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
Olivia tried again to focus on the pile of paperwork she had been working on for the last two hours. She just didn't seem to be making any headway. If anything, it appeared the pile had multiplied.
She was so tired, drained, actually. Every day it required greater effort to put one foot in front of the other.
All the activities that had once given her pleasure and purpose now held little appeal. Where she'd run for the joy of it before, she now ran to induce exhaustion. Where she'd once reveled in the power of her body while lifting weights, she now worked out simply to escape her thoughts. The hours in the gym and on the track had paid off. Olivia had never been so physically fit or so emotionally empty.
She wasn't sleeping much. The nightmares had returned with a vengeance. More frequent and intense, Olivia speculated, because after Connors' trial it was public knowledge that Alexandra Cabot was not dead but in hiding. Nightmares that now included Alex and Dan Adler, insurance adjuster, and dozens of new scenarios always ending in Alex's death.
Wounds she thought had healed months ago had reopened with Alex's recent return to New York and abrupt departure after Connors' trial. No matter how many times she tried to suppress the memories, the precious hours she'd spent with Alex kept replaying over and over in her mind, leaving her heart feeling like it had been cut with hundreds of razor blades.
Oh my love, how am I going to survive without you?
Elliott's voice snapped her out of her reverie. "Hey partner. How 'bout getting some lunch?"
Olivia shook her head. "No thanks. Not hungry."
"Huang was telling me about a new Italian place not far from here. He says it has great linguini."
"Gimme a rain check Elliott. I'm really not hungry." A glance at the papers on her desk confirmed that the stack was still in the same shape as when she'd last looked.
"You gotta eat." Elliott persisted.
She was getting irritated now. "I said I wasn't hungry," she snapped at him.
Elliott suddenly pulled her to her feet and began shoving her arms into her leather coat.
"Hey, what are you doing?"
"I'm not taking 'no' for an answer. Let's go."
As soon as the waiter had taken their order, Elliott started in. "Talk to me, Liv."
She shook her head, pouring them both water from the carafe left by the waiter in an attempt to look busy and postpone the inevitable conversation.
"Okay fine. I'll talk and you listen. You're no good to anyone like this. You've been barely functioning since Connors' trial. You're pushing yourself too hard. You're not sleeping. You're not eating ." you're eating your heart out. You look like hell.
What he didn't say was that she'd exhibited every symptom associated with post traumatic stress disorder. Huang, Cragen, Fin, Munch, they'd all noticed and had elected Elliott spokesperson to convince her to seek help. Even Casey Novak had caught on after seeing the two women together during Liam Connor's trial. She too was concerned for her friend.
Olivia stubbornly shook her head again. "I can't talk about this with you Elliott."
He continued as if she hadn't spoken. "It's obvious what Alex means to you Liv. It's also obvious that you're not coping."
He knows. Jesus is it written all over me?
"You wouldn't understand."
Elliott pinned her with his gaze. "I know what it's like to lose someone you love Olivia," he responded softly.
Shit. Shit. Shit. You moron! "Christ El, I'm so sorry. I didn't think." She touched his shoulder. "Guess I need a refresher of 'officers' sensitivity training', huh?" Olivia attempted a teasing tone which fell miserably flat.
He shrugged. "Listen, neither one of us has ever been very good at opening up, right? Lack of communication and shutting out my wife is what got me served with divorce papers. Do you remember telling me that if I didn't let her in I was going to ruin the best thing in my life?"
She nodded. Both of them internalized the horrors that they dealt with daily. Not exactly the healthiest coping mechanism.
"Well. I finally decided you were right. Kathy and I have been seeing a family counselor."
This is definitely news.
The waiter had returned with their entrees and Elliott took a large bite of lasagna, chewing slowly before he continued.
"I fought it kicking and screaming, but what made me finally agree was the realization that Kathy was not going to come back to me unless I opened up to her. I'm still bunking on my brother's couch and I don't know if we're going to salvage the marriage, but she's put the divorce on hold and we're working on it."
"That's great Elliott." Chocolate orbs filled with tears. God. Can't I get through one lousy day, one conversation, without waterworks?
"Look, the counseling hasn't only helped us communicate better with each other. It's helping me deal with my feelings about the job. It's helping me cope with my anger." He smiled broadly, "Believe it or not, once I started opening up, it wasn't too bad. In fact, it may turn out to be one of the best things I've ever done for myself."
His talking wasn't helping her deal with her growing irritation. She pushed ineffectually at the pasta he'd insisted she order. "Elliott, is there a point to this?"
"Yes there is. The point is you " He pointed at her. " need to see a counselor."
What the fuck? I sure didn't see this coming.
Olivia fought to control her rising anger. Elliott's face held nothing but concern and affection. His voice was gentle, persistent.
"Olivia. You have got to get some help. If you don't do it on your own, I'm telling you the Captain's going to order you to see someone. Maybe even make you take a leave of absence."
"You, of all people, want me to see a shrink?" Elliott's disdain for mental health professionals was well known. Before they'd begun this extraordinary conversation she'd have bet that he wouldn't voluntarily talk to one for a million bucks.
"I care about you. We all do."
"Who's we?" she demanded.
"Fin. Munch. The Cap."
"They know about Alex?" Jesus, had she just said that out loud? Maybe she was losing her marbles.
"None of us are blind. We are trained observers you know. It's part of the job. We know how close you were."
He covered her hand with his own. "Liv, you're family. Whatever there is between you and Alex, it's none of my business unless you want to tell me. But it's obvious to all of us how much you're hurting."
Great. Just great. Why don't I just take my gun and shoot myself now?
Hang on, where did that come from?
A cold, sick feeling of dread came over her. For one brief second she had actually thought seriously about killing herself.
He looked startled. "Okay?"
"Yeah. I surrender." She took a bite of food, ignoring his stunned expression. "Got somebody in mind?"
Office of Dr. Elizabeth Olivet,
They were nearly eight months into it now, initially meeting twice a week before settling into a weekly appointment, and Olivia at times felt like she was an onion, shedding layer after layer as she bared her soul to Dr. Elizabeth Olivet. Before returning to private practice, Olivet had been a consultant with the District Attorney's office for several years, so she was familiar with the type of cases Olivia saw on a daily basis. She also had a brief acquaintance with former ADA Alex Cabot.
Olivia Benson was a strong woman, but it had become clear to Liz that her strength was born of great personal cost. Growing up, surviving, had required her to place all of her trust in herself. As a result, Olivia rarely allowed anyone she cared about to get too close to her; rarely exposed herself to the pain of possible rejection. She internalized almost everything, keeping an emotional distance from her fellow human beings most of the time.
During their sessions they'd covered her turbulent relationship with her alcoholic mother; the circumstances of her birth; her fears about her unknown father, a violent rapist and what she might have inherited from him; her co-workers; the job; her current personal life (or lack thereof); her sexual preferences; her fear of commitment; her insecurities; even touched briefly on how Elliott's marital problems had affected their partnership. Olivia had shared with her the memories of Alex's shooting, her own helplessness and frustrations at not protecting her, and some of the nightmares she still had. At first Olivia had been reluctant to talk, but over time as her trust in Liz grew, she found it easier to confide in her. And amazingly, as she allowed Elizabeth Olivet in she had begun to slowly feel her emotional equilibrium return.
All of their sessions had been leading up to Liz's next question.
"What is Alexandra Cabot to you?"
Olivia struggled for an answer. Even though she spent much of her time using words to draw others out, she had always found it difficult to voice her own feelings and emotions.
"My soul mate." The words were out of her mouth before she could stop herself.
Oh shit, what have I done?
Liz's face remained impassive and unreadable but Olivia heard the care and compassion in her voice. "Indeed?"
"Were you two intimate?"
God yes. Olivia thought back. Dozens of conversations sitting on courthouse benches waiting with Alex for a verdict. Frequent lunches and occasional drinks after work. And in the two months before the shooting, a standing Thursday night dinner. Heated arguments with neither conceding a point, neither giving an inch. Not nearly enough physical contact a touch on the hand, the arm, on the back, an occasional hug. Unspoken communication. Those incredible, incredible blue eyes. A shared smile; a look. Glistening blonde hair that smelled of citrus shampoo. That special combination of sophistication, intelligence, ambition and arrogance that was Alex Cabot.
"We both know that there is much more to intimacy than physical acts, Detective."
Yes we do. We also know that there are physical acts without any intimacy whatsoever.
Olivia shrugged. "Then the answer to your question is 'Yes. We were intimate'."
From her knowledge of Olivia and the answer to that question, Elizabeth Olivet would have staked her professional reputation that Olivia Benson had revealed more of herself to Alex Cabot than to any other living person.
Liz leaned forward in her chair. "Did you ever tell her how you feel?"
"I didn't know myself until she was shot." Olivia ran her hand through her hair, pausing as she gathered her thoughts. "Can you believe that? I'm so fucked up that it took Alex almost dying before I admitted to myself that I was in love with her." She shook her head. "If she was here, I'd find a way to screw it up. I'm not good at relationships."
Liz disagreed. "Olivia, that is simply not true. I know you believe that you can't love someone and not hurt them, but you are a caring and compassionate woman capable of deep and abiding love. That's very obvious by how much pain you're in right now."
She looked intently at the detective. "You told me that Alex said something right after she was shot. What did she say?"
"I'm not sure." She struggled to recall the exchange. "I thought she said 'love you' but maybe it was 'Liv, you' like she was trying to tell me something and couldn't finish the thought. I froze at first; I couldn't think, couldn't say anything except her name" She shuddered at the memory, still all too vivid, of Alex lying so still on the street, hovering between life and death, as Olivia fought to stop the blood pouring from her body.
"What about when she was here during the Connors trial? Did you talk to her then?" Liz's voice was gentle, persistent.
Olivia shook her head. "I wanted to. I'd made up my mind to tell her how I felt once the trial was over. She was so stressed about testifying, about making sure that an S.O.B. like Connors didn't get off I couldn't bring it up. I never got the chance after that. They took her away without letting us see her."
Liz thought for a moment. "Are you trying to convince yourself that she doesn't love you, or that you don't deserve her love?"
Olivia didn't answer her at first. "I don't know, maybe." She searched for words to explain her feelings. When she spoke, her voice was low and mournful. "I don't want to forget her but I can't stand this separation. It's tearing me to pieces. And I don't know what's worse thinking she could never feel for me what I feel for her or thinking that she does and I'm probably never going to see her again."
Office of Dr. Elizabeth Olivet
Elizabeth Olivet sighed softly. Olivia had gone to the window, her back to the psychologist, her body language suggesting no desire to talk. Determined to draw her out, Olivet posed a question.
"Olivia, are you familiar with the stages of grief?"
The detective turned around, dumbfounded at the question. "Sure. Anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance," she recited impatiently, her voice trailing off as she finished the list.
"Have you recognized any of these in yourself?"
Olivia thought back.
ANGER: The broken glass on the copy machine at the precinct when she'd slammed her fist down in a fit of temper and frustration. The white hot rage that had been her constant companion far longer than she'd wanted after Connors' trial.
DENIAL: She's coming back. I'm going to look up and she'll be standing there calling me 'detective' in that sexy voice and arguing with me about a search warrant.
BARGAINING: Please, keep Alex safe. I'll do anything. I'll stop drinking. I'll be nice to Munch. I'll eat all my vegetables.
DEPRESSION: I miss her so much. All I want to do is stay in this bed and sleep. I don't want to live without her. Why don't I just end it?
Olivia's stunned expression said it all as she softly whispered 'yes' in answer to Liz's question.
The psychologist's tone was gentle, soothing. "Olivia, I've helped hundreds of people deal with their grief when a loved one dies. Together we've worked to achieve some kind of closure for them. But in each of those instances there was absolutely no chance, however remote, that the missing loved one might suddenly reappear. They were irrevocably gone. You and Alex, this situation is new territory for both of us."
Great. Can't I even work through grief like a normal person?
Olivia began pacing. "I don't even know if she's dead or alive. Seeing her again, it was the best and the worst thing that's happened to me since she went into witness protection." Suddenly her frustration and anger spilled out, "I'm so fucking sick of this! It's like being in limbo. I want it to end, for life to get back to normal whatever that is. I can't stand living like this. It's tearing me apart."
To her absolute horror, Olivia burst into tears, sobs racking her body as almost two and a half years of buried emotions burst forth. She was there on the street, fighting with all her might to keep Alex from bleeding to death in her arms. The emergency room doctor's grave face as he informed them that Alex had died, followed less than 72 hours later by the shock at discovering Alex was alive. Endless months of not knowing anything after Alex disappeared into Witness Protection. The bittersweet joy of the all too brief reunion. The aching, always present numbness that had been with her since that time.
When Liz's arms came around her, Olivia's instinct was to pull away. Fighting the urge, she allowed the counselor to comfort her, holding her until her sobs abated.
Liz gave her a hug. "You're stronger than you know, Olivia. I promise you, we'll get through this."
Olivia let herself into her darkened apartment and flopped down on the couch without taking off her coat. The sessions with Liz left her emotionally drained and today's had been brutal.
She reached over to the portable CD player on the end table and hit the 'on' button. A few minutes later she fell asleep to the sounds of Shania Twain, thinking of Alex.
You're still the one I run to
The one that I belong to
You're the one I want for life
You're still the one that I love
The only one I dream of .
Many Weeks Later
Olivia restlessly paced back and forth, reminding Liz of a caged tiger. Watching her with secret amusement, Liz took a moment to process the extraordinary information the detective had just imparted to her. Caesar Velez was dead and Alexandra Cabot was leaving the Witness Protection Program and returning to the city. She had sent a note back with Cragen.
'Olivia I know that Don has told you about Velez and that I am able to leave Witness Protection and come back to New York. We do need to talk. It's long overdue but I want it to be face-to-face. I should be back in the city in about a month. Agent Hammond has promised to expedite things for me. Can't wait to see you. It's been too long. Love, Alex'
"So how do you feel about that?"
Olivia whirled on her, eyes blazing. "I hate it when you guys say that."
Liz hid a smile. "Okay. Let me rephrase. What was your reaction to Alex's message?"
"I don't know." Olivia averted her eyes.
"I think you do."
I never wanted anyone in my life. Never thought there was room for anyone else. I always thought I was the original Lone Ranger. No entanglements; no commitments. But with Alex it's different. Everything with Alex is different. There hasn't been a day since Connors shot her that I didn't think of her; didn't miss her. I want to be with her, grow old with her. I want to share everything with her, never be apart from her again. I'm incomplete without her.
Olivia sighed, still refusing to look at Liz. "I'm afraid to hope. I've held on to this fantasy of her, of us, that I've created. I don't know if I can deal with reality."
What if she rejects me?
Liz smiled at her. "You're strong enough to handle whatever comes. Even if it's something good."
Olivia's head snapped up. "Pardon?"
"Olivia, have you ever allowed yourself to think that you and Alex want the same thing?"
She shrugged. "I used to." She still remembered vividly Alex's eyes, looking at her with love in them, as the federal marshals drove her away following the shooting. "It's been so long. Things change." Insecurities surfaced.
He's a good man. When we're in bed together he whispers my name.
The marshals are moving her and Antonio to new identities. She asked me to say good-bye.
"True enough. But your feelings for Alex haven't changed have they? From what you've told me they've gotten stronger in the last two and a half years." Liz looked meaningfully at the detective. "Olivia, if you don't tell her, you're never going to know how she feels. She wants to see you, obviously from her message. What if she feels the way you do"? Liz leaned towards her, putting into words, the one thing she was certain Olivia wanted from Alex but had yet to voice. "What if she wants the same things you do? What if you are her soul mate too?"
Olivia looked down at the floor, pondering the counselor's words. When she looked up, Liz saw a flicker of hope in her eyes.
Special Victims Unit
The SVU detectives had been at it for five hours straight, pouring over files and surfing the Internet for any kind of lead on a case involving rapes and assaults on women joggers in Central Park, and Olivia's eyes were beginning to water from the strain. Her neck hurt. Her back hurt. She could feel the beginnings of a killer headache. She leaned back in her chair and stretched in an attempt to get rid of some of the tension in her body.
"Hey. Benson. You got a long lost brother in Wisconsin?" Fin's voice rang out from his computer.
"Take a look." He gestured to his screen. Olivia stared in disbelief at the photo displayed. Smiling at the lens was a handsome man, about six feet tall with auburn hair and brown eyes. Their physical similarities were eerie, down to one eyebrow that arched higher than its twin. He was even wearing a leather bomber jacket. It was like looking at herself in a mirror if she'd been born an Oliver instead of an Olivia.
The man was identified as Daniel Adler, Wausau Insurance Company, and he was presenting a check to the American Red Cross on behalf of his employer. Daniel Adler. Olivia felt the room spin as she recalled where she'd heard the name. This was Alex's co-worker the one who called her Emily when they were in bed together?
Looking at the photo, she suddenly felt a lot more charitable towards Mr. Adler for the first time since learning of his existence.
Elliott joined them. "Guy's a dead ringer for you Liv. He could be your twin. Pretty freaky." Then, as if the thought had just occurred to him "Hey, wasn't Cabot working for some insurance company in Wisconsin?"
"I don't remember."
He looked at her with a sly grin. "Think she knows him?"
"How the hell would I know!" she snapped. Hoping to divert the conversation, she said, "You really think this guy looks like me?"
Munch, taking interest in the discussion, put in his two cents. "You know, cloning is a lot more commonplace than the government would let on." He studied the image on the screen intently. "Of course, he is quite a bit younger than you, it would appear."
"Screw you," she shot back without malice.
"Not to mention the fact that I've never heard of a man being cloned from a woman." Fin pointed out.
Cragen stuck his head out of his office, noticing the four detectives congregated around Fin's desk. "What's so interesting?" Like children with their hands caught in a cookie jar, his detectives each replied different versions of 'nothing' and returned to their desks and their work.
Olivia felt the hope she'd first experienced in Olivet's office grow stronger. For the first time in a long time she realized that she was anticipating Alex's return with something other than anxiety and fear. Maybe they both did want the same thing. Now all she had to do was summon enough courage to find out.
Alexandra Cabot turned the corner as she exited the offices of her family attorney and immediately collided with a solid body.
"Sorry," she said distractedly, looking past the man she'd just walked into.
"Alex?" The man said in disbelief.
Her head snapped up in surprise. "Elliot?"
Startled, both stepped backwards momentarily before Elliott pulled her into a bear hug, lifting her off her feet in his exuberance.
"It's great to see you, Counselor. When did you get back? How come you haven't been by the Precinct? What are you doing here?"
She laughed. "Which question do you want me to answer first?"
"Well, I got back about three days ago and I haven't been to SVU yet because I've been in marathon meetings almost nonstop since I arrived. I'm here, having just finished a three hour meeting with the attorneys for my mother's estate."
She gestured to the bronze nameplate which read 'Hargitay, March and Meloni, PC'. "It's amazing how much red tape is involved when you come back from the dead," she noted wryly.
"I can imagine."
She and the firm had finally navigated through uncharted waters allowing her to claim the inheritance from her mother's estate while preserving the 'Alexandra Cabot Foundation', the successor beneficiary. When her mother had believed she'd survived Alex, she'd established a foundation to help sexually abused children. It was important to Alex that her mother's legacy continue and she was committed to providing a victim's advocacy resource. One by one, the pieces of Alexandra Cabot's life were being reclaimed. One last piece, and her life would hopefully be complete.
Alex looked around the hall, attempting and failing - nonchalance. "You alone?"
Elliott suppressed a grin. Only Olivia seemed to be stubbornly oblivious to the former ADA's obvious interest in her. Casey Novak, not always the quickest to pick things up, had noticed the undercurrent between the two women when Alex had returned for the Connors trial. She'd asked Elliott about the nature of their relationship after Alex went back into witness protection but he'd only shrugged and said, 'They're close.'
Curious about Olivia, eh Alex?
"Yeah. Liv's been working a temporary assignment with vice. It just wrapped up so she should be back in time for your party."
He referred to the interrupted 'Welcome Back Alex' party which had been rescheduled with a much larger guest list, caterer and band, and was set to take place in a few days.
"Great. I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone."
"Well everyone's looking forward to seeing you too. When the captain told us you were coming home we broke out champagne in the squad room."
"Really?" Alex's smile was like sunshine.
"You bet." He winked at her. "You're family Alex. We all care about you."
He fell into step beside her. They'd taken no more than three paces when his cell phone rang.
"Stabler. Nah, complete waste of time. Guy didn't know jack." He smiled at Alex. "Hasn't been a total loss though. I literally ran into our favorite MIA/ADA in the building. Just got back. I'll tell her. Yeah, okay, bye."
He ended the call and turned to Alex. "Fin says 'hi'."
"MIA/ADA?" she asked curiously, referring to his comment to Fin.
He grinned wickedly. "That is courtesy of a certain John Munch. I'm afraid you've had that nickname since the Connors trial."
She groaned. "Terrific. I'll see if I can't get it embroidered on some towels."
They resumed walking. At the elevator, he paused. "Listen. I'm on my way back there. You got time, wanna' come?"
Alex smiled delightedly. "Are you kidding, I'd love to."
In the car, she asked. "So, what's this case you're working on?"
"Central Park stalker."
Alex nodded, familiar with the facts. Eight joggers, all blonde women in their late twenties to early thirties had been assaulted and raped during an eight week period. The violence escalated with each attack and the last victim had died from her injuries. It was front page news.
"We've been pursuing leads for weeks." He sighed heavily. "We are so close. I can feel it."
She nodded, understanding. "You'll get him. You always do."
"Yeah and you always put 'em away."
Not always. Definitely not always. The last two and a half years could attest to that. Sometimes I really screw up.
She stared out the window for several minutes, neither of them speaking until Elliott broke the awkward silence he'd created when he'd inadvertently stuck his foot in his mouth. "So, Counselor, are you coming back to the DA's office?"
"I haven't made a decision." Alex again looked out the window, before continuing. "Actually, I have several options. Liz Donnelly wants me to work on her campaign and Branch mentioned the possibility of narcotics or major cases."
She turned to look at Elliott. "I'm not sure that I want to return to prosecuting. It seems like there are too many victims that the system can't help. For the present, I think I'm just going to do some work with the Alexandra Cabot Foundation, probably as a victim's rights advocate."
He grinned. "I guess it should be easy to get a job there, huh?"
She nodded. "Nepotism can come in pretty handy sometimes." She was horrified when her voice broke and tears welled up in her eyes.
"Alex, you okay?" Elliott was all concern.
She brushed tears away impatiently. "Sorry. I'm having a few problems trying to adjust to all of this." She swallowed, searching for words to explain. "It's like being on an emotional roller coaster. It's going to take some time to get used to being Alexandra Cabot again after so long pretending to be someone else."
She shrugged. "Thomas Wolfe said, 'You can't go home again.' There are days I think he was right. This time away some things are just as they were when I left. Others " She looked away, still fighting tears. "I visited my mother's grave yesterday. That was tough. I never stopped missing her and I never will." He heard the raw pain in her voice. "I never got to tell her good-bye."
She smiled tremulously. "It's so good to hear my real name again."
He squeezed her hand, resting on the seat beside him. "It's good to be able to say it. We've missed you more than I can ever tell you."
Twenty-four hours later.
Olivia felt the familiar rush of the bullpen welcoming her back. The time with vice had helped keep her mind off Alex when she was returning and what was going to happen when she did but it was good to be back where she belonged.
Calling greetings, she filled a cup with hot coffee, grabbed her messages, and headed toward her desk, only to be brought up short by the sight awaiting her there. Centered on the desk's surface was a large glass vase of red and yellow tulips. She did a quick count. Sixteen red. Fifteen yellow. Thirty-one total.
Thirty one? Who sends someone thirty-one tulips?
The card, still sealed in its parchment envelope, was tied to the vase with a yellow and red silk ribbon.
"Anything you'd like to share with us about your most recent assignment?" Munch asked archly.
Ignoring him, Olivia reached for the card. Opening the envelope, she scanned the message, immediately recognizing the handwriting.
I'm back in New York. When you're ready to have that talk, please call me. I'm staying at the Carlyle. Room 7007. I've missed you.
Olivia's hand trembled. Her legs felt weak. She sat down heavily, still staring at the card she was holding. A memory surfaced -- Olivia and Alex leaving the courthouse together one day to find a flower vender had set up shop at the bottom of the steps. Olivia had expressed delight at the colorful bulbs on display. "Tulips are the greatest flowers. They always cheer me up when I see them. It means spring is coming again and winter is gone."
Alex was here. Alex had sent her favorite flowers. Alex wanted to talk.
A tug of war was going on inside Olivia. What if she was reading Alex's signals wrong? What if she just wanted to see her to say good-bye? What if she wasn't alone? Olivia's stomach somersaulted at the possibilities. But some feelings are stronger than fear: love, longing, desire.
"You know Oh-livia," Munch said conversationally, perching on the corner of the desk, and regarding the flowers. "One's choice of flower has certain symbolism. For instance," he stroked one of the bulbs. "Yellow tulips symbolize 'hopeless love', and red tulips are symbolic for 'undying love'." He peered at her. "So the message being sent here could very well be hopeless, undying love for you."
Fin had seen Olivia's face. "Maybe they just had a sale on tulips."
Olivia didn't hear him. She was on her feet, shoving the card in her pocket as she stood. "Gotta go." She bolted the room.
In the cab on the way to the Carlyle she checked her phone and discovered a dead battery. Shit! Replacing the battery with the spare she checked voice mail. She had several messages, two from Elliott. The first one was yesterday.
'Liv, it's me. I just uh, ran into Alex. She's here in New York. We're at the precinct. I thought I'd give you a heads up. Call me.'
The second was two hours ago.
'Liv, I guess you didn't get my message. I wanted to let you know that Alex is back. She stopped by the precinct yesterday. Uh, she's staying at the Carlyle. I'm betting she wants to see you. Call me.'
Carlyle Hotel, Room 7007
Alex had hoped working out would take her mind off the fact that she hadn't yet heard anything from Olivia. As wonderful as it had been to catch up with the other SVU detectives yesterday she was aching for her detective, the one who had haunted her dreams for years.
Hot and sweaty, she was undressing to shower, her shirt halfway off, when it became entangled with the headphones from her iPod. Damnit. She yanked at the offending article, pulling shirt and electronic device off in an impatient motion.
Is that the doorbell?
Heart pounding wildly, Alex hurried to the door, oblivious to the fact that she was wearing nothing but a sports bra and navy striped running shorts.
Olivia was stunned when Alex opened the door in a semi-undressed state, out of breath and panting heavily. She hungrily drank in her first glimpse of Alexandra Cabot in many months. Blonde hair pulled loosely in a ponytail, familiar necklace, white sports bra, damp from exertion, silky running shorts that showed off legs that seemed to go on forever.
Where on earth did she ever find running shorts with pinstripes? Amusement quickly turned to fury. She's been running? In Central Park? Does she want to get killed?
"Damn it Alex, don't you have any sense? Don't you know there's a nut case out there raping, then cutting, blonde Central Park joggers into little pieces? You're just his type!" Olivia raged, glaring furiously at her. "And another thing, you should know better than to open your door without putting the chain on first. You never know who it could be."
"For your information Detective, I wasn't in Central Park," Alex barked, irritated at Olivia's tone of voice. "I was down in the health club which to my knowledge, being inside the hotel and accessible only with a key, is perfectly safe. I doubt if the Central Park stalker is staying at the Carlyle." Blue eyes flashed. "Besides, I knew it had to be you. No one else knows my room number." She'd responded without thinking, the response automatic, their battle of wills as familiar as breathing.
Suddenly, the absurdity of the whole situation hit Alex and she burst out laughing. In all the reunion scenarios she'd envisioned with Olivia none had included the detective yelling at her the second she laid eyes on her. Alex's amusement only served to fan Olivia's irrational anger.
"Are you laughing at me?" Her eyes blazed.
"No. Not at you." Alex fought to control her mirth. "At the situation. Thirty-one months in Witness Protection; I finally get out and the first thing we do when we see each other is argue."
The cogs began to turn in Olivia's brain.
Her anger disappeared as quickly as it had come.
"Would you like to come in, or do you want to continue this discussion in the hall?" Alex asked politely.
Olivia realized she was still half in, half out the door. Crossing the threshold, she shut the door behind her.
"I'm sorry. I acted like a complete idiot."
"Yes you did." Alex took pity on Olivia's agonized expression. "I might forgive you though on one condition." Her voice was teasing.
"Anything." Olivia was overwhelmed by the sensations of being near Alex. The woman standing before her was not hiding behind the guarded, careful expression Emily/Alex had worn the last time Olivia saw her. Nor was she wearing the cautious, controlled expressions of ADA Cabot around Detective Olivia Benson. Olivia had never seen Alex look at her as she was right now. Were her eyes actually twinkling?
Alex leaned in towards Olivia, both hands on the door jam, effectively pinning her against the door. "Kiss me, hello."
Alex's lips were inches from Olivia's. She could feel her breath against her cheek. Those incredible blue eyes that had haunted Olivia's dreams were looking intently at her. Alex brushed Olivia's lips lightly. "You know you want to, Liv," she growled in a seductive voice.
This can't be happening. I must be dreaming.
Olivia was lost in the intensity of the emotions she was seeing in Alex's eyes. Emotions she was sure were mirrored in her own. She was drawn to Alex like a moth to a flame. Whatever this was between them, it had been there for a long time and their lengthy separation had done nothing to extinguish it. It still burned brightly.
Olivia pulled Alex into her arms, knocking them both against the door in the process. She touched Alex's lips with her own, seeing her lashes flicker before her own eyes slid shut. There was a hesitant, first opening of mouths, a slow exploration of tongues before the kiss turned erotic, wet and filled with motion. Alex hummed in Olivia's mouth. They tasted and stroked each other in ways each had imagined dozens of times, having played their game so long that they now explored one another with tortured relief. Alex's arms were twined around Olivia's neck, her body pressed against the detective's.
Any uncertainties or lingering doubts that either Alex or Olivia had whether her feelings were returned were swept away with that first kiss.
This is real. This is Alex in my arms.
Oh, Liv this is so much better than any fantasy.
Alex was the first to break contact, a contented smile on her face, her lips puffy and her eyes heavy with desire. "You said you wanted to talk?" Her voice was low, teasing.
"Talking's overrated." Olivia pulled her into another thorough kiss. Alex's thigh slid between Olivia's legs and the detective groaned at the pleasurable sensations it evoked.
Before their doorway activity could reach its logical conclusion they were interrupted by the tones of Olivia's cell phone. Oh come on. You gotta be kidding me!
"Liv? You okay? You practically ran me down when you left the station. Where are you?" Elliott's voice was anxious.
Olivia tried to slow her ragged breathing, difficult with Alex running her fingers through her hair, and pressing soft kisses against the side of her neck. She shifted uncomfortably. "I'm fine. I'm uh, at the Carlyle."
The silence at the other end of the phone seemed to go on forever and Olivia could almost hear Elliott's smirk. "Really," he drawled in a suggestive tone.
Okay, so now you know. Deal with it.
"Did you want a report on my whereabouts or is there some other reason for your call?"
"Yeah. Listen I hate to break up your reunion but it looks like we might have caught a break on the Central Park case. We need to interview a new witness. She lives in the Dakota. You need me to pick you up?"
Olivia closed her eyes, praying for strength.
"No. I'm close. I'll meet you . Say twenty minutes?"
"See you there. Oh, by the way, nice flowers. Got an admirer?"
"Bite me." Olivia snapped the phone shut, irritated at the situation rather than her partner. Although Alex's arms were still around Olivia the mood had definitely been broken.
Alex sighed, dejectedly. "I take it we're not going to be able to finish what we started."
"Alex, I am so sorry. Something's happening with the stalker case. I have to meet Elliott at the Dakota."
Alex closed her eyes as if in pain. Olivia could feel her tremble in her arms, her shoulders shaking. It was obvious that she was struggling not to cry.
"Alex, sweetheart, what is it, what's wrong?"
"Sorry, I can't seem to control my emotions lately. I've fantasized about this, us, for so long and the real thing is ten times better than any fantasy. It's what kept me going the last two and a half years. But it was hearing you call me Alex." She shrugged helplessly, unable to put her feelings into words.
But Olivia immediately understood. She pulled Alex tight against her, rocking her gently from side to side. "It's okay. It's going to be okay. I promise. I've fantasized about you too and you're right, the fantasy doesn't begin to compare with the real thing." She kissed her tenderly, stroking Alex's back, soothingly. "I hate it that I have to leave you right now, but I promise you I'll be back just as soon as humanly possible."
Alex sighed heavily. "Olivia, can you ever forgive me?" Her voice was serious, low.
Olivia looked up from her exploration of Alex's neck, puzzled. "For what?"
"For all of this. I've hurt you, caused you so much pain, I know. I had everything I ever wanted right in front of me -- in you -- and I was too blind to see it. All I thought about was my damn career. And then I had to bait Zapata nearly get myself killed send us both into hell for two and a half years." Tears swam in Alex's eyes.
"Alex," Olivia's voice was gentle. "It wasn't your fault. You didn't plan it. You're not God, you know. You can't control everything." She stroked Alex's cheek. "I should ask you to forgive me. If I'd just reacted faster you might not have been shot."
Alex vehemently shook her head. "Don't be silly." At Olivia's raised eyebrow she shrugged. "Okay, maybe the shooting wasn't my fault, but the pain it caused you I know was very real. I'd do anything to take that hurt away. Please forgive me."
Olivia kissed her deeply and thoroughly. "This more than makes up for it," she reassured the woman in her arms. "Finally being with you the way I've wanted to for so long. But if you need me to say it, I will, 'I forgive you, Alex'." Her smirk appeared. "Not for Zapata, but for making me wait almost five years for our first kiss."
"That, Detective, is a conversation for another day," Alex said, leaning back into Olivia's embrace. She relaxed in Olivia's arms, drawing comfort from the detective's physical strength. Even though they'd never allowed themselves such intimacy until now, being together felt as natural as if they'd never been apart. They held each other tightly for a few minutes indulging in the physical contact after their long separation. Reality interrupted their interlude when Olivia's phone rang again. Recognizing the caller, she answered with, "I'm on my way." Snapping the phone shut, she sighed heavily.
Alex kissed the side of Olivia's cheek, slacking her hold on the brunette. "I'm okay. Honestly. You need to go to work and I need to take a shower." She grinned, adding dryly, "Definitely a cold one." Blue eyes met brown and Olivia saw her own desire reflected in Alex's pools. She hesitated briefly, summoning her courage.
I swore that if I ever saw her again I would tell her how I feel.
"Before I go, I need to tell you something." Olivia took a deep breath and before she lost her nerve said aloud the one thing she had never told another living soul. "I'm in love with you Alex. I have been for a very long time."
She felt Alex's arms tighten. Alex was drowning in Olivia's chocolate brown eyes, alight with love, and more open than she had ever seen them. "Liv, I love you too." There was wonder in her voice.
She captured Olivia's mouth with her own. It was a tender kiss full of promise. Olivia marveled at the reality of Alex in her arms, loving her. She had never felt so content in her life.
"How did I live without this for almost three years?" Olivia asked her, nuzzling her neck. Alex tightened her hold, her voice quivering, "It wasn't really living though was it? It wasn't for me."
"No." Olivia searched to find the right words. "With you gone it was like winter all the time bleak, cold and grey. But now, all the colors have come back. The sun's shining again."
Alex smiled at her. "You're quite the romantic, Liv." Olivia blushed and looked away. "No," Alex said tilting her chin back and looking deeply into her eyes. "You don't ever have to be shy with me. It was exactly that way. Promise me something?" Her voice was serious again.
"Let's always be honest with each other. Not hold things back."
Like we did before.
"It's a deal," Olivia promised. She kissed Alex's cheek, inhaling her scent and taking comfort in the contact. Pulling back, she shook her head. "The timing here really sucks but if I don't go now I'm never going to leave."
Alex smiled ruefully. "Yeah, seems like we've had quite a few timing problems the last few years wouldn't you say? Although I wonder if I'd ever have gotten the courage to tell you how I feel if it hadn't been for Velez."
Although Olivia vehemently disagreed with that statement there was no way she was going to waste a precious second of her time with Alex debating her about the dead drug lord. "We would have gotten here without him," she said, absolute conviction in her voice. She gave Alex a lopsided grin. "Our timing's going to work this time. You're not going anywhere and I'll be back. I promise, okay?"
"I'll call you."
"You'd better. We still haven't had that talk," Alex reminded her with a grin.
Their good-bye kiss was gentle and lingering.
"Be safe, love."
"I will. I love you."
"I know. Me, too."
Olivia turned around as she started out the door. "Put the chain on."
Alex smiled. "You got it Detective."
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