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 13


Chapter XXV

"Hi, Alex... um, where's Olivia?" Janet asked, looking around her otherwise empty waiting area. "Surely she's not quitting after only five sessions."

"No," Alex stated emphatically. "But she's caught up on a case and I told her I'd be all right on my own tonight until she could get here."

"So she is coming?"

"She's going to try. Why is it so important to you that she's here? I thought the sessions were for me."

Janet motioned Alex into her office and offered her a bottle of water before gesturing her to a seat. "It is about you, Alex. But you are her primary concern, and you admitted you are more comfortable when she is with you. I don't want you not to be able to open up and talk because you're uncomfortable alone with me. You've been making wonderful progress so far."

"And yet, less and less I am sure who I am anymore or who I'm supposed to be." Alex sighed deeply. "Maybe it's a good thing Liv isn't here, actually. I'm not sure how to share this with her."

Janet frowned. "Talk to me, Alex. What happened?"

"Are you going to tell me I'm an idiot if I tell you I've started having bad dreams?"

"No... tell me about them. Maybe it will help us figure out the other."

Alex got up and walked to the window behind Janet's desk, pacing back and forth in front of it. "Janet, I should be happy... ecstatic even. I am in love with the most incredible woman who loves me back; I have a job that, while it isn't my dream job, is fulfilling enough and it is a step towards a much better position; we're moving into a brand-new apartment tomorrow; and we've even picked a date for our wedding. So why am I now starting to have bad dreams? I feel so selfish."

"Alex, take a deep breath and come sit down and tell me about your dreams. Are they something that has happened? Or something that you're afraid will?" Janet took Alex's hand and led her over to the couch. "C'mon, Alex. There's no one here but you and me, and I'm just here to help. Let me."

"Maybe it's because for so long everything felt so wrong and now so much is going right for me that I'm waiting for something bad to happen to take it all away again." Alex sighed deeply. "In my dream I am back in New York, but Olivia's not part of my life. I'm engaged to be married to Robert, but I'm screwing around with Jim Steele. My mother is dead; I don't have any friends. My detectives from the one-six aren't my detectives anymore; they don't even acknowledge I'm alive. And Olivia... Olivia doesn't call me or take my calls. She goes out of her way to avoid me completely. It hurts so much."

"When did these dreams start?"

"Honestly, I was having them before I came back... like my subconscious was working through all the possibilities I might have to face. They petered out after Olivia confronted me in my office." Janet nodded her understanding. "But they started up again even more intensely after my talk with Rivera last week. Now it feels like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop."

Janet sat quietly for a long time digesting Alex's words. Her voice, when it came, was unexpected and so was her question. "How are things with Olivia?"

"Amazing," came the answer without hesitation. "She's the one sure thing in my life. I think that is why the dream bothers me so badly – she's not there at all except when I see her back walking away from me."

"Okay... how do you feel about making a commitment to her?"

"Janet, I had the papers drawn up to make things legal between us the minute I knew I was returning home... even before I was sure I still had a chance with her."

"What about the apartment... and the wedding? Do you think it's a case of too much, too soon? I mean in spite of the fact that you've known and loved one another for a number of years, the truth of the matter is you and Olivia have only been a couple for a few months. Maybe subconsciously you feel you're being pushed into something you really aren't all that certain about."

"Like I was into my job?"

"What about your job?"

"I don't know – it is the next logical step in my original career path, but the reason I was given that position no longer exists. And some days, more often than not lately, I question why I am really there... a lot. I'm not convinced I'm cut out to be a lawyer anymore. Of course, some days I'm not sure I'm cut out to be much of anything anymore." Alex ran her hands through her hair. Janet leaned forward and clasped her hands together.

"Well, as I see it, there are three separate issues we need to deal with here."


Janet nodded. "The first is your dream. I'm a firm believer in dreams, Alex, and I think your subconscious is trying to tell you something. Now whether that something is to count your blessings or be aware of the danger around you or something left over from your days in witness protection, I don't know yet. But I think we need to figure it out and put your mind at rest. Otherwise it will eat at you until it makes you certifiable."

"I feel like I'm there already."

Janet laughed. "No... trust me. I've seen certifiable. You don't even qualify for a chair in the waiting room yet."

Alex smiled wryly. "Thanks... I think."

"Okay, your second issue seems to be with your job. This is where your identity crisis seems to be coming from." A beat. "When you were in witness protection, what did you do... for a living, I mean. What was your profession?"

"I was an insurance adjuster at my first placement."

"And how did you like it?"

"I cordially hated it and I was completely unsuited for it as well."

"How so?"

"It was tedious... monotonous and boring, and I couldn't help comparing it to my job here. I wasn't even really helping anyone."

"Did that bother you?"

"Enough that I asked Hammond to move me."

"And when he didn't, did you contemplate suicide?"

"NO!" vehemently and immediate. "But I did consider leaving the program and coming home on my own."

"But you didn't."

"No – shortly after that I was brought back for the Connors' trial."

"And when it was over, you left again... why?"

"Hammond promised me I could work with the DEA to bring Velez to justice so I could return home safely."

Janet paused a moment, then asked, "Alex, if you had stayed in New York after Connors' trial, or if you had returned home of your own volition, what would you have done?" A look of confusion flashed across Alex's face and Janet hastened to explain. "You obviously couldn't have gone back to the DA's office to be a prosecutor or a bureau chief – so what would you have done had you not come home the way you did under the circumstances imposed on you by the DEA?"

"I don't know," Alex replied slowly and honestly. "I didn't actually think about it beyond simply getting home, and when the DEA and the DA's office set up the bureau chief's job for me, I took it as a matter of course."

"All right. Then I want you to do something for me – actually, I want you to do something for you."

"If I can."

"You can. I want you to take a leave of absence from the DA's office. You need to take some 'Alex time' and figure out who you want to be and what you want to do with your life. Take Olivia with you if you want to leave the city, but you've got to do this for your sake."

Alex nodded slowly. "And the third?"

"Talk to Olivia, Alex. Everything you have said to me and everything she has done have proven repeatedly that you belong together... that what you're doing is good and right and best for both of you. She's not going to think you are a nut job. And I'd be willing to bet she's been worried about you, even if she's not exactly sure why. She deserves that much from you."

"She deserves much more, Janet, but it's a good start."

"What's a good start?" Two heads turned in the direction of the door and Olivia stepped in. "Hi, baby... hi, doc... sorry I'm so late."

"Did you get the bad guy, detective?"

"Actually, yes we did. So what did I miss?"

"Quite a bit," Alex confessed but didn't say anything else. Liv looked between Janet and Alex, waiting for one of them to elaborate. Finally Janet turned to Alex.

"Would you prefer to talk to Olivia alone, Alex? I'm not going to tell her, but she deserves to know, remember?"

"Deserves to know what?" Olivia slipped from her spot on the couch beside Alex and fell to her knees in front of her, clutching at her hands with almost painful desperation. "Alex, you're scaring me... talk to me, baby. What's wrong?"

So Alex told Olivia everything she and Janet had discussed in plain, unvarnished terms. She felt the relief sweep through Liv's frame as a palpable reaction to her words. Olivia put her head down on Alex's knees and just breathed in for a few minutes after Alex was done. Alex pulled one of her hands free and cupped the back of Liv's head, stroking through the messy dark hair. Finally, Liv looked up, dark eyes holding a hint of tears she refused to let fall.

"Don't you *ever* scare me like that again! God, do you know what was going through my mind??"

"Nothing good I'm sure."

Olivia blew her bangs back and sort of collapsed Indian style at Alex's feet. "Well, for what it's worth," she said shakily after a moment, "I agree with Janet about the job situation. Take the time now you should have taken before and didn't. The important thing now is for you to find what makes you happy. I'm not sure I understand enough about the importance of dreams to comment on the other, but if it puts your mind at rest, then I'm all for it."

"Well, I have to say I'm extremely pleased with our progress so far," Janet added. "The most important thing now is your job. I think the intensity of the dreams will ease up as well as most of the stress you appear to be under once you take care of that, Alex. The rest will be easier to deal with if there is less stress in your life."

"Listen to her sweetheart... she's making sense."

Janet laughed. "All right... you two get out of here and go have some fun tonight."

"Do we have plans for fun tonight? I thought girls night out was tomorrow night."

"It is, but the guys are waiting at Finnegan's again if you feel up to joining them for drinks and dinner. I think Kathy was gonna stop by and Casey'll be there too." Alex nodded her agreement.

"Go on then, you two – get outta here. I'll see you next week."

"Thanks, doc. I'll try to make it on time," Liv said with a smile as they left Janet's office. The doctor just waved at them and straightened up her desk to leave for the weekend. It had been a productive session and she felt good about Alex's breakthrough. But now it was time to go home and spend some quality time with her family.

"Oh my God... you have got to be kidding me. Tell me I'm seeing things," Alex said dryly as they approached the door to Finnegan's. They had gotten out of the cab at the side of the building and Olivia's concern was focused on getting them safely through the Friday night crowd to actually get into the bar. She looked up at Alex's face.

"Huh?" She followed the motion of Alex's hand, looking in the window and noting the detectives of the one-six already gathered around one of the bigger tables. Then she realized what Alex was motioning to and she had the grace to look sheepish while she scratched the back of her neck self-consciously. "Oh, that... sorry. I forgot about that, though I'm surprised you haven't heard the rumors floating around Hogan Place; although until now, I didn't know how much credence to give them."

"Would you like to fill me in really quickly before they see us, so I don't look like an idiot?"

"Jealous much?"

"That's not fair, Olivia Benson, and you should know better." The silence was uncomfortable and felt like it lasted much longer than it actually did. Alex started to walk away and Liv grabbed her hand to stop her.

"You're right, Alex – I'm sorry. It still makes me crazy when I think about him – it always made me crazy, knowing he was with you when I wanted you to be with me."

Alex chuckled. "Sweetheart, he learned very quickly there was no room for him in my bed as long as you were in my life. I think he was actually a little jealous of me." The disbelieving look Olivia was giving her caused Alex to continue. "Liv... nothing is more fascinating to a man than a woman he has no chance with. The fact that you completely disdained him and snubbed him unmercifully just made you that much more intriguing for him."

"There's something twisted about that."

"He's a defense lawyer... what did you expect?"

That got Alex the smile she was looking for. "Good point," Liv agreed. "So are we okay?"

"We are better than okay. It's a little flattering that you still get jealous over something that happened years ago, but let me assure you, detective – for the record – that you have *no reason* to be jealous of anyone. No one will ever take your place and I won't give you a reason to think otherwise. Now, would you like to tell me why Trevor Langan is hanging out with the detectives from the one-six? I can't believe there is any love lost there."

Elliot had noticed them by the window, but a hand motion from Olivia kept him from wandering out to check on them. Instead, he made an effort to keep the conversational ball rolling so no one else's attention was caught by the two women. He figured they'd be in as soon as Olivia explained Trevor's presence to Alex.

"I'd have to say he's here with Casey, though why she brought him here with the guys.... Anyway, they kinda, sorta hooked up at your welcome home party and have been on again, off again since then from what I can tell."

"So I'm hearing about this for the first time...?"

"Probably because it is off more than it is on and you've had plenty on your own plate to deal with without listening to all the gossip making its rounds in the courthouse and DA's office." She motioned towards the door and they headed inside to thread their way through the tables towards the back where the guys were waiting for them.

Alex nodded. "That's the truth," she said, turning back so her raised voice carried in Olivia's direction. "So from now on you're in charge of gossip collection and distribution so I can be aware of what is going on around me." That made them both chuckle and they arrived at the table laughing.

"Share the joke," Elliot commanded as they took their seats and motioned the harassed looking waitress over.

"Please," Trevor begged. Clearly the detectives had made him uncomfortable about remaining with them and Olivia had to wonder why it was so important that he stay.

Alex look at Liv who just smiled and shrugged, sitting back and letting Alex take the stage while she was more than comfortable to simply watch after giving their order to the waitress.

"Oh, I just made Olivia my official gossip monger. Otherwise I miss out on everything interesting. The only thing that comes through my office anymore is whining. My interns have made me so glad I do not have kids of my own." She turned to Elliot and Kathy. "I don't know how you've done it with four. These kids are all going to end up as defense attorneys and it's not going to be my fault!"

That broke the ice around the table and everyone laughed. Then Munch picked up the ball and got the men involved in discussing his latest conspiracy theory on key government figures being replaced by alien pod people. The women exchanged looks and Casey touched Alex's arm.

"Thank you," she said softly. "You didn't have to do that, but I certainly do appreciate it. When I saw him sitting at the bar alone.... I guess Olivia told you about him and me sort of dating."

"Just now. He's the enemy, Casey... nothing will ever change that as far as your detectives are concerned. But maybe he can be a decent enough sort if you can get past his being a slimy defense attorney you might have to face in court."

"Yeah, that has been the hard part... but we're trying. Most of the time I'm not sure why."

"Hot monkey sex?"

"OLIVIA!!!" All three women looked at her in shock. She shrugged.

"What?!? I'm just saying...."

"You don't think I'm nuts, Liv?"

Olivia covered Casey's hand. "Not my place to say, Casey. If you're happy, why not enjoy being nuts for a while?"

"Well, I don't care what the guys or Olivia think," Kathy said, leaning forward deliberately and keeping her voice low. "He's hot and it doesn't hurt that somewhere along the way he had a mama who put some manners into him." She covered her eyes. "I can't tell you the kind of time I've had trying to teach Dickie. It's better with his dad around more, but still...."

"You should teach him to dance," Alex said and Olivia bit her lips to keep from laughing out loud at what she *knew* Elliot's reaction would be to that idea. "It makes a nice balance to the other rough and tumble boy things I'm sure he does."

"It would also get the crap beaten out of him at school. For now, I'll settle for manners."

About that time, their waitress brought their myriad of orders and they settled down to awkward silence to eat. Trevor stood up – "If you'll excuse me, I think I see someone I know at the bar. I'd say it's been fun, but... Casey, maybe I'll call you later." He took his plate and moved back to the bar.

"Well, that was interesting."

"I really don't like that guy. Casey, you could do so much better than him."

"Elliot, leave the woman alone. Just because we don't like him doesn't mean he can't make Casey happy. Of course, I would be a much better choice, but...." Munch trailed off with a shrug.

"Can we not talk about this right now? I know you guys don't like Trevor; I'm not sure if I do, all right? I'm sorry I invited him over; it was a mistake. Now, change the subject."

Discussion foundered after that and they ate in discomfited silence. Elliot reached over and covered Casey's hand. "I'm sorry, Casey. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

"I know Elliot, and I know you tried. I appreciate the effort... and the honesty. In a weird way, it's nice to know you guys care so much. I am sorry I made things awkward tonight." She turned to Alex and Olivia. "We still on for girls' night out tomorrow?"


Casey nodded and stood. "I'll see you three tomorrow then. Goodnight, guys."

"We'll walk out with you," Olivia volunteered as she and Alex rose as well. "We've got an early start tomorrow."

Munch looked at Elliot. "That's what we should have talked about – the new Cabot-Benson digs." He turned and looked over his glasses at them. "Of course you realize we expect a tour soon."

"I promise, John... as soon as we're settled. We'll host an open-house."

"We'll look forward to it, Alexandra," kissing her hand while Olivia glowered at him. "Would you ladies like an escort?"

"Munch, sit your skinny ass down before Benson punts it into next week." Munch smiled and shrugged.

"I had to try so Casey can see my true worth," and everyone relaxed and drew a sigh of relief as things shifted back into a more natural pattern.

The three women stepped out into the cool night and Olivia stopped Casey with a hand on her arm. "Are you okay getting home alone?"

She started to answer, but before Casey could open her mouth to speak, an unexpected and unwanted voice broke in.


"Robert? What do you want? What are you doing here?"

"I'm sorry, Alex. I just need a minute of your time."

Olivia took Alex's outstretched hand and pulled her away from Robert, doing her best to stay between them. She pushed Casey and Alex towards the door, pulling out her gun and indicating her desire with a single nod of her head. Casey went inside to fetch the three remaining detectives while Alex stood in the doorway - close to Olivia but where Liv knew she was safe.

"Robert Claiborne," pointing the muzzle at him steadily. "You're under arrest...." Then she spotted the dark vehicle speeding towards them and time slowed to an infinitesimal crawl. "ALEX!!!! Get down!!" Shots rang out and Olivia reached out to knock Robert to the ground. By the time Casey and the detectives from the one-six made it out the door, the vehicle was careening wildly out of control.

"What the hell?"

Munch and Fin ran towards the overturned vehicle while Elliot and Alex rushed towards Olivia. "Hey, Liv... what happened here? Casey just...." He turned back to Casey. "Officer down! Officer down!! Get me a bus and whatever officers are in the vicinity for crowd control!"

"Oh God, Liv! No!! NO!!!" Alex dropped to her knees and pressed her hands of the bleeding wound on Olivia's belly. "You hang on, sweetheart. You can't die on me, do you understand? Hang on, baby... hang on for me now. You can't leave me here alone, Olivia Benson! I'll follow you – I swear it."

Elliot was torn – wanting to be by Olivia's side but needing to take charge of the scene. He looked back down at Claiborne. "Don't you fucking move...." He noticed blood seeping from Robert's shoulder. "Kathy, can you...?" She moved to put pressure on it. Without being asked, Trevor and Casey started working crowd control.

Elliot knelt down beside Alex and put his hand over hers. "Damn it, Liv!! What the hell were you thinking? You hold on, you got that?" Three black and whites pulled up and the officers piled out to render assistance. Then the ambulance arrived and everything became controlled chaos.


Chapter XXVI

It was a nightmare he'd already lived through once, Elliot thought ironically as he looked around the hospital waiting room. Only the players had shifted and there were a lot more of them this time. Munch and Fin stood in the near corner, having just arrived from the scene after briefing Briscoe and Green on the facts they had so far. Langan and Casey sat nearby; he had brought coffee for everyone and simply stayed and this time no one questioned his presence – they had far more important concerns to worry about. Serena sat next to Casey, having been notified as soon as Casey could make the call and Elizabeth sat between Serena and Kathy.

On Elliot's other side was Don Cragen and next to him sat a pensive Liz Donnelly. He was half-expecting Arthur Branch to walk in and in point of fact hoped he would if only on the off chance it might garner some reaction from Alex.

After her initial outburst at the scene, Alex had lapsed into stoic silence, hiding behind the mask he recognized all too well. She had kept pressure on the wound until the paramedics took over and then she had calmly followed them into the ambulance. One of the paramedics made a move to stop her when she flashed him her badge and a look. His partner nodded and Alex climbed in the back for the ride to the hospital. They had stopped her at the door to the trauma unit and Alex hadn't moved from the spot she had claimed that allowed her a view of the room Olivia was in.

Elliot had tried to get her to sit down; Elizabeth had spoken to her; both Serena and Liz and made an effort to talk to her – only to be patently ignored as Alex's entire focus remained on what was happening to Olivia in the treatment room. Though they all knew Olivia's condition was grave, Alex was the only one who knew how dire it truly was. She had been in the ambulance when Liv coded.

"'Lex?" the raspy voice a bare whisper.

Alex smiled sadly hearing the strange derivative of her name as pain-filled brown eyes met hers. She rubbed the inside of her wrist along Olivia's face, unwilling to touch her with her bloodstained hands. Alex eased Liv's hair back away from her face gently and leaned down to kiss her forehead. "Hello, beautiful... it's nice to see your eyes again. How do you feel?"

"Col'... so cold."

"You hang on – we'll be at the hospital in a minute and they'll get you warmed up. All right?"

"Love... 'Lex." Then her eyes had closed again and the machines she'd been attached to started wailing. Alex had wanted to scream but instead had pushed herself back into a wall to give the paramedic room to work and after a very long minute, the machines started beeping and blinking in a somewhat normal rhythm again. Then they had pulled into the emergency room and Alex had taken up her post just outside the trauma room, watching. She'd never realized how much it sucked to be on this side of the doors – waiting, hoping, praying.

Then the doctor stepped from the confines of the room and she stopped him with a still bloodied hand on his arm. "Doctor, how is she?"

He looked down into her eyes and knew the answer to his question before he asked, but asking it anyway because he was required to do so. "Are you family?"

"She is my fiancée." He hesitated only a heartbeat, but it was long enough and Alex's eyes hardened and she asked coldly, "Is that going to be a problem?"

The doctor sighed. It could be – he wasn't obliged to recognize their relationship and in fact was more than a little put off by the whole idea. On the other hand, bigotry did not make him all stupid, and he knew who the woman in front of him was and the weight she and her family carried in the city.

"No, Ms Cabot – it won't be a problem."

"See that it isn't," she stated unequivocally. "Now tell me...."

"It was touch and go for a little while – still is actually. She lost a lot of blood, Ms Cabot and I won't lie to you... the odds are not in her favor right now. If she makes it through the night, then I can offer you some hope, but the next twelve to twenty-four hours are critical for her."

"May I go sit with her?"

"You're really not...." Blue eyes flamed and the doctor backtracked a little. "It's hospital policy, Ms Cabot, but I think I can arrange a few minutes for you." He motioned to a nurse. "Can you help Ms Cabot get cleaned up a little and then take her in to the officer's room? I'm going to...."

"Olivia," Alex broke in firmly. "The detective's name is Olivia Benson."

The doctor nodded his understanding, trying not to say anything else that might set Alex off. "Please take Ms Cabot to Detective Benson's room. I need to go speak to the rest of the group that is waiting for a report on her condition."

The nurse nodded – obviously the bloody blonde woman had some sort of hold on Dr. Timmons. He didn't show anyone the deference and courtesy she was receiving. She put it aside and led Alex into the trauma room Olivia was currently assigned to, escorting her to the large sink in the corner first. When she realized Alex never moved her eyes from Olivia's form, she quickly washed the blood off her arms and dried them. Then she guided Alex to Liv's bedside and eased her onto the stool she'd pulled close by. Alex sat and curled a hand around one of Olivia's limp ones, willing her to respond.

Before she left the room, the nurse turned and looked back at the two women. Alex had laid her head down next to Liv's and was quietly whispering in her ear. Olivia remained unmoving, although the monitors registered slight changes in both pulse and respiration.

Elliot had seen the doctor walk out of the trauma room and stood to his feet, causing a ripple effect around the room. He held up his hand, insuring no one moved and they waited until the doctor finished his discussion with Alex before they clustered together to hear what he had to say.

"You're here about Detective Benson?" Elliot's eyebrow rose til they almost reached his receding hairline. He wondered what Alex had said to get the cooperation it normally took the flash of several badges to accomplish.

"Yeah... how is she, doc?"

"As I told Ms Cabot, we're going to have to keep a very close eye on the detective for the next few hours. She's in very critical condition, but if she survives the night, I believe she'll make it."

There was a collective gasp and Elliot felt three distinctive hands clutching his arms. He cleared his throat. "Um... can I see her?" knowing the rest would understand why he asked for himself. The doctor shook his head.

"I'm sorry... Ms Cabot is in with her and I can't allow anyone else in there. Technically, Ms Cabot shouldn't be in there either, but she is a difficult woman to say no to." Smiles all around met his words and Dr. Timmons allowed himself a brief smile as well. "It is possible that Ms Cabot's presence could be beneficial to the detective if they are as close as she led me to believe."

Everyone stiffened and braced for Elliot's outburst, but it was Elizabeth that stepped forward to address the doctor with not a little fire in her eyes and voice. "They are engaged to be married, doctor. Is that going to be an issue for you?"

Dr. Timmons recognized the blue eyes facing him as the same ones he had just faced in Alex Cabot and shook his head. "No, Mrs. Cabot. It's just not common," he ground out. "I'll make a note in Ms Benson's chart that Ms Cabot is to be treated like a spouse," he offered grudgingly.

"You do that, doctor," Elizabeth instructed sweetly, though everyone in the room could hear the steel behind her words.

"I am going to send Ms Cabot out so we can continue Ms Benson's treatment. There is nothing more any of you can do here tonight, so I'd like to suggest that all of you go home and get some rest. If anything changes, we'll notify the next of kin," he looked at the chart he held. "I have an Elliot Stabler listed," watching him nod his head. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to check on Ms Benson."

Dr. Timmons gave them all a brisk nod, then turned on his heel and left the way he came, silently fuming about the unfairness of being forced to treat degenerates, no matter what kind of hero they were made out to be. Maybe it had been poetic justice the detective had been shot. Then he opened the door to her room and stopped dead in his tracks.

Alex had twined the fingers of their hands together, careful not to disturb the myriad of tubes and bandages in and around Olivia's body. Her other hand lightly swept the hair back from Liv's face and she kept up a litany of whispered words in Olivia's ear. Even from a distance, Timmons could hear the difference in Olivia's vital signs. Though not by much, they were a little stronger and he watched in silence as Alex brushed her lips over Liv's cheeks. That earned a reaction even Alex noticed and it brought her head up momentarily to look at the monitors before she leaned down and tried it a second time – this effort touching Olivia's lips.

Again the monitors registered a slight increase in Liv's heart rate and breathing and Alex sighed shakily, laying her head on Olivia's shoulder and greedily breathing in her scent in reassurance. It was at once the most awkward and comfortable position she had ever been in. Timmons decided it was time to step forward and announce his presence.

"Ms Cabot?" Alex straightened and lifted her head from Liv's body without releasing the hold she had on it. She turned her head slightly and met the doctor's eyes, taken back by the multitude of conflicting emotions reflected in his eye. Clear still was the disgust and contempt he held for them that she had seen before, but now there was also confusion and understanding and sympathy.

Alex shook her head. What she and Olivia shared was not meant for public consumption; though many more people were aware of their relationship than would have been had she not been shot three years ago, they were still not looking to become poster children for gay marriage. On the other hand, if they could change a single person's bias by being themselves, Alex wasn't going to argue the point.

"I'm sorry to disturb you," and indeed, the doctor did actually seem sincere, "but I need to ask you to leave now. Ms Benson needs her rest and from the looks of things, so do you. Besides," he continued when she started to argue, "I need to check on her and it's better if I do that without an audience."

"When can I come back in?"

Timmons sighed. "Actually, it would be better if you go home for the night and come back in the morning."

"No," flatly.

"Ms Cabot, I don't think you understand – you're not actually supposed to be in here at all. I've done as much for you as I would for any spouse, but now I'm going to have to ask you to leave so we can do our jobs. Please don't make me call security to have you removed."

A sudden wailing from the machines spurred the doctor into action and caused a number of medical personnel to come tearing into the room. Alex determined to stay at Olivia's side, but the doctor called out, "Nurse, take Ms Cabot to the waiting room, STAT! Let's go people... MOVE!!" And then the door was closing between her and Olivia again and Alex was left on the outside looking in.

She resisted the nurse's efforts to move her from the door and finally the nurse gave up with a shrug and rushed back into the trauma room, leaving Alex alone. She looked briefly at the waiting area, wondering if their friends had heard the code, but a quick glance showed her mother, Liz and Kathy in quiet conversation; Serena and Casey involved in another; and her detectives talking to Lennie and Ed from homicide. Trevor was nowhere to be found. It crossed her mind to wonder who had died that the case had been turned over to homicide, but realized a bit selfishly that as long as it wasn't Olivia, she didn't rightly care.

Then she turned back to watch the trauma team work on the best part of her life, praying for Olivia to be all right.

They watched the doctor head back into Olivia's room and they turned to look at one another. Before anyone could open their mouth to speak, Lennie Briscoe and Ed Green walked in the door and the detectives of the one-six immediately separated themselves from the rest and met them in one corner of the emergency room. Serena took Casey by the arm and led her to another corner. That left Kathy, Elizabeth and Liz to converse among themselves, which they did with ease, having enough in common between them to find plenty of interest to talk about.

When Trevor realized there was really no place for him, he slipped out the door. There were some things even really great sex couldn't overcome. He had a feeling their differences were going to be something that would keep him and Casey apart.

Serena tugged Casey down into a chair beside her. "All right, girlfriend... you want to explain to me what you're doing here with Trevor Langan? Come on, Case... you deserve better than a slimy defense attorney, no matter how cute he's supposed to be." An arched eyebrow made her giggle. "Being a lesbian doesn't make me blind, Casey. I can see. So...?"

Casey sighed. "So...? He was interested and the sex is incredible."

"Oh honey... you are so much better than that." Serena pushed a lock of hair behind her ear and took Casey's hand. "I mean... if he makes you happy, that's one thing. But if all you've got between you is sex.... Casey, there are plenty that would be interested if you'd give them an inkling of encouragement. Hell, if you played on my team, I'd ask you out," she added with a grin. "You have a lot to offer, hon – don't sell yourself short."

"You're making me blush, Serena."

"Don't – just accept the fact that you're a hot babe and better than a roll in the hay for someone like Trevor Langan. In fact," Serena paused and looked around the room before continuing, "I have it on good authority that there are several individuals who find you um... shall we say appealing? John Munch is one of them," throwing her dice on a single roll.

Casey chuckled. "You're kidding me, right? John Munch?

"Yep. He hasn't said anything because he doesn't want to get shot down, but he has a definite interest."

"And you know this how?"

Serena patted the hand she was holding. "John and I have had a number of interesting conversations over the years, including but not limited to our tastes in women. Look, I didn't tell you that to make you uncomfortable. Just keep your eyes open and be aware; there are a lot of opportunities out there if you're open to them." She looked up. "Uh oh."

"Uh oh?"

Serena nodded and pointed to the corner where the detectives had been meeting. Casey's eyes widened. "Oh shit."

As soon as Lennie and Ed walked in the door, Stabler, Munch, Fin and Cragen all crossed the room to meet them.

"How is she?" Briscoe asked without preamble. Elliot shook his head.

"Not good... but she's hanging in there. Whaddya got?"

"Well, for one thing, your partner is a damn fine shot. She managed to kill the driver of that moving vehicle and wound the shooter. And he's already singing like a bird – pointing the finger for tonight's events at the man Benson saved tonight. So one of you wanna tell me who the hell Robert Claiborne is and how all this ties into Alex Cabot's return? 'Cause this guy has given us all kinds of shit to wade through and they both play a prominent part in his story."

Elliot started to give them an abbreviate version of the events of the last few months when Jack Hammond appeared out of nowhere, furious and full of righteous indignation.

"Would any of you gentlemen like to explain to me why I just got a call from the director telling me to get my ass to the hospital because some crazy assed detective has ruined what was left of the Rivera investigation?"

He was up against the wall with Elliot's arm holding him up by the throat so quickly, he didn't even have time to take a deep breath.

"You wanna go ask your goddamn director why one of your fucking rogue agents was left free to roam when he couldn't do his goddamn job? Why my partner is laying in the trauma unit dying because she was shot trying to protect his sorry ass??"

The rest of the detectives pulled Elliot away from Hammond, but none of them helped him as he fell to the floor clutching his throat and gasping for air.

"What the hell are you talking about, Stabler?"

"He means Liv got shot trying to protect your boy Claiborne who had a li'l somethin'-somethin' goin' on with Rivera while you thought he was takin' care of your business. Clear?"

Hammond shook his head. "Not really. Can I get that in English this time?"

Briscoe and Green exchanged glances with each other and the detectives of the one-six. Lennie took Jack by the arm. "C'mon, Agent Hammond. I think you need to be brought up to speed on a few things. 'Your boy' Claiborne is looking at murder charges for a start and that's without considering his drug activities." By this time, Casey and Serena had joined them.

"Gentlemen? Is everything all right?"

Not surprisingly, Munch walked over to them and put an arm around each woman. "Agent Hammond here was a little confused over some of the facts in the case as they have played out. But we are doing our very best to enlighten him."

"Then allow me to suggest that we move this to a quiet corner of the waiting area and sit and discuss this like adults. Otherwise the hospital is going to ask us to leave and despite the doctor's recommendation, I am willing to bet no one here is ready or willing to leave until Liv is out of the woods." Heads nodded and Casey motioned them to the far corner that was big enough for all of them and offered semi-privacy by virtue of being backed by two walls.

It was a much more sedate group that moved over to the corner and sat down. With a little luck, they would be able to figure out exactly what had led up to tonight's actions and finally once and for all put the whole business behind them.

"Oh my goodness," Elizabeth exclaimed as Elliot pinned Jack Hammond to the wall by his neck. She looked at Kathy who was watching the scene with a mixture of fear and fascination. "He's very strong and seems to be quite passionate about his work."

Kathy looked back at Liz and Elizabeth. "He takes his work very personally and he is very passionate about Olivia."

The two older women blinked at her matter-of-fact statement and tone of voice. "Doesn't that bother you, dear? His caring so deeply for Olivia, I mean...." Liz remained quiet at Elizabeth's question, but she waited to hear Kathy's answer with interest. Kathy sighed.

"It's complicated," she confessed. "I know Elliot loves Olivia – part of him is in love with her because she can share part of his life that I can't... he won't let me. That caused a huge part of the problems that broke up our marriage and is something we are trying to work on together now." She sighed again. "On the other hand, I trust them both – I know they care about each other deeply and will do whatever it takes to watch one another's backs and get both of them home at the end of the day. And Elliot and I both know that Olivia is deeply and totally committed to Alex and always has been."

"I have to say what a surprise that was for me," Elizabeth admitted.

"Alex and Olivia together?"

She shook her head. "Not exactly... I mean, I had always wondered why Alexandra seemed cursed with such abysmal taste in men. I know she was looking for someone like her father, but every man I heard about was so shallow and two dimensional. It wasn't until I met Olivia at Alexandra's funeral that I started to understand why the men Alexandra dated were – to be frank – appallingly lacking. She'd found everything she was looking for in a female detective."

"Did that bother you?" Liz asked bluntly.

"It might have," came the honest reply, "if things had been different. As it was, Olivia and I developed our own friendship, and I learned to see and appreciate her for the person she was. So I understood when my daughter came home how very lucky she was to have found someone like Olivia who loves her the way Olivia does."

"So what was the surprise?" Kathy inquired.

"The fact that Alex has been so open about their relationship. She hasn't taken out space in the Times or posted it up on a billboard. Quite honestly if Alexandra did something so completely out of character, I'd be inclined to believe some of John's more outrageous conspiracy theories. But I believe she has been much more open about it than she would have been if she had remained here instead of spending three years in witness protection."

"That's true," Liz agree. "She was uptight before she left here... and completely focused on doing whatever it took to get to the big chair. Alex Cabot was her job with the DA's office, and that's just not true anymore. "

"Well, I like the change," Kathy admitted. "I've actually enjoyed getting to see a more human side of her - she brings a smile to Liv's face and that's a good thing in my book. She spent a lot of years making herself miserable. It's nice to see genuine happiness for a change."

Liz looked at her watch. "I wonder where Alex is. I thought the doctor was going to send her out as soon as he went back into Olivia's room."

Elizabeth frowned and looked around, seeing the detectives, Casey and Jack Hammond deep in a quietly, heated discussion about something or other. Serena was nowhere to be seen and Elizabeth assumed she'd gone to the ladies room or to get coffee or something similar.

"I think I'll go check on Alexandra. Perhaps the doctor relented and decided to allow her to remain with Olivia, but I would feel better knowing for certain. He didn't seem particularly happy about the fact that they are a couple. I can't imagine he would go out of his way to accommodate either of them more than the law deems necessary."

"And unfortunately, their union won't be recognized by the state for another three months. Despite their long and interesting history together, they have only been living as a couple for three months. Legally, Alex has little recourse if the doctor throws her out of the room."

"Excuse me," Elizabeth said, standing and stretching muscles that were cramping from stress. "I'll be right back.

Before she could take two steps, the entire waiting room froze at the high-pitching keening sound that rose from the other side of the trauma unit doors. "NOOOOOOOO!!!!! Oh God, NOOOOOO!!!!!"

Elliot raced through the heavy doors while the others waited stock still and frozen by the agony they heard on Alex's voice. The only glimpse they got before the doors closed was of Alex crumpled on the floor and Elliot sliding into place beside her to wrap her in his strong, tender embrace.

Suddenly, the night took a turn for grim.

Part 14

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