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 9


Chapter XVII

"I hear Kathy is going out on a girls' night with you and Alex tonight," Elliot said as he and Olivia headed back to the station house. For the last three days, they had been re-examining every possible lead they could dig up on Rivera, the multiple rape/murders and the victim that had been a message for Olivia. They all had a gut feeling they were linked; proving that instinct true was going to be something else again.

However, Cragen had called them back in, saying Fin and Munch had found something. So they were picking up lunch in preparation for what Cragen had warned them would be a lunch briefing. "Yeah," she said. "Alex asked." She smiled, shrugging. "I couldn't say no."

Elliot smirked. "She has you so whipped, Liv."

"Willing surrender, El." She snickered at him when he clutched at his chest. "How are things between you and Kathy?"

He sobered considerably. "Better. At least we are talking. We're still going to counseling although I know I'm still missing a lot." He shrugged. "I'm glad we're talking again; I hadn't realized how much I missed just talking to her. I'm real glad she hasn't cut me off from the kids."

"I don't think she'd do that even if she never got over her anger with you. No matter what problems you've had in your marriage, you've always been a good father, El. You've got good kids."

"Yeah, I know," he agreed. "What about you and Alex? You talked about having kids?"

Olivia's eyes nearly bugged out of her head. "Elliot!!"

"What?!?" She slapped him in the arm. "Hey I'm driving here!!" sending a glare her way. Olivia glared back but crossed her arms over her chest to keep from smacking him again. He gentled his tone. "What's wrong, Liv? You're great with kids. I think you'd be a wonderful mother."

"Elliot, Alex has only been home for five weeks."

"Liv, Alex may have only been back for five weeks, but the two of you have been part of one another's hearts for more than six years. You can't tell me you haven't thought about it."

"Actually, I can." Elliot risked a glance at Olivia and found nothing but truth in her expression. He arched an eyebrow, inviting her to continue. "I'm not going to get into it, El. Alex and I haven't talked about a lot of it and she deserves to be the first to hear anything about that. But trust me when I tell you I haven't spent the last six years thinking about Alex and I having children – and I think it's safe to say she hasn't either."

"All right," he nodded. "I'm sorry." Her eyes snapped to his profile at the unexpected apology. "If I'd thought about things, I'd have known better. I just think you'd make a great mom – you both would."

"Maybe," she said shrugging. "But we have other priorities to take care of first." She opened her door after he put the sedan in park. Elliot cocked his head at the tone in her voice and turned to look over at her as she opened up the back door to retrieve their lunch.

"Liv, everything okay? Alex all right?"

"Yeah, mostly. I'm just... I dunno, El. I'm probably just being paranoid."

He cocked his head at her. "I doubt it – that's not your style. What's your gut telling you, Liv?"

"Something's still not right." She held up her hand. "We're doing okay – there are still some rough spots we need to work on, but for the most part we're fine. We've been talking a lot... especially in the last week," not mentioning what had precipitated their conversation or what they had been talking about. That was too private to share with anyone other than Alex... even Elliot. "But I'm worried about everything else. Between the pressure the DEA has tried putting on her and a job with the DA's office she's starting to really hate, and this threat against me... I'm just waiting for her to completely crack." She looked at him and he saw pain in her dark eyes. "She's already fallen apart on me once, El. And I don't know what to do for her to make it any better."

"Has she talked to anyone... other than you?"

Olivia shook her head. "She got some names from Huang when we went to lunch, but she hasn't called anyone yet. I'm getting a little...." She blew her bangs off her forehead.

"You just be there for her, Liv – whenever and however she needs you to be there for her. That's all a good partner can do. You be there for her and I'll be here for you whenever you need to talk or blow off some steam or whatever. Eventually, she'll figure it out; Alex is a smart lady."

"You think so?"

"Think Alex is smart? Yeah - she knew enough not to let you go, didn't she?? Besides, I like living. I'm not gonna tell Alex Cabot she's being stupid unless I have incontrovertible evidence to back it up – and maybe not even then. Now, c'mon... we need to get inside and find out what Fin and Munch got. I am ready to be over with this whole case."

"So am I. I need a vacation." Elliot stopped walking so quickly, Olivia nearly ran into his back. "ELLIOT!"

He turned and squinted his eyes at her. "Sorry. I think I need to get my hearing checked. It sounded like you said you needed a vacation."

"I do – preferably a deserted tropical island with just me and Alex – and maybe a cabana boy dropping by to serve us perfect mai tais once in a while."

Elliot wanted to question her on that particular fantasy a little further, but reality got in the way before he could open his mouth to speak. "Benson, Stabler... with me," Cragen said as they stepped into the precinct. They exchanged glances and shifted back into business mode, then followed the captain into the interrogation room where Fin and Munch were patiently waiting.

They took the bags out of her arms before Olivia could put them on the table. She blinked and took the drink her partner offered her. Then she took a seat and leaned forward, pinning Fin and Munch with her gaze. "Please tell me you have something."

"We have more than something, my dear Olivia. We have everything," Munch gloated. He took a bite of his burger and chewed slowly. "Or at least almost everything."

"Munch, lemme tell it before girlfriend here kicks your skinny white ass." Fin turned back to Olivia. "I put some feelers out to my old narc buddies, figuring they could prob'ly get the lowdown on those vics faster than we could. Turns out they had all been key players in Velez's organization who refused Rivera's invitation to join him. Now we still got no evidence more than word on the street, but they do all tie back to Velez and from there to Rivera."

Fin took a deep gulp of his drink and resumed speaking. "The choice of vics was meant to bring the rest of Velez's stragglers into line."

"Did it?"

Fin shook his head. "Dunno. Word is it was initiation for some of Rivera's new blood." He shrugged. "We're still working on it, but with no new evidence and no DNA...."

"In the meantime," Munch commented, leaning back in his chair, "we may have come up with something on the Brooklyn murder. Obviously that was meant as a message for you, but it occurred to me that this might not be the first message you've been sent. At first we thought it might tie into the serial killings. We're still working on that angle. But we know the Brooklyn deal was aimed at you... as was the attack near your apartment. We're going to talk to the two gentlemen you and Alex apprehended."

"You think they're tied together?"

"I think it's not beyond the realm of possibilities."

"I agree," Cragen spoke for the first time. "And you know who it points to as the most logical culprit."

"Yeah, but getting evidence against a DEA agent is going to be a bitch. Hammond might croak if we have to bust his boy for murder," Stabler snorted.

Munch held up his hand. "It's all still speculation, but we're going to check into it."

"Meanwhile, you're being assigned to protective custody." Cragen held up his hand before Olivia could open her mouth to protest. "Not *for* you, Liv, although I'm sure the guys will continue to keep an eye out on you. We think you need to keep an eye on Alex. If her... whatever Robert Claiborne was to her is behind this, she's the next most logical target. He hurts you worse by doing harm to her than to you and he knows that."

Olivia scrubbed a hand through her shortened hair, glad once again she'd had it cut into something much more manageable. "Sonovabitch!" standing and pacing away from the table. She let her hands come to rest on the back of her neck and closed her eyes. They waited while she calmed herself; then she turned back to them and pinned Cragen with a stare. "How long?"

"However long it takes. This comes down from the top – they want this bastard caught. He's made it too personal. And you know how the department feels about that."

Olivia sighed. "I know, Cap. I just think Alex has been through enough. I'm not sure how much...." She trailed off, but each of the detectives knew where her train of thought was leading and there wasn't one there that would disagree. Cragen stood and walked up behind her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.

"Olivia, the two of you have been through a lot just to be together and I know these past few weeks have been rough for both of you. I want you to take care of Alex for a little while, and let her take care of you. I think you both need that right now. We'll take care of things here." He sighed. "We don't want to lose either of you again, all right?"

Olivia blew out a breath and nodded her agreement, walking to the door.

"Liv, where ya going?"

She turned and looked back at Elliot. "I'm on protective detail, El. I've gotta go break the news to Alex. Wish me luck." They all grinned at her and she smiled rakishly. She turned back to the door then looked back over her shoulder. "Do me a favor though, will ya?"

"Name it, girlfriend."

"When you do nail this bastard, I wanna know why he needed to involve Alex in this at all." She turned around fully. "I want to know," she enunciated carefully, "what his REAL agenda is here."

"You wanna be there to watch?"

Olivia grinned toothily. "You know it."

They watched her walk out of the room and then exchanged glances. "I almost feel sorry for that Robert character. He shouldn't have messed with Alex."

Munch looked at Elliot for a long moment. "I wonder why Hammond let him." All eyes shifted towards him. "C'mon... Jack Hammond knew what a pain in the ass Alex Cabot was. She proved that her first few days in the program."

"I don't think he did." Three shocked, surprised faces whipped in his direction. Cragen smirked at their expressions and held up his hand to stop any speech. "No, I'm sure Hammond was well aware of Alex's pain in the ass status. C'mon... we all knew within hours of her being assigned to the unit." The detectives all chuckled their agreement. "So it is very possible that Hammond had no idea what this Robert character was doing until after it was done."

"Then he needs to regain control or step away from his job."

Cragen held up his hand. "We're not going to get into that debate. It's not our concern right now. Right now we need to be concerned with how to take care of this threat to Olivia and Alex as quickly and expediently as possible. I want my detective back."

Munch slapped the table. "Fin and I'll head out to Riker's to visit Frick and Frack. I figure they'll be ready to talk to us after a month in lock-up. And they're our best bet for a connection right now."

"Right," Cragen nodded. "Get on it." He turned to Elliot. "Drop the other. It's been shifted to cold cases - that came down from the top."

He nodded and braced himself, pretty confident what was coming. "So you want me to...?"

"Keep an eye on Liv and Alex. There will be a small contingent working with you, but that is to be your primary focus for the time being."

"You know she's gonna get pissed if she finds out, Cap."

"Elliot, she's not stupid. She knows we're going to do everything in our power to protect them while we bring this guy down."

"The sooner the better if you ask me.

"From your lips to God's ears."

"Tell me, Nick... did you actually graduate law school or did they run a special on diplomas in your local Walmart? You do the research – you find the answers. You don't need to be in the DA's office if all you want to do is make deals. Think about it."

Olivia watched the young prosecutor storm out of Alex's office, then turned her attention back to the woman sitting behind the desk. She closed the door and slipped up behind Alex, putting her hands on Alex's shoulders and bending down to whisper in her ear simultaneously.

"Rough day at the office, sweetheart?"

Alex closed her eyes and relaxed into Olivia's hug sideways and with a little effort. "Tell me again why I took this job."

"Um... it sounded like a good idea at the time?" not sure what sort of response Alex was looking for.

"Well, it is sounding less and less like a good idea as time goes by." Olivia moved around until she was standing in front of Alex's chair, the blue eyes slowly opening as realization dawned on Alex that Olivia was no longer behind her. Liv extended her hands and Alex accepted them without hesitation, allowing Olivia to draw her to her feet and guide them both to the couch.

Liv nestled her body into the corner and pulled Alex down beside her to cuddle in her embrace. Alex went willingly, closing her eyes at the contentment she felt wash through her. She tucked her face into Liv's neck, breathing deeply of her scent and feeling lips brush over her hair.

They had spent hours in this position at home, talking and sharing bit of themselves with one another – especially since their fight a few days earlier. Nothing had been taboo and they had come to understand a lot about themselves and each other.

"I'm glad you're here," Alex said as she relaxed. Then she stiffened as the implications of what she said sank into her consciousness. "Wait... why are you here? I haven't had a chance to call you yet," glancing at her watch. "It's the middle of the day. Shouldn't you be working?"

"I am," Liv admitted without hesitation. "You're my new assignment." Alex pulled back and glared at Olivia balefully. Olivia launched into an immediate explanation and though Alex didn't move out of her arms, she was shaking her head no before Liv could finish.

"No, Liv... don't you see? This is exactly the situation I was trying to avoid."

"No, Alex... it's not." She took Alex's face in her hands and forced her chin up until their eyes met. "He's targeting you now to get to me. I'm not going to let that happen. And neither are the guys."

Alex took one of Liv's hands in her own and kissed it, then held it back to her face. "I can't do this anymore, Liv. I feel like I'm coming apart at the seams."

"Alex... sweetheart? You need to talk to somebody. I'll be right there beside you every step of the way for as long as you need me, but you need to talk to a professional about all this stuff. You're trying to deal with too much on your own and it's killing you. I couldn't live with that again; I've already been through that once."

"I wouldn't want you to," Alex confessed. "And I called George this morning. I have been listening to what you've been saying, it just took me a little while to get my ass in gear," acknowledging Olivia's efforts to get them into counseling. "I think he was waiting for my call. He got me an appointment with a female therapist friend of his at five this afternoon. I was going to call you about it, actually, but things have been a little crazy around here today." She looked at Olivia seriously. "Is it a full moon out or something? Because it seems like the world as I knew it has gone nuts."

"Well, the world has gone nuts, but I'm glad you called George. I've been worried about you."

"I know... sorry."

"Don't be sorry... just improve," Olivia smirked, bracing for the smack she knew was coming. Alex obliged her and crossed her arms over her chest and pouted.

"I guess the honeymoon is over – you don't think I'm perfect anymore."

Olivia couldn't contain her laughter. "Oh, sweetheart – not since the day we met."

"Why you...!" launching an unexpected tickle attack. Olivia bit her lips to keep from shrieking her surprise and her laughter. Then she returned the favor wholeheartedly, tickling Alex in return until they collapsed against one another, breathless. "That felt really good," Alex said. "I needed that." She snuggled back into Olivia's arms, smiling when they tightened reflexively.

"So did I. Makes everything else sorta fade into the background." A knock on the door stopped any further discussion and Maggie stuck her head in, looking around until she spotted her boss and Olivia cuddled up together on the couch. If she was surprised by Liv's unexplained presence, it didn't show on her face. Instead, she took a step into the office, holding onto the doorknob. Alex cocked her head in question.

"What's up, Maggie?" But before she could respond, she was pushed aside.

"God... don't you two know how to get a room? Or do you think you can just flaunt your perversion on the public's dime?" Jim Steele turned his focus to Olivia. "Don't you have a job, detective or are you using Alex to sponge off the Cabot estate?"

Alex jumped from the couch and walked right into Jim Steele's personal space. This time, however, her reaction wasn't a slap – and only Olivia's lightning fast reaction kept Alex's bunched fist from making a forceful impact on his face. Steele stepped back involuntarily.

"Get. Out. Of. My. Office." Alex hissed. "And don't ever, *EVER* come back in here again. I have listened to enough of you vitriolic bigotry."

"I'm going to Branch with this, Alex. I hope you haven't gotten too fond of this office, because you're not going to be in it by the time I get done."

"I think you think too much of yourself and your skills, Jim," Alex said, relaxing into Olivia's touch.

"We'll see, Cabot." He walked out, slamming the door behind him. Maggie exchanged a look with both Olivia and Alex before opening her mouth. Alex just shook her head.

"It's okay, Maggie. He's always been an ass. There's not a lot you can do short of getting a restraining order."

"Which is distinct possibility at this point," Olivia broke in. She turned to Alex. "What is his issue with you anyway?"

Alex sighed. "What isn't his issue with me? I refused to sleep with him during college even though he was considered the most eligible man in 'my social circle'; I 'took' the valedictory spot from him at law school even though he was never a viable candidate; I made ADA before he did; I became a Bureau Chief on the fast track to the Big Chair. Then factor in the little issue that I have the best looking detective in the tri-state area as my lover, girlfriend and significant other and it's no wonder his shorts are in a twist."

Maggie snorted and both Alex and Olivia grinned wryly. "Sorry," Maggie apologized. "How about I go get the two of you some coffee?"

Alex thought about it, then shook her head. "No. You know what? I'm calling it a day. Olivia and I have an appointment to go to shortly anyway, and I have had all the stupid I can deal with today. If Arthur calls ask him to call my cell; otherwise, I don't want to hear from anyone in this office until Monday morning. And Maggie – I want you out of here by five."

"Yes ma'am. You two have a good weekend." Then she shut the door behind her.

Alex moved back towards her desk to pack things up for the weekend. She straightened files and put things away. She pulled her purse from the top drawer and set it carefully in the center of her desk, then sat in her chair and leaned back, pining Olivia with a sad stare.


Olivia shook her head to clear it then tilted it towards Alex in question. "Why what?"

"Why did you prevent me from hitting him, when you let me hit you? Obviously you possess the skill and speed necessary to stop me."

"I didn't actually think you would hit me, honestly." Liv paused. "Besides, I wouldn't have you arrested for assault. I'm pretty sure that jackass would. He's obviously intent on making trouble for you any way he can." She smirked and looked down at the floor, trying to lighten the atmosphere. "There seems to be a pattern here with you and troublemakers."

Alex snorted. "It would certainly go a long way towards explaining you, detective." She propped her elbows on her desk and leaned her chin on her folded hands. "I just seem to attract trouble."

Olivia arched an eyebrow. "Well, Ms Cabot – it seems we have a couple hours free before we need to go see our new therapist. Wanna see what kind of trouble we can get into together?"

Alex stood and put her hand in Liv's extended one. "That is the best offer I have had today, detective. Can we stop and get some chocolate syrup?"

Liv's nostrils flared in response. "Let's go," leading them out the back door and down to the street. It was going to be an interesting afternoon.


Chapter XVIII

"We've got to get moving, sweetheart," Olivia said. Alex conveniently ignored her, kissing her way back up Olivia's naked body and cleaning off the odd spot of chocolate still clinging to soft skin with her tongue. Without warning, Liv groaned and put her hands under Alex's arms, pulling her up bodily until she caught Alex's lips in a consuming, fiery kiss.

It went on until Alex relaxed against her and two sets of hands started wandering again. "Oh God... Liv." She knew they needed to stop, but it felt... so good. Here in Olivia's arms, more than anywhere else, she felt like the Alex Cabot of old – passionate, confident and fearless.

"Alex, unless we wanna go into the doctor's office smelling like sex and chocolate, we need to get into the shower now."

"I'd rather stay here," Alex grumbled, dropping her head on Olivia's chest and relishing the strength and love she could feel flowing all around her.

"I know, baby, so would I," cradling Alex's face so she could read the truth for herself.

"But we need to take that first step... I know." Alex kissed the breast under her cheek and hugged Olivia tightly. Then she slid from Liv's grasp and held out a hand to her. "C'mon, love... we don't want to be late. I imagine the doctor would have a field day with that."

Together, they walked naked to the shower, closing the door on a squeal. Maybe being a few minutes late wouldn't get them into too much trouble with the doctor.

"Please, come in," the doctor invited as they were ushered into her office, not commenting on their just out of the shower appearance. She came around her desk and extended her hand. "I'm Dr. Norris, Janet Norris. And you would be Alex and Olivia Benson. Dr. Huang has told me.... What??" she asked, noting the twin blushes the two suddenly sported. "Is that wrong?"

Olivia scratched the back of her neck sheepishly. "We're um... we're not Alex and Olivia Benson."

"Not yet," Alex murmured under her breath. The dark haired doctor caught it and arched a brow, but Olivia continued speaking as though Alex hadn't spoken, though she couldn't control the second blush that flushed the dark skin of her face.

"This is Alex Cabot and I'm Olivia Benson."

"Does it bother you, Ms Benson?" When a frown crossed Olivia's countenance, Janet continued. "Would it bother you for Alex to take your name?"

"What? No! But it should be her choice... our commitment – not your misunderstanding. She's her own person – she always has been."

"And that's important to you?"

"It's important for her."

Janet held Olivia's eyes for a long moment, then nodded in satisfaction before turning to face Alex. "You have quite the champion defender, Ms Cabot; you're a very lucky woman."

Alex nodded her head. "I know," glancing at Olivia and sharing a shy smile. "She's been my rock. I'm not sure my sanity would have survived so far without Liv's support." She dropped her eyes to the clenched hands in her lap. "Some days I'm still not very confident of my stability as it is." Alex looked up when Olivia's hands covered hers.

"It'll come, Alex. That's why we're here, remember?"

Dr. Norris observed their interaction. "May I ask how long you have been together?"

Alex pulled her eyes away from Olivia's. "Technically – five and a half weeks."


"She came storming into my office and forced a confrontation almost the minute I came back to town." Alex spared Olivia another look, noting the detective's focus remained on their entwined hands. "Best thing that could have happened to us." She sighed. "How much did George tell you?"

"Obviously not enough if I misunderstood your commitment to one another."

"You didn't," Alex said, looking at Olivia who caught her eyes and confirmed the words with a nod, though her eyes never left Alex's gaze. "We've known one another for over six years, but this facet of our relationship is still very new for us – so new we haven't even had a chance to talk about doing anything formal or legal yet. It would be nice to have a chance to settle into our relationship first without all the baggage."

"Ms Cabot, if we all waited until no one had baggage, the human race would have gone extinct before they started making pictographs on cave walls. That is just the nature of human relationships. Tell me... have you been in love with one another for six years as well?"

Alex blinked. "You certainly don't pull your punches, do you, doctor?"

"Ms Cabot, you will find that I am nothing if not blunt. Honesty has served me well for a very long time. Unfortunately, I've found that it rarely goes hand in hand with tact. So...?"

"Dr. Norris... is there a reason this is any of your business?" Olivia spoke up. "I thought we were here so you could help Alex deal with what happened while she was in witness protection and all the crap that has happened since she came home. Not talk about our private lives and things we are still working through together."

"Ms Benson, Ms Cabot has indicated that you are her rock... and have been... through all this crap, as you put it. Therefore, you are the single most important thing in her life and hopefully the same is true in reverse. But either way, I think it is important for me to understand the nature of things between you so I can determine the best course of therapy for Alex and for you together as a couple. Believe it or not, I'm not the enemy. I'm here to help... if you'll let me. Your choice."

Olivia was silent for a long moment. Dr. Norris was much more than she'd expected her to be and Olivia was surprise by her willingness to show them the best way to shoulder their burdens together, recognizing their inherent need to do so. She glanced at Alex who had remained conspicuously quiet during the entire exchange.

"Well then, doc." Liv finally said. "I guess you should probably be calling us Alex and Olivia."

"And I'm Janet, unless you are uncomfortable with the informality." Both women shook their heads and Janet nodded. "Good. Then we need to set some ground rules. George told me a little of what you needed when he explained why he'd sent you to me. Since we are here primarily for Alex, I would prefer if you do most of the talking," addressing Alex. "You need to be the one to decide what to share and when. However, this is not meant to exclude you at all, Olivia. Once Alex brings up a subject, please feel free to participate in any way, shape or form you feel appropriate."

"If at any time either of you feels uncomfortable with a subject, you only need to say so. We can always go to separate...."

"No," Alex stated defiantly. "We are doing this together... especially through the hard stuff. We promised each other. If one of us gets uncomfortable, we can put the topic on the table for later, but neither of us is going to do this alone."

Janet blinked. She suddenly understood George's comment about Alex needing to find her true self again. Apparently, the formidable woman Alex had been before her ordeal with Velez was still there – she just needed some help uncovering her from all the protective layers she had amassed during her time away.

"All right, Alex. That's fine with me. It's wonderful to see two people who are so committed to one another. So why don't you start at the beginning for me and tell me how the two of you met. I think a little background would be the best place for me to start."

Alex smiled and nodded her head, her expression becoming slightly unfocused as she let her mind go back to that very first day with the Special Victims Unit. Olivia closed her eyes and let Alex's voice take her back to memories the same and yet slightly different from her own. This experience could turn out to be the best thing that the two of them had ever done.

"Well," Janet said some time later, "it has certainly been a roller coaster ride for both of you getting to this point in your lives I must say. The good thing is you have built a very solid foundation between you based on honesty and devotion to one another and the love and trust you share will make what needs to be dealt with easier to work through. However, you both need to understand and accept that this is going to take some time; despite the fact that we'd all like an overnight cure, the truth is it will take a while to get Alex to a place where she feels like Alex all the time again; it took time and some nasty circumstances to get her where she is now. But with love and support and patience, I know she will find her way back to where she wants to be."

"So what now, doc?" Olivia subtly glanced at her watch and realized they had been with the therapist nearly two hours and her eyes widened. Janet smiled.

"It's all right, Olivia. I expected as much; it's why you were my final appointment for the day. Now we set up an appointment for next week, though if you feel the need, Alex, we can do more than one session a week. Completely up to you."

"I'm fine with once a week for now. If that changes, though, I'll call you."

Janet nodded. "All right. So shall we try for the same time next week?"

Alex looked at Olivia who shrugged. "I'm on call but El will probably cover for me for a couple hours."

"We'll be here, Janet," Alex said as she rose from the chair she'd been ensconced in for the better part of one hundred and twenty minutes. "Thank you for... well, thank you," extending her hand. "I was very reluctant to come, but Liv made it easier for me to see that I needed to. And I'm glad she did. I can't tell you how much this has helped already."

"I'm glad, Alex. I hope you both feel that way when we start working through the hard stuff."

"We will, Janet. We want a real future together, and I know I have to make peace with the past first."

"Can I ask a favor then... right up front?" Janet waited for Alex to nod, seeing Olivia's eyebrow arch in the periphery of her vision. "When we get you to that point... when you're finally ready to commit yourselves to each other publicly... will you send me an invitation to the wedding?"

They both blushed, but Alex nodded. "You bet, doc."

Janet grinned. "Excellent! Now, I need to get home to my husband, and I'd be willing to bet two beautiful women have something better to do together on a Friday night than hang around their therapist's office. So you to go have some fun and relax and I'll see you next week."

"Same bat time," Alex joked.

"Same bat channel," Olivia and Janet finished together with a chuckle. Then Alex and Olivia took their leave and headed out to meet the girls.

"I sure hope Munch doesn't make good on his threat," Casey commented as she brought two more pitchers of beer to the big table that now held eight women. Liz had invited Elizabeth with Alex's blessing and the two older women were getting along famously, laughing over the antics of a different generation and generally enjoying themselves as a part of the group but also separate. The six younger women were currently playing pool, or they had been until Casey's comment. But that brought seven pairs of eyes to her face as she set the beer down.

"Excuse me?" Melinda asked. "What does Munch have to do with a girls' night out?"

Liv's brows furrowed. "He didn't," pinning Casey with a stare.

"Yeah, he did. I told him we were a little more upscale, but...."

"One of you want to fill the rest of us in on this conversation?" Kathy asked.

Casey chuckled. "Sure. Munch and I were having lunch the other day when Serena called me about doing girls' night out. Of course, that made him nosey and he threatened to discover the secrets of the sisterhood for himself since I was unwilling to spill for him."

Olivia snorted. "I'm sure we can come up with something interesting to tell him later."

"I'm sure we could make up something far more interesting than the truth," Serena laughed. "But I'm glad we decided to do this. I haven't had this much fun in a long time."

"Neither have I," Liz chimed in. "I never expected to be part of a Ya Ya Sisterhood at my age, but this has been fabulous – very enlightening. We should do this again."

They all raised their glasses and clinked them together. "Hear! Hear!" they all agreed.

"Can we make this a regular event... maybe once a month?" A cheer went up around the table and the night went on with much laughter and merriment.

"I needed that," Alex said as Olivia locked the door behind them. "That was a lot of fun. It was nice to get together with everyone."

"Even with your mom there?" taking both of their jackets and hanging them in the closet.

"Yeah... who knew she was such a pool shark – she even gave you a run for your money. Besides, it was good to see her loosen up a little; I think she and Liz bonded." Together they walked down the hall, stopping to snag two bottles of water from the fridge before entering the bedroom.

Liv chuckled. "I think so too. Though that could be trouble for you later."

"It would be worth it," Alex said. "I can't tell you how much better I feel."

"All this from a night out with the girls?" stripping off her clothes and sliding into her pajamas. Liv headed into the bathroom, jumping when Alex pinched her ass. "Hey!" spinning around and taking a step back out of Alex's reach, only to find Alex suddenly stalking her like a tiger. Then Olivia took the initiative and tackled Alex to the bed.

"My goodness, you're feeling awfully feisty tonight, counselor," Olivia said before she leaned down and captured Alex's lips, nipping at them until Alex surrendered by opening her mouth. Liv's assault gentled but continued, her tongue invading Alex's mouth and stroking tongue and teeth and lips. Alex reciprocated wholeheartedly, wrapping arms and legs around Olivia's body like an octopus. Finally, Alex turned her head to try and catch her breath and Liv returned the embrace until there wasn't a spec of air between them.

After a moment, Alex pushed back slightly and Olivia loosened her hold enough to cup the planed face in her hands. "Thank you, Olivia Benson." She traced the arched eyebrows, the high cheekbones, the full lips. "You make me feel... so much. I love you."

"I love you, Alexandra Cabot. Thank you for coming home to me."

"Thank you for being here... for waiting... for storming into my office. It gave me the courage I needed to take that step."

Olivia tenderly allowed her fingertips to follow the delicate bone structure of Alex's face. "I was just glad you came after me."

"As angry as you were?"

"Yeah... the anger was mostly directed at me. I'd sworn I had given you up – that I would never let you get to me again." Olivia shook her head and looked away until Alex grasped her chin gently and brought their gazes back together. Then Alex bit her lips at the tears she found in dark brown eyes.

"Oh Liv...."

Olivia shrugged her shoulders and bit her bottom lip, but the tears slid down her cheek anyway and Alex soothed them away with her fingertips. "Sorry."

"Don't be. I know it hurt you... I know *I* did. But this helps make us better, right?"

"Yeah. I didn't mean to take away your good mood though. This has been one of the few times since you came home you've really relaxed and been the Alex I remembered."

"Yeah, but I think it's going to happen more often now. I really like Janet. I think she's going to be able to help me get a handle on all this. And with you beside me... well, the FBI psych was right about one thing – I do need to work through all the crap that happened. The thing I could never make him understand was I couldn't work through anything until I made things right with you. Thank you for standing beside me and holding my hand."

Olivia clasped Alex's hand in hers, bringing it to her lips and brushing a kiss across the knuckles. "I meant what I told you, sweetheart, but I'll keep reminding you until you know it for the truth – I'm not going anywhere."

Alex closed her eyes and nodded. "I know that, love... I do. I just need to hear the reassurance sometimes. God!" she exploded, dropping her grip from Olivia's body and flinging herself deeper into the mattress. "I HATE being so needy."

Liv gave her a crooked smile. "I'm glad you can be needy with me, but don't worry, Alex. Your strength is still there. Maybe I can be needy with you once in a while?"

"Anytime, sweetheart. I'll be your rock too. Let me up." At Olivia's questioning look, Alex grinned. "I have got to pee."

"Can't hold your liquor, counselor?"

"Beer goes straight through me. Besides," she added as she rose from the bed. "I want to brush my teeth and shower off the smoke smell. Join me?"

"I'm so there," Liv confirmed and followed Alex into the bathroom.

"That was Julia," Alex said late the next morning as she crossed back to the couch to curl up around Olivia's body while she worked the Times crossword. "She's found a few places she thinks might work, but she's asked for a little more time. I think she has something specific in mind that hasn't become available yet."

"That's fine, sweetheart – whenever you and she are ready. I'm not in any rush to find a new place except as it makes you happy to have the space you need."

Alex smiled. "I'm happy here, Liv. I'm happiest wherever you are. But I will confess I'll be glad to have somewhere to put a piano. I miss my music."

"I've only heard it once, but so do I. You're very talented, Alex. If you ever decide to give up the law, you could always turn to music for a career."

The blonde head shook. "No. Music is a passion for me... something I only share with those I care the most about. I could never subject myself to the lifestyle going public with something so personal would require." She gave Olivia a sly smile. "No, if I quit the law, I would have to find something to do at home. How does the title 'Liv's Sex Slave' grab you?"

The coffee Olivia had just sucked into her mouth went three different directions – up her nose, down her windpipe and spewing from her lips. She choked and gagged while tears ran down her face trying to catch her breath. Finally, she cast a baleful glance in Alex's direction.

"A little warning might have been nice."

"Sorry," Alex apologized, though there didn't seem to be much remorse in her expression. "I just feel really good."

Liv let her hands run lightly over Alex's torso, smiling broadly when Alex's breath caught at her touch. "Yeah, you do. However, we will have to investigate those feelings later." Reluctantly, she pulled her hands from Alex's body and stood. "C'mon, you promised your mom we'd meet her for a late lunch today. Then maybe we could go to the park for a while?"

"Yeah," Alex agreed. "I'd like that."

Lunch was nice and Elizabeth couldn't say enough good things about Alex's and Olivia's friends or the good time she had enjoyed the evening before.

"I am glad you invited me along, Alexandra. They are a good group of women; I was glad to spend some time getting to know them."

Alex chuckled. "You enjoyed showing off your prowess with a pool cue," she pointed at her mother. "And don't think I don't want to hear all about *that* soon. But we were glad you came too. We thought it might make you feel better if you could meet some of our friends a little more intimately than you were able to at Elliot's party. I know you've been worried."

"I still am, Alexandra. I always will be. You're my daughter and it kind of goes with the territory. But I can see you're doing better and it is nice to know you have friends close by who love and support you and Olivia. Sometime you will have to invite them all up for a weekend at the country house. I'm sure Sara and the girls," referring to women of her generation, "would love to meet them."

"I'll talk to them, mother. We'll see if we can work something out."

"Excellent," Elizabeth agreed. "Now let's eat. I know you two have to have more interesting things to do on a free Saturday together than hang out with 'mom'."

Olivia had left only moments before to pick up some of Nita's cookies and some fresh bread for dinner at Alex's insistence. Alex was trying to prepare stuffed chicken breasts but Olivia's help had become more distracting than helpful, hence the need to send her out of the kitchen. Alex smiled; Janet's words about weddings and commitment had fast-forwarded her thinking. Her mind wandered to the papers still safely hidden in her desk. Part of her wanted to give them to Olivia – had since she had drawn them before she'd even come home, hoping.... And though she didn't doubt Olivia's love for her at all, she didn't want to push Liv into making a commitment she wasn't ready for. But more and more, Alex wanted a tangible acknowledgement of what was between them, knowing from experience that at any moment, things could disappear in a heartbeat.

As Liv walked down the sidewalk, her smile came unbidden at the thought of Alex cooking in her kitchen. So much had changed for both of them in just a few weeks. Her smile became melancholy as her thoughts turned to the rings she had stashed in the safe in her closet. She'd bought them on a whim a few days after Alex's return, having seen them in the window of a specialty store one day when she and Elliot had been out. He'd been good, not commenting on her obvious fascination and refraining from asking questions when she took an extra hour for lunch the following day. Olivia knew that Alex loved her without reservation – the question was... were they ready to take the final step of commitment to one another? Olivia knew she was but she wanted Alex to be sure as well, and she had already been through so much, especially recently. They'd already lost so much time by not taking the risk, but was it fair to ask Alex to make yet another life-changing decision so soon? Olivia shook her head to clear it then opened the door to Nita's. Soon, but not yet, she thought.

The rest of the weekend was relaxed – no phone calls, no work-related responsibilities – only household chores and quiet talks; love and laughter. They deliberately put aside talk of Robert and Rivera and the DEA and focused on sharing more of themselves, and though neither of them brought up formal commitment yet, their thoughts never strayed far from it.

Liv lifted her head from where it rested against Alex's chest, listening to her heart beating out a steady rhythm of life. She looked around the room lit by the bare coming of dawn, wondering what had drawn her from such a sound sleep. Alex's eyes were still closed, her chest moving slowly up and down in the deep cadence of sleep. There was no sound in the apartment, save the clicking of the refrigerator, the hum of the fan and two sets of breathing.

Olivia's brow furrowed. *Something* had woken her from sleep. She cast her focus inward, trying to remember what she'd been dreaming, feeling an uneasiness in the back of her mind, but there was only a big blank. Shrugging, Olivia finally relaxed back against Alex's body, smiling in the near darkness when Alex's arms tightened convulsively around her though she never actually woke up. Liv closed her eyes, but she couldn't shake the feeling that something was awry. She never did fall back to sleep.

Part 10

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