DISCLAIMER: The characters from Law & Order & Law & Order SVU are the property of NBC and Dick Wolf. The characters from Castle belong to ABC and show creator, Andrew Marlowe. No copyright infringement is intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: It Takes Two is a collaborative crossover between the shows Castle and Law & Order: SVU. The story takes place after the episode "Ghost" has occurred and encompasses events from Seasons 1 and 2 of Castle and Season 10 of SVU. Parts of the SVU timeline have been altered to fit the needs of this story, but we tried to remain true to the characters and spirit of both shows. Credits: Acathla: Primary writer for Kate Beckett and compilation of the text. Diamond Crush: Primary Writer for Vicky Harrison/Alexandra Cabot, proofreading and final edit.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To CMSVU2010[at]gmail.com

It Takes Two
By Acathla & Diamond Crush


Chapter Twenty-Six: Morning Trauma

The next morning after a somewhat fitful night, Alex awoke to find Kate missing and she sat up in bed. Her initial thought was that the psycho had somehow gotten loose and took Kate while she was sleeping. She called out to her in a panic, "Kate?! Kate!"

Kate was in the kitchen setting the coffee maker to brew when she heard Alex calling her name. Kate heard the panic in her voice and she ran into their bedroom. She rushed to the bed and sat down next to Alex, reaching out to rub Alex's arms, "Baby, Alex I'm right here, what's wrong?"

Alex let out a trembling breath and felt her face grow hot, "I'm sorry… I woke up and you weren't here and I thought—" She took another breath, "I thought something bad had happened. I'm sorry."

Kate gathered Alex close and rubbed her hand over her back, "Baby, it's ok. I'm right here. I'm right here, I just went to make us some coffee." Kate tried to soothe her girlfriend.

"God, I feel like such a—you probably think I'm crazy," Alex said, leaning on Kate.

Kate ran a hand through Alex's hair, "No, sweetie, I don't think you're crazy. You've been through a very traumatic event and it's only natural that you would have nightmares. I'm going to be here for you no matter what happens." Kate pressed a kiss to Alex's forehead.

Alex buried her face, "I hate this…it's just like before..."

"No, it isn't. Because this time, you have me. You're not alone, you don't have to go through this alone."

"I know. But I hated the nightmares. I hated the feeling of helplessness and I hated the phantom pain I used to get where I was shot. I don't want to go through that again and it's already happening."

Kate felt a little helpless at that moment, but then she remembered her surprise and she hoped it would help. "I'm sorry that what happened brought all this back for you. I never meant for you to get drawn into this mess." Kate paused, "I brought something that I hope might cheer you up a little bit. Do you want to see it?"

Alex smiled a little and nodded, her chin sitting on Kate's shoulder. She pulled back and asked, "Should I wait here?"

Kate thought about that, "No, come with me?" Kate thought it might be best to get Alex out of bed. She had a feeling that if she stayed in bed, the nightmares and the bad stuff would keep haunting her. Kate stood up and held her hand out to Alex, leaving the decision in her hands.

Alex got up from the bed. She needed to be in the other room where there was more space, more air, more light. She took Kate's hand and followed her, eager to see what she had for her.

Kate led her into the living room. She thought about making her close her eyes but decided against it in light of last night. Instead, she brought her over to the shelf that held their statue and moved to stand behind Alex, holding her from behind in a warm embrace. "Do you see that?"

Alex looked up at it and leaned back against Kate, "Yeah..."

Kate rested her chin on Alex's shoulder as she explained, "It survived the explosion intact. Baby, for me, that statue is a symbol of our love, our future, and it survived. That makes me believe with all my heart that you and me, we'll survive this too. We're strong like that statue and we'll get through this, I promise." Kate kissed Alex's shoulder and tightened her arms around Alex's waist, keeping her close.

Alex looked at it, admiring the face of the perfect little baby, and she put her arms over Kate's, "I want to believe that nothing has changed…that everything is going to be fine…but what if this happens again? What if I lose you, Kate? How would I go on?"

"You won't lose me baby. This was an isolated incident. Stuff like this doesn't happen to me. I'm almost never in any real danger." Kate smirked, "In fact, despite being a cop in homicide, my job is oddly safe."

"I used to think that about my job too…" She pulled away and changed the subject, "You know, I should go take a shower… I still have residue from last night on me and I really want to rinse it off. I'll be out in a while." She left the room and went to the master bath, locking the door behind her after grabbing her cell phone. She dialed a familiar number and waited for Jack McCoy to answer.

Kate decided to give Alex some time alone, thinking she might feel better after a shower. Kate decided to make breakfast for them. She went into the kitchen and began getting the food ready.

Jack McCoy was in his office working on some paperwork when his phone rang. He picked it up, "McCoy."

"Jack, it's Alex Cabot. I hope I'm not interrupting, but it's important that I speak to you."

Jack smiled, "No Alex it's fine. You're saving me from paperwork. What can I do for you?"

"I need to request a transfer…temporarily. I just need some time away from homicide. I don't care where you put me. I'll even take Appeals… anything you can offer me Jack, please."

Jack thought about that for a moment, "Well, Alex, the thing is, there's nothing open right now, I'm sorry. From what I understood, though, I thought you were happy at the 12th precinct, what's going on?"

"It's a long story, but I got caught up in something bad and Kate and I were almost killed. I need some time away from the 12th precinct. Will you call me if something opens up?"

Jack knew when not to pry, "I see. Well I promise to call you the minute I have an opening up, but in the meantime, if you feel you need to take a leave of absence, I can arrange that too."

"I'll get back to you on that. For now I'm just taking a couple of days off until I get back to normal. I've delegated my cases to Rossi, but I'll keep an eye on things. Thank you for doing this, Jack."

"It's not a problem Alex," Jack said, smiling. "Anything you need you call me, I'm here any time."

"Thanks, Jack. Have a good day," she said and then hung up.

Meanwhile, Kate was making breakfast, eggs, bacon, toast and coffee while she waited for Alex to get out of the shower. She sighed as she admitted that she would have to postpone her proposal for a bit...at least until Alex was back on solid footing. She paused her motions, her hands resting on the counter where she had the bread waiting to go in the toaster, and hung her head down, closing her eyes to keep her anger at Scott Dunn at bay. Kate took a few deep breaths and when she felt she had her anger under control she lifted her head and went back to making breakfast.

While Alex was in the shower, she found herself just leaning up against the wall, tears falling down her cheeks. She was holding herself, her body bent at the waist, as she did her best to keep from having a panic attack. The last thing she wanted was for Kate to see her like that, but deep down inside she wanted to scream, she wanted to scratch at her skin, just something to get it all out.

Kate finished cooking and served up two plates, putting them on the table along with two cups of coffee. Now that she didn't have the routine of cooking to distract her, Kate realized that Alex was taking a very long time in the shower, longer than she usually took. Kate became worried, fearing that Alex had slipped in the shower or something, so she went to the bathroom door. When she reached for the knob and realized it was locked, Kate frowned; Alex never locked this door. Kate went to where Alex kept her keys and found the small one that fit the bathroom lock. Within moments she had the door unlocked and she carefully opened, slipping into the room quietly. She closed the door behind her and asked, "Alex? Baby, are you ok?"

Alex was sitting on the floor of the shower, her arms wrapped tightly around her knees as she held them to her chest. She was sobbing, her entire past playing through her mind.

Kate slowly walked towards the shower and carefully pulled back the shower curtain. What she saw broke her heart and she quickly turned off the water before she knelt down next to Alex. Kate wanted to reach out to the blonde, but she was afraid that might make it worse. Alex looked like she was in shock, so Kate carefully whispered, "Alex?"

Alex just shook her head. Her eyes were focused on some faraway place.

Kate settled down onto the floor, realizing they'd be there for a while. "Alex? Can you look at me?"

"Don't…" was all she said as she remained perfectly still.

Kate was confused now, "Don't? Don't what?"

"Don't look at me. I don't want you to see me like this," she said slowly. She wanted to handle this on her own.

Kate felt her heart sink a little lower, "Baby, I told you, I'm not going anywhere. Please let me help you."

"You can't, ok? You can't help me…" she said as balled up a little bit tighter. She was so angry, so filled with rage that all she wanted to do was break things.

"Well, I'm not leaving you alone, so can you let me try?" Kate asked, not knowing how to help her girlfriend.

"What are you going to do? Tell me Kate, what the fuck are you going to do to make this better?"

Kate felt a little useless, but she tried anyway, "I don't know, but I will do whatever you need me to do. Anything except leave you alone. Just name it. What do you need me to do?"

"Kill Scott Dunn," she said, her muscles tightly clenched.

Kate felt Alex's words wash over her and she realized that part of her wanted to do just that, kill the man who did this to them. The problem was, she knew it wouldn't really fix anything. She slowly reached over and placed her hands on Alex's, carefully prying them off of her legs. Kate held them for a few moments, trying to warm them again after their stint in the cooling shower. Kate took a breath and realized Alex was still staring into space. She took both her hands into one of her own and used the other hand to cup Alex's cheek, slowly turning her face until she was looking her. When her eyes made contact with Alex's she said, "If I thought it would help, I would. But how would killing him and spending the rest of my life in prison away from you be a good thing?"

Alex's lip trembled and she started to cry again, her whole body finally relaxing in defeat, "I want him to pay for what he did! I want to see him punished!" She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Kate.

Kate held her girlfriend close as she stroked her hair, "He will, I promise you he will. We have him locked in with the evidence. He's going to spend his life in prison."

"I wanted the man who shot me to die too…I wanted to kill him for what he had done… I was alone then, I had to deal with it by myself..."

"But you're not alone now. I'm here and you can lean on me. Baby, I love you and that means that I am always here for you, no matter what happens, got it?" Kate needed Alex to know she wasn't alone anymore. "You'll never have to be alone ever again because I've got you, ok?"

Alex nodded and in a weak voice asked, "Can you help me up? I'm cold and I just want to lay down in our bed."

"Of course, come on." Kate slowly stood up and helped Alex out of the shower before she reached for a nearby towel. She wrapped it around her girlfriend and held the blonde close, her arms around her for a moment to warm her up before she let go and began walking with Alex into the bedroom. Kate pulling back the covers and helped Alex into the bed after the blonde had dropped the towel. Kate pulled the covers over Alex and then she walked around the foot of the bed and slipped in on the other side. She pulled Alex to her, wrapping her arms around her and held her close. She whispered, "I love you."

"Even though I'm such a mess?" Alex asked quietly as she leaned back against Kate's body.

"Unconditionally, forever. Nothing will ever change that, I swear." Kate placed a soft kiss on Alex's shoulder.

Alex smiled just a little, "I love you too, Kate. I'm sorry for all of this..."

Kate shook her head, "You have nothing to be sorry about baby. None of this is your fault." Kate paused, her own guilt welling up, "I'm sorry that you got pulled into this, I never meant for you to be a part of this guy's twisted game." Kate kissed Alex's shoulder again, scared that this might be the thing that broke them...that this might be too much for Alex and she would leave her.

"It scares me Kate…what if we'd had a child and that bastard did something to her?" She didn't mean to think that way, but she had to be realistic about the risks.

Kate closed her eyes at that thought; it was too scary for her. She gently turned Alex to face her and when she could see Alex's eyes, she said, "He will never hurt us again. Our child won't ever be hurt by anything related to my work. I'd quit the force before I'd let that happen. I know I was supposed to protect you and I failed at that, but I didn't think he'd go after you. I promise you again that nothing and no one will ever get that close to you, ever. If I have to take myself off a case or leave the force altogether, I will. Nothing is more important to me than you and our future together, ok?" Kate knew she meant every word. She would leave the force if Alex asked her to. She'd do whatever it took to keep her and their family safe.

Alex gazed deep into Kate's eyes, "You mean that? You'd leave the force for me and our baby if it came to that?" She couldn't believe Kate would actually consider that. After all, Olivia had always been adamant about never leaving her job for any reason, not even if someone was trying to kill her. It always made Alex worry about their future as a couple.

Kate smiled, "Yes, I would. If it meant keeping you and our family safe, I would. Nothing means more to me than that."

Alex leaned forward and kissed Kate to show her gratitude. She had her arms wrapped around her girlfriend, gently stroking her back.

Kate leaned into the kiss, savoring the contact for several precious moments before she pulled away. "I love you."

"I love you too. Thank you for what you said, Kate…and thank you for not treating me like a flake. I know I've been difficult since we got home."

Kate raised a hand and stroked Alex's hair, "I meant every word baby and for the record, you're not a flake. You went through something traumatic and it brought back what you went through when you were shot. I get that, I really do. I'm right here for you, always."

Alex leaned her head against Kate's forehead and said, "Would it be ok if we just stayed here for a while? I know you made breakfast, but I just don't think I can eat right now."

Kate tightened her hold on Alex, "We can stay here as long as you need to." She closed her eyes and breathed deep.

Alex caressed Kate's back, her finger drawing circles on the small of her back as she lay there. She wasn't sleepy, she was just quiet and this was exactly what she needed. Kate was here and she didn't have to deal with it alone. She just had to be smart and let her girlfriend in instead of pushing her away.

Kate lay there enjoying the silence, happy that Alex seemed to be letting her in, letting her help, even if all she could do was hold her. Kate took a few moments to think about what she would do if she left the force and she realized that she could go the usual route of private security, but she knew it wasn't her style. Then Kate remembered the business card she had tucked into her desk. One of her cases a few months before she took her vacation to New Mexico had involved a television producer whose husband had been murdered. The killer turned out to be the production assistant he'd been seeing on the side and the producer had given Kate her card, saying that if she ever got tired of chasing bad guys, she'd always have a job as a technical advisor on one of the producer's cop shows.

Kate had begun watching the shows the woman produced and she spotted a few mistakes here and there, but it was generally pretty realistic. She figured if she quit the force to keep their family safe, she could always see if the consultant job was still available. It would definitely be a nice change of pace.

After about an hour of laying in silence, Alex gently scratched Kate's back and spoke quietly, "I think I'm getting hungry. Can we go eat?"

Kate smiled, "Yeah we can, but I think what I made is too cold to eat. I'll make us more. You want to come help?" Kate didn't want to leave Alex alone again; it would be too easy for her demons to overwhelm her if she was by herself.

Alex nodded, "Yeah. I'll jut put on something and be out in a minute." She pulled back from Kate and got out of the bed to go get her clothes.

Kate stood by the door, "I'll wait for you, if that's ok." She really didn't want to leave Alex alone, not even for a minute.

"Sure," Alex said, understanding why Kate wanted to stick around. She went to the dresser and took out underwear and pajamas and dressed herself quickly so that they could go out to the kitchen. She walked over to Kate and took her hand, "There, better."

Kate smiled when she saw how sexy Alex looked in her pajamas and led the blonde out into the kitchen. She took the plates she'd set out earlier and dumped the cold, congealed food down the disposal and before she turned to Alex and asked, "Any special requests for breakfast?"

"Your specialty… Malukuao?" Alex requested with a sweet smile.

Kate smiled, "You got it." Kate had a thought, "Since you can make it almost as well as I can, you want to help me?"

Alex smiled and nodded, "Sure. What do you want me to do?"

Kate handed Alex a block of cheese, "Shred this and I'll get started on the eggs, ok?"

Alex chuckled and saluted, "Yes ma'am." She took the cheese from Kate and then grabbed a knife from the drawer to slice the cheese into a smaller portion so that it would fit in the food processor.

Kate began preparing the eggs and together they finished making breakfast in perfect harmony. Anyone looking at them from the outside would swear they'd been cooking together for years.

Alex poured Kate some coffee and set the cup down on the table before joining the detective. She looked down at their plates, "Looks great as always, baby."

Kate blushed, "Thanks honey. Let's eat." She picked up her fork and picked up some Malukuao, "I like it when we can have breakfast together."

"Me too, baby. We need more days like this…" She stopped and blushed, "Well, not exactly like this, but you know…where we can have breakfast together."

"Yeah, I know what you mean." She took a bite and chewed slowly as she thought about the best way to tell Alex that she wasn't going to be working for a while. "Um, well the good news is that for the next few days, I'll be free to have breakfast with you every morning."

Alex turned, "What? Did they put you on leave?"

"Not exactly, I'm taking a few days off...I have to find a new place to live."

Alex looked confused, "Um, no you don't..."

Kate decided to play dumb, not wanting to assume anything, "Well, my apartment is a little...blown up right now, so…"

"Babe, you have a home right here, with me. There's no point in you going to find something else… because…well, things have been going so well that even if this hadn't happened, I was going to ask you to move in with me..."

"Really?" Kate was still being careful, "But I thought you said it was too soon?"

"No, five months ago it was too soon. Now, I think I feel confident about having you move in."

Kate looked down at her plate for a minute, trying not to let her emotions overwhelm her. When she was sure they were under control she looked up, "Are you sure? I mean I would love to live here with you, but only if you're really sure."

"Kate, I'm sure…So sure in fact that I've already gotten you a mail key and cleaned out half of my closet to make space for your things. You also have half the dresser now…" she said with a grin.

Kate smiled, "Really? Then in that case, I would love to move in with you." Unable to control her happiness, she got up from her seat went to kiss her girlfriend, beyond thrilled that they were taking this next step.

Alex caressed Kate's cheek, "We can use the next few days to go shopping for you. We'll replace everything that's replaceable and maybe even pick out some new things to make the loft feel more like home for you."

Kate smiled, "Honey, all I need to make any place home, is you."

She blushed, "Well, me aside, I'm sure you'd like to have things here that represent you, like your comic books, for instance. I want you to feel like this place is ours, not mine."

Kate frowned, "Well, the thing is, I kept my comics in the living room so they were destroyed in the explosion. Really the only things that survived were what I kept in my bedroom: the statue, a few books, and some knick knacks."

"Like I said, we can always replace what is replaceable, honey. Even if we have to scour all the bookstores and comic shops on the island, we'll rebuild your collection."

Kate smiled, "Ok."

Alex picked up her fork and continued eating her breakfast. "You know, it's a good thing you let me borrow that Batwoman book Kevin gave you. He would be devastated if it had been blown up."

Kate nodded, "Yes it is. I am very thankful that one was here. I'm also very thankful that you weren't there with me. I don't know what I would've done if you had been injured in the explosion. It's bad enough that you got pulled into it at all."

"In all honesty, I would've rather gone through that with you than what I went through with him. We could've ducked in the tub and it would've been over, just like that," she said, snapping her fingers. "Quick. Easy. Not spending 24 hours with a lunatic, never knowing if he'd snap or if he'd kill you in front of my eyes and then finish me off."

"Well, I would rather have seen you safe in your office or in our bed than anywhere else. Have I mentioned how sorry I am that this happened?" Kate wished there was a way to fix it and get them back to where they were the night before Dunn had ever come into their lives.

"Yes, but it's not your fault. It's just…something that happened. Dunn is responsible for this. He just happened to pick Castle's book and he went after you. I'm grateful that you were able to bring him down so that no one else will ever have to suffer at his hand."

"So am I." Kate smiled, truly thankful that Alex was safe. Before she could say anything more, there was a knock at the door. Kate stood up and went over to see who it was.

Castle was standing on the other side with a bottle of mimosas in one hand and a box of gourmet white chocolate dipped strawberries in the other. He figured that Kate and Alex deserved a little indulgence after everything that they'd been through.

Kate looked through the peephole and smiled when she saw Castle standing there. For a moment she was afraid it was someone dangerous. She opened the door and stepped aside to let him in, "Hey Castle, what brings you here?"

"I came by to check on the two of you. How is everything?" he asked as he walked into the loft.

Kate closed the door behind him and then joined Alex on the couch, "We're, um...dealing." She waited until Castle was sitting before she continued, "Um, Castle, I want to...thank you again, for having my back with Dunn." 

He looked at her with total seriousness, "You never have to thank me for that, Kate. So long as you and Alex are safe, that's what matters."

Kate smiled as she rubbed Alex's shoulder, "Still..." She let that linger for only a moment before she decided to change the subject, "So, um, what did you bring?"

"Mimosas and strawberries. I figured you might like a little treat," he said and set the bottle and box down on the coffee table. "I promise I won't stay long…you two can enjoy these later…"

Kate smiled at his offerings, but before she indulge, she looked at her watch and noticed the time, "Um, actually Castle I have to go to the station to close out the case. Would you mind staying here with Alex until I get back?" Kate turned to Alex, "Baby, I don't want to leave you but I have to go in and finish this up. You don't mind if Castle stays with you, right?" Kate hated to leave Alex in such a fragile state, but it couldn't be helped.

"Of course, I can stay as long as you need," he said. He looked at the blonde to make sure she was ok with it.

Alex looked at Kate, "Yeah, go on ahead, babe. Rick and I will catch up. I feel like we haven't seen each other in days."

Kate kissed Alex and then hurried to get dressed. Five minutes later, she walked back into the living room and said, "I'll be as fast as I can. I'm going to use this chance to talk to Montgomery about taking a few days off as well. Call me if you need anything before I come back, ok?" 

"I will. Be safe, love." Alex kissed her lips and was tempted to pat her on the bottom in encouragement, but she figured it'd be best not to while Castle was in the room. Once Kate had left, Alex asked Castle, "How are you doing after all of this?"

Castle chuckled, "I think that's supposed to be my question, but I'm ok. It's going to take a bit to get rid of my own guilt over the whole Nikki Heat angle, but I'm glad you and Kate are safe." He paused, "How are you?"

Alex couldn't help the flush that colored her cheeks, "I've had better days, but Kate is helping me through it."

Castle nodded, "She's good at that, being the one who comforts others. I've never seen anyone who has as much compassion as she does when she's dealing with the families of the victims." He paused a moment, thinking about how to say what was on his mind, "Um, Alex...there's something you should know about the night of the bombing..."

She looked at him expectantly, "What?"

Castle hesitated, "Well...you know that Kate was, um, showering when I was trying to call her about Conrad. When...um...well when I broke down her door and found her in the tub she was, um...naked. I promise you I turned away as fast as I could and I didn't try to peek after that, but I saw enough to know she was naked."

She chuckled, "It's really not that big a deal Castle. It was an emergency and you were a gentleman about it, I'm sure."

"Oh I was, I really was, it's just...I wanted you to know that Kate was very adamant that I not see her naked, which I totally understand. She promised you and under any other circumstances…"

"It's all right, Castle, really," she said reassuringly. She knew that Kate had no interest in Castle so it didn't really bother her that he saw her girlfriend naked. What mattered was that he got her to safety.

When Kate arrived at the precinct, she found the FBI agents dismantling the war room, but when she didn't see Jordan aiding the effort, she went to look for her in the next most obvious place. She walked into the break room and called out to Jordan just as she getting a coffee. "Hey."

"Oh, hey," Jordan said warmly when she looked up and saw Kate standing there. "How's Alex?"

"She's...coping." Kate said, not wanting to get into that drama again. "What's happening with Dunn?"

"He's being held in the tombs until we can transfer him to Riker's. The paperwork is moving along nicely."

Kate nodded, "Good. Hopefully, he'll be out of our lives forever now."

"No question," Jordan said with a reassuring smile. She set her coffee down and approached Kate, her voice sincere, "You know, we wouldn't have caught him if it weren't for you..."

Kate blushed, "Well, I had some help." Then she looked down for a second and humbly admitted, "I want you to know that I learned a lot from you on this one.

"Same here, detective… If you ever want a change of scene, we'd be more than happy to have you on our team," Jordan said as she handed Kate her card.

Kate smiled as she took the card in her hand, "I appreciate the offer, Jordan, but if I ever leave the force it'll be to raise my children with Alex. I don't think I could handle being away from our family like that. Don't get me wrong I admire the fact that you can do this job, but it's not for me," Kate said, trying to be honest while still doing her best not to insult or offend the other woman.

"I completely understand. It's not for everyone, but you really are talented. I hope you stick with law enforcement. By the way, have you seen Castle?"

"If that's an option, I certainly will. As for Castle, he's actually with Alex at the loft. I asked him to keep her company while I close out the case." Then she frowned, "Why are you looking for him?"

"I have something for him…a parting gift, I suppose. I wanted to give it to him personally before I left to the airport."

"Oh, um, I can take it to him when I go back to Alex's. I'm planning to take some time off so that I can deal with the aftermath of Scott Dunn versus Nikki Heat."

"Oh…extended leave?" she asked, curious to know how badly this had affected Kate and Alex.

"Just a week or two..." Kate explained, "Alex had some...stuff happen to her in the past and this kind of raked it all back up again. I thought it might be a good idea for the two of us to take some time away from the city." Kate then changed the subject back, "So, do you want me to take your gift to Castle?"

"Sure. I don't think I'll have a chance to see him before I have to leave. I have something for you as well. You can open it later, if you'd like." She went over to her briefcase and took out two small packages. "The blue one is Castle's. This one is yours."

Kate took the two gifts and smiled, "For me? Thank you, Jordan." Kate remembered that she still had to talk to Montgomery so she said, "Um, I should get going, but have a safe flight home."

"Thanks and good luck with everything. I hope the time away helps," she said and then took her leave.

Kate watched as she left the break room and then she sighed in relief. It really was over. Dunn was going to be put away for the rest of his miserable existence and she and Alex would be free to move past it.

She walked to the Captain's office, her steps somehow lighter, and she closed the door behind her once he'd asked her to come in. "Sir, there's something I need to talk to you about."

"Of course, have a seat detective," he said and leaned against his desk.

Kate sat down and looked at her boss, "Sir, I'm sure I don't need to tell you the toll that this case took on me. Between Alex getting kidnapped and my apartment being blown up, I feel like I need a few days off to clear my head and get myself back on track. Would it be all right if I took a short leave while I deal with all of this?"

Montgomery was more than willing to give Kate the time she needed and he nodded enthusiastically, "Yes, absolutely. After everything you and Alex have been through, I think a few days off is a good idea. We have you covered while you're gone; you don't have to worry about a thing."

Kate smiled, "Thanks Captain. I was thinking maybe two weeks, if that's ok."

"You sure that's all you want?" he asked to double check. He didn't want Kate coming back too quickly if she needed more time.

"Yes I'm sure, but if anything changes, I'll let you know." Kate hoped it would be enough to get Alex through this, but if not she had enough sick and vacation time to cover a third week.

"Ok, well, you two enjoy your time and if you need anything, we're here. Don't forget that," he said with a warm smile.

"Thank you, sir." Kate stood up and left Montgomery's office, but before she left the precinct, she found Ryan and Esposito to give them the skinny on her leave of absence. Once they'd wished her luck and offered her their support, she left the precinct and headed back to the loft.

She rode up the elevator and smiled at the thought of moving in and living with Alex, spending her life with... Kate suddenly remembered the ring that she'd ordered for Alex was ready to be picked up and for a moment she thought about going down to Tiffany's to pick it up but she was so tired, so she'd leave it for another day. What she really needed was to see Alex and shut out the rest of the world.

Kate got off the elevator and walked to loft door, but before she slipped her key in the lock, she pressed her ear against the door to see if she could hear anything that might signal what was going on inside. All she heard was some light music, so she opened the door and followed the music into the living room where she found Alex and Castle talking quietly. She approached slowly and asked, "Is this a private party or can I join you two?"

Alex opened her eyes and smiled, "Wow, I didn't expect you back so soon. Did everything go ok?"

Kate smiled as she walked over to the couch and sat down next to her beautiful girlfriend, "It went very smoothly, which is why it didn't take me very long. Montgomery agreed to give me the time off and Jordan informed me that Dunn is going to be sent to prison for a very long time. No deals for him, he's getting the max." Kate leaned forward and kissed Alex's cheek to celebrate their triumph.

Alex breathed a sigh of relief, "Thank God, the last thing I wanted was that guy going up for parole. He deserves the death penalty for what he's done."

Castle looked at Alex with surprise. He didn't figure her for the type to support the death penalty, but then again, it made sense given the circumstances.

For her part, Kate was more than happy to see Dunn get life in prison. She turned to Castle, "Castle, just so you know, I'm taking about two weeks off. That means you have two weeks off too...unless you want to shadow Ryan and Esposito."

"Eh, I think I'll pass. I wanted to spend a little time with Alexis and recover from all the drama. I know I didn't have it half as bad, but you know…a recharge might be good for all of us."

Kate nodded and then she remembered the gift that Jordan had given to her to give to Castle. She reached into her purse and pulled out the blue box, "By the way, Jordan asked me to give this to you, a parting gift." Kate lightly tossed it to him, grinning when he barely caught it.

He looked at the tiny wrapped box and then looked back at Kate, "Did she mention at all what it might be? A hint?"

"Nope, just said it was for you...although she did want to give it to you in person so, who knows?" Kate grinned.

He shook the box but there was no rattle. "Hmmm, I think I'll open this later…just to be on the safe side."

Kate rolled her eyes, "Chicken. I doubt she'd give you anything dangerous." Kate turned to Alex, "How are you doing?"

"I'm fine. We've just been listening to some Billie Holiday to calm things down. Castle poured me a very tall glass of mimosas and now I'm very relaxed."

Kate smiled, she liked seeing Alex calm like this, then she looked over at Castle and silently gave him the signal that she needed to be alone with her girlfriend.

He quickly took the hint and stood up, "Well I better get going, I promised Alexis we'd go to a movie tonight. Take care ladies, I'll see you soon Kate."

Kate nodded, "See you Castle." He let himself out and Kate smiled at Alex, "Ok, so now that we're alone...are you sure you're ok?"

Alex looked at her, "I'm holding up. But most of what I just said was for Castle's benefit. I didn't want him worrying over me so I did what I could to keep up appearances."

"That's what I thought. Um...I was wondering...how would you feel about maybe getting out of the city while I'm off? We could go to Amherst and really relax. How does that sound?" Kate asked, a little nervous that Alex would say no, but hoping she'd agree.

"You want to go up to the house? I…I don't know…it's so quiet there…it would give me a lot of time to think..."

Kate grinned lasciviously and wiggled her eyebrows, "Trust me, I won't give you time to think...if you know what I mean."

Alex knew that Kate had her heart set on it so she did the same thing she did for Castle. She relied on the lessons she'd learned as a Cabot and side-grinned, "Oh really?"

Kate shifted and straddled Alex, "Yeah, really. Honestly, I just want us to get away from the city for a bit." She leaned down and placed a light kiss on Alex's neck, "I thought maybe if we were up there, just the two of us, it might...help both of us get past this case."

"Sure, that sounds great," she said, her words carefully measured for the proper inflection and level of enthusiasm. She just wanted to make Kate happy and if this was the way, she'd make it through somehow.

Though Alex had agreed, Kate sensed something wasn't right so she looked into Alex's eyes and noticed that they looked hollow. The enthusiasm that she'd heard in Alex's voice was obviously for show and she realized that Alex was lying about something. "Alex, honey, what is it? I can tell there's something you're not telling me so just say it. If you don't want to go away, just say so ok? I'm not going to be mad, if that's what you're worried about." Kate just wanted Alex to open up to her, to be honest with her.

"It's fine Kate, we can go up to the house," she insisted, her lips pulling into a smile.

Kate felt her heart dip in her chest at the realization that Alex wasn't going to tell her the truth, but she didn't let it show. Instead she placed a light kiss on Alex's lips and humored the blonde, "Ok, good...um, I'm going to get something to drink. I'll be right back." Kate gracefully lifted herself off of Alex's lap and went to the kitchen to get a glass of cold water.

Alex let out a breath. It wouldn't do her any good to say something to Kate because all it was going to do was make her girlfriend worry and dote on her and she didn't want to be a burden, not after what had happened that morning. She decided to change the subject, "I was thinking that we could go out tonight."

Kate walked back into the living room. "Go out? Ok, where?"

"I don't know, a club or something. Somewhere fun," she said, watching Kate carefully.

Kate took that in, but in all reality she didn't want to go out, especially not to a loud, chaotic club. She felt like saying something to Alex but then she figured that getting out for the evening might be good for Alex so she came up with a compromise, "Ok, sure, but instead of a club, we don't we go see a movie and then grab some dinner?"

"We could do that here," Alex pointed out. She wanted the noise and the crowd of people to fill the space around her and cloud her mind so she wouldn't have to think.

Kate took a breath and realized she was going to have to risk the headache and take Alex to a nightclub if she wanted to keep her girlfriend happy. "Ok, we'll go to...Merch New York and have a good time, does that work?" Merch New York was the sister club to the original Merch in Boston and thanks to its location in the West Village, just a few blocks away from where Kate and Alex lived, the lesbians who frequented tended to be of a certain class. Kate figured that if she had to take Alex out, she was certainly going to pick some place nearby that wouldn't get too rowdy.

"That sounds perfect," Alex said as she got up from the couch. "I'm going to go get ready. We can stop for dinner somewhere nearby. Maybe sushi or Indian?"

Kate frowned, "You're going to get ready now? Babe, it's three in the afternoon, we have plenty of time." Kate now knew something wasn't right but she didn't know how to bring it up without offending Alex.

"Yeah, well, I thought we could go out now, maybe take a walk, go shopping, just get out," Alex said as she started towards their room.

"Oh...um...yeah o-ok. That sounds like, fun. I'm just going to wait for you out here, then." Kate had hoped they could spend the afternoon in the house relaxing so that she wouldn't have a bad headache when they went to the club, but it seemed like that wasn't in the cards. She knew that Alex was still having a hard time dealing with the aftermath despite this act she was putting on and Kate knew that she'd have to be the bigger woman and do what she needed to do to help Alex through this. She'd just take a couple aspirins and do her best to burrow through the afternoon.

Alex, meanwhile, went into their bathroom and sat down in front of the mirror to start getting herself fixed up for the evening. She curled her hair, did her make-up, and got dressed in a pair of calf-high boots, a skirt, and sleeveless blouse. She walked out about an hour later and found Kate still sitting on the couch and she asked, "Is that what you're going to wear?"

Kate looked down at her dark blue jeans, medium-blue, jewel toned blouse, and her black ankle boots and she didn't see a single thing wrong with wearing that out for shopping or for going out to the club, "Yes it is. Are you ready to go?"

"Honey, no offense, but isn't that a little casual for the evening?"

Kate thought about that and said, "Well, we can always stop by here real quick and I can change into something fancier, but for shopping and walking around, this is fine." Kate wasn't in the mood to change clothes just because Alex didn't like it.

Alex sighed heavily, "Fine. Let's go then." She hated that Kate was being so difficult.

Kate stood up was on her way to the door when she suddenly she took a sharp detour into the bedroom.

"Where are you going?" Alex called out.

"Just give me one sec, I forgot something," she yelled back as she walked into their bathroom.

She opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out the bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol to take two tablets before they left for the afternoon. She scooped up some water in her hand from the tap to swallow them and then she stuffed the bottle into the pocket of her jeans just in case she needed them later. She walked back out to the front door where Alex was waiting for her and she forced a smile as she approached her girlfriend. "Sorry about that, let's go." Kate reached for her keys and held the door open for Alex.

Alex walked out ahead of Kate, her boot heels clicking a rapid pace as she walked down the hall to the elevator. She pressed the button and tapped her foot as she waited for the doors to open. She didn't want to have to come back so that Kate could change and normally she didn't mind her girlfriend's outfits, but those were her work clothes and she wanted her to wear something a little different for the evening.

Kate saw and heard the foot tapping coming from her girlfriend and on most days she would ask what was wrong, but today a part of her suspected that she was the cause for her girlfriend's irritation and she wasn't willing to start a fight in the hallway. Instead, she just ignored it as she waited for the elevator with Alex.

When the bell rang and the sliding doors opened, Alex stepped in and settled into the rear corner after pressing the button for the parking garage. She looked up at the display where the numbers lit up and waited for the doors to close.

Kate in the corner across from Alex and as much as she hated to distance between, she knew that she had to give her girlfriend some space. She could feel the tension between them like electricity, but she wasn't going to rock the boat. All she had to do was get through the rest of the day and then she'd be ok. Kate quietly sighed when she remembered just how early in the day it was though.

Alex kept her hands planted firmly on the railing as the car made its descent. She looked over at Kate when she heard the sigh, "What?"

Kate almost let it all out then but decided against it, "Nothing, just a little tired. It's nothing."

"Look, if you don't want to go, just tell me, ok? I can call up my cousin or one of my friends to go with me if you want to stay home."

Kate turned to look at Alex, "No, it's fine. I just need some caffeine so maybe we can stop for coffee before we start shopping, is that ok?" Kate was determined not to ruin the day with her mood.

"Sure," Alex said. The car stopped and the doors opened again. She stepped out and turned to Kate, "Do you want me to drive?"

Kate grinned, "No, I got it. Come on, let's go see what mischief we can get into." Kate was a bit better at putting on a cheerful face in spite of her mood than Alex and she made the decision to let go of the dark cloud that was hanging over her head in the hopes that she could bring a genuine smile back to Alex's face.

Alex got into the car once Kate unlocked the doors and leaned back against the soft leather seat. She was starting to get a headache, but that was mostly because she knew that Kate was being passive aggressive and she really just wanted to go out without all the other stuff hanging above them. She really did just want to call Janice or Serena, someone who would go out with her and not put her through all of this.

Kate pulled out of the parking garage and turned left to head in the direction of the coffee shop she loved. It was only a few blocks away, but when she saw that Alex wasn't going to make any attempt at conversation, she turned on the radio and drove the rest of the way humming along with the music. She pulled up to the coffee shop and turned to Alex, "Are you coming in or should I just bring you the usual?"

"The usual is fine. Thanks, honey," she said, offering Kate her first smile since they'd left the apartment.

Kate smiled back, "Not a problem. I'll be right back." She got out of the car and walked to the shop grateful when she noticed that the line was short. She stepped up behind a tall, dark haired man and waited her turn.

After a minute she heard a familiar voice, "Kate!" Just as she turned towards the voice, she felt the impact on her legs as Kevin ran into them and hugged her.

She smiled as she looked down at the boy, "Hey kiddo, what are you doing here?"

Just then Janice walked up to them, "Hi Kate, sorry about that." She motioned to her son who was still clinging to Kate's leg, "He insisted on running over."

Kate smiled, "Hi Janice, it's not a problem. So what brings you to this side of town?"

"We're on our way to the Brooklyn Zoo. We stopped in to get something to drink for the road. Are you off from work today?"

Kate nodded, "Yeah, I'm actually taking a few days off. I'll bet you guys are excited, the zoo sounds like such a fun thing to do." She started wishing she could join them but she knew Alex wouldn't want to go to the zoo when she had the chance to go shopping instead.

Kevin looked at his mom, "Can Kate come with us, mom? Please?"

Janice looked down at her little boy and laughed. She loved when he turned please into a three-syllable word. "Honey, I'm sure Kate has other plans for her day."

Kate looked down at Kevin then up at Janice, "Um, actually, Alex is in the car and we're supposed to go shopping." Kate saw Janice's eyes light up at the mention of shopping and she had an idea. She turned to Kevin, "Hey kiddo, can I talk to your mom alone for a minute?"

Kevin smiled at Kate, he'd do anything for her, "Sure, I'll go sit over there and finish my hot chocolate." Kevin walked to a table a few feet away and they kept him in their eye-line as Kate turned to Janice, "Hey um, I had a thought, and feel free to say no, but Alex really wants to go shopping and I really don't. The thing is, I don't want her to be alone just yet. What do you say we trade? I can take Kevin to the zoo and you can go shopping with Alex? Does that sound like something you might want?" Kate hoped Janice would say yes, but then she realized that the other woman might actually be looking forward to going to the zoo with her son. She prepared herself just in case Janice decided to say no.

"Sure, that would be great. I mean, it's not that I don't want to take my son to the zoo, but his dad was actually supposed to take him and he got called away at the last minute. I was supposed to have a 'me' day today but I didn't want to disappoint him. I know he'd love to go with you." She was so grateful for the stroke of luck. She had spent the past two weeks with Kevin and hadn't really had a day off.

Kate smiled, "Then I guess it's a lucky day for both of us...provided Alex is ok with the change in lineup." Kate had a feeling though, given Alex's mood, she might welcome a change.

Just then, the barrista called out to Kate, so the detective went up to the counter to order a coffee for herself and Alex. While Kate was busy giving her order, Janice went to get Kevin so that they could go out to the car with Kate and see if Alex would be ok with the change in plans. Once Kate had the two drinks in her hands, she walked out of the shop with Janice and Kevin and approached the passenger side of the car. Kate set down one of the coffees and knocked on the widow to get Alex's attention.

Alex lowered the window and smiled when she saw her cousins there. "Hey, what are you guys doing here?"

"We're going to the zoo," Kevin said excitedly from his mother's arms.

"Oh, how fun, I bet you're looking forward to that honey."

Kevin nodded.

Kate handed Alex her coffee then said, "Hey, um, Janice and I were wondering if you'd be ok with a, uh, a change in plans for the day."

Alex could feel a tightening in her chest and she prayed that Kate wasn't going to suggest they go to the zoo with Janice and Kevin. "Oh? What's up?"

Kate smiled, "I was thinking that maybe Janice could go shopping with you while I take Kevin to the zoo. I thought maybe you and Janice could have a great time and we can meet up later at your place so I can change clothes before we go to the club, what do you think?"

Alex looked at her cousin and smiled, "Sure, I think that sounds great, actually. Um, I guess you'll call us when you're done?"

Kate smiled, "Well, we'll probably be done before you two clean out the stores, but we'll text you." Kate opened the door for Alex so that she could go with Janice to her car. Kate was silently thankful that Alex had thought to get the optional built-in booster seats in the back. It would make driving Kevin around much easier.

Alex joined her cousin and smiled, grateful to be going out with someone that actually wanted to go shopping for the afternoon. She looked at Kate and Kevin, "You two have fun and be safe."

Kate smiled. "We will, have a good time." Kate placed a hand on Alex's shoulder and squeezed gently, not knowing if a kiss, even on the cheek, would be welcome. She watched them walk away before she turned to Kevin, "Well, looks like it's just you and me buddy. You ready?"

Kevin smiled the biggest smile he could, "Yeah!" Kate opened the back door and pulled out the car seat straps then settled Kevin onto the seat, strapping him in securely. She closed the door and went to the driver's door. She got in and pulled into traffic, heading for the zoo.


Chapter Twenty-Seven: Shopping and the Truth

Janice led her cousin to her dark blue Cayenne, curious about the way she and Kate had parted. It was the first time she'd ever seen them not kiss goodbye. They settled into the seats, buckled in, and Janice pulled into traffic. She finally turned to Alex, "Ok, so, do you want to tell me what's wrong between you two or am I going to have to pull it out in bits and pieces?"

Alex looked at her cousin, "I'll tell you, but you have to promise me that anything I say stays between us." She held up her pinkie like she used to do when they were kids and once Janice wrapped hers around Alex's and shook on it, Alex sighed, "I've been having a really hard time since the kidnapping and it's not that Kate isn't trying to help me, she is. I just have different needs and what she's offering isn't what I want."

Janice thought about that, "What is she offering?"

"She wants to go away for a week to Amherst and that's the last thing I want to do. I don't want to disappoint her, but I mean…she should know that I don't want to go."

Janice nodded to indicate she was trying to understand, "Well, from what I've read about the kidnapping in the papers, it seems like maybe she thinks that you might need some time away from the city. Some peace and quiet to let it all go." Janice paused as she made a left turn, "How much does Kate know about the history of that house?"

"Just that it was my parents and I grew up there. Why?"

"So you told her about your mother moving there after your dad died?" Janice needed to know something before she laid out her theory.

"Yes. Where are you going with this?"

Janice took a breath, "For the record, I'm not taking anyone's side here, but," she glanced quickly at Alex before turning her attention back to the road, "Maybe Kate wants to go up to the house because she knows it's where you grew up, that it's where the memories of your mom and dad are the strongest and she's hoping that the atmosphere of the house, the happy memories might be what you need to help you to open up to her and let her help you through this."

Alex sighed, "Janice, I know that Kate's intentions are good and maybe that's why she wants to go there, but I don't want to be in a place that's so…detached from everything. I don't want to be surrounded by all that silence, by the ghosts of the past. The only reason I own that house is because my mom died and I…" She took a deep breath to keep her emotions in check, "I couldn't be there because I was in the program. I keep thinking how my choices have done so much damage to my life."

Janice sympathized with her cousin, "I can see how you'd think that, but can I ask you something?"


"If you hadn't gone into Witness Protection, if the whole thing with the cartel hadn't happened...where would you be right now?"

"I honestly don't know. Still with SVU, I guess. I know where you're going with this Janice. If I hadn't gone into the program, I never would've met Kate and I'd still be unhappy with Olivia or not. I know that, but…what if I had gotten together with someone like Serena instead of Kate? I wouldn't have been put in harm's way again…I'd be safe."

Janice sighed and then pulled off onto the shoulder and put the car in park. She turned to look at Alex. "Alex, honey, I love you but you and I both know that you'd definitely still be caught in Olivia's closet. You never would've met Kate and Serena never would've had a chance with you either because you'd still be all doe-eyed over Olivia. That woman had a hold on you that we all saw but didn't know how to break. As for being safe with anyone but Kate, do you really blame her for what happened? Was it really her fault that some psycho snapped and fixated on her? Regardless of who you were with, safe is a relative term. Hell, you were standing right next to Olivia when you were shot, so not even she could keep you 'safe' but I don't see you blaming her for that." Janice was getting a little upset and she took a breath to calm herself down before she continued, "Alex...as painful as it was for us to think you were dead and then find out you were alive but in Witness Protection, maybe it was a good thing. It broke Olivia's hold on you and it led you to Kate. Alex, you've finally found someone who loves you, who is willing to do anything for you, and I find it hard to believe that you're willing to throw it all away because you insist on holding onto some illusion of safety. You're smarter than that, I know you are. And yeah, it sucked big time to be shot, to have to be so far away when your mom died, to be alone and so far away from your family, but you're here now. You're back in your real life and you finally found someone who makes you happy...don't run from that Alex. Talk to her, tell her how you feel, let her help you." Janice finished, not knowing if any of it was getting through to her stubborn cousin, but she was glad that at least she'd tried.

"What if I'm never ok again, Janice? What if I always freak out or…what if this happens again?! I can't go through it again! I can't! And if I had to watch the woman I love get killed because of her fucking job, I'd never survive. I'd die right along with her and you of all people know that once I go down the wrong road, it gets bad. I don't know how to handle all of this and no matter what I tell her, she's not going to listen. She's going to think she knows what's best for me just like your dad, my mom, and Olivia all thought they knew what was best. I am not going to let her do this to me. Not after everything I went through."

Janice looked at Alex for a few moments, thinking about what she'd just said. "Alex, you don't know that Kate will react like that. I mean, what if you tell her how you're feeling and she...surprises you by actually listening instead of trying to fix it?" Janice hadn't known Kate for very long but there was something about her that made her think she wasn't the type to ride roughshod over Alex's feelings.

"And what if she doesn't? She was almost killed and she's acting like nothing happened. I mean, how can she do that? Doesn't she get how severe that trauma is? She's just going along without a care in the world..."

Janice looked out the windshield, "Maybe she just hides it better than most people. Not everyone puts their emotions out there for the world to see. She knows you're going through your own trauma...so maybe she's hiding hers so that she doesn't burden you with it on top of what you're already going through. Did you ever think about that?" Janice's voice was soft and low, she didn't want Alex to think she was criticizing her or anything like that, but she needed her cousin to understand that people dealt with trauma differently.

"I don't need her to handle my trauma for me. I need her to freaking feel something besides calm! I want her to freak out just a little! It makes me feel like I'm a nutcase and I shouldn't be reacting like this. Like I should be able to escape to my mom's house and be ok with it and not hate that it's so quiet. I don't like this, Janice, I really don't."

Janice smiled sadly, "Sweetie, what good would it do for either of you if you both freaked out at the same time? Isn't it easier when one of you is calm?" Janice remembered the emotional outbursts she experienced when she was pregnant with Kevin and how her husband, despite the long hours he worked, kept his head and was there to calm her down. She knew that it was usually best when one person could keep their cool while the other was freaking out.

"No, it's not. Now can we please stop talking about this before I get out of this car and walk home?" She'd had enough of being told what was best for her.

Janice sighed, "Alex, you can be so stubborn! Fine, though, I'll let this go for now, but just think about one little thing for me. This little change in plans was Kate's idea. I think it's because she knows she might not be your favorite person right now, especially after the Nikki Heat thing, so she found a way to give you what you wanted. She loves you Alex and something tells me there's nothing she wouldn't do for you." Janice looked away again, taking a breath before she finished, "Ok. I'll shut up now, let's go shopping." They took a short drive to midtown and parked in the Macy's garage before going upstairs to look around.

They spent the next three hours shopping, hopping from Macy's to the shops on Fifth Avenue and then heading back to the loft after Kate called to let them know that she and Kevin were on their way home from Brooklyn. Some retail therapy had helped Alex to forget all about the talk with her cousin.

Kate and Kevin had spent an hour at the zoo looking at the animals and making funny sounds for them. They were having a wonderful time and once they'd seen all the animals that Kevin was interested in seeing, they went to a nearby park so that Kevin could run around and play on the jungle gym. She kept a close eye on Kevin, but she also took in the environment and reveled in the peace of the moment.

After half an hour of playing, Kevin came over to Kate to let her know he was getting sleepy, so Kate picked him up and carried him back to the car. She buckled him into the booster seat and drove back to the loft after she called Alex and Janice to let them know that she was headed home to put Kevin down for a nap. When they got back to the loft, Kate carried a sleeping Kevin into the master bedroom and put him down Alex's bed and surrounded him with pillows to keep him from rolling off the bed.

She went to the living room and waited for Alex and Janice to return or for Kevin to wake up, whichever happened first. Kate was grateful for the silence and she sat down on the couch to fully take it in.

When Alex and Janice walked into the loft, they found Kate sitting by herself in the living room. Janice looked at the weary brunette and said, "I take it my son tuckered you out. Is he asleep?"

Kate smiled up at Janice and said, "I'm not tired I was just...thinking. And yeah, Kevin is napping in the bedroom. Did you two have a good time?"

Janice glanced at a silent Alex and then turned back to Kate, "We found some great sales. My cousin here is quite the hunter. I should probably go get Kevin and take him home. I want to give him a bath and get him to bed early. He has a check-up tomorrow morning." She disappeared into the bedroom and picked up her son. Once he was comfortably over her shoulder, she walked to the living room and thanked Kate for all she had done. "You two have fun tonight, ok?" she said and then left the loft.

Alex set her bags down and sat down in the chair, "Did you have a good time with him?"

Kate smiled, "Yeah we had a good day. What about you?"

"It wasn't what I was expecting, but the shopping helped."

"I'm glad you enjoyed yourself." Kate stood up then, "Are you hungry? I can make us some dinner if you want." Kate took one step to the kitchen, looking down at Alex as she waited for an answer.

"I thought we were going out?" Alex asked, her irritation suddenly surfacing.

Kate frowned, "We are, but I thought we could eat something before we hit the club."

"Yeah, so since we're going out, why not go out to eat?"

Kate smiled, "Ok we can go out. I'll just go change ok?"

"You know what, never mind…" Alex said as she got up from the couch to go into the kitchen.

Kate watched Alex leave the room and frowned, not knowing what she'd done or said wrong. Kate didn't know if she should follow her girlfriend or leave her alone, but after a few moments, Kate decided to walk into the kitchen. She saw Alex standing by the sink and she leaned against the doorway. "Alex...please, talk to me?"

"What for? You're just going to smile and tell me that everything's fine and that you're going to take care of me and be perfect and ok with it…" she said as she kept her head down.

Kate took a breath, "No, I won't. You talk to me and I promise I'll just listen, ok?" Kate was determined to find a way to get through to Alex...they couldn't go on like this, they had to find a way to get through this and move on...or else it would destroy them and she didn't want that to happen.

Alex slammed her fists down on the granite, "God! What the hell is wrong with you?!"

Kate jumped at the motion, "What do you mean what's wrong with me?"

"How can you be so fucking rational and calm about all of this? Why don't you just go crazy?"

Kate took a breath and decided to be honest. "I can't! Ok? I can't just let myself freak out or go crazy because I don't know if I can bring myself back once I do that. I have to keep my cool or I might do something I might regret." Despite her words and the passion in her eyes, her voice was low, controlled. She couldn't let herself go like that because she was afraid that if she did...she'd end up hurting someone. Since Alex was the one she spent most of her time with, it didn't take a genius to figure out who would end up hurt.

"Yeah, well you know what? You're making me nuts with your perfectly measured and controlled way of handling this. You almost died and you're acting like it was just another day at work! Like, oh, hey honey, look, I got a paper cut today. I mean, how can you just bottle it all up?! You keep trying to take care of me and all you're doing is making it worse! Everything you're trying is wrong!"

Kate closed her eyes, "I'm sorry Alex. I don't know any other way to handle something like this." She took a breath and then opened her eyes, her focus on the floor, "When my mom was killed, my dad couldn't handle her death and he started drinking. I didn't have the luxury of falling apart because someone had to be strong and keep him together. And I did. I managed to help him get sober again and he's been doing great, but I didn't have the chance to really break down until a week before I joined the academy. Then I became a cop and it was considered a sign of weakness to let anything affect you, so I just sort of stopped reacting. I know it's not the best thing, but this is who I am Alex. I'm sorry if it's making things worse for you and I wish I could change it, but I can't...I don't know how." Kate finally looked up at Alex, "I'm not trying to fix this or fix you and I'm not saying I know what's best for you. All I do know is that I love you and if I could change what happened, if I could've stopped Dunn from taking you and hurting you, I would've." Kate didn't know what else she could say, so she lowered her head again and waited for Alex's reaction.

Alex shook her head, "We want opposite things…we need opposite things. I don't think I can get through this your way and it's clear you can't get through it my way. Maybe we just need some time apart..."

Kate felt her heart plummet in her chest and she didn't like the sound of that. "H-how much time apart?" Kate was scared to ask the real question that jumped to her mind, "Are you breaking up with me?'" She prayed Alex wasn't going to go down that road.

"I don't know…a few days. Just some time so that we can deal with the trauma and get back to a place where I don't feel like I'm completely crazy and you don't feel helpless and numb. I can stay here and you can go upstate. When we're feeling more like ourselves, we can be back together."

Kate nodded, not able to say anything as she held back the tears. She turned around, left the kitchen, and went to the hall to get her coat from the closet. She left the apartment with her cell phone in her coat pocket and her car keys in her hand and went down to the garage to get into her car. She pulled out of the garage and drove away from the building, but she didn't really know where she was going. She just drove around for a while until she finally realized who might be able to help her.

She drove to Castle's apartment building and parked in one of the visitor spots, but before she could get out of the car, all of the emotion that she had been bottling up hit her hard and she started sobbing uncontrollably. She kept going over everything in her mind as the tears fell from her eyes: the stalker, the guilt that three people had killed just so that Dunn could get her attention, the bomb destroying her apartment, Alex getting kidnapped, coming face to face with Dunn, and now, Alex telling her she needed time and space away from her. It was more than she could bear and she felt her soul slowly dying under the weight of it all. The only hope she had of getting out from under the weight was to release it all and then go upstairs to get some support from her good friend.

Alex stood there in the kitchen and took in what had happened. She knew that Kate would be upset, but she didn't expect her to leave so suddenly. She didn't know whether to go after her or try to call her, but she realized the best thing to do for right now was get in touch with someone that Kate might be more willing to listen to. She took out her cell phone and called Castle.

Castle was relaxing at home, his mother was at her boyfriend, Chet's, place and Alexis was up in her room doing homework. He had just opened a bottle of wine when his cell phone rang. He reached for it and saw it was Alex. His first thought was that something had happened to Kate, but he forced himself to calm down, remembering that Dunn was locked away. "Hello, Alex? What's up?"

"Castle, listen, Kate and I just had an argument and she left without telling me where she was going. I don't know if she's called you, but can you please try and get a hold of her and tell her not to do anything stupid? I know she won't listen to me."

Castle started to grab his coat, but stopped, "A fight? Are you ok?"

"Yeah, I'm fine, we're just having a difference of opinion and I made a suggestion that she didn't handle too well."

"I see. Ok, well...I'll try to find her. Is she in her car?" Castle's mind was racing with possible places that Kate could be, "Does she have her cell phone on her?"

"Yeah, I think she took it. I'm assuming she drove because she took her keys too. I just don't want anything to happen to her while she's like this."

Castle reassured her, "Don't worry Alex. I'll find her and make sure she's safe. I'll text you when I have more information ok?"

"Thanks, Castle," she said and hung up. She had no idea what else to do to help Kate and honestly, she didn't think Kate would want any help she had to offer. All she could do now was wait.

Castle hung up the phone and grinned, suddenly thankful for Agent Shaw's gift. She had given him a special password to use on iTunes to download a few 'FBI only' apps like the fingerprint app he'd seen Shaw use and an actual cell phone GPS tracker. He opened the tracker app and once it finished loading, he typed in Kate's cell phone number and hit "locate."

After a few moments, a map of Manhattan popped up on the screen and a red dot started blinking. He zoomed in on the map and when he recognized the cross streets, he realized that Kate must be somewhere in his building. The first place he thought to look was the garage, so he grabbed his coat and left his apartment heading in the direction of the elevator.

When he reached the garage level, he walked to the row of visitor spots and smiled when he saw Kate's car. He walked over to the passenger door and knocked on the window, startling Kate. She did her best to smile, but her eyes were red-rimmed from crying and her cheeks were tear-stained. She unlocked the door for Castle and waited for him to get in so that they could talk.

He sat down in the passenger seat and looked at his friend, his heart breaking at the sight, "Hey. I heard about your fight… Are you ok?"

Kate felt some irritation rise up, "Alex called you?"

"Yeah, she said I should try and call you to see if you were ok..."

"I see..." Kate huffed, "I suppose you're on her side too." Kate knew she was being childish but she felt she deserved to be...especially if Castle took Alex's side in this.

"Honestly, I have no idea what happened. She just said she made a suggestion and you didn't take it too well. Must've been one hell of a suggestion…" he said, hoping she'd fill in the blanks.

Kate thought about that and nodded, "She...she suggested we take some time apart." She didn't want to say that Alex had dumped her just yet because saying it would make it real.

"Time apart? That's what she suggested?" he asked with confusion. "Why would she do that?"

"I don't know. She won't talk to me about what she's going through because it brought up some memories from her past...then she got mad because she wanted me to freak out the way she was and then…we both said some things and next thing I know she's saying we need to spend some time apart. I--I couldn't handle that so I just left." Kate couldn't clearly remember everything that was said...the only thing that stuck in her brain was Alex's need for time apart.

"Wow…um, did she say how much time she wants? Are you thinking of giving it to her?"

Kate looked away, staring out the windshield, "She said a few days, but...something tells me it could end up being longer. I don't think I have a choice, she obviously doesn't want to be around me right now so what can I do?"

"I don't know. I'm not really good at the whole relationship thing…hence the two divorces. I mean, you could go back and try and come up with a compromise or…you could stay here and be with people who care about you and try to work through what you're feeling so that you can get back to a better place. I really don't think she's thinking of breaking up with you. She's probably just as unsure of what to do as you are."

"No, I'm not going to push her. I won't be that woman who forces someone to be with her." Kate turned to Castle, "Would it be alright if I stayed here tonight?"

"Yeah, of course. We have an extra bedroom and I'm sure Alexis will be thrilled to have you stay over. Uh, are you going to call Alex to tell her you're staying here?"

Kate thought about that, "No. I'm not calling her." Kate considered not telling Alex anything to let her stew for the night, but she couldn't do that to her no matter how hurt or angry she was. "Can you just tell her I'm ok and that I'm spending the night here, just so she doesn't worry? Don't let her try to come over or convince you to hand me the phone, though."

"Ok. Come on, let's go upstairs. We were just about to make dinner and you look like you could use something to eat." He took her up to his loft and once she was settled into the kitchen with Alexis, he went to his office to call Alex.

The blonde answered and said, "Hey, have you heard from her?"

Castle smiled at the concern and love he heard in Alex's voice, "Yes, she's fine. She's spending the night here at my place, ok?"

"Oh…um, yeah, good. Uh…I'm sure she's in no mood to talk to me, but can you tell her to call me tomorrow so that we can talk about…well, she'll know what I want to talk about."

Castle was torn between his loyalty to Kate and his desire to see his two favorite women together again--happy. "I can pass along the message Alex, but I can't guarantee she'll call you. She's...she's pretty upset. I found her in my parking garage, her eyes red from crying. I--I've never seen her like this. Can I ask you something?" He paused to think how he wanted to phrase his question. "Did you tell her you needed time apart because that's what you want or was that your way of trying to break up with her?"

Alex sighed, "I asked for time because I feel that's what we need, not because I'm trying to break up with her. I just suggested that maybe some time apart would do us some good. Help us to clear our minds so that we can deal with what happened and not hurt each other."

"Oh...well did you maybe say it differently or were you angry when you said it because...she thinks you broke up with her." Castle was confused, but he wanted to try to help if he could.

"No and you have to tell her that. I still want to be with her, it's just…we're just in two very different places right now and I thought that she'd feel better if she could handle it her way while I handle it mine, that's all."

"Well it sounds like you two have a lot of talking to do...I'm sorry Alex," Castle said in a low voice.

"That's why I want her to call me. I want to sort all of this out so that she understands why I'm asking for time."

Castle sighed, "Ok, well I'll give her the message, no promises though. I have to get going, dinner is calling. Good night, Alex."

"Good night, Castle," Alex said and hung up. She understood now why Kate had taken off in such a hurry, but she hoped that once she had the chance to clear things up, Kate would understand exactly what she was asking for.


Chapter Twenty-Eight: Coffee and Misunderstandings

After Alex got off the phone with Castle, she made another phone call to an old friend. She hoped that Serena wasn't busy for the evening because she really needed someone to talk to who would take her side in all of this. She waited for the other blonde to answer the phone.

Serena Southerlyn was in her apartment, bored. Her date for the evening had to cancel and she was at loose ends when the phone rang. She answered it without bothering to check the caller ID, "Hello?"

"Serena, hey, it's Alex. I'm sorry I'm calling at the last minute, but I was wondering if you were busy tonight..."

Serena smiled at hearing her old friend's voice, "I always have time for friends who rise from the grave. What's up?"

"Um, Kate and I sort of had a fight and she left. Not like break up left, just left to get some space. I was hoping that we could go somewhere and talk. I really just need someone and so far the people on my side seem to be in short supply."

Serena was instantly on alert, "Oh my God, um...should I go over or did you want to meet somewhere neutral?"

"I'd really like to meet somewhere. I can't stand being here right now. Do you think we could go to that little cafe near the courthouse that we used to go to years ago?"

"Of course, um...meet you there in five minutes?"

"Sounds perfect," Alex said as she went to grab her purse. She hung up and left the loft, catching a cab to meet Serena at the coffee shop. When she arrived, she walked in and found the other blonde standing in line for a drink. Alex placed her hand on Serena's shoulder and smiled, "Hey."

Serena turned towards her friend, "Hey, um...what would you like?" She indicated to the menu board behind the counter, "My treat."

Alex looked up at the menu and said, "Nonfat latte. Thank you."

Serena smiled, "Not a problem, go find us a table, ok?" Serena's turn came and she ordered Alex's latte along with her own fruit smoothie and two chocolate chip muffins. She took their treats to the table Alex had snagged near the window and sat down. She handed Alex her drink and a muffin, "Here, I figured you could use something sweet... So, you want to tell me what happened?"

Alex sighed heavily, "We just...I don't know. I didn't react so well to the kidnapping and Kate was trying to make things better but everything she suggested just sort of made things worse. We were going to go out for the afternoon and she ended up going with my little cousin to the zoo while I went shopping with his mom. She kept taking Kate's side and telling me that I should talk to Kate and let her know how I was feeling, but I sort of blew up at Kate because she's being so damn calm about things and it just pissed me off." Alex took a deep breath, "I told her that we were handling things so differently that maybe it would be better if we took a few days apart so that we could work through our feelings and then once we felt better, we could be around each other again. She just left without saying anything. I know she's not going to answer my texts, so I called our friend Rick and asked him to keep an eye out for her. She's there with him now and she's worried that I've broken up with her, which I didn't. I just asked for some time to work through this."

Serena nodded as she listened, and she could understand where Alex was coming from, but she felt she had to say something to make the blonde see things from the other perspective, "Well, I've never met Kate, but it sounds like she might be one of those people who handles the big stuff by internalizing it." He could see the look on Alex's face, so she backed off and asked, "So, what was Kate suggesting that was making it worse?"

"She wanted to go up to Amherst and before you think I'm horrible for shooting her down, you have to know that I don't want to be anywhere quiet. I told her that. I need to have things to distract me and honestly, if she needs to handle things by internalizing, I get it, but I can't do that and I don't want to make things any worse by being around her while we're dealing with this. It's going to drive me crazy."

Serena thought about that, "I can understand that. Sometimes after something traumatic, silence is the last thing you need. Gives you time to think and replay the event over and over. Sometimes you just need noise, I get it." Serena paused a moment, "So she just left? Without saying anything?"

"Yeah. She grabbed her jacket and her keys and took off. That was it. I told Rick to tell Kate to call me tomorrow but he said he wouldn't make any promises. I'm not sure what to do, but I really think some time is best."

Serena reached over and placed her hand on Alex's, "Give her a couple of days, take the time to work through what you need to deal with and give her the same. Then, you try again...that is, assuming you still want to be with her after all of this." Serena knew that sometimes, after going through something so awful, people who took time apart ended up never getting back together.

"I want to be with her, Rena. I still love her. I just...I don't know how to be quiet like her and just hold onto it. She says she can't lose control because of her job, because it's the only way she knows how to function. And I know I'm not doing so well, but I'm going to get help, it's just that in the meantime, I need to be away from the silence."

Serena nodded, "Ok. Well you know that I'm here for you, whatever you need ok? I can do the no silence thing with you." Serena smiled, wanting to be there for her friend.

"Thank you, Serena. I was starting to feel like I was alone in this. I mean, I know I'm being difficult, I understand that, but telling her didn't help and suggesting time didn't help and I just don't know how else to make this better. I don't want to hurt her any worse than I have, but I don't think she sees that. She thinks I want out and I don't."

Serena shifted her chair and wrapped an arm around Alex's shoulder in comfort, she touched her head to Alex's, "I know that feeling. Not knowing how to help someone or express what you need. Been there, done that, have the broken relationships to prove it. But if she loves you, she'll wait for you." Serena ran her hand up and down Alex's arm. "In the meantime, you need to do whatever it takes to make it through this so you can go back to her, whole, m'kay?"

"Thanks, Serena. I knew it was the right thing to call you. I just needed someone to tell me that I wasn't crazy for wanting some time. I love Kate and I don't blame her, I'm just very damaged from before and it makes me behave irrationally."

Serena smiled, "I don't think you're crazy Alex. It's natural to need some time to adjust after something like this..." Serena paused to take a sip of her coffee, "Though you might want to let Kate know you don't blame her for what happened when you're ready to get back with her."

"I know. I didn't really say much to her except to tell her how irritated I was with her. I am going to tell her I'm sorry as soon as she'll take my calls. So, I was thinking maybe we could go to a movie or something, if you're up for it. I don't want to go back to the loft yet."

"Yeah, a movie sounds good." Serena got serious, "I just hope that what you're ready for that reconciliation, Kate is too and she's willing to listen."

Martha Rodgers was on her way from Chet's apartment to her son's so that she could spend some time with her granddaughter, when she happened to glance into the window of the coffee shop she was passing by. It was a casual glance, something everyone does out of idle human curiosity, but what she saw made her stop for a moment. She took a step back and sure enough, there was Kate's girlfriend sitting close to a very pretty, young blonde, smiling and holding hands with her. Martha's heart sank and she had to wonder if Kate and Alex had broken up or if Alex was cheating on Kate.

Martha moved to the curb to hail a cab. The sooner she could get to her son's loft, the better. She needed to talk to him and see if he knew anything about what was going on between Kate and Alex.

Castle was sitting in the living room with Kate and Alexis playing a game of Texas Hold 'Em, but much to his chagrin his daughter was beating him to a bloody pulp. Kate had agreed to deal a few hands and was just about to turn the River card when the front door opened. It was Martha. Castle looked over his shoulder when he saw Alexis shoot up like a rocket and said, "Hi mother…I thought you had a date with Chet tonight."

Martha nodded distractedly at her son as she took off her coat, "Yes well, I cancelled... I saw something..." She drifted off as she looked up and saw Kate sitting at the table, a deck of cards in her hand. She hugged her granddaughter then said, "Um, Alexis honey, could I have a moment alone with Kate and your father?"

"Sure, Gran," Alexis said, immediately noticing that something was very wrong. She went up to her room and turned on the music so they'd know she wasn't eavesdropping.

Castle stood and looked at his mother, "What's going on? What did you see?"

Martha walked to the table and sat down looking at Kate sympathetically, "Kate, darling, is everything alright with you and Alex?"

Kate looked at Martha and then glanced at Castle for a second before she looked back to Martha, "Um...as well as can be expected after the Nikki Heat case, why?"

"I saw her…I was passing by a coffee shop downtown and she was there…with another woman and…they were holding hands. I thought maybe I was seeing things, but I wasn't…" she said, knowing this was going to hurt Kate, but also understanding that it might be better to tell her than hide it.

Kate felt the blood drain from her face and her heart constricted in her chest. Alex was out with another woman? Alex was holding hands with another woman? The first thought that crossed Kate's mind was that she had called her ex and she suddenly felt sick. The brunette stood up and left the room, going to Castle's home office and closing the door behind her. She didn't want to break down in front of Martha and Castle...it wasn't her style.

Castle looked at his mother, "Did you have to do that? You don't know who that woman was and now you've freaked Kate out."

Martha was genuinely upset, "I'm sorry darling, but I thought she should know. I know that if it were me and one of you saw Chet holding hands with another woman, I would want to know." Martha looked to the office door, "Should I go in there and...say something?" She didn't know if Kate would want to talk to her, but she figured that as a woman maybe the brunette might prefer her over her son.

"No, I think I should. I'll see if I can get her to come out and then we can all talk." He walked to his office door and knocked, "Kate?"

Kate was curled up in Castle's office chair staring into space. The tears wouldn't come but the visual images were there in full force. She could see Alex and a faceless woman in a wide variety of poses and situations, each one more intimate than the last and she was just about to drive herself crazy when she heard a knock on the door followed by Castle's voice. She forced herself to focus and she said, "Castle, can I just have a few minutes, please?"

"Kate…we don't know who she is. She's probably just a friend," he said, trying to reassure her.

Kate closed her eyes and while his words made sense, her heart wouldn't let go of the idea that Alex was with her ex-girlfriend. Kate walked to the door and opened it, her jealousy and insecurity making her voice come out angry, "You don't know that Castle. I know who she's with and right now all I want to do is find them and stake my claim on Alex...Thing is, I don't even know if I still have one." Kate turned away and went back to where she had been sitting, her energy gone after her outburst.

Castle walked up to her and sat on the desk, "She's not leaving you Kate. She made that really clear. Maybe you should talk to her, tell her that you're willing to give her time. That might get her to be nicer, you know?"

Kate got angry again, "I'm not the one who wanted space and I'm not the one who called her ex the minute she was alone again, so I am certainly not going to be the one to call her. She wanted time and space, that's what she's going to get. First thing tomorrow, I'm leaving the city and I don't know when I'll be back." Kate turned away and wanted to storm from the room, but she knew it was a childish move and she was already veering too close to immature behavior.

"Are you sure you want to do that, Kate? You don't know if she's with her ex. When I talked to her, she wanted to make sure you were ok and when I told her you thought she was breaking up with you, she got really upset. She loves you Kate. I know it doesn't seem like it, but she does."

Kate took a breath, "I know she loves me Castle, but she doesn't want to be around me right now. She blames me for the kidnapping because Dunn was fixated on me and he used her to get to me. She wants time and space...and because I love her with everything I have, I'm going to give her what she wants...it's all I can do." Kate looked down at the floor, her heart hurting as she explained her decision to Castle.

"Do you…want to tell her that? Do you want me to? I don't want to see you guys get hurt because you aren't communicating. I know she started it, but you'll be the better person." Castle opened his arms in case Kate wanted a hug.

Kate accepted Castle's hug as she thought about what he'd said. She shook her head, "No. She knows where I'll be when I leave the city and all I want you to tell her is that I'm safe and...that I still love her, ok?" Kate didn't want to make it seem like she was pushing Alex or trying to manipulate her, but she also didn't want her to worry.

"Ok, you got it," he said as he held her tight like a big brother. "Do you want to go out there with my mother and Alexis? Or do you want to go rest?"

Kate drew comfort from the hug then pulled back and said, "I'm really tired, would it be ok if I just went to lie down for a bit?"

"Sure. Your room is all ready for you. If you want to watch TV, you have 500 channels to pick from and if you still can't find anything, we have tons of movies. I'll tell mom and Alexis that you're going to lay down."

Kate smiled at him. Castle was just like a little boy with his technology and his toys and she loved that. "Thanks Castle. You're a great friend. I'm sorry for the mini meltdown." Kate began walking to the door to go upstairs.

"You never have to apologize for that, Kate," he said with a smile and watched her go upstairs to the guest room. He went out to talk to his mother and said, "No mention of this other woman if she comes back down tonight, got it?"

Martha had watched as Kate made her way up the stairs, a small polite wave her only indication that she'd seen her at all. Martha looked at her son, her eyes sad, "I promise." But then her curiosity got the better of her, "What's going on between her and Alex though?"

"Alex isn't handling the post traumatic stress very well and she basically told Kate she thought it would be good if they took some time apart. Kate's devastated and now you coming in and telling her about this other woman only made things worse."

Martha lowered her eyes as the guilt compounded on itself and pressed down on her heart. "Oh my god, I had no idea. I... wait a minute, if all Alex wanted was time apart, presumably to deal with her PTSD, why was she with some blonde bimbo holding hands over coffee?" Martha was confused but she found herself firmly on Kate's side, even if she wasn't fully versed on the situation. It didn't make sense to her that Alex would be out with someone else if she just wanted space.

"I don't know. I told Kate that maybe she was a friend, but who can really say? I know this is going to sound so unlike me, but this whole situation is between Kate and Alex. We just have to be there for Kate no matter what happens."

Martha looked at her son carefully, it wasn't like him to stay out of something like this, but she knew he was right. "Ok, whatever she needs, she can count on me. Oh but I do hope they work this out and stay together. They're so good together, I can tell just by looking at them that they are really in love." She walked to her son and gave him a hug, "I'm proud of you for staying out of it and for not letting your own crush on Kate influence that decision, kiddo."

"I wouldn't do anything to come between them. Not like I have a shot with her, but I would never try anyway. She's a good person and she deserves only the best, whatever that may be."

Across town, Alex and Serena were leaving the movie theater, the balmy air filling their lungs as they walked down the sidewalk. "Wow…three hours later," Alex said with a chuckle, her eyes adjusting after wearing 3D glasses the whole time. "Remind me not to eat anything before we do that again, the 3D made me nauseous."

Serena laughed, "I know the feeling. It was a great movie, but...I think I might be getting too old for blue aliens in 3D." Serena stopped walking, "Oh god, I did not just say that, did I?"

Alex laughed, "Yeah, you did. It's ok, my girlfriend still—" She lowered her eyes and bit her lip. "Um, never mind."

Serena placed her hand on Alex's arm, "Hey, you can talk about her with me if you want or need to ok? I'm here for you."

"It's just that…I don't even know if she's going to be my girlfriend anymore. She was really upset and I don't think she's going to listen to anything I have to say. What if this is the end of…us?"

Serena took a breath, "Hey, if she loves you, this isn't the end. You just might have to make an extra effort is all. But you have to think positively." Serena paused as she looked away, "And, if the worst case scenario happens and it is over...I'll always be here for you and I'll help you through it, ok?"

Alex looked at her friend and smiled, "Thanks, Serena. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm pretty beat…the only thing is, I really don't want to be alone…"

Serena put her arm around her friend and said, "Well you can crash at my place if you want or I can crash on your couch, your choice." Serena was determined to be there for her friend.

"We can go back to my place. We have two extra bedrooms…well, technically one. The other is supposed to be a nursery someday," she said with a hint of melancholy.

Serena smiled, "Ok you got it. Come on, let's go." Serena lifted her arm and hailed down a cab to take them the 20 blocks back to Alex's loft. In the cab they were silent because Serena didn't know what to say. She just waited for Alex to start conversation because she thought it might be better for Alex to take the lead tonight.

Alex was tired, that was about all there was to say about it. She wanted to talk, but she didn't want to talk about the situation with Kate anymore. She wanted to talk about something else so she finally spoke up, "So, I have a secret that I really want to tell someone..."

Serena looked to Alex, "Really? Well I'm here to listen. I promise not to tell anyone."

"I…I called Jack McCoy to ask for a temporary transfer from Homicide. I need to do something away from there for a while."

Serena nodded, "I think that might be a good idea. It would help you get some space from Kate. Did you ask him for SVU again?" Serena wondered if Alex had decided to run back to Olivia in this moment of crisis.

"No, I just asked for whatever happened to come up. At this point, I'd even take Appeals and I told him so. I just want something else…"

"Have you considered just taking some time off? Taking a vacation, maybe to Vegas and take in some shows and gambling?" Serena asked, only half joking.

"I'm not sure how well I'd do on vacation by myself. I think I'd rather just go to work."

"Who said anything about by yourself? I'd go with you...if you want. We can have a blast on the Strip," Serena smiled. "But if you think working will help I won't stand in your way." Serena had left the DA's office years ago and now she had her own private practice where she focused primarily on advocating for the GLBT community.

"You'd want to go on vacation with me?" Alex asked with some surprise.

The cab pulled up to Alex's building and they got out after Serena paid the fare. She followed Alex up to her loft and once they were inside, she turned to her friend, "Why is that such a surprise? I told you, I'm here for you, whatever you need. It's not like I can't get the time off from work, after all I am the boss." She grinned.

Alex chuckled, "I know, it's just…it was a bit of a surprise, that's all. Um, can I get you anything? Wine or something?"

"Um...wine is good." Serena walked to the living room and looked around the room, her eyes falling on a small statue. She smiled at the imagery, "Alex, this place is amazing. Did you decorate it yourself?" Serena turned when she heard Alex walking toward her, two wine glasses in her hands.

Alex handed her one of the glasses and said, "Um, mostly. I had some help from Kate. We were going to get her moved in here after her apartment was destroyed, but…then I was kidnapped, so we haven't really talked much more about it."

Serena nodded, worried she'd opened a sore wound. "Oh, I see." She took a sip of her wine, determined to not say anything else that could cause any more trouble.

"It's weird…everything just changed in a heartbeat and now…I'm not sure if the future I was envisioning is going to happen."

Serena lowered her head, "You can't think like that Alex." She looked up at Alex and met her eyes, "You have to believe that this will work out. You love Kate and I'm sure she still loves you...just take the time you need, she takes her time and then, you fight for your woman."

"Yeah, that didn't work out so well the last time, or have you forgotten?"

Serena arched her eyebrow, "I know you're not talking about Olivia... Alex you should know better than to compare what you had with Olivia to what you have now. Olivia wasn't right for you." Serena wished Alex could see that her thing with Olivia wasn't worth using as a measuring stick.

"What if it's the same with Kate? I mean, we fell in love quickly and we've never faced anything like this. What if it's too much? What if this moment is like Olivia not coming out of the closet? I didn't get my way and I slowly pushed Liv away until I was shot and then…it didn't really matter anymore. I was unhappy because I didn't get what I wanted. Maybe the problem is me."

Serena thought about that for a moment. "So...what do you want? If I was Kate and she was sitting here willing to listen, what would you tell her you wanted?"

"I would tell her that I want to get back to the way we were before… but I know that's impossible. I really think that we both need some therapy and then, maybe once we're healed, we can talk about our future again."

Serena hadn't been a fan of therapy since she'd come out to her parents in high school and they sent her to a shrink to "straighten her out." "Alex, I don't know Kate, I never met her, but would she even be open to therapy? I mean, I remember the cops I worked with when I was in the DA's office and let me tell you, it seemed like all cops hated shrinks." She took another sip of wine, "I think you're right though, about it not being possible to get things back to how they were before, but they can be made better. Personally, I think you should take a few days apart, give each other some space then try to see if she'd be open to therapy and fixing your relationship."

"You're right. I think that I just have to give her some space…maybe I'll call her in a couple of days when she's had some time to process and cool off." She yawned and looked at the wine, "Sorry, I guess the wine got to me..."

Serena smiled, "It's ok. We should probably get some sleep anyway. I have a client meeting in the morning so I'll be leaving here early that way I can swing by my place for a change of clothes. For tonight though, just point me in the direction of the guest bedroom, ok?"

Alex stood up and said, "I'll show you. Come on." She led Serena down the hall to the guest bedroom and said, "Do you need some pajamas?"

"No, I'll just sleep in my boxers and t-shirt. Thanks though. Good night Alex. If you need anything, you know where I am." Serena smiled, then hugged her friend before slipping into the bedroom.

Alex made her way to her bedroom after she heard Serena's door close and there it was, the silence and the absence of Kate. She went to the drawer and took out a t-shirt, one of Kate's, and slipped it on, the brunette's scent thick. She knew she was the one who asked for space, but she was starting to wonder if it was the right thing. She had behaved irrationally and she was downright mean to Kate. She just hoped that somehow her lover could forgive her.

Serena slipped into the guest bed and lay there staring at the ceiling. Part of her was tired and needed sleep, but a bigger part of her wanted to stay awake, alert in case Alex needed her. After an hour of waiting though, she couldn't keep her eyes open anymore and she fell asleep.

Meanwhile, across town, Kate was lying in the bed in Castle's guest bedroom, wide-awake. She kept going over her last conversation with Alex in her head. It was on a loop. Eventually Kate concluded the only thing she could do to help her girlfriend was give her what she asked for, time and space. Then, Kate remembered Martha's words about seeing Alex with another woman and it hurt to think that Alex might've gone running to her ex at the first sign of trouble in their relationship.

Kate didn't fight the tears but she did bury her face in the pillow so no one would hear. She cried and cried and eventually, her crying wore her out and she fell asleep. The tears still fresh on her face and her hand pressed against her lips, Alex's ring resting on her lower lip, as she finally found some rest.

The next morning when Alex woke up, she got out of bed and put on her robe. She went down the hall and expected to find the guest room door closed, but when she found it open and the bed made, she sighed. True to her word, Serena had gotten up early to go home and get ready for the day. Alex went to the kitchen to brew some coffee and found a pot already made with a note nearby.

"Al, I hope you don't mind, but I needed some coffee to get my day started. I left it warmed for you cause I'm sure you do too. Sorry I didn't say good-bye, but you know you can always call me whenever you need me. I hope today is better than yesterday. You deserve a break. Call me soon, ok? -S"

Alex set the note down and with a sad smile poured herself some coffee.

Kate woke up early the next day and slipped out of Castle's apartment, sending him a text explaining she was getting away from the city for a few days and wanted to get an early start. She stopped at a small cafe and got a coffee and croissant and then drove to Tiffany's to pick up the ring she'd ordered for Alex. She managed to get there just as they were opening and she waited patiently while the saleslady got her ring from the back. She laid down her credit card to pay for it after everything passed her inspection and then she Tiffany's and sat in the car for a moment. There was an internal debate going on inside between her heart and her head. Her heart wanted to see Alex one more time but her head was telling her to just get out of town. Naturally her heart won out and Kate drove to the loft, parking down the block so that Alex wouldn't see her but she could see Alex. Kate sat and waited, praying that Alex had come home and spent the night alone...She didn't want to think that Alex had spent the night with the woman that Martha had seen her with at the coffee shop. Kate settled into her seat, willing to wait as long as it took to catch a glimpse of the blonde.

After having some breakfast, Alex went to the bathroom to take a shower and get ready for the day. Since Kate was gone, she thought the best thing to do would be to stop by her office and get her paperwork in order just in case McCoy called her in the next couple of weeks. She got dressed and called a car service to pick her up. The driver arrived downstairs about 10 o'clock and Alex went downstairs to meet him. She got into the backseat and instructed him to take her to Hogan Place.

Kate was about to give up, convinced that Alex had spent the night at that woman's place and wasn't going to come home until later, when she saw a black car pulled up to the building. A minute or two later, Alex emerged from the building and Kate's eyes hungrily followed her every move. She dimly registered that Alex looked about the same, there wasn't that extra bounce in her step Kate would expect if she'd spent the night with someone and Kate breathed out a sigh of relief as Alex got in the car and rode away. Just as she reached for the key to turn the car on, her cell phone rang. She looked down at it as it rested on the console between the seats and it was Castle. Kate reluctantly hit the answer button, "Hi Castle."

"Hey, where are you?"

Kate didn't want to admit where she was so she said, "I'm uh, in my car. I told you in my text, I'm leaving the city. Why, what's up?"

"We're worried about you, that's all. You took off this morning and I know you're ready to get out of the city, but maybe you should meet me for lunch and then you can go."

"I appreciate the concern Castle but there's nothing to be worried about. I wanted to get an early start and, uh, I'm already half way there," Kate lied, not wanting to let Castle know where she was. It would seem a bit stalker-like.

"Oh. Well, when are you coming back into the city?"

Kate stalled, "Um...I don't know Castle, probably not for a few days. I just need some time alone to think about things and if I stay in the city, I'm going to try to see Alex before she's ready and it will do more harm than good."

"Well, since there's no talking you out of it, how about you give me a call when you get back to the city so that we can go for lunch or something? And in the meantime, if you need someone to talk to, you know I'm here for you 24/7."

"Thanks Castle. I just need a few days of silence to calm my brain is all. I'll call you when I get back and we'll have lunch...or something. I have to go now though I'm driving. Bye Castle." Kate needed to get off the phone and on the road.

He hung up, worried about his friend, but he knew that she knew what was best. He'd keep his phone on him at all times just in case she called.


Chapter Twenty-Nine: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

After two days of complete silence from Kate, Alex decided to try calling her one more time. She waited patiently after dialing Kate's number for her girlfriend to answer.

Kate was sitting in the living room of the Amherst house watching television. After two days of blissful peace and a relaxed routine, she was ready for some outside noise, so she decided to see what was on. She found a marathon of Bones on TNT and during one of the commercial breaks her cell phone rang. She looked at it, thinking it was Castle again.

When she saw Alex's beautiful face smiling up at her from the phone's caller ID she considered letting it go to voicemail again but Alex had called at least three times before and she couldn't ignore her any longer. She picked up her phone and answered, "Hello?"

Alex's breath hitched in her throat when she heard Kate's voice and she tried to keep her voice steady, "Hey. I didn't think you'd pick up. I was just going to leave you another voice mail."

Kate smiled at hearing Alex's voice, "I can always hang up and you can try again."

"No, that's ok," she said with a chuckle when she heard the upbeat tone in Kate's voice. "Um, I wanted to let you know that I'm going to have some time off tomorrow afternoon and…I thought maybe we could talk."

Kate didn't like the sound of that...wanting or needing to "talk" usually meant a break up was inevitable. "Why not talk now, what do you want to talk about?" Kate's voice was serious without being cold.

"I don't want to do this over the phone. We really need to talk about what happened and where we go from here. Please, will you come tomorrow?"

Kate closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Where? The loft or..."

"No, um, my office. I have a couple of hours between cases and I don't want to waste time going home and then coming back."

Kate didn't like the thought that Alex was fitting her in between more important things but she swallowed it down and realized it was the best solution. Besides, meeting in the office would help her avoid the temptation that being in the loft would provide. "Fine. I'll meet you in your office tomorrow...what time?"

"One. Normally I wouldn't ask you to come to my office in the middle of the day, but I don't really want to wait until after work to see you. I hope you understand," she said, knowing that her suggestion was unconventional, but necessary.

"Ok, I'll see you at one then." Kate paused a moment. "Are...are you ok?"

Alex was taken aback by the question, but she opted to answer honestly, "I'm better in some ways, worse in others… How are you?"

Kate wanted to say she'd be better if Alex was there with her but she wasn't that brave so she just said, "I'm...ok."

"I'm sorry about the way I treated you that day, Kate. I hope you know that I wish I could take it back."

Kate felt the tears spring to her eyes as she remembered that day, but then she also remembered that Alex had been out with someone later that night. She took a breath, "We'll...talk about this tomorrow Alex, ok? Face to face."

"Ok… Um…I love you," she said, though she wasn't sure how Kate would take it. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"I'll see you tomorrow Alex. Goodnight." Kate hung up the phone and let all her emotion come out. She liked hearing Alex say she loved her but until she could see her eyes and hear the truth about that other woman...she wouldn't let herself believe it, not completely. She still hugged the words close to her heart, her tears falling and blurring her vision.

Alex was stung by the abruptness and she hated that Kate didn't say "I love you" back. She was worried that her actions were going to be the cause of their breakup, but if it happened, she knew she couldn't blame Kate. The brunette had only done everything she could to be nice and Alex had done everything to push her away. If she ended up alone, it'd be her own fault.

The next day Kate woke up on the couch. She had fallen asleep there after another bout of tears, too tired to head to the bedroom. She stretched her neck to work out the kinks then went to shower and get dressed.

By 10:30, she was ready to head back to the New York so she got in her car and took a breath. She glanced at the glove compartment then took the ring box out of her pocket and put it inside. She didn't want it on her when she was talking to Alex because she might be tempted to gloss over everything and propose.

Kate started the car and pulled out of the garage. She drove down the long front drive and got out to the road, grateful that she had the next three hours to think about what was going happen when she saw Alex again. Unfortunately, the time passed in the blink of any eye and before long, she pulled into an empty visitor spot in the garage of the DA's office.

She left the car and checked her watch, 12:55, and she took the elevator up to Alex's floor. She was a few feet from the door when the nerves returned. She stopped to take a breath then walked to the door and knocked on it.

Alex looked at her watch and when she saw that it was 1 o'clock, she felt her blood run cold. It was Kate; it had to be. She got up from her desk and went to the door, her body tense as she turned the knob and found Kate on the other side. She couldn't help but smile, even through her nerves, when she saw the brunette standing there. "Hi."

Kate smiled when she saw Alex, "Hi...can I come in?"

"Yeah," she said with a nod. She closed the door and locked it once Kate was inside. "Um, do you want some water or something?"

Kate walked to the couch against the far wall and sat down, "No, I'm fine." She looked up at Alex, "What did you want to talk about, Alex?" If Alex was going to break up with her, she wanted to get it over with.

"I wanted to apologize for everything I put you through on Monday. I was wrong and I acted like a total bitch. I had no right to impose my point of view on you or to get upset just because we handle things in different ways. You were trying to help me and I did everything I could to push you away. I can never take back all that I did to hurt you… I only hope that you can forgive me," she said in a quiet, sorrowful voice.

Kate looked down, thinking about what Alex had said. She turned her head and looked at the window, "So...you didn't ask me here to break up with me?" Kate's voice was low and a little scared.

Alex sat down next to Kate and although she wanted to touch her knee, she held back and said, "No, of course not. I love you, Kate."

Kate turned to Alex and she saw the honesty in her eyes. Everything else seemed so insignificant in that moment. Kate placed her hand on Alex's knee, savoring the contact as she said, "I love you too Alex. I've missed you so much these last few days. It...it hurt when you asked for time and space away from me, but I figured you needed it so I gave it to you. I missed you this whole time."

"I wish that I had just been honest with you about my feelings. I know you would've done anything to help me and it didn't have to go this way. Can you forgive me?"

Kate smiled, "For pushing me away, yelling at me...I can forgive you. For expressing your feelings and asking for what you really needed? There's nothing to forgive. But Alex, this can't happen again. We have to be able to talk to each other and work things out together." Kate turned serious, "I want us to have our life together but if we can't work it out every time something big happens, then I don't know how long we can last." It hurt her to say that but she needed Alex to know how she felt.

Alex nodded, "I know. I was wrong and I can admit that. I fell back on my old habits and I guess…I didn't want you to think I was crazy for reacting the way I did. It really bothered me that you were so calm. It felt like it didn't mean anything to you and I know now that's not the case. I…thought maybe we could go to counseling to help us deal with traumatic things…You could learn to show your emotions and I could learn to trust you with my damage and find ways to break my old, harmful behavior."

Kate thought about that, "It sounds like a good idea, but Alex, the reason I suggested going to Amherst is because when I let my emotions out, I tend to get loud. I didn't want to do that at the loft where the neighbors could hear and end up calling 911. While I was in Amherst and I let it all go. I was willing to let you see that, if you had come with me." Kate stood up and walked to Alex's desk, leaning back on it, "I would never think you're crazy based on your reaction to trauma. I never thought you were crazy, I just...I just wanted to help you. I wanted to...I thought I could be enough for you...it hurt to find out I wasn't." Kate looked down, her voice almost a whisper.

"It's not that you're not enough Kate," Alex said, getting up from the couch. She needed to look into Kate's eyes. "It's that I was terrified that once you saw how fucked up I really am…you'd leave me. You were handling things so well and I wasn't. I didn't want to fall apart in front of you because I didn't want to lose you and…ironically look at what happened. I pushed you away even when you embraced me. I was so stupid."

Kate looked up at Alex her eyes sad, "I see. So you didn't trust me to not walk away if you let me in to see you at your worst?"

"I got scared and I reacted out of that fear instead of trusting you. I'm so sorry, Kate. I should have known better, but I just… my past doesn't make it easy. I'm ready to work through it, though. I've called an old friend of mine and he's given me the name of a very good therapist. I'm going to start working with her soon."

Kate smiled and placed her hand on Alex's cheek, leaning closer, "I love you Alex." Deciding to put aside everything else for the moment, Kate chose instead to do what she did best...she staked her claim on her girlfriend with a kiss.

The phone on Alex's desk began ringing then and she reached for it after four rings. She cleared her throat and spoke in a professional voice, "Cabot"

"Alex, it's Jack. I hope I'm not interrupting anything," he said, worried that something was going on since it'd taken her so long to answer.

"Stop, stop," Alex said as she covered the mouthpiece of the phone. She pulled away for a moment so that she could turn her attention to her boss, "Sorry Jack. Go ahead." Alex was silent for a few moments while Jack explained to her that there was a sudden opening in SVU after their new ADA, Kim Greylek, had been called back to Washington by the new administration.

"It's up to you whether you want it. I know you were pretty adamant about not going back to SVU, but it's what I've got..."

Alex thought about it for a split-second and said, "No, I'll take it. I don't really want to wait for something else. When do I start?"


"Are you kidding?" she asked with surprise.

"No. We have a bit of a mess happening and we need someone on it right away. Come by my office and I'll brief you on everything."

Kate hovered over Alex's neck, her lips mere millimeters from Alex's silky skin. She listened with one ear to Alex's conversation, the rest of her was focused on listening for the tell tale click that indicated Alex had hung up the phone and she could continue with what she was doing. When she heard Alex ask when she started, it got her attention, but she didn't let it show.

Kate waited a second after Alex hung up the phone to ask, "What was that about?" The she began kissing the skin under her lips again.

"Um...they're moving me to SVU temporarily. Their new ADA has been summoned to Washington and they need me to fill in until they can get someone in there permanently."

Kate's lips froze as the words registered. She lifted her head and looked at Alex, "SVU? As in your old unit where you told me time and again you didn't want to be?" Kate knew she was probably overreacting but the mention of Alex's old unit, where her ex-girlfriend worked, brought back the memory that the other night Alex had been with another woman who was most likely her ex. Suddenly Kate wondered if Alex had planned this move back to her old unit with her ex.

"I didn't ask for this to happen, Kate. I mean, it's not like I put in a call to Washington and asked them to call that other woman away. But they need someone and I--" she stopped and got up from the desk.

"And it has to be you? You're the only one they thought to call?" Kate's voice reflected her disbelief that this wasn't planned somehow. That someone was manipulating the situation to get Alex back together with her ex.

"Well, I am the only one in the DA's office with extensive experience with SVU since Casey Novak left, but no, they didn't just call me out of the blue..." She figured it would be better to just come clean this time since she'd promised Kate that she'd try to be better about that.

Kate nodded, knowing what was coming next, "Of course they didn't...you requested it didn't you?" Kate's voice had lowered to a dangerous level. She felt herself start to shut down emotionally to guard against the pain and she fought against it, knowing it wouldn't help her with Alex. She had promised to try not to do that anymore but it was almost an automatic reaction whenever something happened that could hurt her emotionally... Alex requesting to go back to the unit where her ex worked definitely qualified as painful.

"I didn't request SVU, Kate. I requested a temporary transfer to the first thing that opened up. White Collar, Appeals, Major Crimes...whatever. It just so happens that SVU is the one that came up," she said as she moved away from Kate, upset at the implication that she'd done this on purpose.

Kate closed her eyes, "When? When did you request this 'temporary transfer' Alex?" Kate needed to know if it was before or after Alex had gone out with her ex for coffee...before or after she'd pushed her away and asked for space.

"I--" Alex took a breath and let it out, "That morning before I went to shower and had my breakdown. I called my boss and asked him to look for something because I needed a break from Homicide."

Kate opened her eyes and she looked right at Alex, "And when were you going to tell me that you'd requested a transfer? When were you going to let me know you were leaving the 12th?" Kate felt as if Alex had been plotting her exit from her life and she didn't like that feeling.

"Well, let's see, we fought, you left, and you just came back, so it's not like I've had much opportunity. I was planning to tell you about it today after we'd sorted out what happened. It's just that Jack called before I had the chance to say anything. Besides, what does it really matter if I go for a little while? You said you wanted me to do what I needed to be ok and this is part of it."

"I do, I want you to do what you need to do to be ok but...Alex there was a window. There was an opportunity before the fighting before the time apart where you could've said something, anything about what you had planned. Before Castle showed up..." Kate ran out of steam.

"Why are you so bothered about this? It's not like I'm leaving the 12th forever. I just need a little bit of time!" Alex said, quickly losing patience.

"Then why does it feel like forever? Why does it feel like I am losing you?" Kate asked in a sad voice. She straightened her spine and said, "I can't talk about this now. If it's ok with you, I'll be waiting at the loft and we can talk about this tonight...if you want."

Alex sighed, "Fine. I have to get going anyway. I'm needed at a crime scene. I'll see you when I get done." She couldn't believe that things had taken this turn.

Kate gave a small nod then left the office. She made it all the way to her car before the tears came and she sat in the driver's seat and let them come. She cried as she tried to face the possibility that Alex's move to her old unit could end up being permanent...and she could lose Alex to her ex.

After stopping by Jack's office to get caught up to speed on the case at hand, Alex caught a ride with an officer to the crime scene. McCoy had called ahead to tell the detectives to hold off until the ADA got there, but didn't happen to mention that it was Alex.

When the blonde arrived, she found four familiar detectives standing in a group and the butterflies began fluttering. She approached just in time to hear Fin say, "That's not Greylek."

Suddenly, three other pairs of eyes were on her, but only one made her heart beat fast. Olivia Benson, her ex-girlfriend was standing there slack jawed as Alex looked around and smiled sheepishly.

Olivia had turned around when she heard Fin say that it wasn't Greylek and her eyes met a sight that she never thought she'd see: Alexandra Cabot, her ex-girlfriend and the only woman she had ever loved. When Alex was close enough she said, "Alex...what are you doing here?" She couldn't think of anything else to say, she was in shock.

"I'm filling in until they get someone to transfer permanently into SVU," she said, her throat suddenly dry.

Olivia nodded. Elliot noticed his partner's surprise and he stepped in. "So, Alex, you miss us?" He gave a smile.

She smiled back, "Of course. I used to wonder how you were getting along without me..."

Elliot nodded, "Uh huh...is that why you never called or stopped by the precinct? You've been back almost five months, right?" His smile was pleasant but his voice had an edge to it that indicated he was upset.

Alex swallowed hard, "You have to understand that I didn't mean to push you guys to the side. It's been a little...complicated since I've been back."

Munch decided to take the attention off of Alex, "So Alex, you've been briefed on the case?"

"Yes, I talked to McCoy and he let me know exactly what was happening. Our victim molested several boys and was awaiting sentencing, from what I understand."

Olivia snapped out of her stupor and said, "Yeah, only he decided to sue the cops for supposedly letting him continue molesting boys while we built our case. Now, someone took justice into their own hands and killed him." She gestured to the townhouse behind them, also known as their crime scene.

"I guess we should get in there and see for ourselves," Alex said as she quickly turned away from them and went toward the townhouse steps.

Benson and Stabler followed after her, Munch and Fin choosing to wait outside, not wanting to be in the line of fire when the sparks really started flying between those three. Olivia was right behind Alex, forcing herself to keep her eyes on Alex's hair and not her ass.

Once they got inside, the CSUs were finishing up their Scan Station rendering of the victim's apartment, so Alex just hung back with Benson and Stabler until the techs were ready to explain the sequence of events.

Olivia didn't know what to say to Alex. Well, that wasn't true. She knew what she wanted to say, but she couldn't say it with so many people around...people who didn't know that she and Alex were lovers before the blonde had gone into Witness Protection...before Velez and his cartel tore Alex away from her.

Alex waited patiently for the techs to finish up, but the tension and the silence were killing her. She didn't know it was going to feel quite so strained, but here she was.

Elliot couldn't stand the silence anymore so he said, "So, Alex, what have you been doing since you got back?"

"I've been working with Homicide, actually. It's been keeping me pretty busy..." she said, not ready to get into any more detail with so many people around.

Before Elliot could say anything more, O'Halloran was done with the digital rendering and was ready to walk them through the scene. By the time he was done, Olivia knew this wasn't going to be easy. The only logical deduction was that one of Keppler's victims or one of the members of their families had killed him to take revenge.

She turned to Alex, "Come on, let's go fill in Munch, Fin, and Cragen." The brunette detective turned to the door because she desperately needed some fresh air, not to mention some distance from Alex. She didn't want to do something she couldn't take back...like kiss her.

After they'd returned to the precinct, Alex wanted to get that first conversation with Olivia over with so she went over to the brunette and tapped her on the shoulder, "Liv? Can we talk?"

"Uh...um...sure. What's up?" Olivia hoped she could get through this without saying something stupid.

"Nothing, I just need to talk to you. Can we go somewhere?"

"Um, yeah the crib or the loft?" Liv pointed to the upper level where they usually brought child victims and witnesses to put them at ease.

"The crib, it has a door," Alex said, not really wanting to air their dirty laundry where people could hear.

"Ok." Olivia turned and led Alex to the crib. After she made sure it was empty she closed the door behind them. Olivia leaned against the door as she watched Alex, "What did you want to talk about?"

"Since we're going to be working together, I think we should clear the air about everything that happened between us."

Olivia looked at Alex, "What happened between us? What happened, as I remember it, is you broke up with me after I disagreed with you about the Cheryl Avery case then you wouldn't take my calls for weeks. Then, just as I thought we were going to reconcile, Velez stepped in and before I knew it, you were gone." Olivia fought back the tears that always surfaced when she remembered seeing Alex on the ground, bleeding.

Alex scoffed, "You know, it really amazes me the way you remember these things. I told you over and over again what I wanted and if you couldn't give it to me, I wasn't going to force you, but I also wasn't going to stick around and get hurt."

Olivia turned away as she was remembering Alex asking her to come out, to be honest about their relationship. She sighed, "Alex, you know I couldn't do that. It's hard enough being a female cop, but adding...that label to it too, I'd lose all the respect I've worked so hard to get. I don't understand why you can't get that."

"Because it's not true and we both know it. And before you start in again with your list of justifications, let me save you the time by telling you that I happen to know someone who is a detective and her coming out hasn't hurt her in the least. In fact, it's made things for us better."

Olivia looked down, "Alex, I know that Witness Protection may have changed you but back then you weren't going to come out either. You had your eye on the Governor's office and coming out wasn't going to help your chances. We both know you wouldn't have wrecked your political career like that." Olivia took a breath, "As for this detective you're talking about, if she even exists, she probably hasn't been a cop as long as I have. She hasn't had to struggle like I did to gain respect from old timers who though a woman shouldn't be a cop." Olivia remembered the male detectives, sergeants, lieutenants and captains who thought women cops should either be meter maids or stay in dispatch, not walking a beat or wearing a gold shield.

"Kate's been a cop for a long time, since she was in her early 20s, so about 10 years. She's had to deal with stereotypes too, but when she figured out what she wanted and realized that I was worth it, she took that step and didn't care about the consequences. She wanted to be with me and that's all there is to it. Now we're open and we're happy…"

Alex's words registered with Olivia and she felt the blood drain from her face. She felt her knees weaken and she stumbled to one of the beds and sat down. She stared at the floor, "'We're happy'? You're...you're seeing this detective?" Olivia's voice was low, thready, as she tried to catch her breath.

Alex pulled back, realizing that she'd crossed a very fine line without meaning to, at least not in this way. "Yes…I'm sorry, I didn't mean for it to come out like this."

Olivia's shoulders slumped as she realized that Alex was with someone else. "Wow...I...um, how did you mean it to come out? I mean, did you ask me in here just to rub your new relationship, your new girlfriend in my face? You new younger girlfriend I might add." It had always been one of Olivia's concerns, one of her fears that she would lose Alex to someone younger.

"No, I didn't come here to rub your nose in it. I came here to settle our issues to make working together easier and yes, I was planning to tell you about Kate, but not like that."

Olivia stood up and put on her game face. "Well, don't worry Ms. Cabot. There won't be any problems with us working together. If you'll excuse me, I have some work to do." Olivia began walking to the door of the crib.

"Wait," Alex said, not quite finished.

Olivia stopped, but didn't turn around, "What is it?"

"I don't want us to be hostile to one another. I want us to get along so that work doesn't become unbearable."

"Like I said, don't worry. I just need a minute to process this before I can properly react to it ok? Just...give me a minute, please."

Alex nodded, "Ok, I'm sorry. I didn't think that…um... Never mind."

Olivia turned around, "No, finish what you were saying. You didn't think what?" She was curious now.

Alex sighed heavily, "I didn't think you'd still care..."

Olivia took a step closer Alex so she wouldn't have to raise her voice and risk someone overhearing them, "I have loved you for years. You are the only woman I have ever loved. That doesn't stop, doesn't go away just because you left me, not once, not twice, but three times. Granted the last two times it wasn't up to you but...you still left." Olivia paused before she took the last, irreversible step, "And even after all that, all this time...I still love you. I still held out hope, ridiculous as it may sound, that you'd come back to New York, back to your life as Alex Cabot and frankly…back to me." Olivia turned away not willing to let Alex see the devastation she knew would show on her face.

Alex felt her body practically shaking, "I didn't leave you by choice any of the times, Olivia… I left because you treated me like your dirty little secret. I loved you with all my heart and I wanted us to have a future, a family. You ruined that, Olivia. If I thought for a moment that you could've been honest, maybe things would be different, but I knew you couldn't and eventually I had to let go of that hope…I'm…I'm sorry that you still have feelings for me that I can't return, but…you had your chance Olivia…You had years to make this work and you chose fear instead."

Every word was like an arrow to her heart but Olivia stood there and took it...mostly because she knew she deserved it. "Ok...ok, I deserved most of that, but you got one thing wrong. I didn't choose fear. You know me, I don't choose fear...I hesitated. And maybe I hesitated too long, but Alex, you were the first woman I ever fell in love with, only woman I'd ever been with so...it took me a while to come to terms with that. All my life I dated men, even if it never felt right, because that's what was expected of me. Then you came along and…you changed me. I wasn't scared and it wasn't fear. It was a hesitation. Yeah, maybe I waited too long but I never thought of you as a dirty little secret, you were never that...I'm truly sorry if you ever felt that way."

"You hesitated? Please, Olivia, don't insult me. You were afraid to tell anyone, even your best friend. It's not like I was asking you to post a banner in Times Square declaring your sexuality, but you couldn't even tell Elliot about us. How do you think that was supposed to make me feel if not like a dirty secret? I know he doesn't care one way or the other about your sexuality and you hid. No one knew…no one. I wasn't going to live like that, especially when I knew I wanted children."

Olivia sighed, "Yes, I hesitated. I wanted a future with you and I would've told Elliot...I would've but I needed some time. I took too long and then you were shot and you left and...I couldn't tell anyone after that. I lost the biggest reason I had to tell the squad. I had a plan. See, I knew you'd be back, I knew you would be Alex again and I was going to surprise you by coming out to the guys when I announced our engagement. But you found someone else. What am I supposed to do with that?" Olivia knew that without Alex in her life, she would never have the courage to come out.

"You had how long to tell them? We were together for over two years, Olivia and I gave you plenty of time, but eventually I did have to give you an ultimatum because I wasn't going to live like that forever. If you'd done it before I was shot I would've waited for you, but I couldn't go on like that forever. When you almost die like that, suddenly being miserable and afraid doesn't seem like the best use of your time."

"Then I guess there's nothing more to say. I'll be professional and I'll be civil because it's really better if we get along." Olivia's voice was sincere but tinged with sadness as she continued, "I hope you're happy Alex, that's all I ever wanted for you… and one last thing, if you ever need me, even if it's just a shoulder to lean on...I'll be here." Olivia loved Alex enough to offer her that much, not that she ever expected the blonde to take her up on it. She walked out of the room then and headed to her desk. Even though she didn't have a fresh lead in the Keppler case yet, she began doing paperwork in an effort to occupy her mind so it wouldn't drive her crazy.

Alex stayed behind in the crib for a while longer until she felt stable enough to walk through the bullpen and leave the precinct. She was so raw and this talk with Olivia hadn't helped. The only thing she feared more was the talk she was going to have with Kate very soon.


Chapter Thirty: Working Towards a Reconciliation

Kate was sitting in the loft, a glass of water in one hand, the remote to the CD player in the other as she listened to the CD she'd made for Alex. She knew she should probably call Castle or the Captain or even Lanie to let them know she was back, but right now, she didn't know what this day would bring and if it didn't go well...she might end up driving back to Amherst again. Kate didn't want to leave again, she wanted to stay and work things out, but she couldn't get the idea of Alex with her ex out of her head.

Alex arrived home just a short time later with a bag of Chinese takeout in her hand and her briefcase in the other. Her glasses were perched on her nose and she looked exhausted despite the relative ease of her workday. She announced her arrival, "Kate? I'm home and I brought dinner."

Kate turned her head towards Alex and her breath caught when she got a look at her. Kate had always loved seeing Alex wearing her glasses...it never failed to turn her on and tonight was no exception. However, she knew that given the state of things she couldn't really go there and for the first time in their relationship, Kate struggled to suppress her arousal. She didn't want it to cloud her judgment. "Hi Alex."

Kate stood from the couch and walked to the table where Alex had set down the bag of takeout. "This smells great." She had missed Chinese take out. The past few days she'd been cooking for herself and it was always the quickest and simplest of meals.

Alex handed her a pair of chopsticks and said, "I brought your favorite. What do you want to drink?"

Kate let herself smile, "Um, just soda. I'll get it." She walked to the fridge, "What would you like?"

"Water, please," she said, grateful that they were getting along…for now. She knew that conversation was coming, the one she'd been dreading all day, but for now, she'd make the most of their amicability and enjoy the food.

Kate poured her soda and then filled up a glass with water and brought both drinks to the table. She sat down and waited as Alex unpacked the food containers. She sat there and smiled as she looked at Alex, letting herself remember the good times...before Dunn and his madness...when they would do this, eat Chinese food and just enjoy being with each other.

Alex looked at Kate and felt happy when she saw the beautiful smile on Kate's face. She picked up her chopsticks and started eating, her stomach nearly growling when she did. "Um, I thought maybe we could have some 'us' time tonight after we talk," she suggested.

Kate looked down and made a decision, "Um...would it be possible to postpone the talk? Maybe just spend tonight together and then talk say...tomorrow?"

Alex looked at her and nodded, "I think that would be good. I've…I've missed you Kate."

"Good...because I've missed you too." Kate paused as she reached out and put her hand over Alex's, "I love you Alex. I always will."

"I love you too, Kate. I don't like fighting with you, I really don't," she said in a shaky voice. Her tears were already threatening to fall.

"Trust me, the feeling is mutual. Now, let's finish our dinner because I want to lie on the couch and hold you...if that's ok?" Kate smiled, needing to feel her girlfriend's body against hers.

"It's more than ok," she said and returned the smile. The two finished their dinner and then moved into the living room. Alex looked at Kate and asked, "Um, you want me in front?"

Kate smiled, "Yes please, I missed holding you Alex."

She let Kate settle into the couch and then she stretched out in front of her, leaning back against her girlfriend's warm body, a sigh escaping her lips. "I've missed your arms..."

Kate tightened her grip on Alex as she nuzzled her neck. She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes as she took in Alex's comforting familiar scent. "I love you Alex. I'm sorry I ran away like I did, I promise not to do that again."

"I'm sorry that I pushed you to it. I swear to you I will never be cruel like that again," she said in a quiet voice, the tears falling.

"I hope not, I won't be able to take it if you push me away. I just want to be here for you, with you for whatever you need…just please, don't leave me." Kate's voice dropped to a scared whisper.

"Going back to SVU isn't something you need to be afraid of, Kate. I'm not leaving you."

Kate took a breath before she asked, "Is, um, is she still working there?" Kate hoped she didn't have to say who she was talking about.

Alex was silent for a moment before she answered, "Yes..."

Kate nodded, "I see...so, how was it? Seeing her again I mean." Kate needed to know and she figured she'd better ask before she lost her nerve.

"Weird. It's…not going to be easy being there." Alex thought back to how strained things had felt all afternoon, not just with Olivia, but with everything. She had a feeling that wasn't going to go away anytime soon.

Kate stiffened assuming that Alex was only referring to Olivia, "Why? Did she say something to hurt you? Do you need me to go down there and kick her ass?" Kate's protective instincts kicked in, even though she was only slightly kidding.

"She blames me for what happened between us."

"Are you serious? She's been blaming you this whole time?"

"Yes…she said I left her three times…that I made the choice to walk out on her the first time instead of giving her the time she needed."

"She actually thinks you chose to leave her after you were shot?" Kate couldn't believe Alex's ex could be so...vindictive.

"No…not then…She was talking about when I broke up with her after she wouldn't come out. I gave her two years, Kate, and she wouldn't even tell her best friend..."

Kate frowned, "She wouldn't tell anyone?" Kate found that hard to believe. Even before she'd told Castle and the guys, she had Lanie who knew. She didn't know how she would've kept her sanity if she hadn't had Lanie to talk to...especially after the e-mail "Vicky" had sent her last year. "Who goes through life keeping something like that a secret? Who did she talk to when the two of you argued or something?"

"I don't know…whoever she talked to, she probably pretended that I was her boyfriend, Alexander. It would be easy enough to change she to he."

Kate thought about that, "That's true, but still...I don't get it." Kate pressed a kiss to Alex's neck. "I don't know what I would've done if I hadn't had Lanie last year after that e-mail."

"She said she 'hesitated' and I just didn't give her enough time. She wants me to feel like I was wrong, even when I know I wasn't," Alex said, a little ticked off. "You don't think I was wrong, do you?"

Kate took a moment to consider that before she answered, "Well you gave her two years right? What, um...what happened when you came back for that trial you told me about?"

Alex stiffened, "Her partner, Elliot…we were at the hotel and he told me that she…she went back to dating men… She didn't even wait a year for me…" She started crying again, "All those nights I was in pain, lonely, desperate to be with her and…she was fucking some guy."

Kate was confused, "She went back to men?" Kate began rubbing Alex's tummy in mindless patterns. "I'm sorry you were hurt by her again. Did you confront her about it?"

"Yes…even after everything she still blames me…" she said with her head lowered.

"I meant, did you confront her then, with the information that you knew she was dating men again?" Kate asked patiently.

"Oh…um…no, I-I couldn't. I lied to her…" she said ashamedly.

Now Kate was curious, "You lied? What did you say?"

Alex sighed, "I told her I was dating a man too…a guy from the insurance agency where I worked. I wanted to hurt her as badly as she'd hurt me…so I said it. I should've just been honest."

"I can understand that impulse to hurt someone when they hurt you but wouldn't it have hurt her more if you had made up a girlfriend rather than a boyfriend?" Kate figured that if Alex's ex thought that the blonde was dating another woman, it would hurt more than thinking she was with a man.

"Yeah. In hindsight that would've hurt her more, but…I didn't want to be that cruel. I just figured that if I made it seem like I wasn't alone, it would be enough. She wouldn't worry about me and somehow I'd handle it on my own… Sound familiar?"

Kate smiled, "Yeah...it sounds like a habit that you and me need to break. I don't want us to repeat the mistakes of the past. I want us to work on the issues that pop up, together, ok?" Kate kissed Alex's neck again.

Alex nodded and then tilted her head, "Kiss me like that, Kate. Please?"

Kate smiled, "As you wish..." Kate leaned forward and pressed her lips to Alex's, savoring the long denied, much missed contact.

Alex sighed softly, her hand resting on top of Kate's as the brunette rubbed her stomach. She needed this as much as Kate did and even if it was only kissing, she'd be happy.

Kate slipped her tongue out and flicked Alex's lips, asking for entrance. Kate moaned when Alex's lips parted and she slipped her tongue inside the familiar mouth, her hands gently turning Alex around until she was facing her. She pulled the blonde on top of her and ran her hands over Alex's back as she deepened the kiss. Kate had missed this feeling she was getting from kissing Alex and in her aroused state, her hands drifted down from Alex's back to her ass and she squeezed gently.

Alex settled her weight onto Kate's body, her breasts and stomach pressing against her lover's. She was holding herself up just enough to maintain the contact of the kiss while she straddled Kate's hips. She wanted to erase all the pain by making love and showing Kate how much she needed her.

Kate lifted her hips up to meet Alex, her body craving the contact. When air became an issue, she pulled away and began kissing Alex's neck, her hands moving over Alex's body, relearning all the sweet spots she knew would drive Alex close to the edge.

Alex was breathing heavily, her body on fire when she asked, "Kate, can we go to our room, please? I need you."

Kate broke the contact between her lips and Alex's neck and she looked at her girlfriend, "I think that's a great idea, come on." Kate shifted and sat up, Alex straddling her lap. Kate slid her hands under Alex's ass and held her close as she stood up, carrying the blonde. She began walking to their bedroom, smiling at the look on Alex's face.

Alex's eyes were dark blue as she stared down at her strong girlfriend. She was wet and ready for Kate to make love to her all night long, especially after four days of being apart.

Kate stopped at the edge of the bed, looked at Alex, and smiled, "I love you baby." She began to lower her lover to the bed, following her down to help cushion the descent. Kate stretched out next to Alex, resting her head on one hand as the other hand slowly trailed a path down her girlfriend's chest, popping blouse buttons along the way and exposing Alex's smooth skin and bra-clad breasts. "You are...so beautiful."

Alex's heart was beating hard and her skin was flushed pink from the excitement. She looked deep into Kate's eyes and replied, "You're beautiful. I need you so badly…"

Kate grinned as she pressed a kiss to Alex's collarbone. She looked up at Alex, "You have me. I want you so much, I want to taste you." Kate shifted to hover over Alex and began kissing her way down from her collarbone, stopping to pay close attention to Alex's breasts. She quickly removed Alex's bra before her mouth closed over one of the nipples and began to lick and suck on it, her hand giving equal attention to the other one.

Alex sighed happily and rested her head on the pillow, her hand caressing Kate's hair. She could feel the wetness seeping through her panties and she knew she'd need attention down there in the very near future. She whispered, "Babe?"

Kate lifted her head and glanced up at Alex, smiling, "Yes?"

"Will you do something for me?"

Kate moved up until they were at eye level and, after a quick kiss to the tip of Alex's nose, she said, "What do you need baby?" Kate was pretty sure there wasn't anything she would deny her at this moment.

"Wear the strap-on…" She had a wicked grin on her face, the kind that said she wanted to be a bad girl and she thought it would be insanely dirty for Kate to do her from behind. "I want you to fuck me while I'm on my hands and knees… I want you to own me…"

Kate had been kissing Alex's neck as she waited to hear what she wanted but when the words registered, she froze. There was something about it that didn't sound right. Kate had never used the strap-on. The few times they had used it, Alex had always worn it and the blonde had never even hinted that she might like to try it the other way around.

All of a sudden, Kate felt that the timing was a little too suspicious. The same day that Alex sees her ex again she suggests they do something new, something they'd never done before and it made Kate fee sick to her stomach. All she could think was that this was something her ex had probably done and now Alex wanted Kate to fill that void by picking up where Olivia had left off.

Kate lifted herself off of Alex and went to sit at the foot of the bed. She didn't like the thought that Alex was asking for something her ex used to do...worse than that, the position Alex had asked for meant they couldn't even look at each other...That would make it easier for Alex to close her eyes and imagine Kate was her ex and the brunette simply couldn't handle it. Kate turned away and looked at the far wall, "No." She wanted to say more but the lump in her throat prevented her from doing so.

Alex sat up and from her position, looked at Kate's back, "What?"

Kate refused to look at her, "I won't do it Alex. I won't let you use me as a stand in for her and make it easy for you to close your eyes and pretend it's her fucking you. I am the one who is here, I am the one who's making love to you and I won't let you use me like that. I'm sorry, but I won't do it."

Alex couldn't believe what she was hearing. She got up from the bed and moved so that she could look at Kate, "Are you fucking kidding me? Is that what you think?"

"What else am I supposed to think?" Kate's voice was flat as she stared at a spot on the floor. "You've never asked me for that before today...the same day you saw your ex again. We were just starting to reconcile and rather than enjoy what we were doing, rather than let me love you in the way I know you used to love, you ask me for something new. Something I can only guess is what she used to do. Something that requires you to have your back to me so you don't have to look at me as you remember how it was with her." Kate ran out of steam and said in a low voice, "I don't want it to be like that with us. So I say no." Kate stood up and tried to walk out of the room.

Alex was about ready to throw something at the wall. She couldn't believe that Kate had actually gone there, that she would sit there and assume that that was why Alex wanted her to make love to her in that way. She stepped into Kate's path as she tried to leave the room and stared straight into her eyes, "Don't bother, I'm leaving. You can just stay here this time and I'll find somewhere else to go." She brushed past Kate to get her bra and shirt and once she was dressed she made for the door. Before she walked out though, she stopped and turned to look at Kate one last time, "I'm glad I know how little you think of me, it makes me feel better about going back to SVU. Good bye."

Kate stood there for all of two seconds before she snapped out of it and ran after Alex. She caught her just as she was reaching for the front door and slipped in front of her to block her from leaving, "No! You do not get to walk away from me. We promised we wouldn't do that again, remember? We promised that we would stay and talk it out and work it out together. So...please, stay. Let's talk about this." Kate looked at Alex, hoping to break this pattern they'd fallen into.

"What's the point, Kate? You are assuming the worst in me, thinking that I would come back here and ask you to fuck me while I'm thinking about Olivia… It's ridiculous. If I wanted to think about Olivia, I'd be with her right now letting her fuck me…not here with you."

Kate felt the blood drain from her face at the thought of Alex with her ex. "The point? The point is to work this out together. To stop running away from each other and start letting each other in. Yes, I assumed something that was probably wrong but if you leave, if we don't talk about it, how are you going to set me straight? How can we move forward if one of us is always running away?" Kate didn't know what else to say but she was sick of running away from their issues when they got too big to handle.

"Probably? It was wrong, Kate. It was shitty and hurtful. I didn't ask you to do that to me because I wanted to think about Olivia. I wanted you to do that because I wanted you to…" She lowered her eyes. "I wanted you to 'punish' me for being bad. I know that sounds screwed up, but I needed you to own me, I needed you to spank me."

Kate's eyes softened as she heard Alex's words. She took a breath and said, "Alex, I don't want to punish you. I like to think that the time we spent apart was punishment enough... I guess it wasn't huh? Not for you at least." Kate raised a hand to Alex's cheek and said, "For the record, though, in my heart, I already own you, because you own me. I don't need to cause you pain to establish that, ok?"

"It's just spanking Kate, it was just supposed to be fun and a little rough and a way to overcome what happened. I needed something, but again, I'm overstepping and pressing myself on you." She sighed, "God, I never thought we were this different."

Kate pulled away again. She moved away from the door and walked a few steps away before she turned her attention back to Alex. "I'm sorry. About all of this. Maybe it was too soon for us to be intimate. We've been apart for four days and there are still things we haven't worked through so maybe jumping back into bed so soon isn't a great idea. I just...I missed you so much when we were apart that I didn't want to stop. I wanted to feel you next to me, beneath me. I wanted to love you like I used to." Kate took a breath, "You told me once that you were happy with the way we make love, that you didn't mind it being vanilla...but maybe, maybe I was being unrealistic in thinking that it would always be like that. I'm not adventurous in bed, I'm not...good at the spanking and the bondage and all that stuff. As much as it hurts me to even say this...maybe I'm not enough for you anymore. You've seen what you once had, maybe even remembered things she did that I don't do and now...you want that again. But I can't give you that stuff...it's not who I am." Kate shrugged her shoulders as she held out her hands in a look of almost surrender, "This is who I am Alex. I'm the same person I've always been with you. I'm not bold or adventurous in bed. I'm sorry. You deserve better than that so if you want to leave, I won't stop you." Kate began walking to the guest bedroom. She didn't want to sleep alone in the bed she usually shared with Alex, so she stretched out on her side on the guest bed and with her back to the door, she began to cry. She was just waiting for the inevitable sound of Alex leaving her.

Alex sighed and walked down the hall to the guest bedroom. She knocked on the door and said, "Kate, can I come in…please?"

Kate didn't answer but the door wasn't locked. She grabbed the pillow and pressed it to her face to cover the sound of her sobs.

Alex waited for a few moments before she turned the knob and walked in. She found Kate crying, so she spoke softly, "It's not that you're not enough, Kate, and it's not that I don't enjoy the way we make love…but don't you ever want anything different? I mean, I'm not saying all the time…but it would be like you making dinner every night. I love your cooking, you know I do, but sometimes we want something from a restaurant, right? This is just like that. I just wanted something different and I thought maybe you'd understand. It's not about what Olivia and I used to do or not do. It's about needing you and wanting you to fulfill me, Kate. You, not her. But if you can't get past my relationship with her, then how can we ever move forward?"

Kate tried to calm herself down. She took a few deep breaths before she trusted her voice, "I thought I was past it. We were doing really well, then this whole Dunn thing happened and it's like...like we took a huge leap backwards." Kate kept her back to Alex, not wanting her to see the tears. "I tried to be there for you but you pushed me away, so I went away, I gave you the time and space you asked for even though it almost killed me. Then I come back, thinking that since you called me that you were ready to be with me again, only to find out that you had asked to be moved from the 12th precinct. Another way for you to say you can't be around me. And I can see that it might be a good thing for you, but...honestly I think I'd be handling this better if you were transferred to any other place but the one your ex happens to work in. I know, I know you've told me that it's over and you don't want her back and I have nothing to worry about, but...things are different now. Before, we were rock solid. I felt 100% confident that nothing could break us... Now...now I'm not so sure." Kate stopped talking as the tears threatened again. She hated the idea of anyone else using their moment of weakness to steal her girlfriend away from her.

"You know what I just got out of that? You don't trust me…you don't trust my love for you. That basically means that anything I tell you isn't going to mean a damn thing. You've got yourself convinced that I'm going back to Olivia… Is that what you want?"

Kate could see it was spiraling out of control, but she didn't know how to stop it. "It's not that I don't trust you. I don't trust her. I know first hand how hard you are to let go of. What if, she tries to get you back? What if during this time when you and aren't as solid as we used to be she tries to slip in and win you over? I trust you to turn her down if she tries something overt, but what if she's sneaky? What if she starts playing the sympathetic friend? Starts getting you to trust her again and confide in her? She takes your side in this and soon you're having coffee together, reminiscing about the good times, and before you know it...your old feelings for her surface. And the whole time, you're getting deeper and deeper into the cases and working late and she makes a move that starts out innocent but leads to more. And where am I? I'm working Homicide cases and coming home to an empty apartment because you're working late again to get a motion filed or trying to get your closing argument just right, or working out a plea agreement." Kate lowered her head, "I trust you Alex, but what if you don't even see it happening until you're kissing her?"

Alex listened to all of Kate's rambling and although she was saying the words "I trust you," it sure as hell didn't seem like it. It also made Alex feel like Kate thought she wouldn't be smart enough to recognize Olivia's advances. "No, you don't trust me. Everything you said right there screams to me that you don't trust me. You think I couldn't see through her motivations? That I am so stupid that I wouldn't recognize what was happening? I could go to a bar right now and get picked up on…would you still worry that I'd say yes and go home with some strange woman?"

Kate stood up, angry, "I'm not talking about a random woman here. You loved her! You planned a life with her! And yeah, she waited too long to be honest about herself so you left her but tell me this, when exactly did you stop loving her like that? While you were Jill? Or Emily? Was it after you found out she was dating men again? Was it before that? When, Alex? When did your love for her stop?"

Just as Alex was about to answer, Kate started up again as a new theory dawned on her, "Or did it ever stop? Did you just lock your feelings away? Just bury them because you couldn't be with her? I believe you when you say you love me. I know you do because I feel it every time you touch me and every time you look at me I can see your love for me in your eyes. I've never doubted your feelings for me, but what about your feelings for her? Did they end? Did you fall out of love with her or is it still there under the surface or locked in a corner of your heart, waiting to be set free? I need to know Alex. I love you with every fiber of my being. I love you more than anything or anyone else on this planet. I would lay down my life for you. I would've gladly let Dunn kill me if it meant you'd be safe." Kate looked into Alex's eyes. "But I need to know."

Alex could feel the tears hot on her cheeks and she shook her head, "If you don't know, Kate…then maybe we have no business being together. But just for the record, I stopped loving her like that when I came back for the trial. She'll always be a part of me because she was in my past, but I don't love her, Kate…I love you and you're being too stupid to see it. What the fuck is it going to take for you to get it?!"

Kate looked at Alex, she knew the blonde loved her and that she was being childish but she couldn't help it. "Come back to the 12th. Tell the DA you can't take over SVU, that you're needed in Homicide."

Alex looked at her incredulously, "I can't do that! They need me in SVU until they can find someone. I'm not there for Olivia, Kate. I'm there because I'm good at my job and I had the highest conviction rate of anyone who's ever worked SVU… I'm staying until they get someone else because it's the right thing to do. Stop being selfish."

Kate tried to breathe through the pain in her heart at the thought that Alex wouldn't or couldn't take her feelings into consideration. Still, she wanted to be a grown-up about it so she straightened her spine and looked at Alex, "Ok, fine. I understand. I am going to believe that you're not there for her. That you're there because they need you and you're the best because I know you're the best. I am going to trust you, Alex, because that's what you do when you love someone. And I don't want to fight anymore. I am exhausted so I'm going to sleep." Kate sat down on the bed because she wasn't sure if she'd be welcome in their room. She wanted Alex to make that choice.

Alex let out a breath and tried to suppress her anger and hurt. "Are you planning to stay here?"

Kate looked up at Alex, "Unless you want me to sleep in our room with you. It's your choice Alex."

"I don't like being treated like the enemy and I don't like that you don't trust me or my love for you. If that's still a problem, then you can stay here."

Kate stood up and stepped closer to Alex, "Your love for me is something I have never doubted. I'm sorry if I made you feel like the enemy. I'll sleep here tonight so you don't have to look at me but can you please think about something before you fall asleep tonight?"

"What?" she asked quietly, a little sad that Kate wasn't going to join her.

"I'm not trying to justify my actions or anything I've said or how I've made you feel, but you're a lawyer and you know there's two sides to every situation. Put yourself in my shoes for a moment. What if I caught a case and Amber was involved? She was back in my life and I was going to be spending a lot of time with her. What if she'd changed and wasn't the same person? Would you be able to stand by and let me spend so much time with her without getting worried? Amber was my first...everything. Is there anything I could say that would make any difference to how you'd feel about that? Don't answer me now. Take the night and think about it...be honest with yourself and in the morning, if I am still overreacting or in the wrong, tell me." Kate reached up and placed a light kiss on Alex's cheek before she said, "Good night Alex. Sweet dreams."

Alex took in everything Kate had said and replied, "Good night Kate. I love you…" She left the room and went to living room because she didn't want to be in their room alone. She went to the fridge, took out the bottle of wine she'd started with Serena and poured a glass before setting it back in the fridge. She sat down and sipped slowly as she thought about the scenario Kate had painted. She knew Kate loved her and although she'd hate to see it…she'd do her best to trust her. There was a part of Alex that knew she'd be jealous, but in the long run, she knew her love for Kate was stronger than any threat.

Kate lay down on the bed and whispered into the empty room, "I love you too." Kate closed her eyes, truly worn out by the emotional rollercoaster they'd been on, and she was soon fast asleep.

The next morning, Alex woke up and found herself on the couch, realizing that she must've fallen asleep after she'd finished her wine the night before. She squinted in the early morning light and then got up to go into the kitchen. She found Kate in there pouring a cup of coffee and when she saw the clock on the microwave blinking 7:30, Alex groaned.

Kate looked up when she heard the groan. She felt a twinge of sympathy for her girlfriend who looked like she was in some physical pain after sleeping on the couch, "Good morning."

"Good morning," she said groggily as she made for the coffee pot, "May I?"

Kate smiled, "Of course." She stepped away and waited to see if Alex would notice that she had made a pot of the blonde's favorite coffee... It was a Peruvian Organic blend that came from the Andean region of the country, difficult to find, and tasted like coffee heaven.

Alex reached for her favorite mug and set it down on the counter. She poured a cup from the carafe and took a deep breath of steam in, the scent easing her headache. She sipped and smiled when she tasted the familiarity of her favorite blend, "Thanks."

Kate smiled, "You're welcome. I figured you might need it today." Kate didn't want to ask about last night, she was scared that she had done irreversible damage to their relationship.

"Yeah. I…have an appointment before I go to work. What are we planning to do after?"

Kate made a decision, "Well, I'm still on leave so I'm going to run a few errands and then I was thinking I could make us dinner tonight? Maybe we could have a quiet night in? Would that be ok?"

"We need to deal with what happened last night… we can't keep trying to move forward when the same disease is festering under the surface."

Kate nodded, "Ok...what did you have in mind?"

"I'm not sure. I thought about what you asked me to think about last night and although I'd hate to see you spending time with Amber…it wouldn't make me doubt your love for me..."

Kate's first instinct was to once again say she didn't doubt Alex's love for her but she stayed silent, figuring Alex wasn't done. She waited for the blonde to continue.

"I feel like you don't trust me and you don't trust my love for you. Kate, I've dealt with your jealousy and I've done my best to not let it become an issue, but I'm at a point where I can't really take it anymore. Either you trust me enough around other people who might have feelings for me or you don't and if you don't, then…" She swallowed hard, "Then we have no future."

Kate leaned on the counter and closed her eyes as her head dropped. She took a breath, knowing this was the moment of truth. If she lost Alex over something like this, she'd never be able to survive it, so she did the only thing she could do. She raised her head and looked into Alex's eyes, "Ok, I'm going to trust you. I'm going to let this all go and I'm going to stop thinking the worst. I don't want to lose you Alex so I'm going to try my best not to let this come between us."

Then Kate paused for a moment before she decided to come clean about her plans for the day, "Um, I want you to know that I have an appointment at 11 to see Dr. Jennifer Melfi at her office in Brooklyn. It occurred to me while we were apart that my method of dealing with traumatic events might not be the healthiest way, so I called her and made an appointment. In addition, I'm going to see if she can help me with my jealousy issues because I don't want that to be an obstacle for us. Honestly, I don't know if therapy will help or not, but I'm going to give it a try because I want us to be together and I want us to overcome all of this so that we can fulfill our dreams for the future. I don't want to ruin what we have because I can't deal with my baggage."

Alex chuckled, "I have my appointment with my therapist this morning as well. I guess we'll see what happens, huh?" Then she grew serious again, "I really hope that she can help you, Kate. We've made it through so much to lose it now."

"Yes we have. That's why I am willing to do whatever it takes...I love you Alex and like I said before, I will fight for you...I just don't want to fight with you anymore." Kate smiled, taking a sip of coffee.

"Neither do I. It makes me crazy and I feel like crap. Look, I'm going to go take a shower and get ready. I meet with Dr. Olivet at nine."

Kate nodded, "Ok. Do you want something to eat before you go to your appointment? I can make breakfast."

"If you want…I'll understand if you're tired," Alex said and then finished her coffee. She set the mug down and then headed for the bathroom to get ready for the day.

Kate let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. She was tired but she would never be too tired to take care of Alex. She started moving around the kitchen to get the ingredients for breakfast. Kate decided to make Malukuao because she knew how much Alex liked it and she wanted to see a smile on her face...a smile she was responsible for. While Kate was busy making breakfast, she thought about the first time she'd made Malukuao for Alex and she smiled. It was a happy memory for Kate and she clung to it now for comfort.

Once Alex was in the shower, she realized how sensitive her body was from both the stress and arousal that she'd gone to bed with the night before. She thought about easing both by taking care of herself, but what she wanted more was Kate to help her. She closed her eyes and imagined Kate, mentally undressing her as her own had drifted lower over her body. In her mind, she stripped away Kate's top and bra first, the brunette's full breasts causing a moan from the blonde's mouth. She slipped her hand between her legs and there in the spray, she started working her fingers back and forth over her folds, continuing to mentally undress Kate.

Kate finished cooking and served up two plates. She set them on the table and refreshed the coffees, but when she heard that the shower was still running, she wasn't sure whether or not to check on Alex. After wrestling with the decision for a couple of minutes, she figured it was better to give Alex some space, so she sat down at the table to wait for her girlfriend.

Alex got lost in her thoughts of Kate, her hand hitting all the right spots, but she was still aware that she was the one pleasuring herself instead of her lover pleasuring her. She tried to push that out of her mind as she pictured Kate on top of her, rocking back and forth, the blonde's hands on her lover's breasts. She was getting dangerously close to climax and it was a good thing because the water was starting to turn cold. She synched her orgasm with fantasy Kate's orgasm and came hard, a loud moan escaping her lips as she slumped back against the wall, her chest heaving.

Kate could've sworn she heard a noise above the water of the shower, but she dismissed it as nothing more than her imagination. She got up and covered the plates with other plates to keep the food warm while she waited for Alex to finish and then she thought back to the night before. She felt the same feelings of jealousy and fear flare up when she remembered Alex's request, but then she realized that with the spectre of Olivia removed from the scenario, Alex's request was rather alluring and with the right amount of alcohol to loosen her up, Kate might be willing to give it a try.

Alex shivered as she tried to rush through her shower, washing her hair and body out of the spray and only braving the icy water to rinse off. She got out and wrapped herself in a towel, a sigh of relief when she felt the warmth. She wrapped her hair up as well and then when her stomach rumbled, she went into the other room hoping that Kate had cooked. When she smelled her favorite breakfast food, she smiled.

Kate looked up and felt her mouth go dry and her heartbeat speed up at the sight of Alex in just a towel, her shoulders still wet from her shower. "Um...uh...I made breakfast...if you're hungry." Kate hated the stammering but she was thankful that she was able to form any words as her memory and imagination conspired against her to feed her images of Alex naked in the shower while Kate kneeled on the floor of the shower, looking up at Alex as she buried her face between the blonde's legs and brought her to orgasm. Kate cleared her throat and forced herself to look away before Alex saw the arousal painted on her face.

Alex's skin was still flushed from her activities and despite her honey almond soap, the pheromones emanating from her were thick. She walked over to the plates and sat down, "Mmmm, smells amazing."

Kate kept her eyes averted as she removed the plates that were covering the food. She took a sip of her coffee and then said, "It tastes even better. Dig in." Kate began eating, all while not looking at Alex as she tried to control her arousal so she didn't leap over the table and ravish the blonde.

Alex ate slowly, the food filling her empty belly nicely. She was so much more relaxed and it showed. Her skin was glowing and her muscles were loose, the only thing she wished was that Kate had been the one to make her orgasm, but then she thought about it and it had been Kate all along, even if she was only imaginary.

They ate in silence, Kate didn't know what to say and didn't want to risk saying something that might spark another fight.

When Alex finished she looked at Kate and smiled, "That was wonderful, honey. Thank you."

"You're welcome. I, um...I'm going to take a shower. If you leave the dishes in the sink I'll wash them when I get out, ok? I don't want you to be late for your appointment." Kate stood up and began walking to the bathroom. She needed a moment to pull herself together.

Alex called out, "Kate? There might not be any hot water." She blushed and looked remorseful.

Kate smiled to herself and thought, "That might be a good thing." She called out, "Thanks for the heads up." Then she grabbed a towel and slipped into bathroom.

Alex cleared their plates and rinsed them in the sink before putting them into the dishwasher. She was in the bedroom getting dressed while Kate was in the shower.

The water was lukewarm but Kate didn't mind, it helped clear the arousal from her body so that she could focus on getting through her day. She showered quickly and then wrapped a towel around her body, but she quickly realized all her clothes were in the bedroom she shared with Alex. Kate hoped that was already dressed when she knocked on the bedroom door. "Alex?"

Alex was slipping into her stockings when she heard the knock. "Come in," she said, a little confused that Kate was knocking.

Kate stepped in and kept her eyes averted, "Um...I just need some clothes. I'll be quick." She hurried to the dresser and pulled out undergarments then crossed to the closet and found some pants and a shirt. She headed for the door, "I'll, um, I'll change in the other bedroom." Kate opened the door to leave, "Sorry."

Alex got up, "Kate stop. Come in here..."

Kate stopped moving and took a step backwards, keeping her back to Alex, "Yeah?"

"Why are you hiding from me?"

Kate tried to play it off, "Hiding? What makes you think I'm hiding from you?" She didn't turn around.

"Well, you haven't made eye contact with me since I went to shower and now you're going to the other bedroom to change…it's weird."

"It's not weird...I'm just, I thought I'd give you some privacy, that's all." Kate didn't want to admit the truth but she feared it might be the only way Alex would let her leave. Still she put it off.

"Privacy? Um, ok… Are you avoiding me because of what happened last night?"

Kate hesitated as flashes of almost making love to Alex passed through her mind. She cleared her throat, "No...not at all."

"Then what is it? Why do you keep avoiding me?"

"Please, Alex, let it go," Kate silently begged. "It's nothing, I'm not avoiding you."

"Yes you are. But if you want to go in there, fine. I'm not going to make you stay in here."

Kate took a step forward but stopped herself. She didn't want them to part like this. "If it seems like I'm avoiding you it's only because I am trying not to say or do something stupid and possibly spark another fight. I'm sorry if I hurt you."

Alex sighed, "Oh. Wow…who would've ever thought we'd come to this point? Afraid to say anything cause it might start a fight… Guess it's a good thing we're going to therapy. Anyway, I'll see you when I get home tonight. Be safe today, Kate."

Kate closed her eyes, "Alex...wait."


Kate took a breath then turned and faced her, "It's not just...not wanting to start a fight."

Alex stepped closer, "Then what? Come on Kate, tell me."

"Last night...before everything...disintegrated...we were...um...we were, there," she pointed to the bed. "And...it was wonderful. And then you came out of the shower this morning and...I was right back there and all I wanted to do...all I still want to do is drag you back to that bed and make love to you. But I know I can't do that...hence...the weirdness." Kate maintained eye contact. She wanted to let Alex see the truth in her eyes, "I love you and I want you, but I respect you too much to ever try to force myself on you." Kate stood there and waited for the storm to hit.

Alex reached out and touched Kate's cheek, "You don't have to apologize for wanting to make love to me, Kate. I…if I had known, I would've asked you to shower with me. I know we've been fighting and last night was kind of horrible, but I was so aroused this morning that I thought about you in the shower..."

"I'm not sorry for wanting you, I'll always want you. I'm just sorry if my actions this morning and the...weirdness...hurt you," she said as she leaned into the hand on her cheek.

"I'm sorry too, baby. Look, let's just do our best to get through the afternoon and we'll see how the night goes, ok?" Alex leaned in and kissed Kate and said, "I'll see you tonight. Good luck with your doctor and I love you."

Kate savored the brief contact, "I love you too. Have a good day, I'll have dinner waiting when you get home."

Part 31

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