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 8


Chapter XV

"So, Olivia... what were your impressions on the evening?" Elizabeth asked as the three women settled into her living room for a nightcap. Enrique had departed shortly after Robert had been removed, having exacted a promise from both Elizabeth and Sara for details later. Things had run smoothly once the buffet was underway and Alex learned exactly how many friends she still had in this particular circle; she was gratified with the acceptance she and Olivia had found from most of what was definitely old money society. Now she sat back and sipped her wine, anxious to hear Olivia's thoughts on everything that had happened.

"Honestly?" Elizabeth chuckled but nodded. "I think most of your friends are extremely gracious and at least on the surface they were fair and open-minded about Alex and me."

"On the surface? You don't think they were sincere?"

"I don't know, Elizabeth. I don't know these people well enough to make that sort of judgment."

"Employ your training as a detective, Liv. What does your gut tell you?"

Olivia turned and stared at Alex for a long moment before her gaze became introspective. "I think a majority of them were sincere to a degree – the older generation moreso than the younger and many of those were making allowances for the trauma Alex went through."

"They think this – YOU – are a phase for me??"

"I think the people our age are curious how real this is... how committed we are to one another. I don't think most of them really care one way or another whether we love one another or not except as a curiosity and point of gossip; they figure you're following fashion and will eventually return to convention to win their approval." Olivia held up her hand to stop the firestorm she could see growing in Alex's blue eyes.

"And my generation?" Elizabeth asked with unbridled curiosity. She, of course, had her own opinion, but she was very interested to get Olivia's sense of things.

"Your generation is much less concerned with the fact that we are a couple; they are more concerned with where I come from and what I do for a living and what my intentions are." Liv snickered. "It was an odd mixture of the free love flower children mentality from the sixties and a strange awareness of old-fashioned chivalry."

"When did you hear all this?? We were together all night – even though Remmy did try to steal you away from me for a while."

"People were talking all night, Alex. I guess it was hard for the detective in me to miss."

"I have to say that the nerve of this Robert fellow simply astounded me," Elizabeth huffed before the silence grew awkward. "Where did he get off telling tales like that? Did he honestly think he wouldn't get caught??"

"I don't think he expected me to acknowledge my relationship with Olivia."

"I don't think he's expected a lot of what he's gotten from you," Liv teased with a smirk.

Alex shrugged and cocked an eyebrow. "Doesn't pay to be too predictable, detective." She twined her fingers with Olivia's, frowning and focusing her attention on their joined hands. Olivia tugged on them gently, bringing Alex's eyes back to hers while Elizabeth watched the tableau playing out in front of her with great interest.

"What are you thinking?"

"We've put him in a corner, Liv. We have no way of knowing how he'll react now."

"Alex, he's always been a wild card where we are concerned. Claiborne will do whatever it is he needs to do and we'll deal with it when the time comes. I refuse to waste any more time with you worrying about things I can't control."

"Listen to her, Alexandra. Olivia is a smart woman."

"And I'm chopped liver, I suppose."

"Well, if the pate fits...." Elizabeth chortled. Alex just rolled her eyes.

"On that note," she said, draining the rest of her wine and standing up, tugging Olivia up with her. She bent down and kissed Elizabeth's cheek. "Goodnight, mother."

"Goodnight, you two." Olivia gave Elizabeth a little wave then walked beside Alex up the stairs. Elizabeth watched them until they disappeared into Alex's... their... room. Then she turned off the lights and went to hers.

"So what do you do, Olivia? I believe I heard it mentioned that you were a detective." Lawrence Remington carefully spread cream cheese on his bagel before adding lox and capers. He noticed all eyes and ears were focused in their direction, though no one stopped eating except Olivia. She put down her fork and picked up her glass, drinking deeply before wiping her lips.

"I am a detective with the Special Victims Unit at the one-six in Manhattan."

Lawrence blinked. "I never thought.... That is how you met Alexandra, isn't it? I remember her speaking of the dedication of the members of the Special Victims Unit she was privileged to work with. I didn't realize...." He paused and cleared his throat. "Don't you find it a difficult burden to bear... especially as long as you have borne it?"

"Sometimes," she admitted quietly. "Sometimes it hurts to see a child who's lost her innocence to a monster she called father. Sometimes it's hard to know that for every sick, twisted bastard we catch, a dozen more are waiting to take his place. Sometimes it's easy to want to drown the memories of every victim you've encountered in a bottle. But sometimes – once in a very great while – we get to see something good come out of the work we do. And that gives us the strength to keep doing what we do." She reached out a hand to Alex who took it without hesitation. "And sometimes, but only if you're very lucky, you find someone who understands what drives you to work in the darkness, and they love and support you anyway."

"It sounds as though you are both very lucky, Olivia."

"We are, Remmy," Alex responded. "This is beyond price. And those that don't like it or don't understand it can bite me."

"Better get a tetanus shot then, Alexandra. I heard a lot of support for you both last night, but there was some backbiting from some of your contemporaries," Sara commented. "Then again, I don't recall there ever being much of anything else coming from them."

Everyone at the table snorted. Lawrence patted his mouth and picked up his coffee, sitting back comfortably. "So tell me about this Robert fellow, Alexandra. He seemed to know so much about you, I had no reason to doubt his word when he introduced himself as your fiancé and yet it is clear that he has no claim on you. And he obviously had no idea your heart had been bestowed elsewhere," motioning to Olivia and their still linked hands.

"He was someone who befriended me while I was still in Florida and read much more into our friendship than I was willing to give him," Alex hedged, not wanting to lie but unable to share the complete truth.

"He followed you here... like some sort of stalker?"

"Not exactly. He was from here. It was mostly dumb luck we met, and bad luck that I apparently encouraged him enough for him to think there was something more than just someone lonely for home."

"Well, I for one think you are well rid of him," Elizabeth chimed in. "There was something not quite right about his eyes." She paused. "He reminded me of a weasel... or maybe a ferret."

"I thought of him more as a jackass myself," Liv muttered to Alex, causing her to almost spew juice across the table in a most unladylike fashion. The rest demanded to know what caused the reaction, and brunch ended to laughter ringing throughout the Remington household.

"I'm sorry, Ms Cabot... Alex, but I think I've screwed up this case beyond winning."

Alex closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. Ten o'clock on Monday morning and all she could think of was how long it was going to be until she got to the weekend and significant time with Olivia again. Olivia had gotten a call at almost midnight on Saturday and Alex hadn't heard from her since. That alone had successfully managed to ratchet up the tension level in her body until it radiated off her like a force field. She looked back at the fledgling prosecutor staring back at her.

"Then you go make a deal. You put the bastard away for as long as you can get. And then you go make nice and apologize to the detectives who busted their asses to put this case together for you. It's not their fault you screwed up, but they're going to be the ones who have to live with the consequences of knowing their work wasn't worth the effort they put into it because you flushed it down the toilet."

Her voice never rose, but the young man was shaking in his shoes and biting his lip before she was finished. He nodded and she waved him out. He scampered out so fast, he nearly bowled Casey Novak over in the process. She caught herself on the doorjamb, re-establishing her equilibrium before knocking on the frame. She heard Alex audibly sigh, then invite her in. She peeked around the door slowly, making sure nothing was going to come flying first.

"Hey, Alex."

"Hey, Casey," Alex replied with a smile. "What's up?" motioning her to a high-backed chair.

"That's what I came to find out. You've been chewing up and spitting out interns all morning. Everything all right?" Casey took a seat, glad to lean her head back and relax for a moment. It had already been a long morning for her as well.

"Aside from not being able to remember ever being that young and stupid?"

"Alex, you're not *that* much older than they are – eight years at the outside, and some of them as little as three."

"Maybe... but I was *never* this stupid either. These kids are making first year law school mistakes, and there is no excuse for it. They were the top applicants we had!" Alex took a deep breath and visibly tried to calm herself. "Sorry... long weekend and it's turning into the Monday morning migraine from hell for me. I shouldn't take it out on you or them."

"Well, maybe a little on them," Casey teased. "They need to learn to fear the wrath of Bureau Chief Alex Cabot and not revere you because you lived through witness protection and came back to tell about it. You're the new Liz Donnelly around here, you know."

Alex groaned. "I'm not sure the world is ready for that... I know I'm not!"

Casey laughed. "It could be worse. You could have been me three years ago coming in to fill your shoes. Took me a long time to get through that."

"Was I so bad?" Alex asked with a hurt tone. She and Casey had been making great strides in their friendship. She didn't want Casey to resent her. Casey snorted.

"No... you were that good and well-respected and I was an interloper as far as the one-six was concerned. And although you certainly aren't an interloper here, you still need to give it a little time. After all, you've only been back just over a month and things are settling down." Casey paused and cocked her head at Alex. "Is everything okay?" she asked again. "You said it was a long weekend. Something go wrong between you and Olivia?"

Before Alex could even draw breath to speak, Robert burst in the door without bothering to knock, slamming it behind him hard enough to rattle the glass. He didn't see Casey sitting there; Casey sat motionless at Alex's signal and waited for the fireworks to start. Robert marched right up to Alex's desk and launched into a tirade.

"How could you, Alexandra?? How could you?!? Do you know how much damage you've done to my assignment?? Do you care how much danger you've put me in??"

"No Robert... frankly I don't care. The fact is that you brought this situation on yourself. You took advantage of the situation and then refused to cede the only condition I made. So please don't try to turn this into my crisis. It isn't – I was out of this by your actions before I made it home."

"I don't think you understand the seriousness of what is happening here, Alex! Someone is going to die because of this!" Robert said in frustration, then he turned and spotted Casey. "Who the hell are you and why are you listening to a private conversation??"

"Casey is my friend and we were actually having a private conversation before you barged in here."

"Leave!" Casey didn't even flinch and he reached for her, only to stop at Alex's words.

"I wouldn't, Robert... unless you fancy a night or two in jail for assault on an officer of the court. Casey is the ADA for the Manhattan Special Victims Unit. You really don't want me to call Olivia down here to arrest you, do you?"

"Whatever," he shrugged, turning his back on Casey though Alex saw the flash of fear in his eyes at the mention of Olivia's name. "But you need to understand, Alex – this is serious. Everything I've built up with Rivera is going down the toilet because of what you did to me. Months and years of work just gone. The entire operation is in jeopardy. And now not only is my life in danger if I don't fix this, but yours and Benson's could be as well."

"What do you mean?"

"C'mon, Alex. You really think Rivera doesn't know about the two of you? Even though you didn't exactly announce it to all your society friends... even if I hadn't told him about you throwing me over for her... Rivera knew. He's been watching you since you came back to town although I'm not sure if that was for your benefit or for mine."

"And you didn't think I needed to know this?!?" Casey shivered at the ice in Alex's voice.

"Not really. You should have expected it. It's not like you're exactly new to this game, Cabot. That's why I can't believe you were stupid enough to think you could just walk away from this without consequences. God!! Do you get it yet??"

"Robert, do yourself a favor and walk out of my office without another word. I am not going to help you. You have pushed my very last button and crossed the very last line with me. And if I ever see you within a hundred feet of me again, I'll slap a restraining order on you so quickly, the ink won't be dry before you land in jail. Do *you* get it yet??"

"You'll be sorry, Alex. The only way for all of us to get out of this is for you to drop Benson and...." He didn't get to finish before he was kissing the wall.

"I think Ms Cabot asked you to leave, dickhead." Alex and Casey were on their feet before the words were out of Olivia's mouth, but they weren't quick enough to keep her from slamming Robert into the wall like a perp. "Now personally, I've had enough of you and your whining. So as I see it, you've got two choices – you walk out of here a free man or you walk out of here in cuffs. The only difference for me is the amount of paperwork I have to do if I run you in."

"Let go of me, bitch!"

Olivia turned her face towards Alex and Casey; both women gasped at the obvious black eye the detective sported. "Why do they always, *always* use that word? Can't anyone, anywhere come up with something different for a change??" Robert shifted and Olivia tightened her grip.

"Let go of me, detective. I'll leave peacefully and you'll never see me again." He straightened his tie and jerked his suit coat into place. "Just remember, Cabot, the consequences will rest on your head."

Olivia opened the door and pushed him out before closing it and locking it behind her. Then she leaned against it and slid to the floor, her exhaustion finally catching up to her. "Damn, that hurt."

Alex knelt on one side and Casey on the other and with a look, they each took an arm and helped Olivia to her feet. Then they moved her to the couch and helped her sit back; Liv groaned and sighed deeply. Casey stood back, but Alex sat right down in Olivia's personal space and put her arms around her, relishing the feeling of Liv's body relaxing into hers.

"I'm gonna fall 'sleep if I stay here," Olivia mumbled against Alex's neck. Alex bit her lips to keep from laughing at the tickling sensation Liv was causing with her words. Alex raised a hand and brushed the hair off of Olivia's forehead.

"When was the last time you slept?"

"Wha' day zit?" her words slurring as she leaned further into Alex. Casey covered her mouth with her hand to keep from laughing out loud and Alex gave her a smirk before turning her attention back to Olivia.

"C'mon sweetheart," easing Olivia back until she was reclining with her head against one end. "Take a few minutes. We'll have something to eat brought in and then you can go back to work. Cragen and Elliot can do without you for an hour or two," she added before Olivia could protest.

"'ave to fin' Casey." Alex held up her hand before Casey could speak.

"Casey can have lunch with us. Just rest for a few minutes." She didn't say anything else – she didn't need to. Olivia was snoring softly.

Alex stood and pulled Olivia's lower body onto the couch. Then she rubbed the back of her neck and exchanged a look with Casey. "What the hell is she working on?"

"I don't know. I haven't seen her since... Friday morning, I think it was." Casey shook her head. "I'll tell you what – I'll go pick up something for lunch. That will give Olivia a chance to rest and you can stay here and keep an eye on her."

"I'm not keeping you away from anything?"

"Nothing that won't keep a while."

Alex nodded. "Then I appreciate it, Casey. Thank you."

Casey closed the door behind her quietly and Alex stared at the sleeping detective on her couch for a long moment longer before she crossed back over to her desk and dialed a once familiar number. It rang twice before it was picked up.

"Elliot, this is Alex. What the hell is going on?"


"Please, Elliot. Don't play coy and don't be stupid. I have already had the Monday from hell and my lover, the missing girlfriend I haven't seen since a rather frantic phone call from you Saturday night is now sacked out on my couch dead to the world. Now I would like some answers, detective, and I want them now, please."

"What do you know?"

"Assume I know nothing from the time you called her in Saturday." Elliot bit his lip and cursed in his mind. Why do I always seem to get stuck with this sort of stuff? Isn't this supposed to be Liv's job now or something? He sighed. "I'm waiting, detective."

"Fine," Stabler huffed. "I called Liv in Saturday night because a body was found in Brooklyn."

"Brooklyn?? Elliot, that isn't your jurisdiction."

"No, but I've got friends on the force there. Alex, there was a note there addressed to Olivia attached to the body."

Alex felt the cold chill skitter down her spine and back up again, making the hair stand up on the back of her neck. "What did it say?" she asked in a whisper.

"Benson back off. It was written on the victim's shirt in his blood, Alex. Olivia has been working non-stop with the Brooklyn homicide unit since then trying to figure out what the hell is going on. She didn't make it in today but at least now I know where she is. Tell her Cragen said for her to get some sleep today, but she is to be here and not in Brooklyn first thing tomorrow morning."

"I will, Elliot. Thanks for the information." Then she hung up the phone before he could respond. He frowned at it when the dial tone sounded in his ear, then he shrugged. He figured he'd get the details from Olivia sooner or later, and in the meantime, she was in good hands.

Alex covered her face with her hands then rubbed the heels of her palms into her eyes, hoping to eliminate some of the burning she felt in them. How long she stayed that way she couldn't have said, but she jumped when a hand landed on her arm. She looked up then down into the sleepy eyes of her rumpled partner. A smile crossed her face at the shorter hair that framed Liv's face haphazardly. Alex lifted a hand and pushed it back from Olivia's face. Liv captured the hand and held it in her own.

"What's wrong, sweetheart?"

Alex frowned. "Why do you think there's something wrong?"

Now it was Liv's turn to frown. "Because you were pressing your hands into your eyes. That always means something is bothering you."

"Well, let me think – my girlfriend dashed out of my mother's house in the Hamptons thirty-six hours ago with no explanation and barely a goodbye. I spent my entire day off worrying and wondering and finally, because I called her partner and not because she called me, I find out that my lover is tracking down a killer that, for whatever reason, obviously has her in his sights. Now," pulling her hand from Olivia's and standing to pace the room in a very prosecutorial manner, "to that, let's add the fact that the DEA agent from hell once again came to my office to harass me about the fact that his assignment is not going well and he blames me, I've got kids too stupid to pass first year law pretending to be prosecutors AND I have the migraine from hell from the tension in my shoulders and I'd have to say you can pretty much take your pick of what is wrong!!"

Olivia still knelt in the same position Alex had left her in, stunned by her outburst. But before she could kick-start her brain into formulating a response, Alex fell gracelessly back into her chair with an air of defeat, scrubbing her hands through her hair.

"Maybe I should give Robert what he wants; then maybe everything else will work out right for a change. And at least that way you would be protected," the last added at a bare whisper that Olivia didn't consciously hear as she jumped to her feet in reaction.

"WHAT?!?" Olivia exclaimed loudly, now wide awake and alert. "I know you didn't just say that! I know you didn't *think* it!! Have you lost your mind or is the migraine making you stupid??"

Alex glared at Olivia and she felt the room temperature drop around her, but it made a nice counterbalance for the fury she felt flowing through her veins. "Tread carefully, detective. You don't want to say something we'll both live to regret."

Brown eyes blazed fire, but she kept her voice down, mindful of the rumors that would fly if their words were overheard. "Alex, how do you suppose giving in to Robert at this point will do any good?? It's all over your office and mine what happened between us here a month ago as well as bits of what happened Saturday night – I've already started hearing them." She drew a deep breath, but it did nothing to calm her rage. "I meant it when I told you I wouldn't be the other woman or your dirty little secret! So are you trying to break up with me or do you really think that turning back to Robert for any reason is going to do anything other than get you labeled as a slut??"

The reverberation of the slap echoed through the otherwise silent room and Alex's harsh breathing was the only the sound to break the stillness. Olivia put a hand to her cheek, stunned that Alex had actually laid a hand on her in anger. She started to storm from the room; her own temper was burning hotly enough to curl her hands into fists that on a purely reactionary level wanted to retaliate and she didn't want to damage their relationship any more than it already had been with an instinctive reaction.

It was the sound of a thud that brought Olivia around to find Alex crumpled on the floor staring at her shaking hand. She was at Alex's side before she realized she had moved. The adrenaline their fight had caused to rush through her body pushed back the exhaustion that had forced her into sleep only a short time earlier and allowed Olivia to cradle Alex in her arms. Alex was much lighter and frailer than Olivia's solid frame so her weight was not difficult for the detective to manage; their nearly equal length made it harder to balance though and Liv stood awkwardly to her feet. Two steps and she sort of collapsed onto the couch with Alex clutching her tightly.

Alex kept deep blue eyes focused on Liv's face, reaching for the reddening mark with the same shaking hand that had made it. Olivia clasped the hand with her own, linking their fingers together forcefully and holding on as securely as she could without hurting Alex in the process.

"Oh God, Liv... I'm so sorry. I never meant...."

"Shh... I know. But I think we need to talk."

Alex nodded and closed her eyes. Then a knock on the door reminded them that Casey had gone to get them all an early lunch. Talking would have to wait just a little bit.


Chapter XVI

Casey was not stupid – she had come back a little sooner than her knock on the door had announced. What she overheard caused her to take the time to arrange a page before she was ready to enter Alex's office. What she saw when she walked in at Olivia's bidding broke her heart.

For the first time since her return, Alex Cabot looked frail... broken. And though there were no tears in her eyes or on her face yet, her whole body was curled into Olivia's as if it was crying for her. One look at Olivia's face made Casey wince internally, but she kept it from her expression and advanced into the room.

Casey placed the bags on the table and just as expected, her phone rang. She took the call, bewildering Munch with her nonsense, but he gamely played along, knowing he would get an explanation out of her later. Casey flipped her phone closed and dug through the bags to collect the coffee she'd picked up for herself, then turned back to Olivia who was watching her with unveiled interest and Alex whose sole focus remained Olivia.

"I've got to get back. Munch needs a warrant in the Nielsen investigation," not mentioning she'd given that to him first thing that morning. She wanted to say more, but this was something they had to work out between them first. "I'll be around later if you need anything or want to talk or whatever." She trailed off, shrugging her shoulders when she ran out of words.

"Thanks, Casey," Liv offered quietly.

"Yes, thank you," Alex agreed, her eyes still locked on Olivia's face. The door closed behind her with the distinct snick of the lock; only then did Alex release the tears that caused her whole body to tremble in reaction. Olivia held onto her as tightly as she dared. They would have to talk – she wasn't going to allow Alex or anyone else to go around hitting her no matter the reason. But she had been expecting this breakdown since Alex had seen the child in the squad room several days prior. It had been building since their first fiery confrontation the day of Alex's return and that child had been that catalyst needed to bring everything to a head. All things considered, Alex had shown remarkable restraint in holding everything together as long as she had. Maybe now they could hash things out and finally take the steps they needed to take to truly having a life together.

The tears went on for longer than Olivia expected them to; it was as if Alex had saved all the tears she had never been able to cry for this moment in Liv's arms. Olivia felt the release of Alex's pain – the burden of living up to an expectation she wasn't sure she could uphold in the wake of her father's death; the empathy she'd never been comfortable sharing with the victims during her tenure with the SVU; the loneliness she'd endured alone while she was in witness protection.

But mostly she felt Alex's pain and regret for what had just happened. And that made the tension that had settled in the very center of her being uncoil; Olivia's body relaxed and she lay back on the couch, hoping Casey had locked the door as she pulled Alex on top of her. Otherwise the scandal would be full-blown when the next little punk walked into Alex's office to whine. What she wouldn't learn until much later was that Casey had not only locked the door, but redirected the interns until Alex decided she was ready to deal with them again.

Liv felt Alex sinking completely into her and herself relaxing into a state of hazy exhaustion. She became aware of Alex's lessening sobs and tightened her embrace, brushing a kiss over the blonde head tucked under her chin. "Rest, sweetheart," Olivia murmured. "We can talk later."

"God, Liv... I am so, SO sorry. I've...."

"Shh, Alex. I'll be all right."

"What about us?"

Olivia opened eyes that had closed again as soon as the adrenaline rush wore off, struggling to keep them open long enough for Alex to see the truth in them. She kept one arm wrapped around Alex's body and with the other she cupped one cheek, gently wiping the tears away with her thumb. "We'll be all right too."

The need in the blue eyes was so clear and Olivia urged Alex's face closer until their lips met in a soft kiss. It wasn't demanding or passionate, but it was full of the love and reassurance Alex needed to feel. Liv teased Alex's lips and tongue with her own until at last Alex pulled away in a desperate attempt to gather air into her lungs again. She dropped her forehead onto Olivia's chest, purring when Liv started rubbing the knots out of her neck and shoulders.

"God, you're good at that," she mumbled. Olivia smiled.

"Close your eyes," she directed, just before she dropped off to sleep. Alex looked up when Olivia's hand stopped kneading and smiled sadly at the exhaustion so clearly evident in the detective's otherwise beautiful features. She studied Liv's face for a timeless moment, then dropped her head back to the soft, firm chest, positioning her ear over Olivia's string heartbeat.

"I won't let anything happen to you because of me, Liv. I can't."

Olivia didn't respond, but her grip tightened. Alex never realized when she fell asleep to the music of Olivia's beating heart.

"Alex?" She wasn't sure at first if she was dreaming or if someone was actually calling her name. Then a hand on her shoulder shook lightly and Alex Cabot blinked open sleepy blue eyes to find Serena staring calmly back at her. She frowned and tried to clear the fogginess from her mind. Why was Serena here and how had she gotten in?

"Casey called me," Serena stated without preamble, keeping her voice a whisper so as not to disturb the still soundly sleeping detective. "She was worried about you guys. I used her key to get in."

"Casey has a key to my office?" Alex asked, her mind not quite running on all cylinders yet. Serena nodded, extending a hand to help Alex get off the couch without unsettling Olivia.

"Yes, but you'll have to ask her about it." She led Alex over to the small bathroom in the alcove of her office, then took a seat in front of the big desk while Alex washed her face. She came back out looking much more alert and smiled wearily at Serena. "You all right?"

Alex sighed and shook her head. "No, but I will be."

"You want to talk about it?"

"No - not until I talk to Liv. She deserves to hear things first." They both glanced at the woman asleep on the couch. "I'm glad you dropped by though," Alex continued. "I haven't seen you since the party at Elliot's."

"I know... I kept reminding myself to call you and always something would come up. Maybe we should try to have a monthly girls' night out – invite Liv, Casey, maybe Melinda or Liz or even Kathy Stabler."

"That sounds good."

Serena closed her eyes, trying to visualize her schedule. "I'll have to check my calendar; I'm drawing a blank at the moment. I'll talk to Casey. Have her invite Melinda; then I'll ask Liz and Liv can ask Kathy. Once we know how many, we can figure out when and where." "

Alex nodded her agreement and Serena rose from the chair.

"All right. Now I'm going to head back to the office, but you call me if you need anything, okay? Either one of you. We're all a little worried."

"Me too," Alex confessed, the tired eyes looking back at Serena showing a measure of defeat in them. Serena wondered what could have possibly caused such a reaction in her otherwise strong, resilient friend. She had never seen that expression on Alex's face before and it was more than a little disconcerting now. She knew Casey was at lunch with Munch, but she determined to corner her for an information exchanging session as soon as possible. She took Alex in her arms and just held her there for a long moment.

"Take care of yourself and Olivia, Alex. We all need you both in our lives. We know what doing without either of you is like – we've done it and none of us were happy with that scenario."

"Thanks, Serena... and thank you for checking in on us." Serena brushed a ghostly kiss over Alex's cheek, and with a last look at Olivia's resting form, she was out the door. Alex returned to her desk to work, but most of her attention remained focused on Olivia. Then her interns figured out that her door was open again and she was forced to concentrate on the problems and questions they brought to her. She could only hope it would make the time pass faster so she and Olivia could go home, because regardless of everything that had already happened, it was still only Monday.

"So, counselor," Munch drawled in that Baltimore twang of his, "to what do I owe this distinct and unique pleasure? Is this to explain that rather cryptic phone call we had this morning?" He picked up his thick sandwich and took a bite.

"John, what was Olivia been working on over the weekend?"

Munch stopped chewing and looked uncomfortable, but then he swallowed and answered her question as honestly as he knew how. "We're trying to find some sort of link between the victim and Liv besides the obvious, but so far we've come up empty."


Munch shrugged. "For what it's worth... no match in the system. The only real open case Liv is the primary on is the five borough rape/murder, but that one has reached a dead end in all the precincts. All we've got are unfounded suspicions. Unless something new comes to light...." he shrugged and picked up his sandwich again. "Casey, what's going on?"

So she told him what had happened earlier in Alex's office with Robert and why she was concerned for both Olivia and Alex. "There's no doubt they love each other, John, but I'm worried all of this piling on top of them could break them apart if it doesn't let up soon. Considering all they've been through just to actually become a couple...."

"I know. We've tried to keep an eye on them, but there's only so much we can do without Liv wanting to kick our collective asses. However, I'll mention this to Fin and Elliot. We waited too long to see Liv happy again; maybe we can encourage this Robert character to go away quietly. I can't imagine what Cabot was thinking."

"That's okay – I don't think even she knows at this point." Casey's phone rang at that moment and she excused herself to answer it. In a moment she was back with an interesting smile on her face.

"What?" Munch asked.

"Oh... apparently we're having a girls' night out," not sharing with him the concern she could clearly hear in Serena's voice. Serena had promised to explain later, knowing Munch's curiosity would get the best of him if Casey left him alone too long.

"Oooh, can I come?" Munch asked with a smile. "I always wanted to see what happens when you girls get together for fun."

Casey smirked at him. "It's a lot like when the squad goes out to Mahoney's, except we go somewhere a lot nicer and there aren't any belching contests." She took a swallow of coffee and picked up a fry. "Other than that, well... it's a girl thing."

"You're not gonna tell me, are you?"

"Nope. The sanctity of the sisterhood must be upheld."

"You do realize I am going to make it my life's goal to find out, right?" tilting his head to look at her over his glasses. "It's a conspiracy and I can't allow any conspiracy that crosses my path to remain uninvestigated."

"You can try," she smirked. "Just as long as you understand that there's enough law in this particular sisterhood to make you disappear into the black hole of conspiracy theories."

"Oooh... women who play rough," he snarked and wiggled his eyebrows.

"Careful, Munch..." arching a single brow at him. "Cabot *has* been in jail before."

Munch laughed out loud and held up his hands in surrender. "All right! All right! I give!" He finished up his sandwich and his tone turned serious. "I'll keep you posted; do the same?"

"Yep." She dropped some money on the table. "You need a lift back?"

"No," checking his watch. "I've got an appointment nearby. But thanks."

He walked her to her car. "Bye, John. I'll be in touch." He watched her drive off, then turned and walked the other way, knowing Fin would be around with the car shortly.

"Do what you need to do, detective," Alex said, just stopping herself from slamming the phone down. She clicked the intercom. "Maggie, can you bring me the files on the Dickson case? I've got some angry detectives waiting on an answer."

"Right away, Ms Cabot."


Despite her misgivings and feelings of guilt, Alex couldn't stop the smile that crossed her face at the sleepy sound of Olivia's voice calling to her from the couch. She rose from behind her desk and crossed the room to kneel at Liv's head, reaching out and brushing dark bangs away from her face, then moving to her hand to the place she'd slapped earlier. There was no mark, but Alex knew and so did Liv. Olivia not only didn't flinch away from her touch, but she reached up to hold Alex's hand in place. "It's all right, Alex. It doesn't even hurt."

"I'm so sorry, sweetheart." Olivia remained quiet, knowing Alex needed to say this... to get it off her chest and make things as right as she could. "I never meant to hit you; I never thought I would. As it is, I'm still not sure how I did. But I swear it will never, ever happen again. You are my whole world, Liv. I can't believe...."

Olivia shifted and tugged Alex off the floor to sit beside her, never releasing the hand against her face. Alex perched precariously on the edge, but her eyes never left Olivia's. "You're right, Alex – it won't happen again. I won't let it and neither will you, but the fact is I've been waiting for you to reach your breaking point. I didn't push on purpose – I wouldn't do that to you," she went on before Alex could voice her question. "But it's been building since you got back. I'm glad I was here to catch you when it happened."

"So am I. I couldn't have done this alone, Liv. It would have swallowed me whole." She took a breath and looked away and Olivia waited patiently. Finally, Alex spoke again. "I miss the person I was before I left the first time – brash and feisty and independent. I want to find her again... I want to be her again."

Olivia nodded and swallowed hard, allowing her eyes to wander to keep Alex from seeing the pain she couldn't quite hide. "Would you like some company while you search or is this something you need to do on your own?"

Alex's head swung around so fast, Liv was a little surprised she didn't hear bones popping. "What?!? I thought... I need...." Alex tried to pull away, but Olivia held fast.

"I thought and I need too, Alex, but I wanted to be sure that's what you wanted. After what you said earlier...." Her brow furrowed in thought and she cocked her head as though listening to an inner voice. Then her eyes flashed to Alex's brown meeting blue in an intensity of understanding. "Oh God... you said that because you wanted to protect me." She pulled Alex to her until they were breathing the same air, lips not quite touching but close. "Baby, I promised you I'd always be beside you. Please don't push me away because it's getting hard. That's when we need each other the most. We'll get through this... together."


"Guaranteed, sweetheart." Olivia let one hand curl into the long blonde locks, urging Alex closer until their mouths met in an open-mouthed kiss that swiftly grew in strength. So lost were they in their passion that neither of them heard the door open until there was a gagging sound from someone inside the room.

"God, I'd heard you'd turned out to be some kind of perv, Alex, but I never thought I'd be forced to actually witness it. Figures you're a dyke – I know I wasn't the only man you were ice cold with. I think I might be sick."

"I'm sorry, Ms Cabot. I tried to keep him out," her harried assistant said from the door.

"It's all right, Maggie. I'll take care of it. Just get me those files please."

While Alex's vulnerability was most noticeable when it came to their budding relationship, it was equally obvious that they were both very protective of it. They were learning how to be part of a couple, and neither of them was willing to let the rest of the world intrude on their discovery process. Alex finished kissing Liv and pulled back; Olivia watched the transformation happen and knew that at least parts of the Alexandra Cabot she remembered weren't buried too deeply.

"Maybe if you'd knock, Jim, you wouldn't be exposed to things that are none of your business. But please don't pretend disgust when it is all too clear that the only thing bothering you about this scenario is you haven't been invited to be a part of it." Olivia bit her lip to keep from laughing at the expression on the man's face; Jim Steele had the audacity to act offended.

"How dare you! This is a public building paid for by taxpayer dollars and you're a public servant on city time... both of you. I'm pretty sure what you're doing is illegal." His voice was smug.

"No, it isn't," Olivia assured him, sitting up behind Alex and running a hand through her wild hair. "But if you don't get the hell out of here, I'm pretty sure what happens next will be."

"I doubt you want the kind of publicity that could come from this sort of exposure, Alex," trying to ignore Olivia.

"Jim, I honestly couldn't give a shit. Would you like me to call Arthur for you?"

"You're serious," his voice flat, but holding a hint of incredulousness as well. "You're not the Alex Cabot I remember. She'd have done anything to avoid a scandal... especially of this magnitude."

"Jim, was there something you wanted? Because you're right – I'm not the Alex Cabot you remember, and this Alex Cabot is completely over your posturing and your attitude. Olivia and I are together... in every sense of the word. This is a forever kind of thing for both of us. So unless you have a specific purpose here that doesn't involve stupidity coming out of your mouth, get out of my office."

"Must have been quite a shock for your fiancé to find out you were a dyke, Alex, but then again... maybe you just haven't found the right man either." She'd been afraid he wouldn't be able to resist that tired cliché, but before Alex could respond, Olivia was off the couch and moving toward him. Jim laughed. "Oh, isn't that special...."

Alex clasped Olivia's forearm and shook her head slightly when their eyes met. Olivia braced when Alex used her grip on Liv's arm to stand beside her, then smirked when Alex slid the arm down around her waist. She allowed her own to do the same.

"Don't bother, Jim. Whatever we once had is long gone until there isn't even friendship left between us. Olivia is all that's right in my life. I assure you she is all that the man I could want and all the woman I have dreamed of. Now unless you would like me to allow Olivia to remove you by force, I am suggesting you take your prejudiced, chauvinistic attitude and leave."

A knock sounded on the door and Arthur Branch stuck his head in the door. "Alexandra, do you have a minute?" He looked around the room, noting the closeness of the two women and the aggressive stance Jim Steele was in. "Is there a problem?"

Steele looked at Arthur, then at Alex and Olivia realizing they hadn't moved away from each other in the DA's presence. He turned back to Branch. "No... I was just leaving." Arthur waited, closing the door firmly behind Steele before turning back to Olivia and Alex.

"Is everything all right, Alexandra?"

"I've definitely had better days, Arthur." Alex sighed. "What can I do for you?"

He gave her a half sigh. "I actually came down to talk to my newest bureau chief to see how she's settling into the job. But I think it might be better if I come back later."

"You can talk in front of Olivia, Arthur. She's my partner; we don't keep secrets."

He motioned them to resume their seat on the couch and turned a chair around to face them. "So tell me, Alexandra," leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together. "How are things going?"

A knock on the door kept Alex from answering right away. The door opened and Maggie stepped into the room. "Ms Cabot, I'm sorry to interrupt, but I have the files you requested and I have calls for you on lines two and six."

"Thank you, Maggie," accepting the files. She turned to Arthur. "Can we talk later?"

"Of course. Call me and we'll set up an appointment when you're a little less busy." He looked at Olivia. "Detective, do you have a minute?" Olivia stood, extending a hand to Alex, then the two women exchanged glances. Branch watched, fascinated by the silent communication he could see going on between them. Liv looked at him and nodded.

"Sure. I need some coffee and I don't think Alex would object to a cup either."

"Good... I'm buying," Arthur offered. He held the door and Liv brushed a kiss over Alex's cheek.

"Be right back, babe." Alex nodded and Olivia crossed the threshold with Branch following right behind her.

They walked out of the building and down the steps by mutual unspoken consent. There was a coffee shop on the corner that the entire DA's office tended to use – Branch walked by it, going a little further down the block and ducking into a little mom and pop place Olivia would never had suspected was there. Arthur motioned her to a chair and she sat while he gestured to someone who obviously knew who he was. In moments, both of them had large slices of cherry pie a la mode and coffee in front of them. Liv was a little surprised but she dug in heartily, her stomach grumblingly reminding her that her lunch was still sitting on the table in Alex's office and it had been an exceptionally long time since it had been filled.

Branch watched her scarf down the food like she was starving and signaled over a second piece. Olivia looked up startled when it was set in front of her and she blushed. "Sorry," she mumbled. "I haven't eaten in a while and I hadn't realized how hungry I was."

Arthur held up his hand. "Don't apologize, detective." A beat. "May I call you Olivia?" She nodded and he continued. "I'm aware of what you've been up to lately. A police officer is targeted like that, it runs the grapevine pretty quickly. How are you doing – personally; I know how the case is progressing."

"I'm tired... a little hungry, obviously. Otherwise...." She shrugged.

"Otherwise, you also have Alex to consider. Olivia, may I be frank with you?" He waited for her agreement. "Once upon a time, Alexandra Cabot was among the best and brightest New York City had working for it. No challenge was too tough and she was being groomed for the big chair. Her record with the SVU, while certainly not what any prosecutor wants, was a vast improvement over the numbers we had been pulling and had the incident with Velez not come up, she would have been transferred to major cases as the next logical step in her career path."

Olivia tried to ignore his choice of words in regards to Velez and focused on what he was saying instead. She figured there had to be a point somewhere.

"As it is, she skipped a couple steps and was made a bureau chief at the behest of the DEA, and she is doing an excellent job... don't get me wrong. She's taken kids as green as I have ever seen them and started them down the right path. It will take a while, but I think we'll get some good prosecutors out of them with Alex as their mentor. She could still take the big chair eventually... if she wants it. But I get the impression her heart is no longer in the law."

Liv sat quietly for a moment, organizing her thoughts when it became clear Branch was waiting for a response. "I'm not sure I'm the one you should be talking to. No matter what I do or don't think, the fact is that this is Alex's life and Alex's decision. I'll support her no matter what she decides to do... even if she decides she wanted to go back to Florida and be Mickey Mouse at Disney World."

She paused and then continued more slowly. "I do know that this last month has been a hell of a roller coaster ride for her. A whole lot has happened, not the least of which was me pouncing on her almost the identical minute she resumed her life here in New York. Fortunately, I think that worked out the way she wanted it to." Liv couldn't stop the smile that crossed her face and Branch smiled in sympathy. He had seen how happy they both were and knew it for the truth. "But the pressure from the DEA and Robert to help them take out Rivera has made some things more than a little difficult. Add being practically forced to come out to virtually every member of the society that was once your life and I think it would be fair to say she had a rough few weeks."

"I understand that, Olivia. It's one reason I'm concerned. Is there anything I can do to help? I don't want to lose her; she too good a prosecutor. But I don't want her to be miserable either."

"Just respect whatever decision she makes if the time ever comes for her to make one," Liv answered him honestly. "And be her friend if she needs one."

Arthur looked at Olivia with new respect. "You're a very wise woman, Detective Olivia Benson. I'm glad you came into Alex's life. She needed someone like you."

"I needed someone like her too... but thank you."

The rest of their time in the restaurant passed in silence while they finished their pie. Then they headed back, making sure to pick up coffee for Alex.

Part 9

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