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 5


Chapter IX

"We got the ME's report on the first two vics," Elliot said by way of greeting.


"Definitely the same MO, but Warner said they were killed by two different people. One was left-handed, the other right."

"So Huang was right," Olivia said flatly. "What about the vics?"

"Munch is still looking into it."

Liv rubbed her eyes. "Maybe I missed something at the crime scene." Her phone rang. "Benson. All right – we're on our way." She turned back to Elliot. "We need to go back to the second crime scene; we might have a witness."

"So what did you learn?" Cragen asked when they walked into the precinct.

"Not much," Elliot said. "Someone who might have heard something early this morning in the vicinity of where our second vic was found."

"He couldn't give us a description or even tell us what he heard exactly... beyond some strange sounds," Olivia grumbled as she dropped into her desk chair. "We canvassed the whole area again and came up empty for any other witnesses or leads."

"Well, I may have come up with something," Munch cut in. "Looks like the doc was right on the money. All three vics had ties to Velez at one time or another." Olivia's head popped up and everyone looked at her before turning their attention back to Munch.

"It gets better," Fin said as he turned away from the phone. "Word on the street says same thing has happened in all the boroughs – three rape/murders between midnight and noon."

"Damn," Cragen muttered, rubbing a hand over his head. "All right – John, keep digging; there has to be a reason these specific people are being targeted now beyond the Velez connection. Fin, use your contacts in narcotics – see what they're hearing. Elliot, I want a spread sheet showing every single similarity and difference in our three vics. I'm going to call the colonel and see about setting up a task force, see if we can get some information exchange going on."

"What about me, Cap?" Olivia asked, trying to bite back a yawn.

"I want you to go home, Liv. Sixteen hours is long enough for one day. No arguments," Cragen said, holding up his hand. "You have someone at home to go home to. GO HOME. We're doing all we can. Not much more is going to happen until we get a coordinated effort going. Besides, you need to be rested for Stabler's shindig tomorrow. I understand it is going to be quite the blowout."

"So I heard," Liv agreed sardonically. She slapped the desk and stood up. "All right, guys; I'll see you tomorrow. Try to stay out of trouble til then, huh?" with a wave and a rakish grin.

Jaws dropped around the room as Olivia walked out the door without another word or argument. The detectives exchanged wide-eyed looks. "Son of a bitch," Elliot exclaimed with a smile. "Never thought I'd live to see the day."

"I remember being that young and in love once," Munch mused.

"You were *never* that young, Munch," Fin commented drolly to the amusement of the rest of the room.

"Olivia's no spring chicken, you know."

"You know you're gonna be in real trouble if she hears you say that. She can still kick your ass."

"Careful, John... I'm young enough to keep up with Alex Cabot," Liv couldn't resist saying loud enough for them to hear as she left the locker room. This time they waited in silence as her footsteps faded down the hallway. Munch got up from his desk and looked out the door to be sure Olivia had really left this time before turning back to the room and shaking his head. "I'm going to die tomorrow."

"Yeah, and I'm betting it'll be Cabot who does the killing of your ass."

"Some days it just doesn't pay," Munch grumbled, then sat back down to start make a list of similarities between the three vics in their jurisdiction.

"He did not say that," Alex said flatly.

"He certainly did. I have witnesses."

Dinner had been burgers and fries that Olivia had picked up at Nita's on her way home. Now Liv lay stretched out naked on the bed, Alex perched gingerly on her ass rubbing the knots from her back. The oil was warm and smelled of sandalwood and Alex dug deep into her tissue, soliciting a groan that rumbled from Olivia's body to hers when she hit a particularly tender spot.

"Old hen, my ass. I'll make sure John Munch understands *exactly* what you are not when I see him tomorrow." Then she pinched the ass she was sitting on when Olivia's laughter nearly dislodged her.

"OW! Whaddya do that for?" Olivia's grumbling became purring when Alex proceeded to caress the spot she had just bruised. "Nevermind," she mumbled, closing her eyes again. Liv never even noticed when her breathing deepened and she slipped into sleep. Alex smiled.

"Goodnight, Liv. Good dreams tonight, huh?" She slipped off Olivia's body and into bed beside her, pulling the covers up over both of them and snuggling into Liv's warmth. Then Olivia shifted to accommodate her, surrounding Alex with her embrace and bringing happy tears to blue eyes.

"Love you," Liv mumbled as she settled around Alex.

"I love you too, sweetheart," Alex replied, twining their fingers together and savoring the sensation for several long moments. She looked at the darkened ceiling and closed her eyes. "Please," she prayed softly. "Please don't take this away from me. Please don't take Olivia out of my life again. I wouldn't survive it." The tears that had gathered in her eyes rolled silently down her cheeks.

"Alex?" Olivia burred quietly into her blonde hair. "I'm not going anywhere. I wouldn't survive either."

"I thought you were asleep."

"I was; I just... I felt your misery."


"Don't be," Liv cut in. She kissed Alex's temple. "I would rather share your misery and have you here in my arms than be sleeping without you. You take away the nightmares," Olivia finished simply.

"So do you, Liv." She pulled their hands up to rest between her breasts. "Go to sleep, baby. Tomorrow is going to be almost as long as today has been." Alex felt Olivia slip back into deeper sleep, and with a smile, gladly followed her.

"Alexandra, darling... you look marvelous," Enrique said, holding her hands and looking her over intently before leaning forward and kissing both cheeks. "Coming back from the dead has been wonderful for you; I've never seen you looking so radiant. What can I do for you? And who is this?"

Alex reached for Olivia's hand and pulled her forward. "This is my friend... my partner... Detective Olivia Benson. Liv, this is Enrique – my friend and hairdresser." Liv extended her hand which Enrique accepted with alacrity.

"It is indeed a pleasure, detective. Anyone who puts so much happiness in Alexandra's eyes...." Olivia blushed, completely thrown off her stride. Enrique smiled and looked back at Alex. "Oh, Alexandra... I like her. She's a keeper." He released Olivia's hand and glanced between them. "So what can I do for you two today?"

"I want you to cut Liv's hair... so it looks like this again." Alex said, producing the single coveted picture she had managed to keep in her possession during her exile. Enrique took the photograph and studied it carefully, looking back and forth between it and Olivia. Without a word, he reached up and loosened her hair, running his fingers through it carefully.

"You have beautiful hair, Olivia. Are you sure you want to do this?"

She shrugged. "It will make Alex happy and it should make my morning routine easier. Do you... can you donate the hair you cut?"

"Absolutely, detective. I actually have a friend who weaves wigs for cancer patients if that is okay with you?" She nodded. "Then let's get started," patting his chair. A short time later, shorter than Olivia expected, Enrique was fluffing her hair around head and face. Then he held a mirror up so she could see front and back. "Gorgeous," he commented simply. He turned to Alex. "You do realize that you'll never be able to walk down the street together again, right?"

That got two sets of eyes focused on him and he stepped back from the intensity of which he suddenly found himself the center. Alex straightened from where she had been leaning over Olivia's shoulder. "Excuse me?"

"Are you kidding me? New York traffic already sucks. The two of you will bring everything to a dead halt for miles."

"You're such a bullshitter, Enrique. You should have been a lawyer."

"No, thank you. I get to meet much more interesting people this way. Now be off with both of you, but I want to hear about the reactions you get, Olivia... if I don't hear about the traffic snarls first. Come see me again in a month – sooner if you want to keep the highlights... totally up to you."

"What about...?"

"Don't worry about it, hon. Alexandra has an account."


"Always, darling. I never gave up hope that you would be back once I heard you were really alive. Now go. We'll square things up later. I *know* you have other places to be on a beautiful Saturday besides inside my salon. Go... shoo!"

They were still chuckling when they climbed into a cab that would take them across town to Elliot's home.

"Oh God, Elizabeth... you totally saved my butt. When I mentioned a small welcome home party for Alex to Kathy, I didn't realize how big small was going to be," Elliot admitted as he met Elizabeth when her car pulled up beside the house.

"I'm glad to do it, detective... Elliot," she corrected herself when he held up a hand. "Thank you for letting me be a part. Now if you and Jax can manage the unloading, I'll go in and give Kathy a hand."

"We've got it covered, Mrs. Cabot," Munch said as he and Fin came out of the house. He leaned over and kissed her cheek. Fin shook her hand and moved to take an armful of stuff from Elliot and he walked beside Elizabeth back towards the house.

"Am I very late? I expected to be one of the first here."

"You are, Mrs. C. Me and Munch just came over early to give Elliot a hand setting up. The rest aren't due for another hour. Thanks," he said, walking in the door she held open.

"Oh, Elizabeth... I am so happy to see you. Please, come in," taking Fin's load and heading to the kitchen. Fin went back to help with the remainder of the unloading, eyes widening as he met three heavily laden men coming his way. He held open the door for them to enter, then followed them back to the kitchen where Kathy and Elizabeth had already started unpacking the first load.

This was shaping up to be a hell of a party.

"You okay, Alex?" Liv asked softly, casually slipping an arm around Alex's waist and pulling their bodies closer together. She'd felt the shudder tremble through Alex's body. The cabbie was smart and kept his eyes on the road; he'd seen enough in his tenure as a New York City cab driver to know how to mind his business and still be acutely aware of what was going on behind him. Alex ignored him and rested her head on Olivia's shoulder, closing her eyes and savoring the peace that flowed between them.

"I don't think so," Alex answered in a small, tremulous voice. Olivia waited, but Alex didn't say any more, leaving Liv to figure out exactly what was troubling her. Fortunately, Olivia Benson was well-trained in reading body language and she had excellent reason to understand Alex most of all. She leaned over and kissed the top of the blonde head resting under her chin.

"There's no reason to be afraid, sweetheart. The people we are going to see today are your friends... all of them. And they're all thrilled for the chance to welcome you home."

"Yeah, but who are they welcoming home?"

"You... whoever you choose to be, Alex. Sweetheart... you're the only one with expectations from you. Everyone else is just glad you're back. Cut yourself a little slack, huh? No one expects you to have all the answers. Hell, most of us don't even know the questions," Olivia added with a grin, feeling Alex smile against her neck. "Besides, I'll be right beside you every step of the way if you want, but I think you're gonna be pleasantly surprised. You're a strong woman, Alexandra Cabot."

"I don't feel very strong at the moment."

"That's why you have me covering your six. It's always good to have a back-up plan when protecting your... <ahem> assets," letting her hand slide down and briefly caress Alex's jean clad butt.

"Don't start something you can't finish, detective."

"Any time you're ready, counselor."

Alex grasped Olivia's free hand and tangled their fingers together. "Thank you, Liv. I know I'm acting schizoid; thank you for not only not freaking out on me, but for being my rock. One day... one day maybe I can explain how all this feels and you will understand why this is so hard for me sometimes and seems so easy others."

Liv squeezed her hand in support. "Only if you want to share that with me, Alex. For now it's enough for me that you let me be here for you, especially considering how easily things could have gone wrong between us." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "There were so many things stacked up against us. Still could be, if we let them."

"But we're not going to let them. That is the one thing I am sure about."

"Then everything else is irrelevant," Olivia assured her as the taxi slowed down in front of Elliot's old place. Kathy had been diligent about keeping it up and Olivia admired the riot of color already prevalent in her window boxes.

"Wow," Alex commented, sitting up and dropping a couple bills into the cabbie's outstretched hand. Then she slid out of the car and looked around. "I guess Elliot did manage to keep it small after all. After Casey's warning, I was expecting cars lined up both sides of the street for blocks."

Olivia shook her head; Elliot had shown her the list. She knew exactly how many people were hidden behind the walls and fence. "Well, let's go say hi to the guys and Kathy. They always put on a nice spread and I don't know about you, but I could use a beer."

Alex didn't answer; just clutched Olivia's hand and walked up the steps to the door. Liv waited and after a moment, Alex rang it. "A beer sounds good; I'm going to relax and enjoy the day with the guys." Olivia just blinked. Alex seemed to have regained her equilibrium for the moment; Liv hoped it lasted once someone opened the door and Alex realized how many people she had touched.

Kathy was the one to open the door, and she just squealed when she saw Alex and pulled her into an unexpected hug. Alex was startled – she and Kathy had barely been acquainted when she'd gone into witness protection. But she returned the embrace with enthusiasm.

After a moment, Kathy pulled away with an embarrassed laugh. "Sorry... I know we don't really know one another, but I hope we get a chance to change that. You don't know the difference...." Kathy waved her hands, unwilling to say anything else and Alex looked at Olivia.

"I've only been back a few days," she said, blue eyes wide and incredulous.

"But you were gone for three years," Liv commented softly, before stepping forward to hug Kathy briefly, giving Alex time to recover her breath. "So you gonna invite us in and offer us a beer?"

"Yes, yes... come in, come in. Everyone else is already out back. Alex, your mother has been a godsend; just jumped right in and got everything on track." They padded through the kitchen, and Kathy opened the door and snagged three beers, handing them around before leading them over to the patio doors. "This became a little bigger than I expected, so she was a real lifesaver," opening the doors and letting in a cacophony of sound.

A yard full of eyes turned in their direction and a cheer rose. Alexandra Cabot froze in place, speechless for the first time in her life. Kathy slid out of the door and over where Elliot was manning the grill. Munch was next to him, capturing the moment for posterity. Alex reached behind her, searching for Olivia's hand to ground her. She had never expected... this.

Olivia anticipated Alex's reaction and placed one hand on the small of Alex's back, rubbing gently in concentric circles. When Alex extended her hand back, Liv stepped closed until their bodies were touching, though no one could see her standing behind Alex.

"I'm right here, Alex."

"I want you beside me, Liv. I need you here."

"Are you sure, Alex? There's no going back if we do this."

Alex turned her back on the people waiting expectantly for her to walk among them again. It was time to settle this once and for all. "Liv, we don't have time to discuss all the implications right now, but I need for you to understand something. You're it for me. No matter what else happens."

Liv took her hand and turned Alex back to face the waiting crowd. "In that case, Ms Cabot, we *will* talk later. But if we're gonna do this, let's do it right." Olivia stepped up beside Alex and tucked her hand in the crook of her elbow. "Your public awaits."

This time the cheer that went up was deafening... even though there was at least one attending who was less than enthusiastic about their open display.

By mid-afternoon, they had made the rounds, speaking to everyone and giving and receiving hugs until both were fairly certain their arms would fall off if either had to extend one more. Olivia did wonder if Alex had suggested the haircut just to take attention away from her since everyone commented on her new 'do. But as promised, Olivia never left Alex's side, and in return, Alex had not once released her grip on Olivia's person, though it had shifted several times to accommodate other greetings.

Now Alex and Olivia were seated with Elliot and Kathy, feasting on ribs and beer and watching the rest mingle in a decidedly non-cliquey way. It was interesting to observe the interaction of these folks outside a work environment and good food and drinks had gone a long way towards breaking down barriers that otherwise existed.

At the moment, Arthur Branch, Lena Petrovsky, John Munch, Jack McCoy and Elizabeth Cabot were engaged in what appeared to be a lively discussion. Odafin Tutola, Serena Southerlyn, Melinda Warner and her husband were grooving on the makeshift dance floor, as were several other members of both the precinct and the DA's office. Don Cragen, Casey Novak, Liz Donnelly, George Huang and Alex's assistant Maggie were cracking up like a group of kids.

"I'm sort of afraid to ask what those guys are joking about," Liv commented to Alex, sucking the meat off a rib. "Damn, El... you did a fine job on the ribs."

"Thanks, but... actually," he confessed, scratching the back of his neck, "Elizabeth prepared them. I just grilled them." He looked back over the full backyard. "A lot has changed, hasn't it? There was a time none of these people would be more than civil with one another... much less sociable."

"Yeah, but who is the guy who is acting like he's got a stick shoved up his ass?" Liv asked, noting his glare in her direction when Alex casually leaned against her body. "I don't remember meeting him. I would have expected it from Langan, but he was actually pleasant about us," nodding towards the tall man who was currently trying to coax Casey Novak out onto the dance floor.

They chuckled when she capitulated and followed the sleek attorney over to the cleared space, then turned their attention back to their little group. "Trevor is not a stupid man and at least socially, he knows when to recognize a lost cause." That caused a trickle of laughter. "He's known I was a lost cause to him since the night you found us together at the restaurant."

Alex and Olivia exchanged glances, reliving memories that were much less painful in light of their present circumstances. Kathy and Elliot watched the silent communication in fascination, then turned to one another with the smirk that comes with being an old married couple. Then they looked away, embarrassed. It was awkward, but now at least, they were talking and there was a chance that things might actually work out for them. And even if they didn't, now they had a much better chance of remaining friends.

"Isn't that Steele?" Elliot asked after a moment, hoping to break the tableau that had gone on between Alex and Olivia. He was thrilled they were so well-matched and happy together, but their intensity was discomfiting to say the least. Not because they were women, but more because no one should know that much about their partner's love life.

Alex blinked and looked from Olivia to the man and back to Elliot. "Yes, it is. Jim Steele. We dated briefly. I broke it off when he decided we needed to be serious. Told him I didn't want to be serious with him."

Elliot chuckled. "Kicked him right in the pride, huh?"

"I hope he gets over himself soon," Liv mumbled. "Or I'm gonna go kick his ass."

"Ooh...." Alex cooed as she wrapped her hands around Olivia's bicep. "My big, tough hero cop." She waggled her eyebrows above her glasses and grinned impishly.

"Careful there, Cabot. You never know when you might need one or what will happen when the fight's over." Liv let her smoky gaze rake Alex from head to foot and Alex shivered in pure animal reaction.

"Liv, stop that," Elliot whined. "You're killing me." Kathy and Alex snickered; Liv just smirked at him knowingly. Elliot glared. "I hate you."

"Jealous much?"

He growled and muttered under his breath, but Liv ignored him, turning to Kathy when Kathy laid her hand on her arm. Liv cocked an eyebrow in question and Kathy smiled at the familiar expression. "I wanted to tell you – I love your hair. It frames your face so beautifully. It's my favorite look of all the ones I've seen on you."

"Mine too," Alex concurred, running her hands through it and brushing the bangs off Olivia's face. Liv blushed and dropped her eyes. Elliot snorted.

"Whipped," he muttered. "OW!" much louder when three different hands smacked him in three different places. "All right! All right!" he surrendered, holding up his hands. "I need another beer. Can I get anyone anything?"

"No, detective. In fact, I think Olivia and I should probably go."

"Go? Alex, we're just getting started." Alex looked at the sun that was much closer to the horizon than its zenith then turned back and raised a brow at him. "Okay... maybe not *just*, but there is plenty of life left in it too."

"Exactly, detective, and it's not going to wind down until we leave. I imagine Kathy would like her house back before sometime tomorrow. Besides, we promised my mother we'd see her home."

"All right," Elliot finally capitulated. "But only if you agree to doing this again."

"Absolutely," Alex said, then looked at Liv, who nodded and gave her a small smile. "We'd love to."

"You want to say goodbye to everyone or just sneak out?" Elliot asked Alex, knowing what Olivia would choose. Alex bit her lip, wrestling between propriety and desire. Propriety won out, but not by much. She waited for Elliot to get everyone's attention. Then Alex stood on her chair and rested her hand on Olivia's shoulder to maintain her balance, and she cleared her throat to speak.

"Thank you... all of you... for coming here today." She paused and drew a deep breath. This was harder than any speech she had ever made in court. "I'll never be able to express what it means to me to know so many of you remembered me and came to welcome me home." She bit her lip and sighed. "Thank you."

She didn't know what else to say, so she squeezed Olivia's shoulder and took her hand to step down for the chair. Then they were surrounded by well-wishers, none of whom wanted to miss the chance to speak to Alex again before she left. It had been a great day together, and a simply wonderful way to welcome one of their own home again.


Chapter X

"You have lovely friends, Alexandra. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun. And thank you for putting me in touch with Detective Stabler, Olivia. I enjoyed being able to participate. I think I even made new friends today."

The three women were in the living room of Elizabeth Cabot's penthouse. They hadn't wanted dinner after the spread at Elliot's, so they were sprawled casually around the furniture with wine glasses in hand. At Elizabeth's insistence, Olivia and Alex had taken the couch, though at the moment, Liv was tucked into one corner while Alex was curled into the other. She herself was curled into the armchair nearest Alex.

"I was surprised," Alex replied honestly.

"Were you?" Olivia asked. "I thought you knew there were going to be a lot of people there."

"I *knew*; I just didn't *know*," Alex claimed defensively.

"Well, regardless... I had a wonderful time. Thank you both for including me."

"I was glad you could come, Elizabeth. It was nice to see you having such a good time and Elliot confessed you saved his bacon when the party got so big. I probably should have warned you about Munch's latest theories though."

"I find Detective Munch thoroughly entertaining."

An awkward silence fell, pregnant with unasked questions. Alex reached out towards Olivia and Liv clasped her fingers, stroking them gently with her thumb and tugging until Alex's head was in her lap. She took Alex's wine and placed it on the table beside hers, then gently combed long fingers through thick blonde hair, feeling Alex relax into her.

"You seem to have the magic touch, Olivia," Elizabeth commented softly as she watched Alex drift into sleep. At Liv's questioning look, Elizabeth smiled and continued. "From the time Alexandra was a small child, she would get terrible headaches because she got so focused on achieving perfection in whatever project she was working on."

"She still does," Olivia confided, "or she did up until the time she left."

"I never understood why she chose the law. I take that back – I know why she chose law. Her father was a very successful attorney and she was her daddy's girl. But choosing to be a prosecutor, especially when she was with your department... I worried about her."

"So did I... even before we were really friends." She looked down at the woman nestled so comfortably in her lap. "But that doesn't explain why you think I have the magic touch."

"Oh... sorry. When Alexandra's headaches got bad enough to get her attention over what she was working on, she would always come and climb up wherever I was and put her head down in my lap. At first, I was completely lost; all I knew was that she was whimpering and in pain. So I did for her what my grandmother had done for me. Grandmother called it the magic touch; it always took away the pain and put me to sleep. It did the same for Alexandra – only very few people seemed to have that touch."

"I thought everyone could do this," never stopping the movement of her hand through Alex's hair.

"Oh, everyone can do that, but being able to relax someone enough that they drop off to sleep with conversation going on around them, not so much. " Elizabeth paused and let the motion of Liv's hands soothe her. "Olivia, how is she doing... really?"

"I don't think I am qualified to answer that, Elizabeth. No, wait...." she admonished before Elizabeth could dispute her words. "I know what I see, but Alex hasn't really discussed anything with me yet. We haven't even been together a week and I'm not gonna push her into sharing anything she doesn't feel comfortable with. She spent the last three years having people tell her who she could be and what she could and could not do. She'll talk to me when she's ready."

"But what do you see, detective?"

Olivia looked down at the woman resting so peacefully in her lap. "She's very fragile, Elizabeth. She's trying so hard to be strong; I mean - she is strong, but right now I think there is a lot of exhaustion and confusion. I hope going back to work at the DA's office wasn't the wrong choice for her."

Elizabeth's brow furrowed. "You think she is still in danger? Like she was before?"

Olivia started to shake her head, then stopped. "I don't know," she said honestly. "I don't think so. I don't think Hammond would have let her come back if she was in any real danger."

"But...?" Elizabeth saw Olivia's hesitation and pressed. "Olivia, please. I think I have a right to know."

Olivia sighed. "They... the DEA... wanted to use her position as Bureau Chief to get an inside track on the new drug kingpin, Rivera. That's why she and Robert were 'engaged'; they were setting things up to give Rivera misleading information. Her job at the DA's office was arranged by Hammond. Then of course, she threw it back at them when they broke their part of the deal by announcing the engagement before she got a chance to talk to me."

"That's absurd; they put her right back in the same situation that got her sent into witness protection in the first place! Why on earth would she agree to something so ludicrous? My daughter is much more intelligent than that. She knows better... or she damn well should!!"

Olivia blinked. Elizabeth rarely swore. "I think...." Olivia hesitated to gather her thoughts. She was having issues with it on several levels as well, but she struggled to make her thoughts coherent for Elizabeth. "I think she agreed to do it because she wanted to have something here... just in case."

"In case of what?"

"In case things didn't work out like she wanted them to."

"I'm not sure I understand."

Olivia shook her head. "I'm not sure I do either. But it's the only thing I can think of. Alex could explain it better."

"But she hasn't?"

"Not yet. We still have a lot to talk about."

Elizabeth nodded. "I guess you do," she agreed. "But I'm glad you forced the important talk, however unorthodox your method. It's reassuring to know she has you in her corner regardless of whatever else happens." Elizabeth paused. "She um... she does have you, doesn't she?"

"Yeah," Olivia confessed. "She does," unwilling to own up to anything more to Elizabeth. Alex should be the first to hear those words. After that....

"It works both ways, you know, sweetheart," Alex murmured from her spot on Liv's lap. "This is a forever kind of thing for me," blinking open blue eyes and forcing them to focus on the brown above her. She had to return the dazzling smile Olivia bestowed on her; Alex reached up and traced the full lips until Liv caught her hand.

"That tickles," she admitted softly, "among other things," letting Alex see the desire in her eyes.

Alex sucked in a breath and bit her lip. "Sorry," she whispered. She would have pulled away, but Olivia just held onto her. Alex smiled. No one had ever made her feel as treasured as Olivia did. Alex took the hint and stayed put, simply shifting until she was able to see Olivia's profile and still see her mother in her periphery.

"So, Alexandra... how much did you hear?"

"I heard Liv say I had her. That was enough to get my attention and bring me out of the delightful haze she had put me into." She turned her head a little more and looked up at Olivia. "What were you two talking about anyway?"

"You," Olivia answered, tweaking her nose. "What else?"

"Tell me, Alexandra... do you still play?" deftly changing the subject and motioning to the grand piano at the far end of the room.

Alex nodded and swallowed hard. "For a long time, it was all I had left."

"One day... soon, I hope... I want to hear about it, Alexandra. I'd like to understand - who you were... what you went through."

"Will you understand if I'm not ready for that yet? I want to talk things through with Liv first. We need to understand before I can share with anyone else."

"As it should be, Alexandra. May I make a request?"

"Sure, I guess."

"Will you play? I've missed it."

Alex blinked and eased into a sitting position. "Um... okay," pushing her hair behind her ears and standing slowly to her feet. "Anything special you'd like to hear?"

"Anything you feel led to play. I would just like to hear your music again."

Alex turned to Olivia. "What about you, Liv? Anything particular you prefer?"

Olivia shook her head. "I never even knew you played."

Alex cupped her cheek, gratified beyond belief when Liv covered her hand and leaned into her touch. "There is a lot we don't know about each other, detective. I am looking forward to a lifetime of discovering each and every thing there is to know about Olivia Benson." Neither woman even noticed when Elizabeth slipped from the room.

The emotion of the moment hit Olivia in the gut. "I don't know about that, counselor," trying to play it off lightly with a joke. "There's some very ugly darkness there. You might not like what you see."

"Everything, Olivia," Alex answered seriously. "I want it all. Don't you?" The tone of her voice was plaintive. "Liv, there are dark spots in my life as well – things I'm not proud of and things that make me feel shame and anger and disgust when I think about them too long. But I'm willing to share them with you so you know all of who Alexandra Cabot really is."

Olivia tugged on Alex's arm, pulling her back down, but this time she ended up in Olivia's lap. "You make me feel so much, Alex – things I never thought I could feel, emotions I never expected to have for another human being. I *DO* want it all with you, Alex, but I've never done relationships before and it scares me. *I* scare me; I don't want to scare you too." Liv looked up into compassionate blue eyes and bit her lip. "Do you realize that Elliot is the longest functional relationship I have ever had and that has only survived because he's like a brother? I can love him and fight with him and drink with him because at the end of the day, he goes home to Kathy or his new place and I go back to my apartment. The emotional bond we feel is that of extended family. That doesn't come close to what I feel with you or for you; that is something else beyond."

"But do you want it, Liv? Really want it?"

"More than anything else in the whole world."

"Then we'll work on it together and make this relationship be everything we want it to be."

"We'll keep talking until we figure out what that is?"

"Olivia, I'm a lawyer. I'll still be talking when the grim reaper comes knocking. But we'll love one another and talk to one another and support one another and even fight with one another just so we can make up. Beyond that, we can make it up as we go along. It's not like either of us are rule followers when it comes to getting something we want."

Olivia chuckled and Alex looked at her with an eyebrow raised in question. "That is quite the commentary on our society when a police detective and a city prosecutor admit to breaking the rules on a regular basis for selfish reasons."

"I never said a word about *breaking* the rules, detective. We just tend to ignore them."

Then the words stopped as Olivia drew Alex's mouth to her own, and the two spent several long moments in lazily passionate exploration, mindful that they were in Elizabeth's home. When that thought finally wrapped itself around both minds, they pulled away slightly, red color suffusing their complexions. They gazed at one another in embarrassment before looking around to discover Elizabeth was gone. They giggled softly.

"I feel like a kid," Olivia professed.

"You *are* a kid," Elizabeth declared as she stepped back in the room with a tray full of tidbits and snack foods. "I don't know about you two," ignoring their intimate position, "but I'm starving."

"Suddenly, so am I," Olivia smirked. She turned to Alex, absently stroking the length of Alex's thigh. "Are you going to eat?"

"I'd rather not. I play better on an empty stomach." Alex shrugged. "It helps me feel the flow."

"Just keep an eye on her when she gets into a zone, Olivia. Alexandra tends to forget everything when she plays, much like when she is working. The biggest difference is music relaxes her and work gives her those horrible headaches."

"I am still sitting here, you know," Alex grumbled. "You don't need to talk about me in the third person."

"I just want Olivia to understand so she knows how best to keep an eye on you, Alexandra. You do have a rather bad history of neglecting yourself – especially when you become completely immersed in something."

Alex glared at her mother, but it wasn't very effective... since she knew her mother spoke the truth. "All right," she finally allowed with a little huff. "Once in a while I get carried away." Elizabeth broke into gales of laughter. Alex cut her eyes in Olivia's direction. To her credit, she wasn't laughing, but she was biting her lip so hard it was almost bitten through. Alex slapped her shoulder and Olivia did laugh.

"Sorry, sweetheart. That focus is legendary."

Alex narrowed her eyes. "I'm going to go play now," standing up from Olivia's lap and crossing the room to the piano. She ran her fingers down the length of its curves before she reached the keys. Then she took a deep breath and sat down on the bench. Olivia watched in fascination as Alex dropped her eyes to her lap and looked at her hands for a long moment. Then she took a deep breath and moved her hands to the keys and the melodies started to flow.

Elizabeth sat back and closed her eyes, relishing the sounds that wafted over her and throughout the room as Alex poured her heart and soul into the music she played. Olivia, on the other hand, watched in complete fascination. Alex was lost in the music and it seemed to bring out a glow from the very center of her being. The music flowed from classical to jazz to a contemporary melody whose familiarity tickled at the edges of Olivia's senses.

After almost thirty minutes of uninterrupted music, Alex stopped playing and looked up into Olivia's eyes. Then Elizabeth unexpectedly broke the tableau. "Alexandra, do you still write?" Alex nodded but otherwise didn't answer. "Could you...?" leaving the rest of the question unvoiced.

For answer, Alex put her hands back on the keys and let her heart choose the song. It had been something she had labored over forever while she had been in witness protection – something she had written for Olivia. She had started it when she was still struggling with her feelings for and about Detective Olivia Benson. She'd nearly scrapped it completely before she was even properly settled into her new identity as 'Emily', sure she had lost something she would never be able to recover. But when she had come back for Liam Connor's trial and saw the reaction to her 'good man', saw Liv walk away from Hammond without reading her letter, Alex found herself compelled to finish. And the completed song had spurred her determination to get back to Olivia and share it with her. So as she brought the introduction to an end and moved into the body of the music, Alex closed her eyes, took a deep breath and sang, hoping the words from her soul would speak to Olivia's.

I was never alive,
'Til the day I was blessed with you;
When I hold you late at night,
I know what I was put here to do;
I turn off the world and listen to you sigh -
And I will sing my Angel's Lullaby.

Know I'm forever near -
The one you can always call;
Right all you know to fear
Are the shadows on your wall;
I'm here close enough
To kiss the tears you cry -
And I will sing my Angel's Lullaby.

So tell me how to stop the years from racing;
Is there a secret someone knows?
I'll never catch all the memories I'm chasing -
I'll never be ready to let go.

And when the world seems cold,
And you feel that all of your strength is gone;
There may be one tiny voice...
Your reason to carry on;
And when I'm not close enough
To kiss the tears you cry -
You will sing your Angel's Lullaby;
Let this be our Angel's Lullaby.

"Oh, Alexandra," Elizabeth breathed when the last residual echo faded from her hearing. "That was amazing... simply the best you've ever written."

"I had the right inspiration," she admitted quietly.

"Well, I hope you find it again." Elizabeth commented, "because I thoroughly enjoyed that. Now, come eat. I don't want you keeling over."

Alex stood, knowing her mother was right, but it broke her heart to realize Olivia had nothing to say about the one song that Alex had written especially for them. Apparently it hadn't touched Liv the way Alex had hoped. Then she found her hands caught in Olivia's and met the brown eyes that were swirling with a myriad of emotions.

"Thank you," was all she said, but for the moment... for Alex... it was enough.

"Why did you write that song, sweetheart? Because that was for me, wasn't it?" They were tucked into bed together a little while later; Elizabeth had insisted and neither of them had had the energy to protest. Now Olivia was spooned up behind Alex and felt the blonde head nod her agreement.

Alex shifted until she could look Olivia in the eye. Even a penthouse couldn't completely eliminate the lights of the city and Alex could just make out the reflection in the dark brown eyes gazing at her with such wonder.

"It was. At first, it was a way for me to work through what I felt for you – how I wanted to be there and make a difference in your life like you had in mine and so many others. I watched you deal with so much ugliness and heartbreak and wasn't able to do anything to make it better; there were times I wasn't even sure you would welcome me as a friend, much less anything else. And then I realized you felt the same way I did, and it was all taken away between one heartbeat and the next. But it wasn't until I saw you walk away from Hammond after the Connors' trial that I found the words I needed to finish it. It fueled the fire of my determination to come home."

Olivia tightened her arms around Alex and was gratified when Alex snuggled deeply into her embrace. "I'm glad it did; I'm glad you're here with me."

"So am I." Alex took a deep breath, thrilling to their combined scent. "Do you think we could go to the park tomorrow if it's nice?"

"Sure. Should we pick up a Frisbee or something?" Alex chuckled and Liv gave her an inquiring look.

"You know... I don't think I have ever played Frisbee before."

"Then we will definitely have to do that. But that's not why you asked, is it?"

Alex shook her head. "I thought we could go to your bench and talk. We've got to start sometime and I would prefer to be somewhere where we won't be overheard." She shrugged. "Something I learned during my time in witness protection and with the DEA."

"If that's what makes you comfortable, sweetheart, you've got yourself a date."

"I love you, Olivia."

"I love you back, Alex. Goodnight, sweetheart."

The ringing of her cell phone brought Liv out of what had been a sound sleep. She realized as she snagged her phone off the nightstand that she hadn't had bad dreams since Alex's return and wondered if it had been the same for Alex. She certainly didn't remember Alex waking with nightmares, but she made a mental note to ask.

"Benson." Beat. "All right, Elliot. I'll be right there."

"Baby?" Alex blinked open sleepy eyes. "Again?"

"Yeah... El said there are kids involved."

Alex reached up and covered Olivia's cheek. "You need to go, but you be careful and stay safe." She paused but didn't release her hold and Olivia didn't pull away. "I'll miss you. I sleep better when you're here – no nightmares."

"Me, too. I'll try to get back as quick as possible."

"Call me if you're going to be a while. I'll swing by the station and bring you guys some breakfast."

"You don't...."

"I know I don't; I want to."

"Thanks, baby," leaning down for a brief kiss before pulling away to get dressed. Olivia watched Alex curl around her pillow and arched an eyebrow in her direction. Alex blushed and smiled sheepishly. "It's the only way I'll go back to sleep. It smells like you."

Olivia pulled up the cover and tucked her in, kissing her forehead before snatching up her badge and gun. "Happy dreams, Alex," she said and closed the door softly behind her.

"Be careful out there, love," Alex whispered into the dark.

Part 6

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