DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and its characters are the property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks: I haven't done this in a really really long time but I was inspired by the likes of Connecticut McPhee, Daxilla, Cabenson and the long list of other writers who have made this such an enjoyable fandom to get into.
SPOILERS: Well, unless you haven't watched the last nine seasons it could be a bit confusing.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Following her Lead


Part I: Poker Face

And just like that – she was back. For nearly four years Detective Olivia Benson had imagined the moment when ADA Alexandra Cabot would walk back into her life. In her dreams, there had been all manner of fanfare, parades occasionally and even a twenty-one gun salute. The more subdued versions just had her sending a letter, or flowers, and one weird one with the singing telegram. But this: here, out in the open, in the middle of a city street, headed to a crime scene was not how she pictured seeing Alex again.

Olivia barely remembered the brief exchange because it was mostly Elliot, her partner, who spoke. She vaguely remembered mustering a "hey". Given her present position, leaning over the commode in the bathroom of the police precinct, she was impressed with her ability to breathe in the woman's presence. Satisfied that she had purged the coffee and bagel from four hours earlier, Olivia flushed and then made her way to the sink. She splashed water on her face and rinsed her mouth out. Hesitantly, she peeked over the frame of the mirror and glanced at herself. She smirked. "Not quite raccoon," she remarked about her appearance. She dried her hands under the blower and then ran her fingers through brown hair that she instantly decided was too long.

Olivia took three deep cleansing breaths and made strange faces in an effort to perk her skin back up. It was enough that she had been eerily silent on the car ride back, but then she bolted for the bathroom leaving Elliot confused and curious. "Alright Benson, get a fucking grip." She blew out another breath and began adjusting her clothes. "It's cool. And you're fine. So what you haven't spoken to the woman in nearly five years." She adjusted the badge and gun on her hip. "So what, she looks like she just walked off the runway at the hot lawyer's convention in Milan." Her mind easily conjured up the image of Alex from earlier. Mid-length cream colored coat which was clearly covering an expensive tailored skirt and blouse. Her alabaster skin stood out against the overcast day and Olivia would swear her blonde hair was glistening. Simple black framed glasses completed her memory. It was the sight of her coupled with the sound of her voice, the sweet honey husk that accompanied all her words, that made the seasoned detective lose her breakfast. Olivia brushed imaginary lint from her sleeves, blew out another breath and put her game face on. "You don't get to win Cabot. You're not going to destroy my world again." She was ready. "No way. No how." She grumbled the words under her breath and then forcefully pulled open the bathroom door.

She tossed her jacket on her chair and sat down at her desk. Elliott, and the peanut gallery at his back, Munch & Fin, attempted to keep one eye on Olivia and the other on computer screens or random sheets of papers. Elliott Stabler knew Olivia like the back of his hand. Nearly a decade together had ensured that fact. She had gone beyond being simply his partner so long ago that neither of them could remember a time when it was different. At times he couldn't discern if she was his partner, wife, sister, brother, mother or stubborn child. They were all those things to one another at any given moment. And in this moment, as she avoided him by trying not to seem like she was avoiding him, he knew two things clearly: One, Olivia Benson had only been really in love and really happy once her life. Two, the love of her life and the woman who ripped her heart out was back. He watched his partner unabashedly for a moment gauging her demeanor. Her brow was furrowed as she concentrated on the file in her hand – it was Warner's report. Elliot amended his earlier thought to three things he knew very clearly about the woman across from him. Sooner, rather than later, Olivia Benson was going to explode.


Part II: Potty Break

Ding. The doors to the elevator opened and Alexandra Cabot managed a nod of thanks to the man who let her onto the elevator before him. She moved to the back corner after pressing five. She let out an inaudible sigh of relief when she saw that the buttons for floors two and three had been pushed as well. With any luck she could drag this ride out for a whole five minutes. Of course five minutes wouldn't be nearly enough time, but at this point she was running on fumes. Alex gripped the handle of her leather shoulder bag and squeezed. She was desperate to release the psychological pressure that had been bearing down on her all day. She felt like Atlas and she was unsure of how long she could keep from shrugging. It was pure piss and vinegar that kept her from dissolving into a puddle when she had finally come face to face with Olivia again and now here she was walking back into the line of fire with no added protection.

As the car stopped on three and it emptied save for her, she let out a groan. "What the hell was I thinking?" I shoulda' called-I shoulda' called-Ishoulda' called. The words jumbled together in her head. She watched the red LED light read five and she straightened her shoulders and set her face with a nonplussed look. "You can do this Cabot. You already know what it feels like to be dead, so what's the worse she can do?" Alex didn't have time to finish her thought as the elevator opened and she stepped out in the bullpen of the 1-6's Special Victims Unit.

Her black stiletto heels made sharp quick percussive taps on the tile as she walked down the hallway. She secretly hoped that Olivia was in the locker room or the bathroom or just anywhere except her desk – which is where she was. A few strands of her dark brown hair had fallen across her face as she focused on the file in front of her. Alex just stared at the sight of the detective intensely reading. She was so distracted that it was with genuine surprise that she felt a warm hand on her shoulder.

"Well, look who it is?" Fin gave her a smirk of approval. "New York's finest has returned."

"Hey Fin." Her cheeks flushed at his harmless flirtation.

"Munch said he saw you this morning. I told him to stop smoking that stuff before work."

They both chuckled as Munch shouted his disapproval from his desk.

"Here I am, I guess." She wasn't sure if she should be embarrassed or not.

"Well, it's good to see you again. I thought you had moved to some remote island in Tahiti or something. Or at least some place with no phones or paper."

Alex looked at the floor sheepishly. This is what she had expected. The questions she wasn't prepared to answer – at least not to Fin. A warm hand squeezed her shoulder once more.

"I'm just messin' with you counselor." He gave her a full smile to prove his truthfulness. Alex managed a smile in return. "Seriously, it is good to have you back. Hope you're staying." He turned his attention towards Munch before he caught the nervous look in her eyes. "You coming toothpick?" Munch was all ready on his feet as Fin headed for the elevator.

Munch stopped to give Alex a warm kiss on the cheek. "Good to see you Alex." He quickly caught up to his partner as they headed out.

"Two down." She thought to herself.

Elliot gave one last glance to his partner who was now obviously just staring at the print in the file since there wasn't enough information in there to warrant her undivided attention. "Twice in one day, we're getting used to this." He smiled, but didn't move from his seat.

Alex stood a footstep or two from Cragen's door. "Hi again. How's it going with the case?" She focused her eyes on Olivia and then quickly shifted back to Elliot when he answered.

"No smoking gun or anything that lucky. However, we're on our way out of here in a minute to check a couple of leads. You want to ride shotgun with us and get back in the groove?" He was half joking.

Alex felt her heart rate pick up less at his suggestion and more at the fact Olivia finally looked up from her folder and pushed back from her desk. "If it weren't for this meeting I'd be all yours," she kept her eyes fixed on Olivia who was now standing but still not looking at her. "Meeting," she gestured to the door at her back which opened at that very moment.

"Alexandra Cabot, get in here!" A boisterous and genuinely happy to see her Cragen gathered the younger woman in a fatherly embraced.

The distraction was enough for Olivia to make her way towards the exit. "Hey El, I'm going to hit the ladies room before we leave."

Elliot rolled his eyes. "You need to stop drinking those sports drinks. I think it's shrinking your bladder."

Olivia rolled her eyes. She almost made it to the bathroom without having to talk to her, but just as Olivia was about to enter Cragen's office Alex caught sight of the detective. She caught a glimpse of coffee colored eyes which quickly focused on the floor.

"Hi—detective." She groaned inwardly.

Olivia darted brown eyes everywhere to avoid contact with those cool blue eyes that were framed by sleek back frames. "Counselor." she managed to get out past the lump in her throat. "We are—" she started. "I need to –" she continued to fumble her words.

"Oh, it's—I know—I've got--" Alex countered with her own series of babble. At that, Olivia disappeared around the corner into the lavatory.

Elliot's heart ached for his partner who scurried once more out of the presence of the ADA. He quickly picked up where his partner had stumbled. "Hey Cabot, we are heading out of here but um, would you be interested in grabbing drinks with the gang this Friday? You know the day after tomorrow." Elliot smiled.

Alex was grateful for the warm smile and the chance to focus on something else other than the reticent detective. "Uh, well, I guess I could do that." She wasn't quite confident. "I mean yes, sure of course."

"Good. Good. We'll celebrate your return. Swap some war stories. It'll be great." He smiled again. "Take it easy. " He headed to the elevator where Olivia already stood pressing the down button.

"Ready to go tiny bladder?" He decided to play her attitude for laughs.

"Now, let's not talk about things that are tiny, Elliot." She arched her eyebrow in challenge and entered the waiting elevator.

Elliot feigned hurt and stepped onto the elevator. He stood next to Olivia and then scrunched his face up and braced, as if for a punch.

Olivia regarded her partner with question. "What are you doing?"

"I'm waiting for the hit?"

Brown eyes searched the elevator car for someone or something that could explain his behavior. "You okay there El?"

He grinned and relaxed. "Well, I just invited Alexandra "M.I.A-for-umpteen-years-can't call-can't write- can't facebook or twitter" Cabot to go for beers on Friday. Thought that might get a rise out of you?"

Olivia rolled brown eyes as if she didn't care but she could feel her shoulders get tight. The doors opened and they headed for the parking lot. "Why should I care Elliott? You can invite whomever you want. It's beer." She said the words pointedly. "She's allowed to have beer. You're allowed to have beer. In fact, we can all have beer. Beer for all!" She tossed up her hands as they reached the car.

Elliot thought carefully about what his next words were going to be because it was obvious that Olivia was heading for that meltdown. "Okay, Liv," he began calmly. "You made your point, it's okay."

Brown eyes bored into his baby blue and Elliot knew that was obviously not the best statement. "My point? My point!" She started to raise her voice as she held onto the door handle. "What's my point Elliot? Please tell me my point!" She stretched her arm out across the roof of the car and tapped it to emphasize her words. "I wanna' know what point I'm making. What am I trying to say? What do I need to get at? Huh? You say you know my point so, what am I saying?" The speed of her words picked up as her irritation grew. Elliot just did his best to keep a straight face because he knew how much she needed to do exactly what she was doing. "I mean c'mon what point am I going for? What do you need me to say? What do you need me to tell you? Huh, what point am I trying to get at? You wanna' tell me where all this is going? What I'm supposed to see and know? You want to shrink me Elliot, huh? Is that your point? Is it? Cause I need to know." She stopped abruptly as she struck the roof with her palm. The sound echoed in the rather quiet garage.

Elliot kept her gaze while he opened his door. He spoke quietly but without annoyance, "you done?"

Olivia just kept his gaze and inhaled through her nostrils. She looked away as if in thought and then nodded. "Yeah." She nodded again. "I think so. Yeah. I'm done." She opened the door and got in. They both sat quietly as Elliot watched her and she just looked out the window at a random cement pillar. He could see her mind turning. She wasn't done, not by a long shot, but this was at least a start. Olivia let out a shaky breath and then sent a barrage of rapid punches to the dashboard.

Elliot winced for her as she drew back her fist and held it tight to her stomach. He wasn't going to ask if she hurt herself. He knew she had and he knew better than deny her the physical pain, that while fleeting, was sometimes the best medicine for the psychological pain. He waited a beat. "Liv?"

She turned to him and mustered a smile that did not reach her eyes. "Yeah. I'm done. We can go now."

It was bullshit and they both knew, but now was not the time to go digging around in the confines of Olivia Benson's heart.


Part III: It's all coming back to me now

Olivia Benson moved through the rest of her day Zombie-like, her mind elsewhere. She went through the motions and made it back to her apartment still lost to the memories of a life that she had long ago buried. Only, the grave was shallow and a deluge was imminent.

Like an amnesiac, the pieces of the life she wanted to let go of came back to her in jagged shards. Each piece lacerating her, each piece causing deeper and deeper fissures into the cement wall she thought she had created. As she sat down on her couch with her poison of choice for the moment, bourbon, she realized that wall was simply made of tissue paper.

Olivia laughed at herself as the first drop of the sweet brown liquor smoldered down her throat. She looked at the bottle; the Knob Creek. The Knob Creek that Alex had turned her on to and she let out a defeated sigh. It was much like the same sigh that she let out when she realized she was ass over heels in love with the ice Queen so many years ago. That's what she had been to all of them when she first showed up at SVU.

Steely, determined, privileged, arrogant, icy, bitch. Olivia, unlike Elliot, didn't blame her. She had to be cut off in her world. The year she spent working with Abbie Carmichael had taught her that. Olivia assumed there was no one else on earth that was more formidable or more impenetrable than the long-legged Texan. She and Olivia had become fast friends during Abbie's first year in New York. She and the brunette were a lot alike and not just because they both had a penchant for blondes, too many one night stands and relationships that went nowhere. Abbie was a bigger pit bull than Jack McCoy and clearly had bigger balls than half of the people in the DA's office. That was until Alexandra Cabot walked into the 1-6.

Alex was a lot of things at first glance: blonde, stunning, sexy – in that naughty librarian kind of way, fashionable, definitely a prude, certainly a ball buster and unequivocally straight. Olivia chuckled to herself as she poured another tumbler of bourbon, remembering with great delight that two of those markers were completely off the mark.

That first year working together was a period of exploration for both women. Olivia had to come to grips with the fact that she had a straight-girl crush that she had no intention of shaking and Alex had to accept that Olivia Benson was nothing like the almost obligatory lesbian-til-graduation experiences that she had in college. Each woman settled into their new found knowledge with ease and with a secret pleasure that they both kept from the other.

Their mild flirtations would play out in fleeting glances, late night coffee runs, unnecessary court preparation and the occasional rounds of pool at the precinct's favorite bar.

Laughter exploded around the table as Munch got through another random conspiracy story/joke.

"And you wanted to stay in your office all night!" Olivia nudged the smiling ADA with her shoulder as they all toasted the thin man.

Munch adjusted his skinny black tie. "True story, I promise." This sent the group into another round of giggles.

"Hey Cabot, you up for a round of pool?" Olivia eased out of the booth and held her hand out to the suddenly shy ADA.

"I'm afraid to miss a story." That was a lie. She was a little afraid to have another beer and be alone in a corner of the bar with the short-haired detective. She admired the brunette's shorter haircut. It was perfectly tomboyish and made the detective even more drool-worthy. Alex snapped out of her daydream when she registered her name being called.

"C'mon, Cabot. Let's go!" Olivia grabbed the blonde by the hand and shepherded her to the open pool table towards the back. Olivia reminded herself that she really did want to play and not just get the elegant attorney off by herself for a few moments. "So what do you want to play today, counselor?" She hadn't meant to sound that suggestive, but she noticed the blush creep into the blonde's cheek under the light. Olivia quickly grabbed a couple of cue sticks and rolled them across the table.

Alex bit the inside of her lip and took a quick sip from her beer mug in an effort to hide the telltale sign of blush rushing to her cheeks. "Well, what did you have in mind detective?" The sweet husk of her normal tone dropped just a bit lower as she answered the detective. She was pleasantly pleased when deep brown eyes seem to darken in excitement. "I can play this game to, detective" she thought to herself.

Olivia clapped her hands together to cover the fact that Alex's comment made her a little nervous – in a good way. "Nine ball? Eight Ball? A little cutthroat?"

Alex laughed as Olivia twirled the rack in her hands. "Um, how about the normal?" She made her statement sound like a question.

"I can do normal." Olivia smiled from ear to ear and quickly racked the balls. "So, counselor you know what you're doing right?" She figured Alex for a first timer. "I promise this won't hurt your manicure." Olivia grinned and then sent the cue ball into the formation with a loud 'thwack'. The balls scattered and she dropped the three ball.

Alex who had been ready to answer held her tongue at the detective's assumption. She instead raised her eyebrow in challenge and fixed her eyes on the woman leaning over to break. "Well, you know, the last time I played was in college. It's been a while. I think I remember the gist."

Olivia was too wrapped up in her own cocksureness to notice the smug look on Alex's face. "Well, if you get a chance to shoot here then we'll see how rusty you are." Olivia sank two more solids in a row and stood up to chalk her cue. "I'm on fire tonight Cabot, don't know if you're going to get a shot." Olivia came to the side of the table near Alex and bent over to line up her shot.

Alex stepped back out of courtesy and couldn't deny herself the pleasure of following the curve of denim and the way it hugged the detective's toned thighs. Alex leaned against the bank and bent over so that Olivia could hear her. "Does this mean you're not going to let me play?" She sounded wounded.

The distraction was just enough to throw Olivia off. The cue nudged the ball but it fell short of the mark. She groaned less in reaction to her shot but to sweet pull in her groin that Alex's words elicited. "All yours, Counselor." She cleared her throat.

Alex kept a straight face and then stared contemplatively at the table as she sized up her shot. "I'm stripes right?"

Olivia chuckled. "Why yes. And you do know that you have to get them into the pockets." She was being facetious and they both knew it. "Just take your time and try your best."

Alex bent over at the waist as she lined up her shot. She glanced up at Olivia and smirked. "I'll try my very best, detective." She could see the pulse in Olivia's neck jump. "Eleven, corner pocket" she said with sudden confidence and then she sent the cue ball smoothly into the bank whereupon it ricocheted and sunk the stripe she was aiming for.

Olivia was reeling and not from the deftly made shot. "N-Nice shot. That was pretty good. Guess you're not that rusty." Olivia drank deeply from her mug. "Hey Fin, we need a pitcher!" She called out into the air and tried to gather herself.

"Do you mind?" Alex waited for Olivia to step back so she could make her shot.

Olivia couldn't find the words. They had left her the moment she felt Alex's honeyed voice in her ear, so close she could feel the breath on her neck. She just moved, but Alex still brushed against her and bent over the table once more. Olivia looked around frantically as she felt her nipples constrict. She was suddenly grateful that she had worn her maroon sweater over her white t-shirt. She drank again from her mug and emptied it. She was parched and it was all because of the woman beside her and the images that were flying through her head. Mostly it was an image of the ADA face down on the green felt, arms outstretched, mussed blonde hair splayed across her back, and the detective peeling off her tailored slacks, stripping her of what she imagined were soft satin underwear, and plunging into Alex's pooling wetness with two fingers.

Fin's voice brought her out of her masturbatory fantasy. "Yo, Benson! Beer!" Fin sat the pitcher down on a side table and then let out a huge laugh. "Oh shit! Benson, are you getting hustled?!"

At his words, Olivia glanced at the table and realized that all that remained were the eight ball and her four solids. She was slack jawed at the truth. "Oh. My. God. I've been hustled by, by a- uh-"

Alex walked over and stood next to Olivia while she chalked her cue stick. "You've been hustled by a what, detective?" Her voice was calm and determined, much like it sounded in court when she had a witness right where she wanted them. Alex was relishing how she was making the detective squirm. Admittedly, the beer was making her far bolder than she trusted herself to be, but it was hard to resist making the often brooding detective sweat. "Cat got your tongue?" She held Olivia's darkening gaze and then promptly bent at the waist in front of the detective and set her shot. "Eight ball, corner pocket."

All Olivia could focus on was the sharp crack of the cue ball on the eight ball. She swallowed hard and willed her raging hormones into submission as she all but salivated at the ADA's current position. Once more Fin's laughter tore her from her fantasy. "Jesus Christ I need a beer."

"No shit!" Fin cackled and handed over the cold mug to the detective. He watched the woman put the cool mug to her forehead. "Don't fall out there Benson. I need you alive long enough to tell everyone." With that, he laughed himself back to the table.

Alex grabbed a new beer and welcomed the cold fluid into her overheating body. She briefly found herself caught in stare down with the dark-haired detective. Luckily, or perhaps unfortunately, depending on who was asked, the rest of their friends broke the moment to rib Olivia and congratulate Alex.

Olivia stared into the now empty glass and placed it on the coffee table before collapsing back into the couch cushions. She dragged her fingertips down her face and sighed. She glanced at her watch and realized she had spent nearly two hours reminiscing over the past.

"You can't do this to yourself again." She said the words out loud and glanced at her cell phone. She could just pick up the phone and call her. She could tell her that she wanted nothing to do with her. She could tell her that any chance she had went by the wayside when she returned the first time without so much as a word. She could tell her how broken she was after the night she was shot. How close she came to not pulling it back together until she saw her again. How much she hoped and prayed and waited. She could tell her that it was like no other trauma she had ever experienced upon seeing her again for Velez's trial and seeing that she had moved on. How could she explain how it felt to have her heart ripped out of her chest and then be forced to watch it disintegrate in front of her eyes.

Olivia gripped the cell phone and hurled it at the wall. The shattered pieces clattered to the floor and she drew her knees into her chest and willed herself not to cry. She had cried enough years before; there was nothing left for her now. She looked once more at the mangled phone and realized that she was going to have to tell this to Alex eventually. She needed to know. She needed to hear it and she needed to feel it. Every inch of her hurt, angst, anger and rage needed to be hers as well. It wasn't fair that she got to move on and be normal and act like nothing happened and nothing mattered. It just wasn't fair.


Part IV: Red light. Green light. Red light…

Despite a fitful night of sleep, Alex looked rather refreshed and ready for her day.

"Alexandra." She heard her name being called from down the hall. "Can I have a word with you?"

Alex sighed. She was prepared for this talk. She put on her best smile as she walked into Liz Donnely's office. "Hi, Liz."

"That's it?" Liz nearly scoffed. "Spend a year or two as a Bureau chief and you forget the little people." Liz laughed at her own joke and stood up to shake Alex's hand. She rubbed the young woman's shoulder and smiled. "Have a seat. Here's the key to your old office."

"Oh, Liz no, you didn't have to." She accepted the key begrudgingly.

"Well, it was easier than creating some cubicle space for you." She clasped slender fingers and eyed the bespectacled woman across from her. Liz remained silent for a long thirty seconds and openly examined Alex.

Alex attempted to hold the older woman's gaze, but it was already too intense. She immediately decided that she would never wear the god awful sleeveless turtleneck thing she was wearing ever again.

"So, I'm curious Alex," Liz began in her raspy and pointed voice. "What is it that you want to accomplish? You could be upstate with Carmichael or private practice with Southerlyn. Why on earth are you back here and in SVU of all places?"

The question dug under Alex's skin and she realized maybe she wasn't as prepared as she thought she was. "They needed me." Her response came quickly.

Liz chuckled and came from around her desk and sat on the corner. She peered down at Alex with arms folded across her chest and let out a dry chuckle. "How long did you work on that line?"

Alex rolled her eyes and didn't try to hide her exasperated sigh. "Look, Liz, I made a decision to come back and help because I was needed…and because it was time."

"Time? Ha! That's your reason." Her shoulders shook with laughter. "Alexandra Cabot, who are you trying to fool?"

Alex set her jaw and glared at the older woman who continued to peer down at her like a vulture. "I don't have to explain myself to you, I—"

Liz cut her off. "You're damn right you don't. I mean at least I've gone out to dinner with you and had drinks in the last couple of years. Can't say the same for some others." She rolled her eyes to the sky as if the answer was up there.

Alex thought she was going to be nauseous. "Liz, what are you talk—," she began. "I don't want to talk about this." She made a move to get up, but Liz stopped her with a finger pointed in her direction.

"You know what I'm talking about. Do you think I'm stupid and or blind Alex?" She reached for the woman's glasses. "Are these things even real?"

Alex quickly took her glasses back. She was near the breaking point. "Look Liz, just leave it alone. Just leave it alone."

Liz sighed and relaxed her features. She realized that perhaps she needed to be a little less Cruella Deville and a bit more Mary Poppins. "Alex, I apologize." Alex looked up and met her eyes. "I mean it. I just don't know why you came back or what for? Well, that's a lie. I know why or better yet, who." She watched as Alex stiffened in surprise. Liz grinned conspiratorially. "I've been around here for quite awhile. And I've also had many late nights here in this building." She caught and held Alex's gaze. When the blush had crept all the way up her neck and through to her cheeks Liz rose and sat back down in her chair. She decided she had tortured the woman enough. "All I'm saying is that a lot of water has gone under the bridge. A lot. And you can't just come galloping back in here on your white steed and think everything will fall into place. World doesn't work that way."

Alex let out a deep sigh. "I'm not sure what I think or hope anymore. I just know that it was time for me to come back. Time for me to come home." She lifted her head and looked the woman in the eye for the first time in five minutes. "I – I fucked up." Liz just nodded in agreement. "And I know that all my reasons are probably moot at this point, but I can't just ignore this anymore. I can't just go on like this – as if the best parts of my entire life never happened, as if she never happened." Alex took a deep breath and suppressed the urge to cry. She gathered herself and stood up straight, her face devoid of emotion. "I'm going to get to work if you don't mind." Liz just nodded and gave the woman a supportive smile.

She unlocked the door to her old office and threw her coat and briefcase onto the leather couch that was still in the same place. Obviously, the office was being used again, but not much had changed much to her dismay. "Oh, Jesus I can't do this." Alex fell back against the door causing it to close. Even with the changes in the room, the paint, a change of pictures, a new computer monitor, there were still the subtle vestiges of Olivia.

The chip in the wood on the edge of the desk. The couch tear that Alex had repaired. She knew if she lifted the leather mat on the desk that the wood would be gouged. Alex laughed to keep from crying and made her way to the plush leather chair behind the desk. She sat down and heard the familiar creek of the right wheel. Alex promptly laid her head down on the desk. "I have to get McCoy to upgrade this room." She knew this wasn't going to be easy but what she had said to Liz had been the truth. She just wanted her life back or at least a chance at that life. And that meant she was going to have to confront Olivia. She looked at the phone on the desk and thought about calling her. She let her hand go limp on the receiver. She knew they were going to have to talk but she also knew that they were going to need room and space. Of all the things she missed about the detective she would only admit in certain company that she relished their heated arguments.

It had only happened once or twice in the first couple of years they worked together—the disagreements. They were both passionate and believed in the law, but every now and then the lines blurred and things got grey. Neither had admitted their growing and palpable attraction to the other, but rather to the people around them. Where Abbie had given Olivia the rather blunt advice to "either shit or get off the pot", Serena gently suggested that Alex "throw caution to the wind." Olivia nor Alex proved to be good listeners and instead they let the sexual tension sit between them, rising, like a creek being pounded with rain. And rise it did.

The tension became so thick that they were both constantly on edge. It had gotten to the point where the arguments were becoming legendary not just for their frequency but where they took place. Interrogation rooms, the bull pen, Cragen's office, courthouse steps, hallways, Alex's office, the DA's office – no place was off limits. Alex felt a smile pull at her lips as she thought about the first time she kissed Olivia. It had been here in her office; well, not quite inside of her office.

It was well after midnight when Alex picked up her office phone to hear an out of breath Olivia on the other end.

"Hey Alex, you still at work?" Olivia was bounding up the steps as she spoke.

"Liv?" Alex began. "Olivia is this you?"

"Of course! What other out of breath detectives do you have calling you in the middle of the night?"

Alex smiled. "Then the answer is yes."

"Good thing." Olivia was now standing inside the doorway. "I would have been pissed if I ran all this way for nothing." She pocketed her cell phone and rested both hands on her hips while she caught her breath.

Alex hung up the phone and waited patiently with the faintest of smiles on her face. With Olivia so busy catching her breath she got a chance to ogle the woman. Alex leaned forward onto her desk and rested her elbows as she practically undressed the woman. There was something positively hedonistic about the detective as of late. She had cut her hair back a bit more making it boyishly short with highlighted errantly styled spikes in a no particular pattern. She wore snug black jeans and a tight fitting sweater that hugged the curves of her torso. And of course she wasn't without her leather jacket. Even if Alex had professed to be narrowly straight, this woman would have sent her happily over the edge into lesbian bliss with just one look into velvety brown eyes.

Alex absently tugged at the lapel of her soft pink button down shirt in order to let in some cool air. She noticed that another button had become undone and at the moment she didn't care. She looked up at the detective with a grin firmly planted on her face and gestured for her to sit.

"I think I need your help Alex." Olivia started. "You know the guy Plummer? The one we think is connected to this case? The guy I kind of helped get convicted – wrongly?" Alex nodded. "I think he's stalking me."

Alex arched her brow. "I'm not sure what you want me to do." She wanted to be helpful but the Plummer case was getting sticky precisely because he had been wrongly convicted.

Olivia regarded Alex with a slightly confused look. She expected Alex to help her not question her. "Well, Alex, I need--I want your help. I mean, can I get a restraining order? A tail? A tap? Something." Her voice began to rise in frustration.

Alex drew in a quick breath knowing that her next few sentences were going to possibly enrage the detective. Basically there was nothing she could do. Olivia hit the roof at the response. She stood up and began pacing the office like hungry leopard. Had she been anything other than hopelessly in love with the fuming woman she might have had the good sense to be scared. However, Alex was turned on and this was not the time or place to act on her desires. She waited until the pacing detective settled and stopped pacing. Brown eyes pleaded with her, but Alex had to stand her ground for her own sanity and for the sake of the case.

"Alex, he was there outside that bar just waiting for me. Don't tell me nothing can be done."

Without malice or judgment in her voice Alex spoke. "Olivia, how many drinks did you have? You have to understand, the system failed him once so now everything we do is going to be scrutinized." Alex hadn't meant to be hurtful, but it came out that way to the tense detective.

Olivia stepped back like she had been punched in the gut. She fixed dark brown eyes on the smug looking blonde and just glared at her in complete disbelief. "I. Wasn't. Drunk." Olivia swatted at a pencil on the desk and sent it flying into the wall.

Alex didn't bristle, she just sat back and attempted to look contrite. She didn't mean to accuse the woman, but she needed to be clear. There could be no mistakes. Alex's heart nearly sank as she felt the weight o f Olivia's glare and she sensed the older woman's disappointment.

"Unfuckingbelievable," Olivia growled. "I come to you for help and you accuse me of being drunk!" Olivia turned and headed for the door.

"Olivia, wait!" Alex stood up.

Olivia hovered in the door way for a heartbeat. "Thanks for having my back, counselor." She spat the title out like it was potted meat. Olivia turned on her heels and headed down the hall.

Alex groaned. "Shit. Shit. Shit." She moved as fast as her heels would allow out into the hallway after the detective. "Olivia, Olivia!" She called after the woman, desperation in her voice. "Detective!" It was an order. Olivia stopped walking just as Alex caught up to her. "Don't you walk out on me like that, ever." Her voice was even and calm, but she was growing angry. She grabbed Olivia's arm.

Olivia didn't know why she stopped, but she did. Alex was on the verge of snapping and Olivia could hear it in her voice. When she felt slender fingers dig into her bicep she just reacted without thought. Olivia wrenched her arm out of Alex's grasp turned on the woman and forced her back up against the wall with a quick shove against her shoulders. Olivia placed her arms on either side of the woman and literally pinned her to the wall with her eyes.

Alex's chest rose and fell quickly as her heart pounded against her chest. The feel of the cool wall at her back and the heat of Olivia practically on top of her sent shivers through her body. She let out a small whimper as she felt the wetness gather in between her legs.

Olivia was incensed. Her brown eyes were dark not with rage but lust. She had been fighting this for so long that the thought of not being with this woman was beginning to eat at her soul. Her breaths were heavy as their noses nearly touched. But then Olivia heard a faint whimper and she pulled back and relaxed her arms. She was scaring her, she thought.

Alex saw the change in Olivia and held back a moan at the loss of contact. She could see fear in brown eyes. It was only a matter of moments before Olivia would take off. Alex captured Olivia's gaze with determined blue eyes

"Alex, I-," Olivia started.

Alex didn't let her finish. She touched cool fingers to Olivia's jaw and then leaned forward, pressing soft lips to Olivia's slightly parted lips. Brown eyes grew wide in surprise, but she went with the kiss and returned the pressure, melting into Alex.

Olivia's brain nearly exploded at the sweet and soft contact. Her surprise was quickly erased by her feverish desire for this woman. Olivia buried her hands in long blonde hair and deepened the kiss. She granted entrance to Alex's questing tongue and moaned into the kiss. She pressed her body against the woman praying that the wall would hold them. Olivia felt like she was on fire. She broke contact only to catch her breath and then roughly claimed Alex's lips once again.

Alex felt her knees buckle as Olivia pushed her harder against the wall. Alex ran her hands along Olivia's side grasping for flesh. Her hands traveled up the detective's body and eventually she buried slender fingers into dark brown hair. She tugged at the short tresses and felt Olivia shiver at the contact. As Olivia let her head loll back to take a breath, Alex attacked her exposed neck. Olivia gasped at the contact and met Alex's eyes. To her shock there was no fear in the younger woman's eyes. In fact, all she did see in those cerulean orbs was acceptance, want, and trust.

Olivia's heart rate picked up. The desire she was feeling for this woman was suddenly overshadowed by her own fears. Alex wasn't some quick fuck in bar bathroom or a name she couldn't remember the next morning, she was the woman she loved. And she loved her so much she thought herself incapable of being loved. Too many demons. Too many worries. Too much baggage. She wasn't ready for this. She was kidding herself.

"Alex, I, I," she took a breath and pushed away from the wall and from Alex. "This is-this is- it's too much…I can't. We, I mean, not like this. This…it..can't." And with that jumble of sentence fragments she gave one last look to the woman and jogged down the hall and down the stairs.

Alex slowed her breathing and staggered back to her office, woozy as if she had just walked away from a car wreck. And in a way she had. Olivia Benson had just given her whiplash going from 60mph to a dead stop. So, stop she did. She closed her office door and slid to the floor. She was too heated to cry and too shocked to be angry. So, Alex Cabot did about the only thing she could – she laughed. She giggled herself close to tears. Once she had regained her composure she stood and began to gather her things. Alex Cabot was now very clear about how she needed to handle the baggage that Olivia kept as her burden.

A chance meeting with Abbie Carmichael nearly a week earlier had confirmed her suspicions about her relationship issues. The rest she had figured out on her own or Olivia had volunteered the information. In not so many words, Abbie hinted that Olivia was "scared shitless and would rather wallow in her own self-imposed prison than open herself up to the possibility that she deserved to be loved by someone like Alex." At the time Alex thought the Texan was just being droll, but it made sense why the two kept beating around the bush. Admittedly, Alex had her own issues, but she was more than willing to cast them aside to have a chance with the charismatic and passionate detective. She exited her office with one thought, "You want to fight me detective then fight me. You can't win."

And fight they did. A week later the SVU was tasked with trying to protect Maria and her son from her murderous drug dealing boyfriend. Unfortunately, Maria had to resort to murdering the boyfriend in the hopes of surviving. Olivia ripped into Alex in Cragen's office when Alex intimated that she might have to charge the woman. Alex hadn't thought it was that big of a deal, but Olivia pounced and Alex stood her ground. Their raised voices could be heard in the bullpen. When Cragen entered he had to separate the two women like a pair of boxers.

"Detective Benson! Cabot!" He put his arm in between the two women who were nearly nose to nose and glared at his detective. "I don't know what the hell is going on in here, but it stops now." Neither woman seemed ready to move as they were locked in a silent test of wills. "Benson, I said enough!" He gripped his detective's arm and she stepped back. "I want you out of here now. Leave your desk for tomorrow. Just go!" Olivia barely acknowledged the man as she glared once more at the smug looking blonde. Olivia quickly grabbed her jacket and headed for the elevator before Elliot even had a chance to open his mouth.

Cragen slammed his door shut and looked the ADA over from head to toe. "Would somebody mind telling me what the hell is going on in my squad room?!" Alex rolled her eyes and gave a half shrug. "Bullshit Alex." He lowered his voice and stood in front of the woman, demanding she look him in the eye. "I don't know what's the matter with the two of you, but it needs to be fixed a.s.a.p. I need the both of you on this team and on the same page. The last few weeks with the two of you have been like watching a steel cage match. So, you want to tell me what's happening?"

Alex conjured up a smile for the captain to assuage his fears. "It's nothing." He folded his arms across his chest and scowled. "What I mean is that it is nothing that we can't deal with. We both want the same things. But sometimes, we differ on how to get there that's all." Cragen didn't seem convinced. "I promise. We'll fix it." She grabbed her briefcase. "Night."

Alex glanced at her watch as she exited the office and headed to the elevator. "Hey Cabot, hold that will ya'?" It was Elliot. She held the button as the obviously curious and clearly protective detective hopped onto the elevator.

"Thanks," he began as he zipped up his coat. "So, uh, you and Liv thinking about selling tickets to your next throw down?" He was trying hard to be jovial instead of ripping into the counselor.

Alex smirked. "That bad huh?" She gave him a smile, knowing that it was better not to antagonize the former Marine.

Elliot shrugged. "Loud mostly."

"Yeah, well you know sometimes your partner and I don't see eye to eye. Kind of like oil and water sometimes." The doors opened quietly on the first floor. "Good night, detective."

"Night, counselor." Elliot let the door close as he rode to the garage level. "Oil and water my ass," he grumbled. They were like two oppositely charged magnets, which meant that no matter how hard they fought they would eventually unite. While he certainly didn't mind the idea, he knew Olivia was going to fight as long as she could. Elliot just shook his head as he got into his car. Olivia didn't stand a chance.

It had taken two minutes for Alex to hail a cab, one minute for him to start heading for her Upper West side apartment and thirty seconds for him to make a quick left and head towards Olivia's apartment near the East Village. She walked up the two flights with determined steps and stopped in front of the detective's door. As she raised her hand to knock it occurred to her that the surly detective might not be there or worse yet, might not be alone. Surprisingly, the second half of that thought prompted her to knock. If there was some airhead bimbo in there she was going to be sorry. Alex knocked once more.

Olivia looked at the door once more in confusion. She glanced at the clock on the DVD player. It was 11:30. Olivia grumbled as another knock came. She had finally gotten comfortable and relaxed. She had taken off her sweater and t-shirt along with her socks. The lone lights in the apartment emanated from the bedroom lamp and the various electronics throughout the kitchen and living room. At present she was resting comfortably in her jeans and her tank top. She gulped the bourbon Alex had bought her and placed the now empty glass on the coffee table. She stood up and headed to the door only to be stopped in her tracks. "Liv, open up the door please. I know you're in there." It was very clearly Alex outside her door at 11:30pm. Olivia's heart threatened to beat its way out of her chest as she gripped the doorknob.

"What do you want Alex? Go home." She put her head against the door. Why was this woman torturing her like this? "Please." It was a pathetic plea.

"Say it to my face Olivia." There was no break in her voice.

Olivia sighed, turned the lock and opened the door. "Go home Alex. Please." She sounded defeated.

"No." Alex pushed past the detective and entered the apartment.

Olivia just rolled her eyes and closed the door. She leaned back against the door. "I don't really know what to say to you right now."

"That's fine with me since I was planning on talking to you." She was all smiles. "Aren't you going to offer me a drink?"

Olivia was dumbfounded. "You know where the glasses are. Bottle's on the table." Olivia remained against the door as she watched the younger woman ease out of her coat, pour herself a glass and take a healthy swig. "Need some liquid courage, counselor?"

Alex turned blue eyes on the detective and practically pinned her to the wall. Even if Olivia had wanted to move, she knew she was rooted to the spot. Alex was not here to apologize of even to make nice. She wanted something – Olivia knew that look. It didn't take too much detecting to know that what the tenacious ADA wanted was clutching the doorknob to keep her legs from giving out. She licked wet pink lips and looked at the detective openly.

"I must admit, I pictured this all so much differently. There was dinner, drinks, maybe some candles, the sweeping swell of violins and cellos. The whole nine yards." She grinned at the confused look that crossed the detective's face. Alex smiled and sipped her drink. "I need to tell you that I'm sorry." She sighed and leaned forward so that her elbows rested on the counter. She kept her eyes on the detective. "And I am sorry. You don't know how sorry I am." For the first time, Alex looked away from the detective and focused her eyes on the counter.

Olivia focused her gaze on the enigmatic woman standing in her kitchen. Alex had come to apologize when really it should have been she. She suddenly wished she hadn't left her glass on the table. She desperately needed something else to focus on besides Alex. The memory of their heated kiss came back to Olivia and she had to stifle a moan. And tonight, in Cragen's office, if it hadn't been for the captain's timely entrance she was convinced that she would have made use of the captain's desk. Olivia realized that she had to get the woman out of her apartment before they did something they both regretted.

"Alex, you're right, but it's me who should be apologizing." Brown eyes caught blue. "I crossed a line last week and I put both of us in a position that we shouldn't be in and –

"Oh you're right about that." Alex interrupted. She held back her urge to smile when she saw the detective's shoulders slump like a scolded child. "We were in quite a position. And in fact, it's not that we shouldn't be in that position, but rather that we should be. We need to be. And I mean need." She stretched out the vowels on the last word until she was sure she had the detective's attention. Brown eyes grew wide and even in the faint light Alex could see the pulse jump in Olivia's neck. She could also see that the woman was looking for a way out. Alex finished off the bourbon in one quick gulp and set the glass down firmly.

"I don't know about you detective but I can't keep this up." She blew out an exasperated breath as proof. "Between the two of us we've got all kinds of degrees, badges, rhetorical skills and detecting insight yet we can't seem to see or at least admit what's going on here. And I've got to be honest here. If I have to listen to Abbie tell me to 'shit or get off the pot' again or some other colorful Texan zinger of wisdom that she enjoys I'm going to scream."

Olivia was awestruck. A moment ago she felt her heart drop to her stomach and she thought the woman who had invaded both her heart and soul was about to walk out her life for good. She thought that Alex had finally seen through her mask and discovered her to be flawed and unworthy. For a moment Olivia gave up. But then she found herself pulled into those blue eyes and she realized that Alex wasn't running away but running towards her. Olivia felt her stomach do a somersault and her mouth go dry. She knew there was no place she could run and quite frankly, she too was tired

Olivia let out a chuckle causing Alex to stop talking for a moment. "Yeah, Abbie does seem to have a long list of sage advice." She rubbed her neck and took her first steps towards Alex. "Hey wait, you talked to Abbie? When?"

Alex held up her hand. "Oh, no you don't, you're not changing the subject and I'm not done talking." Olivia suddenly felt like a defendant on the witness stand. She gulped and waited. "You are driving me crazy." She splayed her fingers out on either side of her face as if she was trying to contain herself. "I feel like I'm losing my mind and that's on my good days. Do you have any idea how hard it is to be in the same room with you sometimes? How hard it is for me to keep from staring at you? And let's not talk about our sparring matches." Alex moved from around the counter and trapped the detective against the couch. "Sometimes I want to tell you the sky is purple when it's clearly blue just to get you riled up. And I don't know about you, but there's only one actual way to deal with this undeniable, irresistible, and gut wrenching need to be with you." Alex took two steps towards Olivia who now stood so close to the couch that the back of her knees were braced against the arm rest.

Olivia held the woman's gaze and closed her eyes in reverence at the feel of slender fingers on her cheek. She leaned forward and Alex closed the final inch of space between them. The kiss began slowly at first, with each woman choosing to relish the moment. But quickly, soft butterfly kisses gave way to sustained and near bruising pressure. Mouths opened willingly and tongues explored freely. Soon Olivia tangled her fingers in silky blonde hair and felt herself being pulled even closer to Alex. She moaned at the contact and felt her nipples harden through the thin material of her tank top. Olivia suddenly felt fingertips on the buckle of her belt. Olivia broke contact with Alex to catch her breath. She gently pushed the lawyer back so she could breathe freely and slow this speeding rollercoaster down just a tad.

"Oh – wow- breathing." She chuckled and caught the younger woman's sparkling blue eyes in her own. "Can't we just talk for just a second?"

Alex felt a shiver of anxiety crawl up her back. Was Olivia about to freak out again? Alex shot Olivia a glare that was all heat. "Talk?" The question was rhetorical because her tone dared Olivia to breathe let alone answer. "No talking detective." She was on a mission. Alex reached down and finished unbuckling Olivia's belt. "I'm tired of talking. If you must talk," she undid the two buttons and eased the zipper down. "I only want monosyllabic words, sentence fragments possibly, sounds that come from here," she touched her hand to Olivia's taut stomach. "And sounds that are mostly made of up vowels and if possible just consonants."

The smile that spread across the detective's face made Alex blush. Olivia knew she could deny this woman nothing and more importantly, she could no longer deny herself. "I don't think I ever wanted another person this much in my life." Olivia willingly admitted.

Alex beamed. "Good. Now stop talking." With that Alex put her fingertips on Olivia's chest and gave the woman an authoritative push. The detective fell backwards with ease on to the couch. Alex licked her lips at the sight of the detective on her back and at her mercy.

Half-amused, half-shocked, and completely aroused describe the expression on Olivia's face as she collapsed onto the couch. If it wasn't for her want to savor this moment and the feral look of desire on Alex's face she would have stripped off her clothes and ended the delicious torture. Instead, with eyes firmly affixed to Alex's she slipped her hand beneath the waistband of her slightly exposed underwear and sent an involuntary shiver through both her body and that of her voyeur. "Do you have any idea what you do to me?" Olivia panted out.

Alex finished unbuttoning her shirt as she watched the prone woman tease her. "Detective," she warned. "That counts as talking."

Alex's voice was husky and heavy with desire and Olivia thought she was going to come right there on the spot. The next thing she felt was the welcome weight of the woman as she laid down on top of her and molded their bodies together. Neither woman had the words to describe the ineffable moment nor was it needed as their eyes locked and all manner of understanding past between them. There was no turning back and they both knew it wasn't even an option.


Part V: Pep Talks

Olivia awoke Friday morning still clinging to her dream – her memory. She clenched her thighs together as the faint tremor of a long ago orgasm played out again in her subconscious. She fully opened brown eyes and focused on the white ceiling. Today was going to be bad enough knowing that she had to see Alex at the end of it, but now it had started out with the memory of their first time together and Olivia was nearly undone by the promise of it.

Her body had hummed for days after, much like it did after every night they spent together. In between hectic schedules and late nights and stakeouts they cobbled the time together to make it work. And it had worked. It was so easy Olivia wondered why the hell she ever thought this was going to be impossible. When she finally admitted the revelation to Abbie and in front of Alex nearly two months later, the Texan just slapped her upside the back of her head and then kissed her soundly on the lips in congratulations. Apparently, she was grateful that she didn't have to keep coming up with "hokey country catch phrases" to help the women sort out their lives. They shared another round of drinks and finally excused themselves once Abbie had become decidedly more interested in her fair haired replacement to Jack McCoy than anything Olivia or Alex had to say.

Their lives had begun to make sense together. Sure, there were still the tense arguments, but that always led to make-up sex. They survived the bad nights, the ugly cases, even the occasional bouts of jealously that occurred with crossed signals and miscommunication. In the end, the only thing that ever mattered was where they ended their days. Even when the work kept them physically apart there were the token reminders, the gifts, the small totems that kept them connected always. And even when Velez and the Feds ripped them apart there was always hope and always the promise that she would return and they would pick up or even start anew.

But then, she did return…and nothing. Olivia let out a guttural moan and punched at the pillows in her empty bed. "God, I can't wait for this day to be over." The words tumbled out angrily as she headed for the shower.

Alex saw the phone line light up before it rang. She waited and then picked up. "ADA Cabot speaking?"

"Well, slap me twice and call me Shirley."

Alex froze at the sound of a familiar and distinct southern drawl. "Abbie Carmichael." She said her name in a breath.

"Alexandra-fucking-Cabot." There was surprise and a little hurt in her voice. "You know my lady says to me the other week, guess who's back at SVU? Now, I'm thinking, oh, Novak finally got her head out of her ass and is heading back from sabbatical. But then she says, no, it's Cabot." Abbie gave a chuckle and continued. "I laughed my ass off and told her she was cute for making jokes. I said no way Cabot's back at SVU cause she woulda' called. She promises me it's the truth and so of course like a good bloodhound I put in a call to my best friend since I haven't heard from her in a week. You know what she tells me?" Abbie paused but it wasn't to allow Alex to answer. "She says yeah. Well, this cowboy just about hit the roof and I said to myself, I need to get up to New York quicker than a fart in dust storm. You wanna' know where I am?" This time she waited.

Alex had been cringing as she listened to the clearly annoyed Texan ramble on. "Dear God, please say New York?" It came out like a question because she knew it was no use in trying to avoid the former ADA now Assistant US State's Attorney. Abbie never pulled punches, she didn't know how. She was a purely shoot first, ask questions, and then shoot again for good measure kind of person.

Abbie scoffed. "Just your luck I'm stuck in D.C. on a shit-kicker of a case. But don't think that doesn't mean that I'm not going to be on the first bullet train out of here and headed your way when this thing is done in about the next 16 hours." Abbie took a breath. "So pick your place Cabot. Some place neutral, lots of space, lots of people, low lights or no lights, just pick a place. Cause you and I got some shit to hash out."

Alex groaned. "Abbie, I—" her words trailed off into a sigh. "What would you have me do, please tell me?" She was genuinely curious.

Abbie, like the pit bulls she was commonly compared to, locked onto something and didn't let go. She wasn't about to let this go, but she could hear the ache and pain in the woman's voice so she let out her own sigh and thought about her next statement. "Well, for starters I hear that 'I'm sorry' works wonders." She couldn't help herself. "Although in your case you may need to accompany that with a letter from the Pope." She heard Alex's soft laugh and knew she had chosen wisely. "Or maybe a Presidential pardon. I like the new guy. It took me a hot minute, but he's good people."

Alex chuckled and blinked rapidly to fight off the threatening tears. "Can you get me one of those Presidential things? Would you?" She meant it as a joke but it came out as a plea.

"Ugh" Abbie groaned on the other end in frustration. "Alex, Alex, Alex. You know I'm probably a bigger bitch than you, not by much mind you, but it goes with the job. And as much as I want to throttle you, and bury you in the Mojave, I know that Olivia would have my hide."

"Ha. I don't know Abbie, I think she would actually provide the shovel."

"Nah, she wouldn't provide the shovel. It'd be a backhoe; she's not patient enough for shoveling." The two women shared a laugh. "Oh, fucking-A Cabot! I wish you would have called. I could have prepped her or something."

"Oh really and what would your advice have been?"

"You mean besides leave your gun at home?" She laughed at her own joke. "Honestly, I would ask her to hear you out. I would ask her to bury that big Empire State sized pride she's holding onto and just listen. After that, I got nothing."

"You believe that'll be enough?"

Abbie was silent for a beat. "Did she ever tell you about what happened when you were shot?"

Alex drew in a breath as she allowed herself to go back to that moment in the parking lot when she had to face Olivia. "No. There was no time." She answered honestly.

"She didn't tell me till a year or so later, but when she did, it made me get my shit together. I mean you know that Liv and I are like two peas in a pod. Might as well been separated at birth. We walked the same path in some instances and I screwed up royally with Serena. Like huge."

"Oh yeah, I remember."

"She said you gave her the genius idea to slash the tires on my car." Abbie wasn't accusing.

Alex ran her tongue across her teeth. "Yeah, well, we were both drinking and bitching. It happened and I do apologize." She was sincere.

"That was not a good week for Liv either as I recall. Dining with the enemy and what not. See you didn't trash her ride." There was no animosity in her voice.

Alex closed her eyes and chuckled. She'd forgotten that she had accepted a dinner date with a smarmy lawyer she worked with on occasion. Olivia saw her out in a pair of come-fuck-me pumps and a fire engine red spaghetti-strapped number that made a better camisole than it did a dress. "Well, number one, Liv doesn't own a car and two; she didn't cheat on me in the bathroom of Simone's with some baby dyke fresh out of law school. What the hell was her name again?"

"Thank god I've forgotten." Both women laughed at the rather horrible incident now made funny by the passage of time. "Look Alex, I'm not saying it's going to be easy but I think she should at least hear you out. I gotta' believe you have one hell of an explanation and hopefully she'll give you a chance."

"What are the odds of you saying that to her?" She was beginning to formulate a plan.

"I'll be there tomorrow; I wasn't kidding about the train."

"I'm only asking because we're all heading for drinks tonight."


"Munch, Stabler, Fin. Olivia."

"Wow, you mean Stabler hasn't tried to put you in a choke hold yet."

"I think he's contemplating it. Besides, I've only been back for three days. Truthfully, I think he's more concerned about Olivia. She's said about three words to me and maybe one complete sentence."

Abbie nodded at the young clerk in her office. "Just leave it on my desk." She turned her attention back to the phone. "Alex, I need to get ready to run here, but I will call her or leave her message. I will do that for you." She heard Alex take a breath as if to say thanks. "Don't thank me yet. I'm still headed up there and I'm bringing my boots and my wallet in case I need to bail somebody out or bury the body. I want you to be clear about that." There was no malice in her voice.

Alex nodded in understanding. "I know that and I'm grateful for it and I accept the consequences. I just need you to buy me some time."

"You got it. Time I can do." She readied herself to say goodbye. "One last thing though. This will determine how much time I can buy you?" She paused. "Do you love her?" She heard the hitch in Alex's voice before she answered.

"I never stopped." She sighed with resignation into the receiver. The tears rimmed her eyes.

"Go with God, Cabot." Satisfied Abbie hung the phone up and picked up her cell phone.


Part VI: Showdown at Ok Corral

Elliot held the door open for his partner. He had to admit he was impressed with the woman. She had gotten through the day without so much as an outburst or deadly eye glare thrown his way. He thought for sure that she would back out of going for drinks. In fact he lost ten bucks to Fin for believing it to be true. The pair easily found Fin and Munch at the bar. They were hard to miss since they were flanking the impossibly gorgeous ADA at the bar.

Elliot saw his partner hesitate in her next step as they both caught sight of the woman simultaneously. Munch in his dark suit provided a perfect backdrop for the pale beauty. At the moment she was enjoying an honest moment of laughter. She leaned back against the bar from her stool. She braced herself with one arm while she wiped at a tear with her free hand. Both Olivia and Elliot took in the sight of the counselor's long smooth legs that stood in stark contrast to the men at her sides.

Elliot, though happily married and recommitted, wasn't blind and he knew Olivia had 20/20 vision. Elliot had been doing this job long enough to know when someone was walking into a trap and as he eyed the counselor's outfit, he knew that Olivia was being reeled in: hook, line, and sinker. He would give his own partner credit as she came dressed in her dark tailored pants and a form fitting chocolate v-neck sweater. She had cleaned up nice, but the counselor, with her black stilettos, her skirt with its barely modest slit up the side, and the silky wine colored tailored dress shirt looked decidedly devilishly. Olivia was toast.

"Hey, hey!" Elliot called out. "No fair starting without us. Liv what'll you have?" He glanced at his partner beside him mostly to make sure she was still standing.

"Stoli and ginger." she replied as she eased out of her leather jacket and placed it on a hook under the bar.

Elliot ordered the vodka drink and a beer and gave a quick glance to the clock. It read 6:30 which meant it was really 6:15. He handed over the drink and watched Olivia down about half of it before saying, 'thank you' and thought to himself, "She's not even going to make it to 6:30."

"You thirsty Liv?" Munch asked with a laugh.

"Long day, you know."

"Indeed." The older man just nodded and eyed the woman with understanding behind tinted glasses. He thought, "I'll give her ten minutes."

"Anyway, I was just about to tell Cabot here about your undercover exploits. Our Benson was a regular left wing nut job." Fin said with pride.

Alex tried to catch the brown eyes that were avoiding but to no avail. "I heard actually. Did you pick Persephone or was that the Bureau?" She smiled.

Olivia nearly choked on an ice cube. "Uh, b-bureau all the way." She recovered and sipped from her drink. "I suggested Emily, but it was taken." She smirked and arched a slim dark eyebrow as if to say "fuck you Cabot."

The men around them braced for the inevitable sonic boom, but it didn't come. Alex just cleared an olive from the toothpick in her martini and grinned. It wasn't an uncomfortable grin, but a gesture that suggested she was prepared and impervious to petty one-liners. Ice queen, indeed. "Can't blame you," she countered. "Emily was too priggish for me. I know I may look like a prude, but God knows that couldn't be further from the truth."

This time Olivia did choke. She coughed hard into her hand. "Wrong pipe."

Cabot pretended not to register her distress as she looked past the woman in Elliot's direction. "So Stabler, how are things with you?"

Elliot darted his eyes from his partner back to Alex before answering. "Good, actually. The twins are getting ready for high school. And Kathy's doing well."

Alex smiled genuinely. "That's good to hear. Honestly, that's been the biggest thing for me to deal with --relearning everyone."

"It's a bitch indeed." Munch agreed. "There was this one trip I took where I remember waking up in a playground three states away from my house in a pair of footie pajamas and a tu-tu. It was pretty rough coming back from that one." His colleagues were speechless for a long ten seconds. "What? It's true." The dam broke and the five of them laughed themselves near tears.

"I'd forgotten how much I missed this." Alex said to Munch. "Thanks for inviting me out Elliot. I needed this. Thank you."

Before Elliot could acknowledge her Olivia caught blue eyes and spoke. "Imagine what the coming home party would have been like when you came back the first time. Oh, wait, no one knew." Olivia rolled her eyes and hailed the bartender for another drink.

Alex showed no sign of shock or even hurt. This she could deal with, this she understood. "Are you trying to hurt me detective? Got something you want to say?" She dared Olivia to face her.

On cue, deep and flashing brown eyes met her own. Olivia was near fuming. "I see you didn't have to relearn how to be a bitch." Olivia was braced for a slap but what came was the cool sting of iced vodka.

"And you're still a petulant stubborn ass!" Alex growled out the words and pushed past the stunned detective and headed for the bathroom.

Olivia slammed her hand down on the bar garnering attention from the rest of the people in the bar who hadn't all ready stopped to stare. "Fuck me," she grumbled and then headed after the woman.

"Show's over folks. It's all good." Fin shooed away the gawkers and nodded at the still silent Elliot and Munch. He glanced at his watch. "It's 6:30 gents." Both Elliot and Munch checked their watches for confirmation. "That would be fifteen minutes. Pay up chumps." He took a pull from his beer and gloated. Both men groaned and handed over the crisp twenties into Fin's waiting hand. He raised his beer in his partner's direction. "To you, for too much faith," he then addressed Elliot. "And to you, for having no faith."

"Yeah, yeah." Elliot rolled his eyes. "She was too busy choking."

"Anybody, wondering how long they are going to be in there? And at what point do we call the authorities?" Munch voiced the obvious.

"You must really still be smoking that stuff if you think I'm going anywhere near that bathroom." Fin shook his head. "Even though it could be a watershed moment and worthy of a call to Penthouse, I very much want to make it to the New Year. You feel me?"

The men laughed. "Well, order another round money bags!" Elliot demanded.

Alex leaned forward onto sink counter and counted down from ten. She was shaking she was so nervous. It hadn't been her plan to douse the detective, but she was too far away to slap her. She caught a quick glimpse of her reflection – her face was flush from the adrenaline. She looked to the door as she heard footsteps. Her silent countdown stopped at four before a seething Olivia Benson blasted through the bathroom door.

"What the fuck was that!?" She ripped off a paper towel and dabbed at her face. "Is that your answer? Is that your well thought out plan? Is this your genius fucking idea!" She was livid. "Well?!" She glared at the stock still woman ten feet from her. "Say something, Alex!"

It was angry, but it was the first time the other woman had spoken her name since her return. It wasn't the start she wanted, but it was a start. So, after four years of imagined conversations she began this very real one with, "Hi Liv." There was no anger, no sarcasm, just relief at being able to speak her name in her presence.

Olivia heard her name and she nearly collapsed. She leaned an arm down on the sink to keep herself from falling. There was that sweet honey husk that she had fallen in love with and she was practically whispering her name like a siren. Olivia took a deep breath. She had to gather herself and remember that she was angry at this woman and that she was done with this woman and that all she deserved was her ire. But those two words had stopped her like a steel beam in the road. She felt her breathing slow and a bit of her rage subside. Olivia met Alex's eyes and found that she was unable to turn away from the swirling blue. She was trapped. Or was she? She glanced at the door at back and back to Alex.

"Olivia, don't." She took a step forward. She wanted to reach out but she stopped the motion. "Don't walk away from me."

"Why?" Her voice was breaking. "You walked away from me and never looked back."

Alex took a deep breath and fought back the tears. "I did look back. I looked back every day. And then one day I realized that I had to start looking forward or I was going to disappear."

"That's bullshit Alex, you made it back and I was here." She was nearly shouting again. "I was right here." She slapped her palm to her chest for emphasis. "All you had to do show up."

"And what if I was someone you didn't recognize when I got back? I had my whole life taken from me by the shot that night. I lost everything, you chief among those things. I had to rebuild and then just when I thought I could accept the things I lost – I get handed a reset button."

Olivia looked away from Alex and leaned forward, resting her palms on the counter. She hung her head and willed away the tears. She bit back the bile in her throat and looked at Alex's reflection in the mirror. "That's not good enough." She said the words quietly. Alex furrowed her brow. "I said, that's not good enough." The anger was rising again. "You were my life!" She slapped the counter. "My life, goddamnit! You just don't get to hit fucking reset and not even acknowledge me."

"It wasn't what I wanted, believe me." Alex heard her voice begin to rise. "But I had to make a decision if I had any hopes of finding my way back to myself – and back to you."

Olivia stood up and faced Alex with angry eyes. "And this seems like a timely interval to you? It didn't occur to you that I was waiting? That I needed to know?"

"And I needed to know that I could survive without you." It was a hard truth.

"I suppose you got your answer then." She gritted her teeth. "So why come back now? You proved you could survive." The words were bitter.

"Yes, I did prove that. I could and have indeed survived." She took another step towards Olivia. "But, I also proved that surviving and living are two separate things. And while, yes, it does seem like a lousy time interval, I knew I couldn't go on living the shell of a life that I deemed myself worthy of. I knew that I had to at least come back and try to pick up the pieces." Olivia remained silent, but Alex could see that her mind was racing. She was searching for the right words and the right emotion. "Olivia, for what it's worth, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't have enough strength for us. I'm sorry that I was too scared to believe you'd have me back after I had gone so far away from myself. I'm sorry that I hurt you and I'm sorry I failed you, failed us. I—" She trailed off as she saw Olivia look away from her.

Olivia focused on the floor in an effort to stem the tears that were spilling, but it wasn't quite working. Her heart beat heavy against her rib cage and Alex's voice echoed in her ears. In her periphery she could see the bathroom door – an exit. And she could see Alex – the unknown. She understood the difference between surviving and living as well. It was what she had done all her life – survive. That was until she met the woman before her. The easy answer was to turn tail and run. It was safe. The not so easy answer was to stop being angry and figure out how to forgive. Figure out how to live.

Brown eyes met tear rimmed blue and Olivia let out a deep breath as if she had been constricting her lungs for hours. Suddenly she smirked as the cryptic text mail she received from Abbie made sense. At 5:45 her phone had buzzed and there was a one word message: live. Olivia reached out and pulled Alex to her roughly, holding her gaze the entire time. Once more, just like the first time, she saw no fear in blue eyes. This time Olivia didn't flinch. She grabbed the soft silk of Alex's shirt and pulled her in for a soul searing kiss. Where their first kiss had been haltingly sweet with the promise of new love, this kiss was frantic and heavy with the weight of loss.

Alex wound her fingers in long brown hair and tugged as they fought for control. Teeth raked her lip and she was sure she was bleeding but she pushed through the sharp pain and stepped into the brunette causing her to back into the sink counter. The women broke contact briefly, gasping for breath as Olivia put her hand down to keep herself from falling. Alex stepped in between the detective's open legs and took advantage of her slight height advantage. Smoldering blue eyes caught hold of the detective's brown eyes and she saw the desire that mirrored her own. Alex buried her hands in Olivia's hair once more and pulled sharply, making the woman gasp and exposing the leaping pulse in her neck. Alex latched her lips on to the flesh and threatened to break the skin. Olivia let go of a half-moan half-sob that filled the empty bathroom and seemed to bring their current position and predicament into focus.

Alex released her death grip on Olivia's neck and hair and pulled back so their eyes met. Their minds raced as they took sight of themselves literally tangled up in one another. Olivia's hands had made their way under Alex's black skirt pushing the material up, exposing her toned thighs. Alex's long fingers still rested loosely in long strands of Olivia's hair. It was Olivia who pulled her hands away first as she slid them down the back of Alex's thighs being sure to adjust the material along the way. Alex closed her eyes to the touch and shivered. Olivia tried to bite back the cocksure grin that pulled at the corners of her mouth, but it was evident that she was still aroused.

Alex swallowed hard, stood up straight and stepped back allowing the woman to stand. Olivia ran her hands through her hair and then met Alex's eyes. Some part of the seasoned detective was still hurting; in fact she was sure some part always would be, but the rest of her ached for the woman in front of her. As she looked into Alex's eyes she knew the choice was hers to make. She could walk out of here without another word to the woman and continue to eke out her life in the black hole of regret that she had convinced herself was a life or she could look forward to the possibility and the promise of a wide open future.

Alex stayed rooted to her spot as she watched the play of emotions pass through brown eyes. She knew the detective well enough to know that she was contemplating walking out and never coming back. She also knew she'd follow. She took a breath and spoke softly, but loud enough for Olivia to hear. "If you walk out of here," she paused, "I will follow you." Her voice grew louder with her confidence. "I'm prepared to fight – even if that means I have to fight you."

Olivia arched her eyebrow in challenge and smirked. "You think you can take me, counselor?"

Alex caught her bottom lip in between her teeth so she could curtail the wide smile that was near bursting. She batted long eyelashes demurely. "Detective," she began. She held Olivia's eyes with her own. "I will own you."

Olivia couldn't hide the blush that crept up her cheeks or ignore the throbbing between her legs. If she did walk out of here without this woman she decided she might as well walk straight into traffic. Olivia swallowed the lump in her throat and tried to regain her cool façade which was nearly impossible at this point. "You got a plan to get out of here?"

Alex let out a throaty laugh that sent shivers down Olivia's spine. "Sure. You take my hand and we leave by the front door, lest someone believe we got trapped in here." Olivia held out a faintly trembling hand which Alex took without hesitation. They shared an honest smile as Alex led them out the door and to the exit.


Part VII: Letting the wheel come around

When the evening rush hour had threatened to keep them confined in the car the women agreed without the aid of words to hop out and just briskly walk the five blocks to Olivia's apartment. Alex was worried that all of the sexual tension they had built up would find a way to dissipated in the crisp city air, but as she watched Olivia's hands tremble attempting to unlock the door she knew it had only grown.

Alex covered Olivia's hand with her own, steadying her nerves and silently reminding her that she just needed to breathe. Together they turned the lock and entered the apartment which was backlit by the city lights streaming through the open curtains. No sooner had Olivia closed the door and tossed her keys in the direction of the coffee table, did she feel herself moving backwards. She had forgotten the strength of the lithe counselor when she was determined to get what she wanted. The breath nearly left Olivia's body as her back hit the door. Alex overwhelmed her with her ferocity and her speed as she pinned her arms up above her head and claimed her mouth.

Olivia happily melted into the feel of the younger woman practically enveloping her body with her mouth and her hands. Olivia allowed herself to be trapped against the door as Alex deliciously tortured her mouth and neck with her tongue. The feel of a taut thigh between her legs elicited a deep moan from the detective.

Alex broke contact with her lips to grin impishly. She was flaunting her control and she wanted the writhing detective to know it. "Still think I can't take you detective?" She was baiting the detective hard. She felt Olivia's body coil tightly and then she awaited the release.

Olivia didn't disappoint. Brown eyes flashed dark with need and challenge. She wasn't going to let Alex run this show, not now anyway. In one fluid motion, Olivia broke the limp grasp of the younger woman spun around behind her and pinned her to the door like a common perp. She forced Alex's arms above her head and pressed against her body so that she had to deal with both the cool door and the raging heat at her back. Olivia slid a strong thigh between Alex's legs as she simultaneously grasped the ends of her skirt and pulled it up to her waist. Olivia bit her lip to keep from gasping at the sight of the tantalizingly round and creamy bare skin.

Olivia ground her pelvis into Alex's exposed flesh and reached around and felt the silky material of the thong covering her eventual goal. Olivia pulled Alex's arms away from the door and spun the woman around. She unzipped the skirt and let it fall to the floor. Olivia shamelessly licked her lips as she planted a surprisingly soft kiss onto Alex's lips and then curled her fingers into the soft silk of her shirt that still remained on. "You fond of this shirt?" Olivia asked in a voice gone husky with impending release.

Alex barely had the words but managed to shake her head no. She was rewarded with the snap and pop of buttons as they came away from her newly open shirt and fell about the floor like errant popcorn kernels. Olivia didn't even try to stifle the appreciative and wanton moan that fell from her lips at the sight of the black lace cups of Alex's bra and the smooth expanse of her stomach. Olivia slid the shirt from the woman's shoulders but did not pull it completely off, effectively trapping long arms behind her back. Olivia eased out of her leather jacket and pulled her sweater over her head before taking a quick moment to admire her handiwork.

With wild blue eyes, lips parted in anticipation, tousled blonde hair, a black thong and lace bra the counselor made for quite a modernist interpretation of Venus Di Milo. Alex kept her eyes fixed on the detective and saw the pleasure she was deriving from her current position. Alex ran a pink tongue along already moist lips and then caught her bottom lip between her teeth and let out a scintillating moan. The tease had its desired effect, as the detective pinned the still moaning woman to the door with her body and tangled her hands into her hair as she hungrily kissed her.

Olivia was done with the teasing as she freed Alex's arms and next freed her breasts from the delicate lace. Alex quickly wrapped her arms around Olivia's neck and held on as she rode the taut thigh between her legs. Alex let her head fall back as she gasped for air and felt her body tense up near release. Olivia felt the change in her body and eased back. Both took the moment to catch their breaths. Olivia stepped back and held out her hand gesturing for Alex to come with her. This time it was Alex who reached out with trembling fingers only to have them entwined with the warm strong fingers of the older woman. Olivia pulled the woman to her and softly kissed her. Tenderly, she placed fleeting kisses on her eyelids, her nose, and once more on her lips. Alex closed her eyes as if she was praying. She opened them once more to find the rich brown eyes of Olivia waiting for her. What she found there made her knees give a bit and it was only Olivia's firm grip that kept her upright as they made their way to the dimly lit bedroom.

Alex, nearly divested of her clothes, save for one small piece of material, lay on her back in the soft cotton sheets of Olivia's bed, arms stretched toward the wrought iron of the headboard. Olivia removed the last of her own clothing and crawled up the lissome woman's body. The contact of flesh on flesh sent their synapses reeling. Olivia knew that later, much later, and probably after many hours of release, that she was going to cry. Olivia kissed her way down Alex's body and stopped at a luscious and kissable curve that was created by the juncture of her hip and thigh. She curled two fingers into the thin, just-begging-to-be-broken straps of her thong and made eye contact. Olivia took her moan for acquiescing and ripped the material with a quick flick of her wrist. She tossed the material away and breathed in the sweet sticky essence that made the hair on the back of her neck stand up in delight.

Alex could barely watch as the moment she had wished for, prayed for, dreamed for, and wished for again, became reality. She felt her leg being lifted over a strong shoulder and then felt rather than saw Olivia's tongue fill her. She let go of a near howling sound as Olivia's tongue circled her clit and then enveloped it in warm heat. She buried her hands in Olivia's hair and cried out, "Please, god, please."

Olivia knew what she wanted, but she needed to worship this woman with her mouth first before she used her hands. She could feel the muscles in Alex's thighs seize up as small tremors ripped through her body. Olivia left the warm and constricting comfort between the counselor's thighs and kissed, licked, and sucked her way back to Alex's waiting mouth.

Alex's body shook with spasms once more as she tasted herself on Olivia's tongue. She tugged the hair she had gathered in her hand making Olivia pull back and meet her eyes. There was still hurt in those brown eyes, but there was also that something that she had denied in the beginning, lived for in the middle, and came undone by in the end: undeniable love. Now, was not the time to say it, eventually they would get there, but for now they needed to claw at one another and exhaust themselves.

Olivia snaked out her tongue and licked Alex's bottom lip which trembled like the rest of her body. She kissed her way down Alex's throat and pulled hard at the flesh on her collar bone, surely marking the alabaster skin.

Alex arched her body up as Olivia's hands and mouth seemed to be everywhere at once. Her brain was on overload as she moaned into the deep kisses the detective lavished on her mouth and neck, while at the same time strong fingers began to burn a trail down her stomach and towards her thighs.

Olivia claimed the counselor's mouth roughly eliciting a deep moan from Alex. Alex's hips rose as she desperately sought out more contact. Olivia wasted no more time in teasing the woman as she sucked hard on Alex's collar bone and immediately plunged two fingers into Alex's warm wetness.

The dual sensations of pain at her neck and the delicious fullness of Olivia inside her nearly made her explode. Olivia moved her lips from Alex's neck and found a hardened nipple to tease with her tongue. Again, Alex could only writhe in pleasure at the sensations moving through her body. Alex wound her fingers in dark brown hair and forced Olivia's lips away from her nipples and to her waiting mouth.

Olivia did not hold back her own moan as she eased in and out of Alex. She could tell Alex was nearing release as her breathing turned to near gasps. Instead of kissing the woman Olivia found herself staring into darkened blue eyes as she curled her fingers and quickened her pace. Alex clutched at Olivia's back and shoulders, no doubt leaving welts and cried out as Olivia filled her over and over.

"Christ…fuck…Liv…god…I'm going…oh fuck…" She panted out the words between breaths as her body begin to shake with release. Alex held Olivia's gaze as long as she could and even though she couldn't say the words "I love you" it was evident as Olivia's name burst from her lips as her building orgasm ripped through her body.

As Alex convulsed and clutched at Olivia's shoulders she could feel the detective's body go rigid as she attempted to hold off her own release. "It's okay," Alex whispered into her ear. "Let go." Olivia was overwhelmed with the sight, sound, taste, and feel of the woman beneath her. Her body tensed with inevitable release as she felt Alex's thigh rub against her throbbing center. "Please, Liv," she breathed out. "Come for me." At the counselor's whispered request, Olivia let go and surrendered all that she had to Alex. Together they rode out the multiple waves of each other's release until they found themselves nearly too exhausted to breathe.

Olivia's body seemed to go limp as she buried her face in Alex's neck and focused on breathing. She reluctantly removed her fingers that were still resting comfortably inside the woman but did not attempt to extricate herself from between her thighs. Alex's arms remained wrapped around Olivia as she held the woman to her. Together they trembled not from the temperature but from the enormity of what was once more happening between them.

Olivia would deny it in open court if asked, but it was her warm salty tears that spilled first, there in the crook of Alex's neck. This time her body shook with a different kind of release, but it was near orgasmic just the same. The want, the anger, the sorrow, and the need that she had held onto for the past four years came rushing forth like an overflowing riverbank. Alex just held on for dear life as her own tears began to fall. Alex planted soft kisses on Olivia's cheek and ear as she whispered "forgive me" over and over until it was a near prayer.

Long moments passed before Olivia's breathing returned to normal and the tears slowed. On weak limbs she managed to lift up and roll onto her back. Olivia looked up at the darkened ceiling and blinked away the last of her tears. She stretched out her hand, which Alex took and held to her body. Olivia blew out a shaky breath as a smile pulled at her lips.

"Something funny?" Alex asked quietly as she watched the woman at her side.

Olivia turned her head and met bright blue eyes. "I was just thinking about what you said." Her voice cracked a bit as it came back to her.

"And what was that?" Alex's voice had regained the sweet husk that she knew delighted the detective.

"You said, 'you'd own me'." Olivia smirked.

Alex let out a chuckle as she rolled onto her side. With her free hand she touched her fingers to Olivia's skin and traced her brow and caressed her cheek. "Indeed I did detective." She leaned down and placed a feather light kiss on her lips. "Don't worry; your secret is safe with me."

This time Olivia laughed out loud. "You do know the night is still young, so I wouldn't go patting yourself on the back just yet, counselor." She grinned rakishly.

Alex batted long eyelashes coyly. "Is that a threat, detective? A promise maybe? Or just wishful thinking?"

Olivia chuckled. "Is it possible that you've gotten cockier in four years?"

Alex shook her head and smiled. "Not cockier, just been away for too long." She met Olivia's warm brown eyes and wanted to melt. "Liv, I –" she began the words, but a finger to her lips stopped her.

"You don't have to say it." Olivia meant what she said.

Alex leaned down and kissed Olivia until their lungs begged for release. "But I want to." She took a breath. "I need to. I need you to know."

"And you think I don't know." She reached up and ran her fingers lightly across her cheek. "I see it in your eyes," she began. "And I feel it here," she wiggled the fingers that were still held against Alex's chest. "I won't lie to you and say that all is magically well or that I'm not still nervous that you're going to walk out that door again."

"Liv I –" Alex started, desperate to explain.

"Let me finish." She smiled to ease the growing tension. "I can't begin to explain what the last four years have been like and honestly, I don't know if I want to crawl back into that hole even just to take a survey. All I can tell you is that what I feel right now, with you here next to me, with your smell on me, with the taste of you still in my mouth – I don't want to lose that. I can't do that again." She closed her eyes tightly to force back the tears stinging the edges of her eyes. She sighed and ran a hand through her hair before catching Alex's tear filled eyes. "So, what I'm saying is let's move forward. I'm not saying that there aren't things I want to know and questions you want to ask, but if I'm being honest then I need to be clear: I'm done with just surviving the days. I want you. I need you. And the rest of it's just…" She trailed off and shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know what the hell it is, but I don't really care at this exact moment. My brain is way off line and all I can understand is how fucking good this feels." She smiled as Alex blushed. "Does that make me a terrible person?"

Alex smiled till her cheeks hurt before rolling on top of Olivia, cradling the woman's face in her hands and kissing her. "Of course you're not a terrible person," she finally answered after a few lingering kisses. "As far as I'm concerned Olivia Benson, you are a goddamn saint." She laughed and kissed her again.

"A saint? That good?" Olivia teased. "I don't know if I'm a saint, but I know I'm not stupid either." She laced her fingers through blonde hair. "And well, I'd have to be all kinds of stupid to give this up on account of pride or some such thing." She grinned and then pulled Alex to her for a long deep kiss. When the women finally pulled apart Alex gasped for breath. "You're not going to pass out on me or something counselor?" Olivia joked.

Alex arched a slim eyebrow. "I hope you don't think I'm done with you." She grabbed Olivia's wrists and pinned her arms to the bed as she straddled her.

Olivia let out a low hiss as her stomach tightened with arousal. She licked her lips and looked into cool blue eyes filled with desire. "Like I said counselor, the night's still young." Olivia bucked her hips making the woman on top of her let out a moan. Olivia gave Alex a cocksure grin that made the woman blush to her toes. Chocolate brown eyes held blue as Alex leaned forward and covered Olivia's body with her own; the contact made them both shudder. "And you know what," Olivia gently nipped at Alex's lower lip. "I'm not done with you either."

They shared a smile and then a kiss that began softly but quickened in pace and fervor in the space of a breath. As they devoured and savored one another for what would not be the last time, the ghosts and the demons that had burdened them both for so long were banished to the dark. What lay ahead of them now was possibility.



Olivia's phone rang for the first time sometime around midnight and did not stop till she tossed it out of the bedroom door. Had she answered she might have been prepared for the loud pounding on her apartment door at 7:30 in the morning. Normally, it wouldn't have mattered, but three hours of sleep would make anybody cranky.

With a groan Alex lifted her head and stared at the woman next to her. "Is there construction?"

Since Olivia had stuck her head under a pillow the only thing that moved was the pillow. "Son of a bitch!" The pillow was launched into the air as Olivia sat up. She pulled her gun from its holster on the night stand. "If that's Elliot I'm going to shoot him in the kneecaps."

Alex couldn't stifle her laugh as the stark naked brunette stood up. She made quite the picture with her gun and her haphazardly styled hair. "Don't you think you might give him a heart attack?" She asked through a giggle.

"Well, at least I'll save a bullet." The knocking stopped. "Thank God!"

"Liv, you in there? Benson, you better be dead drunk or I might have to tan your hide." Abbie Carmichael's distinct voice sang out.

Olivia cringed and Alex pulled the covers up over her head. Both women groaned out a "fuck" simultaneously. Olivia holstered her gun and hopped back in the bed where she quickly joined Alex under the covers. "If we're quiet she might leave." Olivia said with hope.

"Riiight. Abbie's just going to leave." Alex smirked.

"What the hell is she doing here?"

Alex suddenly found the pattern in the sheets interesting. Olivia caught the look and arched an eyebrow. "Alex, something you want to say?" The look of chagrin on the woman's face said it all. Olivia just shook her head to keep from laughing. They both heard a key hit the lock and they let out sighs. "So much for sleeping in," Olivia grumbled before stealing a quick kiss. "Ready to face the world, counselor?"

Alex rolled her eyes and smiled. "The world, yes. Abbie? No way."

They both laughed right before they heard the front door open and Abbie's voice fill the room. "What in the hell!? Sweet Jesus! I think she went and killed her."

The End

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