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 4


Chapter VII

The noise level in the one-six when she crossed the threshold was just like Alex remembered it always being on any given day. She looked around and noted her four favorite detectives were all missing, but before she could open her mouth to ask a question, Cragen called to her from his doorway.

"Alex, everything okay?"

"I was, um... looking for Olivia," holding up the bag. "I brought her some lunch. I guess I should have called first to make sure she would be here. I think I'm a little out of practice with how things work around here."

Cragen smiled. "Actually, she is here; she's in the crib. C'mon, I'll explain it on the way up." He gave Alex the bare-bones story and Alex smiled when they reached the door. Olivia sat curled up on the bottom bunk with a sleepy looking child on either side and a baby in her lap. She was trying to read, quite a feat since she was sitting mostly in shadows, but she was doing a credible job.

"I think I should have brought more food," she commented. Cragen smiled. "Well, we already fed the kids. I think Olivia is trying to get them down for a nap."

About that time, Liv looked up and saw them, an involuntary smile crossing her face when her eyes met Alex's. Alex stepped into the room and Cragen gave Olivia a wave before heading back downstairs. The two kids looked towards Alex, then back to Olivia.

"She looks like Mama," Sammie whispered. Paulie nodded his agreement while yawning widely.

"That's my friend, Alex. Would you like to meet her?" Both kids nodded, and Olivia motioned Alex over. Alex hesitated, her expression clearly unsure, but she put the bag down on the table and approached them slowly, kneeling when she reached the bunk. She kept one hand on Olivia's knees for balance and waited for Liv to introduce her – first to Sammie and then to Paulie. "And this little beauty is Angel," Olivia said, passing the baby to Alex... or trying to. Blue eyes met brown and Olivia easily read Alex's trepidation. "It's okay, sweetheart – trust me."

Alex nodded. "Let me stand up first," doing so and slowly extending her arms. Olivia slid from her place between Sammie and Paulie.

"Would you be more comfortable sitting down?" Alex's hesitation was palpable and Olivia studied her carefully. "Alex?"

"I'm just a little nervous, Liv. I've never really been around kids." She blew out a deep breath and sat down. "All right – I'm ready."

"I'll be right here," Olivia assured as she placed Angel in Alex's arms. "She's been really good," Liv commented as she watched blue eyes meet blue and shy smiles cross both faces. "I need to get Sammie and Paulie tucked in for a nap. Will you two be okay on your own for a couple minutes?"

"If you hear one of us screaming, come running," Alex asked with a nervous smile. Olivia kissed her temple and moved the few steps back to the bunk where the two older children were watching Alex with sleepy eyes.

"She's not used to babies, huh?" Sammie asked when Olivia urged them to lay down.

"Nope, but I think she is doing pretty good with Angel, don't you?" brushing their hair back out of their eyes, unaware of Alex's on her with her sole focus on the kids in front of her. They both nodded slowly, eyes closing under Olivia's tender ministrations.

"'Livia," Sammie burred sleepily. "When c'n we go home?"

"Soon, sweetie," Olivia assured her. "Your grandmother will be here soon."

"'Kay," she mumbled before her breathing became deep and regular. Olivia sat with them a moment longer before turning back to Alex. She blushed under the adoration in her blue eyes.

"You're so good with them."

"Lots of practice," Olivia said, suddenly exhausted. "Way too much practice." A smile suddenly lit her features. "She seems to like you."

Alex looked down. "She fell asleep. Is that good?"

"You're a natural. You want me to put her on her cot?"

"Please," Alex said. "I'll put your lunch out."

"You brought me lunch?"

"Yes. Casey invited me to lunch and I picked up something for you. You should take better care of yourself, Liv. However, I've decided to take over looking out for you," sliding a large salad and bottled water out of the bag.

"You think I need looking after?" Olivia said, cracking the water open and sucking down a huge swallow. Then she accepted the silverware Alex passed her and dressed her salad, waiting patiently for Alex to answer her question.

"I think," Alex replied after a few minutes' consideration, "that you need someone to love and take care of you, because you get so focused you forget to care for yourself."

"And you're volunteering?"


"You know that could be a very long commitment."

"I'm in for the long haul, detective. Now," continuing before Olivia could respond – or not – "tell me about these kids." So Olivia did, filling Alex in on the case as well.

"The grandmother should be here," looking at her watch, "within the hour."

"You're so good with them."

Liv shrugged. "They're good kids. They don't deserve what happened to them."

"At least they had you to talk to... even though there was nothing for them to tell... about the rape/murder, at any rate. Was George able to find a reason why they reacted so harshly to the male detectives?"

Olivia shook her head. "He couldn't even get in the room. They hid behind me when he came to the door." She sighed, then got up and dumped the empty containers in the trash, keeping her back to Alex. "I suspect if their father didn't physically abuse and molest them, he did at least terrorize them verbally." She shrugged her shoulders. "They wouldn't talk about it; they didn't talk very much at all."

"But they listened to you, didn't they? While you told them how special and incredible and loved they were. They heard you, Liv, and they will be better people to have had you in their lives... even if it was only for a few hours." Alex walked up behind her and wrapped Olivia in her arms. "Do you want me to stay with you?"

Liv turned around and looked in Alex's eyes. "You'd do that, wouldn't you?"

"Say the word."

"I love you."

"Okay, enough fooling around with my partner, counselor," Elliot whispered from the door. Olivia smirked at him and she took Alex's hand in hers as they walked to the door. He slid out of sight, in case the children woke up and Alex and Olivia braced themselves on either side of the doorjamb.

"Jealous, El?"

He smirked.

"Careful, detective... she may be your partner, but she's *my* Partner. Do yourself a favor and plead the fifth; you don't want anything you say now to come back later and bite you in the ass." Alex looked at Olivia and quirked an eyebrow in her direction. "However," she added, turning her attention back to Elliot, "our verbal sparring will have to wait for another day. I need to get back to the office. I still have a few more files to go over before I can make any decisions."

"Think you're gonna like being a bureau chief, Alex?"

"I think it is going to be very different from what I am used to." She shrugged. "I know I'm going to miss working with you guys." She stopped before she could say anything else. "I guess I should go."

"I'll walk you down," Elliot volunteered. "Be right back, Liv."

He wasn't gone but a moment, but he returned with a smile on his face.

"What are you grinning at?" Olivia asked him.

"You picked a real winner with Alex, Liv. It really is good to see you happy again." He chuckled and Olivia just arched her eyebrow in question. "Sometimes I think our karma is linked. Alex left and you were unhappy, and I started having trouble with Kathy. Alex came back, then left again and you were miserable; Kathy and I nearly got divorced. You and Alex have been together for what... three days? And Kathy and I have had more real conversations about everything than we have had in the last year."

"I'm glad for you both, El. Kathy and the kids have always been a stabilizing influence in your life." They stood quietly, Olivia's eyes on the kids and Elliot's eyes on her. Finally, she turned and met his eyes. "So what's up, El?"

"Nothing. Deac and I just got back from picking up a suspect in the Brooks case. He's sitting in the box, so I thought I'd come see how you and the kids were doing." He peeked around the door. "You've still got the touch."

Then Cragen was escorting an older and younger woman upstairs and the process of transferring the children to their grandmother's and aunt's care began.

"So what are we supposed to do now, Jack? Alex was an important part of this operation. We can't just let her walk away!"

"What would you suggest we do, Robert? Like it or not, Ms Cabot has no legal obligation to us or our agency. The one condition she made contingent for her help was violated, and then you went and turned into some sort of possessive jackass in front of the one person who matters to her. Ms Cabot is not going to help us anymore. Find another way, Robert."

"Like what? I'm supposed to meet Rivera for lunch today to discuss the ramifications of my engagement to one of New York City's most prominent families who is coincidentally also a respected member of the District Attorney's office. Now I have to tell him I've been thrown over for not just a lowly detective sergeant, but a woman."

"Why does he need to know?"


"Why does he need to know?" Hammond asked slower. "Just string him along for a little while, then let him know you broke it off with Ms Cabot. That will give us time enough to get someone else in the DA's office or the police department – preferably in narcotics or vice."

"You don't think he's got informants there already?"

"Not at the level you will."

Robert gave a disgusted sigh and stood up from his chair. "It's not going to be the same thing, Jack – not even close. This is going to set us back months."

"It can't be helped, Robert. Ms Cabot will quit the DA's office if we pressure her any further and that will do more damage than you breaking it off with her. Who knows – it's probably better to have her out of things. God knows she has been nothing but a pain in my ass."

"I hope you're right, Jack, but I've got a bad feeling."

"Robert, I've had a bad feeling about this whole thing since Alexandra Cabot got involved with the Velez case three years ago."

"Man, I'm wiped," Olivia confessed as she opened the door to the apartment. "I always forget how much kids take out of you."

"You want me to cook?" Olivia's eyes widened comically. Alex glared at her from behind dark framed glasses. "Liv, not much good came from my time away from New York, but I did become quite a good cook if I do say so myself – just as a matter of self preservation. I haven't set the stove on fire in a very long time," Alex added with a smirk.

"Um... sure – if you really want to. I'm not sure what I have."

"You have a local grocer?" Olivia nodded. "No problem, then. So were they okay when their grandmother arrived?" Alex asked as she headed into the kitchen to see what Olivia had for groceries. Olivia followed her.

"They were glad to see her. Huang gave her some names she could contact to help when she explains about their mom." Liv wiped a hand across her eyes. "I wish there was a way to make it easier. I wish I could take it all away."

Alex stopped what she was doing and took Olivia in her arms. "I wish I could take it away from you. But I'll share the burden with you, if you want. I'm glad they have family who love them and took them into their lives and homes. They're lucky."

"So am I," Olivia confessed with a smile, leaning her forehead against Alex's. "You um... you wanna take your jacket off... maybe stay a while?"

"What? Oh, sure," sliding out of her coat and putting it in Liv's outstretched hand. "You've got stuff for pasta and pesto so I don't need to go back out unless you want something different."

"Sounds great, actually. I'll run over to the bakery and grab some fresh bread. Anything else you want?"

"Only if you want a salad."

"'Kay... be right back." Olivia leaned forward, intending for the kiss to be a quick peck. She hadn't anticipated Alex's hungry reaction and when she licked Olivia's lips and opened her mouth, Liv responded passionately. They took their time; Alex clenched her fists into the lapels of Olivia's jacket and pulled her forward. Liv threaded one hand into loose blonde hair while letting the other slip around a narrow waist to slide down over shapely curves.

Alex moaned and slipped one hand to the back of Olivia's neck, lightly scratching. She had already discovered it was a highly erogenous zone as far as Olivia was concerned and her comeback was immediate, tightening her grip on Alex's ass.

"God, Liv," Alex muttered, pulling back until their lips were just out of one another's reach. "If you don't stop, we're going to skip dinner and go right to dessert."

"ME? I was just looking for a quick goodbye kiss."

"Oh detective... I don't intend for anything with you to ever be quick between us. I am going to savor every single moment and opportunity. Besides," Alex teased, loosening the grip she had on the jacket and letting her hand trace the contours of Olivia's torso, "you said you were tired." She smiled when the brown eyes darkened to almost black and Liv's nostrils flared.

"Don't tease me, Alex," Olivia growled.

"Not teasing, detective. Making you a promise."

Those were the last words spoken for the next little while.

"You know, if this is how you say goodbye when I volunteer to go pick up bread, I can't wait to volunteer to change a light bulb or fix an annoying drip," Liv commented. She ran her fingers through the sweaty blonde hair resting on her belly. "One thing is sure... I'll never look at the kitchen the same way again."

Alex laughed and continued stroking the smooth skin beneath her. "I thought we should christen every room in the apartment. So that leaves the foyer and the living room."

"It's good to have goals," Olivia quipped, then jumped when Alex pinched the soft skin of her inner thigh. "Whaddya do that for?"

"Smartass," Alex muttered, rubbing the same spot and smiling when Liv visibly relaxed.

"Alex, you keep that up and you'll either put me to sleep or we're gonna have round two right here on the kitchen floor. And I'm not sure my ribs are up for an all-nighter on cold tile."

"Oh shit! Liv, I'm...."

"Shh... I'm fine, sweetheart. I'd just like to get up off the floor. My ass is getting frostbite."

Alex laughed again and rose, extending a hand down and helping Olivia stand. "Can't have that, detective. It's one of my favorite parts of your body," caressing the body part in question. "Now, would you like dinner or should we just move on to second dessert?"

A rumble from two stomachs permeated the room and they exchanged blushing glances before breaking into chuckles. "I guess that answers that question. Let me get dressed and run across the street before they close shop for the night."

"I'll um...." looking at her now wrinkled suit. "I think I'll go slip into something a little less lawyer like. Then I'll start dinner."

Liv finished fastening her pants and stepped into her shoes. Then she leaned forward and brushed her lips lightly on Alex's cheek. "Be right back, sweetheart."

"You better be," Alex cautioned when a sense of unreasoning fear washed through her. Olivia noticed immediately and hesitated.


Alex shook her head. "I'm fine, love. Just a chill. Let me go get dressed."

Olivia nodded, and waited for Alex to gather up her clothes and walk to the bedroom before she left, locking the door securely behind her.

"Alex, that was wonderful. Thank you." They were cuddled together in the couch with the television on for background noise. Alex tilted her head back and Olivia removed her glasses before leaning down to kiss her. "Next time, I'll make curry."

"Sounds great. I learned to enjoy cooking, but cooking for you was especially gratifying. Now what do you say to dessert?"

"Real dessert or Alex special?"

"Does it matter?"

"Nope," claiming Alex's lips once more, careful to put the glasses of justice on the table before focusing all her considerable attention on the woman she held in her arms.

"Come in, Mr. Claiborne. Please have a seat."

"Thank you, Mr. Rivera," Robert said.

"How are things going with your new fiancée? Are you ready to make an announcement?"

"I don't think so, sir. Alexandra is still trying to resettle into her life here in New York. She just started working for the DA's office again this week. I'm not sure putting her on the spot by announcing our engagement is the best thing to do at the moment."

"How do you figure?"

"Sir, Ms Cabot is from a prominent family. That alone would garner great attention if an engagement was announced. The fact that she is newly returned from three years in the witness protection program because of Velez's untimely demise would only cause greater scrutiny. I do not believe the attention would be beneficial to anyone at this time. A number of your business partners prefer to remain anonymous in the shadows."

Rivera sat back in his chair, fingertips pressed together touching his lips while he considered Robert's words. Finally, he nodded his agreement. "You bring up some good points, Robert. Perhaps it would be best to wait until her notoriety dies down a bit. But if circumstances change or the perfect opportunity presents itself...." Rivera gave Robert a knowing look. "We need to make sure she is firmly in our corner."

Robert nodded his agreement. "Absolutely, sir."

"And if all else fails, there's always blackmail. I'm sure if we look deep enough, our detectives will be able to find *something* we can use against Alexandra Cabot. No one is as squeaky clean as she appears to be."

Robert affected an interested expression. "That is an idea, Mr. Rivera. Perhaps we should go ahead and work on that angle? Just in case things don't work out otherwise, you understand. Alexandra Cabot is much more valuable to us if she *is* as squeaky clean as she appears. But it is always good to have a back-up plan, don't you agree?"

"Yes, I certainly do." And they shared another knowing look and a laugh. Rivera pulled out a file of the legitimate concerns Robert was in charge of handling. "Good – now let's get to work. There are several contracts I need you to review before we move forward with them. Things are finally starting to come together at the warehouse and I do not want to lose any customers because of turnover."

"All right," Robert said, accepting the file. "Shall we order now, sir?"

"Yes; I can't have my best lawyer starving to death."

"Thank you, sir. I'll review these contracts after lunch and get back to you by the end of the day. Would you like me to call Dickson and have him start digging for dirt on Ms Cabot?"

"Please. Now, tell me how things are going in the Parkman acquisition." And their conversation turned to business for the remainder of their meal.


Chapter VIII

"Shit... yeah, hello?" Olivia growled softly, trying to keep her voice down so she didn't disturb Alex. At the first bleep of her phone, Liv had eased out of Alex's grasp and sat up on the edge of the bed, knowing she was headed out the door on a case. No one called at two-thirty in the morning to tell you that you just won the lottery – it was always bad news. She scrubbed a hand over her face and through her hair, trying to stimulate some semblance of wakefulness while she listened to the uniform give her a brief description of the scene.

"All right. I'll be right there," Liv said with a sigh and closed the phone. Then she jumped when a hand snuck around her waist to come to rest on top of her thigh. Olivia smiled and covered the long fingers with her own. "Go back to sleep, sweetheart."

"Gotta go, huh?"

"Yeah... I'm on call tonight."

Olivia felt Alex sit up behind her, then her warm body pressed up against Liv's back. Alex pulled Liv's braided hair to one side and placed a kiss at the juncture of her neck and shoulder, feeling the shudder run up the length of Liv's body. "Anything I can do to help?" Alex asked, her breath causing goosebumps to trail in its wake.

Olivia turned her head, eyes crossing to keep Alex in focus at such close range. She'd never been thankful for the partial light her bedroom suffered from even at the darkest time of night, but she suddenly found herself grateful for the ability to see without turning on a light. Olivia leaned forward and caught Alex's lips, feeling her respond immediately.

"I'd ask you to keep the bed warm," Liv said a little breathlessly when they separated. "But I think it might be a moot point tonight. Go back to sleep, love. Get enough rest for both of us." She leaned in for one more brief kiss, then pulled back with a sigh. "I never thought this would ever be a problem for me," Olivia confessed, brushing wayward blonde hair off Alex's face.

Alex blinked and slipped her glasses on to better be able to see Olivia's pensive expression. She captured the hand at her face. "What's wrong, Liv?"

"Nothing," she responded softly, shaking her head. "I'm being selfish."

"No," Alex responded with a genuine smile. "You're being a woman in love... and I like the way it looks on you. You can't stay and I can't go, so be careful out there, please. I worry."

"Don't. I have every reason to be careful now. Now, I've got to go, but I'll see you later?"

"Count on it, detective." Moments later, Olivia was out the door and Alex slumped back to the bed and curled around Liv's pillow. She allowed the scent to surround her, feeling her body relax. Oh Cabot, she thought as she drifted back towards sleep, you could be in real serious trouble here. Still, she couldn't stop the smile that graced her features when she finally fell into sleep again.

Olivia pinched the bridge of her nose. It had already been a hellishly long day and it wasn't even lunchtime yet. The only high point had been Alex's unexpected arrival shortly after dawn with hot coffee and breakfast for the squad. She hadn't made a big production of it; just done it as a matter of course and then disappeared red-faced to the cheers of the entire room.

Her cell chirped. "Benson." Pause. "Right... we'll be right there." She looked at Elliot who was going over their second crime scene. "We've got a suspect in custody."


Olivia shrugged. "I dunno. That was Munch; he said unis picked up some guy for drunk and disorderly and he gave them a full confession."

"And we believe him?" Elliot found their CSI team and let them know what was going on then he and Olivia headed back to their sedan.

"That's why Munch called. Cap wants us to interrogate him anyway. Said his story is a little too pat."

"Yeah, criminals don't tend to be this accommodating – especially not this quickly."

Liv yawned and nodded her head. "I know. Wake me when we get there, will ya? I'm gonna try and catch a few of those winks I missed last night."

"Cabot keeping you up late?" Elliot asked with a sly grin.

"You know better, El... when was the last time you knew me to kiss and tell?" with a shit-eating grin of her own. "Now, hush... I'm sleeping here."

Sooner than she would have liked, they were back at the station. They were met at the station doors by a smirking Munch. Liv groaned. "That bad?"

"Cap had us call Huang in. He's in with our perp now." They walked with Munch to the box where Fin stood watching George talk to the man. Fin looked over at them when they walked in and shook his head.

"Guy's got more conspiracy theories than Munch does. Maybe he should be in the box instead of Huang."

Olivia and Elliot muffled their smiles and Munch glared at his partner. "I'll have you know that every theory I have presented has viable evidence to back it up."

"Whatever... here comes the doc."

Huang closed the door firmly and looked up at the four waiting detectives. "It will take more time, but I think you're dealing with a multiple personality disorder. I'm going to invoke Kendra's Law for him; I'd like a little more time to talk to him and observe him."

"Do you think he's our guy on these two rape/murders?" Olivia asked plainly.

"No – he doesn't know any of the things I was briefed were facts in this case. What concerns me is that he seems to be disturbingly lucid in describing other crimes. At this point, I'm not sure if they are things that he's seen or done in his mind or if they are real. I'll let you know as soon as I have something more to give you."

"Thanks, doc," Elliot said, clapping Huang on the arm. "Guess this means we need to get back out there."

"More than you know," Cragen said as he handed Olivia a slip if paper. "You've got another body with the same MO."

"Three in the space of less than twelve hours?! Our boy's a fast worker!"

"I don't think so," Huang cut in, not surprised when every eye turned and looked at him in disbelief. "No, sorry," he added, holding up his hands. "I don't think this is a case of a single perpetrator. This is playing out like a hazing or perhaps an initiation. You'll find that your perpetrators are all young men – late teen, early twenties; products of single parent households. Look for a link between victims as well; it is highly likely that you will find similarities there. There may be some sort of hidden message."

"All right, people, let's move. Thanks, doc," Cragen said as the detectives scattered.

"You know," Olivia commented, as she and Elliot headed out again, "this could put a real stop to Alex's party tomorrow."

"We'll work around it. Trust me – there is no way to stop it at this point," keeping his eyes firmly on the road. It didn't matter – he and Olivia had been partners too long for her not to know immediately that he was trying to hide something.

"Ellllllllliiiiiiiiiiot?" drawing his name out the length of a city block.

"Yeeeeeeessssssssss?" returning her drawl.

"What's going on?"

"We're having a welcome home party for Alex tomorrow?"

"I know, so why are you so nervous about it, all of a sudden. It was your idea." A thought occurred to her. "Wait... just how many people are coming to this thing?"

"Let's just say you and Alex need to decide if you want to confirm the rumors of your relationship to the New York legal world at large."

"WHAT?!? God, El! When were you planning to tell me about this?? Or didn't you think this was something we might need to talk about?!"

"C'mon, Liv... cut me a little slack here. It's not like it is a big secret – it never was, despite what the two of you wanted to believe!"

"Excuse me?"

"C'mon, Liv... before Cabot left, it was clear to at least a few of us what was happening between you – remember that little talk we had about the chemistry the two of you had together? But you never said, so we never asked. When she left though, we knew; you became a different person. When she left again...." He let the thought hang as he pulled the car to a stop. "Hey, you're the one that went storming over to her office her very first day back, laying into her like a woman scorned," he added as they opened their doors. "How could you not expect people to talk?"

He headed for the crime scene. Olivia stood by her door for a moment longer trying to collect her scattered wits. Then she pulled on her professional mask and walked over to join him. She needed to talk to Alex, but there was police business to take care of first.

Alex looked up at the knock on her door. "Come in," she said, putting her pen down and leaning back in her chair. Her eyes widened when she saw Serena in her doorway. She pushed her chair back from her desk and walked around the desk to engulf her friend in a hug. "God, Serena...."

Serena just held on for a moment. "It's good to see you again, Alex. After Casey told me about your talk yesterday, I decided not to wait until tomorrow to see you. How are you? And is it true what I've heard about you and a certain gorgeous SVU detective?"

"Depends on what you've heard, but probably," Alex said with a smile. "We have so much catching up to do. How are you enjoying private practice?"

"Yes, we do, and fine, but you didn't answer my other question yet – how are you doing, Alex... really?"

Alex covered her face and groaned. "You never did let me get away with much." She sighed. "Honestly, I'm a little overwhelmed at the moment, but it'll get better, right?" she added looking up at Serena with a bright smile that didn't fool the other woman for a moment.

"Don't play games with me, Alex. We were good friends once; I'd like to think we still are. Talk to me."

Silence for a moment, then Alex pushed her intercom button. "Maggie, I'm in conference and not to be disturbed." Her assistant acknowledged her directive then Alex turned her attention back to Serena Southerlyn. It had been three years, yet in some ways she felt very little time had passed since they had been able to confide in one another. And about this – part of it, at any rate – she needed someone a little more objective to talk to.

"What's wrong, Alex?" Serena asked after the silence lengthened to awkwardness. "What's overwhelming you?"

"Everything... nothing... I don't.... Do you realize I have been back in New York for less than a week? So much has happened – so much has changed. *I've* changed." Alex stopped speaking. A lot of what she was thinking and feeling should be shared only with Olivia. But the Olivia parts....

Serena nodded her head. "How are things between you and Olivia?" going straight to the topic she figured Alex would be the most likely to talk to her about. She shifted, crossing her legs and leaning back in the chair, giving Alex the impression of having all the time in the world.

Alex couldn't stop the blush that suffused her face with color. So much for the Ice Princess image.

"You do realize you two are the talk of the legal world, right?" Serena confided with a smile. "Elliot's little get together isn't so little any more. Everyone is going to be there... as much to welcome you home as to see if the rumors are true."

"Damn it! That is *exactly* what I mean. This is still so new for us, Serena, and yet it's become like tabloid news around here." Alex took her glasses off and let her eyes unfocus while her inner eye concentrated on Olivia. "God, things are so amazing with her, Serena." Alex looked back at her old friend. "I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop."

Serena blinked. "Why? Why not just sit back and enjoy what you have together now?" She held up a hand. "Alex, you know there will be conflict and spark and passion with her always – there always has been with the two of you. Hell, some of your fights around here were legendary; why do you think people are so curious to see you on the same side of the fence, so to speak? Besides the fact that you make a gorgeous couple, I mean."

"Actually, I am looking forward to fighting with her again – I love engaging that side of her and so does she, I think. That will be the sure sign I'm finally home. But that's not what I meant." Alex closed her eyes and rubbed them, pushing her hands into her hair. Serena frowned; even on her most hectic days, Alex had never *not* been put together. But she appeared to be falling apart before Serena's eyes.

"What did you mean then, Alex? Help me understand."

"I'm not sure I really do, Rena. It's a feeling that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck for no reason at all, but it's as real as you are sitting there across from me. It almost feels like since I finally have what I want most in the world, something bad has to happen to make it all even up."

This time Serena stood and came around to Alex's side, kneeling down until they were eye to eye. "NO! No, Alex... you don't have to live that way anymore. You can't! You're right... something bad *might* happen, but then again, something might not. You can't live your life afraid of what might or might not happen. You just take the all good and hold onto it with both hands, so when the shit hits the fan, you've got enough to cover you until the mess is cleaned up."

"I know that, Serena. It was one of the things I had beaten into my mind while I was gone for three damn years of exile! But that isn't making this feeling of dread go away. And I learned the hard way to listen to that little voice."

"All right, Alex; I want you to promise me something. I want you to talk to Olivia about this and I want you to get some professional help – real help, Alex. Not the kind the government gave you, but a real professional. I imagine the good detective would probably even go with you if you asked her."

Alex nodded and closed her eyes. "I will. I am not going to screw up the best thing in my life again by not being open and honest and she's been so wonderful. I will always hate myself for having lost three years with her, and for the pain I caused her during that time."

Alex didn't see Olivia slip through the side door, but Serena did, and she stepped back to allow Liv the chance to cup Alex's face in her hands. Alex froze at the touch, recognizing it, but not quite believing it. She looked up slowly, to find herself staring into compassionate brown eyes.

"Nope – you don't get to do that, Alex. You don't get to hate or beat up the woman I love. Life does enough of that without us helping it in any way, all right?" Alex looked closer and saw the haggardness and fatigue in her lover's eyes. She took Olivia's hands in hers and kissed the knuckles lightly, completely forgetting about Serena's silent presence.

"Bad day?"

"Yeah, you haven't had lunch yet, by any chance, have you?"

Alex would have said no, even if she'd just gotten up from a five course meal – the need in Liv's eyes was that great. She shook her head but before she could say anything else, Serena spoke up.

"Alex, I'm just going to...."

Olivia immediately stood up and turned to face her. "Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt..."

"You didn't, detective," Serena assured her. "I actually have to get back to the office. Not being a state employee has a lot of distinct advantages, but it does mean I have to travel to get here. But I wanted to catch Alex for a few minutes before tomorrow. It promises to be quite a blowout."

"Mmm... so I've heard," Olivia agreed with a grumble. "Are you sure you don't want to join us for lunch? I really didn't intend to break up your conversation."

"Rain check for another day," Serena promised. "I think the two of you need a little privacy today."

Olivia nodded. Alex stood and squeezed Liv's fingers before giving Serena a firm hug. "Thank you," she whispered. "For all of it."

Serena returned the embrace. "See you tomorrow."

The door closed firmly behind her before Alex turned back to Olivia. "I'm so glad you're here. But how did you get in here without Maggie seeing you? She's the proverbial watchdog out front. And how much did you hear?" the last added more softly.

Olivia pointed to the well-hidden side door. "Did you forget about those? All the bigger offices over here have them." Alex blinked and shook her head.

"I never knew it was there; I didn't have anything like that when I was an ADA." She narrowed her eyes at Olivia. "How exactly did you find out about it, detective? Hmm?"

Olivia shrugged. "Abbie told me about it."

"Do I want to know why?"

"Probably not," Liv confessed.

"Right... did you say something about lunch, detective?"

"Depends... am I in trouble now?" glancing up through thick, dark lashes.

Alex waggled her eyebrows. "Would you like to be? Liv, we knew we weren't each other's firsts; we were both sexually active adults long before we met. However, I most certainly intend to be your last."

"Does this mean I am off the market, counselor?"

"Oh yeah - as of about ten-thirty Tuesday morning, in point of fact, detective. I have a building full of witnesses who will testify to that."

Olivia took Alex's hand in hers and led her towards the side door. "Yeah, we probably should talk about that."

"We should probably talk about a lot of things," Alex concurred, snatching up her purse as Olivia led her out the door. "Starting with what you overheard."

"Everything... I overheard everything – from the time Serena asked you to help her understand," Olivia acknowledged. "I didn't intend to, but there really didn't seem to be a good time to break in. At least until you started castigating yourself." Liv eyes widened at the expression on Alex's face and she laughed. "Just because I don't use them very often doesn't mean I don't know any fancy words, Alex."

They left the building and by unspoken consent headed to a small, out-of-the-way café they had discovered several years previously. Alex waited until they were seated with their menus in front of them before she responded.

"I've never doubted your intelligence, Liv. You couldn't be the detective you are without being brilliant. It is just unusual for you to sound like a lawyer. But you didn't overhear everything... you didn't hear me tell Serena how amazing you are or how wonderful it is to really be with you." Liv bit her lip and Alex was again reminded of the gaunt expression lurking in Olivia's eyes. "Tough day?"

Olivia scrubbed her eyes. "Yeah and this case is giving me the creeps. But don't you think we should talk about the stuff you were discussing with Serena?"

"No," Alex stated matter-of-factly. "I think we should have a nice lunch together – talk about your case if you want or maybe where we'd like to go for vacation when things settle down. I will talk to you about the other, Liv, I promise - but not here. I want to be curled up in your arms in the privacy of our home when we do."

Unexpectedly, Olivia smiled. "Do you really think of it that way?" Alex blinked. "Sorry," Liv apologized, then sat back when the server came and took their order. When he left she leaned forward again. "I meant do you think of the apartment as your home?"

Confusion colored Alex's expression. She nodded slowly. "Yes, I do." She paused. "Shouldn't I? Don't you want...? I mean I thought...."

Olivia reached across the table and covered Alex's hands. "You thought right – That's what *I* want. As far as I'm concerned you're not ever gonna leave. But things have happened so fast - we kinda just fell into living together; we never really talked about it. I didn't know how you felt... whether you wanted your own place or thought we needed a bigger place or...." Olivia let the thought trail off.

Alex let her thumbs caress the back of Olivia's strong hands, taking a moment to admire them while she collected her scattered thoughts. "I think as long as you are happy to share closet space with me, we can manage just fine where we are right now. If we decide later we want more room, we can make that decision together."

Olivia nodded her agreement but otherwise didn't respond verbally as their server chose that moment to set their plates in front of them. "I may be late tonight, though I'll call if it's going to be very late; this new case is... it looks like we may all be pulling a lot of overtime, though Elliot assures me we will be at the barbeque tomorrow come hell or high water."

"You want to talk about it?"

"Not yet. I just needed to see you, so I asked for a little extra time for lunch. There's not a lot of information yet, though something about it is niggling at me. Thank you, though. It's good to know you are here to listen when I am ready to talk."

"Anytime, detective," Alex validated with a smile. "After all, you know where I live."

"I certainly do – thank God."

"That goes both ways. Call me either way though, please. If you're going to be home at a reasonable hour, I will fix dinner and we can talk for a while." Olivia looked up and gave Alex the most intriguing smile. "What, Liv?"

"I know we have a lot of things to catch up on – a lot of stuff we missed in one another's lives in the three years we were apart and things we never got around to sharing about ourselves in the first place for whatever reason. It's going to take months – maybe even years. I wonder if we'll still have new thoughts and feelings to share with one another in another fifty years."

"Yes," Alex replied emphatically.

Then they focused on eating, knowing there was still work to be done before they could go home for the day. But the silence was comfortable, and they were happy just to be together.

At a table some distance away in the same restaurant– close enough to see, but too far away to hear – two men sat observing the two women. They did nothing else... no pictures, no staring - nothing that would draw undue attention to their activities. They exchanged the occasional quiet word or two in conversation, but by and large they remained silent observers as they consumed their own meal.

When Olivia and Alex rose to leave, they waited a moment or two before following, watching as Liv escorted Alex back to her office before climbing into a police sedan that had pulled up alongside the steps. Then the two men went back to their own plain vehicle and headed in to make their report. Things had suddenly taken an interesting turn.

Part 5

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