the mortgage."

"So we're neighbors."

"Yeah, pretty close, right? I wasn't sure you were in the same spot."

"And here we end up at the same Starbucks on the same morning placing the same order. How have we never bumped into each other at Whole Foods?"

"Well, Detective, you're assuming I actually manage to buy groceries, cook meals or satisfy any culinary need that can't be met at my nearest bodega. They sell chocolate chip cookies and at least four varieties of Lean Cuisine, so I'm all set, really."

Olivia laughed. "Right, this is the woman who set fire to her own stove. I'd forgotten that your aversion to domesticity rivals my own."

"You didn't forget how I take my coffee."

"I didn't forget much, Alex."

"Neither did I. Especially the things that are still the same."

An accident on the Van Wyck added 25 minutes to the trip, but they made small talk and still arrived at the gate ahead of Munch. When he joined them, Alex made some calls and sent a few emails while the two detectives discussed the Rangers' goaltender and the Jets' quarterback. Neither of them was really invested in either team, but both had other, more complicated things to avoid: John had a conspiracy theory or two to ponder and a trip down memory lane ahead; Olivia had Alex Cabot on her mind, and she hated it.

They landed at BWI a little after 10, and were met in the terminal by a detective from Baltimore PD. He was holding a sign that said CABOT but as soon as the trio appeared, he boomed out "Munch!" He grabbed John's hand and the two men shook and exchanged a back-slapping hug.

As they stepped back, the man looked at Olivia and Alex, and said, "Ladies, I'm Paul Pettersen, and the fact that I'm old enough to know John from his Inner Harbor days is an obvious and unfortunate indicator of my advanced age, but I'm sure I don't recall our mutual acquaintance here telling me he worked with such beautiful women in New York."

"Because I didn't think you'd care, being a gay man and all."

"Munch, I'm hurt," Paul said, feigning shock. "I appreciate beauty in all its forms."

"So does his husband, Martin," Munch cracked, "though usually it's in the form of stunning Modernist architecture and this clown. Paul, meet ADA Alexandra Cabot and Detective Olivia Benson. Ladies, a blast from my past."

Pettersen offered a hand to Alex, then Olivia, laughing all the while. "Lovely to meet you both. And please, forgive us. It always was a love-hate relationship."

"Don't worry, they know exactly what you mean," said Munch, looking meaningfully at the two women he'd known and admired forever, wishing he could knock some sense into them. But today wasn't the day to play shadchan. That was a project for another time.

"Detective," Alex began, and the man interrupted.

"Paul, please."

"Paul," she resumed, "how's our prisoner doing? I hope he's enjoying your hospitality."

"He's a piece of work, Ms. Cabot. He seems particularly riled up at the thought of you prosecuting him. What happened in New York before he went on the run?"

"Call me Alex," the attorney said. "We had him in for questioning. Detective Benson and her partner were interrogating him and I made the mistake of entering the fray with a few choice remarks. He wasn't fond of any of us by the time we had to cut him loose."

"But he hasn't mentioned anyone but you. What did you say?" asked Pettersen.

Munch laughed, and told Paul the story. "It was brief, but the highlight was her telling him she was sure we'd see him again soon, because he was too stupid to avoid getting caught, and too depraved and morally bankrupt to stop. She finished by telling him she'd be the presiding justice on the state Supreme Court by the time he his appeals could get that far. I think her exact words were, I'll be the one to send you to prison, and I'll be the one to keep you there, asshole. You'll be the one getting a taste of your own medicine in the resort town of Ossining."

"And if we'd had a detail on him like we should have, we wouldn't have needed you to clean up our mess," Alex said ruefully. "Crossed wires and budget cuts. I was spitting nails when we found out he was in the wind."

"Wow," exclaimed Pettersen. "Aren't you a pistol?"

Munch & Olivia laughed, but Paul could tell they'd all worked together a long time, and they were proud of the ADA. She didn't look particularly tough, but looks can be deceiving.

"They love to tell stories of my ill-conceived bravado," Alex replied. "That threat was just an old chestnut I pull out and update from time to time."

"But it hit home," Olivia said. "I'm told she got directly in his face when she said it. Alex has a way with lunatics. If my partner hadn't already cuffed the bastard to the table, we'd be changing Alex's bandages instead of flying to your fine city today."

They had followed Paul to the car, talking and laughing all the way. As the four of them headed north toward the Central Precinct downtown, Paul filled them in a bit on the arrest, and on what little Morgan had said since he'd been in custody. After he'd told them what he knew, he and Munch started catching up on mutual friends and old cases they'd worked.

Alex, with her bag open on the backseat between her and Olivia and an orange folder open on her lap, thumbed halfheartedly through a raft of paperwork, and paid attention to none of it. Olivia looked out the window, and glanced over at Alex every so often.

After a few miles, she became aware that the attorney's hands had stilled. The paperwork was still in her lap but now lay neglected, and her gaze was turned instead to the window, watching scenery roll by. Tears in her eyes were threatening to spill out. She squeezed her lids closed and opened them again to see Morrell Park pass by in an Impressionistic blur.

Fuck. This was not going to happen. Not now. Maybe not ever. And certainly not in the back of this unmarked Impala. Fuck fuck fuck.

The hand not holding the paperwork was clenched tightly, nails leaving little half-moon impressions in her palm. She put her thumb between her index and middle fingers, and held it there tightly, and old trick used to center herself.

She could hear the two men still talking up front and knew her lapse had gone unnoticed by them. She hoped Olivia had been distracted, too, and turned her head just enough to the left to see that the detective was angled in her direction. Damn. She didn't even have to lift her head all the way up to know Olivia had seen the whole little incident, and taken it in.

Years of what Alex thought of as DEALING WITH IT undone in a moment as familiar sights filled the sedan's windows. Alex turned her head back to the right, resuming her study of the passing landscape, still squeezing that left thumb until she wondered if it might break.

Then, just when it seemed a real possibility, Alex felt Olivia's fingers on her own, gently pulling the index finger up, freeing the bright red thumb, then lacing their fingers together, giving a squeeze so slight Alex thought she might have imagined it.

She looked back, raising her eyes this time to Olivia's this time, and giving a look that probably left her more exposed than anything she could have said.

"I know," Olivia whispered. "I remembered. I'm right here."

Alex wiped the one tear she hadn't managed to squeeze into oblivion. And nodded. And, for the first time in what seemed like minutes, she breathed.



They were at the precinct just a few minutes later, Alex having avoided a complete and total breakdown in the car. Olivia had held Alex's hand only briefly, knowing it was probably all the support the blonde would be able to accept, but she still managed to send a silent reassurance to Alex that worked wonders.

And Alex hated to need, to be so fucking pitiable, but she could at least acknowledge to herself that she'd done the right thing in asking Don to send Olivia. She knew John would be a huge help at the precinct, glad-handing with old colleagues, but just having Olivia here would help Alex get through this on a personal level. The woman's presence was just so goddamned solid. And on a day, and a case, that made her feel like she might fly apart at the seams...well, solid was probably the only thing that might save her.

They spent some time at the precinct, getting the details on Morgan's arrest, and on what little he'd said since then. He was lawyered up, so there was no chance to question him now. Their hearing wasn't until 3, so Munch had ample time to visit with a few colleagues, and Alex and Olivia grabbed lunch to bring back to the squadroom, sitting down to eat with John, Paul and the captain of Baltimore's Central Precinct.

At 2:30, Paul drove them the few blocks to the courthouse and dropped them off while he parked, and they relaxed in an alcove until the appointed hour. Just before 3 o'clock, as they were about to walk into the courtroom, Pettersen approached in the hall. "We've got a problem."

"What is it?" asked Olivia.

"We just got a call from Virginia. Richmond PD had a hit on ViCAP for your guy. They want to come and question him about an open case there. They filled me in on itrape and murder, and he looks good for it, guys."

"So what? He's ours, Paul, and he looks beyond good for at least three rapes and two murders in New York." Munch took the lead now, knowing Olivia would be less than diplomatic and Cabot was off her game for some reason.

"I know, I know, John, and you'll be taking him back with you, don't worry. But Richmond has two guys in the car on the road now. They should be here by 5:30."

"We're headed into court in six minutes, Paul, and then we'll take custody of this horrible excuse for a man and send him back to cool his heels at Rikers."

"Go on, the hearing will happen as scheduled. But Virginia's already made a formal request to interview Morgan before he's extradited, and it'll be granted. You'll have to stay tonight and head back tomorrow."

Alex finally spoke up. "I'll just request a continuance until tomorrow morning."

"Don't do that please." Alex turned at the sound of a loud voice behind her.

"Excuse me?" said Olivia, moving to put herself between Alex and the approaching man, his tall frame dressed in an impeccably cut suit while he carried a $2,000 briefcase. "Who are you?"

"Sorry," he said, pulling up to a stop. "Jeff Murray, Commonwealth's Attorney for Arlington County.

"Arlington?" Alex's question needed no further articulation.

"Right, not my case, Ms..."

"Cabot. Alex Cabot." Olivia moved aside a bit to let Murray into the group as Alex extended her hand, more out of reflex than any real interest in the usual niceties. She gestured around at the others. "Detective Benson, Detective Munch, and Detective Pettersen."

Murray nodded but didn't want to waste any more of the few minutes they had before they entered the courtroom. "As I said, it's obviously not my case, but I was here for a conference today and just got a call asking me to come over here and talk to you before the hearing."

"So, what's the deal?" Olivia asked.

"We've made a formal request to interview Morgan, but if that lowlife finds out before this hearing, he might just waive extradition to get the hell out of here. From what I've heard, you guys have a pretty good case against him, but you don't have the death penalty. He might want to just get to New York to avoid having to answer any questions for us. We want to try to get under his skin a bit, get some information we could use if he should happen to walk on your charges."

Alex had a good poker face, but both of her detectives could tell she was incensed at the mere insinuation that this guy might beat the rap they had on him. She said nothing, though.

"It's late in the day," Murray continued. "Judge Lathrope will hear both sides and then recess until tomorrow, which will give the guys from Richmond the window of opportunity they need."

"And if he won't talk to them?" Munch asked.

"That's their problem," Murray conceded. "They just want a crack at him. All we ask is that you make your case and the judge will do his part. It may even help you out, you know. Once he finds out tonight that they're looking at him for the murder in Virginia, he might want to plead out to make sure he ends up breathing at Sing Sing rather than taking the needle at Greensville."

"Fine," Alex said. "But if we don't walk in there right now, the whole thing will be moot."

Murray stuck out his hand to Alex, who shook and turned, quickly covering the 20 paces to the courtroom entrance, Olivia leading the way and Munch behind her.

"Thanks," Murray called to her, as Pettersen looked on.

Alex stopped in the doorway and fixed a sharp, brief gaze on him. "Like I had a choice."

Moments later, the judge entered the courtroom, and called the proceedings to order. "Counselors," he said, looking first at the defense attorney, then at Alex.

"Alexandra Cabot for the People of New York, your honor."

"Jack Andrews representing Mr. Morgan, your honor." And so on, and so on.

Everything went just as expected. Nothing surprising on the other side of the aisle, only a perfunctory effort to contest the extradition, Andrews just punching the clock since Morgan's real attorney was in New York. Olivia allowed herself to relax into the ebb and flow of the brief proceedings, watching Alex at work and watching Morgan seethe with barely contained fury. For a guy who had issues with powerful women, this couldn't be going down easy.

It all took less than 15 minutes, and the judge declared a recess, surprising no-one but Morgan and the defense attorney, neither of whom had held any hope of prevailing.

"Given the late hour," Lathrope intoned, "we'll reconvene here at 9 am. I'll render my decision then." Morgan left the courtroom as he'd entered it, shackled and in the custody of Baltimore's finest. Cabot gathered up her files and followed her two detectives into the hall.

"Well, here we are," said Olivia. "All expenses paid vacation in Baltimore. Whatever will we do?"

Paul ended a call and stepped over to join them. "I had our folks book three rooms at the Renaissance. It's just a few blocks from here, and we have a corporate rate. Since you're being kept here by the decision to grant Richmond's request, the governor of Maryland will be paying the way tonight. It's where we put all of our

visiting dignitaries. Hope that's okay."

"Better than okay," John smiled. "Thanks, Paul. That'll make the best of our unexpected delay."

"Great. Well, since you're all stuck here overnight, let me treat you to dinner?"

They walked out of the building and back into the bright sunlight on Calvert Street.

Alex begged off first. "Paul, I'd love to, but the gift of a night with no work to take home is tempting me to do something wild."

"Like sleep?" Olivia laughed.

"You know me too well, Detective," Alex smiled as well. "And if you'll excuse me for just a second, I'm going to have my assistant take care of rearranging the details with Extradition Transport before we head to the hotel."

She stepped aside and made her call.


"Sorry, Paul, I'm going to take a rain check, too. I think I'll just grab a bite, grab a book and crash. But I appreciate the offer, really."

"No problem, I understand completely. John? You won't leave me high and dry, will you?"

"I..." Munch hesitated, looking at Olivia, then over at Alex.

"Go, John," Olivia assured him. "Don't mind us. We're notoriously antisocial."

"Alright then, sounds great," he acquiesced. "Can Martin join us, Paul?"

"I'll call him and see. Why don't you get checked in while I run back by the precinct to see what's going on there. Then we can pick you up about six at the hotel."

"That works."

Paul noticed Alex had finished her call, and stepped toward the street to hail them a cab. "Can't have two beautiful women and one old man walking three blocks in uncomfortable shoes."

As they got into the cab, Alex said, "Paul, you'll let us know if..."

"You got it, Alex. Anything of note, I'll call. Otherwise, I'll pick you all up at the hotel about 8:40 tomorrow morning. John, I'll text when Martin and I are on the way."

He closed the door and told the driver to head to the Renaissance.



They checked in, and got two rooms on the eighth floor, and one on 3.

"You ladies take the two on 8. If I should happen to bump into a once or future Mrs. Munch, I may not want to chance running into either of you in the hall. I like my secrets to remain my own."

"Far be it from me to lift the veil of secrecy, Munch."

"Thank you, Olivia. I knew I could count on your discretion. Meet for breakfast?" They entered the elevator, John pressing the buttons needed to take them to their respective floors.

"Sure, meet downstairs about 7:30?" Alex nodded, and with a "see you then," John exited when the lift got to 3. The doors closed, and the elevator resumed its journey up toward 8. Alex sighed as she watched the number indicator above the door.

"Well, here's hoping there are no more surprises tomorrow. I want to get that prisoner and get back to New York."

"Me, too. I didn't plan for an overnight."

"Neither did I. I'm sorry for any inconvenience, Olivia."

"Yeah, but I'm glad I came. It was good to see you in action again. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed that."

"Missed what?"

"Alexandra Cabot, for the people of New York. I love that part."

"Oh, just my job."

"No, not just anything. The people of New York have no idea how lucky they are."

The doors slid open on 8, and the two women got out of the elevator, walking slowly to their rooms: 815 and 812, just diagonal from one another halfway down the hall.

"Alex, wanna have dinner?" They stopped in the hall, Olivia's hand resting on her doorframe, Alex's attention suddenly devoted to the keycard she toyed with in her right hand.

"I don't know, Olivia. I'm not sure I'd be good company. I think I'm going to order room service and just hide out." She turned to the door of 812, reaching to slide in the keycard, then flipping it over to try again after an angry beep and some flashing red lights rebuked her first attempt. "Don't you hate these things?"

"No," Olivia said. "No, Alex."

The door finally opened and Alex pushed it inward as she turned back to Olivia. "Sorry, Detective, I didn't realized you were a vocal proponent of the keycard industry." She chuckled, trying to keep it light, but Olivia wasn't having it. She pushed off her doorframe and took two steps to Alex's door, close enough to touch but not making any contact. She knew instinctively that it would spook her friend, and knew also that it was critical that not be allowed to happen. Not tonight, at any rate.

"I don't need good company." Seeing the attorney's quizzical look, Olivia continued. "Alex, please, don't hide out. Or at least let me hide out with you. Don't be alone tonight, not here in this place."

"I'll be okay, really. You don't have to do this. I know you'd rather slink around that Barnes & Noble Paul mentioned, grab something to read, find a good restaurant." Alex tried to smile. "Really, go on. I'll see you in the morning."

Olivia leaned against the metal frame, while the blonde held the door and tried to ignore the look Olivia was giving her. She'd never had much luck resisting it, but she was determined to try.

"Alex, I hate begging and I don't want to insist. But I saw you in the car this morning. You would hurt yourself to keep this bottled up. You don't have to deal with every damn horrible thing all by yourself. Let me..."

"I can't." Alex cut her off. "I can't put my burdens on you one more time. I won't. This morning, I...thank you for that. But I'll be okay. God knows you have better things to do than be a shoulder for me to cry on one more time."

Olivia looked wounded, her jaw set, though Alex couldn't tell if the muscles she could see clenching under the skin were holding in anger, or tears. She didn't have to wonder long. Olivia took one step back, into the middle of the hall, but never let her eyes leave Alex's.

"A shoulder to cry on?" Olivia repeated, incredulity, anger and sadness making her voice higher, louder than normal. "That's not the phrase I'd have used. I'd have called myself your friend. Goodnight, Counselor."

And she turned quickly back to her own door, sliding the keycard in and out, pressing down on the handle and entering the room without a backward glance, forcibly pushing the slow-closing spring-loaded door behind her.

Alex saw it all, standing there like a fool, until she finally closed her own door. She moved to the bed and sat down heavily, dropping her back and kicking off her shoes. The tears she'd felt earlier were back, and she pinched the bridge of her nose and squeezed her eyelids closed, knowing that if they started falling they wouldn't stop. She lay back on the bed, eyes closed and arm thrown over her face. Breathe, just breathe, she willed herself. She whispered her only truth like a mantra: You are Alex Cabot, not Sarah Clarke. You are Alex Cabot. You are Alex Cabot.

She woke abruptly almost two hours later, when she heard a knock at her door. She sat up and could see the shadow of feet in the hall. Another light knock, then Olivia's voicealmost a whisper, it seemed. "Alex, are you there?"

She started to get up, wanted so badly to open that door and take whatever Olivia was offering: comfort, consolation or any other damn thing she'd let Alex have tonight. But she stopped herself, and stayed on the bed, waiting for her to give up. She saw the shadow of the feet move away, and she still waited, still quiet. It must have been 10 minutes later when Alex's phone buzzed, jolting her from her reverie . She reached in her bag and pulled it out to see a text from Olivia.

Pkg at the front desk, a thank you from the People of New York. Goodnight

Alex turned on the desk lamp in the darkened room, and called the front desk.

"Good evening, Ms. Cabot. How can I help you?"

"I'm told a package was left for me?"

"Just a moment, please." The young woman put Alex on hold for less than 20 seconds, but it was too longher return spared Alex one more second of a Coldplay song she hated. "Ms. Cabot"


"There is a package. Shall I have someone deliver it to your room?"

"Yes, thank you. I'd appreciate that very much. I'll be in all evening."

A scant five minutes later, she heard a knock, and a man's voice called out, "Porter." Alex exchanged a $5 tip for a small shopping bag from H&M, an hotel stationery envelope on the outside with Alex's name and room number on the front, bold black ink in Olivia's handwriting.

She opened the note, and smiled as she read it:

Just a couple of things since we're sans luggage.

If you don't need it, no worries.


Inside, she found underwear, a t-shirt and shorts, and a hairbrush, along with another bag from Ann Taylor. This one had a blouse inside, a peacock blue that would match the suit she'd worn that day.

Olivia had known the hotel would have lotion, and shampoo, and a toothbrush. She'd known Alex would have brought makeup and a phone charger with her. And she'd known the fastidious attorney would hate to go to court in the exact same outfit she'd worn the day before, even though almost no-one would notice, and anyone who did would understand. The blue shirt would give her navy suit an entirely new look.

Olivia hadn't left the bag in front of Alex's door, not because it might be stolen, but because she knew that an unattended package, that bane of the post 9/11 world, would scare Alex even more than it would alarm hotel security, especially since the note had obviously not been attached until it was left at the front desk for her.

This unexpected gesture, far more than the sum of its parts and as knowing and tender as any Alex had ever known, proved to be her undoing. Here, in a hotel room in the city where a knock on her door had taken her out of the life of one stranger and dropped her back into her own alien existence, leaving Sarah Clarke behind to once again take up the mantle of Alex Cabot, she finally felt it all. And she finally knew she didn't want to feel it alone.

She stood on legs that were inexplicably shaky, grabbed her keycard and her phone, then her purse for some reason, and turned out the light. She went into the hall and straight across to Olivia's door. But her knocks went unanswered and it occurred to her after a long moment that it was nearly 6:30 and Olivia had probably given up on her, dropping the bag at the front desk on her way out to get dinner.

And suddenly Alex couldn't be by herself. She could no more head back into that empty room than she could pick up her feet and levitate. Munch was out, and she had no idea where Olivia had gone, but the room service plan now seemed a very bad one indeed.



She could call Olivia, she knew that. And she should call her, and apologize, and grovel, and plead insanity. She knew that, too. But she didn't want to drag Olivia back from a good meal or a movie or whatever else she'd gotten up to. So Alex headed to the hotel bar, determined to find some solace among strangers and drink herself into whatever passed for oblivion on a Tuesday night in a place that had once masqueraded as home.

Alex had one double down the hatch and was starting an Old Fashioned when Olivia got back to the hotel, but the detective had no clue her friend was dulling her pain with overpriced bourbon less than 30 yards from the front desk. She stopped there, found out that Ms. Cabot had gotten her package. Had, in fact, had it delivered to her room only a short while after it was left for her. So Olivia boarded the elevator to their floor and, seeing no light beneath Alex's door, assumed Alex didn't want to be disturbed. The sign wasn't out, true, but Olivia chose to hope that the woman was asleep, and went into her own room, flipping the deadbolt behind her.

Downstairs, Alex was nearing the finish line on her cocktail, and growing increasingly annoyed with the loud and obnoxious couple next to her at the bar. She settled her tab to her AmEx, and stood, surprised both at how drunk she already was, and at how much drunker she'd like to be.

She left the hotel, turned east and started walking, no destination in mind. Suddenly she stopped, stepped to the curb, and hailed a cab.

At 9:00, Olivia tried Alex's phone, and her room. Prepared for a dressing down, she ended up getting voicemail instead. She left a message and went back to the TV, and a TCM showing of Vertigo.

An hour later, she tried again still no answer. Stepping into the hall, she repeated her calls, and she heard the desk phone ringing unanswered in the room, but didn't hear Alex's cell. Now, she was growing concerned. Her second message was followed by a text with the same two words:

Call me

Twenty minutes later, one more try, same result. And Olivia was worried. Alex was, it seemed, out of the hotel and on the town. Olivia wasn't sure why she was worried, exactly, but Alex just hadn't been herself all day. And whatever her state of mind, it wasn't like her to ignore what Liv knew were now two voicemails and a text. She'd at least text, even if she didn't want to talk.

Olivia paced a bit, wanting John's advice but not willing to compromise Alex's privacy. She decided on 11:00. If she got no reply by 11, she'd call Munch and make up any story that could explain away her worry while simultaneously involving him in it.

She was spared that decision, though. At 10:42, her phone rang. She dropped her magazine and flipped over the buzzing device to see Alex's name and number on the screen.

"Alex, are you okay?"

"Well, hello to you too, Detective Benson," Alex drawled. "And thanks for asking. I'm even better than okay, if you must know. 'Just fine' is the word I'd use."

"Just fine is two words, Alex."

"Semantics." Olivia knew this was Alex, the one and only Alex, but the woman's voice was somehow looser than she'd ever heard it. Something was not right. "What's wrong, Olivia, cat got your tongue?"

And suddenly Olivia knew what was 'not right.' Alex Cabot was drunk. That smooth, alto voice was very well lubricated. She didn't slur her words or drop any letters off the ends, not like a normal drunk. But there was no mistaking the state she was in.

"No, Alex, I'm...sorry, I'm sorry, I'm here. But more importantly, where are you?"

"I don't know. Not far, I think. Why? You thirsty?"

Olivia's reply was just a touch more frantic than she'd intended. "No, I'm not thirsty. I've been worried about you. Where are you, really?"

"I don't know, really." She laughed. "A bar. Beyond that, I'm not sure. But let's see, shouldn't be that hard to figure out, right? Except there's never a damn matchbook around when you need one."

"Ask the bartender, Alex."

"Oh, good idea, but he's way down at the other end of the bar and he seems preoccupied. I'll walk outside and look at the front of the building."

"No, don't do that, just wait a minute..."

"Relax, I've got this, I'll just grab my drink and...oh, wait, here we go. It's on the coaster. How clever is that?"

"Where, Alex?"

"The Sidebar. I'm not sure, but I think it's just down from where you are. Want to come join me?"

"No, Alex, what I want is..." Olivia stopped. She was making this too hard, she was too worried for no good reason. "Sure, Alex, that actually sounds great. Sit tight, I'll be there in 15 minutes."

"That long?"

"At most. Probably half that. You know what, order me a drink while you wait. Anything, surprise me. I'm on the way." And she hung up, not giving Alex any chance to say anything more, or ask any questions.

Olivia found the place with the help of the hotel's doorman, and was relieved that it was only a few blocks. She skipped a cab, revving up quickly to a brisk walk and hoping the ADA didn't leave before she got there, or that she'd find her along the way if she did. She strode into the tavern, noting the bail bonds sign two doors down, and saw Alex immediately at the far end of the bar. She had one nearly full drink in front of her and another at the seat to her left, obviously waiting for Olivia's arrival.

Spotting the bartender on her way in, she caught his eye and gestured toward Alex. "How long's she been here?"

"An hour."

She nodded. "How many?" He held up two fingers. She nodded her thanks and moved on, stopping behind the empty bar chair and putting both hands on the back.

"Alex Cabot, I can always count on you to find a lawyer bar." Alex turned to her immediately, and put her own hand on top of the detective's.

"Oh, you're here. And not a moment too soon! I was just about to start on your drink when I finished my own!"

Olivia couldn't help but chuckle as she pulled her chair out and sat down. "Alex, you're barely a third of the way into your own, I think I had a little time to spare." And she'd barely finished her sentence when Alex picked up her own drink, downed it in one gulp, and replaced the glass on the counter, reaching for Olivia's.

"Whoa, hang on there, killer, it wasn't some kind of dare." And she punctuated it by grabbing Alex's hand, wet from the condensation on the glass, and holding it firmly. She looked over at the blonde, letting her eyes follow from their clasped hands, up the blue-suited arm to Alex's face. And what she saw was pain, dulled by who knows how many drinks. If Alex had been here only an hour, where else had she been all night?

"Alex, let's go back to the hotel. Get some water and Advil in you, and get you to bed."

"Aw, I'm fine, let's stay awhile." Alex pulled her hand away and started to signal for the bartender.

"Yeah, I don't know, Counselor. It's late and it looks like you've put in a full evening already. I know our nine a.m. court appearance will practically feel like a sleep-in for you, but maybe it's best..."

"No. Liv, no. Please."

This stopped Olivia in her tracks. The words, the tone. Liv. Alex handed called her that since that night at the club. Before that, it had been so long she didn't know. Alex was clearly as vulnerable as Olivia had ever seen her.

"Okay, okay What then? And I really think 'another drink' is going to be the wrong answer, Alex. How many have you had?"

"I don't know. I decided not to count tonight. But I can't go back to the hotel, can't go to bed, not yet."

It was the closest Alex would probably get to asking for any help, for any comfort or consolation. And it was more than enough for Olivia, who hated to see this woman in any pain.

"Did you eat dinner? Something tells me no."

"Not that I can recall," confirmed Alex.

"Well, that speaks volumes. I passed a diner on the way to find you. Let's go there and see if we can get some coffee and a little bit of greasy food in you, then."

"Thanks, Olivia." That was all Alex could say. And all she needed to say, for now. Olivia threw $40 on the bar, sure that would cover the drinks, and any extra was well-deserved by a bartender who'd clearly kept a close eye on her inebriated friend. She helped Alex down from her chair, putting a hand protectively in the small of her back as she guided her out of the bar, through the hotel lobby and onto the street. Nothing more was said as they walked to the diner.

Once inside the brightly lit space, they grabbed a booth and sat across from one another. Olivia could now more clearly gauge Alex's condition, and it didn't look good. Her eyes were puffy, though whether from drinking or crying she couldn't say. The red lines in her blue eyes stood out in shocking relief, and her face was flushed. The waitress brought them water and menus...Alex dove into the water like she'd spent a week in a desert, but pushed the menu toward Olivia without opening it.

"You've got to eat something, Alex. There's a lot of liquid on board for not having had any dinner."

"I know, I just can't be bothered to read that right now. Order me whatever."

The waitress came back then with the coffee Olivia had ordered, and the detective ordered some food, just picking and choosing a la carte as she went down the breakfast menu.

"Let's see, bacon. Bacon's always good. Eggs." A groan from Alex, quiet but definitely audible. "Right, no eggs, then. Pancakes, some hash browns."

The waitress repeated the order, then turned to Alex. "Anything for you, ma'am?"

"That's all for her, actually," Olivia answered for her friend.. "I'm good with just coffee and a piece of apple pie. Oh, and throw some wheat toast on hers, too. Can't hurt."

They ate. Alex, finally persuaded that this could be the difference between a hangover and a murderous hangover, put away the food like it was her job, but didn't seem to enjoy it. Olivia picked at her pie, making small talk with Alex about anything and nothing, refilling the blonde's coffee cup as often as possible from the carafe the waitress had finally just left at the table.

Half-hour later, Alex had done all she could. They paid and left, Olivia again ushering Alex gently out the door and back in the direction of their hotel. Alex was sobering up surprisingly quickly, and she was now cognizant of every gesture Olivia made: that hand in the small of the back again. Olivia walking on the curb side of the sidewalk, keeping Alex to the inside. Walking at Alex's pace, not hurrying her. Looking around, and behind them, constantly, making sure no danger lurked in a strange city at midnight.

This woman would do anything for Alex, and Alex knew that in her bones. So why couldn't she just let her?



They got back to the hotel, and rode up to the 8th floor in silence. None of the relatively easy conversation of their earlier ride was forthcoming. As the door opened, Olivia waited for Alex to exit, and asked softly, "Have your key?" Alex nodded, fishing around in her purse as they walked down the hall. As they neared the rooms, she gave up, handing her purse to Olivia and leaning against the wall beside the door. Olivia found the key quickly, sticking out of the outside pocket of the wallet it was where she'd put her own, as well and she opened the door.

Alex walked past her into a dark room and stopped a few feet in when she realized Olivia wasn't following. She turned back to see Olivia framed in the door, watching her. Olivia spoke, quietly, "You'll be okay, Alex?" Neither of them could have been sure if it was a statement or a question, reassurance or concern.

But as the light from the hall hit Alex's face, Olivia could see that her eyes were wet, huge pools of tears threatening to become a waterfall, and she couldn't go back to her room and leave this woman alone. She knew neither of them would sleep, so why try?

In two long strides she was in front of Alex, hands stroking the attorney's upper arms, now crossed in front of her. "Oh, Alex, honey... it's going to be okay. I promise you, it will." And Alex heard the words, heard the care behind them, and she just lost it. She was sobbing in Olivia's arms, face buried in a warm neck, palms laid flat on the detective's collarbones, fingers clinging to shoulders that were moving with every stroke of Olivia's arms on her back.

They stayed like that for a long while, Alex crying in waves. But Olivia didn't shift position or make any move until she heard a long, ragged sigh that she knew meant the tears had stopped, at least temporarily. She pulled back, raising both hands to Alex's cheekbones and lifting her face. Thumbs wiped tears from each eye, then strong hands moved up to push Alex's hair back from her face. She was relieved to see that Alex was actually looking at her, not hiding from a moment as intimate as any they'd shared in years.

"Honey, you okay?"

Alex nodded. "For now, anyway, " she replied, her shaky voice making her attempt at a joke slightly less than effective. "Olivia, I'm sorry, I don't know where all this came from."

"Ssh, I do. I know where it came from, and how long it's been in there, and at least some of what brought it out. And you don't have to be sorry. Never do you have to be sorry for feeling something, for being human. It's one of your better qualities, even if you don't show it very often." Now Olivia was joking, just a bit, trying to keep Alex relaxed. She knew the blonde would be likely to go into a shell when it hit her how truly exposed she was.

"Thanks, I think." Alex's voice was getting steadier, so Olivia turned her gently and moved her to the bed nearest the door, sitting her down on the inside edge, and turned on the lamp across the room before she returned to sit down on the other bed, knee-to-knee with Alex. She laid both hands out, palms up, and waited. Alex finally put her hands in Olivia's, palm to palm, and took a deep breath.

"Wanna talk?" Olivia expected a no, but her instincts failed her this time.

"I don't want to, but I think I need to. Do you mind?"

"No, I don't mind. You never have to ask that." Alex just nodded. "Let me go to my room and change into my makeshift pajamas, okay? I'll be right back." Another nod. Olivia took Alex's keycard and went across the hall, changing into the shorts & t-shirt from her shopping bag. She grabbed her own keycard and phone from her pocket before heading back across to the other room.

She knocked as she let herself in, and found Alex had moved to the center of the further bed, where she sat cross-legged in an outfit nearly identical to Olivia's own. She was just sitting, some receipts and her phone on the bed in front of her, and the only light in the room still just the lamp over on the desk. Alex looked up. "Nice outfit, Detective."

"I might say the same to you, Counselor."

"Liv, thanks, for the clothes, for finding me, for putting up with me. I..." she trailed off, not knowing how many more things she could thank Olivia for, but knowing it would never be enough.

"You're welcome, for all of that. But I don't need to be thanked."

Alex patted the bed in front of her, inviting Olivia to join her. "Selfless St. Olivia, even you need to know that you're appreciated, especially when you go above and beyond the call of duty. I know I've not been easy lately, a little..."

"Enough. We've both been anything but easy lately, I think. When you've reached out to me since you got back, I wasn't in any kind of place to let you in. I couldn't really let anybody in."

"I didn't even know you realized I was knocking." She smiled a wry smile, but then suddenly her face was serious. "How about Julie...you let her in, didn't you?" The $64,000 question. Now that they were talking, it seemed Alex would go for broke. Olivia took a deep breath.

"I'm sorry, Olivia, that was rude, and none of my business. I'm happy for you, really."

"No, it's a valid question, certainly one I've asked myself. How could I let Julie in, when I couldn't reach out to people I'd known for years, people I'd livedand diedwith every day? And I think it's two things. I think it was easier because she's not part of the strange parallel world we all live in. And I think it's because she doesn't care to get very far in. She doesn't know what we do, not in any detail anyway, and she doesn't know the hard questions to ask. Maybe doesn't want the answers, even if she did know the questions."

"Makes sense," Alex said. "I felt that way about Robert. Before I realized that would never work, I thought his obliviousness would be the thing that would allow me to let him get close. Looks like it's working lots better for you than it did for me."

"Well, that probably remains to be seen," Olivia said. They sat in silence for a moment, when Olivia noticed the papers in front of Alex were taxi receipts. She picked them up.

"What are these?"

"The proof of my ongoing trouble being Alex Cabot."

"What do you mean? Surely there's no one more qualified."

"Thanks, but it's not a job a lot of people are applying for, anyway." She paused, and Olivia waited, knowing Alex would fill the space when she was ready. And she did. "After you knocked, earlier, I called down and had the bag delivered. It was just so sweet, Olivia, so nice of you to think of me when I'd done nothing but push you away. You knew what this trip could do to me, and you tried to keep me close, but I couldn't let you. You, going out to get me these things, meant more to me than I can say."

"It's just a bag of necessities, Alex, you'd have done it for me."

"Would I? I'd like to think so, but you were out taking care of me while I was lying here trying to keep my tenuous grip reality. And I knew instantly that you were right, that I shouldn't be alone here tonight, but when I knocked on your door you were gone. So, I went to the hotel bar, and three drinks in a big hurry sent me strolling down memory lane."

"You should've called me, Alex."

"I know, but it seems that all I do is lean on you. I didn't want to drag you back here to babysit my sorry ass. So, I let Jim Beam do it instead. And after the third one I knocked back, I decided to take a cab out to myto Sarah'sold neighborhood."

"Alex..." Olivia interjected.

"I know, I know, not a good plan. But I went anyway. Had the cabbie drop me off in at the end of the block. I walked down to the house. It was dark by then, and the lights were on inside, so I could see the living room. The paint color was different, but the mantel was still the same bright white that I'd hated, but that I'd never been able to choose another color for. And the plum tree I'd planted that last spring I lived there was so tall that it was brushing the electrical lines overhead. The flowerbed I'd made was still there, with tulips and irises galore. I hate irises, Liv, but I love tulips, and I just couldn't believe that I had lived there, as Sarah Clarke, and was now standing on the sidewalk outside, as Alex Cabot."

It was all coming out in a rush. The blonde took a deep breath, and then pushed ahead. "I could feel the tears building and it's definitely the kind of neighborhood that would notice anyone, even a crying woman in a suitmaybe especially a crying woman in a suiton their front walk. I recognized some of the names on the mailboxes, and I knew some of my neighbors were still there, would know me. So I just started walking. I couldn't wait for a cab there, so I walked to the wine bar that had been a couple of blocks from my place. It was still there, and open, so I went in and ordered a glass, and called a cab. I was only there for 15 minutes, maybe less. But someone recognized me."

"Oh, shit...Alex..."

"It was someone I'd dated. The person...she...saw me and literally did a double-take. I noticed her and turned my head away, but it was too late. She came over, just staring, and said, 'Sarah?' I was dressed very differently from when I was there, hair's a bit longer, I had glasses on, but this woman isn't stupid. She knew it was me, or a damn good reproduction. But I just lied to her. What else could I do?"

"Probably nothing."

"Right. So I sat right there, and looked in the eyes of this woman who'd been nothing but kind to me, who'd been the only loving thing in my life, and the only reason I survived that last year in the program. And I said, 'I'm sorry, do I know you?' She jerked back, almost as if I'd slapped her, but I'd laid out the path and had to continue down it. She said 'Sarah, it's me, Danielle. Oh my God, Sarah, you're here. You're okay' Her friends were looking on-people I'd never seen before, thank Godand I just hung her out to dry. 'I'm sorry, my name is Alex, you must have mistaken me for someone else.' And I just thought that, however hard that whole thing was for me, here was a person from whose life I'd simply vanished one day. She never knew what had happened to me, probably thought I hadn't cared about her, maybe thought or even hoped I was dead. And now I was in front of her, denying everything, letting her imagine she was crazy, or seeing things. And she just walked off, backing away a bit then leaving the place altogether, not another word. She looked like she'd seen a ghost. I guess she had."

"Oh, Alex, what happened?"

"Her friends left after her, looking at me on their way out. I could see her crying in the car as they left. And I just sat there, and drank my wine, and waited for my cab. If I'd reacted, everyone there would've known...something. So I brought pain back to a woman who'd most certainly moved on from what must have felt like a pretty fucking low blow. And all the while I waited for my cab, I just kept justifying it in my head. What else could I do? What else could I do?"

"Nothing. You couldn't do anything except what you did."

"Right. And I hate that. I hate who I am, what I've become, what this has done to me, what I let it do to me. What I've let it do to everyone around me. And what I'm still letting it do, seven fucking years later."

And she was crying again, angry tears this time. Olivia pushed aside the phone and the taxi receipts, slid forward, and wrapped both arms around Alex, pulling her close. She didn't try to stop her own tears, either. Just held Alex tight, and let her cry, and cried with her.

They stayed that way for a long while, Olivia stroking Alex's arms, and back, and hair, gentle, repetitive touches designed to calm. She cooed soothing words into Alex's ears, in her hair, though more than a few times, the whispered reassurances only set off another wave of sobs. The moments of easy breathing eventually grew longer, the crying jags shorter and less frequent.

Olivia said, "Poor baby, you're going to give yourself a headache from all this crying. Let me get you some more water. You need to get at least a little sleep."

"No, Liv, I can't, please don't go."

"I'm just grabbing water, don't worry." She looked into the puffy eyes and felt her heart constrict again. "I'll be right back, honey, I promise."

Alex nodded, but looked bereft. It was only a moment. Olivia grabbed another bottle of cold water from the minibar, and brought a cold washcloth back to the bed with her. While Alex took several swallows of water, Olivia folded up the damp cloth. She took the water and put it on the nightstand, and looked at Alex's upturned face. The ADA, normally so self-assured and self-contained, just looked lost, and utterly defeated. When Olivia touched the blonde's shoulder, Alex tipped her head immediately, laying her cheek on the hand resting there.

"Alex, honey, can you lie down for me? I want to put this on your eyes to reduce the swelling a bit." Alex complied, but as soon as her eyes were covered by the bright-white fabric, she reached a hand up, feeling around a bit in the air between them until Olivia's hand grasped her own. There was a bit of room on the side of the bed, and Olivia sat there, holding Alex's right hand with her left, using her other hand to stroke the blonde's forehead, back and forth, so soft the touch might have felt like a feather, or a breath of air.

"Don't go."

"I'll stay right here, Alex, I'll be with you until you fall asleep."

"No, please, stay with me all night." Alex's voice betrayed her exhaustion. "I know I don't have any right to ask you to do that, not after last time..." she trailed off, but Olivia couldn't fill in the blank on that one if she tried. She wasn't going to touch that, not sure what it meant, not sure she wanted to know. "You've done so much already, but I just don't want to be alone tonight." The last few words were almost a whimper.

"I'm not going anywhere. I'm here with you, all night, as long as you need me. I can sleep in the other bed, or..."

"With me," Alex interrupted. "Just tonight, please."

"Sure, sure. Let me grab my phone charger and I'll be back." She went across the hall, brushing her teeth quickly and grabbing the charger. When she got back in the room, Alex hadn't moved. Olivia plugged in her phone, and Alex's as well. "What time do you want me to set the alarm for?"

No answer. Olivia looked over and saw the slow rise and fall of Alex's chest. She'd fallen asleep on top of the covers, and Olivia wouldn't have woken her up for anything, so she grabbed the extra blanket from the closet and covered her. She set the alarm for 6:30, and turned out the light before sliding under the cover on the other side of Alex's bed.

She reached her hand out, planning to rest her hand against Alex's hip, just so she'd know if Alex moved. But as soon as her knuckles made contact with the fabric of Alex's shorts, the blonde rolled away onto her side, and then scooted back against Olivia, knowing even in her sleep that she'd need more contact than that tonight. Olivia draped an arm over her sleeping friend, and hoped they'd both get a little sleep. Her last thoughts as she drifted off were ones she'd had before where Alex was concerned: What in the hell just happened here? And what am I going to do about it?

She didn't have to answer that question by herself. The next morning, when they woke up, Alex was still curled into Olivia's side, and still feeling melancholy, but willing to allow herself to be taken care of.

"Morning, Alex," Olivia said when the blonde stirred. Alex rolled over, facing Liv now, and hugged her.

"Thank you, Olivia." The detective couldn't do anything but hug her back; not wanting to risk saying too much, or not enough, she said nothing. Finally, after a few minutes, she decided to risk it.

"How are you feeling this morning?"

Alex sat up, stretching. "Better than I expected. Much better, actually. Thank you."

"Good, I'm glad."

Alex turned sideways in the bed, looking down at her friend, still reclined on the pillows. "Olivia, how do you always know what to say?"

"I don't, Alex, not with everyone. But I've known you for a long time, and we're a lot alike in ways."

"That we are. I'm sorry to have..."

"No apologies," Olivia cut her off. "And I mean it. I would do anything for you, and I'm glad that you let me."

"I want to do better about that," Alex confessed. "I want to get our friendship back, Olivia. I need it."

Olivia sat up now, too, touched by her friend's honesty. She hugged Alex, then leaned back and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead, waiting until Alex's eyes opened before she spoke again.

"You got it. How about Thursdays? Let's set a date for Thursdays, dinner, a movie, whatever. It's a standing thingcancel if you need to, but otherwise we'll spend some time together. I need it, too."

Alex nodded, grateful that it could be so easy. "You're on."

"Great," Olivia smiled. "Now, we better get up and get going, or Munch will have a story to tell when he comes up here knocking on doors to drag us down to breakfast."

The hearing went quickly that morning, with Judge Lathrope granting the extradition request almost immediately after calling the proceedings to order. Extradition Transport had two agents ready to take custody of Morgan, and started the trip back to New York by van. Alex, Olivia and John had a flight at 1:30, so they rode with Paul and made a quick stop back at the precinct to meet with the Richmond detectives, who had stayed around to brief their counterparts.

Morgan was looking good for the rape and murder there, so Alex was glad they'd gotten a chance to question him. They might never get to try him there, but it would let them tie up some loose ends in their investigation. The ADA and her detectives were back at JFK before 3.

Olivia checked in with Cragen, who told her they'd see her in the morning. They parted ways with John at the airport, and Olivia drove Alex home. When they got to Mercer Street, Alex put her hand on the door handle, and turned to Olivia. "I can't thank you enough, Olivia. This case just brought up so many..."

"I know." Olivia reassured her with a hand on her leg. She did know, probably better than anyone, the toll this had exacted from the attorney. "And don't forget."

"I won't," Alex promised. "I have an alumni dinner thing this Thursday, but starting next week?"

"Absolutely. It's a date."



Thursday, December 15

"Jay-Z? You're kidding, right?" It was their first Thursday date, and neither of them was shocked later when it was cut short by a call to Olivia to investigate a rape during an interactive theater presentation of Dante's Inferno. But for now, they were riding in Alex's car, heading uptown to dinner at Morrell Wine Bar, near Rockefeller Center, and Olivia was getting far too much enjoyment out of scrolling through Alex's iPod.

"There's nothing wrong with Jay-Z. And I see that you neglected to mention Alicia Keys, or doesn't that suit your little smear campaign?

"It's just...surprising."

"I'm full of surprises. In fact, I have an entire New York playlist. It's perfect for those days when the city just feels like magic, like it's all laid out for you. You know, a spring day, and there's nothing on earth you could want that isn't here on this island."

"I had no idea you were so poetic, Counselor."

"Well, you have to study something before law school. I was an English major before I sold my soul in the quest for justice."

"Why did I not know this about you?"

"I don't know. It doesn't fit your image of me though, does it?"

"Well, yes and no. I mean, you obviously love words."

At this, Alex poked her. "Hey, watch it."'

"No, I mean, you know the power they have, and you're always weighing them, what is said to you, what you want to say. But I admit, I didn't peg you for a hip-hop fan. Or an English major, to be honest."

"Oh, the list is pretty eclectic. I'm pretty eclectic, too, despite outward appearances." Alex smiled, but it was a mischievous smirk.

"I don't doubt that, Counselor," Olivia agreed. "Now, what else is on this playlist?"

"Around The Way Girl, Nights on Broadway, Tom's Diner."

"Wow, LL Cool J to the Bee Gees to Suzanne Vega. You're like an onion, Alex Cabot."

"An onion? Explain."

"Layers, Counselor. So many layers. I could probably peel them back for years."

Alex smiled, and shrugged. "I told you...eclectic."



Thursday, December 22

Olivia and Alex walked out of the movie theater, standing in the cold on West Houston.

"Well, that was really something. I mean, I'd read the book, but some of those scenes were hard to watch," Olivia said.

"Yeah, Fincher's movies are always visually stunning, but I don't think I'll be rushing out to buy that on Blu-Ray," Alex agreed.

"Heading home?"

Alex looked around, up at the small marquee, and around at the crowd streaming out of the building behind them. "I don't know, after that, I think I'm going to need a little while before I try to sleep. You?"

"Wide awake. Wanna grab a coffee or something?" They were both insomniacs, so Alex wasn't surprised.

"Sure, Aroma's just up the street, should be open a while longer." They walked up the block, ordered a couple of decafs, and relaxed into a couple of stools at the counter. The cold air radiating off the window meant they kept their coats on, warming their fingers on the mugs they held, watching the late-evening foot traffic on the pavement outside.

Conversation meandered a bit, distracted after a few minutes by two nearly identical women outside the restaurant, seemingly fighting but then happily locking arms and walking off together.

"Gotta be sisters," Olivia laughed. "I always wondered what it would be like to have a sister."

"Me, too," Alex said.

"Do you have any brothers?"

"I did," Alex said, pausing a moment, studying her coffee. "His name was Evan. He died when I was 14."

"I had no idea, Alex."

"Well, why would you? It's not the sort of thing I'd just bring up."

"What happened?"

"Well, he had cancer, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was diagnosed when he was 19, fought it for two years but it was pretty aggressive. He tried to start college like he'd planned, but had to come home midway through the first semester. I was set to go off to boarding school at Groton that year, but I stayed home. Finally, the second year, my parents said we couldn't keep putting everything off. But suddenly, Groton was out of the picture, even though my mom had gone there. Instead, I went to Exeter, where Evan had gone. I was there when he died, had to come home for the funeral."

"That must have been traumatic," Olivia said. She couldn't imagine being away from home at 14, no matter how much she may have hated her own homelife. But to be gone when your brother died?

"It was tough," Alex said. "It changed me, changed my whole family."

"Losing a child, losing your brother, I can only imagine what it did to all of you."

"Separately, and together," Alex elaborated. "My brother's room was untouched, his bike stayed on the front porch, his lacrosse stick lay in the basket in the mud-room, just how he'd left it, for three years. My mom couldn't move on, not for a long time. Never completely, really."

"And your dad?"

"He worked, more than normal even."

"And you?"

"Everything was closed off and wide open, all at once. My parents suddenly wanted to coddle me and protect me, but at the same time I felt like all of their dreams for Evan were now on me. He had been the focused one, the driven one, team captain, class president type. I was...not. Decidedly not, in fact. My family frequently remarked on how dreamy I was, writing poetry."

"You? Dreamy?"

"I know, hard to picture now, isn't it? Don't get me wrong, my family didn't necessarily consider those things bad. My dad was a lawyer because he loved it, not because it was prestigious or financially rewarding. My mom married my dad for love, even though her family wasn't too crazy about anyone who had to work his own way through school. At a non-Ivy, to boot. But they both followed their hearts, so I'm sure they'd have been more than happy with whatever I became."

"After Evan died, though..."

"After Evan died, I was different. It was like the roles we'd played were no longer there. I could be the ambitious one now, without having to compete with the person I idolized. A switch just flipped inside me. I went all out at Exeter, debate, sports, student government. By end of sophomore year, I had my heart set on Harvard Law. I'd have never done that, I don't think, if Evan had been ahead of me on the path. And my father never suggested it, but he didn't try to talk me out of it, either. He, and my Uncle Bill, they were both happy to have another lawyer following in their footsteps. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't comparing myself to Evan, every day, feeling like I had to live for him, and for me."

Their coffees were empty by this time, and closing time was looming in the coffee bar. There wasn't much to say, so Olivia didn't try, but she was looking at Alex and seeing a new reality, right in front of her. It was like Alex went from three dimensions to four, time suddenly fully fleshing out what she knew about this remarkable woman. They stood out on the sidewalk, for just a moment. Alex reached out and grabbed the detective's hand, a brief touch.

"Thanks, Liv. I'll talk to you tomorrow."

And she wound her scarf around her neck, heading toward Mercer Street, content this night to be alone with her thoughts on her walk home.



Thursday, December 29

Alex arrived at Olivia's apartment around 7, loaded down with Italian food from her favorite place. Olivia opened the door, her black v-neck sweater and jeans a nice change from the suit she'd worn to testify earlier that day. It had been Novak's case, but Alex had stopped by Casey's office after lunch and bumped into the two women getting ready to head to the courtroom. Olivia smiled at the attorney standing in her doorway, holding way too much food for two people.

"What is all that?" she laughed, as she grabbed a bag from Alex and closed the door behind her guest.

"Italian, from Caffe Reggio. I can't get enough of it."

"Obviously," Liv joked. "Did you buy everything they make?"

"I wasn't sure what you'd like, Detective," she explained. "Besides, I know you'll be working way too much over New Year's, and you never take any time for lunch, so you'll have some leftovers to pack along. Can't have you passing out on the job from starvation when you should be chasing perps."

"Okay, so tell me what all this is." Olivia started unpacking the bag onto the coffee table, while Alex hung up her coat and kicked off her shoes.

"Manicotti, ravioli, Genovese," Alex listed off the dishes.

"See, you did get everything!" Olivia exclaimed.

"No, I didn't. There's a crepe there that I want to try, but I didn't want to go overboard." Seeing all the food spread out before her now, she realized it was too late for that, and laughed. "Just eat your damn dinner, Benson."

"Well, while you were cleaning out the kitchen at Caffe Reggio, I was getting the evening's entertainment," Olivia said, hiding a DVD behind her back. She pulled it out with a flourish. "Rear Window."

"Very nice," Alex said. "I love that movie."

"Me, too. It's not my favorite Hitchcock movie, actually that's probably Psycho or The Birds. But after you completely humiliated yourself the other night with that New York playlist..." This earned her the attorney's famous stare. Olivia continued, "I figured I'd let you in on my little secret. I have an extensive collection of New York cinema, and I was in the mood for Hitch tonight, so I couldn't decide between this and North by Northwest."

"Oh, this was the right choice," Alex said. "The nosiness and the snooping? How appropriate for a detective and an ADA."

Olivia laughed, and hit PLAY. They settled down to hot pasta and Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, and pretended it wasn't cold as hell outside, and that the next few days wouldn't be filled with revelers and criminals and enforced gaiety and too much work.



Thursday, January 5

"So, Detective, I haven't seen you, which means that you haven't had too many cases since last week," Alex said as she slid into a booth in the back of Marumi. The unassuming entrance to the restaurant, tucked in between a dry cleaner and a pizza place, was a welcome sight to the attorney given the frigid winds whipping the trash around on LaGuardia Place.

Olivia already had her hands wrapped around a choko full of warm sake, letting it leech the cold out of her stiff fingers. She looked up and smiled, and Alex felt it shine on her like a thousand suns. The deathly cold outside was forgotten. It worried Alex, already, how much she looked forward to Thursdays, and how much she wanted to see that smile at the end of every day. "Think it'll snow, Counselor?"

"I wouldn't mind it, really," Alex said, "but I think it might be too cold."

"You may have a point," Olivia said, as Alex settled in and gratefully took the cup of sake that was ready and waiting for her. "I hoped you'd make it here without succumbing to hypothermia. I'm at least relieved to see that you're wearing pants today, rather than those impossibly short skirts and tall shoes you normally prowl around in."

Alex hesitated a moment, not sure if she had anything to say to that. It was teasing, to be sure; if the detectives in the 1-6 didn't tease you, they didn't like you, and she'd learned that sometimes any comeback only made it worse. Perhaps more importantly, though, it seemed a little like flirting, if Alex could even remember what that was. It had been a long time. Finally, she spoke. "Glad my attire meets your exacting specifications, Detective Benson."

"It always does, Ms. Cabot," Olivia replied, with a half-smile that Alex found enchanting. The waiter came to check in with them, and tell them about the specials. The two women perused the menus, giving Alex a much-needed opportunity to move the conversation onto safer ground.

"The yellowtail here is melt-in-your-mouth good, Liv," she offered. The brunette's raised eyebrow was her only reply, and Alex thought Christ, is the woman flirting with me about fish? They placed their order, and began to catch up on the week.

"Not a bad holiday, all in all," Olivia said, confirming Alex's earlier supposition that the squad hadn't been handed anything truly heinous. "A few of your garden-variety sex crimes, sad to say, but nothing so far this year that's made me question my profession, my humanity or my place in the cosmos. And it's already the 5th, so that's really saying something."

"Glad to hear it," Alex laughed. "So, I won't need to shop for a retirement gift just yet?"

"Nah, give it another few years, I think," Olivia said. "How about you? Anything of note?"

"No, not really. Saw a couple of friends from college, worked on some stuff for this task force, actually read a whole book," Alex listed her activities, then laughed as she saw the look of amazement on Olivia's face. "Unheard of, I know."

"No kidding. You just rattled off three things, and only one of them was work-related," Olivia said. "That is unheard of."

"I'm trying, Liv," Alex said.

"Wait, unless..." Olivia said, a smirk on her face.

"Unless what?"

"Unless the book you read was some sort of legal treatise."

Now Alex really laughed. "Lord, no. An actual book, with characters and a plot and everything."

"John Grisham?" Olivia asked, unable to resist chiding the workaholic attorney one last time. But Alex was ready for her.

"Sherlock Holmes," she replied. "It isn't lawyers I like to think about in my free time, Detective Benson."

Now Olivia was silent for a minute, not sure quite how to respond. The food arrived, saving her from the many dangerous replies on the tip of her tongue. They ate a while in relative silence, trading bites of food and marveling over the delicious oyako maki roll.

"Make any New Year's resolutions?" Alex asked. Olivia noticed that she didn't ask what the detective's holiday plans had included.

"Not big into that, as you might imagine," Olivia answered. "I'd like to always say the same things: work less, sleep more, stress less, laugh more. But at a certain point it just seems silly to even pretend that it'll really happen. How about you?"

"No resolutions, per se," Alex said, "but there is a Zora Neale Hurston quote that I read recently: There are years that ask questions, and years that answer. This year, I'm all about answers."

"Well, then, here's hoping you find them," Olivia said. "And that they're what you hoped they'd be."



Thursday, January 12

"Have you seen Elliot? It's so strange, that no one mentions him, but this void is there."

"I know, it's just odd. I've seen him, once, about two months after the shooting. He called me, finallyI think Kathy made himand we met for coffee."


"And, it was completely surreal, and at the same time completely mundane. We talked about Kath, the kids, a weekend trip I took to see a friend in Miami...but nothing about the job?"

"Nothing?" Alex asked, incredulous that two people whose entire relationship was forged in the crucible of investigating the worst things humans can do to one another, could sit and not mention one single thing about that job to one another. The waiter stopped by with more coffee, creating a temporary pause in the dialogue before the brunette continued.

"Not a word," Olivia confirmed. "I'd felt sure he called me to I don't know, not to explain, really. I mean, when I could be objective about it, I obviously knew why he'd decided to retire, all the crap that led up to it. But there was definitely some closure lacking, you know?"

"Believe me, I know closure. My shrink is all about the closure. She never shuts up about it. Needless to say, she thinks I need some."

"That bad, huh?" Olivia laughed, not wanting to show her surprise that Alex was not only seeing a therapist, but was being so forthcoming about it.

"Well, put it this way: One night a couple of months ago I was watching part of Glengarry Glen Ross on TV, and for weeks afterward, every time I'd have coffee, I'd think to myself, Coffee is for closure."

Olivia laughed. "Wow, that is bad. And thanks, now I'll have that stuck in my head for weeks, too."

"Sorry," Alex laughed. "It wouldn't be so bad if it worked, but I'm still closure-deficient in the eyes of Dr. Sharon Jackson of Wellness Associates."

"Closure-deficient?" Olivia asked. "God, please tell me that isn't actually written on a chart or something."

"Probably not. I'm sure there's some term from the DSM that describes my inability to get my shit together."

Olivia decided to ask the question she'd had trouble ignoring for several minutes now. "I didn't know you were seeing anyone, Alex. Doing any good?"

"Well, I guess the jury's still out on that, but it's certainly less of an ordeal than it was last time."

"Last time?"

"Yeah, there was some mandatory counseling when I left WITSEC, and I even continued it a month or so beyond the requirement, but I was so closed off it didn't do a damn bit of good."

"And now?"

"Now...well, at least I'm doing it because I want to, so I don't have that sent-to-the-principal feeling. But wanting to means being more committed, and more committed means you just dredge up more crap to deal with. So, it's a mixed bag. But I think I finally know I need to do it, so I'm giving myself the gift of cleaning out all the cobwebs."

"Good, I'm glad, Alex."

"Me, too." And she was. She'd grown up in a family that saw therapy as something other people did, and she'd held that view herself for many years, thinking she could grit her teeth and bulldoze through anything. It had been a relief to lay down some of that burden.

"Isn't now the part where you tell me I'd benefit from it myself?" Olivia asked, only half-joking.

Now Alex really laughed, shaking her head. "Oh, you've confused me with some other therapy-going emotionally wrecked fuck-up you know. It's helping, I think, but I'm no evangelist for the therapeutic process."

"Yet another reason I like you."

"Sorry, Olivia, how did we even get off on a tangent about my psyche, anyway? We were talking about Stabler."

"Yeah, we were, weren't we?" Olivia laughed, running a hand through her hair. "Not much else to say, though. Getting together was awkward, like something we both did because we had to: me, to kind of turn the page on that chapter. Him, I think, because he felt he owed it to me."

"Don't you think he did?"

"Sometimes. I go back and forth, though. He and Kath, the kids, they were my family when I had none. We were friends." The brunette had clearly given this a lot of thought. "But, I trusted him with my life every day for 12 years, and I'm still alive, so I guess that's all he owes me, actually."

"You're very sanguine about it."

"I wasn't at first, of course. I was pissed and hurt."

"I know," Alex pointed out. "I was around, remember?"

"Yeah, I've tried to forget, actually. I was just not myself, and I need all my energy to just do the job. Being nice was beyond me, I'm afraid."

"What changed?"

"Everything." They both laughed, realizing how true that statement was. "Rollins & Amaro settled into the squadroom, and the rhythm of the whole place just shifted. Cragen played fast and loose with the assignments for a while, so we all got a chance to know each other. Not being with the same partner day in and day out was good for me I think it distracted a bit from who that partner wasn't. And Munch and Fin especially Fin. They were there but not in my face about it. And having you and Casey back in the fold, it helped even if it didn't seem like it to you. You know, the hardest thing about seeing Elliot was that I expected it to be like all the times I've gone so long without seeing you. It's never really awkward between us, and I was just shocked when he and I couldn't seem to find two sentences to string together."

Alex wasn't ready to touch that, so she avoided it. Despite being a willing patient in her therapist's office, she was not ready to put herself on anyone else's couch. She changed the subject. "How are Rollins & Amaro?"

"They're okay," Olivia gave what amounted to effusive praise, coming from her. "But you don't like him, do you?"

"What makes you say that?"

Olivia laughed. "Come on, Alex. You asked him if he wanted to try the case."

"I've said worse to all of you. You just don't remember I must be getting soft in my old age."

"Oh, I remember how you were, a ball-buster, just so tough and ready to prove it every day."

Thinking of her first year with the squad, Alex laughed a bit but felt a slight blush on her cheeks. "I wanted to be accepted, probably more than I was able to admit to myself."

"You were accepted, probably two or three cases in when we knew you had a pair of brass ones and were willing to put it on the line, for us and for the victims."

"Then why did I feel like an outsider for a year?" Alex asked, genuinely shocked that the squad had allowed her into their circle so long before they ever let her know about it.

"We just like to make you work for it," Olivia teased, and Alex smiled, but then suddenly her face grew serious.

"I still feel that way sometimes, you know. Like I have to prove I belong there."

"You're kidding, Alex."

"No, I'm not. I go, and I come back, and every time something's different, I'm cleaning up a mess some other ADA made, explaining where I've been, doing penance for having left in the first place. I still feel like I have to prove myself all the time in the 1-6. Earn your trust."

"You don't. Everyone there has your back, Cabot." The use of Alex's last name took a little of the emotional charge out of the conversation, brought it back to the squadroom banter they were both used to.

"Everyone but Amaro?" Alex joked.

"Nah, even him. He's just trying to assert his bona fides."

"And Rollins? I have trouble getting a read on her, to be honest."

"I know what you mean. She's got her own approach. She hangs back a bit, definitely content to follow the lead most of the time. There's a spark there, though, and you can really see it when she's with Finthey seem to have a real rapport. But when Amanda does say something, you listen, because she's really thought it through."

"How is it, having another woman around? It's been forever."

"Yeah, Jeffries left the same time you and Fin showed up, so 12 years or so? It's kind of nice, Rollins, you and Novakthe level of testosterone seems to be tamped down just a bit."

"You think Amaro will be your partner?"

"Yeah, that's the way it's looking. And he's a stand-up guy. Not long after he showed up, we're on a case one day, when he just casually tells me his sister's a lesbian, no hullabaloo, just is what it is."

"Just letting you know he's okay with it?"

"Yeah, I think. And sometimes I feel like that's a bit patronizing, but I didn't mind this," Olivia said, and Alex nodded. She had experienced this herself, and the who and the how of it really affected how she felt about it.

Olivia continued, "I don't care if my dry cleaner or the building super or the maitre d' has a problem with it. They can go fuck themselves, you know. But your partner? You have to know where you stand. You need to know you can rely on them, or you need to know you can't. And if that's the case, time to change partners."

"You counted on Elliot."

"Absolutely, 100%. And I knew he'd never let anything happen to me. But my being gay still seemed like a moral dilemma he wrestled with."

"Hate the sin, love the sinner?"

"Something like that, I guess. So I just kept it quiet. Not a huge sacrifice, really," Olivia admitted. "I'm a private person by nature, and it's not like there was a long string of women I had to keep under wraps, anyway." She looked up at Alex, and smiled, a shy smile that took Alex's breath away. "But it is freeing, in some ways, to step out and be who I am, in full, to stop playing the pronoun game and all that."

"I know what you mean. With Branch gone, McCoy gone, Cutter as the EADA, Hogan Place is finally sneaking into the 21st century too."

Liv raised her glass. "To progress."



Thursday, January 19

Alex arrived at Olivia's apartment, knocking slush from her shoes and trying to get warm as quickly as possible.

"You want some clothes to change into?" the Detective offered.

"Actually, I brought some with me. I knew this would be one of those days." Olivia looked over her shoulder to see the attorney in her $1,000 suit, holding up a pair or ratty sweatpants and a hoodie bearing the logo of the US Marshals Service, and wearing an adorable grin.

"Where on earth did you come up with that sweatshirt?" Olivia laughed. "Did you lift it off of one of your minders during re-entry?"

"While that would be a good story, I'm afraid not. One of my law-school classmates sent it to me as a joke after I got home."

"Well, get in there and change while I finish dinner, and then you can pick out a movie."

She must have changed quickly, because just a minute or two later she was guffawing in the living room. "Olivia, your Netflix queue is just...wow!" Alex thumbed the remote through the list of romantic comedies and action movies, growing more incredulous by the second.

"What are you laughing at, Cabot?" Olivia's voice, louder than normal, carried in from the kitchen.

"Oh, nothing. But there's lots and lots of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nicholas Sparks on here."

"Knock it off," Olivia said, sweeping into the room with two plates. "Hand me that remote and get your butt in there to grab the salads."

Alex acquiesced, handing over the remote, and laughing all the way into the kitchen and back.

"Still laughing, Cabot?"

"Just a little," Alex admitted, "but you've got to admit..."

"I'm not admitting shit. Now, for that, you can go get the wine, too."

The blonde went back into the kitchen, coming back with the bottle of wine and Olivia's glass. "Anything else, ma'am?"

"Sit down and eat, before I start a double feature of Kindergarten Cop and The Notebook."

"Well, in that case, I will do what I'm told," Alex said, picking up her salad and eating a few bites. "But, really, Olivia? How can you love Hitchcock and then stack up this crap on your list?"

"Sometimes, I just need to zone out."

"I'll say." And they both laughed, and finished dinner.



Thursday, January 26

"Your text said it was a bad day. I was afraid we'd have to cancel. What's up?"

Alex felt suddenly needy and just as suddenly, felt the need to hide that. She wouldn't tell Olivia that she'd do anything to avoid canceling their Thursday dinner, that she'd come to depend on it, especially on a day like today. "Oh, it's nothing, really."

"Not nothing. What's wrong?"

Alex paused, hesitated but decided that she would open herself up just a bit to the person she trusted most in the world.

"Today is the anniversary of my dad's death. I forget every year how hard it's going to be."

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Alex." Olivia hugged her for a moment, then pulled back. "I didn't know. When did he die?"

"Four years ago."

"When you were you?" These kind of odd questions and non-sequiturs were not odd to Alex, nor to anyone who knew of her time away, hiding in Witness Protection. They relaxed into the couch as Alex began to talk.

"Yeah, when I was in appeals. He wasn't well when I came home from Baltimore. My mother died while I was away, you know, and my uncle said he was never the same. He'd had some signs of memory loss before, but after her death everything just snowballed on him."

"I'm sure having lost you didn't help anything, either." Alex nodded sadly, and Olivia felt indescribably horrible for even mentioning it.

"My aunt and uncle moved him here from East Amherst, to live with them. He didn't really have any close family up there, and they thought it was really important that they mitigate the memory loss as best they could by having him with them all the time." Olivia wanted to ask questions, but could see how hard this was for the attorney, and decided not to interrupt. "The decline was quick, and they had to move him in to a facility. They couldn't get word to me. This was all after I'd come back to testify against Connors, so they knew I was alive. And he knew, I think, but I hadn't been able to see him. The marshals wouldn't take me upstate to see him, and then I was gone again, and he was just so alone. By the time I came home for good, he really had no idea who I was."

Olivia reached out her hand and held the blonde's. "Oh, Alex, how awful. I'm so sorry."

"I visited him, all the time. He knew he had a daughter named Alex, but he thought she was a six-year-old, riding a training-wheel bike and building a snowman on Christmas Eve. His mind wouldn't let him reconcile that with me, right in front of him. I had two years with him, before he died, but I was a stranger to him. Pretty fucking ironic, huh? I spend three years being other people, and then I'm finally me again, and my own father doesn't know me." It all came out in a rush, and Alex sighed heavily, looking down at their entwined hands.

"How did you deal with that?"

"Relied on my aunt and uncle. Made terrifically bad decisions. Got engaged to Robert, who was a nice man, but for whom I felt less than zero. Fell in love with a not-so-nice woman who made it her job to seek out, amplify and exploit every insecurity I've ever had. Ran roughshod through appeals like I had lost my conscience and every other decent thing about me. And basically figured that if my own father could forget who Alex Cabot had been, then I could, too."

Now it was Olivia's turn to look down, to search for words she couldn't find. She tried not to let the emotion of Alex's story overwhelm her.

"Hey, Liv, if I'm not going to cry about this tonight, you can't either." Alex smiled, but didn't laugh.

"I just feel like such a shit."


"You were going through all of this, like re-entry from outer space, and when I finally saw you, I just jumped your ass about why you hadn't called."

"Oh, don't blame yourself, Liv. I'd have had the same reaction, I'm sure. And it's not lost on me that calling you probably would have helped me avoid a lot of that drama."

"How so?"

"Because you did know me. I'd lost so many friends, so much of what I'd had when I left, but I hadn't lost you. I wanted to call, but I waited and waited, and then I just thought I'd waited too long."

"It could never have been too long. We missed you. I missed you. If you'd moved on, if we were just bad memories, I'd get that, but..."

"But that's just it. You guys weren't bad memories, not at all. It was hard, when I saw you, to think about the shooting and everything, but it was something I needed to do. The real problem was that you all knew who Alex Cabot was, and I had forgotten. It's hard to fake it around a bunch of detectives, you know. When I'd woken up in some basement backroom in that hospital with my identity gone and my whole life stolen, I started off on this odyssey of being someone else, anyone but me. It got easy after a while, and remembering who I was got really hard."

"I've never asked you about what happened in the hospital. But maybe now's not the right time."

"Will there ever be a right time?"

"Probably not. You're right, Alex, I'm sorry."

"No, no Liv, that's not what I meant. I've shied away from it for too long. Closure, remember? My therapist keeps giving me homework. If I'm going to unpack this baggage, I'd rather have you here than anyone else."

"Thanks. I think." They both laughed. "I don't want to dredge it all up for you, Alex. I just wondered. I was so torn up, grieving you, that when you stepped out of that SUV, I just couldn't comprehend it. From that moment, I worried for you, wondered where you were, if you were okay. And if you'd ever come home. It was just the shooting, and then suddenly seeing you standing by a million black trucks and overgrown weeds by the East River. Everything in between was just lost to me."

"I wish I could say the same. The first day or so was just gone, too many painkillers, but after that, once I was coherent enough to grasp what they were telling meit was a fucking nightmare. I hurt so badly, and I was so scared, just beyond any misery I'd every known. I was devastated, Olivia."

"We were too, Alex," Olivia said. "We let you get killed. You relied on us and we let you die."

"I knew you were torturing yourselves over it, so I raised hell and kicked and screamed until Hammond gave in. I dragged you and Stabler out to that ridiculous meeting to let you know I was alive. I told myself it was for you, so you'd know that you had saved me. But it was really for me. I already felt so goddamn lonely and I thought...I thought, if no-one besides Hammond knows I'm alive, am I? I might as well be dead. It was selfish. I had to see you, and I knew I was putting you both in an awful position, knowing you couldn't tell anyone."

"I'm glad you did." Olivia's voice was quiet, but firm. "I've never been sorry we knew, Alex. You were out there somewhere, and it gave me hope."

"Me too, Liv. But a little hope can be a dangerous thing, can't it?"



Thursday, February 9

Two weeks had passed since their last get-together, Alex had made a few trips and spent more than a week's worth of nights in Albany for a meeting of some ridiculous task force Cutter had signed her on for. Two committees in one year was at least one too many, and Albany was no longer on her list of places she'd like to spend time. She was inestimably glad to be home. They met up on a blustery evening, braving the sleet and snow for comfort food at a diner near Olivia's apartment.

"So, what's been going on?"

"Ah, nothing much, the usual human depravities. How was Albany?"

"The usual human depravities." They both laughed. "You know, bureaucracy, too many meetings, too little actually being accomplished."

"We missed you around the squadroom. Casey's on vacation, so we were stuck with Cutter."

"Mike's not so bad, is he?"

"Actually, no," Olivia allowed, "we've just gone through so many ADAs, we like to deal with the two we've got trained."

Alex laughed, her suspicions confirmed that the detectives in the 1-6 had both her and Novak right where they wanted them. "Well, I hope he didn't screw anything up too badly."

"We had a case last week, pretty simple actually, but hit a little close to home. High school girl came out of the closet to her friends at school. Parents were on board, friends all supportive, but word spreads fast when there's anything remotely gossip-worthy in high school."

"I remember it well," Alex acknowledged. "What happened?"

"She was raped and beaten by a guy she'd turned down for a date a few months ago. Easy to solve, but pretty tough to deal with. The reaction had been so good from everyone who cared about her, things in general are just so much more accepting these days, that she thought there was nothing but blue skies ahead."

"Asshole." Alex summed up her opinion of the perp, only one word necessary. "How's the girl?"

"She'll be okay, I think. She came forward, had tons of support, the school rallied around her. I think that'll help her heal. But God knows her view of the world has taken a beating. And I'm torn, you know. Not about what happened to her, of course. But kids come out so young now, when they don't even have a healthy skepticism about the evil that will always exist. I'm not sure I could have handled it at 16."

"When did you come out?"

"After college, believe it or not. I'd fallen in love with some college guy when I was in high school, though in retrospect, I think I just saw him as a ticket out of the crazy life I lived with my mom. Then in college there were some guys, some girls. I kept it under my hat, but it was obvious to me that how it was with girls was how it was supposed to be. Finally, about two years out of college, I told my mom. That's really all the coming out I had to do. Sometimes it helps to have a small family. How about you?"

"In college. I fell in love with a classmate, and it was all so fantastically intoxicating I simply couldn't keep it to myself."

"Is that sarcasm, Counselor?"

"Who, me?" Alex chuckled. "Yeah, I thought she was the best thing ever. I didn't even think twice. I knew this was it, we'd be together forever, so I drove right up to East Amherst and told my parents I was a proud lesbian."


"And...they weren't quite as excited as I was."

"Was it horrible?"

"No, not really. In fact, looking back on it, they did pretty well. I'm sure it was quite shocking to them. There had been no hint, I think. I'd held my cards pretty close to the vest."

"Imagine that," Olivia smirked.

"Right. So, here I just show up with dirty laundry, literal and figurative. And I was so over the moon that it never even occurred to me that they'd be anything less than thrilled. Suffice to say, they were less than thrilled."

"Yelling? Threats?"

"No, that's not really how they liked to play things. They took a while, but they said the right things. It was the tone they used that made me feel I'd disappointed them beyond all reason. And, given that I was expecting they'd throw a parade and sign up for PFLAG, their reaction was more disheartening than it should have been."

"Still, makes you really appreciate the guts of a 16-year-old, huh?"

"Definitely. I wasn't expecting the worst, but even if it had come, I was old enough to take care of myself, didn't really even live at home anymore. My experience was just a weekend of crying and pouting and the like...not all by me. The worst part was, Ms. Right turned out to be Ms. Oh-So-Wrong. We had gone home, come out to our parents the same weekend, kind of a pact. Then we broke up four weeks later, after she insulted my intelligence by sleeping with my best friend. In my bed. And then trying to tell me it was my fault, that I had a loving family and couldn't possibly understand how sad it made her that they were so accepting and her own family had stopped speaking to her."

"Piece of work, huh?"

"You might say that."

"But weren't you glad it was done, and your parents knew?" Olivia asked. "I mean, if you could have known it was about to blow up, would you have decided not to come out to them?"

"Who knows? It might have tempered my enthusiasm for that particular conversation somewhat. But yeah, I was glad it was done. In this life, I've lived with enough secrets and lies. I'm glad that wasn't one of them."



Thursday, February 16

"I'm thinking of a trip to Baltimore." Alex's announcement was met with the expected silence from Olivia. The detective was relaxed into the corner of Alex's couch, waiting for her hostess to return from the kitchen with another bottle of wine so they could begin their next game of gin rummy. Alex set the bottle on the table, and resumed her spot on the leather ottoman, facing the couch.

"Baltimore." Olivia repeated the last word she'd heard. Not a question. Just...making sure.

"Baltimore," Alex confirmed. "Not right away, of course. Later, in the spring maybe, or early summer."

"For sightseeing?" Olivia asked, suddenly paying very close attention to the cards she was shuffling.

"No, for more of that closure I just can't seem to get enough of," Alex joked. "I think I need to make contact with some people there, let them know the story." She waited for a reply, an objection, a protest. None were offered, so she continued. Though she'd never minded silence between them before, the room was way too quiet now. "My therapist says it might be a good idea."

Olivia finally looked up. "Can't say that I agree, Alex."

"Why's that?" It was, on the face of it, a ridiculous question. Alex herself could name 50 reasons it was a bad idea, and she was the one proposing it.

"That seemed like it was very hard on you, not just going back there in December, but having been there at all." Olivia weighed each word, wanting to be sure her objections were about her concern for Alex, not about any reasons she might not want her to take the trip. "What's to gain from it?"

"I left some people there with no goodbye, no answer, no explanation at all. There one day, gone the next," Alex said.


"Yes, Danielle," Alex spoke slowly now, and deliberately. "But not just Danielle. The neighbors, who invited me to cookouts and crab boils. My boss, who always seemed to know there was something I couldn't say, but never pushed, never pried."

"You were in love with her?" Olivia asked. She meant Danielle, of course. There was no need to specify.

"Does it matter?"

"Probably not," Olivia said. "I just wondered. That night, I had lots of questions, but I didn't want to ask them. I could see how upsetting it was for you. I'll admit, a part of me wonders why you'd subject yourself to that again."

"I can see that," Alex nodded her agreement. "Having seen me that night, I can see why you'd think this is silly."

"Not silly, Alex, not at all," Olivia countered. "I understand why you'd want to do this. You're a kind person who can't stand that she left people without even saying goodbye. But, you're my friend, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't worry me that you'll be hurt, or..." She trailed off, unsure how she might finish that sentence.

"Or undo all the work I've done in therapy?"

"Maybe," Olivia allowed. "I don't know what I'm worried about, exactly."

Alex had abandoned the stool by now, moving onto the couch, and putting her wine glass on the coffee table. "You said you had questions you wanted to ask. Maybe you should ask them." She reached over and took the cards out of Olivia's hands, taking away the only possible distraction.

"Oh, Alex, I don't know. You don't have to answer anything for me, you know."

"I do know. But I think I'm ready to tell you what it was like to be gone, to be someone else."

Olivia turned now, facing Alex on the couch, draping her arm across the back of the cushions where Alex's own arm rested, and putting her hand over the attorney's. This was an important moment, Olivia could sense that. She couldn't back down from it. If Alex was ready to talk, she had to be ready to listen. "Okay, yeah, I would like to know."

"Well, it wasn't unremittingly horrible. I want you to know that. I think what I've said, the way I reacted that night, you might think I was miserable all the time. And that's not true." Alex could see that this was good news to her friend, and she continued. "It was very, very different from Wisconsin, though."

"In what way?" Olivia asked.

"Every way, I think. First, I had been home, so all the work I'd done in Wisconsin, trying to just put home out of my mind, to convince myself I'd never be back in New York again...all of that was undone. I'd had a taste of being Alex Cabot, of the courtroom, of...everything." Alex looked meaningfully at Olivia, but didn't say what she wanted to say. "Leaving the second time was tough, I won't lie. I'd built at least a semblance of a life in Madison, and now it was gone, too. But it wasn't only you and Elliot who knew I was alive. Now, everyone did. My family, who were grieving an entirely different loss. Everyone at work, in the DA's office and the precinct. And Velez and his lieutenants."

Olivia looked stricken at this, and Alex wondered if she'd never considered it before, or if she'd simply forced herself to forget.

"They knew I was out there, so I was looking over my shoulder all the time, my head on a swivel. The first time, I was scared, to be sure, but in some ways the fact that the whole world thought I was dead was a comfort."

"And now everyone knew." Olivia just shook her head. It never ceased to amaze her how deeply this whole thing had changed Alex and, to a lesser extent, everyone around her.

"Right. And, worse, I knew I might someday come home. I was so reluctant to put down any roots in Baltimore at all. Planting that tree was an act of faith, really, and those were rare." Alex sighed, and felt herself tear up a bit.

"If this is too hard, Alex, you know you don't have to..."

She gathered herself. "No, I'm fine. I want to tell you about it. I had to find a job that wasn't related to the law at all. In Wisconsin, I'd been in the legal department of an insurance company. But, now that everyone knew I'd survived the shooting, doing any job that was remotely associated with the law was too risky. Velez's guys might look for me, someone I knew might see me, and this time they wouldn't assume they were mistaking me for someone else."

"What did you do?"

"I worked in human resources for a large firm in Baltimore. It was funny, really, because HR does get calls about the law. Though in this case, it was pretty much all foreign to me; I'd only covered the basics in employment law in my second year, and even that knowledge was mostly outdated. So, in this case, the lawyer's ability to sound like an expert while knowing absolutely nothing came in very handy."

"So, you bullshitted people for a living?" Olivia said, smiling at last, and coaxing a grin from Alex as well. "Not that different, then."

"Right. And I made some friends. And I met Danielle."

"When you were in Wisconsin, you dated..."

"Yeah, the guy I told you about. It was...let's just say, after that I realized that there were some things about who I am that even the US Marshals Service couldn't change."

"That bad?" Olivia asked.

"Nice guy, but...a guy," Alex said. "I decided in Baltimore that if dating women was going to be what got me found, and killed, then I was just destined to go."

"Was it serious, with Danielle?" Olivia knew, intellectually, that the answer didn't matter. So why was she hoping it was no?

"For her, I think," Alex explained.

"But not for you?" Now Olivia was curious.

"How could it be? I was counting days until I could come home, even though I had no idea when that would be. I was like a castaway, carving tally marks into the tree trunks just so I'd have some record of how long I'd managed to survive. I didn't know whenor really, if I'd ever be Alex Cabot again. But if that happened, I'd have this record to point to: Look, 907 days. I was lost, and now I'm found."

"Amazing grace." Olivia could hear the song in her head, felt the emotion rising up in her at the thought of her Alex (and she did think of Alex as hers, if she were being honest), out there alone with no one to whom she could ever say Remember when?

"I needed everything I could get. A state of grace was hard to come by."

"And now you want to go back there, see those people again?" Olivia's concern about this plan was still obvious. "Are you sure that's wise, Alex?"

"No, I'm not sure, to be honest," Alex admitted. "Not at all. And I'm not quite ready yet. But I know I will be, soon, and I'm going to do this. It would mean a lot to me to have you behind me on this."

Olivia wasn't sure what that meant, exactly. Did she want company on the trip, or just Olivia's support while she did this difficult, awful thing? It didn't matter, really. Olivia would do whatever Alex wanted, whatever she needed, and she told her. "You'll have it. Just say the word."



Thursday, February 23

"I never asked, but..."

"Oh, I don't like the sound of this one," Alex laughed. She put down her lo mein container and picked up her Tsing Tao, draining a third of it in one gulp. "Out with it."

"Did you and Kate break up?"

"No." It was all Alex could do to suppress a laugh.

"Oh, just wondered. You've not mentioned her much since that night at the bar." Alex broke into a smile so wide Olivia wondered if she had something on her face. "What?"

"Kate and I were never dating. We've known one another since high school."

"But you were together, she took you home, I just..."

"Well, she'll hate that, but I'll get a laugh out of telling her," Alex said. "She had taken me out that night intending to get me laid, as she so delicately put it. And had told me earlier that night at dinner that the reason she and I had never datedbesides the fact that we'd kill each otheris that she doesn't think I'm all that hot. I'll get no small amount of pleasure from telling her that her very presence that night would have thwarted any potential suitors."

Olivia laughed with her. "Sorry, I should know better than to assume. But when I came to your office that Monday to talk, you never corrected me. Why?"

"What was the point?" Olivia couldn't answer that. What would have been the point in her knowing whether or not Alex was sleeping with Kate?

Now Alex went on the offensive. "So, how did you meet Julie?"

"On the job, actually, how do I ever meet anyone, right?" Alex and Olivia both nodded; they both worked so much that the only man-bites-dog story would be if they met anyone, friend or lover, away from the job.

"Amaro and I were interviewing a vic up at Columbus Presbyterian. I ran into her in the cafeteria while we were waiting."

"She's nice," Alex said, but her tone was a bit noncommittal. Olivia responded with a smirk and a raised eyebrow, causing Alex to blush and laugh. "Sorry, more than nice. You guys seem well suited. Is it serious?"

That was a loaded question, one that Olivia didn't have an answer to. "I don't know, really. Obviously this is a pretty long relationship for me, so in that sense I guess it is, but our jobs are hectic, our lives are still kind of separate. I know some of her friends, she knows some of mine, but what little time we have is just downtime, so that night out when we saw you was one of the few. Usually, we just relax, hang out."

"She doesn't seem like..."

"My type?"

"Yeah, I guess, though I shouldn't be so presumptive as to assume I know what your type even is."

"No, you're right. I guess I just wanted something that wasn't as freighted with memories, with regrets. Something not so complicated, someone who..."

"Who wasn't me?" Alex finished, and instantly regretted it. She stood up abruptly, grabbing the two Chinese containers by their flaps in her left hand, and two beer bottles in her right and headed to Olivia's kitchen. The errand was cleanup, but the purpose was distance. This conversation had just gotten very dangerous.

"Want another beer?" Head stuck in the fridge, she called out to Olivia in the other room. The detective did indeed want one more, so Alex returned with a bottle for each of them, but instead of resuming her spot near Liv on the floor, she sat in the chair at the end of the coffee table and draped her long long arms along the leather, balancing the beer bottle on the edge.

Olivia noticed the sudden change in body language, and knew Alex had asked about Julie before realizing she didn't really want to hear the answers. And she didn't know why, but she really wanted Alex to know how much of herself she'd held back out of Julie's grasp.

"We won't live together," Olivia pronounced. "Julie says she doesn't think she could bear it if we moved in together and something happened to me."

"Wouldn't it be devastating either way, whether you share a lease or not?" Alex asked, but she understood, too, the art of keeping some emotional walls in place. You could put a door in, maybe, but you had to keep the wall there, had to let yourself believe the lie that keeping some distance would save you some heartache down the road.

"I think so," Olivia said. "I think, if you're all in, then you're all in. Nothing's going to save you from any pain just because you keep your crap in two houses."

"But you don't want to press the point," Alex surmised.

"No, it's not that," Olivia said, and was quiet for a moment, weighing her next words carefully. "I guess I'm just not all in."



Thursday, March 1

"What's the plan tonight, Counselor?"

"I have a surprise for you." They met in Alex's office after another long day in an already long week. But Alex's lips were turned up in a huge grin, and Olivia was temporarily thrown by the sight of that tiny, nearly imperceptible space where Alex's full lips didn't quite meet. She'd studied that face for years, knew that even this one little imperfection was, in fact, perfect. "Well?"

"Well, what?" Olivia asked.

"Don't you want to know what the surprise is?"

"Don't make me guess, Alex. What is it?"

"Tickets to the Cindy Sherman exhibit at MoMA."

"I tried to get those, they were sold out."

"Well, my aunt..."

"Say no more. I'll gladly use your connections without thinking twice."

"Thought you might," Alex laughed.

The next week, their standing date was cancelled, while Alex drove up to Connecticut. Her Uncle Bill had asked her to speak to one of his classes on Friday, and she was more than happy for the excuse for a visit. She had a lot on her mind, and no-one could help her sort things out quite like he could. She was basking a little in a victory, too, as Morgan had been convicted on all charges, and would be spending seven lifetimes enjoying the wonders of Attica.

When she arrived about 7:30, he met her at the door.

"Where's Aunt Jean?"

"She's with her sister in Boston. Carolyn's having some tests tomorrow, wanted the company. She's sorry to miss you, Ace. This hug's from her," he said, and embraced his niece. "And this one's from me." He hugged her again, a bear hug this time.

Alex laughed, happy as always to be here with her uncle, who looked so much like her mom and acted so much like her dad. "Well, I'm sorry to miss her too."

"Drop that bag right here. You and I are going out to Le Petit for a steak au poivre and a bourbon or two."

"Hold on," Alex protested. "Something tells me this is not on your low-cholesterol diet. Am I going to be in trouble with Aunt Jean?"

"Who says she'll find out, Ace? When the cat is away, the mice will play. Now, let's go. Class isn't until ten o'clock tomorrow, and I hardly ever get to go there. We can afford a night out on the town."

The restaurant was just a couple of miles away, and within a half-hour Alex was relaxing with a Basil Hayden on the rocks, and an appetizer courtesy of Chef Roy.

After the waiter left them to enjoy the pork pâté, Bill raised his glass to his niece. "Great job on the Morgan case, Alex. You make me very proud."

"Thanks, very much," Alex said. "I'm pretty happy."

"That's practically gloating, coming from you," he laughed.

"He was a disgusting piece of filth, the kind that makes me sorry we no longer have a Death Row to which we can send monsters like him."

Bill only nodded, knowing that between them they'd seen far more of the underside of life than either of them cared to admit. He lifted the plate, offering her the last bite of pâté, eating it himself only after she refused.

"Hmm, Uncle Bill," Alex began, eyeing the empty plate, "The chef knows you awfully well for someone who hardly ever eats here."

"Don't try to cross-examine me, Counselor," he laughed. "I'll plead the Fifth." They enjoyed the drinks, and the food. The steak was as good as promised, and Alex was relishing the one-on-one time with her uncle. Until he reminded her that he was still plugged in to the gossip around Hogan Place.

"I hear you've been offered Major Case."

Alex nearly choked on her flourless chocolate cake. "Do you, now?" She finally managed to speak. "Word travels fast."

"Well, I was waiting for you to bring it up, but I'm not going to live forever, Alex," he joked. "So, given that I got it from Arthur Branch, who knows how much of what I heard was true? Tell me what's going on."

"Not much else to tell, really," she said. "I was offered Major Case. Yesterday, the DA called me in, told me it was mine for the taking, how long could my ambitions be satisfied in the cesspool of Special Victims, the Mayor was asking after me, seize the day, Alexandra, blah blah blah."

"Blah blah blah?"

"Basically," Alex said.

"And, here we are, a full day later, but you've apparently said neither yay or nay. You're characterizing the interest of the DA and the Mayor as blah blah blah. Can I assume you're planning to turn it down?"

"I don't really know, Uncle Bill," Alex admitted. Though her indecision puzzled him, prompted a hundred questions, he waited for her to continue. "I just don't know if that's the right direction for me anymore."

"Your ambitions have changed? I thought it was your goal to be the DA, perhaps even Governor someday."

"It was, maybe still is," she said. "But I'm not sure. Taking Major Case would be a move in that direction, to be sure. Believe me, I'm as shocked as you are that I'm even having to consider this."

"Anything else weighing on your mind about it?" He knew her too well, knew when she wasn't saying something. And there was a lot she wasn't saying now.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, last time you were up here, your aunt was asking about Detective Benson. I play dumb, Alex, but I'm not completely oblivious. Are you seeing her?"

She didn't know how to answer that. She'd told Olivia she wasn't in any closet, and that was true. Her aunt and uncle knew, had known for years, that Alex was gay. But this was girl-talk, the kind of thing she'd share with her aunt. Uncle Bill had never asked her about her love life, always seemed to figure when it was serious enough to bring someone home, he'd find out on a need-to-know basis.

"It's not a trick question, Ace. Are you seeing her?"

"No," she began. "Not really. I mean..."

He was surprised to see his confident, composed niece at a loss for words. Something told him the story behind the not really was a convoluted one. "Alex, I'm not trying to invade your privacy. I just want to know what's going on in your life."

She took another sip of what remained of her drink, considered the question, and her response. "I'm not seeing her. But I'd like to be. And that complicates everything."

"I bet it does," he said.

"We've been spending time together, trying to rebuild a friendship that we'd both allowed to fall by the wayside," she explained. "She's seeing someone else. But lately, it's begun to feel like more than just friendship. And I don't know how I'm going to deal with that. I mean, I have feelings for her, and I'm not sure if they're reciprocated, but either way..."

"Either way, you're in deep," he summed up.

"Yes, I'm afraid so," she agreed. "I've tried to will it away, to just take her out of the equation, but it's not done any good at all."

"Lately I haven't had time to read the papers, as I have been building a mouse-proof closet against a rain of mice," her uncle quoted. "E.B. White knew a little something about trying to avoid the very thing that's pouring over you, Alex."

"Yeah, and my closet is leaking mice," she said, ruefully. "Telling her will obviously have some repercussions, regardless of her response. Leaving SVU for Major Case would change things, too, though I have no idea how."

"And you have to make two decisions, with no idea which one to make first."

Alex just nodded. Unlike many judges, her uncle was known for handing down clear and concise opinions, with few wasted words. It was a skill he hadn't lost.



Thursday, March 15

"I think of you sometimes, that 26-year-old ADA who came roaring into our squadroom on Cragen's heels, pontificating on justice and power, and I can't believe how long it's been."

Olivia wasn't, Alex knew, referring only to work. The two of them had accumulated quite a history without even realizing it.

"I was an insufferable shit, wasn't I?"

"Well, I wouldn't say that exactly..." They both laughed. "Actually, yes I would." Olivia conceded. "But you are different now. I suppose we all are."

"Time does that."

"Time, and a million other things. And here we still are. Sometimes I can't believe that I can sit here with you, talk like this. That you're not gone forever."

"I never thanked you," Alex said. "Not properly."

"For what?"

"For saving my life, Detective. As much as I can complain about WITSEC, and everything since, if it weren't for you I wouldn't even be able to complain. I wouldn't be here now, with you, on this couch on a beautiful evening

in New York." Alex paused, momentarily overwhelmed. "And there's nowhere I'd rather be."

"Alex, I can't take credit for anything. You survived because you're tough and you're brave and there was nothing else you could do."

"Brave? You've got to be joking. All I ever did was take the easy way out. Every single time I was faced with a choice, I took the path of least resistance."

"How can you say that? You gave up everything, Alex everything to get justice for Lydia Sandoval. Your life was changed forever because of that one case."

"That wasn't bravery, Liv. It was hubris. I was hellbent on winning, on proving I was smarter and cleverer than those bastards, and that I could out-think any danger. I was like Icarus, flying too high, and you all warned me. Donovan died because of me, but I persisted. And I didn't do my job, not for Lydia Sandoval, not for Donovan's kids, not for anyone."

"You wanted justice. That's what drove you to get Velez, that's what drove you to follow Nardalee to Africa, that's what's caused you to risk your own career more times than I care to recall."

"Olivia, you've known me too long to still be harboring such kind delusions about me. Didn't Flaubert say 'admiration and familiarity are strangers'?"

"George Sand. Don't play Quote the Author with an English professor's daughter, Alex." They laughed, a brief distraction from a discussion that was quickly becoming distressing to both of them, Olivia because she couldn't believe that this was really how Alex felt, and Alex because she hated to admit her failings to anyone, but most especially to Olivia.

"Well, whoever, the point is, I don't deserve to be thought of as any kind of hero. I nearly died because I wanted Velez to pay. And that's not justice. That's when you start to cross the line into revenge, and it's not the same thing. Revenge clouded my judgment, cost a man his life, cost me my own life, in a way, or at least all of the parts that mattered. It cost me you, or at least the hope of you, that I could have the only thing I needed. But I didn't back off, and I pay to this day. If I were brave, I would never have told you that I was alive. I'd have let you mourn, and not done the one thing that could make it worse: hold out hope, give either of us any reason to wait. If I'd had any courage at all, I would've stayed."

"That wasn't even an option, Alex. "

"Oh, but it was. I didn't have to go into Witness Protection, either time, really. I didn't have to come back for the trial, did I? But as soon as I saw Don on my doorstep, as soon as he called me Alex, as soon as he mentioned you, I knew I was coming back because I had to see you. I had to be me, Alex Cabot, even if it was only going to be temporary. And both times, instead of letting them hand me a new passport and spirit me away behind those goddamn tinted windows, I could have stayed. Believe me, if I'd had a fucking clue that the life I was saving was not really any kind of life at all, I would've. I mean, I was alive, but I wasn't Alex, wasn't an attorney, wasn't Eleanor's daughter or Bill's niece or your friend, wasn't even a person I could recognize in the mirror. Then I thought coming back would be like riding a bike, you know, you never forget. I'd been Alex Cabot for 30 years, and just been playacting for a few, so I'd just jump back on and ride. Only I couldn't seem to get my balance, and every time I leaned into a turn there was gravel everywhere. If I took one hand off the handlebars, the whole thing was out from under me. I didn't even know how to be that person anymore. So what the fuck was the point in any of it?"

There was silence that dragged out for a few minutes, both women clearly upset by what Alex had said. Olivia got up, slowly walked to the living room window, staring but not seeing the wonderful view Alex's apartment offered. "I don't understand this, Alex. Why are you being so hard on yourself?" She turned, and waited a full minute, then two, for an answer. Alex finally raised her head and looked directly at Olivia with those luminous blue eyes.

"It's time for me to face the truth, Liv. I've skirted it and avoided it and ignored it, but it's there. Maybe the truth really will set me free," she said. "Maybe I can finally move on if I admit that the only brave thing I did was to stay away from you when I got back. I was toxic. So I made a new life here, like WITSEC, but with my old name. If I stayed away, I knew I couldn't damage you. And I sure as hell couldn't hurt myself, because I didn't care. So many people, I'm told, stay gone, even when the threat is eliminated. But I thought I was so fucking smart because I thought I had something to come back to."

"You did." She let those two words linger before saying the part that had caused her such anguish. "But when you came home, you damn sure didn't act like you cared."

"That's just it. I didn't feel like I deserved anything: kindness, closeness, friendship, love. You. I wasn't me, and I couldn't inflict myself on you, couldn't show up on your doorstep like some long-lost puppy, forlorn and hanging onto a memory of a night that was everything to me, and nothing to you."

"What do you mean, nothing to me?"

"Olivia, you don't have to lie to me. I knew I was putting you in such a bad spot. I was such a wreck, so happy to be back, but just basically a nervous breakdown waiting to happen. And I was there with you, alone, in that hotel room. I just felt like I was home, for the first time in a year and a half. And I had just missed you so fucking much. There weren't enough words for everything I wanted to say to you to tell you that I'd thought of you every day, that of all the things I'd missed, you were the one that I thought I couldn't go on without. That I was so grateful to you for saving me, and that at the same time, I wished I'd just died there in your arms on that sidewalk. But I couldn't get any of that out. So when you put your arms around me, I let myself pretend it was everything I'd wanted, rather than what I'm sure it was: comfort, given to me like a gift. In my mind, in the darkness of every night since, I had made it into so much more, and I just wasn't ready to hear that you didn't feel that way."

She stopped, wanting to quit talking now, to not lay any more of herself bare. But she couldn't. She'd come this far and she had to finish.

"Olivia, I never got to tell you how I really felt, but the thought that I would be putting you in any danger was more than I could handle. I believed that being away from you was the only protection I could offer, really. I didn't know if you felt everything that I felt, but all that time, in my mind, we were togetherbuilding a life, making memories, growing old together. That's all I wanted. But if I couldn't grow old with you, I could do my damnedest to make sure you wouldn't die because of me. "

"But I did, Alex. In some ways, I did. I died of loneliness, of fear, of the endless fucking uncertainty."

Knowing how much she had hurt Olivia was a crushing blow to Alex. "I can only say I'm sorry. And I am, Liv. I am so, so sorry."

Now, the silence was interminable. Alex was conscious of her own breathing, as she struggled to maintain some semblance of control over her reactions, both emotional and physiological. That confession had taken a lot out of her, but she was determined to keep it together. Olivia, for her part, was stunned. Here was the woman she'd loved for years, telling her that the one night they'd shared had meant as much to her as it had to the detective.

Alex's behavior upon her return home had led Olivia to believe that she regarded that night as a throw-away, a mistake she was obviously determined not to repeat. To be told now that they both wanted the same thing, that they'd wasted so many years under the guise of protecting one another, was almost more than she could take. She finally spoke.

"Alex, this is a lot to digest."

"I know, and I'm sorry, Liv. I should have just kept it to myself."

"I'm not saying that."

"What are you saying, then?"

"I'm just trying to figure out how this all got so fucked up." That caused Alex to look up, to laugh, a nervous reaction to a situation she'd imagined but never thought she'd experience. Something broke in Olivia, and she walked over to the couch where Alex sat, grabbed her hands and pulled her up, and kissed her.

It was the softest, tenderest thing Alex could have imagined, and before she knew what she was doing, Alex kissed her back. It lasted only a few seconds, before Olivia's phone rang. Liv looked over at the table, and saw Julie's name on the screen.

Alex followed her eyes, and her whole face closed off immediately. "She has impeccable timing, doesn't she?" The look on Olivia's face was a mixture of guilt and grief and too many other things to name. She reached out for Alex, tried to pull her closer. Both of them were crying when Alex stepped back, picked up Olivia's jacket off the arm of the chair and handed it to her. "I think you have to go."



Monday, March 19

Olivia didn't like being summoned to Alex's office. Nothing was pending on any of their cases, no testimony looming, so it couldn't be about work. She was sure Alex was avoiding her calls, but she had decided to wait her out, knowing they'd clear everything up in three days on their standing Thursday night dinner.

She greeted Alex's assistant, who told her to go on in. As the door opened, Alex looked up. Her face was inscrutable.

"Hey, Alex, how you doing?"

"I'm okay, Olivia. You?"

"Good, you know. I was surprised to get your message. Something come up?"

"No. Well, yes." Alex wavered a bit. "Have a seat."

"Sure." She relaxed into her usual chair in front of Alex's desk, and was surprised when Alex stood up, walked around the desk and went to the couch.

"Over here, maybe?" Alex patted the couch.

"Okay, Alex," Olivia said, and joined her friend. She waited, searching the blue eyes in front of her for any clue as to what was going on. "Alex, you're worrying me a little bit, I won't lie. Is everything alright?"

"Not really. No." Alex looked down, running her right thumb up and down the seam of her grey trousers. She stopped abruptly and looked into Olivia's questioning eyes. "Olivia, I need to cancel dinner."

"Oh, that's no problem. Wanna schedule for another night or just skip it this week?"

"I think we need to just cancel it. Permanently."

Olivia tried to hide her surprise. "Are you going to tell me why, or just issue an edict?"

Alex ignored the jab. "I just think it's best, is all, Detective."

"Detective?" Olivia went from wary to furious in an instant. "You tell me what I've wanted to hear for 12 years, you kiss me, you push me out your door and avoid my calls for days. Now, I'm summoned to your office so that you can permanently dismiss me? You've got some fucking nerve, Alex."

"And you've got a fucking girlfriend, Olivia."

The brunette was taken aback by Alex's anger, and took a moment, trying to slow this all down. She felt desperate, and she knew Alex had rehearsed this, was ready for any rebuttal. Olivia couldn't keep up if she didn't put the brakes on now.

"It's about Julie, then."

"Of course it's about Julie."

"It's not as though she just appeared from nowhere. What's that got to do with this?"

"You are kidding, right? We've been spending time together, Liv..."

"And Julie knows this. What's your point?"

Alex sighed. "Things between us are...it's just too much, Olivia. I don't think Julie does know. And if she did, I don't think she'd be happy about it. I don't know if I'm happy about it. I like Julie, and I can't just go on like she doesn't exist, like she has no claim over you. I can't let this go on. Maybe I kid myself, maybe you don't feel this as deeply as I do. And if that's the case, I apologize for making a fool of myself again, but if you don't feel the same way, then it's all the more important for me to step back while I'm still in one piece."

"Don't do this."

"I have to. I do. Believe me, I wouldn't put myself through this if I thought I could go on with the status quo. We'll still see each other, grab lunch. But the way things are, I just can't. When we're together...I won't ruin this for you. I'll never say a word about the other night, about any of this. I'll walk away from it and she never has to know, Olivia. I don't want to hurt her. She's good for you."

"Alex. Listen to me. Please don't do this. You're not kidding yourself, I feel this too. I told you that. I wouldn't have kissed you if I didn't. We slept together one night, eight years ago, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. We've gone months without seeing one another, years without any real conversation, but you still know me better than anyone I've ever met. And that fucking terrifies me. You have no idea how scared I am."

"Yeah. I do. I'm scared, too. You are in my bones, Liv, down in the marrow. But how can you ask me to do this? You get to go on, fucking her and confiding in me. The best of both worlds, right? I know that intimacy scares you, but you get to separate it into two parts, keeping it light and fun there and bringing the heavy weather my way."

"I didn't realize I was such a burden to you, Alex. I'm sorry." The detective shifted her weight to stand and leave.

Alex reached out, her hand on Olivia's thigh, and gave just enough of a push to sit her back down. She sighed. "That's not what I meant, and you know it. I want to take everything you can give me. But you can't give me everything, and I deserve...I'm not mad, Olivia. How can I be mad at you for being in my head when I invited you in and gave you a key?" She stopped, gathering her thoughts.

"Alex, listen, I can..."

Alex's finger on Olivia's lips brought quiet. She dropped the hand to Olivia's, and squeezed. "I'm not asking for more. I'm lonely, Liv. And I know being alone isn't the same thing as being lonely. But I am lonely. And I can't keep doing this to myself. I'm not cut out to be the other woman."

"Just give me time, Alex. Don't turn your back on this, on me. Let me figure this out." Alex just shook her head. No.

Her refusal bothered Olivia. The fact that it was silent was devastating. Words were how Alex lived, loved, and fought. As long as they were talking, she still had a chance. So she said the one thing she thought would bring the attorney back into the ring. "You told me once you were done running."

"I'm not taking that bait, not today. I'm not running. I'm standing my ground. And I'm sorry."

"Does it matter that every time I've kissed her, it felt like I was somehow cheating on you?"

Alex's breath caught, her resolve threatening to waver. She breathed once, twice, before answering. "Yes, it matters. But it doesn't really change anything, does it?"

Olivia stared at her, not believing that the thing she'd wanted forever might be sliding through her fingers again. "So, that's it? You decided this, and that's just it? That's not how it works. You don't get to decide things for me."

Alex smiled a sad, knowing smile. "Even if I know you better than anyone else?"

Olivia's brown eyes flashed, burning a hole through her. "You know what, Alex?" She stood and walked to the door, turning with her hand on the knob. Her voice was a whisper.

"Fuck you."



Thursday, March 22

Olivia arrived at Alex's building, and the doorman recognized her, letting her up without a call. A good sign, Olivia thought; Alex hadn't told the staff she was persona non grata. Not yet, anyway.

She transferred the bag of food from her right hand to her left in order to summon the elevator, and she rode up to 5. She knocked on Alex's door, shifting her weight as she waited, nerves making her wonder for the first time if this was a mistake.

The door swung open, so Olivia was sure she'd been observed through the peephole first. Alex took few chances. She was wearing yoga pants and a huge Exeter rugby shirt, crimson and white stripes reaching halfway down to her knees, black glasses on her delicate nose. The blonde's face was hard to read, mouth set to give nothing away.

"What are you doing here?"

"Hi, Alex."

"Hi. What are you doing here?"

"It's Thursday." Olivia held up the bag from Caffe Reggio. "Dinner, remember?"

"I remember calling it off."

"I called it on. You've got to eat, right?"

Alex said nothing.

"Can I come in?"

"I'd prefer that you not. But do you care?"

"Not really, no." Alex simply stepped aside, still holding the doorknob and finally allowing her face to reflect the mix of anger and resignation she felt. Olivia brushed past her and into the kitchen, where she started to unpack the takeout. Containers piled up on the island. Olivia worked quickly, not giving Alex a chance to kick her out. Alex was still in the entryway, shaking her head in confusion. She finally turned to the kitchen, pushing the door behind her, just as Olivia asked if she wanted the Campagnola or the Pugliese.

"What if I said neither?"

"I'd think you were a liar."

Alex didn't respond. Maybe, the less she said, the sooner this would end. She walked around the counter, grabbed two glasses and filled them with ice water. Wine seemed a bad idea tonightshe'd need to be clear-eyed and level-headed for whatever game Olivia was playing.

She was already in trouble, because though she'd never admit it to the detective, she'd been glad to see her when she opened the door. Only a few months in to this ritual, and she had already been reluctant to end it. How had she allowed this to become a routine? A woman like Alex thrived on routineslived for them and found them undeniably helpfuland dependence on anything to do with Olivia Benson couldn't end well.

As she turned and set the glasses on the counter, she saw that the detective was standing there, watching her expectantly, a container in each hand.

"Well, come on, which will it be? I know you love both pastas, but I also got the Crepe Boscaiola. You always say you're going to try to it, so I took a chance."

Alex looked first at the counter, then at the two containers held aloft, and finally at the woman holding them. She picked up the glasses and started toward the living room.

"Surprise me," she said at last. "God knows you're good at that."

Dinner was nearly silent, Olivia broaching one subject, then another, Alex's monosyllabic replies quickly putting an end to every potential topic of conversation. Finally, Olivia decided to jump into shark-infested waters. "I know you're angry that I'm here, Alex."

"Well, good to know they're not handing out those gold shields to just anyone, Detective. You come in here with your Trojan horse of pasta and I'm supposed to just open the gates, I guess."

"See, that's good, let it out, Alex." Olivia smiled, hoping to lighten the mood, maybe get a laugh from the blonde. Not expecting, but hoping. Alex was not about to reward Olivia for this stunt, though. She glared, and her hair being up in a ponytail afforded Olivia a clear view of her quickly reddening ears, a bad sign Olivia knew from way back when. She decided to just play this one as it lay.

"Can we talk, Alex?"

"About what, Olivia?"

"About what you told me in your office on Monday. About giving me a chance to respond to that ambush, and to convince you that you're wrong."

"Ambush? You think that was an ambush? What do you call this, then, a fucking summit?" She stopped, took her glasses off, and stared at them twirling in her fingers. When she did finally look up, her blue eyes were so wounded that Olivia felt a rush of protectiveness toward her. "Fine, let's talk. What will it be? Oh, I know. Why don't we talk about the fact that the last thing you said as you left my office was Fuck you."

"I'm sorry, Alex. That was out of line. I was hurt and I just lashed out."

"You were hurt? You've got to be fucking kidding me." Then Alex's voice grew so quiet, Olivia wasn't even sure she'd been meant to hear what came next. "Why are you doing this to me, Liv?"

"What, Alex? What am I doing to you?" This was the opening she needed, Olivia thought, a chance to make Alex admit why this was hurting them both so much.

"Torturing me." She paused. "Respect my wishes. Leave."

"You don't want that."

"I do."

"Then look me in the eye and tell me that, and I'll go."

Alex looked up and her eyes were filled with sadness. "I can't."

In the silence of the room, Olivia became aware of the music Alex had been playing, and had a thought. "You don't want to talk, and I don't want to leave. Let's dance, then."

"What? You've got to be kidding."

"Why? We're here, there's no one around to cut in, and I love this song." She nodded her head in the direction of the speakers, and the Sade song now filling the room. "And I'd like to be close to you, just for a few minutes."

"This is a bad idea."

"I don't agree, Counselor. I think it's the best idea I've had all day. If you're asking me to give up our friendship, at least give me five minutes, something to remember. What's the harm?"

"I'm not asking you to give up our friendship. But we can't..."

"Please, Alex. Don't argue this to death. Just dance with me."

Alex couldn't say no, but in truth, she didn't try very hard. Five minutes. Surely she could hold it together for that long. In a second, after her almost imperceptible nod, Liv had moved in to hold her. Everything in her popped and sizzled as she felt those arms encircle her waist.

Alex tried to steady her breathing, calm her heartbeat. But it felt like it would beat out of her chest, like one of those cartoon characters. Every breath felt ragged, like she was fighting for air. As they rocked slowly, Alex automatically shifted slightly to a more comfortable position, settling in to Olivia's embrace, wondering all the while how this could feel so familiar, so natural, when she had kept herself from it for so long.

Olivia's arms easily accommodated her, both hands virtually still on Alex's lower back, the only movement a single thumb caressing the ADA's spine, a small circle drawn over and over again, and Alex fought desperately to focus on this one tiny thing just to keep herself from being overwhelmed by the situation.

Possibilities loomed, and the blonde went to war with herself to banish them from her train of thought. Dimly, she heard Olivia's voice.

"I'm sorry, what did you say?" Alex's voice was huskier than she'd wanted, almost choked, and she was going to end up laying all her cards on the goddamn table here if she wasn't careful.

"I said, thank you for this. It's a good excuse to hold you." No reply from the woman in her arms. Olivia leaned back just a bit, looking into her face. "You're shaking like a leaf, Alex. Are you okay?"

"You never need an excuse."

And it was done. The battle was over as far as Alex was concerned, but she had no idea if she'd won or lost. Everything in her threatened to come pouring out. Olivia removed her right hand from Alex's back, taking that same thumb that had been her sole point of concentration and brushing it across the angular cheekbone. The blue eyes fluttered closed and all movement stopped, but the music continued. The eyes stayed closed, and Olivia noticed the eyelashes were wet, trapping tears that were beginning to spill. She wiped the moisture away now with her knuckles, and drew her fingers out to Alex's temples, then slowly down the hollows of her beautiful face, toward her chin, and lifting it ever so slightly.

"Alex? Sweetie?" Just a whisper, but with those words, suddenly the eyes flew open, and locked onto Olivia's own with a gaze so intense that the detective felt her lungs constrict. Hearing Olivia say her name, use the endearment she'd used that long-ago night as the life seeped out of her, cut through any resistance she had left.

"I'm tired, Olivia."

"I know." Her voice was soft and reassuring. "I know, honey. I do."

"I don't know if you do. I'm tired of being right, of doing the right thing, the best thing, the correct thing. I'm tired of planning 10 moves ahead, always worrying about the next thing. I'm tired of considering every possible outcome, and who'll be hurt, and how it will all end. And I'm so fucking tired of denying myself the only thing I really want."

And with that long-overdue declaration that Alex was done martyring herself to everyone else's cause, she put her right hand on the back of Olivia's neck, pulled the detective toward her, and canted her head just a bit to the left to put her lips directly on Olivia's. The kiss was soft, almost timid, and its gentleness surprised Olivia given the emotions she knew had to be roiling beneath the surface. She felt her knees buckle ever so slightly, and she tightened her hold on the body in her arms, then made a noise so slight anyone further than a foot away wouldn't have heard it. That sound, though, was all Alex needed. It seemed to unleash something in her, and she consumed Olivia in a kiss that was heavy with years of hunger and want and longing. And all of her walls crumbled, not breached by one massive blast, but worn down by attrition.

For 20 minutes, nothing existed outside of lips and hands. Alex knew she had to focus on the sensations, or she'd consider the consequences, and then this would be over as quickly as it had started. She wouldn't allow herself to hold back.

"Olivia, I'm coming out of my skin." The whisper, ecstatic and desperate at the same time, told Olivia all she needed to know, and she held Alex so close to her that it took her breath away, before gently breaking the embrace and taking one step back to look into those hypnotic blue eyes, shot through now with desire and hope and more than a little fear.

"I love you, Alex. There's nothing else for me but you."

Olivia had spent her life loving beyond measure, past all reason: her mother, Elliot, the job. But to Alex, who had spent her life measuring loveequating pain she'd have to endure with the love she'd get in return, and wondering always if the carrot was really worth the stickthis was something entirely new. No system of weights & measures were yet invented to accommodate this feeling.

Alex took Olivia's face in her hands, staring into eyes the color of burnt umber, taking in every detail of this face she'd admired for years. She seemed intent on memorizing every plane, every curve, every fine line and shadow. She confessed everything. "I love you. I have always loved you. I can't spend one more minute denying that."

Their lips met in a kiss that seemed to take Alex's breath while somehow breathing life into her at the same time. She stepped back after a few minutes, standing about a foot from Olivia, waiting for the detective to open her eyes. When she did, Alex held her gaze while she pulled the rugby shirt over her own head, and dropped it to the ground. She took her long hair out of the ponytail, and shook it loose so it fell toward her face, and over her shoulders. She continued to undress herself, removing her bra, then her yoga pants and her underwear, dropping it all into a neat pile at her feet, not speaking a word, staring all the while at Liv's face.

At last, she stood naked in front of Olivia, in control, wanting this time to come to Olivia bare and stripped of need, and loss, and fear. She was offering herself to this woman she loved, bringing only want and desire, buttressed by all the moments that had gone before, but unburdened by the years of doubt and difficulty. She stepped forward, now only an inch from Olivia, never breaking eye contact.

She took Olivia's hand, and brought it up to her mouth, kissing every fingertip one at a time, then laid the hand on her own chest, over her heart. It was beating fast. Her breathing was shallow now, as was the detective's.

"Alex." Olivia finally spoke again, the word coming out on a rush of breath.

"I'm done fighting myself, Liv. Just tell me you want this."

There was no hesitation. "I want this, Alex, more than I can say," she said. "Let me love you."

No more words were needed. Alex took Olivia's hand, and led her to the bedroom, where years of agony and indecision were gone, and suddenly the whole world came down to two hearts pounding inside of two women who'd never allowed themselves to need anyone, but who quite clearly needed each other. How had they managed for so long? How had they wasted so very much time?

In Alex's bedroom, they retraced steps they'd trod years ago, everything now sharper, more vivid for the words they'd spoken, the feelings they'd admitted. Once they reached the bed, Olivia had Alex's help in removing her own clothes. They lay down on the bed, facing each other, content for the moment to teeter on the precipice of the one thing that would change everything. They just looked at each other for many minutes, Olivia's hand tracing the curves of Alex's side, ribs, hips, thighs, up and then back down. Alex closed her eyes, focusing on the detective's soft hand, the smell of her warm skin. When the movement stopped, her eyes opened, and she was surprised to see tears in the brown eyes.

"Baby, crying time is over," Alex said. "We've got much better things to do." And she kissed her, pulling the detective's body to her own, then rolled the body beneath her, and lowered her mouth to one taut nipple, sucking gently, then swirling her tongue around the puckered skin. Olivia moaned, and put her hand on the back of Alex's head, tightening the contact between that beautiful mouth and her own breast. Teeth brushed her nipple, and she felt a pull lower, and deeper.

Alex worked her way down Olivia's body, slowly and deliberately, seemingly covering every inch of skin with her mouth and her hands as she went. When she reached Olivia's thighs, and the delicious little valley where leg met pelvis, she drew her tongue slowly from Olivia's hip bone down into the warmth she'd been working toward.

"Alex, I can't wait any longer." Olivia's voice was just above a whisper, but the low volume couldn't hide the fact that she was frantic with desire. "Please..."

"I want this to last, Liv. Just hold on to me, and I'll take you where you want to go."

The words alone were so sexy, the promise behind them even hotter, and Olivia felt herself grow warmer, and wetter, than she'd imagined possible. She curled one hand in Alex's blonde hair, raised the other to grip the wooden slats on the Mission headboard, and decided she'd go along for any ride this woman wanted to take her on.

Alex began to work her tongue through Olivia's warmth, sliding up and down the folds, reveling in the taste of this woman she'd wanted forever. With each stroke of her tongue, up and down, around Olivia's clit, she hummed with delight, the vibrations in turn causing Olivia to moan and squirm, one second trying to lift her hips, increasing contact with Alex's mouth, and the next pulling back, unsure how much more she could take.

Her strong hands had been on Olivia's thighs, holding her down, spreading her legs apart to better reach her goal. Now, she moved them, grabbing Olivia's ass, lifting her slightly, and buried her tongue deep inside the brunette, then slowly stroking it in and out, each incursion bookended by a long, slow pass of Alex's flattened tongue up and down the length of Olivia's pussy, and a circling of that same tongue, flexed to a point, around the edge of the entrance. She repeated this sequence a few times, feeling Olivia's muscles tighten under her hands as the detective wavered between wanting to prolong this exquisite agony, and needing to fall over the edge of this heaven Alex was creating.

Finally, when she felt Olivia couldn't take much more, she moved her tongue up to the hardened clit, and made tortuous circles there, while she slid two fingers inside the warm heat that was open to her. Olivia moaned, spreading her legs just a little bit wider, a silent request that Alex granted by adding a third finger, and beginning to push in as far as she could, then slide out slowly, grazing the rough, quarter-shaped spot as she pulled her fingers toward her. Olivia grunted a bit, and pushed down on Alex's hand. They moved together, Alex increasing the speed of her strokes, Olivia moving in rhythm to arch her back, leveraging Alex's mouth to get more pressure on her clit. When she came, she was nearly silent, but Alex felt those smooth muscles contract and clamp down, and let her ride out the orgasm as long as she could.

At last, Olivia exhaled a breath she'd didn't know she'd been holding, and threw both hands over her head. Alex slipped her hand free and crawled slowly up the body beneath her. When she drew even with Olivia, she smiled a devilish smile and leaned over to receive her reward. The kiss was a thank you for services rendered, and a promise of things to come.

"Your turn," Olivia said, pushing Alex over, and rolling onto her.

"My turn?" Alex laughed. "What good manners you have, my dear."

"I was only trying to seem nice," Olivia said. "Actually, it's my turn. I want to taste you and feel you around me. I want to make you come, calling my name and begging for more."

Alex's eyes grew wide and dark. She wasn't laughing anymore. Olivia's frank admission was shockingly moving, and incredibly erotic. She said the only thing she could think of in response.

"Yes, please."

"Now who's Miss Manners?" Olivia kissed Alex, and the kiss said as much as all the words they'd ever exchanged. Liv looked down at her lover just thinking that word in connection with Alex turned her on and was overcome with the enormity of it all. "God, Alex, you're so beautiful."

That was the last thing either of them said until Olivia made good on her promise, and Alex came while saying her name, over and over.

Olivia. Olivia. Olivia, please don't stop. Liv, I love you.



The next morning, Alex woke up naked and alone, afraid that she'd imagined it all. But she heard footsteps, and Olivia came into the room a moment later, wearing only the rugby shirt Alex had discarded the night before, and carrying two cups of coffee. She sat down on the edge of the bed, nearest Alex, and put one of the mugs into her hands as she sat up, pulling the sheet around her. They stared at one another for what seemed like forever.

"Well..." Alex began.

"Well, indeed," Olivia agreed.

"Good morning, Liv."

"Good morning, Alex." Olivia's shy smile was the sweetest wake-up call the attorney had ever had.

Alex reached out with her left hand to touch the white collar of the shirt, traced the seams before reaching her hand up to the side of Olivia's face, stroking her jawline and fanning through her dark hair. "You look damn good in that shirt."

"You look damn good out of it."

"Thanks," Alex said, a slight blush pinking her fair skin. "How did you know I'd even let you in last night?"

"I wasn't sure. But I knew if the situation had been reversed, I'd have been hard-pressed to turn you away, so I took a chance. Besides," she smiled, "I had food."

"You did. It was that damn crepe. You tricked me, Detective." There it was, the pillow talk.


"I love you, Olivia Benson."

"What did you call it, a Trojan horse of pasta? Really, who the hell says that?"

"Shut up and kiss me."

So Olivia did, and she wouldn't have thought any kiss could be better than those they'd shared the night before. But this one was. And then, Alex had force herself back to reality.

"What now?"

"Well, now we go to work, unfortunately, but tonight, I'm hoping we can talk this all through again. And again."

Alex laughed a moment, before growing serious. "I meant, what now for us? What about Julie?"

"I broke up with Julie, Tuesday night. I couldn't be dishonest, or hurt her any more than I probably already had."

"What if I hadn't seen the light?" Alex asked.

"You are the light, Alex, and I was determined to make you see that. But, either way, it wasn't fair to her," Olivia reasoned. "I'd have had to go off and lick my wounds, and try to get over you, and I'd have to be alone to do that."

"But you were pretty sure that wouldn't happen, weren't you?"

"Not 100%," Olivia said, "but yeah, I was hopeful. After last week, and what you said to me on Monday night, I knew we felt the same way. I knew we were finally in a good place to try this. I just had to convince you to take a chance on us, to really give this a go."

"I'm glad you did. I want this to work, and I think it can. If it doesn't, it won't be for lack of trying."

"I think you can do anything you put your mind to, Alex."

"Can it be that simple? After all this time?"

"Why not? We've tried to do it the hard way, and that sure as hell didn't work." Olivia's smile was brilliant, lighting up her eyes, and she knew this could happen. Finally.



"I'm all in."

"Me, too."

The End

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