DISCLAIMER: The characters in the story belong to NBC Television, Dick Wolf and whoever else has a vested interest in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. No money is being made from this and no copyright infringement is intended.
THANKS: To my beta readers Phil, Mac and Jeanne. Their diligence made this a much more pleasant story for everyone to read. They picked up all the missing letters and words I dropped since Pink & Fluffy the brain cells continually outdistanced Pink & Fluffy the typing fingers. I appreciate it. :-) And to SueG who continually answered questions about New York City and the Hamptons – thanks, hon.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This fic is a continuation of my first Law & Order: SVU fan fiction, Until the revised version. You might want to read that one first; s'up to you. It fills in the plot holes left by SVU/Conviction and will give you a little background for this one. This story will not follow cannon of either season seven (and beyond) of SVU or the short-lived season of Conviction. Considering what they did to Alex Cabot's character on that show, it's probably a good thing. The Storyteller's Cardinal Rule is in effect.
SONG NOTE: Though credit in the story is given to Alex, words and music to the first song used belong to Richard Marx – the second belongs to Josh Groban. No copyright infringement is intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Live Like You Were Dying
By D


Part 1



"What you and I have... what I want us to have together... is intensely personal. You have always been part of my life, Liv - even when we were fighting; even when we were just friends. And there will always be a place for you in my life." Alex paused and took a deep breath. "Being separated from you gave me plenty of time to realize the truth and my priorities have changed. More than anything I want you and me to be an us... forever. I dreamed about it. I want you in my life and I want to be part of yours... for as long as you can stand it."

"Forever," came Olivia's answer without hesitation. Soft lips met hers and Olivia sighed, moaning into the kiss when Alex asked for permission to deepen it. Olivia opened her mouth in surrender, then immediately allowed her tongue to battle Alex's for dominance, reacquainting herself with tastes and textures and emotions she thought she'd lost forever. Only when they could no longer breathe did they separate, and then only enough to allow them to continue to breathe one another's air.

"I love you, Olivia Benson. I want to stay like this with you forever."

Olivia pulled Alex into her again, capturing her lips passionately and allowing her hands to wander over Alex's toned body, promising with her lips and touch things she wasn't able to put into words... yet.


Chapter I

Olivia tasted Alex's tears before she felt her sobs and Olivia broke their kiss to cradle Alex to her gently as the storm broke. "You okay, sweetheart?" after a while, letting Alex pull back slightly and brushing the blonde hair from her forehead with slightly shaking hands. Alex smiled tremulously at the endearment and shook her head, keeping her eyes on her hands that were tracing idle patterns on Olivia's belly.

"Not really... it's just – it's too much. Being here again... with you – knowing there's a chance for us.... It's like I'm on overload. I've thought about this... dreamed about it, and to have it finally be possible and right within my grasp, it's almost more than I can stand."

Olivia waited, sensing Alex's need to finally let loose some of the control she had maintained for the nearly three years she had been gone and the three months she had been free from Velez and yet not free at all. Everyone had a breaking point, and Liv figured that with the pushing she'd done today coupled with everything else, Alex was probably very close to hers.

Alex caught the compassion in Olivia's gaze and bit her bottom lip, looking away before more tears fell from her blue eyes. She felt Olivia's fingers under her chin but resisted the pull. Her control was hanging by a thread; accepting any sort of sympathy at this point, especially from Olivia, would release that final sliver of control she'd held onto for years. And Alex wasn't sure there would be anything left of her to survive if she gave in to the little voice that was urging her to give up that final vestige of control.

"Alex, sweetheart... please - look at me." A beat. "Please."

Alex could no more resist the pleading in that soft voice than she could stop breathing – not having waited three years to hear it outside her dreams. Especially since Olivia's voice had been the first thing about the detective Alex had fallen in love with. Alex looked up, nearly undone by the love shining so brightly out of the brown eyes gazing back at her. She started to drop her eyes, unwilling to cry in front of Olivia any longer.

Olivia tenderly cupped Alex's face, gently but firmly guiding her face back up until their eyes met. "No, Alex. No more hiding – not from yourself and not from me. Shh... listen to me, sweetheart," stopping Alex from interrupting. "I know you think you have to be strong all the time. You were like that before you left and I'll bet that was the only way you survived while you were gone, wasn't it? Hmm? The only person you knew you could depend on was yourself, wasn't it?"

Alex nodded.

"Sweetheart, you don't have to do that anymore, all right? I'm here; you can let your guard down and depend on me. Alex, you're gonna have to trust me if we're gonna make a real go of this together."

Alex covered Olivia's hands with her own. "It works both ways, Liv."

Olivia smiled crookedly. "I know, Alex. I meant what I said before; I'm willing to try if you are."

Alex slid her hands up Olivia's arms until she could lock her hands behind Liv's neck and wind them into hair much longer than she'd ever seen the detective wear. They would talk about that eventually too, but they had a lot more important things to cover before they talked about that.

"I meant what I said too, sweetheart. I need you in my life, but you're going to have to be patient with me. It will take a little time to change a lifetime's worth of behavior."

"We'll work on it together, love. It won't be easy – we're both too strong-willed and stubborn for it to be easy. But we can't lose if we work through everything together." This time Alex smiled and Olivia let one fingertip trace the smoothness of Alex's lips. "You're very beautiful when you smile, Alex. Well," she added shyly, ducking her head and peering into blue eyes through thick lashes, "actually you're beautiful all the time – just especially when you smile."

Olivia's confession caused Alex's smile to swell to a grin. "Flattery, detective?" It felt so damned amazing to *feel* again, particularly good emotions like love and happiness and hope. Alex realized suddenly that Olivia had *always* made her feel such things. It was so much nicer than the fear and despair that had been her only, constant companions for three years.

"Truth, counselor. The first of many in our new life together." Olivia might have said more, but Alex captured her lips in a passionate embrace, and Olivia held on while Alex possessed her. When Alex pulled back slightly to catch her breath in a heaving gasp, Olivia returned the favor wholeheartedly, claiming Alex as thoroughly as she had been claimed. Finally, she dragged her mouth away, only to move it to Alex's ear. Olivia nipped lightly, smiling when Alex shivered and tipped her head to one side to give her better access; them she breathed softly, "I love you, Alexandra Cabot... welcome home."

"I love you, Olivia Benson. I can't tell you how incredible it is to be here."

"You don't have to, sweetheart. I can feel it here," covering her own heart. "It's like, for the first time in my life...."

"... we're whole."

Olivia's eyes widened and she realized the truth of Alex's words in her heart and soul. A glance into Alex's eyes showed Olivia that Alex had recognized the truth as well, and welcome as the revelation was, it was overwhelming with everything else that had happened that day.

"Alex, did you bring any babysitters with you?" At Alex's blank look, Olivia continued, "The nice police officers who brought you to the bar?"

"Oh... no," blinking her eyes and shaking her head as a wave of exhaustion rolled over her. "They were simply to insure you came back here with me peacefully."

Olivia nodded and stood slowly, making sure her feet were under her before extending a hand to Alex. "C'mon, then. I'm exhausted and so are you. We've still got a lot more to talk about, but I don't think we're gonna make any more progress tonight, and I want to hold you while we sleep... if that's all right."

"That's the best idea I've heard in a very long time, detective. This is the first night of the rest of our lives together, and I want to spend it in your arms."

It was a combination of things that brought Olivia from sleeping to waking – the unaccustomed warmth surrounding her, the dead weight across half her body pinning her to the bed, the sunlight streaming through the blinds right into her eyes. She frowned and scrunched her eyes closed again immediately, until the warmth in her arms shifted and one hand started drawing lazy circles on her belly.

Olivia opened one eye and looked down, meeting Alex's subdued blue ones. Then she blinked both of them opened and smiled indulgently at Alex. Alex's expression instantly shifted into one of shy wonder and Olivia shifted enough to cup her face, running a thumb over Alex's cheekbone.

"Good morning," she whispered.

"This is real, right? I'm really here with you, in your bed – not just dreaming?"

The question was heartbreaking from someone who never before shown so much vulnerability to anyone – not even Olivia and it tugged at Olivia's heartstrings. So for answer, Olivia shifted them until Alex lay flat on her back cradled by Olivia's body and held in Olivia's arms. With one hand, she traced Alex's face, watching as the blue eyes fluttered closed under her touch.

"Look at me, Alex. Open your eyes, sweetheart."

Slowly, Alex let her eyes slide open, focusing on the warm brown ones that gazed down at her, so full of love that she was compelled to lift a hand to cup Olivia's cheek. Olivia brushed a kiss over Alex's palm and grinned when Alex's lips reflexively creased into a gentle smile.

"Yes, Alex... you're really here - with me, in my bed, in Manhattan."

"This is amazing," Alex said softly, allowing her thumb to rub Olivia's cheekbone gently.

"Yes, it is." She ducked her head and captured Alex's lips for a long moment, smiling into the kiss when Alex threaded her hands into Olivia's hair and tugged her closer. Finally, a lack of air forced them to separate and Olivia sighed in contentment. "God, I love kissing you. And I hate to stop and be the one to reintroduce reality here, but don't you have to go to work today?"

"No. After you um... left yesterday, Arthur came down and told me to take a couple days to get my personal affairs settled."

Olivia winced. "Sorry, Alex. I didn't think about how that would put you on the spot." She snorted. "I didn't think about much at all, actually. I was too busy feeling angry." This got a genuine full-fledged smile from Alex and Olivia's brow creased. "Alex, why are you smiling?"

"I love your passion, Liv, even when it causes us to butt heads."

Olivia laughed. "I guess we all have our own forms of foreplay."

"Yeah," Alex said, her smile turning melancholy. "But before we can move past that, I think we need to finish that talk we started last night."

Olivia nodded her agreement. Despite what she felt for Alex, and what she believed Alex felt for her, there were still a lot of issues between them that needed to be talked about to be settled. This was too important to both of them to screw up by ignoring it, hoping sex would make everything all right – they were smarter than that.

"I'll go start the coffee. Why don't you hop in the shower and... what?" when Alex started shaking her head.

"I'll start the coffee. I don't have anything clean to put on. Maybe we could go out, and I could stop by my hotel?"

Olivia nodded. "'Kay. I won't be but a couple minutes. We can pick up coffee on the corner if you want. They've got some great pastries there as well."

Alex smiled. "Sure. I missed all the neighborhood mom and pop places New York is famous for."

Olivia cocked an eyebrow. "Hold that thought, will ya? I have a feeling it is the beginning of really long conversation, and I wanna get out of here first." Then she slipped into the bathroom and started the water running.

Alex looked down at her wrinkled clothes and shrugged. There wasn't much she could do about it until they got back to her hotel and she could change clothes. She made up the bed, then jumped when the phone rang loudly beside her hip. Two rings and the answering machine picked up.

"Liv, pick up the phone. I already called your cell and left a message, and if I don't hear from you in the next five minutes, I'll put out an APB on you. So pick up."


"Alex?" Alex smiled; she could hear his eyebrows shoot up into his hairline. "Um... everything all right?" Truth was, Elliot wasn't sure what to say after what he had witnessed yesterday.

"Yes, detective. Everything is fine. Detective Benson is in the shower and can't take your call at the moment. Would you like me to have her call you when she gets out?"

"Um, no; just tell her I called."

"I will. Thanks, Elliot," the last added so quietly he nearly missed it.

"For what, Alex?"

"Caring," after a moment's pause. "I'm glad she had you while...."

"Yeah – just make sure you don't hurt her anymore, Alex. She won't survive."

"Neither would I. Um... the water just went off. You want to hang on a minute?"

"No; tell her I called and that the cap approved her two days emergency leave. Maybe we could all get together later for lunch or something."

"I'll tell her and have her call you."


"Hey," Olivia called from the doorway where she was towel drying her hair. "You missed me so much you were talking to yourself?"

"Well, I did miss you; apparently I wasn't the only one." Olivia tilted her head in question, pushing off the doorjamb and crossing the room to the bureau. She dropped the towel wrapped around her body and Alex watched her unabashedly, admiring the smooth play of muscles that rippled with every movement. She had to clear her throat to speak again and Olivia smirked as she continued dressing.

"Elliot called. He was just checking to make sure you were okay and to let you know that Don approved two days of emergency leave for you. He suggested lunch later." Olivia stepped into the walk-in closet and threw on a pair of old, comfortable jeans and a soft t-shirt. Then she sat next to Alex on the bed and puller her boots on.

"Do you want to? Have lunch with Elliot, I mean?" Alex shrugged, her eyes following Olivia as she went back to the bathroom to pin her hair up. Then she shook her head at the unreality that caused her to feel. "What?" Liv questioned as she caught Alex shaking her head. "You don't want to have lunch with Elliot?"

"We can," Alex confirmed, as she got up and walked out of the bedroom after Olivia. "I think it depends on how things go for us today."

"You don't think we can work things out between us?"

"I think it may take us longer than until lunch. Remember that strong-willed, stubborn head-butting thing we have going on?"

"Yeah," Liv said with a crooked smile. "But I also remember this," kissing Alex hard and fast. "And I think that us together is stronger than anything either of us can say or do apart."

Alex blinked while Olivia opened the door and ushered her out into the hallway. "Wow," she finally breathed when the door closed behind them. "When did you become such a romantic?"

Olivia ducked her head and blushed faintly. "What can I say? You bring out all sorts of things in me."

"Oh, do tell, detective. I think I could find that interesting."

Olivia just shook her head and thrust her hands into her jacket pockets, thrilled when Alex tucked her hands into the crook of her elbow. "Walk or cab?"

"Let's walk to get coffee. Then we'll catch a cab – we can walk to the park from my hotel."

They walked arm in arm to the corner, and Liv pushed the door open, letting out the scent of hot coffee and fresh bread. Alex breathed deeply, inhaling the aroma with a look of sensual pleasure on her face. Olivia just smiled, and guided them inside.

The proprietress greeted Olivia by name and handed her a large coffee and a plain brown bag. Then she turned her attention to Alex. "And what can I get you, chica?" Alex smiled and placed her order and Olivia watched Nita give Alex her unspoken approval by tucking two of her famous cookies into a bag and passing it over with Alex's coffee.

"But I didn't...."

"You take, chica. You need them. You come back again with Olivia, yes?"

Alex turned and looked back at Olivia who was watching with intensity. When their eyes met, Liv's expression softened noticeably and they smiled at one another. Alex looked back at Nita. "Yes. I'll come back again with Olivia."

"Good. We will put meat on those bones." Alex blushed and Olivia chuckled, glad she wasn't the only one who thought Alex could do with some pampering. Then she took Alex's hand and led her outside, giving Nita a wave.

"Thanks for the coffee, Nita. See you tomorrow?"

"Yes, and bring your friend."

They drank their coffee while Olivia flagged down a cab. Then she climbed in behind Alex, letting Alex give the cabbie the address. She took Alex's hand between hers, gratified when Alex covered the clasp with her other hand. They kept the contact all the way up the street, but they remained silent as the cab crawled through the city traffic.

When they arrived at the Plaza, Alex paid the man before Olivia could even pull her wallet from her pocket. Then she took Olivia's hand and led them inside and straight to the elevator. In moments they were inside Alex's room.

"Make yourself comfortable... and don't eat my cookies."

Olivia's eyes widened in mock surprise and she put her hand over her heart. "I'm crushed; I can't believe you think I'd do that." But she couldn't hide the twinkle in her eyes.

"Uh huh... try it with someone who doesn't know better, detective. I'll be out in a few minutes." Alex disappeared into the bathroom and Olivia took the opportunity to look around the suite. It was barren; aside from a few clothes, there was nothing. No pictures, no personal items, nothing. Olivia decided they would have to do something about that... once they got through their talk.

She crossed to the window and looked out, waiting for Alex to finish in the bathroom.

"Where's Olivia?" Casey asked as she crossed into the squad room. "I have a couple questions about the Janway case."

"She's out on emergency leave. We worked that case together; can I help?"

Casey nodded. "Probably," opening her file on his desk and pointing out the places she needed clarification. Elliot took out his own notes and together they went through Olivia's paperwork and clarified the points that were unclear. Casey closed the file and turned to lean on Elliot's desk. "Thanks for your help, Elliot." She paused. "Is Olivia okay?" Before he could take a breath to answer, Casey continued. "I'm just concerned... after your phone call and knowing what happened in Cabot's office...."

"I think so. I know they are talking."

Casey nodded. "Good. Olivia hasn't been the same since Cabot came back for the Connor's trial, and Cabot... well, I don't know enough about her to judge. But I think she could use all the friends she can find, especially friends like Olivia."

Elliot sat up. "What do you mean?"

"From what I have heard of her, Alexandra Cabot was a kick-ass ADA, and she was always very self-sufficient. But she had friends and family here to rely on. If even half of what I have heard about her time in witness protection is true, she has been completely on her own since she was taken out of here the first time."

Elliot leaned back in his chair. He had his own suspicions about that, but figured it couldn't hurt to get the scoop from the DA's office either. "What have you heard?"

"Uh uh... that would be telling." Casey slid from the desk. "Gotta go." The echo of her heels clicking across the floor was lost in the normal sounds of the noisy squad room. Stabler watched her til she was out of sight, then turned back to his desk shaking his head – only to find Munch sitting on the corner of it. He cocked an eyebrow and Munch leaned down conspiratorially.

"She knows something."


"You going to find out what it is?"


"Good. In the meantime, are we keeping an eye on Liv and Cabot?"

Elliot looked John squarely in the eye. "You wanna explain it to Liv when she finds out?"

"So that means yes?"

"Yep... until I'm sure they're gonna be all right."

Munch nodded. "Count me in." Whatever else he would have said was lost when Cragen stepped out of his office, calling for Munch. John looked at Elliot over the top of his glasses. "Keep me in the loop, all right?"

"Yep." Elliot turned back to his desk, but his mind was a million miles away – with Olivia and Alex.

And hidden in the darkness on the other side of the city, forces were at work that would soon bring changes to many people in the city... but especially Alexandra Cabot and Olivia Benson.


Chapter II

Alex froze when she stepped out of the bathroom. Seeing Olivia staring sightlessly out the window brought back memories that made Alex's breath catch in her chest. "When I came back from Wisconsin for the Connor's trial," Alex confessed as Liv whirled to face her, head tilted in a listening attitude, "I saw you standing at the window that night after... after I told you about 'my good man'." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "It almost broke my resolve."

Liv's brow furrowed. "I don't...."

"I knew I wasn't going to be allowed to stay here – Hammond had already told me as much. I wanted you to think I had friends... someone to look after me so you didn't think I was alone. And I wanted to protect you, Liv... just like you always did for me. I knew that giving you a reason to forget about me and push you away was probably the best thing I could do for you."

Olivia turned away to look out the window again and Alex closed her eyes against the pain it caused her. She drew in a deep breath, but before she could continue, Olivia spoke. "So it was all a lie then?" A beat. "You broke my heart for a lie?"

"No! No, Liv – it wasn't like that at all." Alex walked over to the window and reached out a hesitant hand to Olivia, praying she wouldn't flinch away. Liv stiffened slightly but didn't pull away, and Alex urged her to turn around. "Look at me, Liv; you deserve to see the truth as well as hear it from me."

It took a moment, but when Olivia did look up, Alex caught her breath again at the pain that was reflected back to her. She wanted to caress Olivia's face but settled for clasping both hands. "I did have a good man who held me at night – his name was Michael and he was the first friend I made when I finally got settled in Wisconsin." Alex held on tightly when Olivia would have pulled away. "No, Liv... wait. What I didn't tell you that night was that Michael was gay. He was using me as much as I was using him."

Alex wanted to close her eyes against the disbelief in Olivia's eyes, but she held fast, knowing this was only the first of many hurdles they had to cross before they could really have any kind of relationship together... friendship or otherwise.

"I came back in the room – after we said goodnight – to explain it all to you. I was sure...." Alex shook her head. "When I saw you standing by the window sobbing, I wanted so badly to tell you the truth, for you to tell me we could work things out for us, no matter what. I knew we couldn't – not then – Hammond wouldn't allow it... *you* wouldn't have allowed it, would you?"

Olivia bit her lip and tilted her head again before shaking it. "No. More than anything I wanted you to be safe and happy. I was mostly crying for me that night... for what I had lost – forever, I thought."

"I know. I did the same thing. And when I stopped crying, I decided I couldn't do that to you, so I sat down and wrote you a letter explaining everything. I never dreamed you'd refuse to *ever* read it, you stubborn thing."

Olivia smiled crookedly. "That is the one thing you should have expected, Alex. You know how hard-headed I get once my mind is made up."

"Like trying to make the sun rise in the west, I know," came Alex's dry rejoinder. She sighed. "I am so sorry for the pain my words caused you, Liv. I never would have left without explaining it to you personally if I had known."

"Hammond never would have let you."

"I would have found a way," Alex answered fiercely. "You shouldn't have had to...." stopping when Liv covered her lips with the fingers she had freed from Alex's grasp.

"Shh... sweetheart. Mutual responsibility here, I think; we were both at fault. Now," removing her fingers from Alex's lips and wiping the tears from Alex's cheeks and then her own, "what do you say to a walk through Central Park? Maybe I'll even treat to hot dogs for lunch."

"You're going to make me swoon detective, although if it's all the same to you, I think the hot dogs should wait for another day. I'm not sure I could handle that; my stomach is already in knots. But a walk with you anywhere sounds delightful."

Olivia extended her free hand and pulled Alex towards the door with both hands. Then she held Alex's jacket for her and snatched up the cookies Nita had given them. "C'mon," she said as she opened the door. "It's too nice a day to be stuck indoors." And they made their way down the elevator and out the door in companionable silence. Then Alex linked her arm with Olivia's to keep from blowing away and together they headed towards Central Park.

"Was Wisconsin so bad?" Olivia asked when the silence went on for a few moments.

Alex gave the question the due deliberation she felt it needed. "No, but it wasn't home, and it wasn't me. Olivia, *I* wasn't me there." She fell silent, waiting. She knew Olivia would ask, and she needed to hear her ask before she answered.

"Tell me about Michael."

"Michael was the first person I met. He was kind and considerate and very good looking. He had a swimmer's build - tall and lithe with dark hair and eyes. He reminded me a lot of you, actually. I think that is why I was first drawn to him, but we also recognized a kinship with one another. He had lost his partner to a motorcycle accident, though all anyone there wanted to see was that he and Peter had been friends and roommates. The longer we knew one another, the more time we spent together. Folks began to think of us as a couple, but in reality, he listened to hours upon hours of my talking about you and I listened to hours and hours of him remembering Peter. Sometimes at night he would stay over and hold me; I needed that and so did he. We needed the human connection and the knowledge that someone else understood our pain and loss and cared." She paused again and bit her lip.

Alex took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. "It was little enough to do for someone who had been kind to me for no other reason than that it was in his nature to do so. And because we were immediately seen as a couple, people stopped asking questions about his sexuality. He finally had a girlfriend – people stopped wondering if he was gay anymore. Liv, you've seen the baseness of humanity here in a city where diversity is what this place is all about. Imagine how it is where diversity isn't part of the company bylaws or the community make-up."

"We never slept together, Liv, except platonically as friends. Even if he had been so inclined, I couldn't... I spent too many nights calling out your name in my sleep. Even when I was no longer sure what you and I shared wasn't just a dream or wishful thinking on my part, you were still my heart... my hope. Every day I was gone, I thought of you, and every night I dreamed of us together."

"You were always in my thoughts and dreams." Olivia's head dropped and she focused on each step she took. "I wanted to be glad that you had found someone, and part of me was – because I knew you were all alone and I never wanted that for you. But the selfish part of me...." She shrugged. "It hurt so much to know I had lost you; I was glad to have my memories."

"Even the ones that hurt?" Alex asked, thinking particularly of the night she had been shot and the night they had said goodbye.

"Especially the ones that hurt – they were all I had left to remind me that I was still alive. I think I drove Elliot more than a little crazy though."

"More than usual, you mean?" Alex asked drolly, meeting Olivia's twinkling brown eyes. "Why?" They entered the park and reflexively, Alex took a deep breath. There were people here; there were always people – even midmorning on a weekday. Instinctively, Olivia chose the path that would take them to her thinking bench and Alex gladly walked along with her, having a very good idea where they were going. Liv had shared this private space with her on a few occasions after particularly bad cases.

Olivia shrugged again, but didn't answer otherwise. Alex looked at her, concerned, but Olivia kept her eyes carefully fixed on her feet. Alex slid her hand down Olivia's arm until their fingers naturally tangled together. It made them both smile and brought Olivia's eyes up to meet Alex's. "That's much better," Alex said firmly. "Liv, you don't have to hide from me, remember? There has to be honesty from both of us if we're going to make this work. Now how or why did you drive Elliot crazy? C'mon... you've got to share. Who knows – maybe I'll be able to use the same tactic some day."

It was said with a grin and meant to be a joke, but it brought despair to Olivia's countenance and her grip tightened almost painfully around Alex's hand. "I hope not," Liv muttered. "I never want you to feel that way... not again."

Alex pulled them to a stop in the middle of the path and turned Olivia to face her. "What do you mean, sweetheart? How did you feel?"

Olivia bit her lip. She didn't want to hurt Alex's feelings, but she wasn't going to lie to her either. "Desolate," she said at last. "Alone and abandoned." She felt the pain in Alex's swift intake of breath and reached out to pull Alex into her embrace. "I'm sorry, Alex – I don't want to hurt you; I know it's not true... not then and definitely not now. But at the time, it was all I had... that and my anger." Olivia kissed Alex's forehead, gratified when Alex nuzzled her neck just slightly before pulling back so they could resume their walk. "It drove Elliot nuts because I shut out everything but my work... and the guys. They stuck with me even when I was pricklier than a hedgehog."

Alex laughed at Olivia's description of herself and Liv joined her just because she loved hearing the sound coming from Alex's mouth. Laughter had always been rare in their line of work and they had learned to appreciate every moment of it, no matter the cause.

"Pricklier than a hedgehog, huh?" Alex took the opportunity to give Olivia a good once-over. "I don't know, detective. Somehow, I can't picture you as a hedgehog."

They reached Olivia's bench and sat down, snuggling close enough to leave no personal space between them. Alex rested her head on Liv's shoulder and Olivia laid her head on Alex's, and for a few minutes there was peace and quiet. Then, "Where did you go when you left Wisconsin?" Olivia finally asked, breaking the blanket of silence that had fallen over them again. Alex cleared her throat and Olivia squeezed her gently and brushed a kiss on the top of her head.

"I went with Hammond to help get Antonio settled first. It wasn't what Jack wanted, but it was what was best for Antonio. He was such a good kid, putting up with all the changes in his life like a pro. He was placed in Texas... on a horse ranch there. He loved it; God, he was so excited when he found out it was his new home!"

"What about you?"

"I went to Florida and was working for the DEA. That was one reason I was able to push so hard to close the Velez case; I was finally in a position to do something proactive. Besides, there was heat and humidity and hurricanes there; those were reasons enough to do anything necessary to get me back to New York and hopefully, you. I could have survived my whole life just fine without experiencing any of those things to that degree, much less all of them together!"

"Yeah, but I have noticed you have a little bit of tan going on there. What's up with that?" with a grin.

"Well, there are beaches and boats and Disney World too," Alex added with a smile. "But it never was home. That was always here. My heart stayed here with you."

The kiss was sweet, and they separated slowly. "You say the sweetest things, but you do know it is completely wrong that you were tanning while we were freezing our asses off up here, right?"

Alex snorted. "I had to find my silver linings where I could. There weren't many of them. Best damn day in that life was when Jack verified that everything had finally fallen into place and Velez was dead. I wanted to come home right then, but Hammond was quick to remind me I had too many things that had to be taken care of before that could happen."

"So why didn't you at least call and let us know you were coming home as soon as Velez was dead?" sounding a little hurt. "I figured you'd decided to stay... wherever you were."

Alex sighed. This was the hard part. Instinctively, Olivia tightened her arms around her and Alex smiled at the unconscious comfort she was being offered. Olivia had always done that – once they'd gotten past their initial adversarial reaction to one another, they had been very tactile in private and Alex relished the renewed connection between them. "I missed this so much while I was gone."

Liv squeezed her again. "So did I. It was the hardest thing to learn to live without," she said softly. Then she sat back and waited. Finally Alex started to speak again.

"It took Agent Hammond a while to come to Florida once Velez was dead and he wouldn't allow me any contact outside the Agency. He wanted to be sure the threat to me was completely gone and apparently there were a couple loose ends to take care of. Then things snowballed. There were papers to sign and psych evaluations to do and intense therapy to sit through and ID reclamation and fingerprinting and.... The list goes on and on until I thought it was never going to end. The Feds kept me hopping and I decided we had been forced to wait so long, I wanted to see your face when you found out I was finally coming home. I didn't know I was going to make the gossip circuit before I even got home; I certainly never dreamed the job would be public knowledge before I even got an official chance to say yes."

"Wait... you didn't agree to become Bureau Chief?"

"Yes, I did... but it wasn't official until about half an hour before you came to my office. I had just stepped out of my meeting with Arthur when the phone rang and Casey Novak said you were headed over hell bent for leather."

"So I started all kinds of rumors for you by rushing over there like you owed me something, didn't I? God, Alex... I didn't even think...."

Alex cradled Olivia's face in her hands. "Hush. No more apologies - you're beating up the woman that I love. Given the circumstances, I understand... especially given your passionate nature," smiling shyly. She blew out a breath. "I should have called. Whatever it took, I should have convinced Jack to let me contact you as soon as I knew...." She snorted softly. "I should have listened to you in the first place – when Velez first popped up on the radar; then we never would have had to have suffered through the last three years apart. But it's all past now. Can we move on?"

Olivia paused and blew out a breath. There was still one more issue. "Depends... what about Robert?"

Alex dropped her head. Damn, why did I think she would miss that little detail? No wonder.... "How did you hear about him?" Alex countered. "I haven't said anything to anyone about him or his supposed status in my life yet."

Olivia shrugged. "Elliot. I don't know where he heard, but you can bet it's already around the courthouse, the DA's office and police plaza that you're engaged to him. Although I imagine that little scene yesterday chased the engagement rumor right off the airwaves."

Alex chuckled. "Well, it is certainly much more interesting. Let's face it – no one ever gets to see the implacable Detective Benson lose it over anything except a case." Alex sighed. "It had to be the DEA behind the fiancé rumors. I didn't realize they were going to make this fake engagement public knowledge so quickly. I was hoping to tell you about it first; the deal was contingent on you knowing the truth."

"The truth? Fake engagement? Supposed status? Alex, are you telling me...?"

"Shh... let me tell it. It's confusing enough without having a scorecard and knowing all the players." Olivia nodded and they shifted again, Alex threading the fingers of one hand into Liv's. Alex blew out a breath. "I'm part of Robert's cover arrangement here. Having me as a fiancée would give him access to people and files he wouldn't have otherwise. He is working undercover as a lawyer within the legal business side of the new drug cartel's organization. The DEA was banking on the fact that the new drug lord knew Robert was my fiancé and that because of what I went through because of Velez, I would do anything to keep from returning to the Witness Protection Program. Seems it is common knowledge I wasn't a model participant." She smirked wryly at the understatement. "Imagine that."

"Imagine that," Olivia agreed with irony, then sobered and chewed on her bottom lip thoughtfully. "I don't like it, Alex. That's dangerous for you and you've done enough... been through enough for those people. And what does this mean for us? Alex, I can't be the other woman, even if the engagement is only for pretend. I'm not asking for full public disclosure or an announcement to the world; but I won't be anyone's dirty little secret – not even yours."

Alex took Liv's face in her hand and met the brown eyes squarely. "I would never ask you to be, sweetheart. I don't want that for you or for us either, although after yesterday, I don't think that's going to be a problem." Alex gave Olivia a mischievous grin and Liv smirked in response. "Robert is going to be around for a little while; they didn't give me specifics on how long or what he needed to accomplish. But I will put things in motion to get him out of my life as quickly as possible without endangering anyone. I'll pull out the Ice Princess persona if that's what it takes to get him out. Trust me... we'll come up with something, even if I have to leave the DA's office. It may take a little while though. You know how slowly government wheels turn."

"Would you have married him?"

"No, Liv – not for any reason; I made that clear before we ever came back here. It was to stay an engagement and it was conditional on my talking to you. What's between Robert and me is business; although given how they have distorted their side of the agreement, I don't think we'll be doing business for very much longer."

"I love the sound of that. I don't want you to be in danger anymore. You've done your bit for God and country already. Besides, I don't do jealousy well," Olivia said quietly. "But can you do that? Like you said, this is the government we're talking about. I doubt very seriously they're gonna want to let you just walk away, especially if they consider you a key player in whatever op they're on."

"They'll get over it."

Olivia smiled. "I doubt that, Alex... I never did."

"Why, Detective Benson – that has to be one of the nicest things you've ever said to me. And just for the record, neither did I."

Liv pulled her hand from Alex's and moved it up to cup her face. They stared at one another silently for a long moment, their eyes exchanging thoughts and pledges they would voice soon enough. Then they leaned in and let their lips touch briefly... once, twice and then they came together with serious intent. It was hot and fierce and passionate... and far shorter than either of them wanted it to be. But they were all too aware that they were out in a public setting and neither of them was willing to share this with the rest of the world yet. Aside from the fact it wasn't safe, it was also something too new and precious.

Olivia pulled back slightly and leaned her forehead against Alex's. "What do you say to blowing this joint and going to find some lunch? I don't know about you, but all this talking has made me ravenous."

Alex stole a quick kiss and rose, reaching a hand out to Olivia and pulling her up gently. When they were standing side by side, Alex took Olivia's elbow and they headed back out of Central Park. "Do you have somewhere in mind?"

Olivia's gaze turned inward for a minute, then she turned to Alex and smiled. "Yeah... I've got just the place. C'mon." Neither of them noticed the pair of blue eyes watching them from the shadows, nor did they hear Elliot's words.

"You go, girls." He couldn't stop the smile that crossed his face at the thought of his partner finally finding happiness. This was something he couldn't wait to share with Kathy; she had been wishing for something like this to happen for a very long time – almost as long as he and Olivia had.

Elliot threw away his coffee cup and headed out another path. He had to get back to the station. There were still perps and pervs that needed to be caught, regardless of what was happening between Olivia and Alex. He just hoped he'd get to hear the details later.

"So what does your mother think of your return to New York?" Liv asked after they had ordered lunch and their drinks had been delivered. "I bet she was thrilled."

"You'd lose," Alex replied in a clipped tone. "She's never forgiven me for living."

Olivia blinked and her jaw dropped open and the air literally whooshed from her lungs in a rush. "Alex, that's not true."

Alex snorted and picked up her goblet, suddenly wishing she had asked for something stronger than water to go with her lunch. "As a matter of fact, detective, it is all too true. She was furious with me when I came back for the Connor's trial. I know because Hammond was kind enough to deliver a rather scathing letter from her once we were out of the city."

"Alex, I know for a fact it's not true." Olivia was fierce and passionate in her delivery and her eyes burned with the heat of truth burning from them. Alex cocked her head in question.

"Olivia, I know for a fact it is. There was no mistaking the tone of her letter. The only thing I never quite figured out was if she was angry that I lived and didn't tell her, or if she was angry because I came back and left again or what. But I do know she was furious with me - *that* part she stated point blank in exactly those words."

Olivia looked down at the tablecloth, debating her options. Alex deserved to know the truth, but her mother should be the one telling it. However, Elizabeth wasn't here and Olivia was and there was no way she was going to let Alex think her mother hated her. She could see the obvious pain that thought was causing despite Alex's best attempts to hide it. Liv looked up directly into blue eyes.

"Alex, despite what you read and what you think you know, I know *for a FACT* that your mother never once blamed you for standing up for what you believed in... for what you thought was right. She was actually very proud of what you did. There was never anything to forgive on that account. She was furious for what it did to *you* and what it cost all of us for you to do it."

"Olivia, how do you know this? Because you really do *know* don't you? You're not just saying that to make it sound good, are you?"

"Yes, I do; and no, I'm not." She paused when their server returned and placed their food in front of them. "I know because Elizabeth... your mother and I have been friendly since, well... Elliot and I stood with her at your, um... funeral. We stayed in touch after that, and when you came home for the Connor's trial...."

"She gave you an earful."

"Two, actually... with both barrels," Olivia agreed wryly, rubbing her ear in remembrance. "She was furious at the deceit involved, at the pain we had all suffered in your absence, at the need for you to return to hiding. She was furious at the world for the injustice of it all. She *was* furious with you for not telling her you were alive, with me for keeping it secret, at Velez for creating the need for silence. We spent a lot of time talking in the weeks following your second disappearance from our lives. She loves you very much."

"So you two are friends now or...?"

"Not exactly – I mean, we don't hang out or go to dinner together often or whatever. But we do talk on the phone regularly whenever she's in town. I kinda looked out for her when you left the first time, and she sorta kept an eye on me when you left the second. We kinda bonded."

"I see." Alex tone was cool, as was the look in her eyes, and Olivia couldn't tell if she was hurt or angry. "And when were you going to tell me about this?" Olivia considered taking offense at the accusation clear in Alex's tone. Then it dawned on her – Alex was jealous. Olivia put down her fork and reached for Alex's hand, covering it before Alex could protest or pull away.

"Alex, I told you about it at the very first opportunity I had." Olivia tilted her head and crooked a smile in Alex's direction. "Sweetheart, there's no need for you to be jealous. I would never try to take your place in Elizabeth's heart, and she could never take your place in mine."

Alex took a deep breath and dropped her eyes to the table. "Sorry – I know that. I just... I feel like I missed out on so much – like life passed me by while I was gone and I don't have a place here anymore. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to find a place I belong anymore."

"Alex, you don't have to find a place – we'll make one for you. And you don't have to do any of it alone. I'll be right beside you, and so will the guys and your mom. And I bet if you look around the DA's office, you'll find even more friends and allies."

"You think so?"

Olivia gazed at Alex for a long moment. Then she wiped her mouth and dropped her napkin on the table, signaling the server for the check. Before Alex could react, Olivia had paid the bill and risen from her seat. She held out her hand to Alex. "C'mon. I want to show you something."

Alex took Olivia's hand and stood, snagging her jacket as they headed out the door. "You know, you're saying that to me a lot today."

Liv grinned. "Guess it's a good thing you trust me, huh?"

"You've never steered me wrong, Liv... not when it mattered. So where are we headed?"

"Home – it's time to be part of the family again."

Part 2

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