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 12


Chapter XXIII

The silence was deafening. Alex's mouth was slightly open with the shock of staring at a likeness so accurate it was like staring into a mirror. It was a pencil sketch and if Alex was a betting woman, she'd guess the image was from a day in court – the only difference being that the image had been drawn through the eyes of one who loved her.

Page after page of her likeness was drawn from a variety of Olivia's memories and some strictly from her imagination. There were others – Elliot and his family, a woman she supposed was Olivia's mother when she was much younger, the guys from the one-six, children in the park – but mostly, they were of Alex or of Alex and Olivia together.

"Oh, Liv...." Alex breathed.

Olivia twisted her hands together. "That bad?"

"That stunning – mind-blowing, even. These are incredible – Liv, you should be showing in a gallery. In fact, I could make a few calls...."

"No, Alex... please. This for me is like your music is for you. It's very private and personal and not something I am comfortable sharing with the world. I was kinda hoping you would start with the apartment one first so we could have worked up to the portraits... though at least you started with the tamer one," the last muttered under her breath.

Alex's eyes widened perceptibly behind her glasses. "You drew us erotically?" reaching for the second sketchbook, only to find her hand covered by Olivia's before she could grasp it.

"Before you open that...." Alex cocked an eyebrow and waited. "I want you to know I didn't actually start this book, as badly as I wanted to, until after you were put into witness protection. My memories were all I had left of you – I didn't think it would matter at that point if I daydreamed a little." She paused and Alex waited, sensing she wasn't done. After a moment, Olivia continued. "When you came back for the Connors' trial, I stopped drawing again for a very long time... at least anything that I wanted to keep. When I did finally start drawing again, it had nothing to do with you or us. I couldn't."

Alex cleared her throat, painfully conscious of how tight it was. "I'm sorry...." she started, but Olivia covered her lips.

"Don't be. We're past that now. I just wanted you to understand where the images came from and why they stopped so abruptly. Besides, it made me look outside myself for inspiration. That is what helped me to create the work in the third sketchbook... the stuff I'd like to put into our new home."

"Maybe I should save the erotica for bedtime viewing and see what your soul sees when you look at the world through those eyes."

"Your choice, sweetheart. I know I have some new illustrations to add to that book after what we have actually shared together. You're a very creative lover, Alexandra Cabot."

Alex blushed so hard Liv feared that the blood might actually burst forth from her skin. She felt the heat radiating from inches away. "Only because I've found incredible inspiration in you, Olivia Benson. Well," she added mischievously, trying to lighten the atmosphere, "that and you are amazingly open-minded about trying new things. I never had a lover like you before."

Liv lifted the ring to her lips. "And never will again, I'll wager."

"No bet," Alex said somberly, "because you are absolutely right."

"So... are we looking at art or erotica?"

"Art," Alex replied without hesitation. "I'm fairly certain the erotica will lead to hot monkey sex and I'd really like to hear what you have in mind for the apartment first. Then we can go look and decide what new positions to try or what favorites you need to add."

Olivia took a big swallow of wine and choked. "God, is it getting hot in here?"

"Nuh uh," Alex said with a smirk. "That's all you, hot stuff."

This time the wine went flying.

"Liv, your work is phenomenal," Alex said as she settled into bed later. "I can't wait to see what you do with the new place." Liv dropped the sketchbook onto the bed on her way to the bathroom.

"Well, I've never had such a big canvas before and I've never worked with tile like that. Maybe it's something we could work on together?"

"Ooh... could we? I mean, you wouldn't mind?"

Liv spit and rinsed before she came back out of the bathroom. "I'd like it. It'd be nice to be able to share that with you." Alex frowned and so did Olivia. "You don't have to, Alex. I wouldn't force you to do something you don't want to do."

Alex blinked and shook her head. "Oh no... NO, sweetheart! I want to... I absolutely want to. I was just thinking about what you said." Olivia raised an eyebrow at her. "These are all you have here, right?" holding up the sketchbook. Liv nodded. "So you have others stored somewhere else, correct?"

"Good detective work, counselor," Olivia said with a teasing smile.

"I have a personal trainer," Alex added wickedly. "She's the best," waggling her eyebrows and causing Liv to laugh. It was a sound she never got tired of hearing. "Anyway, do you think we could go take a look at your other work sometime? I'd really like to see it."

"Sure. I'm on call this weekend, but we could probably take a short trip."

"Good," opening the sketchbook. "Now let's see what kinds of daydreams you were having about me while I was gone."

It didn't take long for the sketchbook to be put to the wayside and Alex started making Olivia's daydreams become a nighttime reality.

"So, did Alex show you what cover-up to use or was it just not much of a hickey?"

"Shut up, Elliot."

"Aw, c'mon, Liv. You're the only one of us around here getting any regular action lately," Munch complained. "It wouldn't kill you to share a few of the less personal details."

"John, as far as I'm concerned, anything involving Alex is personal."

"You're killing me... you know that, right?"

"Don't you people have something to do?" Cragen asked from his office door. "I realize it's slow at the moment, but I'm pretty sure I'm waiting on some DD-fives. Olivia?" turning his attention to her. "Has anyone heard from Casey? Did we get a verdict on the Reynolds' case?"

"Yes, we did," Casey announced as she breezed into the precinct. "Guilty on all counts *despite* the last minute shenanigans of his lawyer." She looked around the room. "Can you arrest him for stupid?"

Elliot laughed. "Give us the code, we'll lock 'em up."

Liv snorted. "If we could do that, there wouldn't *be* any more defense attorneys."

Even Casey laughed at that one. "So, drinks tonight?"

"I'm in," Munch said.

"Sure," from Fin.

Kathy and I have a date, but we'll stop by first."

"Whoo hoo!"

"Way to go!"

"Congrats, El!"

He smiled and accepted their congratulations. Talking to Alex yesterday had helped him put to rest some issues that had plagued him for years, and he and Kathy had shared some serious conversation. It wasn't enough, but at least they had finally laid a strong foundation to rebuild on. "What about you, Liv? You and Alex gonna join us?"

"We'll try. We have therapy tonight, but we can come by for a little bit afterwards. As long as it's not Mahoney's – we don't go to Mahoney's."

"None of us do, Liv," Casey confided with a hand on her arm. "So how about Finnegan's at seven?"

Everyone agreed and Cragen nodded satisfactorily. "Wonderful... now that plans have been made for the evening, would it be too much to ask for a little work to get done around here, please? Casey, you have some paperwork for me, I believe?"

They waited until Cragen shut the door before they turned back to Olivia. "So...."

"Get to work, guys. I don't kiss and tell."

Elliot blew her a raspberry. Munch and Fin exchanged smirks and turned their attention to their paperwork.

"Oh my...." Janet said as Alex and Olivia crossed the threshold into her office. "It seems a lot has changed in the week since I saw you last." She took Alex's hand in hers. "Congratulations – Detective Benson, you've got exquisite taste. May I ask what precipitated this? Last week you were worried about the baggage you were bringing in to your relationship."

"Actually... you did. You mentioned it and it made me think – made us both think, in point of fact." Janet waited for Alex to continue. "You were right about the baggage – it is always going to be there to some extent. But what we have, it should be celebrated and honored for the wonder that it is. We – of ALL people – know how quickly it can all be taken away. So we decided not to waste another moment not being everything that we can to one another. The rest we'll keep working on."

Janet sat stock still for a very long moment just looking at the two of them. "You were very convincing in the courtroom, weren't you?"

"I had my moments."

"You ended up in jail," Olivia snickered. Janet's brow rose.

"I would like to hear about that later," the doctor stated unequivocally. "But I have to believe that any case you believed in you showed the same intensity and passion as you just displayed. All we have to do is dig for it, Alex. It's there waiting to be found. Now tell me about your week and then we can move on to whatever topic you'd like to discuss."

Janet rubbed a hand across her forehead. "You know, Alex... I don't think I've ever met anyone who attracts trouble quite the way you do."

"No kidding," Alex muttered. "Trust me... if I could change that particular talent, I'd do it in a heartbeat."

"Well, if it makes you feel better, I think it's probably made you into one of the strongest people I've ever met. You seem to be coping with it very well. How do you feel you're doing?"

"Most days I'm good but then fortunately for me, most days aren't like yesterday. And even when I have days like yesterday, I still have Olivia."

"What about you, Olivia? Do you have any sort of support system in place?"

"Yes, and so does Alex. Most of our friends and colleagues have been very supportive, and the ones that aren't pretty much go their own way."

"How so?"

Liv smiled wryly. "Liberal hotspot or not, not everyone in New York is gay-friendly, especially in our professions. Fortunately, most of those that we have to interact with seem to follow a code of live and let live."

"Jim Steele being an exception?"

"Jim Steele has had issues with me since long before we ended up in the prosecutor's office together. He just needs a kick in the ass."

"He threatens you like that ever again, and he's going to get more than a kick in the ass."

"Would you really do him physical harm, Olivia? Especially if all he did was threaten with words?"

"So fast he'd never see it coming," she said without hesitation. "I don't like him and I don't like his attitude towards Alex."

"So you feel violence is your only recourse?"

"I think that violence might be the only thing he would understand. I hope not; it actually wasn't my first choice in our first two encounters. But I think he's had all the chances he's entitled to."

"That's interesting. Alex, how do you feel about it?"

"Violence isn't ever a good choice, but Liv's right... sometimes it is all that some people understand. I'd rather just walk away. I've seen... we've seen..." she said, reaching for Olivia's hand and stroking her knuckles with her thumb, "what happens when violence wins. It's just not worth the bad karma."

Liv looked at Alex and held her eyes for a long moment. "All right, baby. We'll walk away. We've had enough bad karma to last the rest of our lifetimes."

"Thank you," Alex said softly.

The silence stretched on until Janet felt compelled to break it. "So tell me about your wedding plans."

"I like her. I know I do most of the talking, but she guides the conversation really well."

"Yeah, she does. Does it bother you that I want to beat the snot out of Jim Steele?"

"Not really... I mean you've been very patient with him. Robert has seen more reaction from you. But I don't think Jim Steele is worth the crap it would cause. Besides, Arthur's influence is far-reaching. He'll make sure that when he finally finds work, Jim Steele will be well out of our lives."

Liv smiled as the taxi pulled up in front of Finnegan's. "Good," she said as she opened the door and stepped out. "It's nice to have friends in high places."

"I like the friends we have just fine," Alex commented as they headed into the bar.

The detectives of the one-six already had a table and they were greeted enthusiastically as they stepped in the door. Olivia put her hand on the small of Alex's back and guided them to the table. They took seats around the table and Casey poured them each a beer from the fuller pitcher on the table. Alex signaled for their waitress and ordered another round and munchies for everyone.

"This is nice," Kathy said when they were all settled.

"Yeah, it is," Olivia agreed. "We don't do it very often anymore."

"It's definitely different than girls' night out." The four women exchanged knowing glances and snickered. The men looked at each other, then turned their attention back to their beer. Some secrets weren't worth trying to extract, especially when they were out-numbered and without Cragen, they were - if only just. Then their food arrived and they concentrated on eating for a little while. And when conversation resumed, it moved on to other topics.

"You guys didn't have to bring me home," Alex protested as Elliot drove up in front of Olivia's apartment. "I know you're supposed to be on a date, and I'm pretty sure chauffeuring me home doesn't qualify as a date activity."

Kathy smiled and patted Alex's arm. "Alex, one day when we have the time, I'd like to sit down with you and tell you just exactly why chauffeuring you home is something both Elliot and I are glad to include as part of our date. Suffice it to say for now that we owe you – we both do – above and beyond what you said to him yesterday. And it's little enough to do for Olivia who has done so much for us."

"You want us to walk you up?" Elliot asked as he opened up Alex's door. "It won't take but a minute and we've got plenty of time until the late movie."

"I'll be fine."

"We'll wait here until you get in then," Elliot stated firmly. Alex nodded.

"Thanks, Elliot. I appreciate it and thanks for the ride home. Goodnight, guys." Then she went up the steps and into the building, flipping on a light and waving at them from the window when she was safely inside the apartment. Then she kicked off her shoes and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge before flopping gracelessly onto the leather couch to let her mind review the night.

Even with Olivia having been called to the scene of a crime, Alex reflected, it had been a good evening. It was the first time they had done something like that since her return home. The guys had been funny and it had been like old times sitting around the table telling war stories and sharing memories with the people who'd meant so much to her. It had been, in its own imitable way, a coming full circle, and it had been nice to have Casey and Kathy there to share it as well.

When the call had come in requiring Olivia's presence at a crime scene, Elliot had risen to go with her. But a word from Liv and Munch and Fin volunteering to accompany her meant instead that Casey went with her three detectives and Alex was brought home by Elliot and Kathy to wait and wonder and worry.

She realized she must have fallen asleep on the couch, because the next thing she felt was a blanket being draped over her body and the tender touch of soft fingers on her forehead brushing her hair back out of her face. Blue eyes blinked open sleepily to gaze into smiling brown ones, though she could see heartache lurking behind the smile Olivia gave her.

"Hi," she whispered, unable to manage anything louder right out of sleep. Alex scooted over and opened her arms. "Come here."

Liv fell into them, unable to resist the desire to be comforted by Alex. They didn't talk – not yet... there was no need. In a little while they would, and Olivia would share a little bit of the burden she had picked up at the crime scene she'd been witness to. But for the moment, it was enough for them to be in one another's arms again.

When Alex felt Olivia finally relax against her, she kissed the top of the dark head nestled against her chest. "I didn't mean to fall asleep on you. What time is it?"

"A little after three. You get home all right?"

"Yes. When you guys left, Elliot and Kathy insisted on bringing me home before they went out." Alex paused. "How was it? Are you okay?"

"Bad... and no, but I will be as long as I can stay here."

"Baby, we can stay here forever as far as I'm concerned, but wouldn't you rather move this to the bedroom? At least you don't have to worry about falling off the edge."

Olivia grinned crookedly. "I dunno, counselor. I've seen you take up more than your share of the bed."

"Hello, pot... this is kettle. Besides, I just use you as a mattress."

"Yeah, you do that, don't you?" Olivia slid from the edge of the couch and held out her hand. "C'mon, kettle... we can talk when the sun comes up. Right now, I just want to hold you in my arms and breathe in your scent."

Alex wrinkled her nose. "Then we should probably take a shower first. I still smell like a bar," not mentioning Olivia's innate need to wash away what she had seen. "Come on... I'll wash your back if you'll wash mine."

"I never turn down that sort of invitation. Then we're sleeping in; the perp can cool his heels in jail until I get there in the morning."

Alex grinned. "That's my girl."

"Oh yeah."

"You want to talk about it?"

"Not really. You shouldn't have to... not anymore...." Long, slender fingers covered her lips.

"Oh no, detective – do you see this ring?" holding her left hand right up to Olivia's nose so she had to cross her eyes to see. "This ring gives me the right to help you bear your burdens and soothe away the nightmares – not just share your happiness and joy. You don't get to do the hard stuff by yourself anymore. Now talk to me, Liv."

A long silence followed by a sigh before Olivia started talking. "It was a kid, Alex... a pregnant kid whose boyfriend got angry when she told him it was his baby. He beat the crap out of her until she lost it. And then he sat there smoking a cigarette until we got there. I thought Fin was gonna go postal on his ass... Munch nearly did. It was all I could do not to beat the crap out of him myself."

"I can understand that, Liv. I'm not exactly having very charitable thoughts right now myself. How's the girl doing?"

"She's in the hospital; the doctors told me she was stable, but that I couldn't see her tonight. I was planning to go talk to her tomorrow."

"And the boy...?"

"... is cooling his heels in jail for the night. I figure a Friday night in lock-up will put the fear of God in him. Then tomorrow I will introduce him to the fear of Olivia Benson."

"Then you need to get a little sleep. Close your eyes." Liv did as Alex bid and the sound of Alex's lullaby in her ear took her to a place where nightmares didn't live.

Olivia was gone when Alex woke up much later, though the note and flower on her pillow helped mollify her. Missing you already. Thank you for being my rock. Alex smiled at Olivia's words and slipped from the bed, just as Liv opened the front door.

"Oh... I smell chocolate."

"Yep, you sure do. Nita made chocolate croissants this morning and she kept a couple back for me."

"Kept a cou... wait – you've already been to the precinct this morning?"

"Yep. Got my confession, got croissants, got you – life is good. So, um… after breakfast, you wanna go to the hospital with me? Then I thought maybe I could show you the rest of the art I've got stored away... see if there is anything you'd like to put in the new place."

"And after that?"

"I figure we can improvise."

"Sounds like a plan to me, detective. Now feed me."


Chapter XXIV

Their visit to the hospital was disheartening – the girl refused to talk about what had happened and her mother ordered them from the room. It was clearly going to be an uphill battle to get anything helpful from her. The only good thing to come from it was the fact that the victim did respond to Olivia; at least she might recover from what happened to her... eventually.

Their next stop was the jewelers where Olivia had bought their rings. Olivia introduced Alex to Bartholomew and then stepped away to give them privacy. She looked around for a few minutes but realized it wouldn't take much for her to get into real trouble in this place and moved to the front of the store that was set up specifically with patiently waiting spouses in mind.

"Something wrong, Ms Benson? Can I get you some coffee?"

"No thanks, Penny. I'm fine. Just waiting for Alex," motioning to the woman who was now deep in conversation with Bartholomew.

"She's lovely... congratulations."

"Yes, she is... thanks, Penny."

"Replacing me already, detective?" Alex asked as she stepped over to where Olivia was. Penny blushed and excused herself. Liv stood and took Alex's hand, heading out the door with a wave. They headed down the street until Alex pulled them to a stop. "Are you avoiding the question, detective?"

"Not at all, counselor. I figured actions would speak louder than words."

Alex stood looking at Olivia for a long moment with her arms crossed over her chest. Finally, "That was a good answer," she admitted.

"I thought so," Liv said smugly. Alex pinched the back of Olivia's arm. "OW! Careful, Alex – I bruise easily, remember?"

"Yes... I'll be adding to that one later," Alex promised.

Olivia's nostrils flared. "Let's go." Alex laughed, forcing Liv to smile. "You're so lucky I love you."

Alex didn't lose her smile but her eyes grew serious. "I know, sweetheart. I count that as my first blessing everyday."

Nothing needed to be said to that, and they walked on in silence. When they reached their next stop, Alex reached for the door and motioned Olivia in before her, knowing once Enrique got a look at her finger, it was all going to be over.

He greeted them and gestured Olivia over to his chair. "Just a trim or highlights today?"

"Enrique, I'm not even scheduled for an appointment today. Do you have time?"

"Honey, I will always, *always* have time for you and Alex. She gave me my start and you brought her home. That's reason enough."

"Whatever you have time for then... thanks, Enrique."

He waved off her thanks and tilted her back to wash the dark hair. "So tell me what's new with you lately. I haven't seen either of you since the Hamptons." He set the chair upright and combed her hair through before reaching for the scissors. She motioned Alex over and repeated Enrique's question, thinking Alex wanted to show her old friend her new ring.

"Well, we got a new place."

"Oh... do tell," he commanded as he started trimming. So Alex gave him a few details. "And when is the housewarming? I haven't seen an invitation," he added pointedly. Alex chuckled.

"We've got some work we want to do first. Don't worry – you'll get one when they go out," Alex added, tucking her hair back over her ear. And Olivia was thrilled Enrique had to pull his hands away from her head before he could clap them together and squeal.

"Oh. My. GOD!!! What is this???" he added, snatching Alex hand and bringing it closer to his face to examine it. "When did this happen???" with an accusing look in Olivia's direction. "And *when*, EXACTLY, were you going to TELL me about this???"

"I think you did pretty well discovering it on your own, Enrique," Alex muttered wryly, motioning around the salon where everything had come to a complete stop and all eyes were turned in their direction.

Enrique looked around with a big grin. "They're engaged," he announced. "Now back to work," waving his hands at them. He turned back to Alex and opened his arms. "This is extraordinary, Alexandra. Congratulations!" He turned back to Olivia. "And you too, Detective. Congratulations to you both. So when is the big day?"

"You'll get an invitation, Enrique... I promise. We just got engaged. We don't have a date yet."

"Let me know and I'll set the day aside for both of you. We'll give you the works treatment to send you to your nuptials in style." He looked back at Olivia. "And speaking of style, let me get back to the work of art I have going here. I'll save the highlights for another day, but you make an appointment for them soon, young lady." Olivia arched her eyebrow at him, knowing she was almost old enough to be Enrique's mother. He just put his hands on hips. "Don't give me that look."

It wasn't long until they were out the door, headed to see Olivia's stored art.

"One day I want to hear how you met him to give him his start," Liv said as they took seats on the train to Long Island.

Alex turned to look at Olivia. "What did he tell you?"

Liv shrugged. "Only that you gave him his start. You don't have to tell me now... just some day."

"It wasn't anything big. I found him when I was in my second year of law school and I loved what he did for my self-confidence. After he was the victim of a hate crime, I offered to be a silent partner if he decided he wanted to come to the city to set up shop and I sent a few of my friends to him when he did." She shrugged.

"I have a feeling there is probably a lot more to that story. Maybe one day?" Liv asked wistfully.

Alex sighed. "He was the first person to make me believe I could be beautiful – that I was beautiful... inside and out. Until then, I really wasn't sure if people just said it was true or if it was because of who I was. Enrique didn't know for the first two years of our friendship who I was except a student and a client. He didn't know until I offered to partner with him."

Olivia closed her hand over Alex's. "Alex, you once told me that my birth was nothing to be ashamed of – neither is your birthright. Nor is the fact that you use it to do good for others. I'm not saying you need to take out an ad in the Times, but please don't try to keep that beautiful heart hidden from me. I love what I see when I look at you... inside and out. Now, c'mon. This is our stop."

Liv led them off the train, then hailed a cab to take them the short distance to the climate-controlled storage unit she rented. Then she led Alex inside and waited for her reaction. She wasn't disappointed.

Alex walked around slowly, absorbing the atmosphere first. There were several scents in the enclosed space – oil paint, charcoal, lead pencil... even a hint of cedar and pine. But above that it smelled like Olivia – spicy, sweet, a hint of musk. It made Alex smile and her eyes were twinkling when she faced Liv again.

"Show me," she commanded in a sexy, throaty tone of voice.

And Olivia did – pencil sketches and charcoal drawings; oil paintings and water colors; one or two sculptures she had endeavored to create with varied success. Everything she had ever attempted or tried, Alex saw. And the drawings weren't always of people she knew. Some of them, Alex was sure, had come from what Olivia had seen sitting on her bench in Central Park.

There were some astounding cityscapes and other landscapes so intriguing Alex wanted to know where Liv had been to have seen them. Olivia just shrugged.

"Nowhere," she confessed. "It's just something I'd like to exist somewhere."

They spent hours in the storage unit while Alex went through and examined everything – some of it more than once.

"You have such vision, sweetheart, and I see your beautiful soul in everything you've done... even the gritty stuff," indicating some of Olivia's street work. "I'll be honest... I'm having a very hard time picking and choosing. What about you?"

"I already decided to try doing the tile mosaic over the fireplace. Maybe we should think about it, Alex. It's not like we are limited to just using my art, but if that is what you want to do, I'm not gonna tell you no. We can always come out here again and pick out what we like best," Liv said practically. "Why don't we go back to the new place tomorrow and take a look around? Maybe if we decide what we want to do there it will make choosing a little easier."

Alex gently set aside the waterscape she was holding and stalked over to Olivia, pulling their mouths together fiercely and kissing her until they were both dizzy from lack of air. "You are so considerate, and I love you."

"Good thing," Liv said after she caught her breath. "I'd hate to be getting married to someone who didn't." She paused when something caught her eye. "Alex, are you completely sure you want to spend the rest of your life with me? This is gonna be forever."

"Oh no, detective – there are no doubts in my mind, and forever is only the beginning for us. You're not getting rid of me *that* easily. What happened? Where is this coming from all of a sudden??"

Liv motioned around the room. "I just feel...."

"Feel what, love?"

Olivia sighed. "I dunno – exposed... raw – like you can see so openly into the depths of my soul here and parts of it are dark and ugly, Alex. I had forgotten about some of these drawings, and they just put it right out there." She sighed heavily. "I didn't expect to feel like this, but I do."

Alex cradled Olivia's face in her hands and held the brown eyed gaze with her blue. "I *can* see into your soul, Liv, but not just here in your work. I see it every single day in your eyes and your voice and your touch. And what I see is amazing. I meant what I said earlier – you have a very beautiful soul... even the parts that have endured so much darkness. Especially the darkest parts, because you have used them to forge the compassion and strength that you give to others."

"Sorry," Liv whispered. "I know better. I'm not sure where that came from exactly."

"Don't be," Alex reassured. "It happens; we'll work on it. I've been there before and probably will be again and you'll be there for me. That is one of the nicest things about being part of a couple."

"Yeah, I'm enjoying it a lot more than I imagined possible. I never thought of myself as being someone who could invest in and be part of a real relationship. Thank you for changing my mind." She took Alex's hand in hers and they headed out of the storage facility. "Oh and by the way... I love you too."

Alex smiled. "Let's go home and work on our plans for our future."

The next three weeks passed swiftly, and though things at the one-six weren't exceptionally busy, there was always work to be done. Even things in the DA's office settled down a little for Alex as the interns became more comfortable in their roles as prosecutors. Rivera's surprise call on Alex was set aside as one of the odder occurrences they had heard of and even Robert and his cronies slipped from the front of their radar since no one on either side of the law seemed to be able to find them.

Instead every free minute Alex and Olivia had was spent at the new apartment turning it into their home. By mutual agreement, Alex had hired painters to come in the first week and paint the entire penthouse in a light shade of gray. Everything else they would do themselves.

Their first free weekend, their bedroom was finished and christened. They had chosen to accent it in shades of blue because it enhanced the art Alex had chosen from Olivia's work. She was still in awe of all she had seen in the storage unit Olivia kept her work in. She wanted so badly to share that amazing part of her lover with the world, but she respected Liv's need to keep that part of her private. Alex felt privileged she alone knew Olivia's secret passion – over and above Alex herself. Of course, she was never going to look at a storage unit the same way again either.

The en suite had been done in the same soothing blues they had used in the bedroom because they both found them so comforting and restful. In this room, Alex had asked Olivia to create a tile mosaic, similar to the one they had planned for over the fireplace in the living room. The one in the master bath was a rip curl with two dolphins jumping out in front of it. The fireplace wall was a personalized replica of a Native American mandala that showed the four basic elements in nature. Both projects were going to take longer than they hoped, but at least now they had been drawn out both on the wall and on paper – it was simply a matter of having the time to complete them. They would work on them together once the rest of the apartment was ready and they were moved in.

The second weekend they worked on the second bedroom – papering parts of this one in green – and the dining area which got accents of burgundy. Alex had hung several of Liv's pencil sketches in the bedroom and an oil landscape in the dining room and suddenly what had been 'the new apartment' was becoming more like home.

Liv hadn't told the guys about the new place yet but her whole demeanor had shifted. They would have put it down to being newly engaged, but although she came back from the weekend more tired than she left, there was no physical evidence to support that theory – and they had already witnessed Alex's fondness for physical evidence. So their curiosity was growing by leaps and bounds and they decided to take action to satisfy it.

"We could just ask," Fin pointed out as they waited outside Liv's apartment in the pre-dawn darkness the next Saturday morning.

Elliot smirked. "Yeah, we could, but where's the fun in that? Besides, Liv knows how to keep a secret."

"I feel fairly confident that if Liv discovers us, her actions will give credence to the theory that women are actually stronger and more vicious than men."

"Munch, that's not a theory... that's a fact," Stabler said with a chuckle. "I lived with a houseful of them – I know. They just let us think we're in charge."

"Hey!" Fin said, jerking his chin in the direction of the apartment. "Here they come." They watched the women climb into the back of the limousine, then pulled into traffic behind it.

"They're following, ma'am," Jax announced with his eyes on the rearview mirror. Olivia smirked.

"Well, they lasted a week more than I expected. Too bad their curiosity isn't gonna be satisfied any time in the near future."

Alex smiled. "You're just lucky mother asked us over for breakfast this morning so you can lead them around for a while."

"They're just lucky your mother asked us to breakfast or we'd have stayed in bed all morning."

Alex's nostrils flared. "It's not nice to tease, detective."

"Who's teasing, counselor? They could have just asked."

Alex rolled the partition up between them and Jax, not missing the twinkle in his eyes before they disappeared. "I'm not talking about teasing *them*."

Olivia grinned rakishly. "Oh... feeling a little horny this morning, are we, Alexandra?" Then she found herself on the bottom of a very small pile.

"You wouldn't think so, after last night, would you?" Alex asked conversationally as her hands started tracing a teasing path up Olivia's body, watching the goosebumps trail in her wake. "But let me assure you that if spontaneous human combustion was possible, you'd already be picking up pieces of me scattered all over my mother's limousine. How did you know they'd be out there this morning anyway?" shifting the dialogue and letting her hand sneak under the soft cotton of Liv's t-shirt. Her fingers found an already erect nipple and proceeded to torment it and its twin while Olivia struggled to keep her mind on their discussion without losing herself to sensations she was suddenly anxious to give herself over to.

"Who?" she finally asked incoherently, losing her focus on anything other than Alex's touch.

"The guys. How did you know they'd be waiting for us this morning?" stroking the smooth skin of Olivia's belly. Liv reached up and pulled Alex's head down until their lips were a hairsbreadth apart.

"Do we really *care* why they were there or how I knew they would be?" Liv growled.

"Oh yes, detective," Alex said, keeping her lips just out of reach by sheer will. "We do. Besides, I am going to play with you all day long so you remember never to tease me this early in the morning when you *know* it is going to be a while before we can do anything about it."

"You are a *very* evil woman, counselor."

"Thank you, detective. They have a course on it in law school, you know."

Liv's eyebrows popped into her hairline so high, Alex held her breath waiting for them to fly right off. "They have a course on how to torment your girlfriend into insanity by keeping her sexually frustrated all day?!? What sort of S&M law school did you go to??"

Alex laughed and Olivia took advantage of her inattention to pull Alex down into her body. They both moaned at the sensation and Alex submitted to Olivia's needy kiss. "I promise to make the wait worthwhile, sweetheart."

"I'm gonna hold you to that, Alex."

"You do that, detective. Now tell me why it took the guys three weeks to decide to be nosey and how you knew they would resort to following us."

"I think they were hoping I'd just spill my guts – though after seven years of working together, you'd think they would know better by now. Barring that, they know the only way they will find anything out is to ask – which may or may not get them an answer – or do a little detective work. I was surprised they didn't try to follow us last weekend."

"You think they'll try again tomorrow once they figure out we're going to my mother's this morning?" as they got closer to the house in the Hamptons.

"Maybe... although if they figure out that we have movers at her place, we'll never ditch them."

"Look at it this way, sweetheart... if we can't ditch them, we'll put them to work."

Liv laughed and Jax stopped the car to open the gate to the house. Then they disappeared up the driveway and Fin pulled up a short distance away.

"You think she is leading us on a wild goose chase?"

"I dunno, but I don't think so – this is Elizabeth Cabot's house." The other two turned to look at Munch. "What? She and I have been talking about wedding arrangements and she has a bit of private beach at the back of her estate here she was kind enough to show me."

"And we're just hearing about this now... why?"

"Because everything is still very tentative. That may be why they are here – so Elizabeth can get some concrete commitment out of them. June isn't that far away."

"So are we hanging?"

"I think so," Elliot said. "At least for a little while. There's more going on than them visiting with Alex's mom and I really wanna know what it is." So they sat back to wait, even as Elizabeth was welcoming Olivia and Alex into her home.

"Come in, you two. I feel like I haven't seen you in forever," greeting them both with a hug and a kiss and waving them towards the kitchen. "I have the movers coming at nine; I thought that would give us a little time to catch up and give you a chance to make sure you've chosen everything you're sure you want to take."

"I'm sure, mother. Just the piano and the desk. Liv and I are going shopping tomorrow to pick out new living room, dining and bedroom furniture together. We're keeping the leather couch for our office and other than that, we're pretty well set. The movers are coming to the apartment next weekend to pack up and move our books and clothes and personal stuff."

"So the move is officially next weekend then?"

"Yes, but please give us a week or two to settle in before trying to give us a surprise housewarming. We've still got a few things we would like to do first before inviting people over."

Elizabeth wrinkled her nose in Alex's direction. "You spoil all my fun, you know."

"Yes, but you love me anyway."

"Yes, I do." Elizabeth picked up her fork and motioned them to start eating. "Now, have either of you given a moment's thought to your wedding or would you like to hear what John and I have come up with for you? Don't look at me like that... either one of you. I know if I wait for the two of you to actually get moving on this, you'll both be old enough for grandchildren before anything actually happens."

"You don't think you're rushing a little bit, mother?"

"No, I really don't. I think six years is a sufficient courtship period, even if it wasn't in any way a traditional one. If either of you had been honest about your feelings before you'd have done this years ago. But if you really think I am rushing, tell me now."

Silence while Alex and Olivia looked at one another. Then Liv shrugged slightly and Alex nodded once and they turned back to Elizabeth. "All right, mother... spill it."

"A moving truck? Why would a moving truck be coming from Elizabeth Cabot's house? Liv doesn't have room in her apartment for anything else."

"Maybe they got a new place... ya know, something bigger for them together."

"Sonovabitch! Of course – I'll bet they've been moving a little at a time and *that's* what's kept Liv so busy the last couple weekends. But why didn't she just ask us for help if they were moving?? We could have gotten it all done at once."

"So they could invite us over for an unveiling when everything was where it belonged? Women are weird like that, sometimes – they want everything 'just so'. I had an ex-wife that wouldn't let me in the house until everything was in its place. It was a real pain when she decided to do spring cleaning and rearranging. I spent several nights in a hotel because of that."

"I doubt that was the only reason," Fin snarked. "So are we following or...?"

"Nah... let's let them have their fun and invite us when they're ready. I got better things to do today."


"Ms Benson, we lost our tail."

"Thanks, Jax. I guess the moving truck made them decide they really didn't want to get involved," snickering. She turned to Alex. "Wonder how long they'll hold out Monday morning before they start asking questions."

"I don't know. Are we going to start working on the mosaics today?"

"I think so. The tile has been delivered. If we lay it out on the floor the way it needs to go on the wall, it should make it easier for us to put it up. I think we should probably do that in the second bedroom – we don't have a lot of furniture going in there so we should be able to spread out. We'll have to walk a little farther, but there's also less chance it will be disturbed."

"Should we do one at a time?"

Olivia shrugged. "Let's see what we have for room and work from there."

The movers brought the desk in first and Olivia started laying out the tile pieces for the mandala while Alex supervised the moving and placement of her piano. By the end of the day, the mandala was partially completed on the wall, the piano was in its place and an exhausted detective and counselor were very pleased with their progress.

"And tomorrow, we will go pick out furniture that hopefully can be delivered this week. I can take the day off if it can."

"So can I. Have I told you how excited I am about all this?"

"No," Alex replied with a smile, "but I can tell. So am I. I have a new song to play for you on our first night in our new place."

"And now you're going to make me wait to hear it?? Talk about teasing...."

"It's only another week, detective. It'll be worth the wait, I promise."

"Yeah, I'm hearing a lot of promises, but I'm not seeing much delivery here. And honestly, if we weren't both about to drop from exhaustion, I'd do something about that."

"So would I," Alex agreed with a yawn. "Give me a few hours." But Olivia was already asleep. "Oh, that'll be good for some teasing later," Alex mumbled, before following Olivia into sleep.

Part 13

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