DISCLAIMER: All characters belong to Dick Wolf and NBC who also own the rights to Law and Order, Special Victims Unit. No money is being made from this story. The lyrics from "Breathe" are those of Faith Hill. The lyrics from "Forever and For Always" and "You're Still the One" are those of Shania Twain.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you to my two betas, Lori and especially Ashlea for all your input! Your suggestions were invaluable. This is my first effort.
SPOILERS: Post "Loss" and "Ghost". References to other episodes.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Forever and For Always
By Marymartin


California, April 1, 2006

(Alexandra n/k/a Alice)

The attractive blonde gazing at the hypnotic pull of the Pacific Ocean was unaware of the admiring glances aimed in her direction, deep as she was in thought. Her neighbors were used to her daily walks on the beach and her reluctance to socialize so she was alone, a solitary figure sitting on a blanket, her arms locked around her knees and her eyes on the water, lost in memories.

Images floated across her subconscious, taking her back to New York, back to a time when she'd been flat on her back on a city street feeling the blood pouring from her body, her life passing before her eyes. Playing hide and seek at six with her best friend Lisa Phillips in the backyard in Greenwich, Connecticut. Unrelenting competitiveness driving her to excel in sports and academics. Her father's plane crash and death the year she turned twelve. Summers at the Cape. Winters in Aspen or Maui. Her first 'come out' and her first sexual experience with Matthew Hunter during the Debutante Ball her senior year of high school. Stanford University, class of 1995. Her second 'come out' and brief love affair with Ana Maria Fuentes, during a summer abroad between college and law school. Yale Law School. Law Review. Moot Court. Her judicial clerkship. The District Attorney's Office in New York City. Elizabeth Donnelly. Special Victims Unit. Captain Don Cragen. Munch. Fin. Huang. Elliott Stabler. Olivia Benson. An explosion. Shots in the night. Her fake death. Wausau, Wisconsin. Her mother's death.

Alex unconsciously grimaced at the memories of more recent events. Alex Cabot, this is your life.

Before her return to New York to testify in the Liam Connors trial, she'd managed to somehow successfully convince herself that her world would right itself again and that she would return to the life she'd had ripped away from her on October 1, 2003, when she was 'killed' on the streets of Manhattan. She could leave the new life that had been forced on her and which she despised. She could control things again; make decisions; protect the victims of crime instead of stockholders of an insurance company. She would see her mother again; her friends; her colleagues; she would return to the courtroom. In short, she would pick up her life right where she'd left off. And most importantly, she could finally admit her attraction to, (oh, come on Counselor, let's not kid ourselves here), her love for Detective Olivia Benson.

Fate proved to her just how wrong she was. When she was provided another new identity and whisked away after the Connor's verdict, the enormous sense of loss was so intense, so much more painful than before that she felt like her heart had been ripped physically from her chest. This time she experienced every single bittersweet detail with absolute clarity, without the haze of morphine and a fog of pain and shock clouding her senses. Being near Olivia– those incredible chocolate brown eyes she could drown in; that proud, confident presence – had almost destroyed her since she had known before her 'reincarnation' that regardless of the verdict of the trial she was destined to return to the Witness Protection Program. Olivia's obvious delight at her presence in New York; the deep affection reflected in her eyes when she looked at Alex as well as an unspoken question waiting to be answered had almost destroyed her in the brief period of time she was 'home'.

One of the things Alex was grateful for was that her relationship with Olivia had not reached a stage where anyone knew about it. Not that they had gotten to the kind of relationship she'd secretly coveted before the shooting. To the world at large, they were at most, very close friends, at least, co-workers. Velez therefore could have no idea how very important Olivia was to Alex. This fact was never more relevant than after Alex returned for the Connors trial and it became public knowledge that she was very much alive and in hiding.

The night before she testified, alone with Olivia in her hotel room, she fought an overwhelming desire to pull the older woman into her arms, confess her love to her, and never let go. Instead she'd told her about her insurance colleague, Dan, who whispered 'Emily' to her in bed, deliberately omitting the fact that they had been to bed together exactly one time, right after she learned of her mother's death; the experience had been a huge disappointment to them both; and it was only because she was so terribly lonely and he had an unbelievable physical resemblance to one Detective Olivia Benson that she'd let him get close to her at all.

I thought we had all the time in the world, 'Liv. I have so many regrets. I'm so lonely. Are you? Do you still think about me?

After the trial she'd been moved to California, provided with another new identity and mundane job. The black depression that had engulfed her following these events was kept at bay with frequent trips to the beach. The raw power and majesty of the Pacific, so different from her familiar Atlantic, provided solace and helped keep Alex sane.

As she stared out at the white foam, she repeated in her head a familiar mantra that had been a secret part of her daily ritual since going into the program. My name is Alexandra Jane Cabot. I was born October 20, 1974. My father was Alexander John Cabot III. My mother was Jane Olivia Cabot.

Jane Olivia. The irony of that particular fact of Alex's personal life never failed to amuse her. Velez had deprived her of both Olivias – her mother died believing that she had outlived her only child. And Liv – well please God, Liv was alive and well. As long as Velez did not know Alex's feelings for Olivia she should be safe – at least as safe as possible for a New York City detective.

If she'd had a daughter, Alex had always planned to name her Olivia. The first year she'd been in Witness Protection, she'd found herself fantasizing about having a child with Olivia; making a home with her, a life with her. Living 'happily ever after' as promised in the fairy tales her father had read to her as a little girl.

Grow up, Alex. Life is certainly not a damn fairy tale.

She was so lost in her thoughts that she started as two shadows fell across her. Standing before her on a beach in Northern California, were Agent Jack Hammond and Captain Don Cragen looking very out of place in their suits and dark trench coats.

'Alice Conway' scrambled to her feet as fear gripped her. "What happened?"

"Velez is dead". There was a pause, a moment of silence while Alex's brain processed what she'd just been told, but then the roar of the ocean was in her ears and Cragen's concerned expression seemed to fade in and out of focus.

"Alex, you okay?" Cragen put his arm around her for support as she staggered, stumbling against him. She felt suddenly lightheaded and the beach seemed to be spinning around her. She clung to him, suddenly giddy.

My name is Alexandra Jane Cabot. I was born October 20, 1974. My father was Alexander John Cabot III. My mother was Jane Olivia Cabot.

It's over. I can go home.

Chapter One

February, 2005

Gramercy Park Hotel, New York City

Eve of Trial, The People vs. Liam Connnors

"You making any friends?" Alex heard the love and concern in Olivia's voice, which was reflected in her face. Brown eyes pinned blue ones and there was no mistaking what Olivia was really asking her. Alex bit her lip, fighting the tears that threatened to flow, then, summoning every ounce of resolve she could muster, she struggled to put on her game face of old before responding.

"There's a claims adjuster at the insurance agency where I work and we've been seeing each other. Dan Adler. He's a good man. He thinks I'm from Tulsa and when we're in bed together at night he whispers my name …. Emily." Her voice trembled and tears were threatening.

Olivia looked away from the raw pain in Alex's face and the sorrow in her voice, hiding her own reaction to Alex's words. She sighed heavily. "It's hard to be someone that you're not," she responded, her voice barely above a whisper.

Alex felt her frustration and helplessness building. She looked skyward, as if to find divine intervention, fighting to control her emotions. "I can't stop thinking like a prosecutor." Her eyes were haunted as she focused on Olivia but her voice had reverted to that of ADA Alex Cabot. Olivia could hear the determination in it.

"Connors is going to sit in that courtroom tomorrow looking like a choirboy. He is going to charm the jury with his Irish brogue and I … …I have to make them see what he really is but ..." Alex pressed her hands to her eyes. "… I don't even know what makes him tick."

During Alex's speech, Olivia had retrieved something from her overnight bag. She handed a manila folder to the blonde with a quiet warning, "Alex, you didn't see this file."

Alex automatically reached for the file, her eyes widening in shock when she opened it and scanned its contents. Liam Connor's entire history was in here. Olivia was taking a huge risk in sharing this information with her. If this became common knowledge her friend could easily lose her job. Alex heart constricted at Olivia's gesture. There was no way Alex would betray such trust. She would use anything and everything that she could find in this file to help convict Liam Connors. He would pay for her attempted murder and the murders of Antonio Montoya's parents if it was the last thing she did.

All conversation between them ceased after Olivia entrusted her with Connors' file. The sparks of electricity that always arced when they were together, that incredible chemistry between them was still present, kept at bay by sheer willpower once again, as they slipped back into the familiar 'don't ask, don't tell' position that had defined their relationship for years.

Olivia moved the chair Elliott had been using during his backgammon game with Alex so that it faced the door. She sat down, her eyes focused on the sole source of entry to the room, her senses alert. Alex settled against the headboard of the bed with a familiar look of intense concentration on her face as she poured over the information Olivia had provided her.

Although she appeared outwardly calm, Olivia's thoughts were racing.

Keep her safe.

'…a claims adjuster where I work. '

'He's a good man. When we're in bed together he whispers my name.'

Protect Alex.


What does he mean to her? Has she thought about me at all? Doesn't she want to come back?

Images of Alex and the faceless claims adjuster in bed together surfaced. His arms around Alex, his lips caressing Alex. Alex whispering, "I love you." Stop it! Olivia mentally shook the images away and refocused on the job at hand -- protecting Alex.

Alex's breathing had fallen into an even rhythm indicating sleep, exhaustion finally taking over. Liam Connor's file rested on her chest and the black glasses Olivia had always found so sexy were perched crookedly on the bridge of her nose.

Moving carefully to avoid jostling the bed, Olivia gently removed the file from the sleeping attorney and placed it on the nightstand, the glasses following. She tenderly covered Alex with the comforter, and sat back, content just to look at her.

The time apart had taken its toll on Alex. Despite her confident bravado when she'd appeared in Peterson's courtroom earlier, she was often jumpy and skittish. Dark circles under her eyes evidenced lack of sleep and there were lines in her face that Olivia did not remember. Sadness leaked from her eyes. Tiny strands of silver at Alex's temples mingled with the rest of her hair, which although a richer honeyed color than before, remained blonde. The bangs Alex had worn when Olivia last saw her had grown out and her hair was now all one length, falling past her shoulders, when it was down.

Watching the rise and fall of Alex's chest, Olivia was reminded of a popular Faith Hill song:

…I can feel you breathe
It's washing over me
Suddenly I'm melting into you
There's nothing left to prove
Baby all we need is just to be

Caught up in the touch
The slow and steady rush
Baby, isn't that the way love's supposed to be
I can feel you breathe
Just breathe

In a way I know my heart is waking up
As all the walls come tumbling down.

I can feel the magic floating in the air
Being with you gets me that way

I love you. I didn't admit it to myself until you were shot and it's only gotten stronger since you've been away.

Watching Alex sleep, Olivia felt her resolve grow. "Okay, Alex. I don't know what Dan Adler, claims adjuster, means to you or whether you and I could ever have any kind of a future together, but this I promise you, come hell or high water, once this damn trial is over, we are going to talk."

Olivia was oblivious to the fact that she had spoken aloud and that Alex had awakened and heard every word.

Alex was stunned at the passion she heard in Olivia's voice. Although they'd never acknowledged the desire and sexual tension between them, or spoken aloud about the deeper feelings that developed as their friendship blossomed, she'd seen the love in Olivia's eyes as she bled out on the streets of New York. She'd heard it in Olivia's voice calling her 'sweetheart' and begging her to hold on as she lost consciousness. She'd tried to speak, to tell the detective how she felt, before it was too late, but her brain wouldn't process all the words past her lips.

She'd refused to leave Olivia with that horrific image as her last memory of Alex. She knew that the detective would beat herself to a pulp with guilt for failure to prevent the shooting or for not taking the bullets herself. Olivia could teach seminars on guilt she was such an expert on the emotion. Alex had used every persuasive skill honed as a prosecutor to convince Agent Hammond that she had to see Elliott and Olivia one last time before disappearing into Witness Protection.

If she lived to be a hundred, Alex knew that she would never forget Olivia's face when she stepped out of the black SUV. Olivia's words, 'How long?' had haunted her for months. When the nightmares came, imagining Olivia beside her, holding her, loving her, had helped Alex survive.

Since that parting, a myriad of memories had sustained Alex, providing a fragile thread connecting her new and old lives. Somewhere along the way – she didn't know how or when it had happened, but her feelings for Olivia had shifted and changed. Alex wasn't just in love with Olivia, she loved deeply. Both her physical beauty and her beautiful soul. Her intelligence and raw strength. Her incredible sense of right and wrong. That adorable vulnerability Olivia only rarely allowed glimpses of. Her lopsided grin. The way she had of raising 'the eyebrow' and regarding Alex with both exasperation and amusement. The times her face occasionally lit up with a smile that reached her eyes during an unguarded moment. She even adored the detective's arrogance, stubbornness and combativeness. There were hundreds of reasons that culminated in her loving Olivia. During their time apart it had become a certainty to Alex that Olivia was the only one she had ever loved – or would ever love.

She guarded her secret, her valuable secret from everyone, especially the woman she loved. She knew the detective too well. Olivia always tackled problems head on, sometimes in a reckless manner when the stakes were high. If she had any inkling of Alex's true feelings, she was likely to put herself at risk, maybe even try and go after Velez, something Alex did not want. She had to keep Olivia safe from the faceless, nameless people who still wanted Alexandra Cabot dead and wouldn't hesitate to use any available weapon to exact their revenge. If misleading her about Dan Adler, if letting her think Alex was happy in her new life was what it took, that's what she would do, regardless of personal cost. As horrible as the past seventeen months had been, as devastating as her grief at the loss of her mother, Alex knew that she would not want to continue to exist in a world without Olivia Benson.

Alex forced her breathing to remain even and her body to stay perfectly still, feigning sleep.

Keep her safe.

Protect Olivia.

Gramercy Park Hotel

Day Three of Trial, 10:00 p.m.

They were gathered around a small table in the room, half-empty Thai takeout containers littering the surface. Two Federal Marshals were on guard in the hall.

Alex seemed much more relaxed after testifying. Elliott and Olivia deliberately kept the mood light, avoiding any discussions of the trial or work while treading lightly around events that had transpired during the time apart. Once the three of them had caught up on courthouse gossip and the detectives had shared several humorous Munch and Fin stories, the conversation turned to Alex's life in Wisconsin. No longer prosecuting cases, 'Emily' handled paperwork in the workers compensation division of a large insurance company.

"Shania Twain?" Elliott was incredulous at something Alex had just said. "You like Shania Twain? I always figured your musical tastes ran more to the Met Counselor."

Alex sighed, thinking wistfully of her season tickets. "Classical actually. However, the last time I checked, Wausau, Wisconsin isn't real big on either opera or the symphony. Country Music. Yes. Picnics. Yes. Green Bay Packers. Yes. Large triangular headgear in the shape of cheese. Yes."

"You've become a cheese head Alex?" he teased.

She stuck her tongue out at him. "I've always liked professional football Detective. Although living in Wisconsin during football season can be …," she paused searching for the right adjective. "…rather intense I will admit. My musical tastes have broadened some since I've been away. There's something about Shania's music that really appeals to me, especially her lyrics." She looked directly at Olivia when she said that.

"What does that look mean?" Olivia wondered.

Olivia was slowly being hypnotized by the cadence and timbre of Alex's voice. She thought she had remembered everything about Alex, but being this close to her pointed out dozens of tiny details she had forgotten. Those eyes, incredibly blue, the color of lapis lazuli behind her black frames. Olivia's memory didn't begin to do justice to the real thing. That sexy voice that never failed to send a shiver down Olivia's spine. Alabaster skin, delicate features, sharp cheekbones, kissable lips. The way she was responding to whatever Elliott had just said, ticking off her points on her fingers.

Her breasts felt tight. Her inner thighs ached. Her lower abdomen throbbed like a dull toothache. Her throat was dry but the area between her legs certainly wasn't. She recognized the symptoms for what they were – desire.

"Come on Liv, you gonna let her browbeat me like this?" Elliott roused her from her reflections. She didn't have the vaguest idea what they'd been talking about.

Alex was looking at her with a strange quizzical expression.

When in doubt, bluff. "Come off it, El, she's got to be a bit out of practice doing nothing but pushing paper all day. Can't you hold your own without calling for back-up?"

Further discussion was halted by a knock on the door. Both detectives drew their weapons and Elliott put himself between Alex and the entrance to the room.

"Who is it?" Olivia demanded, alert to danger.

Munch's muffled reply indicated that the guard was changing, and Olivia opened the door to reveal him smiling broadly. He strode into the room, making a beeline directly for Alex, Fin following.

"Alexandra, I have been counting the hours all day until our evening together." Munch kissed her hand as his partner rolled his eyes skyward. Elliott shook his head at Munch's antics, reaching for his and Olivia's coats.

"Everything okay?" Olivia asked them, returning her gun to its holster.

"It's cool," Fin reported taking the chair she had recently vacated.

Elliott turned to Alex, hugging her briefly. "We'll be back in the morning. We're going to be there when the verdict comes in." He smiled encouragingly.

Alex rested her hand on the side of his cheek, smiling tremulously at his words. "Thank you Elliott. He's going down. I can feel it."

Olivia could hear the absolute certainty in Alex's voice. It was the same conviction she'd heard hundreds of times when Alex was prosecuting and knew that she'd won her case. And Alex always knew, even before the jury came back, when she'd won.

Giving into temptation, she leaned into the younger woman pulling her into a hug as Elliott had done. Alex stiffened at first, but then her arms wrapped tightly around Olivia, and she returned the pressure, burying her face briefly in the detective's neck before pulling back.

"'Night. Thanks." Her voice was so low that Olivia had to strain to hear her words. She was pale, and tension had returned to her face. She looked like she had just lost her best friend.

It took every ounce of Olivia's willpower to turn and walk away from her again.

One Hogan Plaza

Post Verdict

Alex had been right. Liam Connors had gone down.

The detectives and ADA Novak were all gathered together for a combination victory/'welcome home, Alex' celebration.

"Guilty on all counts." Casey was jubilant.

"I never doubted it'd be anything else." That was Elliott.

"Let's get this party started." Olivia held up two bottles of chilled champagne, her good mood arrested when she caught sight of Cragen.

"Alex knew just how to push Connors' buttons," he said, fixing her with his 'dad' look.

Olivia shrugged, trying to deflect the attention with a compliment for Alex, "She's a great prosecutor."

"And you gave her the ammunition."

Olivia froze, thoughts in turmoil as she struggled for some way to respond, but before he could fully pursue the topic there was a noise outside the room.

"Is that her? Is that her?" Elliott's voice reverberated with excitement. Five pair of eyes focused expectantly on the door as it opened, not to reveal the former blonde ADA, but Agent Jack Hammond.

Olivia looked behind him to the hallway, "Where's Alex?"

Hammond's voice was subdued. "The marshals are moving her and Antonio to new identities. She asked me to say good-bye."

The plastic glass she was holding fell from Olivia's hand, bouncing once on the floor and spraying her with alcohol. She didn't even notice it as she fled the room.

No. No. No. No. No. NO! Alex, stay with me; stay with me.

Chapter Two

April 1, 2006


'Alice Conway' lived in a converted carriage house about two blocks from the beach.

It was twilight by the time Hammond and Don had filled her in on all the details of Velez's death. Events had seemed surreal to Alex during the walk to her house. At any minute she'd half expected one or both men to shout 'April Fool!' given the date. They told her that Velez and most of his cartel had been killed in a shootout near the Mexican border, casualties of a rival drug lord who'd decided he wanted less competition. Alex forced herself to thoroughly review each grisly photograph in the file looking for confirmation of what she'd been told. The photos were powerful proof. This is real. He's really dead.

Hammond explained to her that with Velez's death and Connors incarceration, the FBI had concluded the risk to her was minimal. She was free to leave Witness Protection if she so chose.

If she so chose? I get to start making choices again about my life?

Alex never hesitated. "What do I need to do?"

Now, sitting on her deck with Cragen drinking iced tea, after signing enough legal documents for an Act of Congress to start the process that would allow her to reclaim Alexandra Cabot's life, the reality of what had happened was just beginning to sink in. Before leaving, Hammond had told her that the process could take between four and six weeks to complete but that he would do anything he could to expedite matters. Until then, she should stay put and continue to keep a low profile. "No cell phone. No contacts with anyone until you hear from me," was his final instruction, followed by a particularly meaningful look. "I mean anyone, Alexandra."

She'd smiled sweetly at him, promising nothing. They'd had a knock down, drag out fight after the Connors' trial when he'd prevented her from telling Olivia good-bye in person. She'd be damned if he'd keep her from letting her know that she was coming back to New York.

Cragen was gazing at the view from Alex's deck and he reluctantly got to his feet. "Alex, I should probably head to the hotel, give you a chance to absorb all of this. I have an early flight back in the morning."

She smiled at him. "Please, stay a while, Don. I'd like the company. We can order dinner. Eat out here."

He was clearly pleased at the invitation. "Okay. I'd like that."

During dinner he brought her up to speed on 'her' detectives, Elizabeth Donnelly, and other colleagues she wanted news about. She was not surprised to learn that Donnelly was planning to run for governor or even that Benson and Stabler were both waiting for the results of the sergeants' exam. Only when he mentioned an ongoing investigation involving a serial rapist that was resulting in lots of overtime, did Alex give voice to the question that had been in the back of her mind for hours.

"Don, I hope you won't take this the wrong way, I'm thrilled to see you, but why is it you are here? Particularly with the situation you just told me about?"

Cragen took a drink of tea before responding. "I had some time -- had bypass surgery about a month ago." At Alex's concerned expression, he was quick to reassure. "I'm doing fine but the doc won't release me to return to work until next week."

She nodded, puzzlement now replacing her concern. "Okay, that explains why you're not working. It doesn't explain why you're here."

"Hammond thought you might like to see a familiar face when he broke the news about Velez." He cleared his throat nervously, "Alex, you must know how fond I am of you. In many ways I think of you and Olivia as the daughters Marge and I never had."

Alex was touched. "Don –", she began but he held up a hand.

"Let me finish. Alex, when you disappeared after Agent Donovan's death and went into Witness Protection we all took it very hard. Olivia had a particularly rough time. Even though I didn't fully understand all the reasons, it was obvious to those of us who care about her that she was deeply affected by your loss."

He took another drink of tea before continuing. "After the Connors trial – well it was like she had died. When you were a no show at the celebration we had waiting for you, she disappeared for a week. When she came back to work, she barely functioned." He paused, gauging her reactions to his words. "It got to the point that she agreed to counseling. She's only recently started to show signs that she's beginning to recover from everything that happened."

Alex blinked, stunned at what Don had just said. Olivia was in counseling?

He covered one of Alex's hands with his own and squeezed gently. "I'm delighted that you are returning to New York, don't get me wrong." He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, before looking directly into her blue eyes and continuing, "I'm just not sure how many more emotional hits Olivia can take where you are concerned."

Alex felt her heart lurch. Olivia still cares.

Joy sluiced through her at his words. Try as she might, she couldn't quite control the smile that threatened to break out. Whatever Olivia's feelings towards her, they must be serious or Don wouldn't be so worried about how Alex's return would affect her.

I guess I wasn't as subtle about my attraction as I thought. And she must not be terribly subtle either.

Don was looking at her intently. She felt absurdly like a suitor being sized up by an overprotective father. She fidgeted in her chair under his gaze.

I cannot believe that we are having this conversation. Here goes nothing.

"Don, are you asking me what my intentions are towards Olivia?"

He blushed and looked down at his hands. How incredibly sweet and dear this gruff man was.

Alex reached for his hand, unsure just how candid she should be. After all, Olivia deserved to be the first person Alex shared her true feelings with, especially after the way she'd deliberately misled her the last time they'd been together.

She chose her words carefully. "The last two and a half years have given me a completely different perspective."

He nodded, understanding. "Almost dying does that to you."

Of course, bypass surgery. He gets it.

"I'm sure it's no secret to you that when I first came on board with SVU I had some pretty lofty career ambitions. I had my sights set on the DA job or a seat on the bench." She regarded him steadily, her crossed arms resting on the table. "We both know what kind of tightrope one has to walk to achieve such a goal, usually at the expense of a personal life. I thought I was prepared for life in the fishbowl, ready to make whatever sacrifices necessary no matter what the cost might be."

Don nodded. He was very familiar with such ambitions. He also was aware that one or two missteps could derail those ambitions permanently. Given the current moral climate, public knowledge that Alex preferred women to men would have ended her chances at the District Attorney's job, an elected position.

"During the time I worked with SVU as your primary ADA, things began to change." She'd risen to her feet and was now pacing. "The longer I worked with all of you the less important things like publicity, press conferences, high profile cases, and win/loss ratios became."

He raised an eyebrow at her challenging her last statement.

"Okay, okay, winning was always important," she conceded, holding up her hands in mock surrender but her voice was once again serious as she continued. "Over time I discovered that the only thing that really mattered was justice for the victims, no matter what it took to get it."

Sam Cavenaugh. Cheryl Avery. Livia Sandoval. My most painful memories -victims with no justice in the justice system.

He acknowledged the truth of her words. The longer they'd worked with her, the more Alex pushed the envelope when she felt it was necessary, regardless of the consequences, to achieve justice for the victims. She'd gone to jail for contempt and been suspended for a month on one occasion. Her absolute sense of right and wrong and relentless quest for justice was what had forced her into the Witness Protection program.

Alex stopped her pacing and sat down again, "I loved prosecuting. I've missed it terribly. When that was taken away from me it was like losing a body part."

Cragen smiled at her, "You were always a good prosecutor Alex."

"Thank you. But even prosecuting doesn't hold the same allure anymore." She looked intently at him, choosing her words carefully, "Don, I'm not the person I used to be. I've had more than enough time to sort out my feelings and priorities during this little sabbatical. As you said, it's amazing how almost dying helps you figure out what is truly important. "

She sighed. "Did you know, that I actually once thought I was invincible?"

He wasn't surprised. It was easy to believe in immortality when you were young.

She stood up. "You haven't seen the rest of the property. Let's take a walk."

Although clearly puzzled at her change in tone and the very abrupt shift in the conversation he followed her across the yard and up a set of stairs leading to an area above the garage. Once inside, she flooded the room with light and he could see clearly that it was an art studio. Canvases were stacked against the walls. A watercolor, a seascape, waited for completion on an easel near the bank of windows that ran the full length of the south wall. Paints and art paraphernalia were scattered about the room.

Don looked around him in amazement. "I didn't know you painted, Alex."

She now resumed their earlier conversation as if he hadn't spoken, as if they were still sitting on the deck. Once again, she had resumed her pacing. Her thoughts had always come more quickly to her when she was moving.

"I know what I want. I know exactly what I need to truly make a life, not just go through the motions of living." As she spoke, Alex knelt below the bank of windows where half a dozen canvases were stacked face down against the wall. She began to turn them around, her actions punctuating her words as she did so.

"I know exactly what is truly important to me and it's not the DA job, or a seat on the bench, or even prosecuting again. I need a profession where I can make a difference, where I can help victims." Alex's voice was determined; her words clear. "I need to be back in New York. And, most importantly, I need one special person in my life – someone I hope will be waiting for me when I go home."

Alex stood up as she finished speaking and he turned his attention to her work. His first impression was that their former ADA was incredibly talented. As he came closer to the paintings, he saw that they were all portraits of the same subject, done in oils. He caught his breath. The chocolate brown eyes of Olivia Benson looked back at him in every one of them. Alex had painted Olivia as she'd imagined her, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing; solemn in some, smiling in others. In one she'd even painted the detective interrogating an out of focus suspect. Every picture had its own warmth, its own magic. And each one reflected the love poured into its creation.

Wordlessly he looked up at her from the array of portraits spread out in front of him.

Alex shrugged. "They wouldn't let me take any pictures with me when I left."

Part 3

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