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.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Just a little Christmas tale for Alex and Olivia. This story (like the show itself) supposes that Alex came back from the WPP and settled into her new life as a Bureau Chief without ever contacting her old squad at the one-six, nor have the detectives made any effort to contact her. I have no knowledge of Conviction except what I have read, and given what I have read, that is probably just as well. Also, my knowledge of SVU is limited to a single viewing of the Alex/Olivia years, plus, of course, "Ghost". The rest comes from reading so any detail mistakes or canon errors are definitely mine. They were just intriguing enough characters to catch my attention and they were the loudest in asking for a Christmas story of sorts. The Storyteller's Cardinal Rule is in effect.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Merry Little Christmas
"God, it's cold out here. Thanks, El," Liv commented as she accepted the cup of coffee he offered her. She blew into the cup, relishing the steam that wafted up and warmed her face momentarily. "I wish this guy would move before I freeze to this seat."
Elliot smiled and closed the door. "Why do you think I volunteered for the coffee run this time?"
"I figured you needed to pee," Olivia smirked.
"Yeah... that too." It was quiet for a while as they sipped and watched. Finally, Elliot cleared his throat. "So what are you doing for the holidays?"
Olivia cut her eyes in his direction briefly before refocusing her gaze out the window. "El, why do you even bother asking anymore? What have I done every Christmas for the last eight years we have been partners... and for every Christmas before that since I became a cop??" A beat. "What about you? You gonna get to spend the day with your kids?"
Stabler couldn't stop the tiny grin that crossed his face. "Better... with the family." Olivia's smile at that pronouncement lit up the day and made it feel like summer, just for a minute. Then she punched him in the arm and he scowled at her. "Ow! What the hell was that for??"
"Why didn't you say something sooner? Elliot, that's the best news I've heard in ages!"
He chuckled and rubbed his arm, then took another swallow of coffee. "Kathy called me out of the blue last week and asked if we could spend Christmas together... all of us as a family. I don't know what brought about her change of heart, but I'm going to take it."
"So why didn't you tell me?"
Elliot shrugged and looked back out the windshield. Silence fell over the two of them, a little awkward for what was left unspoken. They hadn't re-established the closeness they had shared before Olivia had requested a different partner and subsequently gone undercover. There were still a couple huge white elephants between them they had yet to discuss one being Elliot's relationship with Detective Dani Beck and the other, Alex's sudden and silent, towards them at any rate, reappearance on the New York legal scene.
Olivia cleared her throat. "Well, I hope things work out for you, El. Give Kathy my love and my sincere thanks for giving a bonehead like you a second chance. Don't screw this up."
"Ya know, I oughta just...." He broke off when he realized how right she was and how close he still was to losing his family. "You're right. I'll make sure to give her your regards, though you could come do it in person."
Liv shook her head. "Not this time... not until you work things out between you. Maybe once your family is whole and settled again, but not now."
Another silence while they both stared out the window. Stabler cleared his throat, but before he could speak, Olivia dropped her coffee cup and yanked her door open. "Police! Freeze!" Instead, the man shot at her and ran. "Shit!" Olivia cursed and ran after him; Elliot punched the accelerator and cut him off just as Liv jumped him from behind and they tumbled to the ground. They thudded against the hood of the car and Olivia slammed the perp one more time with her elbow before jerking his arm up between his shoulder blades.
"You have the right to remain silent," she ground from between clenched teeth. "I'd suggest you exercise that right," snapping the cuffs on tightly. She jerked him to his feet and shoved him towards Elliot. "Read him his rights." Then she walked around to the passenger side of the car and climbed in, closing her eyes and trying not to wince at the pain she felt.
"Hey, Liv... you okay?" Elliot had turned their suspect over to a black-and-white for transport and had gotten into the sedan and started it without a hint of movement from his partner. "Dammit!" grabbing his radio and hitting the siren and the gas simultaneously. "Dispatch, this is Detective Stabler of the one-six. Tell Captain Cragen I'm en route to Mercy. Detective Benson's been shot!"
Whatever response dispatch made was lost in a squeal of tires and the wail of the siren.
"Elliot, I'm fine, really," Olivia protested sometime later. "It was just a scratch."
"Yeah, a scratch and a couple badly bruised ribs from slamming into the car so hard. And the shiner... it's gonna be a real beaut by the time everything is said and done. C'mon, Liv. Take the time; you know the captain will put you on desk duty if you show up at the precinct."
She slid to the ground gingerly, straightening slowly. "I'll take the desk," blowing out a breath. "Did you get me a clean shirt or do I have to wear this until we get back to the station?" She held up the shirt that was now bloodstained on one side. "I'm just glad he missed my jacket. I would have had to have killed him for that."
Stabler chuckled and Olivia just grinned at him wryly. He shook his head and handed her the scrub shirt he'd convinced one of the nurses to give him. It wasn't nearly warm enough, but at least it wasn't wet and would do to get Olivia back to the precinct. She had warmer clothes there she could change into. Of course, then she could explain to Cragen while she was there instead of in the hospital or at home like the doctor ordered.
Alex stood at the window of her office looking out at the vista she had fought so hard to come home to, but seeing nothing but the turmoil of her own thoughts. Nothing was the way it was supposed to be; nothing was like she had imagined it.
She had expected to return home a conquering heroine after all, she had managed to outlive Velez and his minions and return to the life she had known before he had stolen it. What she came back to was new and unpleasant. The one-six was no longer her squad; the detectives there were no long hers and she couldn't bring herself to break through the wall that had grown between them while she was gone. The world she had settled into was shallow and, though she was thrilled to be a lawyer again, Alex felt like what she was doing was meaningless babysitting.
How had she fallen into... this? And why had she let go of what she had known before. Then her lips twisted bitterly. Of course, it wasn't like those same detectives had made any effort towards renewing their friendship with her either. Alex gasped a little at the rush of pain that thought caused. She had always thought... always hoped....
She shook her head. That was the past, and no matter how hard she wished, things would never be the way they had been. Instead, she had hurt a good friend by accepting his proposal of marriage and then betraying her promise before he could even get a ring on her finger. And even worse, he'd been almost understanding about things when she broke it off with him. Poor Robert... she felt bad about what she had done; she had genuinely cared for him.
Jim, on the other hand, deserved the bloody nose she'd given him when he came onto her the second time. Damn shame she hadn't had the presence of mind to do that to him the first time, but he had been an escape from what she felt were the walls of her life collapsing in on her again. However, if she had only said no to Steele, she and Robert would have been married by now. And though she doubted they would have been deliriously happy together, they would have been content.
Content how sad that after all she'd been through she would settle for contentment instead of fighting for happiness. Her life had become a soap opera, and a bad one at that.
A throat cleared behind her and Alex turned to meet the eyes of her assistant. She raised an eyebrow in question.
"Is there anything else, Miss Cabot?"
"No, I think we're all set here." Alex crossed over to her desk and tucked a few papers in her briefcase. "Have a good weekend."
The woman nodded. "You, too. See you Monday." Then she walked out, closing the door behind her and leaving Alex to her morose thoughts. The holidays were just around the corner, and Alex was having difficulty gathering any enthusiasm for the coming festivities, even though it was her first chance to celebrate as a Cabot in more than three years.
Alex put on her coat and gathered her briefcase and purse before heading out the door herself. Then she let her thoughts turn to her renewed relationship with her mother.
Her mother had been so happy to welcome Alex home and supportive of her desire to make the most of the opportunity she had been given, but as Alex's world quickly dissolved into chaos, Elizabeth was hard-pressed to keep her caustic thoughts to herself. She had only once made the mistake of asking after the detectives who had been such a part of Alex's life before, but the pained expression it had garnered her caused Elizabeth not to ask again. Elizabeth did not mention her own intermittent contact with Olivia one she had maintained since before Alex's first emergence from Witness Protection. Given Alex's reaction to her question about Olivia and her colleagues, Elizabeth figured that information was on a need to know basis and Alex didn't need to know... not yet anyway.
So though they were happy to be a family again, there were secrets between them that made things a little awkward as well.
Alex tightened the belt of her coat and wrapped her scarf more securely around her neck. Then she stepped out into the bitter cold and walked briskly down the steps to catch a cab to her apartment.
"Benson! Stabler! My office NOW!" Cragen's bellow could be heard across the precinct and both detectives cringed before exchanging sheepish glances. Olivia had just managed to get changed into an old NYPD sweatshirt and they were walking slowly in deference to her aching side towards their respective desks when the captain's yell demanded their presence.
"What did you two kiddies do now?" Munch asked. "Besides letting your perp cool his heels in the interrogation room for the last couple hours and then showing up here despite being told by the doctor to go home." Olivia turned and faced him and Munch whistled. "Nice shiner there, Liv."
Stabler shrugged. "Not my fault." Liv glared at them both but couldn't manage much more. She was beginning to regret her refusal of pain meds at the hospital. Elliot waited for her to change direction towards the captain's office before exchanging a look with the other two men. Then he followed her into Cragen's office and closed the door behind them.
"Take a seat," motioning them to the chairs and stepping around behind his desk.
"If it's all the same, sir...." Olivia started.
"It's not... SIT!" Cragen watched Olivia gingerly slip her body into the chair. Elliot stood beside her until he was sure she was going to make it, then dropped into his own. He propped an elbow on the chair arm and pinched his lip, waiting for Cragen to go postal. Instead, Don took his own seat and folded his hands casually on the desk. Then he turned his focus on Olivia.
"Why are you here? I know what happened out there and I know what the doctor said to you. You're supposed to be in the hospital. So why are you here?"
Olivia spared Elliot a frown and he shook his head. "Don't blame me, Liv. I haven't said anything."
"And don't think we won't be getting to that next, detective."
"There is no excuse, Benson... no reason for you to be here. Go home. You've got the weekend off; Munch said he'd cover for you. I want you to get a release from the doctor before you come in Monday."
"Detective, unless you'd like to be forced to take a couple weeks mandatory leave while you heal, you will simply nod your head and agree with me. Is that clear?"
Olivia tried glaring, but she really was starting to hurt. She nodded her head. "Yes sir. But don't blame Elliot too much. He only brought me here under protest."
"I still would have appreciated a phone call from someone other than the doctor to let me know what the hell was going on with my detectives." Cragen blew out a breath. "On the other hand, Jackson should be about ready to spill his guts. He's been stewing in his own juices since he got here. Elliot, you get your partner home then get right back here. I'll give Munch and Fin the first crack at him while you're gone. And you," coming around the desk and carefully helping Liv stand, "take care of yourself this weekend and remember what I said about Monday. Now get outta here before I change my mind and decide to yell at you both instead."
Cragen opened the door and allowed his two detectives to pass through in front of him before he pointed towards his remaining detective. "Munch, you're with me. I'll take Tutula's place in the box and the two of you are going to lean on Jackson. As long as he's been sitting in there with only himself for company, I imagine he'll be thrilled to have someone else to talk to."
"I'll give Novak a call as well. She wanted to be here for this." Munch checked his watch. "I'll leave her a message. I think she's still in court." He looked at Olivia who was slowly making her way out the door. "Take it easy, Liv."
"Thanks, John. See you Monday."
He and Don exchanged skeptical glances, but he nodded his head gamely. "See you Monday." Then they headed out to deal with Jackson.
It was quiet on the ride to Olivia's apartment, but it was a comfortable silence for a change. When Elliot pulled to a stop in front of her door, he put it in park and let it idle. "You want me to walk you up?" Olivia shook her head.
"No thanks, El. I'll be fine."
He nodded, having expected the answer. "Here, then," holding out a brown paper bag. "You'll need these." Liv took the bag and gave him a questioning look before she opened it. Then she reached in and pulled out the bottle of pain pills and gave him a grateful smile. He smiled in return and shrugged. "The doc gave me the prescription while you were getting dressed. He knew you'd need something. The other is to help you sleep."
"Thanks for the ride, El. See ya Monday."
"Get some rest, Liv. Enjoy the downtime."
She slid out and slammed the door behind her, turning to wave before she slowly mounted the stairs into her building. Elliot watched her until she disappeared behind the door, then he put the car in gear and headed back to the station.
Alex entered her penthouse apartment, greeted only by the silence. She dropped her briefcase on the floor and kicked off her shoes, then she padded back towards her bedroom to change into more comfortable clothes. Alex emerged a few minutes later in worn sweats and thick socks and went directly to the kitchen to pour herself a healthy glass of wine. She drank it rather quickly and poured a second, taking that one back into the living room with her.
With very little effort, she lit the fireplace, using it her only source of light. Then she turned and opened the curtains, looking out across the city skyline, lit up in the darkness. This had become her evening ritual of late.
When she first came home, Alex had been swept up in the excitement of being back in New York. It had been so easy to lose herself in it. Before she realized what had happened, she was engaged, then promiscuous with someone she had no feelings - much less desire - for, was no longer engaged and as an end result, distanced from everyone she had ever known or cared about. Most of her childhood friends had moved on before she had returned and those who were left seemed to have disappeared back into the woodwork once she had broken her brief engagement to Robert.
Even her mother, who loved her without reservation, didn't even pretend to understand what was going on with her. Alex could see the loving concern and questions, but as yet, they remained unvoiced between them. Someday soon, they were going to have to have a frank talk; Alex wanted to know what Elizabeth was keeping from her and her mother deserved to know the truth... about everything.
For now, though, this was her solace. She gazed over the city, picking out buildings and landmarks and familiarizing herself with home. If she looked real hard, Alex imagined she could see the one-six and Mahoney's. Most days, she tried not to look that hard. It reminded her of everything that was missing in her life now.
It was a long time before Alex finished her wine and lay down on the couch, letting her eyes close and hoping tonight she would sleep until morning without nightmares.
Beep "Hello, Olivia. This is Elizabeth Cabot. I was just calling to see if we could work out something for Christmas this year. I don't want to miss our annual Christmas dinner because my daughter...." She broke off and cleared her throat delicately. "Olivia, please call me. I really do want to spend part of Christmas together if your schedule will allow it."
A soft click signaled the end of the call and Olivia looked at the machine for a long moment before turning her attention back to the flames. She'd napped off and on all afternoon and was feeling a little better than she had after Elliot dropped her off. But she was feeling lazy and comfortable and exceptionally glad she had invested in a top-of-the-line leather couch.
She had reached for the phone when she heard Elizabeth Cabot's voice, then hesitated. She needed a little time to consider what was really an unexpected invitation, given the current circumstances.
When Alex had gone into Witness Protection, it had fallen to Olivia to stand with Elizabeth Cabot at the funeral. They had started talking and slowly developed a friendship based on things they had in common including, but not limited to, Alex. Olivia knew things about Elizabeth that Alex didn't know and Elizabeth knew things that Olivia had never even shared with her own mother.
Alex's unexpected appearance for the Connors trial had thrown both Olivia and Elizabeth into a tailspin, but surprisingly, it didn't drive them apart... even when Liv confessed the truth of her knowledge. But much of that had to do with knowing how Liv had suffered with the knowledge even while Elizabeth had suffered without.
Since Alex's return, however, things had been a little strained between them. Olivia tried to step away from their friendship to allow Elizabeth and Alex time to reconnect and bond. Elizabeth kept trying to pull Olivia into the family circle, having figured out how the detective felt about her daughter. But Olivia balked, wanting Alex to choose to be with her of her own free will and not because she and Elizabeth were friends. But Alex's engagement and ensuing chaos were both sources of gossip throughout the judicial and law enforcement communities and though Olivia and Elizabeth never discussed them, Elizabeth knew that Olivia had heard the rumors.
After that, their contact had been sporadic, though they had not lost touch completely mostly due to Elizabeth's efforts. She had invited Olivia for Thanksgiving, but her undercover work had made that impossible. However, Elizabeth knew that assignment was over and she also knew how Christmas worked in the world of law enforcement and how Olivia worked on Christmas. She has always worked their dinner around Olivia's schedule for that reason.
Olivia kept her gaze focused on the fire as she mulled over Elizabeth's words. On the one hand, she was loath to completely give up the friendship they shared. On the other, she had no desire to run into Alex under any circumstance. She had learned her lesson the hard way; she didn't want a repeat experience face to face. Maybe it was the coward's way out, but at least her heart wouldn't be hurt by Alex any more that way.
A knock on her door surprised her. Not many had a key to the downstairs door; she heard the sound of a key slipping into the lock. And only two had a key to her front door - Elliot and....
"Olivia, dear it's Elizabeth. May I come in?"
Liv closed the eye that wasn't already swollen shut. She really didn't feel up to fighting, but she couldn't be rude to Elizabeth. She cared too much for the woman to hurt her needlessly. Liv groaned and struggled to sit up, hoping Elizabeth would hear her; she wasn't really coherent enough to respond otherwise yet.
"Olivia, are you all right? I stopped by the station hoping to catch you and Elliot told me what happened today. It is one of the reasons I came over." Elizabeth heard Olivia shuffling towards her and stopped speaking until she got the chains off the doors. "Oh my." Then Elizabeth opened the door and immediately wrapped a gentle arm around Olivia's waist and despite her protests, got her resettled on the couch once more. Then her mothering instinct kicked in.
Before Liv knew what had happened or how, her pillow and several blankets were securely ensconced around her and Elizabeth was opening the bundles she had brought with her. Olivia blushed when her stomach rumbled, but Elizabeth just patted her hand and went to the kitchen to fix her a plate.
"You really didn't have to do this, Elizabeth, though I appreciate the thought."
"You needed to eat and when Elliot told me what happened, I knew you wouldn't feel like making the effort. So since I needed dinner as well, I picked up enough for both of us."
"Well, thank you; it's wonderful."
They ate in silence for a few minutes and when they were done, Elizabeth cleaned up quickly before returning to the living room. Then she handed Liv her medication and watched carefully as she swallowed the entire dose. She brushed the hair from Liv's face before moving to sit in the chair near her head.
"It's been a long time since someone looked out for me," Olivia mumbled.
"Well, I'm glad you let me, though you know I had an ulterior motive when I came searching for you tonight." She waited, and finally Liv closed her eyes and nodded. "I really do want to continue our Christmas dinner tradition together. You have been one of the bright spots in my life the last few years. I don't want to lose that because circumstances have changed somewhat," not mentioning Alex by name. She paused, hoping Liv might say something. When she didn't, Elizabeth sighed and continued. "Olivia, it would still be just you and me there. I would never invite anyone else without asking you first."
Dark eyes opened, reflecting old pain and sorrow. "Elizabeth, that's not fair to you or to her. She's your daughter."
"And you are my friend. You were a rock for me during some of the darkest days of my life. Alexandra and I still have a lot of things to work out... things that were between us before all this. This just complicates things for us a little more."
Liv couldn't stop the chuckle, then winced at the pain it cause her. Elizabeth reached over and took her hand. "Sorry," smiling wryly. "I didn't think about how ridiculous that sounded." She squeezed the hand she held, bringing Olivia's eyes up to meet her own. "Think about it, please."
Liv nodded and closed her eyes as the medication kicked in. Elizabeth held her hand until Liv's grip relaxed and her breathing evened out in the slow, deep breaths of sleep. Then she let herself out, locking the door behind her, glad she had a car and driver waiting for her.
The next week went fairly quickly. One good thing about babysitting duty there was never a dull moment. Something was always going on that seemed to require Alex's attention. She was grateful for that; it made the time pass more quickly, though Alex wasn't sure when she'd stopped savoring each day back in New York and instead looked at it as time spent just like she had while she was in the program. It could have been the holiday season, but whatever it was, Alex didn't like it. She had learned the hard way to treasure every moment what had happened to her?
Her mother came by for lunch in the middle of the week; they tried to share at least a couple meals together a week and one nice thing about being a Bureau Chief instead of an ADA Alex had time for real food at real restaurants. Elizabeth had decided to broach the subject of Christmas. Things couldn't keep going the way they had been; something needed to change.
The young man set their drinks in front of them and nodded before they settled back. Alex could tell her mother was determined about something, and since she had an inkling what it was about, she leaned back slightly and made herself comfortable. "What's on your mind, mom?"
Elizabeth blinked. She was used to forthrightness from Alex, but she had been hoping to wait until they had been served before broaching the subject. With the question on the table between them, however, she decided to go ahead and speak. She had waited too long as it was.
"Two things, actually." She reached out and covered her daughter's hand, lightly chafing warmth into the cold appendage. "I'm worried about you, Alexandra. You seem so lonely... so unhappy... since you broke off your engagement to Robert." Alex's eyes dropped. "Was it a mistake, dear heart? Do you regret it in some way?"
Alex turned away, but not before Elizabeth saw the tears form in her eyes. Alex tried to pull her hand from her mother's, but Elizabeth held on and shook her head. "No, daughter... not this time. I've let this go on far too long. No more running away from me; no more running from whatever it is that still haunts you. We are going to face it together. Talk to me, Alex. Let me help you."
Alex's eyes, which had flown to her mother's face at Elizabeth's use of her shortened name, fell to the table immediately when they met the compassion in identical blue eyes. A inconspicuous motion from Elizabeth sent the wait staff away and insuring their discretion until she signaled for them. Then she waited for Alex to speak.
When Alex met Elizabeth's eyes again, hers were shuttered, closed. All traces of her tears were hidden behind the mask she wore. "There is nothing to talk about, mother. Can't we just discuss our Christmas plans or something?"
"No... not until I know what is going on with you. Don't, Alexandra," her words calm and quiet and effectively halting Alex's words. "I know we've had our differences in the past, and the most of that responsibility is mine. But when you were gone, I realized that none of that was as important as you, and I promised myself that if God gave me a second chance with you, I'd do my best to make things right. I'd be a better mother and a better friend." She drew a deep breath.
"I probably shouldn't have let things go on so long once I understood there was a problem, but I didn't want you to think I was trying to run your life, especially after everything. I've been trying to figure out the best way to approach you about this, and I finally decided that head on would probably be the most effective and the most appreciated."
Alex watched her mother's face intently, seeing love and caring and concern for her clearly written there. She nodded her head slowly in agreement. "I don't think there is anything you can do, mom. I got a second chance to be Alex Cabot again, and I don't even know who she is anymore."
"Who do you want her to be?" The question was unexpected, and Alex gave it due deliberation. But when she answered, she did so with quiet vehemence.
"I want her to be who she was when she left. I want to be the 'Ice Princess' cold and confident and completely unshakeable. I want to go toe to toe with my detectives at the one-six, and be arrogant and argumentative and hard-assed. I want to go to court and see the smile on Olivia's face when I win. Instead, I've become someone I don't recognize and can't stand. This was supposed to be a second chance for me a new life. All I've done so far is hurt those I care the most about."
Elizabeth squeezed Alex's hand and then pulled away to fold her hands together under her chin. Normally, she would never sit at the table so, but she wanted to maintain her air of sincere interest without making Alex uncomfortable with her scrutiny. She smiled briefly when Alex mimicked her pose.
"If you had it to do over, what would you change?"
"Knowing what I know now? Everything," she replied with a sad smile. "Robert and I would still be friends, but we would never have made the mistake of getting engaged. I would have gone by my old precinct and talked to my detectives. I would have pushed Arthur for something on the front lines." She shrugged. "It's all water under the bridge now."
"It doesn't have to be. Some things you can't change," Elizabeth acknowledged with a small smile. "You can't change what happened with Robert or why, but you might be able to salvage your friendship with him if you try. You can still go talk to your detectives, still ask Arthur for reassignment. It's not like you need to work for the city you can go into private practice, or become a consultant or a teacher if you want to remain in law. And if you don't, the possibilities are endless, Alexandra. Become the person you were before, the person you want to be. Don't let your fear stop you."
"Easy to say...."
"I'll be right beside you, Alexandra, if that's what you want. You don't have to do it alone."
Olivia didn't make it in Monday or Tuesday, but by Wednesday she was able to convince the doctor to let her go back to light duty. Elliot just shook his head when he saw her ease her way into the station. "Most of us would have taken the time off and counted ourselves lucky." He looked at her bruised face, noting the fading color. "Glad to see your eye is open again."
"I was going stir crazy, El. I probably have the cleanest apartment in New York now." He chuckled, knowing it for the truth. Olivia had never borne boredom well at all. "And like you pointed out I can see with both eyes now. So what's new? What happened with Jackson?"
"He pled out. Novak charged him with four counts of rape, assault with a deadly weapon and assault on a police officer. Life without parole. Otherwise, we've got this," handing across a sheet of paper, "and this," hesitantly handing over a second file. Olivia frowned.
"How did we get this? This doesn't look like a sex crime."
"Dunno. It came down the pipeline for us this morning. I figured I'd ask Novak when I saw her."
"Or I will... since I'm stuck on light duty for the next few days."
"Wouldn't you rather be at home?"
"Nah... then I wouldn't get to see your charming face, or listen to Munch's latest conspiracy theory. Cheap entertainment," said with a sly grin. About that time, Fin and Munch walked in the door.
"Well, well... see who's here. Good to have you back, Olivia." Fin just squeezed her shoulder on his way to grab a cup of coffee. Munch shrugged out of his overcoat. "So, did we get anymore information on why that case landed in our lap? Because I have a theory about it."
Stabler shook his head. "No. We figured we'd talk to Novak about it when we saw her."
"Talk to me about what?" Casey asked as she crossed into the room and removed her coat. "How are you doing, detective?"
"Better, thanks. Glad to be back."
Casey smiled. "Good. Just take it easy, all right? We like having you here and we prefer you be unhurt. Now, what did you need to ask me about?"
"This," handing her the case file Elliot had just handed her. "This isn't a sex crime."
Casey frowned. "No, it isn't. Let me check into this. This should have gone to homicide. Don't worry," tucking the file under her arm. "I'll take care of this." She turned her attention to Munch and Fin. "What did you two find on the Parkins' assault?" Fin handed her a cup of coffee and Casey moved over to hear the details on the latest case. Elliot looked at Olivia.
"All right... I'm gonna head out and check out a couple leads on the Morgan case. I'll bring back lunch."
"Make it something good. I've been eating peanut butter sandwiches since Saturday."
Elliot chuckled but wisely refrained from commenting. He slipped into his coat and wound his scarf tightly around his neck before pulling in his cap and gloves. Then he gave Olivia a little salute before heading out into the bitter cold.
Liv watched him out the door before shaking her head and pulling the stack of paperwork closer. She grit her teeth and determined to clear as much of it off her desk as she could.
The rest of the week went much the same way. Elliot had weekend duty and Olivia was glad for the break, though thankfully, her ribs were healing nicely and she was able to move around with a minimum of pain. With only ten days to Christmas, she needed the time to find something nice for Elliot to take along for his kids from her. Even though she didn't feel right about being part of their family celebration this year, she didn't want the kids to think that their Aunt Olivia had forgotten them. Besides, she needed a new dress for the department Christmas party the following weekend, so she planned to spend Saturday morning shopping. Then maybe she'd give Elizabeth a call.
The remainder of lunch was quiet, but not uncomfortably so. Alex was contemplating her mother's words and Elizabeth was content to let her do so. They could decide what to do about Christmas once Alex had come to terms with what she wanted to do with her life.
The waiter brought them a fresh carafe of coffee before Alex seemed to return to the present. She shook her head. "I'm sorry, mom. I didn't mean to be rude. I was just...."
"... thinking. I know, dear. It's all right. I'm used to it; your father used to do the same thing when he was working through something. Did you come to any conclusions?"
"Yes," adamantly, and for the first time since Alex's return, Elizabeth heard the daughter she remembered. "For too long I have been playing a part... ever since I went into Witness Protection. I got used to being someone else being a pod person." She chuckled wryly. "The psychiatrist the Feds made me see before I was released told me I needed more time to remember how to be Alex Cabot again, but I didn't believe her. Maybe I should have paid a little more attention."
Elizabeth signaled the waiter and he set dessert before both of them. Alex drew a breath to protest, but Elizabeth cut her off. "Don't, Alexandra. You are much too thin and we are going to correct that starting today. Now eat; I happen to know tiramisu is one of your favorites." Alex tried to glare, but found her expression matched; then simultaneously, they broke into smiles and dug in to their dessert.
"So now what?" Elizabeth asked as they stepped back into the brisk wind blowing through Manhattan. Alex tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ears and wrapped her scarf a little tighter around her neck. Then she took her mother's arm and flagged a cab.
"Now, I am going to go talk to Arthur and then I am going to reclaim Alexandra Cabot... the person she really is not the one everyone else expects her to be."
"Good," Elizabeth approved, but for Alex, it was enough. "Now about Christmas...."
Alex laughed, the first real laugh Elizabeth had heard from her since her resurrection. "How about we go shopping on Saturday and we can make plans then?"
"It's a date, Alexandra. In fact, come over Friday night and stay the night. I'll have Lucas deliver dinner, all right? Please give me a call and let me know how things go with Arthur as well."
"I will, mom." Alex said, squeezing the hand she still held. "Thank you for being patient with me."
"Welcome back, Alex. It's good to finally have you home again."
"This is a little unexpected, Alex... are you sure about this?" He folded his hands on his desk and leaned forward towards her. "You're doing such a great job with those kids; I thought you were happy. I mean, I know it's not like being a prosecutor, but being a bureau chief is the next logical step in your career path the next step to the big chair... or becoming a judge."
"I'm not sure that's what I want out of life anymore, Arthur." Alex stood from her chair and crossed to the window. "I fought so hard to come back to New York, to reclaim my life and my job and my identity. But I spent years being someone I wasn't; I really don't know who Alex Cabot is anymore. I don't recognize myself, and some of the things I've done since I came home... some of the decisions I've made.... Arthur, I need to find out who I am again before I completely lose myself in playing the part I think I am expected to play."
"You're serious," a flat statement.
"As a heart attack," turning to face him. The truth was plain to see in her very blue eyes.
"All right. I'll get things started. Will you stay until after the first of the year? I realize it's almost three weeks, but that will give me a chance to get someone else in your place without a lapse."
Alex nodded. "I can do that, Arthur. Thank you for understanding."
Branch rose from his desk and walked to stand beside Alex at the window. He shook his head. "I don't really understand, but I can see this is something you need to do. And it does explain why you have been so... well, I hope you find the answers you're looking for." They turned from the window and Alex walked back to the chair to retrieve her purse. "Will you be going to the Christmas party?" Arthur asked as he escorted her to the door. "Might be a good time to reach out to old friends," noting her hesitation.
"I'll think about it, Arthur. Thanks."
"I agree with Arthur, Alexandra. I think you should go to the department Christmas party." The two women were curled up on opposite sides of the couch sharing a bottle of wine. Alex looked at her mother with an eyebrow raised in question.
Elizabeth blinked. She hadn't expected that question. She took a swallow of wine to give herself a moment to think. She wanted to be honest, but she also to give Alex a reason to try and reach out to those she had known before. Elizabeth felt that would go a long way to helping her daughter reclaim the person she was... and wanted to be again.
"Because no matter if there are hard feelings or ill will, everyone will be on their best behavior and they will at least be cordial. Alexandra, you have to start somewhere. Would you rather walk into the precinct? Because you've had months to do that and yet you haven't."
"Do you think that makes me a coward, mom?"
Elizabeth reached over and took Alex's hand in her own. "I think it makes you human. I just want you to be a happy one. Give them a chance, Alexandra; I think they might surprise you."
Alex smiled, but it didn't quite reach her eyes.
Olivia woke slowly and sat up, stretching her upper body gingerly and smiling in satisfaction when all she felt in her ribs was a bit of residual pull. She reached up to her face, glad that the soreness in her eye and cheek had practically disappeared. Taking it easy during the week had helped her body heal and she stretched again just because it felt good. Then Olivia rolled from the bed and padded to the shower. An hour and two cups of coffee later, she was out the door and headed out into the melee that was Christmas shopping in Manhattan.
Two hours later Liv had several gift cards for Elliot's kids, wisely figuring they would rather choose something they wanted the first time than returning something they didn't. So now she was shopping for herself, looking for a dress for the department Christmas party. It was one of the very few times she got to dress up and she wanted to make the most of it. She might be one of the guys but she loved the opportunity to go all out and be a beautiful woman.
She had finally found a cut she was happy with one that would be both flattering and comfortable. Now it was mostly a matter of choosing a color. She picked up several jewel-toned garments, trying to decide which was the most flattering to her skin tone.
"The red one." Olivia would have recognized that whispered voice anywhere and the sound of it now caused her to still completely. Alex took advantage of the lack of movement and leaned in to whisper again, "Choose the red one. It suits you the best and it's Christmas-y."
Olivia took her time hanging her choices back on the rack before turning and meeting Alex's eyes briefly. "Hello, Alex. What a surprise. It's been a while how are you?" Liv's words were awkward and stilted, but she didn't seem capable of anything more pleasant given the way her mind was reeling.
"Good, good." Alex nodded, as though trying to convince herself. "You?"
"Good," Olivia replied with a nod of her own. "Nice to see you again, Alex, but if you'll excuse me...." Alex reached for her, but Olivia turned and walked away from her at a rapid pace without looking back, even when Alex called out her name loud enough to attract the attention of other nearby shoppers. Alex stood frozen and watched Olivia shrug into her coat and disappear out the door before turning back to her mother who had seen the entire scene unfold hidden out of sight but not out of hearing.
"Well, that went well," her tone caustic in an attempt to hide the burning pain she felt at Olivia's rejection and escape. "You still think I should give them the benefit of the doubt?"
Olivia navigated the streets with practiced ease, pausing periodically to look at the gaily decorated windows along the way, She had no set destination in mind; her only goal had been to get out of the store and away from Alex as quickly and gracefully as possible. But she wasn't overly surprised to find herself at the edge of Central Park some time later. She drew a deep breath and headed for her thinking bench. At least the trees would provide meager cover from the snow that was trying to fall.
Elizabeth could feel the pain radiating from her daughter and even behind the glasses she wore saw the tears held in check. She tucked her hand into Alex's and headed them for the door Olivia had exited. They hadn't even had a chance to remove their coats they had spotted Olivia as soon as they stepped through the portal and Elizabeth had nodded Alex in her direction. Now she wondered if that had been such a good idea.
"In answer to your question, Alexandra, yes, I do... especially Olivia. She has been through almost as much as you have. If you still want to talk to her, I have a pretty good idea where she has gone. There's a place in Central Park...." Unexpectedly, Alex pulled away from Elizabeth and crossed her arms over her chest protectively. She looked at her mother with almost little girl hurt shining from her eyes. Elizabeth gazed at her compassionately and tucked her hand into the crook of Alex's elbow and not-so-subtly urged her to move. "Come, Alexandra. We are blocking the way and Christmas spirit or not, we are getting some pretty disgruntled looks from people."
Alex remained still another moment before reluctantly walking where her mother led. "Why didn't you tell me?" asked so softly Elizabeth had to strain to hear.
"Tell you what, Alexandra? That a woman you once called friend... a woman you once wanted for more than a friend... is now a very dear friend to me? I saw no need to rub that in your face; you made your choices and I until recently, I thought you were happy with them. I won't pretend that I understood them, because honestly I never understood what you saw in Jim and Trevor and even Robert. However, it's your life and your choice to make. But Olivia was a rock for me when you... when you went away the first time. We spent many days on what she called 'her thinking bench' just talking; after you were 'resurrected' we became genuine friends beyond the love we shared for you."
Alex remained lost in thought as they continued to walk. Then the snow began to fall more in earnest and Elizabeth looked up before looking back at Alex. "Signal Jax to pick us up. It is too far for me to walk to Central Park in this fickle weather." Alex did as she was told, though it was clear her mind was a million miles away. Elizabeth sat back and waited, knowing Alex would speak again in her own good time once she had processed her thoughts.
"How did you know?" Alex finally asked, her confusion clear even in her whispered voice. "I never said anything to anyone... I never admitted... not even myself. That's why...."
Elizabeth waited, fairly certain what Alex was trying to say but wanting to let her daughter finish. When it became apparent Alex wasn't going to say anything else, Elizabeth spoke. "When you were very young, you learned to hide what you were thinking... feeling. Part of that was your upbringing, but a larger part of that is who you are a way to protect yourself. So I had to learn to read between the lines... to look into your eyes and find the truth for myself. Even you can't keep the truth of your feelings out of your eyes, Alexandra. They are truly the windows into your soul."
"And what do you see, mama?" slipping the glasses from her face and looking at her mother with blue eyes wide open and slightly out of focus.
"Right at this moment? Fear, confusion and the tiniest bit of hope."
The car stopped and the driver stepped out and opened the door, helping each woman out in turn. He nodded his head at Elizabeth's whispered instructions and pulled the car away from the park. Elizabeth kept a hand on Alex's arm as they made their way towards a bench they were both familiar with. When they were close enough to see, but not be seen, they halted by unspoken, common consent.
"Would you like me to talk to her first?" Without allowing her eyes to leave the bowed dark head, Alex nodded. Elizabeth put her fingers under Alex's chin and turned her daughter to face her, gazing into her eyes. "Now, I don't see anything but love, Alexandra. Have a little faith, daughter. She cares for you as well."
"You're sure... after the way she bolted?"
"Did you ever consider that might be why? Alex, for all our misunderstandings, I have never knowingly lied to you, and I wouldn't start now... especially about something this important." Elizabeth held Alex's eyes, willing her to believe. "Trust me." She waited for Alex to nod, then Elizabeth crossed over to the bench where Olivia sat unmoving.
"May I sit down?"
Olivia looked up at Elizabeth Cabot, not particularly surprised to see her standing in front of her and yet completely amazed at the same time. She shrugged and slid to one side of the bench. "Sure, but it's a little cold out, Elizabeth. You want me to get you a coffee or something?"
Elizabeth shook her head and seated herself gingerly on the edge of the bench. With any luck she wouldn't be sitting here but a moment. "I'm fine, Olivia, but thank you. I, um... I need to ask a favor of you." She held up a hand at the look of resignation on Liv's face. "I know and I wouldn't ask if I didn't think it was important for both of you."
Olivia stared at Elizabeth for a long moment and Elizabeth held her gaze unflinchingly. Finally she nodded. "All right, Elizabeth... because I trust you."
"Thank you, Olivia. You won't regret it." She patted Olivia's arm and rose. Then she walked back the way she had come. When she reached Alex's side, Elizabeth stopped. "Go to her, Alexandra. Use the chance you've been given."
Alex's eyes finally shifted away from the back of Olivia's head to her mother's serene face. "Mom, why are you doing this? Doesn't this go against everything you believe in... everything you taught me?"
Elizabeth cupped her daughter's cheek tenderly for a long moment. "Someday, when we have time, we can discuss it in detail at great length. But for now, suffice it to say that your death opened my eyes to a number of things. It taught me to look beyond the surface. I accepted Olivia at first for your sake and her connection to you, but I found I liked her for who she is and what she stands for. The rest... don't let preconceived ideas keep you from finding happiness, Alexandra."
Elizabeth pressed a kiss to Alex's cheek, then she turned and walked back towards the entrance of the park, pulling out her cell phone to let her driver know to pick her up. She didn't look back.
Alex watched her go until she was out of sight, then she turned back to look at Olivia, who hadn't moved from her bench. Alex drew and released a deep breath and shoved her gloved hands deep in her pockets. Then she walked towards the bench with determination, only hesitating as she arrived within touching distance. Finally, "Is this seat taken?" then mentally castigating herself for what sounded like a lame pick-up line.
Olivia spared Alex another brief glance, feeling her discomfiture as a tangible thing. She felt a wave of remorse, wondering how two people who had been as close as they had once been had let it all slip away until they were uncomfortable strangers. She motioned to the open space beside her; Alex brush away the loose snow that had settled there and took a seat, leaning back and letting her gaze wander over the bleak winter picture in front of her.
"I owe you an apology," Alex stated in the silence. She felt Olivia turn to look at her but Alex kept her eyes focused on the fuzzy whiteness in front of her. "My treatment of you especially has been uncalled for and I really have no excuse. But I would like to try to make you understand if you'd be willing to let me explain."
It was quiet a long moment before Olivia cleared her throat to speak. "All right."
Alex felt her relief as a palpable thing and slumped just slightly. The hardest hurdle had been crossed successfully. She rose and offered Olivia a hand. "Do you think we can go find somewhere a little warmer that has coffee? How about lunch... my treat?"
Olivia hesitated, then took the proffered hand, allowing Alex to help her to her feet. She released Alex's hand after a moment. "Thanks. Um... lunch sounds good, but coffee sounds great. Where to?"
Alex thought a moment, then jerked her head. "C'mon. I know the perfect place."
Elizabeth watched them emerge from the park with concerned eyes. She followed their progress a little ways before nodding in satisfaction. "I've done all I can do. The rest is up to the two of you," said under her breath. If Jax heard, he gave no indication. Only when she nodded her head at him did he acknowledge her presence, and then only to put the car in gear to take her home.
They were sitting in a quiet little alcove, warm drinks in front of them and lunch ordered. Olivia watched Alex; Alex, on the other hand, kept her eyes on the table her previous arrogant self-confidence all but evaporated in Olivia's presence. But the detective had determined to remain silent, knowing that whatever needed to be said between them, it would be up to Alex to begin the dialogue.
Without warning, blue eyes, once more protected by dark frames, swept up and lock onto deep brown eyes. Olivia held Alex's regard and Alex blew out a deep breath. "This is so hard," she muttered, removing her glasses and watching Liv's face grow unclear. But it wasn't blurry enough that she didn't see the confusion pass over Olivia's features.
"Why does it have to be hard, Alex? Look, I appreciate you inviting me to lunch and everything, but it really wasn't necessary. You don't have to explain things to me I already figured it out for myself. I am a detective, you know," trying to play things off with a joke. "I get the fact that you've moved on with your life and there is no room in it for me... or the guys."
Alex took Liv completely by surprise when she reached out and covered her hand. Alex had never been that demonstrative in public even when they had been close friends why now? "That's not true... that's why this is so hard." Olivia didn't move and Alex took it as a sign of encouragement. "Do you remember your first year in college... when you were finally away from your mom? No rules and regulations, no boundaries, no chaperones no one except you to decide what you did or where you went or who you spent time with." Alex looked at Olivia, waiting for her to nod, then she took a deep breath and continued. "Did you go a little crazy - maybe do some things that when you look back, you cringe and wonder what the hell you could possibly been thinking at the time?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"That's a little like what happened to me coming back from witness protection... except while I was gone, I had to play at being someone I wasn't and when I came back, I didn't really know who Alex Cabot was anymore. So I went a little crazy and I tried to make Alex Cabot be who everyone else thought she was and expected her to be again." She took a shuddering breath and moved her hand from Olivia's to clench hers together on the table in front of her. "All that did was make me miserable and probably cost me every real friend I had in the world."
Liv cocked her head. "Why do you think that?"
"Why wouldn't I?" Alex asked on a defeated tone Olivia had never heard from her before. "I know you heard the rumors... about Robert and Jim. And I never heard from you. I...."
"Alex, we didn't think you wanted to hear from us. It was pretty obvious from what we heard that you weren't a part of our world anymore. Your actions didn't make us think any differently."
"So, you decided it wasn't even worth a phone call??" anger in her tone.
"Basically," Olivia fired back. "You made it pretty clear where we stood when you came back for Connor's trial... and when you left without saying goodbye. I don't usually go where I'm not wanted, Alex." Her anger dissolved into sadness and she shrugged her shoulders as her eyes shifted back to the table. "You becoming engaged to Robert and your fling with Steele just made it clear to me that staying out of your life was the right decision."
"So that's it then? There's no more chance for us? There's no room for me in your life?"
Liv looked up at the desperation in Alex's tone, confusion clear on her face. "What us? We were never an us, Alex - as much as I wanted... hoped we might be...." She broke off momentarily, not willing to admit to the feelings she'd hidden from Alex for so long. "I'm not sure what you want me to say here. I thought staying away from you was what you wanted. You had new friends and a new life - a life I wasn't a part of, and you seemed happy enough. Why would I think you wanted me for a friend... or anything else anymore?"
Alex ignored the plaintive question and instead told Olivia exactly what she wanted to hear her say. "I want you to tell me you'll give me a second chance... that you'll let me try to make things right."
"Because I hate what I have done with my life and who I have become since I got back!" Her vehemence was palpable, then her tone became lost and sad. "And I hate that I lost you and your friendship because of it. I miss you; I have since the moment this started when I 'died'. It only got worse the longer I was gone."
"What changed?" Olivia asked after a long moment of silence. The waiter took the opportunity to put their plates in front of them at the break in the conversation. They never even noticed him so engrossed were they in one another. Alex picked up her refilled coffee cup and wrapped her hands around it to absorb the warmth into her suddenly chilled hands.
"Nothing," she said quietly, looking away from those intense brown eyes. "It's more like I woke up and realized that this is MY life, and I could reclaim it for me. I get to be the Alex Cabot I am... not the Alex Cabot everyone else wants me to be." She looked up at Olivia again, finding the compassion she knew was waiting there. "I just need to figure out who that is now."
"Do you have a plan on how to do that?" picking up her fork and finally beginning to eat.
"I have the beginnings of one," Alex replied, picking up her fork and toying with her food. "I quit my job as Bureau Chief and I am talking to you. Beyond that...." She shrugged slim shoulders. "I still owe you an apology and I would like to talk to my detectives again. I've missed them."
"They've missed you too, Alex. We all have." Olivia pointed her fork at Alex's plate and fixed her with a withering stare. "Eat." Alex looked at her and Liv sighed. "You want to apologize? Then eat. Your mother is worried about you and I'm not going to let anything happen to you on my watch. Never again. Got it?"
Alex felt her face crease into the most unusual expression, and she found herself smiling for the first time in forever. "I got it, detective," taking a bite and savoring the flavor. "God, how I missed saying that... and how I've missed talking to you. Does this mean...?"
"It means that I am offering you that second chance you asked for."
Tears filled the blue eyes, but Alex refused to let them fall. "Thank you, Olivia. You won't regret it." They were silent for a few minutes as they ate their food, each pondering how differently this day had gone from what they had expected. When the first feeding frenzy passed, Ales cocked her head. "So can I ask what happened to give you such an impressive bruise? It looks nearly healed... I can only imagine how it looked in living color."
Liv gave Alex a lopsided smile. "Me versus a perp and a parked car. I won." She chuckled softly at Alex's raised brow. "You doubt me?"
"Nope. I've seen you in action. I'm afraid to ask about the damage you did to the car."
"It'll live... but I bet it never pulls out in front of me again." Then Alex did something she barely remembered doing since she lost Alex Cabot to gunshots over three years prior. She laughed.
"Now what?" They were outside the restaurant, the brief snow of the morning already over. By mutual, unspoken consent they started walking back towards the retail section of town. Alex shrugged.
"Depends on you. Short term, I think you still need a dress for next weekend." She smiled and Olivia returned the expression wryly. "Long term? I want to make the most of the second chance you gave me. I want enjoy being friends again - see where our friendship goes."
"Why didn't we ever talk about this before?"
Alex didn't pretend ignorance. She knew precisely what Olivia was referring to. Instead she tucked her hand into the crook of Olivia's elbow. "Do you mind?" she asked shyly. For answer, Liv covered the gloved hand with her own. There were still a lot of things to work out, but she relished the smile the small gesture garnered her and gave Alex a shy one in return.
"We thought we had all the time in the world. And then I came back as some sort of bizarre pod person. God, I hope the mother ship has returned to the home planet so they won't realize I figured it out." The unexpected humor caused Liv to laugh aloud and the sound brought a wistful smile to Alex's face. "I've missed you, Olivia."
"Welcome home, Alex."
"How did it go, dearest?"
"You were right, mom. She gave me a second chance."
"Don't waste this opportunity, daughter. I don't want to see either of you hurt any more. You have both been through enough in the past three years."
"I know, mom. We're going to work at being friends again and see where that leads. At least this time we are both open to the possibility of there being more than friendship between us and a mutual desire for it." Alex chuckled wryly. "You know, this is not a conversation I ever envisioned myself having with you not even in my wildest dreams."
Elizabeth laughed lightly. "Well, if it makes you feel any better, Alexandra... neither did I. But I'm glad you can," her voice growing more serious. "I'm glad to see something positive finally emerge from the time you were away."
"I'm just glad I didn't mess things up beyond repair. Thanks, mom. I love you."
"You're my daughter, Alexandra, and you came back from the dead. Encouraging you to be happy was little enough for me to do if I get to see you that way. That my good friend Olivia benefits from your happiness is just an added bonus. I love you too."
"Thank you, Elizabeth."
This phone call had been unexpected and Elizabeth savored Olivia's quiet tones. "You're most welcome, my dear. I take it you are happy?"
"Yeah, I am... for the first time in a long time. Thank you for never losing faith."
Elizabeth chuckled softly. "Oh, I assure, Olivia, it was purely selfish on my part. I want you both in my life. The fact that it makes you happy to be together is icing."
"So did you invite her for Christmas dinner yet?"
"No, Olivia. I promised you I wouldn't without talking to you first."
"Invite her, Elizabeth."
"And you'll be there?"
"I'll be there."
Olivia didn't even have a chance to get her coat off Monday morning before being accosted by her male colleagues. "You are never going to guess the latest gossip to hit the circuit." Olivia didn't reply, fairly certain where this was going but unwilling to divulge what she knew. Alex was intent on surprising the guys herself a little later.
"Did you guys hear Cabot quit?" Casey asked as she breezed into the precinct with the warrants Elliot had requested. "Actually, Arthur gave her an extended leave of absence, but she is leaving the prosecutor's office after the first of the year."
Munch raised an eyebrow. "Any reason why?"
"Nope." Casey shook her head and accepted the mug of coffee he offered her. "Word just came down this morning. Reynolds is going to step into the job indefinitely. Scuttlebutt is it's permanent, but I guess that will depend on Cabot."
"Maybe Alex just needs a chance to figure out who she is now. She did go right into that job as soon as she returned from witness protection." Olivia stopped talking when she noticed all eyes had focused on her in disbelief. "What? I'm just saying...."
"Yeah, and the idea has real merit. Personally, I've wondered more than once if the government gave us back some sort of animatron instead of the real Alex Cabot." He wondered what caused the widening of Olivia's dark brown eyes but Elliot broke in before he could ask her about her reaction.
"Yeah, but you haven't been saying anything about Alex Cabot for a long time, Liv. What gives?"
"Maybe it's the spirit of the season?"
"Or maybe she wanted to give me a chance to answer for myself," Alex said softly as she stepped around the corner into the room. Everyone turned to face a specter they had not seen in years and froze at the unusual sight of Alex Cabot dressed down in jeans and boots. Elliot, with a sharp prod from Olivia, was the first to move and he walked towards her slowly with open arms. It would have been hard to say who held on the tightest. But before the hug was over, Munch and Fin were a part of the tableau. Casey nudged Olivia.
"I think this is what she needed." Liv raised an eyebrow in question, but Casey shook her head. "Let's just say there have been a lot of people worried about her and leave it at that." Then she crossed into Cragen's office to give the squad a moment to welcome their lost lamb back into the fold.
For his part, Cragen walked out to claim his own hug. Then the phone rang and the workday started for the one six. Alex left with the promise not to forget about them again - and threats from the guys as to what would happen if she did. It put a smile on her face... and Olivia's.
The department Christmas party was winding down and Olivia was preparing to leave since she was on call for the weekend and would be working Christmas day. It had been a good night for Alex and that made Liv happy. They had been on the phone every night since the previous Saturday and only Olivia knew how truly unsure Alex was feeling about the event. But watching her blossom under the care and concern of most of their colleagues had been gratifying. And there had been more than enough defenders to deal with the few detractors who tried to make things unpleasant.
"You cutting out?"
Olivia turned to find Elliot behind her. She nodded. "Yeah. Long weekend for me, but it was worth it to be here tonight," her eyes finding Alex's blonde head among the still lingering crowd. "Oh, hey!" pulling cards out of her purse. "For the kids from their Auntie Olivia."
"You didn't have to...."
"I know, El. I wanted to. They're good kids. I don't want them to think I've forgotten about them."
"No chance," accepting the cards and tucking them into his jacket. "In fact, Kathy asked me to make sure you know you are welcome anytime you can get down. She and the kids miss you coming by."
"I can't for Christmas, but maybe I will swing by for New Years. I'm supposed to be off, but... we'll see how it goes." She shrugged and Elliot nodded, knowing that was one of the worst nights of the year for the police department. "Shame she didn't come with you tonight."
"Too soon for that, though I did ask her, you know, in case she wanted to. Are you and Alex going out for Christmas?" Olivia blinked at his forthrightness. "C'mon, Liv... we've all seen the difference in both of you in the past week. I mean Alex came back into our lives and it shows in your eyes and on her face." He clasped her arm. "I just want you to know the guys and I are really happy for you both... regardless of the hows and whys, all right? It's good to see you happy again."
Before she could answer, Munch and Fin came over to join her and Elliot. "You look great, Liv," Munch commented. "I meant to mention it earlier, but...."
"But Alex walked in."
"Taking my name in vain?" Alex asked smirk. "God, I'm tired. I'm really glad I came, but I had forgotten how exhausting these functions are. I think I'm going to head out." She grabbed Olivia's arm and the two started towards the coat check room. Then Alex stopped and turned back to the three watching detectives. "Thanks, guys. I... just thanks." She turned back and caught up to Olivia and though Alex didn't take Olivia's hand, the two walked closely together as they made their way down the stairs and out the front of the building to catch a cab.
Munch looked at Elliot. "Do you think they...?"
"I dunno, but does it really matter? Liv is happy for the first time in years."
"So is Alex, from the looks of it," Fin said quietly. "Makes for a little nicer holiday." The other two nodded their agreement and slowly drifted downstairs.
"Olivia... come in, my dear. You look simply amazing. Let me see." Elizabeth twirled her fingers and Liv spun obediently. "Oh, yes... absolutely divine. Red suits you, my dear... very much." Olivia flushed. She was feeling much more self-conscious than she had at any time in her life. The dress had been a request from Alex after the department party and Liv had agreed with an embarrassed nod. Alex had squeezed her hand in gratitude, but other than that, there had been very little tactile contact between them. They had spent hours talking, though, reacquainting themselves with each other and learning things they had never shared with one another before.
"My daughter will be down in a moment." Elizabeth's eyes twinkled with merriment. "For some reason, she wanted to be stunning tonight."
"She always is," Liv muttered, then flushed again when she realized she had spoken out loud. Elizabeth laughed and took her arm to draw her further into the apartment. They stopped at the windows that overlooked Central Park, Christmas music playing quietly in the background.
"I know this is an unusual situation, Olivia, but I am so glad you are back in Alexandra's life. I have seen such a difference in her in just the few days the two of you have been friends again, and despite the selfishness of my reasons, it does my heart good to see you both so happy."
"It's good to have her back in my life, Elizabeth."
She wanted to asked, but at that moment, Alex stepped into the room. And then Elizabeth didn't need to ask. She saw the answer clearly in the identical expressions Alex and Olivia wore. She turned back to the window to give them a little privacy and determined to excuse herself as quickly as was politely possible after dinner.
Olivia moved away from the window and Alex met her halfway; they stood in the middle of the room staring at one another. Liv reached out towards Alex and hesitated, only to have her hand caught and held in Alex's.
"You look stunning," she said with a smile and Alex's blue eyes twinkled at Olivia's choice of words. And she was... in an emerald sheath that deepened the blue of her eyes.
"And you are gorgeous, Liv. Thank you so much for indulging me." Whatever Olivia's retort would have been was lost when Jax came in with a tray bearing drinks. Then the conversation became general and included Elizabeth until dinner was served.
When they were seated, Elizabeth held out her hands, palms up and both younger women complied with her unspoken request, linking their hands and hers and then bowing their heads. Elizabeth closed her eyes and cleared her throat. It had been a while since she had done this, but it just felt like the right thing to do this year.
"Dear Lord, we thank you for this time we can share together as a family." Olivia looked up in surprise and caught the happiness that radiated from Alex's eyes. She couldn't prevent her own smile from forming and she turned her attention back to Elizabeth's words. "We thank you for returning Alex home to us, and for keeping Olivia safe everyday. Thank you for the love and friendship we share here and bless our home. And especially thank you and Olivia for the lovely wine she brought just because she knows it is my favorite. Amen."
Both Alex and Olivia barely manage their answering 'amens' because of the laughter Elizabeth's prayer had caused them. Then they turned their full attention to the lovely meal that had been prepared. Conversation flowed from one topic to another, and it wasn't long before they were moving back into the huge living area to sit in front of the fire sharing memories of other Christmases.
At a prearranged signal from Jax, Elizabeth slipped out of the room on the pretext of answering the phone. Olivia and Alex slipped their shoes off and curled up on opposite ends of the couch and talk faded as they watched the flames. Then without warning, Liv snapped up into a sitting position, which caused Alex to do the same in a fit of concern and curiosity.
"Liv?" Olivia noticed Alex's second use of her nickname and smiled with grim determination. She hoped she wasn't jumping the gun with this, because in many ways, they had been more than friends for over five years. They were just a little slow on the uptake when it came to actually doing something about those feelings. Olivia wanted tonight to be that first step they needed to finally doing instead of just feeling. She removed a box from her purse and watched Alex's eyes widen behind the dark framed glasses she knew Olivia loved.
Liv nodded her head and set the purse out of the way, her eyes never leaving Alex's. She extended her hand, noting the slight shake in her hand was echoed in Alex's as she reached out to take the box. She didn't say anything, hoping the gift would speak for her.
Alex couldn't stop the gasp that escaped her lips and she covered her mouth with one hand while she continued to stare at the Menotte bracelet that was nestled in the box she held. Her eyes shifted to Olivia when she cleared her throat awkwardly.
"I just wanted...." She didn't get to finish. Alex carefully slid over right into Olivia's personal space, clutching to the jewelry box tightly in one hand and covered Liv's lips lightly with the other. She swallowed hard, then spoke in a whisper.
"Does this mean...?"
Liv nodded to the unfinished question and kissed the fingers covering her lips. She took the hand covering the mouth into her hand, stroking Alex's knuckles with her thumb and holding Alex's gaze. "It can mean whatever you're comfortable with it meaning to you, Alex, but I know what it means for me." Alex searched Olivia's eyes, close enough to see gold flecks in the deep brown. "I know it's only been a little over a week since we reconnected, but I can't help what I feel, Alex... have felt for a long time. That never changed." Now she looked down. "I just needed you to know."
"You're sure?" not wanting any more misunderstandings between them. Liv nodded.
Alex took their joined hands and lifted Olivia's chin until their eyes met once more. Then she loosened her grip from Olivia's and traced her face as though memorizing the moment with her fingertips. Eyebrows, cheekbones, jawline saving the full lips til last and feeling her nostrils flare in response to the burning expression in Liv's eyes at her touch.
Finally, at last, Alex leaned forward, replacing her fingers with her lips and watching Liv's eyes close before allowing her own to do the same. She twined her hands into Olivia's coiffed hair, feeling Liv do the same. Then Liv's other arm wrapped around her slim body and pulled Alex into her lap.
The kiss went on for some moments, tasting and exploring as they discovered their shared passion for one another. When they pulled apart minutes later to breathe, they leaned their foreheads together, unwilling to give up the contact with one another.
"God, that felt incredible," Alex said dramatically. "Why did we wait so long to do that?"
For answer, Olivia grinned fiercely and claimed her lips again; Alex returned the embrace fervently. Finally they felt the need for air again and Alex tucked her head under Olivia's chin so she could catch her breath. Liv kept her arms firmly around Alex, her fingers running lightly over silky smooth skin.
"I feel so safe here," Alex commented. "I could stay here forever."
Liv chuckled. "Elizabeth might have something to say about that."
Alex snorted. "What?? Welcome to the family?? Liv, she loves you and already counts you as family. And even if I wasn't already crazy mad in love with you before, I would love you for looking out for my mom the way you did while I was gone. What??" feeling Olivia stiffen and still beneath her.
"Do you mean it?"
"Yes!" Alex said emphatically. "Although maybe we should work on the whole kissing thing if you still doubt my feelings for you after that," joking lightly to cover up the hurt she felt at Olivia's disbelief.
Olivia grinned and relaxed. "Not that I am adverse to more practice on that front, mind you; we can work on that anytime you want," wiggling her eyebrows. "But knowing it here," pointing to her head, "is different from hearing it here," covering her heart. "It felt... it was just amazing."
"Then for the record I am crazy mad in love with you, Olivia Benson."
"Damn good thing," Liv muttered. "Because I am crazy mad in love with you, Alexandra Cabot. I have been for as long as I can remember."
"In that case," Alex said, lifting the bracelet up between them. "Will you?"
Reverently, Olivia lifted the bracelet and clasped it around Alex's thin wrist. She screwed it shut and placed a kiss on the inside of her wrist, smiling when she heard Alex hiss in response. Then Alex brought their lips together again, sealing their silent pledge with an equally silent promise. The kiss ended and Alex stood unexpectedly, holding out her hand. Olivia took it without hesitation and let Alex pull her to her feet.
"Dance with me." Music played in the background as they swayed slowly together, the fireplace and Christmas lights the only illumination in the room. When the song ended, Alex pulled back slightly and looked at Olivia with luminous blue eyes. "I have something for you as well, but I left it at my place. Come home with me?"
"That sure of yourself?" though Liv's smile took any sting out of the words. Alex shook her head.
"No... that hopeful of us." She smiled when Olivia pulled her closer once more until they were touching along their lengths again. "In spite of my denial to the contrary to myself and everyone around me - the past few months especially - this is what I wanted, Olivia. You were who I was waiting for."
"If I go home with you, Alex, you may never get rid of me again."
"For the rest of my life, if you want." She was shocked when Alex shook her head.
"No. I want forever, but the rest of our lives will be a good start." She tugged Liv back to the couch and knelt to put Olivia's shoes on her. Alex ran her hands up strong, smooth legs, causing Olivia to slam her eyes shut with the feeling that shot through her body. Before Liv could move to reciprocate the highly erotic act, Alex had her own shoes on and had signaled Jax to bring their coats.
"Come on, sweetheart," Alex said, holding open Olivia's coat while she slipped into it, then tucking the scarf around her neck. "Mom will understand. At least she better... since she set this whole thing up."
Olivia grinned and cupped Alex's cheek in her hand; then she brushed a kiss over Alex's lips. Clasping Alex's hand in hers, they left quietly to continue their own private celebration. There were still things to work out, but tomorrow would be soon enough to talk about what had happened in the past... and what their future held. Tonight was about them alone - a new beginning for both of them.
"Merry Christmas, my darlings," Elizabeth whispered as she watched them walk out the door hand in hand. Despite everything that had been, and everything that was to come, suddenly the New Year was looking brighter than ever.
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