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 6


Chapter XI

"What time did you get in?" Alex asked Olivia as they walked side by side towards the park.

"Couple hours after I left, I guess. I got to the scene shortly before social services and the family got to the precinct apparently. They were waiting when El and I got there with the kids. I didn't hang around once they were released into their aunt's custody; there wasn't anything for me to do really. And since I wasn't actually on duty...."

Alex threaded her hand through Olivia's arm and tucked her hand into the crook of her elbow. "You're a good person, Olivia Benson. Elliot doesn't know how lucky he is to have you as a partner." Liv blushed but gave Alex a rakish smile.

"Do you?"

"Know how lucky Elliot is? Only on a superficial level. But that's okay... he'll never know how lucky I am either." This time Olivia's blush was beet red and her expression almost shy. Alex smiled. She loved being able to keep the normally tough, unshakeable detective off balance. "C'mon," tugging Olivia by the hand as they reached the green of Central Park. "I want you to teach me Frisbee."

Laughing, they headed towards the grassy area where several people were enjoying the warm day playing Frisbee and catch and what appeared to be tag. Olivia spent a few minutes showing Alex the basics, then she moved a short distance away and they began tossing the Frisbee back and forth.

It was all rather tame and sedate but proceeding pretty well, so after a few minutes, Olivia backed up a few more steps. And then things got just slightly nuts; because it seemed that Alex Cabot, Assistant District Attorney and Bureau Chief extraordinaire – the same woman who walked gracefully in a straight skirt and heels and made it look easy - had more than a little hand/eye coordination problem when any distance was involved. And neither of them was prepared for the Frisbee to hit Alex right between the eyes.

She stood stock still after it happened, the shock of impact freezing her into place. Olivia, on the other hand, found her feet had wings and was by Alex's side almost before the Frisbee hit the ground.

"Oh, God, Alex... are you okay? Lemme see, baby." She removed Alex's hand from where it had flown to cover her nose. Alex tried to blink the tears away, but they insisted on flowing from her eyes anyway. Liv wiped them carefully away, looking at the welt that was raised across the bridge of Alex's nose. She touched it tenderly, wincing in tandem with Alex's flinch. "Sorry," she said softly. "I don't think it's broken, but it's gonna hurt like a son of a bitch for a few days."

"I'm sorry, Liv."

Olivia frowned. "What for, Alex? You didn't do anything wrong. I'm the one that clocked you, remember?"

"Yes, but it wasn't on purpose and I know that. I was hoping Frisbee might be different for me."

Olivia reached down and grabbed the Frisbee, then tucked Alex's hand into her arm before leading her towards a vendor. She snagged two sodas and a small foil wrapper of ice from the man who had seen the accident, giving him the Frisbee with a wry smile. Then she led Alex into the shade of trees, headed towards her thinking bench.

Liv seated Alex carefully, offering the ice that Alex took with a glare and a resigned sigh. Then she opened both sodas, putting one in Alex's free hand and keeping the second for herself and taking a seat next to Alex. Immediately, Alex leaned against Liv with another sigh.

"Um, Alex? What did you mean when you said you hoped Frisbee would be different for you? I thought you had never played Frisbee before."

"I hadn't," Alex confirmed instantly. Then she shifted the ice pack and grimaced as the cold hit warm skin. "I was hoping my coordination had improved with age." She peeked at Liv from behind the foil. "It hasn't," she added wryly.

"You didn't like phys ed very much, did you?" Liv teased gently.

"I hated every phys ed course I was forced to endure that wasn't about running, swimming or dance."

"Swimming was my sport of choice," Olivia confided. "But I enjoyed pretty much every athletic game I was allowed to participate in. We didn't have dance, but I was on the track, softball, basketball and swim teams in high school and in college. Played a little golf and tennis once in a while when I could fit it in to my schedule. Sometimes I miss the chance to play."

"No wonder you're in such fantastic shape. I ran to give me the breathing I needed to swim, but swimming was the only thing I did competitively. Dance was something for me... like my music, but not. Mother actually got me involved in dance to keep me from sitting at the piano all the time."

"You could have been a concert pianist."

Alex shrugged. "Maybe, but playing is something I need to feel to do. I'm a little selfish about sharing that much of myself."

Olivia reached out and covered the hand that held the soda. "Then thank you for sharing it with me. I hope you'll do it again."

Alex put her drink on the bench and threaded their fingers together. "Liv, you're the only person in the world I would share with everyday if you wanted to hear it."

Olivia squeezed the hand she held. "We're gonna need a bigger place then. 'Cause there is no room in the apartment we have now for a piano unless we move something out. Not that we couldn't do that. I mean... there is nothing there I am permanently attached to, except maybe the books."

"Liv?" Alex asked, slipping the ice from her face so she could look Olivia squarely in the eyes. "Why did you take me home?" She smiled sadly and wiped the wrinkle lines from the frown on Olivia's forehead. "You didn't have to invite me home with you; you could have let me continue living at the hotel."

"Are you having second thoughts about us living together, Alex?"

"No, Olivia Benson.; I most certainly am not! So don't think you're getting rid of me on *my * account. I'm not leaving you unless you throw me to the curb... you got it?"

Olivia couldn't help the grin that formed at Alex's words and the forcefulness of her tone. "Yes ma'am!" she snapped out. "I got it!"

"Good!" Alex nodded, though she couldn't stop the blush. "Now will you answer my question?"

Olivia let out a deep breath and looked across the park. "I was afraid – that if I let you go again, there wouldn't be another chance for us. And I wanted this with you. I know... no, I think that a lot of things changed for you while you were gone. I was hoping how you felt about me wasn't one of them and when I found out it wasn't, I didn't want to let it go."

"I'm glad," Alex confessed. "I didn't want to be alone – I didn't want to be without you and having you invite me to stay where I most wanted to be.... Do you know that was one of the hardest things about being in witness protection? Besides being away from everyone you know or care about, you can't really afford to let anyone be close to you. Even when Michael held me late at night while I cried for all I had lost, I was still completely alone."

"Did you have anyone in Florida?"

"No. I wasn't going to risk anyone or anything else coming between us. My sole goal was to get Velez so I could come home to you. You don't know how many nights I laid awake in my bed there hoping it wasn't going to be too little, too late."

"I dated a few times after the Connors trial," Olivia said softly. "But it was like playing pretend to me. No matter how much I tried to tell myself to get over you and move on with my life, I couldn't help but wonder why I bothered. You were always right there with me."

"What happened to Elliot and Kathy?" Alex asked suddenly. "I always thought they were so solid."

"Elliot was an idiot," Olivia answered briefly. "He stopped talking to her, stopped sharing about his life and his work. Then he made the mistake of projecting that to me."

"Excuse me?" Light brows went into blonde hair. "Are you saying Elliot made a pass at you?" storms brewing in dark blue eyes.

"NO! He knows better. He just... he made things uncomfortable between us for a little while. But I straightened him out damn quick, though it wasn't quick enough to keep his marriage intact. He and Kathy are trying to put things back together – learning to communicate and talk to one another again."

"That's why this is so important to you, isn't it? That's why you have been so adamant about me sharing whatever I felt comfortable with as I was able to." Olivia just nodded, keeping her eye focused on their linked hands. "Oh, Liv...." watching brown eyes track to hers at her tone. "Things make so much more sense now to me. Thank you for being so patient about it. I promise you... I promise I will make the effort to talk to you about everything – even the things that hurt or are uncomfortable to talk about. I did without you for three years and spent all that time talking to you. I'm not going to let the fact that you are finally with me in real time change that."

"I kept a diary... a journal... in the form of letters to you. It was the only way I had of keeping you close. It was my secret."

"Would you... can I... would you mind if I read them?"

Olivia shook her head. "No; it would probably make it easier for you to understand. It would be easier for me than trying to explain."

"Maybe we could exchange journals then," Alex offered shyly. "I did the same thing." She couldn't stop the grin that formed. "I think it used to piss Hammond off, actually. He tried to threaten me about it; said I was jeopardizing my safety."

"What did you tell him?" Olivia asked, intrigued by the look on Alex's face.

"Bite me," Alex answered succinctly. "He learned pretty quickly when he could push and when to back off. That's one reason he hasn't pursued the Rivera situation any further with me. He knows the answer isn't going to change."

"Can I ask why you agreed to that in the first place? You had to know the danger you were walking back into."

"Jack assured me there would be very little danger to me. I was supposed to be the link to the DA's office until Robert could make better connections – 'innocently' helping him by introducing him to the right people because he was my fiancé." Alex rolled her eyes. "My *celebrity status* was going to be used to open doors that otherwise might not open so easily, even for a Cabot; we were going to break things off once he was established with the people he needed an 'in' with."

"Yeah, I know all that, but *why* did you agree to do it? You knew there would be some danger and you'd already lost three years of your life to witness protection because of a similar situation. Why would you take that risk again? Are you some sort of secret adrenaline junkie?"

"Well, though I probably would be classified as an adrenaline junkie, that isn't the reason I did this." Alex sighed. "Even though I made your knowledge of the truth contingent on my taking the assignment in hopes that it might make a difference in what happened between us, I honestly didn't know how you would react to my being back here or if you would even care anymore. I was hoping... but after what had happened between us during the Connors trial, I wasn't sure. At least agreeing to help Robert gave me a legitimate reason to be here if nothing else worked out."

"You were really that sure that I wouldn't be glad you were finally home?"

"I was sure you would never forgive me for my 'good man' comment."

"Alex," Olivia said seriously, turning until they faced one another completely and held both hands in hers. "Even if you hadn't come after me the other night, I would never have begrudged you the chance to be home again. I would have been angry... furious... at you for not wanting me to be a part of your life any longer, but part of me would have been glad you had beaten the system. And I know Elizabeth would have been thrilled regardless of the reason, though she does think you lost your mind for agreeing to do anything else for the DEA – conditional or not."

"I confess Hammond caught me in a moment of weakness. I think he thought what I feared," she admitted honestly, "that you wouldn't care. It's the only reason I can think of for him to agree to that condition so readily. And *knowing* beyond a shadow of a doubt that you didn't care would have made me a much more willing participant."

"So I've really put his shorts in a bunch then."

"Yes and no. Yes because he was honestly surprised at what has happened between us. No because despite everything, I think he did want things to work out for me. They really don't get a lot of happy endings in his business."

"Then why did he...?"

"I don't think HE did. I think it was Robert who let it slip – whether to Rivera or someone else."

"But if that's the case, that means Rivera already has contacts on the inside. Isn't that dangerous for you... once they find out the truth?"

"I don't know. I don't see what difference it makes if Robert is introduced to the right people in a timely manner. I could always make him out to be part of the reason I was able to return home – that his legal wrangling with the DEA ensured my ability to return to my former life. I already told Hammond I would quit the DA's office before I allow a public announcement to be made about the supposed engagement now. I don't think he'll do anything; he knew I was serious."

"What about Robert? Why did he overstep his bounds like that? Surely he knew how you would react if he tried to back you into a corner."

"I don't think he anticipated your reaction, detective. I'm certain he never expected to be handed his ass on a platter. God, that was so sexy." Alex leered in Olivia's direction and enjoyed the light blush that crawled up the tanned skin. "As to the why... there was no real reason for it unless he is just that insecure – but then he shouldn't be a field agent. Jack should have warned him not to push like that... especially since he *knew* the conditions I had set."

Olivia's brow furrowed. "Did he complain about them when you made them?"

"Long and loud," Alex nodded. "But Jack assured him that not only was he not qualified to argue with me, doing so would only get him more and more conditions to meet." Alex waggled her eyebrows. "He was right about that."

Liv had to grin at the utter truth of that statement. Arguing with Alexandra Cabot was something she'd had to hone to an art form. "So if Robert was so obviously not qualified to take on this assignment," turning serious again, "why did he get it?" Olivia asked. This wasn't the conversation she had been hoping to have today, but she was finding it quite enlightening. And with the promise of exchanging diaries with Alex, she knew they would both find a lot of the answers they needed.

"Jack never bothered to explain to me why Robert Claiborne was chosen for this assignment." She bit her lip thoughtfully. "Come to think of it, I'm not even sure he is a real DEA agent. He was certainly never introduced to me as such."

"This just gets weirder and weirder."

"Yes, it does," Alex agreed with a frown. "I am beginning to have my doubts about how much truth I was told." She thought about it a moment and then shook her head to clear it. "Enough about this for today. Until I do a little research and ask a few more questions, we're not going to know any more about what is really going on. What do you say," Alex asked as she rose to her feet, "to a walk around the park and then maybe a long, leisurely lunch at the Plaza? I think we need to take advantage of the peace and quiet as long as it is ours to share."

"That sounds wonderful," accepting the hand Alex proffered and taking up a comfortable stride together as they started their walk. "Maybe we should find some time to go apartment hunting too. Not today," Olivia qualified quickly. "But sometime soon. It'd be nice to have a place together that gave you space to play. That was like... soul renewal for me. I could get used to that feeling very quickly."

Alex flushed. "That is the highest compliment you can pay an artist you know – allowing them to touch your soul." A pause. "Um... if you're serious about looking for a bigger place, I could contact Julia Rothschild. She and her family have been Cabot realtors for as long as I can remember. We could tell her what we are looking for and she would narrow down our options for us, so we don't have to spend all of our free time together looking for places all over the city."

"We can decide what we want first?"

"Yes – where, how big, how much... everything."

Olivia nodded. "All right. Sounds like a plan... let's do it."

Alex blinked, then broke into a small smile. "You think I'd remember that about you, but it surprises me every time." Olivia quirked an eyebrow and Alex bumped her with a shoulder. "Once you settle on a course of action, there's no hesitation. You just move forward full speed ahead."

"I've found I get a lot more out of life that way."

"I may have to learn how to do that," Alex pronounced, tucking her hand into Olivia's elbow and leading her off the path as they reached the side of the park where the Plaza was located.

"I think you've got it down, Alex," Liv smirked. "That would explain the DEA anyway."

"No... *that* I'm blaming on a blonde moment." Olivia couldn't stop the laughter, and after a moment, neither could Alex.

"You're sure about what you saw, Lorenzo?"

"Yes, Mr. Rivera."

"All right, my friend. Good work." Lorenzo accepted the praise with a gracious inclination of his head. "I want you to continue to observe the situation, but do not under any circumstance interfere without my express permission. We might be able to use this to our advantage."

"Yes, Mr. Rivera." The older man nodded and took his leave.

Before he made it to the door, Rivera called him back. "Lorenzo?" Lorenzo turned and waited respectfully for the boss to speak. "Assign someone to Robert Claiborne. I want to know what he is doing that he seems to have lost control of a woman who by all accounts was broken by her time in witness protection. He assured me she was a lock."

"Yes, Mr. Rivera," Lorenzo agreed again, and this time he actually made it out the door. Rivera turned his chair until he was facing the window. There were many things he had to consider.

"So Liv," Elliot asked as she came into the squad room early Monday morning. "How was your weekend?" waggling his eyebrows.

She smirked at him. "It was nice, Elliot. Except for being called in at oh-dark-thirty yesterday morning, it was pleasantly peaceful."

"Aw, c'mon Liv... you gotta give me more detail than that."

"I don't kiss and tell, El. You of all people should know that by now." She dropped a bag on his desk, then did similarly to Munch and Fin before taking a seat at her desk. "And besides... since when do you ask?"

"Since Alex Cabot came back into your life. Do you understand what a difference that has made in you? Liv, it's been less than a week and you're so different. It's like having the real you back again only more so than ever."

"It gives credence to the theories circulating about government cloning and the pod people they produce as stand ins for the actual human host."

Olivia raised an eyebrow. "Are you saying I'm a pod person, John?"

"I'm saying that the person you are sitting here today is much closer to the Olivia Benson I first knew than the woman who has occupied that chair for the last three years. It simply lends credibility to the pod people theory, given that the change in both instances is tied to one Alexandra Cabot, *who*, in point of fact, was part of an acknowledged government program."

Fin balled up his napkin and flung it at Munch, hitting him squarely in the forehead. "Man, will you just kill the conspiracy theory shit this morning? It is too damn early."

"Hear! Hear!" Olivia concurred heartily. "Just be happy I'm happy for the first time in what feels like forever. Should make for a nice change around here."

"All right," Munch agreed without much fuss. "But if you turn into Little Mary Sunlight, I'm calling in the Marines."

"Hoo-rah!" Stabler chirped with a leer.

"If I turn into Little Mary Sunlight," Olivia said drolly, "you'd better call in a firing squad - because I will probably go postal shortly thereafter just to minimize the saccharine overload." The entire squad room burst into laughter. Then the phone rang and their attention turned back to the seriousness of their work.

"Benson, my office," Cragen called from his doorway. She and Elliot exchanged a look, then Stabler shrugged his shoulders and turned back to the work already on his desk. Olivia stood and crossed to the captain's office, wondering what she'd done to merit a private session with Donald Cragen.

He closed the door behind her and motioned her to a seat before stepping behind his desk and taking his chair. He looked at her a long moment. "Olivia, how are things going for you? You seem to be in a much better frame of mind since Alex Cabot's return to your life."

Liv was more than a little nonplussed. Not that she and Alex together were much of a secret, but she'd never expected the brass, not even her captain, to ask her so directly. She stared at him wide-eyed for almost a full minute then swallowed hard and answered.

"I'm good, Cap. We're good. Things are fine, sir. Um... can I ask you why you're asking?"

Don Cragen smiled. "In this case, Olivia, it's just friendly interest. It's good to see you smile again. It's been a long time coming." Olivia nodded, but didn't respond otherwise. "Now," Cragen continued, his voice going more professional and less personal. "About those rape/murders that happened on Friday – you and the other detectives that caught those cases will be working together on a task force that will also include several narc officers. Since all indications are that the victims were tied to Velez, it puts Rivera and his organization at the top of the list for suspects." He paused and bit his lip pensively and she sighed, knowing what was coming.

"Let me guess – Hammond and the DEA want to be a part of this."

"They are simply looking for information at this point. Apparently, they already have someone in place inside Rivera's business."

"If it is who I suspect it is, Cap, it's gonna be a problem for me to stay on this case. I already had a run-in with him and took him down like a perp." Cragen raised an eyebrow. Olivia shrugged. "Let's just say I didn't know who he was at the time, and he was throwing his weight around and harassing Alex. He's lucky I didn't run him in for assault."

Cragen nodded. "All right, Olivia. I'll talk to Hammond and see what the story is. For now, though, stay on the case and see what you can come up with. The guys will help, but until I hear otherwise, you're the primary," handing her a list with the names of the detectives from the other boroughs that were also part of the task force.

"Okay, Cap. Any way we can get everyone in the same place for this?"

Don shook his head. "I doubt it... not this early in the game. At this point, sharing and analyzing all the data we have from fifteen different crime scenes is going to be a full time job. But set up a situation area in the corner... something we could use as a meeting space with all the information in one place if and when it comes to that."

"Yes, sir," she replied, standing and turning to the door. She put her hand on the knob when Cragen's voice stopped her again.

"Congratulations, Olivia. It really is good to see you happy."

"Thanks, Don. It's good to feel that way again too." Then she stepped back into the squad room to get to work. It promised to be a really long day.


Chapter XII

"Alex, do you have a minute?"

Alex looked up as Liz Donnelly stuck her head in the door, then back down at her desk. The truth was she had plenty to do, but it was mostly busy work at this point. Her new nestlings had reported in and had already started working; her main job seemed to be answering inane questions. Had she ever been that green and naïve? The migraine she had building behind her eyes made her rue the day she had agreed to take the Bureau Chief's job. It also made Liz's interruption most welcome, regardless of the reason. So she motioned Liz into her office, taking off her glasses and leaning back in her chair.

"Have a seat, Liz. What can I do for you?"

Liz looked Alex over carefully. In many ways, she was still the formidable, cocky lawyer that used to consistently drive Liz nuts; but underneath the veneer of self-confidence Alex projected, Liz could see a fragileness and vulnerability that hadn't been there before.

"Not a thing, actually," Liz answered. "I came to check on you," she continued unapologetically.

Alex's brows rose into her hairline. "You think I can't do this job?"

Liz snorted. "Don't be stupid, Alex! Of course you can do this job. I'm just not sure it's the right job for you now. You're pushing too hard to get back into a life that doesn't exist anymore. Is everything all right or is there something I can help with?"

Alex returned Liz's scrutiny. For all their head butting, Liz had always backed her up whenever she could, even though she'd had to work hard not to laugh too much when Petrovsky had locked Alex up for contempt. While Alex was still trying to formulate an honest answer that she was satisfied with, Liz spoke again, leaning forward in her earnestness.

"Alex, are things all right between you and Detective Benson?" She held up her hands when blue eyes blazed at her. "I think it's about time for the two of you to be happy together; personally I never could figure out what was holding you back before... I mean aside from the obvious."

"The obvious was enough then, Liz."

"And it's not enough now?"

"No. I lost three years with Olivia – friendship or otherwise - that I'll never get back. Life's too short to worry about what other people think or let that influence the way you live your life."

"So this is serious with her then." A statement, not a question. Alex nodded, then pulled something out of her drawer and passed it over to Liz. Donnelly accepted the paperwork, letting her eyes widen when she realized what she held. "Wow," was what she said as she handed them back to Alex. "Can I ask when...?" vaguely motioning with her hands.

"I don't know yet. When it feels like the time is right, I guess."

"Good for you, Alex. I hope it works out for both of you. You seem to have something together...." Liz trailed off. "It's good to know sometimes there are second chances."

"Thanks, Liz," Alex said with a smile, sitting back and relaxing in her seat a bit.

"So you want to tell me what's bothering you? Because I know something is."

"Why do you think that?" Alex asked.

Liz stood and leaned over the desk. "I'm a tough old broad, Alex and I've been around this business a long, LONG time. I learned when I was still wet behind the ears to notice everything that went on around here just to survive. I know enough secrets... well, let's just say no one here is squeaky clean and leave it at that. The point is," she continued before Alex could break in with questions, "I remember the hard-assed, obnoxious kid you were when you started working for me. And I can see you lost that edge and drive while you were gone. You've still got a lot of friends, Alex. Just know I'm here if and when you need to talk about it, all right? I know I'm not Detective Benson, but I probably understand the job in this place a little better than she does."

"Thanks, Liz. I'll keep that in mind."

Liz moved to the door and hesitated with her hand on the knob. "One more thing," she added, holding Alex's eyes with her own. "Be careful. There are some rumors and gossip floating around that could spell trouble for you and your detective."

Blue eyes that had shown confusion sharpened and drilled into Liz's. "Like what?"

"Nothing concrete," Liz confessed. "Mostly rumblings right now, but it's there. I thought you needed to be aware. I'll let you know if I hear anything definite." A pause. "Alex, I know for a fact there are a lot of people who were less than thrilled with your return to the DA's office and your subsequent promotion. That coupled with the fact that you apparently threw over your fiancé so you and Benson could have what many perceive to be an illicit relationship and you have the nerve to be happy together in it.... Just watch your back, all right?"

"I will, Liz. Thanks for the warning."

Liz nodded her head, and after another moment's hesitation, walked out the door, closing it softly behind her. Alex stared at the closed door a minute longer, then turned her attention back to the work in front of her. She'd talk to Olivia later when they were alone. She refused to live in fear anymore, but Liv needed to be aware of what was being said. It could mean trouble for them down the line and at least this way, they could prepare for the worst.

"We've got nothing, Cap."

"Whaddya mean we've got nothing, Olivia? It's been three weeks. The guys put all the facts together on a spread sheet. There's gotta be something we can use. What does your gut tell you?"

"That there isn't even enough to merit an argument with Casey for a warrant. The only tie our victims have is that they were once associated with Velez in some way and they were all sexually violated before they were killed. They were different ages, races, from different backgrounds and economics. They were all raped differently, all murdered differently. Warner says there's no DNA evidence at the scene and the bodies were washed clean which suggests they were moved from where they were killed to where they were found."

"And no one saw anything," Cragen stated flatly. Olivia shook her head.

"No; we canvassed the entire neighborhood twice. And the beat cops in the area have been talking to people. There's nothing there."

Cragen sighed. "Go do it again. Find somebody that saw something."

"Cap, there's nothing there to find... not after all this time."

"Liv, we got a call," Stabler broke in. She looked at Cragen and he shook his head and waved her off. "Go on; we both know the odds of getting anything concrete on this case now aren't good. You can keep working it as other cases allow."

"Yes sir." Then she headed out the door with Elliot.

They arrived at the scene to find Fin and Munch waiting for them. Olivia cocked an eyebrow; Elliot voiced his question. "What gives?"

Fin shook his head. "It's bad, man. And we needed Liv on this one."


"Thirteen year old victim," Munch replied, looking at his notes. "Apparently killed her rapist. She's still inside with the body. She hasn't responded to anyone – not us or the uniforms that answered the call and we asked the paramedics to give us a chance to let you talk to her first, Liv," motioning to the two men waiting patiently by their equipment. "We're hoping she might react better to a woman's presence."

Liv nodded and handed her gun to Elliot for safekeeping. Then she stepped into the room and took a moment to compose herself before crossing to the side of the bed where a blood-covered child sat mute and unmoving in the face of a horror no one should have to witness... much less be a part of.

The male detectives followed Olivia in silently – Munch and Fin to examine the body and Stabler to watch her back. After a few moments, the girl was covered in a sheet the paramedics provided and Olivia was able to coax her into the back of the vehicle.

When they arrived at the precinct, Casey was waiting for them as was Alex. Olivia wondered, but decided to be thankful for small blessings and ask questions later. Alex rubbed Liv's arm wordlessly, then to everyone's surprise, she knelt down to be just below eye level with the girl who had stopped walking and looked at Alex silently. Alex didn't speak and neither did the child; then the girl reached out her hand and pushed a lock of blonde hair behind Alex's ear before resuming her walk beside Olivia to the interview room. Casey followed and Alex went into the box with the other detectives.

It didn't take long, and the girl was turned over to a woman who had been patiently waiting in the interrogation room with Casey and Olivia. Alex wondered who she was and why she was there, but just as suddenly the woman and the girl were gone. Olivia met Alex as she came out the door of the box. Alex's arms were wrapped around herself and she looked a little lost. Olivia exchanged concerned looks with the rest of the squad and led Alex over to her desk, then knelt down beside her.

"Alex... sweetheart? You all right?"

After a moment, blue eyes tracked to brown and Alex nodded her blonde head slowly. "I'll be okay, Liv," she agreed after a moment. "It's just been a long time...." letting her voice trail off. "And I know what it's like to be a victim now – though not to that extent." Her eyes welled with tears that she refused to permit to fall. "God, Liv... that was horrific."

Olivia nodded and swallowed, glad the girl had been allowed to clean up at the hospital. "Yes, it was. And it's something she'll never forget, Alex – just like you. But she's in good hands now. She has a very good chance of surviving this and leading a productive life."

"I'm glad she has someone, and I'm glad I have you."

Olivia took Alex's hands and rose before guiding Alex to stand up. "C'mon. Let's go get you some coffee and maybe a bite to eat." Liv exchanged a silent look with Cragen and he nodded his assent. Before they reached the door however, Casey spoke up haltingly.

"Um, Alex? What were you doing here for this anyway?" Every eye in the room swung her way and Casey felt the intensity of their focus. Every eye except George Huang, that is. He was watching Alex Cabot and saw the confusion wash over her face even as Casey continued speaking. "Not that you don't belong here, of course...."

"I *don't* belong here, though. Not for this... not anymore," Alex said, shaking her head lightly. "I just got the feeling I needed to be here." She paused and furrowed her brow in thought. Then she shrugged. "I didn't hesitate; I didn't even think about it. I dropped everything and came right over."

The detectives traded looks, conveying their thoughts without speaking. Then the room moved into motion again. Cragen tapped Casey's shoulder and she followed him into the office. Munch and Tutuola sat down at their desks and started making phone calls. And Olivia took Alex by the elbow and together with Stabler they headed for the coffee and food Alex had been promised.

"May I join you?" George asked just as they reached the door. He looked at Alex and the two detectives just waited for her decision. After a moment's hesitation, she nodded and the four of them headed out of the precinct together.

By unspoken agreement, Alex and George walked out towards the sedan together while Olivia and Elliot brought up the rear. Liv kept an eye on Alex and Elliot kept an eye on Olivia. Huang was conscious of everyone around him, but his focus remained on Alex. Alex just kept her gaze on something George suspected only she could see.

"How are you doing, Alex? Really?"

She turned and looked at him, a hint of the old, sardonic Alex peeking out at him and garnering her a smile. Her lips twitched in response and she shrugged. "I'm all right most of the time," she said, looking around at the city. "It's so good to be home, to be me again. But it is also surreal. I'm not who I was when I left."

They reached the car and the two detectives climbed in front to allow George and Alex to continue their conversation in some semblance of privacy. This wasn't the way Olivia had imagined things playing out, but if it helped Alex, then it was all to the good in Liv's book. "None of us are, Alex," Huang replied softly. "Life went on while you were gone, and we went on with it."

Instead of the fiery retort he expected, her answer was melancholy. "I know, George. I just wish I knew how I fit into it now. It's been almost a month since I came back, and still...." Huang waited for her to continue, but all Alex did was shrug and shake her head.

"How are things between you and Olivia?" She jerked an eyebrow at him and it was Huang's turn to shrug sheepishly. "That made it around faster than your supposed engagement... obviously that's one rumor that wasn't true."

"It's complicated...."

"Of course," with a smile.

"But things with Olivia have been wonderful – very solid even though we are still tentatively feeling our way into this new facet of our relationship." She paused. "George, why are you asking me all this? You're not my therapist."

"Part of it is professional concern," he acknowledged. "But part of it is concern for a woman I knew as a friend and colleague. Are you seeing someone professionally?"

Alex shook her head. "No. Things have been so crazy, I haven't had the time to look for anyone; I wouldn't know where to start. Is there someone you can recommend?"

George nodded. "Sure. Do you want someone for couples or just for you?"

Alex looked at Olivia who was watching her closely in the passenger mirror. She arched a brow and Liv shrugged slightly and gave Alex the tiniest nod. George watched the silent communication in fascination. Considering how new they were to a romantic relationship, their ability to speak without words was astounding.

"Couples," Alex said. "We want to deal with this together as much as we can. If it looks like I need more on my own, I'll worry about it then.

Huang nodded. "Can you come back to my office after lunch? I'll give you a few names to try."

"Thanks, George," was all the agreement he got before Elliot was putting the sedan in park and they were all moving towards the restaurant. He opened the door for the restaurant and motioned everyone in ahead of him. Olivia hung back and Elliot took the hint, going inside to grab them a table. Alex and Liv swapped glances, then Alex followed.

"Thank you, George," Benson offered quietly. Huang just nodded his head.

"I'm glad to do it, Olivia. Alex is one of the good guys... and so are you. Besides, what you share is obviously very special." She held his eyes but couldn't stop the blush that faintly colored her cheeks. They crossed the threshold when people trying to enter behind them jostled them through the door. Olivia glared and George frowned but they entered and scanned the room for Elliot and Alex. Stabler waved them over and they both acknowledged him before proceeding to thread their way through the tables.

Then they settled down to lunch and conversation became more general. It was surprisingly pleasant and they were all much more relaxed by the time it was over. It was with reluctance, but unexpectedly refreshed that they finally broke up and headed back to the real world.

"How do you feel?" Olivia asked Alex later that evening as they were curled up together on the couch. The television was on, but it only registered as so much background noise, they were so wrapped up in one another. Alex gazed into Olivia's deep brown eyes, reaching up to cup the face that radiated such love and concern Alex felt it wash over her in waves.

"Cared for... loved," smiling when Liv's lips twitched and an eyebrow rose into her hairline. Alex let her hands comb through the short strands. "And completely exhausted, if you must know the truth. I don't remember ever being as young or as naïve as these kids are. God, what are they letting out of law school these days?!"

"Listen to the old crone," Liv mocked lightly. "Remember, I've got ten years on you sweetheart."

"Yeah, but they look good on you."

Olivia brushed a kiss across Alex's forehead and felt a little of the tension in Alex's body relax slightly. "Flatterer," she said with a smile. "How about otherwise? I know today was pretty traumatic. I'm glad you talked to George about it."

"I'm glad he was able to recommend someone for us to go see. Thank you for that, by the way."

"I told you we'd work on this together, Alex. I meant it." A brief silence. Then, "Why did you really come to the station? Not that you weren't welcome – I did want to see you after I saw that little girl...." letting her words trail off. "But you never did that... before – I mean...." Olivia fell silent again as if not sure how to phrase her statement. Alex shrugged and cuddled closer into Olivia's body, relishing warmth and strength when Olivia wrapped her arms more firmly around Alex's shoulders and lending her own to Liv in return.

"I'm not sure. I just had this urge to check on you... see if maybe you wanted to go to lunch. It might have been what Liz said to me this morning."

Olivia frowned. "What did she say?"

"Nothing for you to get upset about, honey," Alex said soothingly. "She's on our side. She just wanted me to know not everyone in the DA's office is."

Olivia snorted. "No surprise there. I doubt most of the NYPD would be either, if they knew the truth. We're lucky our immediate circle of friends don't seem to care."

"That's because they are real friends."

"Good thing – I'd have needed to kill them otherwise by now." Alex jerked her head back and looked into Olivia's eyes. "They've been keeping an eye on us."

"That's sweet, Liv. I think Casey and Liz have been doing the same thing for me. I'd never admit this to anyone but you, but it's kind of a nice feeling... knowing there are people who care enough to be concerned and take an interest."

"Did Casey say something too?"

"No, but she has made it a point to keep in touch – you know, just look in to say hi at some point during every day."

"She probably still remembers what it was like to be the new kid... especially trying to fill your shoes."

Alex nodded. "That could be. Whatever the reason, though, I appreciate the gesture. She's becoming a real friend and a person can never have too many of those."

Olivia agreed with a nod and squeezed Alex a little tighter. They remained snuggled together for a while, then Alex shifted and slid onto Olivia's lap. Liv smiled and accepted the new position graciously as it allowed her to caress most of Alex's body, although she kept her touch light and soothing. When Alex started dropping kisses down her neck, her hands reflexively gripped around Alex's waist.

"I thought you were exhausted," Liv commented on an uneven breath that turned into a squawk when the nipping became a bite, then deliberate sucking on her pulse point.

"This makes me feel better," Alex asserted. "Besides, I have missed you all week."

"I've missed you, too, sweetheart." Olivia chuckled, then drew in a sharp breath when Alex bit her nipple through her shirt. She looked up at Alex in surprise. So far, their lovemaking had been slow and gentle while they learned more about one another. Though considering they had been together just under a month, the last week had seen Olivia working several sixteen and twenty hour days, and there was obviously a lot they still had to learn.

"You bit me!" Olivia stated, but Alex could see she wasn't particularly unhappy about the turn of events and smirked.

"I had to do something to keep your attention; it was evidently wandering if you found the need to laugh during foreplay."

The very next sound was that of buttons popping and bouncing around the room. Alex looked down at her now very open and clearly ripped oxford shirt, then into Olivia's sparkling brown eyes. She hissed in reaction when Liv dragged her blunt nails from the waistband of her sweatpants up her torso, tweaking both nipples before continuing on to thread her hands into the shoulder length blonde hair. She tugged Alex down until their lips were just short of touching.

"You have my complete and undivided attention, counselor," Olivia declared in a harsh whisper. "You always have." Then she caught Alex's lips in a fiery kiss and pulled their bodies together until there wasn't even room for air between them.

When they finally separated for air, Alex clasped Liv's face in both hands and growled, "Bedroom now, detective!" She slid from Olivia's lap and Liv rose right behind her. Alex grabbed Olivia's hand and pulled her down the short hallway to the bedroom. Two steps short, Liv scooped Alex up unexpectedly and tossed her on the bed. Alex gasped but didn't have time to react before Olivia followed, leaping onto the bed and straddling Alex's prone body.

"Now, Ms Cabot... do I have your complete and undivided attention?" Liv trailed her fingers lightly up Alex's body from hip to breast, leaning down and smiling when Alex twitched in reaction. She circled her naval and watched the blue eyes darken and the nostrils flare. Then she found herself on the bottom of the pile when Alex deftly flipped them over.

"Absolutely, Detective Benson. Do I still have yours?" But before Olivia could formulate a response, Alex took possession of both her mouth and body and proceeded to ravish her thoroughly – an experience Olivia was more than happy to reciprocate... once she caught her breath and her bearings.

"So you want to tell me what was so funny earlier?" Alex asked when she and Olivia were snuggled together naked under the covers.

"What? Oh.... Nothing really; it just occurred to me that as much as I missed you everyday while you were in witness protection, it couldn't compare to how badly I missed you this last week. I'm just glad I got to hold you for a few hours every night."

"So I am. I have gotten quite addicted to being with you. I don't plan to ever give that up again."

"Sounds like you're thinking long term there, counselor," shifting to look Alex directly in the eyes. Alex met her stare without missing a beat.

"As long term as you're willing to commit to, Liv."

Olivia reached out to cup Alex's face with one hand. "Are you sure, Alex? This is still so new to us, and being Alex Cabot again is new to you. I don't want you to rush or to feel I rushed you into making a decision you'll regret later. I love you too much for that. I can wait...."

"I already did that, Liv - three years of waiting... of marking time til I could come home. I promised myself that if I got a second chance with you, I was going to make the most of it."

"If it's left up to me, it'll be a forever kind of thing, Alex."

"I like the sound of that, Liv – forever sounds just perfect to me." Then their lips met again and the silence gave way to the sounds of love and passion as they pledged themselves to one another once more.

Part 7

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