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 3


Chapter V

"Ah... very good," Nita exclaimed as they crossed the threshold. "Come and I will get you lunch." Alex looked at Olivia, who nodded and shrugged gesturing to Alex to follow Nita to a small table in the back. "You want your regular, Olivia?" She nodded and Nita turned to Alex. "And you, chica... what can I get you?"

Alex held out her hand. "I'm Alex, but you can call me chica," smiling at Nita. "What do you have?"

Nita took the proffered hand. "Nice to meet you, chica Alex. I am Nita. Do you trust your friend Olivia?"

"With my life," Alex said, sharing a private smile with Olivia. Nita watched and gave them a smile of her own.

"Good. Let her order for you. I promise it will be good. You will like it."

Alex agreed. "All right. Whaddya say, detective?"

"Give her an 'Olivia Special', Nita. I think she can handle it." Alex arched her eyebrow, intrigued. She couldn't wait to see what this was going to be.

"Detective Stabler, this is Elizabeth Cabot. Do you have a minute?"

"Absolutely, Mrs. Cabot. What can I do for you?"

"Detective, I spoke with Olivia last night and she invited me to a get together on Saturday. I was hoping you could give me the details and perhaps let me help with the provisions. Before you refuse, I am making the offer because I'd like to be involved in some way, if possible, in welcoming my daughter home."

Elliot stroked his chin. This had become a far bigger endeavor than he had expected it to be, and though everyone attending was bringing something to contribute to the meal, he was still looking at a far greater expense than he had anticipated. "All right," he finally conceded. "Would you like to call Kathy and arrange things with her? She is actually in charge of provisioning this little get together."

"If you don't think she would mind the offer, I would love to meet her. Do you think she would be available for lunch today?"

"I don't know," he said honestly. "But let me give you her number." He paused. "I'm glad you'll be joining us, Elizabeth."

"So am I, detective. Thank you for humoring an old lady... and for Kathy's number."

"Only you would be brave enough to call you an old lady, Elizabeth. See you Saturday," he said before hanging up.

"Who we be seeing Saturday?" Fin asked as he sat down at his desk.

"Elizabeth Cabot... Alex's mother."


"How's the rest of the guest list shaping up?" Elliot handed Munch the clipboard he was using to keep track of who was coming and what they were bringing. Munch's eyebrows popped over his glasses and into his hairline. "Wow... seems like our girl Cabot is pretty popular."

"Well, there's that, and people are morbidly curious," Casey verified from behind Elliot, where she had stopped when she overheard their conversation. The three detectives turned to look at her. She stared back at each of them. "What?" she shrugged. "They are. The whole building's heard about what happened day before yesterday. No one wants to miss the next installment of the latest courtroom drama." She gave them a droll expression. "Don't tell me it hasn't made the rounds here in the precinct."

"Not really," Elliot said. "I didn't see the need to share that information with anyone. Munch and Fin knew enough of the truth about Olivia to figure things out on their own. We protect our own, counselor."

"I'm not the enemy here, Elliot. Most of the buzz I've heard is in their favor." She shrugged. "The rest...." She nodded to the captain who had opened his door to look for her. "I'll fill you in later. I think you might want to know this."

"C'mon, counselor. I've got other things on my plate today. Stabler, I need that DD-5 on the Madison case yesterday. Munch, will you join us please?" Munch headed to Cragen's office and Fin turned to answer the phone. Stabler opened his notes to finish his report.

"Oh my God... you're trying to kill me!" Alex groaned as they walked out of Nita's place. "What on earth was that and how on earth did you come up with that concoction?"

"That was the 'Olivia Special'. Did you like it?" Olivia grinned as they headed back to her apartment with cookies for later.

"It was wonderful, but how on earth did you come up with that combination of things? I have never seen tomato, lettuce, cheese, grilled onion, beets, fried egg, bacon, a grilled pineapple ring and BBQ sauce on a hamburger before." She tucked her hand into the crook of Olivia's elbow, smiling when Olivia ducked her head to hide the faint blush.

Olivia opened her mouth to reply, but never got the opportunity. The attack came out of nowhere unexpectedly. Two men, slightly taller than both women, rushed them, knocking them apart. The one who grabbed Alex shoved her against the wall, underestimating her ability because of her apparent frailty. Olivia, on the other hand, was taken to the ground where her attacker jerked her by the hair of her head and started knocking the shit out of her. His error was assuming she was unarmed. One punch to her face, the second to her ribs, and he was staring down the barrel of her service revolver.

He tried to get up... to run away... but Liv tangled her legs with his and tripped causing him to slam his head into the concrete. When she was sure he was down for the count, she turned to help Alex, then watched in awe as Alex busted the guy's chops and pinned him to the ground. They exchanged a wry look, then Liv snapped open her phone.

"Elliot? I need you and a couple uniforms out near my place now. Alex and I just got jumped." A beat. "Yeah – one of the perps is unconscious. Just get out here and pick up the trash. I'll give you the details when you get here, all right?"

There was a pause while he directed Fin to call dispatch for the uni's and an ambulance. "We'll be right there, Liv." She heard him holler to Cragen before his phone cut off. She turned back to Alex.

"You okay?"

"Peachy." The perp she was sitting on wiggled and she pushed her thumbnail into the soft skin behind his ear. "Glad I learned pressure point defense. How are you, sweetheart? Your nose is bleeding," her tone and expression conveying far more concern than Olivia felt the injury warranted. She shrugged and wiped at it, grimacing in distaste at the blood it left on her hand.

"Fucking dykes," the man underneath her mumbled... then screamed when Alex 'accidentally' rolled her elbow over a soft spot on his spine. Olivia's eyebrows jumped, but before she could ask, a regular cruiser pulled up, followed almost immediately by Elliot and Fin in the sedan.

Fin took charge of the uniforms while Elliot went to check on Olivia and Alex. He started for Alex first, but she waved him off. And seeing the blood on Liv's face, he changed direction immediately. He wasn't surprised to feel Alex pass him as soon as the uniform had taken custody of the perp she had apprehended. She took Olivia in her arms and Liv leaned into Alex with a sense of relief.

"Liv?" he asked as he passed her his handkerchief. "What happened?" The arrival of the ambulance interrupted them. By this point, the man Olivia had taken down was coming around, cursing and muttering invectives about lesbians, police officers and life with women generally. Elliot's brows rose and he turned back to Olivia. "You think this was a random crime?"

Olivia flinched away from the paramedic who was trying to stop the bleeding from her nose and lip. She glared at him and he shrugged. "Sorry, ma'am. I need to get it under control and if you don't want me to pack it.... We do need to take you in for x-rays though."

Before she could reject the idea out of hand, Alex spoke up. "I'll make sure she gets there. We'll go with the detective."

"Alex, I don't need to go to the hospital. It's a bloody nose."

"And bruised ribs, Liv."

"I'm fine, Alex. Let's just go to the station. If it still hurts when we're done there, I'll go to the hospital with you without a word of protest. 'Kay?"



"Whipped," Elliot muttered just loud enough for Olivia to hear. "OW!" louder when Olivia punched him. "What was that for?" She just glared at him and Elliot snickered. "C'mon, Liv. Let's get you both to the precinct and get your statements. This one should be open and shut."

"I want another day off," Olivia grumbled as they made their way upstairs to the apartment. It was almost sunset; they had spent the entire afternoon at the station. Their statements hadn't taken long and identifying the perps had been easy. Even getting statements from the suspects had been fairly easy; it was kinda of hard to deny guilt when you were caught in the act by a police officer and an officer of the court.

But everyone who had heard what happened felt the need to stop by the one-six to check on them and that led to conversation and visiting that had eaten away into their day. Finally, sensing Olivia's aggravation and feeling like she was on her own last nerve, Alex decided they had been there long enough and took Olivia by the arm.

"C'mon, detective. I think we need to get those ribs looked at." She actually had no intention of taking Olivia anywhere but home, but the declaration was enough to clear the room and allow them to escape with a wave to Elliot.

"Cragen would probably give you another day or two," Alex said as she pushed the door open. "How do you feel, sweetheart?"

"Like some pissant hit me." She grinned crookedly, wincing slightly when it pulled on the split. "Not bad, really. A little sore, a little pissed and a lot confused." She locked the door behind them and followed Alex to the kitchen.


"Scotch, actually."

"Something to take the edge off?"

"Yeah, and since Dumb and Dumber turned Nita's cookies to crumbs, I'm going for the quick fix." They poured their drinks and walked back into the living room. Alex put her drink down on the side table, sat down in one corner of the couch and patted her lap. Olivia smiled and gladly obliged, putting down her drink and sighing in relief when she found a comfortable position and Alex started gently combing through her hair. "God, that feels wonderful."

Alex leaned down and brushed a kiss over Olivia's forehead. "Good... I'd like to make you feel better if I could."

Liv smiled. "Just you being here again makes me feel better, Alex. It's worth everything – even the bumps and bruises."

Alex smiled and kept up her combing, adding a light massage when she reached Olivia's neck. "Can I ask you something?" Liv opened one brown eye and waited. Alex shook her head and ran a finger over her eyelid, forcing it closed again. "Why did you grow your hair out?" Both eyes popped open this time and Olivia took the time to study the expression in Alex's eyes.

Finally, satisfied that honest curiosity was the motivating factor for asking the question, then clasped Alex's free hand to her chest and closed her eyes again. "I dunno; I guess I figured it didn't really matter. It wasn't like I had anyone who really cared how I looked anymore."

"Oh, Liv...." Alex took a deep breath. "Would you be highly offended if I asked you to cut it shorter? I have a picture of you... it's my favorite. I managed to keep it hidden from Jack – I kept it with me while I was gone. Your hair is shorter, neck length, wispy, longish bangs...."

Olivia smiled. "I'll do whatever you want, Alex, but you have to keep yours the length it is. I always loved yours long."

"You've got yourself a deal, detective. Saturday morning before the get together at Elliot's?"

"It means that much to you, sweetheart?" reading the truth in the blue eyes gazing down at her. "Sure – we can go Saturday." A knock on the door interrupted the conversation and they exchanged glances. Before Olivia could even speculate out loud, a key rattled in the lock and Elliot called out.

"Olivia? Alex?"

"C'mon in, El," not shifting from her place on Alex's lap. He managed to keep a straight face, though Olivia could see the twinkle in his eyes. "Help yourself to a drink; you know where everything is."

He poured two fingers of good whiskey into a tumbler and plopped down into the deep recliner with a groan. "Damn... long day." He grinned. "You look comfortable though. How you doing?"

"I'll live."

"You damn well better, detective," Alex interrupted unexpectedly. "We waited too long for this to be real for anyone to take it away from us now."

Elliot cleared his throat. "Actually, that is partly why I stopped by. Liv, do you think this was a random crime... that the perps were just stupid and unlucky enough to pick an armed police officer as a victim? Or do think you and Alex were specific targets?"

"A hate crime?" Alex stated as much as she asked.

"Maybe," Olivia answered. "There was something not right about them." The interview had been disturbing. When pressed, however, neither man was willing to give any detail as to why Alex and Olivia had been targeted and the police still weren't sure what exactly was behind the attack.


"I don't know," Liv confessed. "But it's making my shoulder blades twitch."

"Yeah, mine too. I wanted to be sure it wasn't just me. However, if we're lucky, putting them away will put an end to whatever they were involved in."

"El... we're never that lucky," Olivia commented wryly.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that detective," Alex whispered, though Elliot heard her and he flushed.

"<Ahem> And on that note, I'm heading out of here," he said, putting his empty tumbler on the table. "Cap said not to rush in tomorrow if you were feeling bad. Glad to see you're in good hands, Liv. Don't get up – I found my way in; I can see myself out."

"Goodnight, El."

"Night, ladies."

They waited until he pulled the door closed behind him before they shifted and Liv sat up with a groan. Alex picked up her wine and Liv grabbed her whiskey before Alex stood and extended her hand. "C'mon, detective. I want you to soak in a warm bath to help with the soreness while I find us something for dinner. And then I am going to love you as slowly and gently and thoroughly as you loved me this morning. I want you to feel all the love I have for you, Olivia Benson; and how outrageously glad I am to be in your life again... and to have you in mine."

Olivia cleared her throat. "You keep sweet talking to me like that, counselor. I think we may need to have a talk sooner rather than later."

"Whenever you're ready, Liv," Alex replied seriously, cupping the dark, smooth cheek. "I've done all the thinking about this I need to do already; I made my decision a long time ago." She lowered her voice and gave Olivia a sultry, teasing grin. "Don't worry; it works out in your favor... promise."

Liv dropped her eyes to the ground, but she couldn't stop the smile that spread across her lips as she melted at the words. "Ya know – you're ruining my reputation as a hard ass. Word's gonna get out and everyone will call me Detective Sergeant Mushball instead."

Alex laughed. "That's okay, sweetheart. It will go very well with Bureau Chief Love Muffin." Now Olivia laughed, wincing only a little from the pain in her face and her ribs. Today the world had invaded, and tomorrow they would be back in the real world, but tonight there was only one another, and she was determined to make it last as long as she could.

She leaned forward and pecked Alex's lips. "I have a counteroffer, counselor. Let's find something for dinner and have it delivered in an hour; then we can go and share that warm bath."

"You sure an hour will be long enough, detective?"

"I'm sure I'm going to need food by then. Now, do you feel like Italian or steak?"

"You choose; I'm going to go run the bath water. Come in as soon as you're done." Olivia stopped at the kitchen and Alex continued on to the bedroom. She wanted to make it special for both of them. Alex went immediately into the bathroom and turned on the taps, throwing in a handful of bath salts and letting the water dissolve them as the steam started filling the room. She moved back out to the bedroom, wishing their day had not been so screwed so she would have had time to make a few plans. Instead, she pulled the covers back and hunted up a few candles, making a mental note to pick up more at her earliest possible convenience.

When they were lit in strategic places around the room, Alex went back into the bathroom to keep an eye on the water level. Nothing would ruin the evening faster than having to clean up a flooded bathroom. And she wanted Olivia to relax. She had the distinct, creepy-crawly feeling that today's incident had a much deeper, darker meaning – that that meant nothing but trouble.

Olivia stepped into her bedroom... and froze – mouth open in shock. She hadn't realized she had so many candles in the house. She'd have to ask Alex where she'd found them all; they certainly set the mood. Olivia smiled. She'd never had a lover who cared for her like Alex did, even in the earliest stages of newfound lust. Then her expression fell. Truth was, she'd never had a relationship that lasted past first lust; she wondered how long this would last.

"That's a very pensive expression you're wearing, detective," Alex said as she crossed the bathroom threshold and came to a stop within Olivia's personal space, reaching out to touch her. Alex smiled when Olivia leaned into her hand. "What's wrong, Liv?"

"This," she answered without thinking, then covering Alex's hand with hers before she could move. "Not this - *us*," she reassured, frightened by the amount of pain she saw in the blue eyes facing her. "God no, Alex. This – us - is the only thing I'm sure of in the whole world. I've just... this is all so new, so different. I've never had someone in my life who ever tried to, or even wanted take care of me the way you have, and you've only been here for two days." She sighed. "I'm afraid it won't last."

"Oh, Liv... this is all new to me as well. Remember, I was the Ice Princess before I left; very few people tried to see past that. So whaddya say we learn together and we'll make it last forever? I could get used to the idea of forever with you."

"I want longer than forever," Liv whispered. "But forever is a good start." She looked at Alex when she said it, allowing Alex to see the painful, intense honesty of her words. Alex didn't answer with audible language; instead, she cupped both cheeks in her hands and kissed Olivia all over her face, mindful of the split lip and busted nose. Olivia just clasped Alex's arms and held on, letting the sensations wash over and through her.

"This isn't moving too fast for you, is it, Liv?" Alex whispered into Olivia's ear. "I don't want you to feel rushed or do something you're going to regret." She pulled back enough that she could gaze into dark brown eyes. "I had three years to think about this – to come to a decision on what I wanted if I was ever given the opportunity for there to be an us again."

"And I had three years to regret all the missed opportunities we never took before you left. I'm not going to spend the rest of my life regretting, Alex. I wasted enough time doing that." Olivia looked down, then up again. "So no... this is not moving too fast."

"That's the answer I was hoping to hear," Alex confessed, sliding her arms down Olivia's until their fingers tangled together. "C'mon... the bath is drawn and I want to get you in there to soak for a little while before dinner gets here. You're going to be sore enough in the morning as it is."

"Yeah, and I don't want the cap to give me desk duty. I hate desk duty," Liv whined. Alex just chuckled. "What?" Olivia asked in the same whiney tone.

"You're whining."

"No I'm not."

"Yes, you are... like a five year old child. The difference is – on you it's cute." She tugged on the joined hands and pulled them both back into the bathroom. Liv took as deep a breath as her sore ribs would let her and smiled.


"C'mon... let's get you undressed and in the water."

"You just want an excuse to get me naked again."

"Really, detective?" Alex smirked. "I'm glad to see your injuries haven't interfered with your deductive reasoning skills."

"Smartass," Liv muttered, reaching to remove her shirt, only to find her hands slapped away by a rather demanding lawyer. Alex chortled.

"Oh, detective... if you're just figuring *that* out, you're due a very steep learning curve. Raise your arms, please." Olivia did so slowly and Alex pulled up the shirt – only to wince and gasp when she saw the bruising. "Oh, Liv...."

"Yeah... it's a little sore."

"I'll bet," gently stroking the warm flesh and watching it tremble at her touch. "Are you sure you don't need to see a doctor about this, sweetheart? It looks really bad."

Olivia tipped Alex's chin up until their eyes met, seeing so much compassion in the blue eyes looking back at her. "I'm sure, love. They're not broken – just sore. But thank you for caring so much."

"All right," Alex nodded after a moment. "Let's get you in the tub to start soaking," starting to remove the remainder of Olivia's clothes.

"Wait... I thought you were joining me," Liv said as she climbed in and stretched out with a groan. "God, that feels so good."

"I am," Alex said. "I am just going to bring us each a glass of wine first. Then we can just relax and soak for a while before the food arrives."

"You take amazing care of me, Alex."

"You taught me how, Liv. And one day when we don't end up spending our time off at the station, I am going to pamper you with decadence."

She was out the door before Olivia could respond. That was probably for the best though. Olivia was too busy blinking, trying to decide if she would survive any more pampering. Then she decided it would be a hell of a way to die, and she disappeared under the water with a shit-eating grin on her face.


Chapter VI

Alex couldn't stop the wry smile that crossed her face as she shook her head and closed the folder in front of her, moving it to the 'read' pile and reaching for the next one. These kids were so young, so green, so idealistic – and their resumes read like they had been stamped from a cookie cutter.

She sighed. She didn't remember being so young... or so idealistic... though there were still days she certainly felt that green. Looking through these resumes, however, she felt old – much older than someone who hadn't even reached thirty-three should feel.

Alex opened the next folder and picked up her pen once more, making notes of the pros and cons of the candidate. She was so deep in thought, she missed the knock on the door, and only when Arthur stuck his head in did she realize he was there.


She looked up and removed her glasses, dropping them on her desk and motioning him in with a smile at the same time. "Arthur... come in, please. What can I do for you?"

He didn't move, gesturing to her desk. "Are you busy? We can come back."

WE? Who the hell is WE? She shook her head and picked up her glasses. "Nothing that can't wait," she admitted as she closed the file. "I was just going over the resumes for the new applicants."

Arthur nodded, satisfied that her work could wait for a couple minutes while they attended to the unpleasant matter that had been brought to his attention. He stepped into the room, followed by DEA agent, Jack Hammond. The smile that Alex had been wearing fell, and her expression became the stoic mask that she had always worn to court.

"Ms Cabot," he finally offered, not extending his hand knowing instinctively it wouldn't be accepted.

"Agent Hammond," she conceded. She turned back to look at Arthur. "What is going on?"

"If I could, sir," Jack asked. Arthur motioned for him to continue. "Ms Cabot, I got a rather frantic phone call from Robert the other evening. Would you like to explain to me what happened exactly? Because I thought we had a deal."

"So did I, Agent Hammond, but since you and your agency saw fit to break your part of the agreement, I no longer feel bound by mine. You'll have to find another way to make your operation work, because I am no longer willing to be a part of it."


"Ms Cabot...."

Both men spoke simultaneously, but Alex slapped the flat of her palm on the desk and glared at them both. "NO!!" she stated fiercely. "I've done my bit for the DEA and for the DA's office. There is nothing either of you can say to make me change my mind on this, especially since I never should have agreed to it in the first place. I will quit my position here before I allow you to try to maneuver me into doing anything further. Is that clear?"

"Alexandra, let's not be hasty...."

"I'm not being hasty, Arthur. I am finally taking charge of my life again. I love my work here as a prosecutor, but you know as well as I do that I don't need to work for a living. And even if I did, there are plenty of offers from private firms that would leave me with a lot less stress."

"All right, Alexandra... all right." He held up his hands in surrender. "You're absolutely right on all counts. May I ask what changed your mind? I was given to understand you were thrilled with the idea of being part of the operation to take out Rivera."

"I was at first," she responded honestly, knowing Jack was listening to every word. "It was such a high to be a part of taking Velez out of the picture, especially since he was the reason I had been banished. But the days grew into weeks and then months while I tried in vain to get back to New York, and the prospect of continuing lost a lot of its luster because of all the bureaucracy involved. Worse than working for the state of New York, Arthur – I swear; I wasn't even allowed to call and let anyone know what was happening. But the kicker was the fact that Agent Hammond and the DEA broke their word to me; I no longer have any obligation to them or the operation."

Hammond opened his mouth to speak, to try and defend his actions. Alex glared at him, blue eyes burning, and hissed, "Don't! There's no excuse, and you almost cost me everything that was important to me - again."

"I heard," he nodded, "and I'm sorry about that. Believe it or not, I personally had nothing to do with the story that leaked out."

"Then I suggest you look at your operatives and figure out which of them is the mole. And you might want to keep a really close eye on Robert. He started acting like he thought he was really my fiancé, then was foolish enough to go after me in front of Detective Benson; she took him down like a dog."

"Maybe we should...."

"NO! You leave her alone."

This time it was Jack that held up his hands in defense; Arthur covered his mouth so no one could see he smile at Alex's ferocity. He had forgotten how much he had missed it. "All right, all right. We'll keep the good detective out of things. May I ask – did you do anything to provoke Robert?"

"Aside from telling him I was no longer interested in playing the part of his fiancée? No."

Hammond nodded. "All right. I'll make sure he understands to steer clear of both of you. We'll find another way to make this operation work. I'm sorry we couldn't have worked it out, but I do understand your reasons. I had a home and a family once." Jack rose and extended his hand which Alex accepted this time. "Ms Cabot, take good care of yourself and that detective of yours. You both deserve a lot of happiness after what you went through to be together."

"Thank you, Agent Hammond."

He released her hand and nodded to the District Attorney. Then he walked out the door and closed it behind him firmly. Arthur met Alex's cool, blue eyes. "I'm glad you're on our side."

Alex rubbed her eyes and put her glasses on again, then gave Branch a wry smirk. "Somehow I doubt Agent Hammond feels the same way."

"You might be surprised, Alexandra. He shouldn't have taken advantage of your vulnerability to recruit you and he damn sure should have made sure your detective friend was clear on what was going on. But I don't think he expected the outcome he just got either. I know he has a grudging respect for you; you're a rare thing in his line of work, Alexandra."

"A stubborn, obtuse and obnoxious lawyer?" recalling those adjectives being hurled her way more than once during her tenure with the DEA in Florida. Arthur chuckled.

"I'm sure that crossed his mind a time or two, but that wasn't what I meant. Alexandra, despite everything, yours is a success story. Those don't happen very often. Try to give him the benefit of the doubt." Alex shook her head but didn't say anything. "Enough about that. How are you settling in otherwise? It hasn't exactly been a smooth transition for you. The entire building knows there was a blowout between you and Detective Sergeant Benson, and the rumor mill has been churning for two days with you taking personal time." She glared at him and he held up a hand. "Alexandra, I'm on your side. I just wanted you to know what was going on; I was concerned."

Alex's shoulders sagged. "I know, Arthur; I'm sorry. I'm not sure how people are going to react, and this is all so new. I haven't had a chance to settle... much."

Branch leaned forward in the chair and clasped his hands between his knees. "Alexandra, I think you will find that most people here don't care, except as it livens up the gossip mill for a few days. Something new will happen in another day or two and push it off the radar. Now seriously, how are you coping? You really have been through a lot in a very short amount of time."

"I know, but honestly, Arthur... I'm all right. I took care of the part that was most important to me. Everything else will fall into place."

Arthur smiled. "I think I like the new you, Alexandra. It really is good to have you home." He rose. "I'll let you get back to work. How is that coming, by the way?" gesturing to the stack of folders. Alex covered her eyes, trying not to smudge her glasses. Then she pulled them off and dropped them on the desk again.

"I don't remember being that young."

Arthur laughed from deep in his belly. "You were, Alexandra, I promise you. And not all that long ago either. I need to get back to work, but I'll see you on Saturday."

"You're coming?" Alex asked, surprise in her voice. Arthur Branch wasn't known for socializing outside his social circle. And while Alexandra Cabot fit into that circle easily, the detectives of the Special Victims Unit did not. He stopped and looked back at her with his hand on the doorknob.

"I wouldn't miss it, Alex. I'm honored they thought to include me." Then he was gone, closing the door quietly behind him. Alex stared at the closed door for a long moment and then shook her head and got back to work.

"Hey, slugger... how ya feeling?"

"Bite me, El," Olivia replied with a smile as she walked slowly in the precinct door. Truth was, she was still sore, though Alex had insured she was relaxed to the point of complete lassitude throughout her body. She picked up her coffee cup and wiped it out then filled it with whatever was in the pot. She took a cautious sip and grimaced, then crossed back to her desk and sat down. "Actually, I don't feel too bad. Still pissed it happened."

"Good morning, sunshine," Munch said as he and Fin came into the station. Fin dropped a bag on her desk before crossing to his and hanging his jacket on the chair.

"How ya doing, Liv?"

"Not bad, Fin, thanks. And thanks for the sugar fix," passing him the bag. Then she looked back at Elliot. "So what's on tap today?"

"Benson! Stabler! My office now!" Cragen called from the doorway. Everyone watched them walk into the captain's office, then they all turned back to their work. Cragen remained silent until he shut the door behind them, gesturing them to take a seat.

"How do you feel, Olivia?" he asked, clasping his hands in front of him on the desk.

"I'm fine, sir." He looked at her carefully and she held his eyes, knowing he would bench her if she showed any sign of weakness. He finally nodded, convinced, and leaned back.

"All right. Did you get everything else taken care of that you needed to?"

"I have made enough progress on that front to be satisfied with the situation at the moment, sir. I believe the rest will sort itself out with a little time and effort. It won't interfere with my duties, sir."

"Very well." He turned to Elliot. "I need you to get back out there with Deacon and get me something on the Brooks case. We need a break on it. Olivia, I have a different assignment for you." Her brow rose in question, but she waited quietly. "I know you want to be out in the field today, and actually that was the plan until about ten minutes before you walked in."


"Stabler, get back to it. I want something by the end of the day. Benson, you're with me."

They walked out of Cragen's office; Elliot spared Olivia a concerned look before moving on to Deacon's desk. Liv followed Cragen out the door and up to the crib.

"Girlfriend's not gonna be happy 'bout this."

Munch shook his head at his partner. "No, but she's the best chance we've got at getting anything out of those kids." Elliot overheard and excused himself from Deacon.

"What's going on?"

"The call Fin and I took this morning at five-thirty a.m. – woman raped and strangled by someone we suspect might have been her husband. Meanwhile, there were three kids in the house when it happened. The only one who could get close to them was a female paramedic."

"You think they saw something?"

"Given their reaction to every man that came near them? Yeah."

"So why not call Liv to the scene? You know she would have come."

"Cap gave us orders to wait til she got here. After what happened yesterday, he didn't want to bring her in early if it wasn't necessary, and Rochelle was happy to stay here until Olivia arrived."

Stabler nodded. "Well, I've gotta get to work. Call me if something comes up." He turned to see Deacon standing behind him. "C'mon, Deac. Let's go see if we can find something to break this case so the cap is happy."

Cragen explained the situation to Olivia as they mounted the stairs slowly and they stood at the door watching for a moment before Rochelle saw them and stood with an infant in her arms. "You must be Detective Benson," she whispered. "I'm Rochelle. And this little angel is actually Angel. The older one," nodding towards a child of about six, "is Sammie. And her brother," tilting her head at the four-year-old, "is Paulie. C'mon... I'll introduce you."

Rochelle deposited the whimpering baby in Liv's arms before she could protest and took her by the arm to lead her closer to the two children. "Have they said anything?" Olivia asked in a whisper, rocking the baby to soothe her. Rochelle shook her head.

"Not since I arrived on scene. Apparently, they screamed and ran from each of the males who tried to approach them; a female paramedic unit was requested and they came right to me as soon as I walked in the door. But they haven't said anything. A neighbor gave us their names and ages."

Olivia nodded and followed Rochelle to the table where the two kids sat coloring quietly. Olivia couldn't see anything in the colored lines and squiggles, but knew Huang might be able to discern something. She knelt down beside Rochelle and waited for the youngsters to look at them.

"Hey guys... this is my friend Olivia and she's gonna stay with you a while, 'kay? She's not a paramedic like I am, but she is a detective, so she's pretty cool too." Liv couldn't stop the smirk that formed at Rochelle's words then smirk turned to a genuine smile when both tow headed children looked directly at her with eyes so blue she was reminded of Alex.

"Wow... you're pretty!" Paulie said. "Are you really a detective?"

Sammie grabbed Paulie's arm. "Shh, Paulie."

"But Sammie...."

"It's okay, Sammie," Olivia reassured her. "I really am a detective. They gave me a badge and everything – wanna see it?"

"They let girls be detectives?"

"Yep. Let me put Angel down on the bed," looking at the infant who had fallen asleep in her arms, then at the makeshift baby's bed Rochelle had prepared for her on the cot. "Then I'll show you my badge." She placed the child carefully in the center of the nest of pillows and covered her lightly; then she reached for her badge, noting both older kids shrink away from her. "Hey... it's okay; it's just my badge, I promise." They didn't move any further away from her, but the fear didn't leave their eyes either. "I tell you what – Sammie, would you like to come get the badge?"

Rochelle and Cragen watched in fascination from the doorway as the kids slowly succumbed to Olivia's spell. Sammie gingerly walked towards her, keeping a wary eye on Olivia's face and hands, before she snatched the badge from Olivia's belt and rushed back to Paulie. Liv stood perfectly still and slowly the two children gravitated back towards her.

"She's amazing," Rochelle said. "She's gotten more response from them in ten minutes than I saw from them in half an hour – except for their initial reaction."

Cragen nodded and took her arm to lead her downstairs away from the crib. "She's got a gift for dealing with the youngest victims, a true empathy, and kids recognize that. But thank you for staying with them until she got here. The police department appreciates it." He extended his hand to her as they reached the precinct doors. She accepted it and shook it.

"I was glad to do it, sir. Will they be okay? I mean, they checked out physically and all, but...."

"I don't know," Cragen answered honestly. "Their grandmother should be here before the end of the day, we hope. She lives somewhere in the mid-west."

"Hey, Ro... you ready? We need to roll," called a voice from the door of the interview room where Rochelle's male partner had been finishing up their paperwork.

"Yeah, Rod. Call us in. See ya, guys," she said, waving to the detectives as they left. Cragen turned to Munch and Fin.

"Tell me you found the grandmother."

"We think so, cap. We got a call into her."

"Good. Keep me informed." Then he disappeared into his office.

Alex looked up at the knock on her door. She had made good progress on the stack of applicants, so she didn't mind the interruption. She just hoped it wouldn't be like the earlier one. One of those in a day was more than enough. Then Casey stuck her head in the door, and Alex's eyebrows went to her hairline before her good manners kicked in.

"Ms Novak? Something I can do for you?" folding her hands on the desk.

"Call me Casey for starters. May I come in?"

"Please... have a seat."

Casey crossed the threshold and stopped. "Actually, I came to invite you to lunch."

Alex swallowed the questions that immediately came to mind. "Um... sure. I'd like that actually. Thank you, Casey."

"No problem. I remember what it was like to be the new kid trying to fill your shoes. I can't imagine what it is like for you being the new kid again trying to live up to your own reputation."

Alex looked at her wryly. "You'd think it would be easy just to be me again. Somehow, I don't think it is going to work like that."

"Probably not," Casey concurred. "C'mon... clock's ticking."

"You in court today?" Alex asked, well remembering her own days in the SVU and the time she spent in court unendingly.

"No, for a change," Casey said as they exited the building together and headed for the small deli nearby. "Of course, I'm going to pay for it tomorrow. Three briefs due and two arraignments. The only reason I missed doing an opening argument is because Petrovsky didn't want to start a trial on Friday afternoon."

"Ow," Alex commiserated with a chuckle. "I do remember those days. I don't miss that part, although I do miss sparring with Petrovsky."

"And being sent to jail by her?" Casey laughed when Alex cut her eyes in her direction. "Sorry... it was one of the first things I heard about you. You really are quite a legend."

"I really was quite an idiot; it could have cost me everything."

"It didn't... may I call you Alex?" The blonde head nodded. "It didn't, and that just added to your legend, Alex."

They found an open table and snagged it quickly. "Yes, but I'm not a legend, Casey. I'm just a woman."

"An extraordinary woman, Alex – you have to admit that. I don't know if you realize the impact you have had on so many lives, because of your life and death and life again. However, even extraordinary women need friends. So do you think we could be friends?"

Their waitress came over to take their orders before Alex could respond. Once she was gone, Alex tilted her head thoughtfully and met Casey's eyes. "I thought we were already well on our way to being friends. Casey, you didn't have to warn me about Olivia, and you didn't need to stand up for me when I went to Arthur about it."

"You heard about that?" Casey ducked her head, blushing.

"Oh yes. Several times, in fact – the first from Arthur himself. Thank you for that, by the way."

"I had to," Casey confessed. "I owed a debt."

"To me?" Alex asked as their food arrived. Casey shook her head.

"To Olivia. She was nice to me when she had no reason to be." She paused and Alex waited, hoping Casey would continue after she had a few minutes to eat. Finally, their eating slowed and Casey returned her attention to Alex. "Sorry... I was starving." She took a long drink and sighed.

"When I was first brought into the SVU, Olivia was devastated. They all were, to some degree, and there was a great deal of resentment at my presence in the unit. Olivia came out of her shell of grief long enough to take the time to explain to me why everyone was being so hateful." Casey shrugged. "Most of us only had the barest of details as to what happened and how you died. She made me realize exactly what the SVU lost when you died."

"Did you know about us? Olivia and I, I mean."

"Olivia never said a word about it, if that's what you're asking. Alex, she didn't have to. It was clear in every word she said, in every nuance of her voice when she spoke about you. And it gave me a very clear reason why she especially had such animosity towards me. But she also made a real effort to see me beyond your replacement. We eventually became friends."

"She's a good friend to have," Alex said softly, signaling to the waitress and offering her card as she made a quiet request.

"Alex, I invited you to lunch."

"Yes, but I'm taking something with me for Olivia, so...."

"Well, thank you. Next time it will be my treat. And you're right – she is a good friend to have. She got Serena to give me wardrobe advice."

Alex's eyes went to her hairline. Though she had always loved the way Olivia dressed for her work as a detective, it could in no way be considered 'courtroom fashionable'. She did have a wonderful sense of style although she rarely commented on anything unless it was hideous. Casey watched the thoughts run through Alex's mind, correctly guessing the path they were taking.

"Trust me," she said, patting Alex's arm as the waitress came back with a bag and they stood to leave. "It really was that bad. She did me a huge favor, and by having Serena approach me, she left me my dignity." At Alex's confused look, Casey smiled and continued. "Serena and I went to college together, but we lost touch when we went to law school. So Olivia did me a double favor by reintroducing me to an old friend."

"How is Serena? I haven't had a chance to catch up with her yet."

"Much happier now that she is out of the DA's office and in private practice. You'll be seeing her Saturday. She was on the list of people who were invited to the party."

"I'm looking forward to that," Alex confessed as she flagged down a taxi. "I feel like I have been running nonstop, without going anywhere or seeing anyone. It'll be nice to have a little time to decompress and see some friendly faces." A taxi pulled up in front of them. "I'm going to the one-six. Would you like a ride?"

"No... too much work still to do. Thank you for lunch."

"Thank you for inviting me. We'll do it again." She stepped into the cab and gave the cabbie the address. Casey watched them merge back into traffic, then turned and headed back to her office. Despite what she had implied to Alex, she had a ton of work to do. But it had been worth it.

Part 4

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