DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and its characters are the property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Set a year after Loss. The town of Dahlonega and NGCSU are real places, but all of the people and events occurring there in this story are figments of my imagination.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Happily Ever After…?
By sunsetwriter


"Benson, Stabler, my office!" Cragen stormed through the squad room toward his office. Elliot and Olivia gave each other questioning looks, both shrugging to the other as if to say, "I didn't do anything, did you?"

"Now, people!" The voice echoed from the Captain's office. Both detectives practically jumped from their chairs and went into face Cragen. "Close the door, please." Olivia looked at Elliot who almost imperceptibly shrugged again. Elliot closed the door and they faced the Captain, waiting to hear why they had been summoned to the office.

The Captain looked at them both, and then settled his eyes on Olivia. "Benson." He paused as if he wanted to lengthen the agony. Olivia's brain raced trying to figure what she had done to deserve a tongue-lashing from the captain. "The DEA has requested your assistance." Olivia's head gave a small jerk and she cut her eyes quickly to Elliot and then back to Cragen.

"DEA? Why? Why do they want me?" Olivia's rapid-fire questions did nothing to hide her surprise.

"They'll brief you when you report to their field office tomorrow morning." He handed Olivia some paperwork. "You're officially on loan until the case is wrapped up or your services are no longer needed."

Olivia quickly scanned the paperwork, but didn't learn much more than when and where to report. "What's going on Cap'n?"

"I can't give you any details. Quite frankly, I don't have any to give."

"You're just gonna ship her off indefinitely?" Elliot finally spoke up, his voice brimming with anger. "Does she have any say in this?"

Cragen looked at Olivia. "After she's briefed, if she doesn't want to assist with the case, I'll listen." He then turned his eyes to Elliot. "You're her partner, Elliot. I thought you should know. To the rest of the squad, she's on a leave of absence for personal reasons."

"This is bullshit! What could possibly be-" Elliot stopped mid-sentence when he noticed the look that was now on his partner's face. It hit him like a ton of bricks. This could be – no it had to be – about Alex.

Cragen looked at his watch. "Elliot, you have six hours to go over open cases before your partner leaves. Now would be a good time to get started." Elliot opened the door, looked again at Olivia, and walked back into the squad room. Olivia turned to follow. "Olivia, could you close the door and sit down a minute please?"

Olivia did as she was asked and looked at her Captain. She and Elliot were the only two who knew that Alex was still alive, or at least that's what she believed. She had to ask. "Is this-" Olivia hesitated. What if this had nothing to do with Alex or the Velez case?

Cragen's eyes softened a bit. He finished her sentence for her. "About someone we all knew and… loved?" He saw the unshed tears forming in Olivia's eyes. "Yeah, it is." He could see the questions in her eyes, but knew that she wouldn't ask for fear that she might reveal information she was not supposed to have. "I know, Olivia. They told me today. It was the only way they could get me to even consider loaning out one of my best detectives."

"So what's going on?"

"I really don't know any details. I wish I did, because I have to tell you, I don't like this one bit. Like I told Elliot, if you want out, I'll do what I can." He looked at his detective. "But, I don't really think you'll want out, will you?"

"Right now, I can't imagine why I would." She gave a small smile.

"I have one favor to ask." He came around and sat on the front edge of his desk, directly in front of Olivia. "Don't try to play hero, or heroine, or wonder woman, or whatever you want to call it. I want you back here in one piece, no worse for the wear, understood?" Olivia nodded. "We've lost too much to this case already."

"I'm kind of hoping we might get something back."

"Let's hope so. But, I mean it, Olivia. No heroics. Contrary to what you believe, you've got nothing to prove and nothing to make up for. Do your job like you always do, and then come home."

Olivia nodded again, even though she disagreed with the captain. She did have something to make up for. This time she would protect Alex, no matter what.

Olivia was sitting in the window seat of the plane, on her way to Atlanta. Upon arrival, she was to rent a car and drive north to Dahlonega, a small town nestled in the north Georgia mountains. There, she would find Alex, now known as Sandra Martin, teaching criminal justice at North Georgia College and State University. Olivia's assignment was to convince Alex of the danger she was in and urge her to relocate, for the third time, should the need arise. She was also to serve as a personal bodyguard of sorts until the need for relocation could be determined and carried out.

In her mind, Olivia replayed snippets of conversations during her briefing with Agent Jack Hammond the day before.

"We have credible evidence that Velez and his henchmen are on the move."

"What makes you think they're after Alex again?"

"Our field office in Atlanta has reported increased activity by known associates in the area. A few new faces previously associated with the Colombian cartel have also arrived in town, leading them to believe that something is up. Velez had basically shut down his operations in Atlanta until just recently. A raid on a known dealer's house turned up a brochure from North Georgia College. These people are not really college material, Detective."

"Why did you want me involved?"

"Well, I'm sure you remember that your… friend… is a stubborn one. She was less than thrilled the last time we had to move her. She thinks we want to move her again, and was very quick to say that the only move she will consider is back to New York. We need someone to convince her otherwise and it helps if that someone can provide some additional protection along the way."

"Stubborn or not, she's not stupid. And I'm sure you have lots of agents who can protect her whether she agrees or not. So, what are you not telling me?"

"We believe the fewer people who know her true identity, the safer she'll be. You already know the situation, so it seemed logical-"

"Cut the bullshit! I want the truth or I'm walking out of here right now."

"I don't think you will."

"I don't think you'll take that chance."

Sigh. "We think we may have a mole."

"Dammit! You people were supposed to protect her!"

"That's what I'm trying to do now, Detective."

Olivia watched the clouds go by outside the small airplane window. She leaned her head against the back of the seat and accepted the small bag of pretzels the flight attendant offered. She was thankful the seat next to her was vacant. She couldn't imagine having to make mindless small talk with a stranger right now. Her thoughts drifted to Alex. Hammond had referred to her as Olivia's 'friend'. He seemed unsure how to characterize her relationship with Alex. Olivia wasn't even sure she knew what their relationship was. They were friends, but they were so much more. At least in Olivia's mind. She never had the chance to actually pursue anything else. Olivia rarely met anyone that she felt she connected with as much as she did with Alex. In fact, she had never met anyone with whom she truly thought she could fall in love. With Alex, she was willing to at least explore the possibility. That thought and the thought of losing that chance scared her to death.

She thought back to the night of the car bomb when Agent Donovan was killed. It so easily could have been Alex, a thought that terrified Olivia as much as it did Alex. She couldn't bear the thought of losing Alex. She had tried to get the ADA to stay with her that night, but Alex refused. Olivia knew that Alex really didn't want to be alone, but was determined not to give in to her fear. That was just Alex. Never let anyone get the upper hand. Olivia decided that night, that when all of this was over, she would find a way to talk to Alex about more personal matters. She had no idea if the ADA felt the same way she did, but she knew they seemed to have an unspoken connection that neither could deny. They had even come close to flirting a few times, but one or the other always seemed to back off when they got to a certain point. However, the night of the car bombing, ironically, seemed to be a beginning of some sort. A telephone call from Olivia to Alex had opened a door.


"Alex? It's me, Olivia."

"Oh, Olivia, thank God!" Alex let out a sigh of relief.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you. I know it's late, but I just wanted to check on you. Make sure you were OK."

"Thanks, Liv. I'm OK… as OK as I can be right now. I was just watching Letterman. I really couldn't sleep."

"I kinda figured. I couldn't either."


"I wish you had stayed with me tonight, just so you wouldn't be alone."

"Thanks, but I can't let them get to me, Olivia. I won't let them win."

"I know that and I understand, but you can't jeopardize your own safety for this case, Alex. That could have been you tonight."

"But it wasn't."

"No." Olivia hesitated. "I'm really glad it wasn't."

Alex gave a small laugh. "Me too." She hesitated also. "You know, you're as involved in this case as I am. I don't want anything happening to you either."

"Thanks, but I carry a gun."

"I think a car bomb beats a gun every time."

"Alex, I'm a cop. I can take care of myself."

"And I can't?"

"I didn't mean it like that. Of course you can, but I just want you to know that I'm here if you need me. I care about you, Alex, and I don't want to lose you." Olivia didn't really mean to say that, but it was too late to take it back. "What I mean is, you're a great ADA and we'd like to keep you around a while longer." Olivia backpedaled, but Alex still hadn't responded.

After what seemed like an eternity, Alex finally spoke. "I'm not planning on going anywhere." She paused and then continued softly. "I care about you too, Olivia. And not just as a great detective."

"Alex, I- Thanks. That means a lot to me."

"Do you think when this is all over, that we could maybe go to dinner or something? Just the two of us? I mean, I care about Elliot too, but sometimes three's a crowd."

Olivia laughed quietly as her heart skipped a beat. "I would love to go to dinner with you, Alex."

"Good. I've been wanting to ask you, but something always seems to get in the way."

"Well, we won't let anything get in the way this time. So… you're sure you're OK tonight?"

"Yeah. I really appreciate you calling… just to check on me."

"Like I said, I'm here if you need anything."

"Thanks, Olivia… for everything."

"Try and get some sleep and I'll talk to you tomorrow."

"G'night, Liv."

"Night, Alex."

Olivia knew that conversation was the beginning of something. She didn't know exactly what, but was eager to find out. All she had to do was wait until this miserable case was over and Zapata and Velez and the rest of the Colombian cartel were out of their lives. She had no idea when she hung up the phone that night how different their lives would be when this case was over. The events of the next few days sent their lives spiraling completely out of their control. They never had their dinner, and Olivia never had the opportunity to discuss her feelings with Alex. Their lives and their feelings were left torturously in limbo.

Now, almost a year later, Olivia was on her way to see her old friend. She had no idea what sort of reception she would get from Alex. Would she be happy to see her? Would she be frightened? Would she realize the danger that she's in or would her stubborn streak win out? Would Olivia have to watch her be whisked away yet again, not knowing where she was going or for how long? The questions began raining down on Olivia and for a fleeting moment she considered finding a return flight to New York to tell the DEA to shove it. Then she thought of Alex. If there is a mole, then it's only a matter of time before Velez finds her. Olivia had failed at protecting her once – she would not fail again.

Olivia walked into the administrative offices of North Georgia College and State University. She asked the woman behind the counter for directions to Dr. Martin's office. The woman seemed hesitant, so Olivia showed the woman her badge and introduced herself.

"Dr. Martin has requested that we notify her of all visitors." The woman picked up the phone as Olivia nodded, glad to hear that Alex was being cautious. The woman dialed a number and waited a few seconds. "Dr. Martin, you have a visitor here in the admin building… It's a New York police detective… Yes ma'am, Olivia Benson… … Dr. Martin, are you still there? … Sure, hold on." She offered the phone to Olivia. "She wants to speak to you." Olivia could see the questions forming in the woman's mind. She took the receiver and felt the butterflies in her stomach kick into high gear.

Olivia hadn't really thought about what to say in a situation like this. "Dr. Martin?" She heard the sharp intake of breath through the phone. She tried to keep her voice steady. "It's Detective Olivia Benson, NYPD."

"Oh, my God… It really is you, isn't it?" Olivia's heart must have skipped several beats when she heard the voice.

"Yes." She cleared her throat to steady her voice. "It's been awhile, hasn't it?"

"Um… yeah… I'm sorry. I think I'm in shock. Oh my God! What are you doing here? How did you find me?"

"Well, it's a long story." Olivia noticed the receptionist eyeing her curiously. "But, I thought I would look you up while I was in the area. Do you have time to maybe grab a bite to eat or something? We could catch up then."

"Alice is listening, isn't she?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"Come to my office. It's on the second floor of the Young Social Sciences building. It's the building right next to the one you're in now. Come in the front and the stairs are to the right. I'm the second door on the left. God, I can't believe that you're here."

"OK, I'll see you shortly." Olivia handed the receiver back to the receptionist who placed it back on the phone. She was still giving Olivia a curious look. "Thanks for your help."

"Sure. Dr. Martin's not in any kind of trouble is she?"

"Oh, no. She helped me out on a case I was working on a while back. I have another case that I thought she may be able to help with."

"I thought Dr. Martin was from Virginia not New York."

"She is… I was doing some work in the Richmond area." The receptionist didn't look too convinced, but Olivia offered her thanks again and quickly left the office before she could ask any more questions. She couldn't imagine how Alex must feel creating an entirely new identity for herself – twice now according to Hammond. She could understand why she wouldn't want to have it to do all over again.

Olivia found her way to the Social Sciences building and followed Alex's directions to the second floor. She hesitated at the top of the stairs to take a deep breath. Her heart was beating wildly and she was pretty sure it wasn't from climbing the single flight of stairs. She opened the door to the stairwell and heard voices. Mainly, she heard Alex's voice.

"I'm sorry, Jonathan, I have an appointment with someone who is due here any minute. Can you catch me after class tomorrow?"

"Sure, Dr. Martin, no problem. Great lecture today, by the way."

"Thanks. See you tomorrow."

A young man stepped out of the second office and walked toward Olivia. He smiled and said hello as he passed her in the hall. He disappeared into the stairwell leaving Olivia alone in the hall. She hesitated again and then moved toward the open door to Alex's office.

Alex was sitting at her desk when Olivia appeared in her doorway. She looked up and smiled when she saw her old friend walking into her office. Olivia had almost forgotten how blue her eyes were, even behind the gold rims that had replaced the dark frames she used to wear. Her hair was shorter, about the length it had been early in her time with the Unit. Olivia smiled back and Alex's smile grew wider. Olivia couldn't remember a more beautiful site.

"Hey." Olivia was glad her voice didn't crack. Alex put her hand to her mouth, her eyes never leaving Olivia's. She shook her head slightly as if she couldn't speak. Olivia searched for something to say. "You got new glasses." She knew it was lame, but it broke the tension.

Alex laughed. "Among other things." She stood and came around the desk to stand in front of her friend. She hesitated for an instant and then pulled Olivia into a warm embrace. "You have no idea how glad I am to see you." Olivia could hear a slight tremble in Alex's voice as she spoke into her ear.

"Oh, I think I might." She wrapped her arms a little tighter around Alex.

The student who passed Olivia in the hall reappeared in the doorway. Alex quickly broke the embrace and took a step back.

"Sorry, Dr. Martin. I think I left my poly sci book here." He spied the book on the chair in front of the desk, grabbed it and turned to leave. He looked back over his shoulder as he departed. "Sorry for the interruption." He gave Olivia a nod and fled.

Alex chuckled. "One of my students." The moment was gone.

Olivia nodded. "I saw him in the hall as I came in." An awkward silence followed as Alex continued to stand in front of Olivia not knowing exactly what to say. Olivia broke the silence. "Do you think you might have some time to go somewhere and talk?"

Alex seemed to snap out of her reverie. "Oh, um, absolutely. Let me just get my things." She continued to stand and stare at Olivia and shook her head. "I just can't believe that you're here."

Olivia smiled. "Me neither."

Alex's expression changed a bit as thoughts began to run through her mind. "Why are you here?"

"Let's get out of here. Is there somewhere we can talk… privately?"

"Sure, we can go to my cabin. Have you eaten anything? If you're hungry, we can pick something up on the way." Alex gathered her purse and keys as she talked.

"That sounds good. Did you say cabin?"

Alex noticed the amused and somewhat confused expression on Olivia's face. "Yeah, cabin. Made of logs. I'm sure you've seen one." She grinned at Olivia. "Or, maybe not, city girl." She breezed by Olivia and waited to close and lock her office door.

Olivia shook her head and walked into the hallway. "Funny. I just can't picture you in a log cabin." A fleeting thought of Alex, sitting in a rustic cabin, fire in the fireplace, sipping wine and wearing nothing but a soft, button-down flannel shirt ran through Olivia's mind. She shook her head to clear the thought and smiled.


"On second thought, maybe I can."

Alex gave Olivia a curious look, but didn't ask for clarification, much to Olivia's relief. "Where are you staying?"

"I don't know yet. Any suggestions?"

"Yeah. With me." Alex saw the surprised look on Olivia's face. "Unless you'd rather not."

"No, that'd be great… you know, if you have room and you don't mind."

"Good. Now that that's settled, let's go get something to eat and I'll drop you back by your car so you can follow me to the cabin." When they reached the parking lot, Alex pressed a button on the small remote on her key chain and Olivia saw the lights flash on a beige Jeep Cherokee.

"You drive a Jeep?"

Alex smiled as she opened the driver's side door. "When you see the drive to the cabin, you'll understand why."

They went to Alex's favorite local restaurant and got two take-out pasta dinners. Then they went back to the college and Olivia picked up her car. She followed Alex out of town and they turned on a winding road going up the side of a small mountain. The further they went, the steeper the grade and the more curves the road seemed to have. Add a little rain or snow and Olivia could definitely see the advantage of having a four-wheel-drive vehicle. After a mile or so, they turned onto a small gravel drive that led to a secluded, but adorable cabin. The visions began again in Olivia's head and she shook them off as she stopped the car beside Alex's Jeep.

"Welcome to my humble abode." Alex was standing next to the Jeep when Olivia stepped out of her car.

"Thanks. This is a great place. Awfully secluded though."

"I've got extra security that you wouldn't believe." Alex took their dinners and unlocked the door, while Olivia retrieved her suitcase from the trunk of her rental car. When Olivia stepped onto the small porch of the cabin, Alex was just inside the door, punching her security code into the small keypad on the wall by the door. "I also have motion sensors all around the perimeter of the cabin along with security cameras. There's an audible signal when a vehicle reaches the half-way point of the driveway and the gravel provides a nice crunching sound along with the added traction."

Olivia nodded. "Sounds pretty thorough."

"The local security company thinks I'm the queen of paranoia. I guess there are worse things to be thought of."

Olivia surveyed the cabin. The front door led into a cozy living area, complete with fireplace. Olivia smiled again as she fought off the visions of Alex she had earlier. Behind the great room was a dining area adjacent to a small kitchen. Stairs led to an upstairs loft.

"The spare bedroom is back here if you want to leave your bag." Alex directed Olivia through the kitchen to a room behind the stairs. "I guess I can now officially call it a guest room." Olivia gave her a puzzled look. Alex shrugged. "Sandy Martin hasn't had any out of town guests."

Olivia took her bag into the bedroom as Alex moved about the kitchen as she readied the take-out meals for their dinner. When Olivia re-emerged into the kitchen, the food was on plates at a cozy table set for two, complete with wineglasses. "Alex, we could have just eaten out of the boxes." Alex, who was opening the drawer to retrieve the silverware, froze. She slowly turned to look at Olivia. Olivia was not sure what to make of the expression on Alex's face. "What?"

"No one has called me that for a year."

"Oh, sorry. I guess I should call you Sandy."

"No! With you, I'm Alex. I guess in public, you should call me Sandy, but not here."

Olivia nodded and reached over and gently squeezed Alex's arm. "OK, Alex it is." Alex smiled and nodded and went back to setting the table. She picked up the wine bottle to fill the glasses and Olivia held up her hand. "We may want to hold off on the wine for right now. We need to keep clear heads and I haven't had much to eat today."

"I'm not going to like this talk, am I?"

"Let's sit down and I'll tell you what I know."

Over dinner, Olivia told Alex everything Hammond had told her about Velez and his associates. She considered leaving out the part about the possible mole in the DEA, but thought it was only fair for Alex to know the whole story. Besides, she had seen Alex cross-examine witnesses, and felt certain the former ADA would turn the screws if she felt Olivia was holding anything back. When she finished telling Alex everything she knew about her situation, the detective sat back and looked across the table at her friend. She could see the fear and frustration forming in her eyes as she had listened to what Olivia had to say.

"Olivia-" Her voice cracked a bit and she averted her eyes. "I'm just not sure I can go through this again. This is a torturous process and sometimes I wonder why I ever agreed to it in the first place."

"Alex, let's just do what Hammond said and lay low for now. It may not come to relocation again. They are still doing surveillance and information gathering. I'll be here as long as I need to be." Alex nodded. "Can you take a few days off?"

Alex shook her head and sighed. "Not really. I have a pretty big exam to administer the end of this week." She thought for a minute and then brightened. "You can come to work with me. I'll just say you're monitoring my class for some reason." Olivia looked skeptical. "Come on. I'll be safer with you there to watch out for me."

Olivia gave a sarcastic laugh. "I was with you before, remember? Didn't help much then."

"Hey, if you hadn't been with me that night, I don't think I'd be alive to talk about it now."

Olivia shuddered at the memory of Alex getting shot. Alex picked up the wine bottle and filled their glasses. "Time for a glass of wine. In fact, I don't want to discuss this anymore tonight."


"Let me sleep on it and we'll discuss it in the morning. I don't have a class until eleven. Tonight, I just need to… I don't know, hang out with an old friend, I guess. Be Alex Cabot again, even if it's just for a short while."

Olivia nodded. "OK. But, just so you know, I won't drop this. I'm here to protect you and that's what I plan to do. If that means throwing you over my shoulder and physically taking you somewhere else, don't think I won't do that." Alex looked across the table at Olivia. Her smile began slowly in her eyes and progressed until she was giving Olivia a toothy grin. Olivia looked at her curiously, but couldn't help returning the smile. "Why are we smiling?"

"Given a different set of circumstances, what you just said might be considered a real turn on."

That remark was not at all what Olivia was expecting to hear. She thought about what she had said and a slow blush began creeping up her neck. "Come on, Olivia, we've been through too much together for that to make you blush."

Olivia could feel the heat radiating from her face, but was powerless to control it. "Yeah, well, it's been a while."

"Since we've been together or since you've thrown someone over your shoulder?"

"Since we've been together. I don't go caveman, or woman, very often. In fact, I'm not sure I ever have. But I would, I mean, I could, if I had to." Olivia fidgeted in her chair.

Alex was finding this quite amusing. "Olivia, am I making you nervous?"

"Nervous? No. Why?"

"Because you just started babbling and I'm not sure I've ever heard you do that before."

Olivia let out a sigh. "Alex, this whole situation makes me nervous." She saw the look on Alex's face and quickly amended her statement. "Not being here with you, but the reason why I'm here with you. I know you don't want to talk about that anymore tonight, but you know me, always on the job. I guess I need to learn to let go sometimes, but it's hard, you know?" She looked Alex in the eye. "Especially when it's something this important to me."

"Olivia, your dedication and compassion are two of the many things that make you such a great detective. Don't ever change that. But tonight, we're safe and sound – as much as we can be anywhere. So, let's just be Olivia and Alex, old friends with a lot of catching up to do. We can put the dishes in the sink, get comfortable, and sit and talk, or watch a movie, or whatever, while we finish off this bottle of wine. That's not too much to ask is it?"

"No, that actually sounds like a great idea. We'll have our own little slumber party." Olivia smiled as earlier visions of Alex flashed through her mind once again. Alex saw the change in expression and cocked her head to one side, but didn't ask what prompted the look. Olivia realized she had been caught, but was glad Alex didn't question her. She had no idea how she would have responded.

Alex picked up her wineglass in a toast. "Then here's to old friends… and new beginnings." Wondering what exactly she was toasting to, Olivia picked up her glass and clinked it to Alex's. They both sipped their wine as they locked eyes across the table.

Olivia was the first to move. "So, let's get cleaned up." She stood and picked up her plate. Alex followed suit and they quickly had the dishes rinsed and in the dishwasher. As they moved about the kitchen, a thought occurred to Olivia. "So does this count as the dinner you invited me to that night on the phone?"

"Not exactly what I had in mind at the time, but I've learned that things don't always work out the way you plan." Olivia nodded, not sure how to respond. "But, I've also learned that some things just have a way of working themselves out." Olivia nodded again, trying to decide if that was a yes. Before she could ask, Alex spoke again. "I'm going to go up and change out of my work clothes. I'll meet you on the couch in a few?"

"Sure. I think I'll do the same." Olivia went to her room to change and wondered how she would react if Alex came back downstairs wearing the flannel shirt she kept seeing in her mind. Olivia still wasn't totally convinced that Alex wanted anything more from her than friendship. Their earlier conversation had certainly taken a flirtatious turn, more so than ever before, but given their circumstances, Olivia was just not sure. She opened her suitcase and wondered what she should change into. Get a grip, Benson, this is not a date – stay focused on why you're here. She pulled out a tank top and a pair of plaid, soft cotton lounge pants she brought to sleep in. That seemed appropriate for a slumber party. She could hear Alex moving about upstairs, so she quickly changed and went back into the kitchen.

Olivia topped off their wineglasses and took them, along with the bottle, to the coffee table. As she sat down on the soft leather sofa, she heard footsteps coming down the stairs. She turned to see a pair of long, beautiful legs making their way down the steps. Alex was dressed in a T-shirt and plaid boxers with NGCSU on one leg. No flannel shirt. Olivia was relieved and disappointed at the same time. When Alex reached the bottom of the stairs, she smiled when she saw Olivia. She walked to the door to make sure it was locked and then double-checked the alarm system before she joined Olivia at the couch.

"I see we have similar taste in comfort clothes." Olivia gestured to her plaid pants.

Alex laughed. "I've regressed back to college casual."

"I don't think I ever left it." Olivia picked up their glasses and handed Alex's to her.

"Thanks." Alex kicked off her slippers and sat down, curling her legs beneath her, so she faced Olivia. "So, tell me about the squad. How is everyone?"

"They're good. Elliot is having weekly, if not daily, panic attacks over Maureen's new boyfriend. He has a tattoo and a pierced eyebrow. Elliot can't say too much about the tat, being that he has his own, but the piercing is driving him nuts. Kathleen's got a boyfriend too, but so far, he's flying under the Stabler radar. The twins are still both heavily into soccer. I still don't know how they keep up with four kids."

"Does Elliot know where you are?"

"Not exactly, but he knows I'm working with the DEA. I'm pretty sure he figured out what case it has to do with. Cragen is the only one who knows for certain it involves you." Alex raised one eyebrow. "The only way they could get him to even consider loaning me out is to tell him about you." The other eyebrow joined the first. "He thought of you as one of his own, Alex. Still does for that matter."

"What about Munch and Fin?"

"They're up to their usual antics. I think Fin must have a new lady in his life, but I don't know for sure. He's started cutting out early on beer nights. Munch is still… Munch! And they still act like an old married couple, bickering about everything."

Alex smiled. "I even miss that!"

"They miss you too. We all do. The first few weeks after you– Well, after you were gone, were really tough. Casey – that's the new ADA, Casey Novak – came in like gangbusters, but then realized that she had some awfully big shoes to fill. She tries, but I still don't think she understands why she doesn't quite fit in with the squad."

"Why doesn't she? Fit in, I mean."

"Because she's not you." Olivia looked at Alex and saw her eyes tearing up. "Hey, I didn't mean to upset you."

"You didn't. It's just nice to know I'm missed."

"You definitely are." Olivia tried to lighten the mood. "Even Petrovsky misses you."

Alex laughed. "Yeah, right!"

"I've seen the way she looks at Casey as she clomps around the courtroom."

"She clomps?"

"Yeah, she kinda walks like a horse. Anyway, Petrovsky looks at her and I can see it in her eyes. She misses the polished, professional ADA Cabot that she loved to spar with. The first time Casey appeared in her courtroom, I thought she was going to hold her in contempt just for wearing those damn boots of hers."

Alex snickered. She was secretly glad to hear that her replacement had not been met with open arms, but she knew that was not fair to the woman. "Don't be too hard on her. She deserves a chance. I'm sure you guys were not exactly enamored with me at first. I don't think all of the cold shoulders I received at first were all because of the Morris Commission thing I came in the middle of."

"We're a tight bunch. We don't let just anybody in."

"You let me in." She gave Olivia a skeptical look. "Didn't you?"

"Yeah. But you earned it. You played by the rules, but you listened to us and gave us a little credit that we knew what we were doing. That means a lot to a squad like ours."

"That's because you proved to me that you did know what you were doing. With that, you earned my respect. I don't know how you see what you see every day and still have some semblance of a normal life." The irony of her words hit them both. "I guess normal is a relative term."

Olivia took their now empty glasses and put them on the table. She reached over and put her hand on Alex's knee. Her skin was cool to the touch, but Olivia felt an almost electric charge when she touched the bare skin. "Alex, you're gonna get your life back. I'm making a pledge to you right now, that I'm gonna do everything within my power to see to that."

"Thanks, Liv." Alex placed her own hand on top of Olivia's and Olivia felt the same charge again. "Just don't do anything to put yourself in jeopardy. One of us in Velez's sites is enough."

"No, it's one too many." Olivia turned her hand over beneath Alex's so that she could grasp her hand. She squeezed the hand she was now holding and looked into Alex's eyes. "I won't let him hurt you again." Alex stared back at Olivia for a moment and then pulled her to into a hug. They were both trying to hold back tears.

"No matter what you think about the night I was shot, I want you to know that with you here tonight, I feel safer than I have since I left New York." Alex's voice cracked and she was sniffling, but she managed to say it without sobbing, much to her own surprise.

Still not breaking the embrace, Olivia barely got out her reply. "I'll keep you safe, Alex. I promise you that with all my heart."

Alex pulled back and looked at Olivia, her arms still resting on her shoulders, Olivia's around her waist. She smiled though her tears. "Thank you, because I know how big your heart is. But, don't make promises you can't keep. We don't really know what we may be up against."

"I'll keep my promise or die trying."

"No, Liv. Please don't say that. I couldn't bear it if something happened to you."

"Yes, you could. You do what you have to. I won't say it's easy, but you learn to deal." Alex realized that Olivia was talking about what she went through when Alex was shot. "When I saw you get out of the car that night… the night that they took you away… I don't even know how to describe what I felt. I was so happy that you were alive, but at the same time, we were still losing you." Alex felt Olivia tremble slightly at the memory. "I just wanted to grab you and hold on, but I knew if I did, I wouldn't want to let go. I didn't think you would want the Feds and Elliot to have to physically pry me away from you, so I just stood there blubbering."

"You can hold on to me now." Olivia leaned back and stretched her legs out, pulling Alex down on top of her. Alex's head rested on her chest and she placed a soft kiss on the top of it. They lay there, holding each other until Olivia heard and felt the regular breathing pattern of a sleeping Alex. Olivia closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.

An hour or so later, Olivia awoke with a start. Her right arm was numb where Alex had it trapped between her body and the back of the couch. Olivia's sudden movement roused Alex who looked up at Olivia with a surprised look of her own. "I guess we fell asleep, huh?"

Olivia smiled. "Yeah." Alex sat up and Olivia wiggled her fingers to renew circulation.

"Sorry. I should let you go to bed. I know you've had a long day, with your flight down and all."

"We can just sleep here if you want."

"No. You can't be very comfortable, and I've already cut off your circulation." She gave Olivia a crooked grin as she stood and offered her hand to help Olivia up. Olivia grasped the hand and pulled herself off the couch. "You should have everything you need in the spare bedroom and bath, but let me know if there's anything missing."

"OK. Thanks." Olivia stifled a yawn as she pulled Alex into a hug. "Goodnight, Alex. Sleep well."

"You too. Goodnight." Alex pulled out of the embrace and quickly made her way up the stairs. Olivia went into her bedroom. She brushed her teeth in the small bathroom and crawled into bed.

Olivia awoke to a noise. She looked at the clock and realized she had been in bed less than an hour. She thought she heard footsteps on the stairs. She looked again at the bedside table to make sure her service weapon was within reach. The footsteps made their way to her bedroom door and stopped. She could see Alex's silhouette in the doorframe.

"Alex? Are you OK?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

"That's OK. What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I couldn't go back to sleep, and I just…" Alex's voice drifted off.

"You just what?"

"I just wanted to look at you. To make sure you were really here." She sounded so tired and afraid, it almost made Olivia cry.

Olivia patted the bed beside her. "Alex, come here."

"Liv, it's two o'clock in the morning. You need to get some sleep."

"I plan to. With you right here beside me. Now, come crawl in." Olivia flipped back the bed linens on the opposite side of the bed. Alex moved hesitantly toward the bed and stopped beside it.

"You must think I'm the biggest wuss."

"On the contrary. Alex, you're one of the strongest people I know. And, if you recall, I wanted to sleep on the couch with you. So crawl in here, before I have to go cavewoman and bodily move you." Alex gave a small smile and crawled in bed beside Olivia. Olivia lifted her arm and looked at Alex. "Come on over here." She could see the moonlight reflected in Alex's eyes as she contemplated moving. "Come on, we were sleeping pretty well out there on the couch." Alex slid over and nestled her body into Olivia's, her head resting on Olivia's shoulder, as Olivia encircled her with her arms. Alex gave a contented sigh and Olivia placed another kiss on the top of Alex's head. "Goodnight, Alex."

"Night, Liv."

This time, Olivia awoke to sunlight streaming in the window over the bed. She realized she was alone and looked at the clock. 8:20 a.m. The door to the bedroom was slightly ajar and the smell of coffee wafted in from the kitchen. Olivia got up, made a stop by the bathroom and then wandered into the kitchen. Alex was pouring coffee into a large pottery mug that matched the half-full one that was sitting on the counter. She smiled at Olivia and handed her the fresh mug. "Good morning."

"Thanks. I can't believe I slept past eight o'clock."

"I'm probably to blame for that. I kept you up until two a.m."

Olivia took a sip of coffee and looked at Alex. Her hair was still damp from a recent shower. "What time did you get up?"

"Around seven. You were sleeping so soundly, I didn't have the heart to wake you – again." Alex took a sip of coffee and placed her mug back on the counter. "Olivia… thanks for last night." Alex turned and looked out the small window over the sink as she spoke, almost as if she were embarrassed by what she had to say. "I guess I just needed to feel… connected, you know?"

Olivia walked around the kitchen island so she was standing beside Alex. She reached out and touched Alex lightly on the arm. "I know." In this close proximity she could smell the faint melon scent of the shower soap Alex had used. It was almost intoxicating to Olivia. Alex turned and looked at Olivia, her eyes bluer than Olivia ever remembered.

"Olivia, there's something I need to do while I have the nerve to do it." Alex gave a nervous laugh. "If it makes you uncomfortable, just say so, and we'll forget it ever happened, OK?"

Olivia eyed her curiously. "OK."

Alex took the coffee cup from Olivia's hand and placed it on the counter. She stepped toward Olivia, closing the space between them. She placed her hands lightly on Olivia's waist and leaned in to brush her lips with a soft kiss. Eyelids fluttered over brown eyes as the realization hit Olivia. Her arms instinctively wrapped around Alex and she pulled her into another kiss. This time, Olivia kissed Alex with a hunger that surprised them both.

When they finally broke for air. Alex laughed softly. "Good morning."

"I'll say."

They were still standing in their embrace, foreheads touching. "I'll take that to mean you're OK with this then?"

"I don't know, maybe we should try another. Just to be sure." The blue eyes answered with a sparkle Olivia hadn't seen in a very long time. Their lips met in another kiss, this one slow and sensual. Olivia felt the tingle all the way down to her toes. This time when they parted, Olivia could only muster a single word. "Wow." She pulled Alex into a hug and nuzzled her neck as she pressed her body into Alex's.

Alex ran her hands up and down Olivia's back. "Do you have any idea how long I've wanted that to happen?"

"Mmm, I have a pretty good idea."

"So tell me again why we never did anything about it."

Olivia pulled back so she could look at Alex. "I'm sure we had similar reasons." Alex nodded. "I actually decided the night of the explosion that I was going to talk to you about… this. And then, when you invited me to dinner that night on the phone… I felt like that sort of opened the door a little more."

"And then…"

"And then I lost you." Alex saw the conflict in Olivia's brown eyes. "But now, I've found you again. But… given the situation, I'm not sure where we go from here."

"Back to bed?"

Olivia laughed. "As tempting as that sounds, I think it would only complicate things right now. As if we didn't just complicate them enough already." She shook her head and released Alex from her embrace. She turned and placed her hands on the counter and dropped her head.

"Olivia, it was only a matter of time. I wanted to kiss you last night, and I've wanted to so many times before that."

Olivia looked up at Alex. "What stopped you?"

"A lot of things. My own insecurities, mostly. That and the fact that we had a professional relationship to consider."

Olivia nodded. "We still do."

Alex shook her head. "No, we don't work together anymore."

"Don't you see, Alex? Now it's even worse." Alex gave her a confused look. "I'm supposed to be here in a professional capacity – to protect you." Olivia shook her head again and ran both hands through her hair. "I just broke the cardinal rule of never getting personally involved."

"So, you're telling me that if we hadn't kissed, you wouldn't be personally involved?" Olivia looked at Alex, but didn't answer. "Do you usually sleep in the same bed with those you are protecting?"

Olivia heard the angry edge in Alex's voice. "You know the answer to both of those questions, Alex. I just don't think that Hammond would have sent me here if he'd thought this would happen."

Alex shook her head. "I think that's precisely why he sent you here – he thought it already had. Think of all the agents he has at his disposal. I know you're a damn good detective, but why would he ask you to come here when he could have sent one of his own?"

"Because he thinks there may be a mole in the DEA. He needed someone on the outside who he knew he could trust to protect you."

"That may be part of it, but he also sent the one person he knew I would listen to. The one person with whom I told him I would trust my life." Olivia gave Alex a questioning look. "After he had arranged for you and Elliot to meet us that last night in New York, Hammond was second guessing his decision to let me see you. He decided to call off the meet. I was trying so hard to hold it together, but I just couldn't. I broke down and cried like a baby." Alex's voice cracked and she took a deep breath. "Hammond told me that he was only trying to protect me and that letting me see you was a mistake and totally against protocol. I reminded him that it was my life on the line and that if I had to pick one person on the planet that I would trust with my life it would be you."

Olivia's look softened and she grasped Alex's hands in her own. "I just want to keep you safe, Alex. I don't want to do anything that will put you in jeopardy. I don't want to have you back in my life for just a few days, I want you back forever." Olivia surprised herself with that admission.

"And I want to be back forever, but we don't know when, or even if, that will happen. I don't want to miss another chance with you, Liv."

"God, Alex, I don't want to miss another chance with you either." She squeezed the hands she was holding. "That's why I need to protect you."

"What I need is to live in the here and now. Right here in this moment. Because I've learned the hard way that we may not get another chance." Tears were forming in Alex's eyes. "Can you do that for me, Olivia? Please? I just need you. Not your badge and not your gun. Just you." A tear rolled down Alex's face and Olivia's heart melted. She reached up and brushed the tear away with her thumb and then leaned toward Alex and kissed the moist spot where the tear had been. She pulled Alex to her and held her tightly.

"You've got me, Alex. You've had me for a long time. I just wish I had told you." After a few moments, Olivia pulled back enough to look at Alex. They kissed again, softly at first, then growing into a passionate exchange, tongues and hands roaming freely.

A sound emanating from the guest room interrupted their kiss. Alex reluctantly pulled away from Olivia. "What's that noise?"

Olivia groaned. "It's my cell phone." She broke the embrace and went into the bedroom. She picked up the phone and looked at the display as she re-entered the kitchen. "It's Hammond." She opened the phone and answered it in her usual manner. "Benson." No response. "Hello? … Hello?"

"Sometimes I get a clearer signal out on the deck." Alex gestured to the back of the cabin. Olivia opened the back door and walked out onto the deck. Alex could hear the muffled sounds of her voice, so she assumed she had picked up a signal. The thought of Hammond calling gave Alex a small dose of reality.

A few minutes later Olivia came back into the cabin, folding the cell phone and placing it on the counter. Much to Alex's relief, Olivia's expression didn't show any newly added concern, but it held something that Alex could interpret. "Everything OK?"

"Yeah, he was just checking in to make sure I got here and didn't have any trouble locating you. He says things are status quo right now, so we'll just hope they stay that way." Alex nodded. She couldn't help but notice the change in Olivia's demeanor and wondered if the detective was telling her everything. The spell from their earlier embrace was definitely broken. Olivia motioned to the deck. "Nice deck. Spend a lot of time in the hot tub?"

"Not really. It came with the cabin." When Olivia leaned against the counter and picked up her coffee mug again, Alex decided that they weren't going to pick up where they left off, so she continued talking. "This place was originally intended to be a rental property, so it was equipped with all the necessities for that. The owner had some health problems and decided to sell right after the cabin was finished. He sold the cabin, furniture, everything – which was nice since Sandra Martin had no life prior to coming here." Olivia nodded. "The hot tub was an added bonus, I guess. It is nice after a long day – very relaxing." Olivia nodded again, a small smile appearing as she imagined Alex soaking away in the tub. Alex noticed the smile and cocked an eyebrow. "Do you want to try it out later?"

"I didn't bring a swimsuit."

The corners of Alex's mouth twitched into a grin. "I'm sure we can manage something." Olivia arched an eyebrow. "I probably have an extra suit you can wear. It's supposed to be chilly tonight, so it should be nice night for it. I just had a load of firewood delivered, so we can even build a fire if you'd like." Olivia had noticed the small outdoor fireplace on the corner of the deck. Here came her visions again.

"Do you own a flannel shirt?"

Alex gave her a questioning look. "A flannel shirt?"

"I keep having this vision of you in a cabin, wearing a flannel shirt." She noticed the amused look on Alex's face. "Nevermind. I think I'll go take a shower and then we'll figure out a game plan for today." She gave Alex a quick peck on the cheek as she walked by. Still puzzled by the change in Olivia since the call from Hammond, Alex just watched as the detective retreated into the bedroom.

They had agreed that Olivia would go to class with Alex under the guise of monitoring the class for possible future collaboration with the professor. No one really seemed to care that Olivia was there, but she did get a few curious looks from students.

Olivia rode to work with Alex and, except for a few visits to the ladies' room, she did not let Alex out of her sight all day. They had lunch in the college cafeteria and Olivia decided that school food was better today than it was when she was in college. The student who Olivia had seen in Alex's office the day before came back after class as requested to discuss the upcoming exam. Olivia offered to excuse herself, but the young man seemed pleased to have a New York police detective sit in on his conference with his professor. He seemed hopeful that she might have some inside information that would give him an edge on the upcoming exam.

They stopped by the grocery store on the way back to the cabin and stocked up on groceries for two. During the ride up the mountain, Olivia commented on her observations in Alex's class.

"You seem to have a great rapport with your students."

"I actually enjoy teaching. I still miss being a prosecutor, but I can't say I dislike teaching. I think I probably learn as much from my students as they do from me."

Olivia smiled. "I think Jonathan may have a small crush on you."

Alex smiled back. "He seemed awfully enamored with a certain visiting police detective today, though."

Olivia shrugged. "The badge and the gun tend to make an impression."

Alex cut her eyes over at Olivia. "I think Jonathan, and his professor, are more interested in the woman wearing them."

Olivia smiled, almost shyly. She decided that now was a good time to bring up the subject she had been contemplating all day. "Alex… about what happened this morning… I… I can't…" Olivia was at a loss for words to convey what she was feeling.

Alex glanced over at Olivia again and saw the look on the detective's face. "Liv, if you're uncomfortable with it, then I don't want to force you-"

"No, Alex! It's not that. Please don't think that. It's just…" Olivia was still struggling for the right words. "That call from Hammond this morning was a reality check for me. I don't want what's happening between us to distract me from what I'm here to do – and that is to protect you. I don't think I could live with myself if I let something happen to you again."

They had reached the cabin and Alex parked the Jeep and then turned to Olivia. She placed her hand on the detective's knee and looked her in the eye. "Listen to me. What happened to me is not your fault. There is nothing you could have done to prevent it."

The brown eyes stared back as Olivia's hand covered Alex's. "I hear that with my head, but not with my heart. I should have protected you then and I didn't. I won't make that mistake again. I can't."

Realizing the struggle that Olivia was going through, Alex relented. "OK we'll play it your way, but it seems to me that being sexually frustrated will be just as distracting." Alex let her hand slide up Olivia's thigh until the hand above hers stopped it. A smile played at Alex's lips.

Relieved that Alex lightened the mood, Olivia smiled back, one eyebrow arched. "Awfully sure of things, aren't you?"

"Weren't you in the kitchen with me this morning? That kiss was a lot more than friendly." She withdrew her hand. "But, it's your call. You know where I stand."

"Alex, I'm not saying never, I'm just saying that I'd like to wait until we know that you're safe. That way we can focus on the right things at the right time."

"How can I disagree with that?" Alex opened the car door and then turned back to Olivia. "But, I will say this – I don't think I've ever wanted to kiss you more than I do right now." Then, much to Olivia's surprise, Alex got out of the Jeep and slammed the door behind her.

Speechless, Olivia groaned and leaned forward and began lightly banging her forehead against the dash. Alex opened the back of the jeep to retrieve the groceries and suppressed a smile as she watched Olivia. The detective slowly opened the car door and came around back to help Alex. Their hands touched and lingered for a moment as Alex handed Olivia a grocery bag. Olivia sighed. "You're not making this any easier."

"I wasn't planning to." Alex closed the back of the Jeep and walked to the front door. Olivia took a deep breath and followed.

They prepared a large chef's salad for their dinner and Alex opened a bottle of Chardonnay. Dinner conversation centered around Alex's job and students. Both women seemed to steer clear of the day's other events. Olivia cleared the dinner plates and Alex put the leftover salad in the refrigerator and topped off both barely touched wineglasses. Alex announced that she was going upstairs to change and Olivia took her wine and retired to the couch.

Upstairs, Alex contemplated their earlier conversation and decided that, while she sort of understood Olivia's hesitancy to pursue their relationship, she had to convince her that they couldn't afford to waste any more time. The kisses they shared that morning proved to Alex that Olivia felt the same way she did, she just needed to find a way to break down the wall that Olivia was building between them. While she was thinking about this, she decided a nice soak in the hot tub might just help her cause. She quickly changed into a swimsuit and pulled another out of the drawer with the hope that Olivia would join her. She grabbed a T-shirt to put on over her suit, but then another thought occurred to her. She opened the closet door and began to search through the clothes hanging there.

A few minutes later, Olivia heard footsteps coming down the stairs. She glanced up and almost choked on the sip of wine she had just taken. The vision she had been having for the past couple of days was coming down the stairs. Alex got to the bottom of the stairs and turned to face Olivia. Only three buttons of the pale blue flannel shirt she was wearing were buttoned, allowing Olivia's imagination to run wild wondering what was hiding beneath. The look on the detective's face left no question in Alex's mind that she had accomplished what she had set out to do. She slowly strolled past Olivia, tossing the extra swimsuit toward the still speechless woman. Olivia seemed to realize that something was hurling towards her and reached up to grab the suit just before it hit her in the face. The sudden movement caused the wine in the glass she was holding to slosh over into her lap. She jumped when the cool liquid hit her leg and Alex had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing.

"Jesus Christ!!" Alex was almost certain Olivia's exclamation was attributed to more than just the spilled wine.

"Sorry. Do you need a towel?"

"No, it wasn't… it's… um…" The detective was at a complete loss for words. She couldn't take her eyes off of Alex. She held up the suit in her hand. She cleared her throat and hoped her voice wouldn't fail her. "Uh, what's this for?"

"I thought you might want to join me in the hot tub. Of course, you don't have to wear it if you don't want to…"

"No! I mean- yes. I do. I will. Join you in the hot tub, I mean. Wearing the suit." Olivia shook her head at hearing her own words tumble from her mouth. She couldn't ever remember being this tongue-tied. She looked at Alex who was trying unsuccessfully to hide her amusement. Olivia closed her eyes and lightly shook her head.

Alex nodded, afraid to speak, for fear that she would burst into laughter. She walked over to the table and picked up her wineglass. She turned back to Olivia when she had regained her composure. "Why don't you get changed then, and I'll meet you on the deck." Olivia nodded, but didn't move. Alex turned and walked toward the back door. Olivia's eyes were transfixed on the long, slender, but shapely legs. The tail of the shirt just covered her ass, making it look at though she was not wearing anything underneath. Was she wearing anything underneath? When Alex reached the door, she opened it and then turned back to Olivia and smiled. Olivia drained her wineglass and quickly moved off the couch toward her bedroom. With a smug look on her face, Alex proceeded to the deck.

Olivia was tempted to run, but managed to walk into her bedroom to change. She held up the swimsuit, a one-piece Speedo, and hoped it would fit. She quickly went to the bathroom and splashed a little cold water on her face as she washed her hands. She stripped and pulled on the suit. It was a little snug, but it fit. She pulled on a pair of running shorts over the suit and headed toward the deck. When she got to the back door, she could see Alex through the panes. The cover had been removed from the hot tub and Alex was now building a fire in the small fireplace. Olivia stood and watched for a few seconds. The site of Alex in the flannel shirt, brought a tingling sensation to the pit of her stomach. She wondered if she had made the right decision. Maybe Alex was right, they should just go for it and deal with the consequences. On the other hand, if something happened to Alex because Olivia's mind was not on the job, she really didn't think she could handle it. She took a deep breath and opened the door.

There was a definite chill in the air making the swirling waters of the hot tub even more inviting. Alex looked back over her shoulder and smiled as Olivia stepped onto the deck. "Guess the forecasters were right." She paused, but got no response from Olivia. She wondered if the detective was still as tongue-tied as she was earlier. "This is perfect weather for outdoor hot-tubbing." Still no response. She struck a match and lit the fire in the small fireplace. She stood and turned to face Olivia. She took in the sight of her detective wearing the forming fitting Speedo. What a shapely form it was. Olivia was dipping her hand into the warm water as if testing the temperature.

Alex had retrieved Olivia's wineglass when she went to change and refilled it along with her own. She picked up the glasses from the small table on the deck and handed one to Olivia. Alex then held up her glass to offer a toast. "Here's to a nice, relaxing evening." Olivia raised her glass to Alex's toast and took a sip of wine. She couldn't help but take notice of the perfect romantic setting they were in. The colors of the sunset were vibrant, even through the trees. Early signs of fall gave red and orange tinges of color to the leaves, adding to the backdrop. The fire was beginning to crackle in the small fireplace as the logs began to burn, sending a warm glow across the deck. The warm waters of the hot tub were beckoning the two to climb in.

Olivia set her glass down on the decking surrounding the tub and slipped off her shorts. She climbed the small steps and stepped over into the tub. Alex watched as Olivia lowered her shapely body, accentuated by the Speedo, into the swirling waters. "Mmmm. This is nice." Those were the first words Olivia had spoken since coming onto the deck. Alex smiled as she watched Olivia claim a seat on the opposite side of the tub, facing her. She put her glass down and looked at Olivia. She slowly began unbuttoning the flannel shirt while her blue eyes were fixed on Olivia.

Olivia watched as Alex unbuttoned each button at an agonizingly slow pace. She licked her lips and swallowed hard, trying not to show the obvious effect Alex's performance was having on her. She failed miserably. Alex finally reached the last button and slowly opened the shirt to reveal a royal blue, two-piece swimsuit cut very low on the hips. She slid the shirt off her shoulders and tossed it onto a deck chair as she stepped onto the small steps and then over into the tub. She pulled a scrunchy from her wrist and pulled her hair back into a loose ponytail before sinking into the water opposite Olivia. Olivia watched this entire process with what could only be described as fascination mixed with a hint of lust. Alexandra Cabot in a bikini was quite a sight to behold.

Alex settled herself onto the small underwater seat and rested her arms to either side along the edge of the tub. She sat back and gave Olivia a satisfied smile. Olivia tilted her head and looked at Alex. "You're looking pretty pleased with yourself."

"What do you mean?" Alex tried to sound innocent, but she knew she was unsuccessful.

"Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the show. But you already knew that, didn't you?"

"I told you before, Olivia, I'll play it your way, but I have no intentions of making it easy."

"Alex, I'm only trying to keep your best interest in mind. I'm no good to you if I don't have a clear head."

Alex stretched her leg and caressed Olivia's inner thigh with her foot. "And is your head clear, Detective?"

Olivia flinched at the contact, but didn't move her leg. "Not if you keep doing that." Alex smiled, but kept up the movements with her foot. Olivia eventually drew a deep breath and reached down to still Alex's foot as it moved further up her thigh. She began to softly massage the foot that was in her hand, while looking across at Alex.

"Why fight it, Olivia? I felt the way you kissed me this morning. I know you want it just as bad as I do. What are you so scared of?"

Olivia sighed. "I told you before, Alex. I don't think I could handle losing you again, and I know I could never forgive myself if I let something else happen to you." Surprisingly, Alex saw tears forming in the detective's eyes. She withdrew her foot and moved over so she was sitting beside Olivia. Putting her arm around Olivia's shoulders, she pulled the other woman closer.

"Liv, how can I make you believe that what happened to me is not your fault? Like it or not, sometimes bad things just happen. No matter what we do, they just happen. I should be dead, but I'm not. Thanks to you." Olivia gave Alex a questioning look, and saw her nodding her head. "The doctors told me that. They said that whoever was with me saved my life because they slowed the bleeding right after I was shot. You kept me from bleeding to death. I got a second chance at life, thanks to you. I know that you want to protect me, but I would rather face a firing squad than to know that we had a second chance and didn't take it." A tear rolled down Olivia's cheek. "Something could happen to either one of us tomorrow that has nothing to do with Velez or Zapata or New York or any of that. I just don't want to waste any time that we have together. Because we both know all too well how quickly things can change." She looked into Olivia's eyes and reached up to wipe away another tear with her thumb. "We have right now, Olivia, no matter what happens tomorrow or the next day, or the next. We have right now. Does this make any sense to you?"

Olivia's brown eyes focused on Alex. Another tear escaped and trailed down her left cheek. She took in a deep, ragged breath and her voice was shaky when she finally spoke. "Yes. It makes perfect sense. I'm sorry, Alex. I'm just so scared of losing you again." She reached up and caressed Alex's cheek with her hand. "I can't- I don't-"

Alex placed her fingers on Olivia's lips. "Shhh… I'm here now. You haven't lost me and, God willing, you won't ever again."

Olivia kissed the fingertips still resting on her lips and Alex slowly lowered her hand. She captured Olivia's mouth in a soft kiss. She pulled back again, and brown eyes locked with blue. Olivia initiated the next kiss and the passion they had shared that morning was quickly rekindled. Alex maneuvered herself around so that she was sitting in Olivia's lap straddling her hips. The two women soon became oblivious to all that surrounded them. The only thing that mattered was each other and what was happening between them.

All other sounds were drowned out by the crackling fire and the sounds of the hot tub, not to mention the small noises being made by each of the women as sensitive areas were discovered and explored by roaming hands and fingers. Neither Alex nor Olivia heard the snap of the twig as the man with the camera retreated back into the woods from his hiding place behind a large oak tree a few hundred feet away from the cabin. They had not heard the small whirr of the zoom or the click of the shutter as he had snapped pictures of them as they emerged onto the deck. They didn't hear his quiet cursing when the light level became too low to capture images of the scene unfolding in front of his eyes. Unable to see any longer, he slipped away into the darkness, thinking to himself that the man who hired him should give him a bonus for this particular set of photos.

The timer expired on the hot tub and the jets turned off just as a breathless and spent Alex collapsed forward against an equally breathless Olivia. The remaining embers of the fire gave off a soft glow on the now darkened deck.

"Oh my God, Olivia." The words came out in a gasp.

"Did we break it?" Olivia managed to ask between breaths.

"Break what?"

"The hot tub."

Alex laughed as she sat up and looked at Olivia. "No. I set the timer for an hour."

Olivia ran her hands up and down Alex's back. "Have we been in here an hour already?" She pulled Alex to her for another kiss.

"Mmmm. Why don't we head inside before we turn into prunes…" She slid off of Olivia's lap and stood up, readjusting her swimsuit, and offered her hands to Olivia to help her to her feet. Alex stepped out of the hot tub and picked up the two towels she had placed on the deck earlier. She offered one to Olivia by wrapping it around her as she stepped from the tub. They quickly toweled off and then wrapped the towels around themselves as they placed the cover back on the tub. Alex checked the embers and closed the door to the small fireplace. She grasped Olivia's hand and led her back inside the cabin.

Once inside, Alex locked the door and set the alarm and then turned to find Olivia waiting to capture her in another lingering kiss. When they broke apart, Alex looked once again into the dark brown eyes. "Any regrets?"

Olivia placed a soft, tender kiss on her lips. "None."

"Come upstairs with me?"

Olivia nodded. "Just let me get my clothes."

Alex grinned as she pulled Olivia toward the stairs. "You won't need them." Olivia smiled back as she followed Alex to her bedroom loft.

When they reached the loft, Olivia was greeted with a queen-sized brass bed covered with a deep blue down comforter and large fluffy pillows that matched. The room was rustic and cozy at the same time. French doors opened onto a small balcony and a bathroom was located off the back corner of the room.

Alex moved toward the bathroom door as she removed her towel. "Want a shower to rinse off the chlorine?"

"Sure. You go first."

Alex grinned again. "It's a big shower. Plenty of room for two…" She turned and disappeared into the bathroom.

Olivia followed while removing her towel. She stepped into the bathroom to see Alex leaning into the shower to turn on the water. She admired the slender waist and curve of her hips. She couldn't wait to actually see the body her hands had so recently explored. Alex adjusted the water and turned to face Olivia. She reached behind her and unhooked her swimsuit top and let it fall to the floor. The site of Alex topless, sent a rippling sensation through Olivia's body and she almost shivered. She took a step forward and reached out to lightly run her fingers over Alex's naked breasts. Alex reached up and pulled the straps of the Speedo off of Olivia's shoulders. In a matter of seconds both women stood naked before each other for the first time. Alex pulled Olivia into the shower and pressed their bodies together. The feel of skin on skin was almost electrifying. They spent the next few minutes touching, feeling and exploring while soaping and rinsing each other's bodies. Alex turned off the water and reached for a large, fluffy bath sheet and began to dry Olivia's and then her own body.

They stepped from the shower and Alex led Olivia to her bed. She turned down the comforter and they slipped between the cool cotton sheets. Olivia could have sworn she was in heaven. This time, they made love slowly and tenderly. It was a stark contrast to their earlier frenzied encounter in the hot tub. This time, they savored each second, finding as much pleasure in the giving as in the receiving. They lay together, exhausted and satisfied, as they drifted off to sleep, arms and legs entwined, feeling safe and secure in each other's embrace.

Olivia awoke again to the early morning sun, this time shining through the panes of the French doors. A blonde head lay on her chest, nestled beneath her chin. A slender arm draped over her bare body as she held Alex in her arms. They had kicked off the comforter sometime in the night and were covered only by the pale blue sheet. She lifted her head and placed a soft kiss on the top of the blonde head.

Alex stirred with the movement. She looked up at Olivia with heavy lidded eyes and smiled a sleepy smile.

"Morning, sleepyhead."

"Mmmm." Alex snuggled back down. "I always wondered what it would feel like to wake up in your arms." Her breath was warm against Olivia's breast.


"I think I'm in heaven."

"I had the exact same thought last night."

Alex opened her eyes again and saw where her head was resting. "What a beautiful sight to wake up to." She turned her head slightly and placed a kiss on Olivia's breast.

Olivia chuckled. "And I thought you weren't a morning person."

"I'm not usually." She extricated herself from Olivia's arms and sat up, propping herself on one hand so she could look down at Olivia. "I guess you're having quite an effect on me."

Olivia reached up and pulled Alex back down to give her a kiss. "I'd say we're having quite an effect on each other."

They both sat up and Olivia realized that all of her clothes were downstairs in her bedroom. "Do you have a robe or something I can borrow, or are you going to make me parade around stark naked?"

Alex grinned. "I'm definitely partial to the latter option, but I guess I can let you borrow my robe." She got up and walked around the bed to the closet as Olivia watched.

"Speaking of beautiful sights…" Alex shot Olivia a look and pulled a t-shirt on over her naked body. She retrieved a terrycloth bathrobe from a hook on the closet door and held it out, forcing Olivia to crawl out of bed and walk over to her. Alex did nothing to hide her appreciation of Olivia's body as she made her way across the room and took the offered robe. She slipped the robe on and tied the belt around her waist. "I'll meet you at the coffee maker." She gave Alex a quick kiss as she headed toward the stairs.

A few minutes later, Alex could smell the coffee brewing as she descended the stairs. She was glad she had pulled on a pair of sweatpants since the downstairs area was a bit chilly from the cool weather that had settled in overnight.

She found Olivia leaning against the counter next to the coffee maker. Two mugs were on the counter waiting to be filled. She surmised that the detective looked forward to her morning dose of caffeine as much as she did. Olivia gave her a lopsided grin as she approached. "Hope you don't mind me commandeering your coffee maker. I have to have my morning fix, you know." She noticed the unusual look on Alex's face. "What?"

Alex smiled and shook her head. "I just…" She laughed and shook her head again.


"If someone had told me last week that I was going to come downstairs to find Olivia Benson making coffee in my kitchen, wearing only my bathrobe, and looking incredibly sexy for eight o'clock in the morning, I would have told them they were out of their minds. The only place I ever thought that would happen was in my dreams."

Olivia reached over and pinched Alex's arm.

"Ow! What was that for?"

"To let you know you're not dreaming." She pulled Alex to her and gave her a kiss.

Alex wrapped her arms around Olivia and held her tightly. "I'm so glad I'm not." She pulled back so she could look into Olivia's eyes. "Are you really OK with all this, Liv?"

"If you have to ask me that after last night, I must have done something wrong."

"Oh, believe me, you did everything right. I just want to make sure that you don't have any regrets or feel like I pushed you too hard."

"Well, let's see… I slept better last night than I have in, oh, about a year now. I woke up with you in my arms. And now, I'm standing here in your kitchen, wearing only your robe, and looking into the bluest eyes I've ever seen. The same blue eyes I've seen in my dreams so many times I've lost count. How could I possibly have any regrets?" Alex smiled as Olivia reached up and tucked a piece of blonde hair behind her ear. "And, as for pushing too hard, you should know me by now, Alex. Sometimes I get something in my head and I can't see the forest for the trees. I'm glad you didn't give up on me."

Alex chuckled. "No chance of that. In case you forgot, I have a reputation for being rather stubborn."

"Yeah, well, for once, I'm thankful for that stubborn streak."

"I'm going to remember that you said that…"

Alex administered the test to her class and she and Olivia retired to her office upstairs to wait for her students to hand in their completed exams.

"You really trust them not to cheat?" Olivia was having a hard time believing that Alex didn't stay in the lecture hall during the exam.

"I trust them. Besides, I have them sign an honor code at the bottom of each exam stating that they have neither given nor received any unauthorized assistance with the exam." Olivia raised an eyebrow. "You'd be surprised how well that works."

Olivia looked skeptical. "Yeah, I would. They're college students."

"I also told them that one anonymous student will be asked to monitor the class during each exam and report any suspicious behavior to me."

"A narc? How do you convince one of them to rat out the others?"

Alex smiled. "I've never actually asked anyone to do it."

"So, you really don't know if they cheat or not."

"But they don't know that."

"You're such a lawyer." Alex didn't even try to hide her smirk after Olivia's comment. She began working on an upcoming lecture and tasked Olivia with looking up references for her. An hour or so later, the first students to finish began handing in their exams. Jonathan came in and smiled at Olivia as he handed his exam paper to Alex. He hesitated at the door and turned around.

"Detective, can I speak to you a minute?"

A little surprised, Olivia looked at Jonathan and wondered what he wanted to talk about. "Sure… What's up?"

He motioned for her to step into the hallway. She shot a look at Alex and then stood to follow the student. When they were a few steps from the office door, Olivia stopped. "Is everything OK, Jonathan?"

He looked hesitant. "I'm not sure." He looked down at his feet and then back at Olivia. "There was a guy downstairs asking about Dr. Martin." He had lowered his voice so that he was almost whispering.

Olivia's blood ran cold. "What guy? When?"

"When I came out of the classroom to turn in my test. Something just didn't seem right about him. You seem sort of protective of Dr. Martin, so I thought you might want to know."

"What did he say?"

"He wanted to know if I knew where Dr. Martin's office was." Olivia jerked her head back toward Alex's office even though she was standing only a few steps away. "Don't worry. I didn't tell him. I told him I didn't know a Dr. Martin and that he must have the wrong building. I sent him across campus. The more I thought about it, the more I thought I should tell you."

"Thanks, Jonathan, you did the right thing. What did he look like?"

"Dark complected, dark hair, he didn't really have an accent though."

Olivia looked at Jonathan curiously. "Why would he have an accent? Did he look foreign?"

"I just meant that he still could have been Colombian… even though he didn't have a noticeable accent."

Olivia froze. "Colombian?"

Another look at the floor before he looked Olivia in the eye again. "I Googled you."


"You know, on the computer. Google dot com. I Googled your name."

"Why would you do that?"

"I'm sorry. I just thought it was kinda weird that a New York Detective was way down here in Georgia 'monitoring' a small town college class. I thought it might have something to do with a case you were working on and wondered what kind of a detective you were." He shrugged. "So, I Googled you."

"And what did you find?" Olivia was pretty sure of the answer, but wanted to hear it for certain.

"That you were involved in a case in New York where an ADA was shot and presumably killed because of her involvement in prosecuting a Colombian drug lord." He hesitated. "That ADA looks an awful lot like Dr. Martin." He saw the look in Olivia's eyes and quickly amended his statement. "Don't worry, Detective. I would never say anything to anyone to put Dr. Martin in danger. But if I could find this information that easily, don't you think someone else could too?" Smart kid. Not so smart feeling detective.

"If you see this man again, let me know. Do not, I repeat, do not try to do anything else, Jonathan. Just let me know, OK?" She reached in her pocket and pulled out a business card and handed it to Jonathan. "This has my cell number. If you see him again or hear of anyone else asking about her, call me."

"Yes ma'am."

"Thank you for telling me this. And for not sharing your theory about Dr. Martin to anyone."

Jonathan nodded. He tore off a strip of paper from his notebook and quickly scribbled something down and handed the slip to Olivia. "This is my number. If there's anything I can do to help…"

Olivia shook her head and saw the disappointed look on the young man's face. She took the scrap of paper and said. "Thanks. You've already helped tremendously by coming to me with this."

He smiled and walked toward the stairwell. Olivia pulled out her cell phone and dialed Hammond's number as she went back into Alex's office. Alex looked up with a curious expression. "What's up?"

Olivia spoke into the phone as Alex watched and listened. "I need a status report. We may have a problem." Alex's eyes widened as she listened to Olivia relay her conversation with Jonathan to Agent Hammond.

That phone call set into motion a series of events that would forever change a lot of lives. Flashes of events would come back at the oddest times, along with thoughts of what went wrong and what could have been done differently to change the outcome.

Captain Cragen answered the phone in his usual brusque manner. "Cragen."

"Jack Hammond, Captain."

"You calling to raid my store again, Hammond?"

"I wanted to talk to you before the story broke in the media. It's going national."

The Agent's somber tone made the Captain sit stone still. "I'm listening." Hammond hesitated and the Captain knew what he was about to say. He squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the dreaded words.

"We lost her. We lost them both."

Cragen took a deep breath. "What exactly do you mean by 'lost them'?"

"They're gone. Shot by a member of the cartel sent to eliminate them both."

"How…" The Captain's voice shook. He swallowed and started again. The words came out slow and deliberate. "How could you let that happen?" The tremble in his voice was still there, a combination of shock and anger.

"They were closer than we thought. We were trying to move them out, but the sniper was already in place. I'm sorry, Don."

"You're sorry? You say that like we lost a ball game or something. One of my detectives is dead. Members of our family on your watch, and all you can do is call me and say you're sorry?"

"There's no easy way to do this, Don. I would have come in person, but the story is breaking and I didn't want you to just see it on the news tonight. I'll be in touch when I'm back in New York."

"If you have half a brain, you won't show your face anywhere near my squad room!" The Captain slammed the phone down and put his head in his hands. He should never have let her go. He opened his bottom desk drawer and looked at the unopened bottle of scotch. He slammed the drawer shut again and took a deep breath. He knew what he had to do next. He stood and walked to his office door.

"Elliot, I need to speak to you."

Fin and Munch were both startled when the door to the Captain's office flew open ferociously and Elliot stormed back into the squad room. The Captain's voice called from inside the office. "Elliot!"

The furious detective charged across the room to the lockers and slammed his fist full force into his locker. He fell back into a chair and leaned forward putting his head in his hands. The knuckles on his right hand were already beginning to bleed from their collision with the locker.

"Stabler!" The Captain called to him again as he appeared in the doorway to his office. He stopped abruptly when he saw Elliot.

Fin spoke first. "There a problem, Cap'n?"

Cragen took a deep breath. "Yeah, Fin, there is." He walked over to Fin and Munch, glancing again at Elliot. "There's no easy way to say this." Munch and Fin exchanged glances and looked back at the Captain. "Olivia's 'leave of absence' was not for personal reasons. She's been on assignment with DEA." Surprised looks assured the Captain that this information had not been leaked to the two detectives. "I just got a call from Jack Hammond saying that something went bad."

"How bad?" Fin shot another look toward Elliot.

Munch piped up then. "Hammond? Wasn't he the guy in charge of the Velez case?"

Cragen looked again at Elliot, who still sat with his head in his hands. He looked back at Fin and answered his question. "As bad as it gets."

Fin started shaking his head. "Aw, no way. Not Liv."

"What the hell happened?" Munch's voice was getting louder.

"I don't know exactly. Hammond called to say the story's breaking on the national news."

Elliot stood up and turned back to his locker. He winced when he tried to open his locker with his right hand. It was already starting to bruise and swell.

The desk sergeant from downstairs stuck his head in the door. "Captain, you may want to turn on Channel 8."

The Captain turned and went back to his office, quickly followed by his detectives. He turned on the television and tuned in to Channel 8.

And now, breaking news involving an NYPD Detective. Here with the story is Gretchen Mills.

Jeanne, a New York City police detective was gunned down in a DEA operation gone bad at North Georgia College and State University early this afternoon. Detective Olivia Benson, a member of the 16th Precinct Special Victims Unit in Manhattan, was apparently on assignment with the DEA in the small rural town of Dahlonega, Georgia. A source close to the investigation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Detective Benson was on assignment to protect a former member of the Manhattan DA's office who has been in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Detective Benson and criminal justice professor, Dr. Sandra Martin, were both hit by bullets from a sniper's gun at approximately two o'clock this afternoon. Both women were med-evaced to Grady Hospital's trauma center in Atlanta, where doctors were unable to save them. It is unknown at this time if Dr. Martin was the intended target. No one has been arrested in the shooting, but officials say they do have a suspect. This is Gretchen Mills reporting live from Atlanta, Georgia. Jeanne, back to you in New York.

Cragen switched off the TV and looked at his detectives. Elliot was the first to speak. "Goddamn reporters! How'd they get that? Who's talkin' to them?"

Fin recovered his voice next. "Federal Witness Protection? Who from the Manhattan DA's office has been in witness protection?"

"Alex Cabot?" Munch looked at each of them. "She didn't die when she was shot, she went into witness protection."

Fin started to tell Munch that this wasn't the time for one of his conspiracy theories until he saw the look on Elliot's face. "Damn. You knew didn't you?"

Elliot nodded. "Liv and I both knew. We couldn't say anything." He flopped down in a chair and grimaced as he tried to move his fingers.

"What about you, Captain? Are Fin and I the only ones in the dark?"

"I didn't find out until last week when Hammond called for Olivia."

Elliot bristled. "So you just sent her off. No questions asked."

"It was her choice to go, Elliot."

"You could have stopped her. Denied the request."

"You really think that would have stopped her? We're talking about Olivia… after what happened here, she would have gone to the end of the earth to try and protect Alex."

Elliot looked at his captain and knew he was right. This involved Alex and he knew that Olivia would have done anything to right that wrong. Even though he had tried to convince her that they were not responsible for what happened to the ADA, Olivia would not concede. He knew there was more to her relationship with Alex than she had ever told him, but he didn't press her on it. He saw how Alex's 'death' had affected his partner and he wished that there were something he could have said or done to make it easier on her. He reached up to wipe a tear from his eye before the others saw it and winced again as he tried to flex his now swollen fingers.

Cragen was watching and neither the tear nor the wince went unnoticed. "Elliot, you really should have that looked at. I think you may have broken something."

"Nah." Another grimace as he tried unsuccessfully to make a fist.

"Fin, give Elliot a ride over to Bellevue and then take him home. John and I will catch until you get back."

Elliot came into work the next day, against the Captain's orders to stay home. His two fractured metacarpals were resting somewhat comfortably in a fiberglass cast. Writing was impossible, but two fingered typing got the job done. That's all he ever used anyway, so the cast didn't really make much difference in that respect.

He was typing up an already overdue report when Jack Hammond approached his desk. Elliot sensed his presence before he actually saw him and looked up slowly to lock eyes with the DEA Agent. Anger poured from his eyes as he slowly stood to face Hammond.

"You got some nerve coming here after getting my partner killed." This caught Fin's attention and he made his way over toward Elliot.

"I'm sorry, Detective." Hammond's voice was quiet, but strong.

"You're sorry? I'll show you sorry, you son of a bitch!" Elliot lunged at the Agent, but Fin grabbed him from behind before he could make contact. Elliot tried to wrestle free, but Fin's hold was too strong. "Let me go!" Elliot continued to struggle, but couldn't break free.

"Take it easy, Stabler. Breakin' your other hand, ain't gonna help anybody." Fin tried to reason with the angry detective, but didn't risk loosening his grip.

Hearing the commotion, Cragen emerged from his office and glared at Hammond.

Hammond was still standing in front of Stabler. "I am sorry. We never thought it would escalate into what it did. I never would have involved Benson if I hadn't been backed into a corner."

Cragen blinked. "I think you better go."

Hammond reached into the pocket of his overcoat and pulled out a gold shield. He set it on Elliot's desk. "I thought you should have this." Elliot struggled again to no avail as Hammond turned and walked out of the squad room. When he had disappeared from view, Fin finally loosened his hold on his captive. Elliot slumped down into his chair and picked up Olivia's badge. He hung his head and he began to sob openly as he held the badge.

Cragen reached over and placed a hand on the distraught detective's shoulder. His voice was quiet. "Elliot, I think you need to take some time."

Elliot Stabler sat in his beach chair, sipping some sort of sickly sweet drink in a pineapple glass that his wife insisted on ordering for him. His gaze drifted down the beach to the tanned woman in a blue bikini, sporting short, spiky blonde hair. Except for the blonde part, she looked like Olivia. He couldn't really see facial features, but her mannerisms and the way she moved were uncannily like his partner. Former partner. Elliot found it hard to accept that she was gone.

Kathy Stabler was sunbathing, lying on her stomach in the lounge chair next to her husband. She opened one eye and studied her husband. Olivia's death had aged him. She pushed herself up on her elbows and followed his gaze. She had known it was only a matter of time before Elliot noticed the resemblance. She had seen the woman earlier, and except for the blonde hair, she bore a striking resemblance to Olivia Benson. When they were first partnered together, Kathy had twinges of jealousy toward this beautiful and charismatic woman that her husband spent so much of his time with. Once she got to know Olivia and saw the way she and Elliot related to each other in a completely nonsexual way, she put aside her petty feelings and accepted Olivia as extended family.


He pulled his gaze away from the blonde and looked at his wife. He smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. She reminds me of Liv."

"She does a bit. I saw her earlier." Elliot turned his head back to the woman. She was rubbing suntan oil onto her skin and talking to her companion sitting in the beach chair next to her. All Elliot could see of the other person was the top of a head covered by a baseball cap. "Elliot." His wife's voice brought his head back around. "You've got to stop thinking about her. We took this vacation to get away and regroup. I know how close you were, but-"

"What if she's not dead?"


"They did it once with Alex, why not again?"

"Elliot…" Kathy sat up and looked at her husband. He smiled a crooked smile and shrugged. He turned back to the blonde woman and her friend.

"It is so bad to just want her not to be dead?"

"No, El, it's not." She reached over and gave Elliot's arm a squeeze.

"I'd just like to imagine that she and Alex are off somewhere like this, in their own little private love nest or something. They both deserve better than what they got."

Kathy was shocked to hear Elliot refer to his partner and Alex as a couple. "Elliot, are you saying that Olivia… and Alex… were…?"

Elliot smiled the crooked smile again and shrugged. "I don't know. I think so."

"And you're OK with that?"

He shrugged again. "Yeah. I mean we never talked about it or anything, but I saw the way losing Alex affected her. It was deep, you know?" Kathy nodded. "I'm not saying I understand all that, but love is love. And losing it hurts like hell. Like losing a part of yourself. And that's what I saw Liv go through. I tried to be there for her, but she would never open up to me. I never questioned or doubted her as a partner, though. I had her back and I knew she had mine. I trusted her with my life." Another nod from Kathy as she swallowed the lump in her throat. Elliot looked at his wife. "You're pretty perceptive. I'm surprised you never picked up on anything like that about her."

Kathy smiled. "I did. I just never knew that you did."

Elliot looked surprised. "How come you never said anything?"

"I never knew for sure." She hesitated. "And, let's face it, you're not exactly the most open-minded person when it comes to some things."

He pursed his lips. "Yeah, well, I would have accepted it if it made her happy. I hope she knew that."

"I'm sure she did or she never would have let you see her personal pain over losing Alex."

Elliot nodded. "I hope they're together now."

Kathy gave Elliot's arm another squeeze and then stood up. "C'mon, El. Let's go back to the hotel and get cleaned up for dinner."

The blonde woman turned around to see two empty beach chairs down the beach a short distance from where they were sitting. A woman wearing a sarong and floppy beach hat and a man wearing a baseball cap, his unbuttoned Hawaiian print shirt flapping in the breeze, were walking up the beach away from the chairs. The blonde turned back around and shook her head.

"What?" Her companion took off the baseball cap and readjusted her brown ponytail.


"Do you still feel like someone is watching us?"

"I think I'm just paranoid. I keep getting these flashes of Elliot in my head. It's weird. Like he knows I'm alive or something."

"You know, you could contact him…"

"No! He's got a wife and kids to consider. As bad as I feel about not telling him, it's really better this way. He would just go after Velez with guns blazing if he knew."

"He may be doing that anyway. For killing his partner. You know how he can get."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"Sorry. I just hate seeing you agonize over it. I'm sure Elliot will follow proper procedure and not do anything stupid."

Olivia gave her girlfriend a skeptical look. "At least he's more likely to do that if he thinks we're dead. If he knew we were alive, he might go vigilante to try and bring us home himself."


"Just because you and Elliot didn't always see eye to eye, didn't mean he wasn't sorry to lose you. The only reason he didn't fight my DEA assignment was because he realized it was about you. And he knew what that meant to me."

Alex gripped the arm of the chair. "Wait, what exactly did he know?"

"I think he suspected that I was in love with you."

"Given some comments I've heard him make, I would think that might just freak him out a little. Did you ever talk to him about it?"

"I never put it into words, but he knows me, probably better than anyone knows me, except now maybe for you. He was with me the night you left, remember? I couldn't even talk without blubbering all over the place. He took me to this little coffee shop and we just sat there for probably a couple of hours. It was almost surreal. I was so happy that you were alive, but you were still gone from my life. I couldn't even put it into words. We didn't really talk about it. I used the excuse that someone might overhear, but it was really because I didn't know what to say. I don't think he did either. He drove me home and actually walked me to the door. He knew something was up, because I didn't even protest when he did it. He just held me for a minute as the tears came again and consoled me like he would do for one of his kids. He told me to be thankful that you were still alive and to believe that some day we would see you again. He said if I ever needed a shoulder or to talk, he would always be there for me."

"Did you ever take him up on it?"

"No, but I'm pretty sure he knew." Olivia ran a hand through her short blonde hair.

Alex was still watching her. "I still can't get used to the blonde."

"Me neither." She looked at Alex's brown ponytail sticking through the back of her baseball cap. "Or the not blonde."

Alex nodded and continued to watch as Olivia glanced behind them once more and then settled back in her beach chair. "I still can't believe that you agreed to this."

Olivia sat up again and turned toward Alex. "I lost you once. I wasn't about to lose you again. Not now… not ever."

"I just don't want you to regret leaving New York. Leaving your job. Leaving Elliot without even saying goodbye."

"Well, I would never choose to leave the way I did, but given the circumstances, I didn't really have a choice."

"I'm sorry. I know how much your job means to you."

Olivia put her hand on Alex's. "You mean more." Alex smiled, but didn't look too convinced. "I've always felt that SVU was where I belonged. Fighting for the victims that can't fight for themselves. But we've had some really tough cases that made me wonder why I keep doing it. Elliot even told me once that the price may be too great, and that maybe I should just walk away. I told him then that I couldn't. But now it's different."

"How? What makes you think you can walk away now?"

"Because I'm walking away with you. And that's where I belong now."

Olivia pulled Alex toward her for a kiss.

Elliot Stabler followed his wife up the boardwalk that led back to their hotel. He stopped mid-way and turned back to look again at the two people sitting in the beach chairs, facing what would soon be a beautiful sunset. He could still see the spiky blonde hair sticking up over the back of the chair. As he watched, the blonde reached her hand over to grasp the hand of her companion. He saw the brim of the baseball cap as the other person leaned toward the blonde. Unaware of being watched, the pair in the beach chairs shared a lingering kiss. Elliot was almost certain it was two women. He ducked his head to hide his slight embarrassment at witnessing their somewhat private moment.

Kathy stopped when she realized that Elliot's footsteps behind her had quieted. She turned around to see him turn and begin catching up to her with a smile on his face.

"You OK?"


"Why are you smiling?"

Elliot shrugged. "I just decided to believe in happily ever after."


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