DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and its characters are the property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is my take on what could (should?) have happened during and after the episode Ghost. A recent re-look at the original episode leads me to believe (if you go by wardrobe changes) that the trial verdict actually happened the day after the trial itself. Since I had already written the story as it is, my version has the entire trial, including the verdict, occurring on the same day. The first scene picks up in the safe-house with Olivia and Alex…
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Missing Scenes From Ghost
By sunsetwriter


"Alex, you didn't see this file." Olivia steadied her voice as she handed the file to Alex. The former ADA gave Olivia a questioning look as she took the offered file. She opened the folder and saw the picture of Liam Connors clipped to the paperwork inside. Realizing what Olivia had just given her, she looked up to meet the detective's deep brown eyes. No more words were exchanged for the next hour as Alex read every word written in the file and then read them over again, committing every detail to memory.

Olivia had settled into the chair opposite Alex and picked up a magazine she pretended to read while Alex pored over the details in the police file. The detective glanced up occasionally, always to find Alex completely engrossed in the file. When she finally closed the folder, Alex looked up at Olivia and attempted to smile. "Thank you." Olivia put down her magazine and nodded silently. "I know the likely repercussions if anyone finds out you showed me this…"

"Alex, I never would have given you the information if I didn't want you to use it. I know that if Antonio decides not to testify… Well, that wouldn't help your case. And Casey's not bad, but…"

Alex nodded. "I treated her pretty badly this afternoon and all she was doing was trying to help me. But my life could be riding on this…" Alex's voice cracked and tears threatened to fall once more.

Olivia scooted to the edge of her chair. "I know. And I know you're scared. But you just have to believe that this is all gonna work out."

"Do you believe that?" A tear finally spilled over.

"I do." Olivia tried to sound positive. "But I figured showing you that file couldn't hurt." She decided to try and add a little humor to lighten the mood if possible. "Because, you know, I've seen you in action. And, if nothing else, I figured Casey could learn a thing or two from watching the well prepared, kick-ass Cabot in the courtroom."

Alex gave a short laugh as she sniffled and wiped her eyes. "Only problem there is I'm not sure that kick-ass Cabot exists anymore."

Olivia nodded toward the file. "Read it again. I'm sure she'll show up when you need her."

"Well, having her favorite kick-ass detective in her corner might just bring her out of hiding too I guess." The detective smiled. Alex stood and walked back over to the window. She looked out at the city for a moment and then turned back toward Olivia. "I'm glad you're here tonight, Liv. Just being able to talk about everything again… without being on guard with everything I say or do. I feel… real again."

Olivia smiled wistfully as she swallowed the lump forming in her throat. She wondered if Alex was glad to talk to her personally or if anyone from her past life would have sufficed. She decided to take a stab at asking, but tried to disguise the question. "I guess Elliot was too busy beating you at backgammon to give you any time to talk, huh?"

Alex rolled her eyes. "Yeah, but it's OK. I can't really talk to Elliot the way I can to you. I mean, he's a great guy, a great detective, and I know he cares, but I don't know… it's just different with you." Olivia cocked her head to the side, as if asking Alex to explain. "I mean, I don't think he can comprehend what this has been like for me. You and I are both strong-willed, fiercely independent women. Can you imagine having your life as you know it taken away? Being told now you're somebody else and this is your new life?"

Olivia shook her head. "No, I can't."

Alex looked up at the ceiling as she spoke again. "I'm sorry I blurted out all that when you asked me if I was making any friends. I guess my point was that Emily has someone, but Alex doesn't. I don't really know how to explain it. I just… I guess I'm just glad to be Alex again. Even if it's just for a little while." She looked back at Olivia and tried to smile. "It's nice to not have to be careful with everything I do or say or to try to remember not to mix-up fabricated facts about my so-called life." She reached up and swiped away a tear with the back of her fingers. "I hate not being in control. That's so not who I am."

Olivia stood and walked over to stand beside Alex. She hesitated for a moment and then placed her hands on Alex's arms, giving them a squeeze. "Alex, be whoever or whatever you need to be tonight. You don't need to put up a front for me. I know the real you." She looked into Alex's tear-filled eyes. "We can talk about Wisconsin or we can talk about the case, or hell, we can talk all night about nothing important if you want to."

Another tear rolled down Alex's cheek. She looked at Olivia, but could only utter two words. "Thank you." She pulled Olivia into a fierce hug that almost rendered the detective incapable of breathing. Alex's head rested on Olivia's shoulder, the only sound was Alex's occasional sniffle as she tried to keep from crying. After a few minutes, Alex shifted backwards and wiped her eyes. "I'm sorry. I-"

"Don't you dare apologize." Olivia reached up and brushed a loose strand of Alex's hair away from her eyes with her fingertips. Alex was surprised by the intimate gesture and stared into Olivia's eyes. Her focus moved to Olivia's lips and she found herself leaning in toward the detective. A flicker of surprise registered in Olivia's eyes just as Alex's lips gently touched her own. The kiss was soft and tentative, but still packed a punch the detective never thought she would feel. Alex pulled away slightly and looked into Olivia's eyes. She opened her mouth to speak, but her voice caught in her throat and she looked away. Olivia lowered her head slightly to capture Alex's downshifting eyes. Alex shifted her weight, but Olivia's arms encircled her, not letting her move away.

Alex finally found her voice as she looked back at Olivia. "I'm so sorry." Olivia questioned the apology with her eyes. "I shouldn't have done that." Alex shifted her weight again, but not enough for Olivia to let go.

"Why not?"

Alex diverted her eyes again. "You're not… We've never…" She was at a loss for words.

Olivia dipped her head again to try and see Alex's eyes. "It's OK, Alex." Her voice was soft, almost a whisper. She was torn between revealing her true feelings or letting Alex back-peddle all the way back to where they started.

"I just feel so… connected to you, Liv. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you-"

"Alex, do you see me pulling away from you?" Olivia decided that the truth might set them free.

Alex raised her eyes to meet Olivia's again. "No."

"Do you regret what just happened?"

She shook her head slightly as her blue eyes questioned Olivia. "No. Do you?"

"Does this answer your question?" Olivia leaned in and softly pressed her lips to Alex's again. Alex returned the kiss and a few seconds later, the two women found themselves in a passionate, full-blown, feel-the-earth-move kiss. When their lips finally parted, they stood in a breathless embrace, foreheads touching. Neither woman spoke for a few moments.

Alex pulled back slightly to look at Olivia, searching her eyes. "God, Liv. Do you really think this is a good idea?"

Olivia kissed her again, and when they parted, the detective smiled. "It's definitely working for me."

Alex smiled back, her arms still holding Olivia in their embrace. "Yeah, but that's not exactly what I meant."

"I know. I guess I'm not really thinking straight right this second."

"That's kind of my point. Olivia, more than likely, I'm going to go right back into witness protection after this trial. Even if Connors is convicted, Velez is still out there, and I'm sure he has plenty of other guns-for-hire just waiting to take Connors' place." Alex stared into Olivia's concerned eyes. "So, given that scenario, why would we want to start something we may never be able to finish?"

"Alex, in my mind, we started something a long time ago… So… I'll take this. I'll take whatever time we have."

Tears welled up in Alex's eyes once again. "It's just so hard, Olivia. Being in the Program is hard enough without adding this to it." A tear rolled down Alex's cheek. "I really don't think I can say goodbye to you again."

Olivia reached up and brushed away the tear with her thumb, cradling Alex's cheek in her hand. "Alex, let's not cross that bridge until we have to. We don't know what's going to happen. If there's one thing I've learned in this job, it's that life is precious, and you shouldn't waste a minute, because you never know what may happen next. I've been kicking myself for never telling you how I really felt about you. I always assumed we'd have time, you know?" Alex nodded as another tear escaped. "I feel like I've been given the rare opportunity of a second chance and I just want you to know that I'm crazy about you. I have been for a long time. If you don't feel the same way, then I'll deal with that, but the way you just kissed me…"

Alex's tears were flowing freely now. She leaned forward and kissed Olivia again. "I'm crazy about you too, Liv." She hugged her detective fiercely as a sob escaped. "I'm just so scared." They stood in their embrace until Alex regained her composure. Olivia loosened her grip and pulled back to look at Alex, cupping her cheek once again.

"Alex, the last thing I want to do is make this any harder on you than it already is. I just… I thought I was never going to see you again. Or when I did, you would have a whole new life and would live happily ever after. And I could deal with that as long as you're happy."

"The only way I'll ever truly be happy is to have my old life back. I do have a new life, or I did have. But I was just going through the motions. I wasn't really living and I certainly wasn't happy."

"What about your claims adjuster?"

"He knows Emily Morgan from Tulsa, not Alex Cabot from New York. But being with him was better than being totally alone. I really hate myself for using him like that. And I don't want to use you now."

"Alex, you're not using me. Whatever this is that we have, we have it together."

"Even if it's just for tonight?"

"Even if." She kissed Alex again.

Alex wrapped her arms even tighter around Olivia. "How am I ever going to say goodbye again?"

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that. But if it does, we'll be apart, but we won't be alone. And I'll vow to do everything in my power to bring you home again."

Alex sniffled again. "God, Olivia, this could be so complicated."

Olivia pulled back to look at Alex. "Yeah… or it could be the simplest thing we've ever done." She leaned in and kissed Alex tenderly.

Alex smiled as she finally broke their embrace. "You do have a way with words, Detective Benson. You always know just what to say to put people at ease." Alex ran her hands over her hair and walked over toward the bed.

Olivia turned to watch her walk across the room. She reached the bed and turned back to face the detective. She seemed to visibly relax as Olivia watched. Her expression, however, was one that Olivia wasn't quite sure about. "So, do you want to read the file again?"

"I think I've read enough." Alex sat down on the end of the bed.

Olivia nodded. "Do you want to play backgammon?"

Alex shook her head slowly. "No. I need to do something to take my mind completely off of this case for a while."

"Did you have anything particular in mind?" Olivia was beginning to get the idea, but she wanted confirmation from Alex before she acted.

Alex smiled. "You." She patted the bed next to her, inviting Olivia to join her.

Olivia moved slowly toward the bed and sat beside the former ADA. "Are you sure?"

Alex nodded. "I'm sure. For the first time in a very long time, I'm sure. Just being here with you, I feel like me again. I need you, Olivia. And I most definitely want you." Alex smiled. "I guess it really is that simple." Olivia returned the smile. It was if scared, lost Emily transformed back into self-confident, determined Alex right before her eyes.

Olivia leaned toward Alex. She hesitated for an instant to look into those bright blue eyes she had missed for so long. She gave a quiet chuckle as she confirmed that kick-ass Cabot was indeed staring back at her. She devoured Alex's mouth with her own as she pushed her back on the bed. She decided then and there that this would definitely be a night to cherish and remember. Whatever happened later, they would deal with as best they could. But tonight, they finally had each other, and that was all that mattered.

At eight o'clock sharp the next morning, Olivia heard a knock on the door. After a quick glance towards the bathroom where Alex was getting dressed, she moved to the door, her hand on her gun.

She heard a muffled voice through the closed door. "It's Stabler. Rise and shine." She looked through the peephole and verified that her partner was alone. No gun held to his head as he requested admittance into the room where Alex was being guarded.

Olivia opened the door. Elliot moved in quickly and scanned the room with his eyes. "She's in the bathroom."

Elliot gave a quick upward nod of his head and looked at his partner. "Uneventful night?" Olivia hesitated and gave Elliot a strange look. "No narco-terrorists came knocking or anything?" He wasn't sure why he had to clarify his question, but the expression on her face was one he really couldn't read.

Olivia shook her head. "No, no visitors. Thank God."

Elliot nodded, studying his partner's face and wondering what she wasn't telling him.

"Get any sleep?"

"Yeah. Eventually." Olivia glanced back toward the bathroom and then looked back at Elliot. "She was pretty keyed up about today. Actually we both were. So, we talked a lot. Did some catching up. You know…"

"She let you beat her at backgammon too?"

Olivia smiled at her partner as Alex emerged from the bathroom. Elliot smiled at the sight of the former ADA. "Morning, Counselor." He hesitated for a second. "It's really good to have you back, Alex."

Alex smiled. "Good morning, Elliot." She cut her eyes briefly to Olivia. "It's really good to be back."

Olivia smiled, noticing that Alex had opted for a turtleneck. She really hadn't intended leaving that mark on her neck, but some times things just happened in the heat of the moment. A curse of the fair complected, Alex had informed her. Elliot watched the odd exchange between his partner and Alex. There seemed to be an undercurrent of something that Elliot couldn't quite put his finger on.

He rocked forward on the balls of his feet and looked at his partner. "Well. The marshals are waiting downstairs to escort us to the courthouse. Everybody ready?"

Olivia nodded, her eyes never leaving Alex. "Ready?"

Alex took a deep breath and gave a single nod of her head. "I'm ready." Her eyes fixed on Olivia's for a few seconds and then she looked at Elliot and nodded again.

Elliot smiled a nervous smile and felt like he had just missed the punchline of a joke or something. He surmised that Alex was just nervous about her court appearance and facing the man who shot her. "Alex, you're gonna do fine."

"I know." She almost added Thanks to your partner, but decided that was better left unsaid for the moment. "Let's do this."

Elliot moved to the door and opened it, checking to make sure the hallway was clear. Alex glanced at the bed she and Olivia had shared and then followed Elliot out the door. The detectives flanked their former prosecutor down the hall to the elevator and into the lobby where the marshal escorts were waiting.

They had planned the impromptu victory party knowing that Alex's time in the city was limited, but none of them expected her to be whisked away again quite so soon. Hammond's uninvited visit, along with his announcement that Alex was already being moved to a new identity, took all the wind out of their sails. They were still happy over the win in court, but could not enjoy it without Alex there to share the spoils. After all, she won the case for them. Even Casey admitted to that.

Everyone assumed that Alex had been denied the opportunity of saying goodbye. Everyone but Olivia, that is. She knew it had been the former ADA's choice to depart without seeing her colleagues again. In a way, Olivia was glad that they didn't have a public farewell. She was pretty sure she wouldn't have been able to control her emotions, and she wasn't sure that she was ready to share that aspect of her life just yet. Not even with her squad mates, who were the only family she really had. She understood, and even appreciated, Alex's method of departure this time. She was just trying to make it easier on them all. However, when it came down to it, all the understanding in the world couldn't make it hurt any less for Olivia.

Elliot walked out of the room cradling the two bottles of unopened champagne like he was holding a baby in each arm. He caught up to Olivia, not really sure what to say. He had sensed the pain in his partner's expression when Hammond made his announcement, and his mind flashed back to the hotel room earlier that morning. The looks that Alex and Olivia had given each other confounded him that morning, but the realization was dawning on him as he saw the droop in Olivia's shoulders and the hollow look in her eyes for the brief moment she made eye contact with him. How could he have been that dense?!

Olivia had been especially moved by the tearful goodbye when Alex was first placed into Witness Protection. At the time, Elliot had simply chalked it up to the emotional and psychological effects of having a close friend and colleague practically die in her arms and then be miraculously resurrected right before her eyes. Now he couldn't help but wonder if there was a deeper connection between his partner and their ADA back then.

Now, he glanced over at Olivia, who was studying the floor in front of the elevator. He gestured to the bottles still cradled in his arms. "Do you want to take this home?" No response. "Liv?" Calling her name seemed to bring Olivia out of her almost trance-like state. She looked up with a blank expression. He decided to repeat the question. "The champagne. Do you want to take it home?"

She blinked back a tear before answering. "What would I do with it?" Her voice was quiet, her tone flat.

Elliot hesitated. "Well… You could open it and drink a toast to Alex. Wherever she is."

Olivia shook her head and studied the floor again. "I'm not so sure that's a good idea, El. If I started drinking right now, I'm might not ever stop." She didn't even try to hide the sadness in her voice. She looked up at her partner. "Why don't you take it home…" Her voice drifted off as his expression reminded her that Elliot had no one at home to share it with either. "On second thought, maybe we should just give it to the wino who sleeps in the alley by the corner."

"We could drink it together. A bottle for you and a bottle for me." He watched Olivia as she stepped into the elevator. She looked tired and sad and suddenly older than he knew she was. He stepped into the elevator behind her and waited as she punched the button. Glancing up at the floor numbers as they descended, he tried once again. "Or we could just save it for happier times." Olivia looked at him as if she couldn't fathom what he was talking about. "You know, when we have a reason to toast something good again."

The elevator stopped and they exited onto the ground floor of the courthouse. "Thanks anyway, El, but I think the wino probably has better use for it than us."

"Yeah." He didn't really know what else to say. "You know, Liv, we don't have to drink… If you just want to talk or something…"

Olivia tried to smile. "Thanks, but I'm just gonna go home and… probably just crash." She shrugged. "It's been a crazy couple of days. I'll see you tomorrow."

"You know how to reach me…"

She nodded and left the building.

Olivia stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around her torso. She swiped at the steamed up mirror and looked at her reflection. Her eyes were puffy and red. Her refusal to cry had lasted until she stood beneath the hottest water she could stand. Her tears flowed with the water as she finally allowed herself a good cry leaning against the cool tile of the shower. Memories of the night before came flooding back to her, almost overwhelming her. The feel of Alex's smooth skin; the soft sounds she made as Olivia explored her body; the weight of her body on top of Olivia's; the almost giggles that erupted as ticklish spots were discovered; the softness of her tongue as she thoroughly tasted Olivia; the passion in her blue eyes as they looked deep into Olivia's own; the feel of the warm water flowing over their bodies as they showered together this morning, sharing deep kisses that they knew would be their last for a while. It was the last thought that brought on the tears tonight. Standing in her shower alone, Olivia had wondered how long it would be, if ever, until they could be together again. She had tricked herself into believing this time would be easier. But knowing now that her feelings for Alex were reciprocated only seemed to make the separation harder.

She ran her fingers through her wet hair and walked into the bedroom to find some clothes. Settling for a pair of sweats and an old NYPD t-shirt, she padded barefoot into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. She peered in and surveyed her choices: half a gallon of very spoiled milk, the dregs of a carton of orange juice, a partial bottle of ketchup, and a six pack of beer. She snagged a bottle from the six-pack carton and rummaged though the utensil drawer for a bottle opener.

Beer in hand, she settled on the sofa, and picked up the TV remote. She punched the power button, flipped to an old movie station and pressed the mute button. She really didn't want to watch anything, but the flickering images of the old black and white movie was more comforting than turning on a light. Her thoughts drifted once again to Alex and she battled back the tears, determined not to cry again. She wondered if Alex was thinking of her like this.

Once again she became lost in her memories of the night before until a sharp noise jolted her back to the present. Realizing it was the buzzer on her intercom, she stared at the speaker until she heard the noise again. She had turned of the ringers on both phones, but there was no way to turn off the buzzer. She contemplated not answering, but thinking it was probably her partner making sure she was OK, she decided he wouldn't go away until she let him in.

She walked over to the wall speaker and pressed the button. "Is that you, Elliot?"

"Messenger service for Olivia Benson."

"Messenger service? What it is?"

"I just make the deliveries, ma'am. I need a signature."

"OK, I'll come down." She went to the bedroom and slipped on a pair of shoes and picked up her gun from her bedside table. She tucked the service weapon in the back of her pants and pulled her t-shirt over it.

She made her way down to the front door to find a young man waiting with an envelope. He handed her a clipboard, pointed to a line and said, "Sign here." She did and he handed her the envelope. She patted her pockets and realized she didn't bring him a tip. He noticed her actions and said, "Don't worry, the sender already took care of it."

"Who's the sender?"

He shrugged and turned to leave. "Like I said, I just make the deliveries. Have a nice night."

She went back upstairs to her apartment and put her gun back on the table. She kicked off her shoes and turned on a lamp before returning to her spot on the sofa. She turned the thick manila envelope over in her hands. The only label on it was a messenger service invoice with her name and address. No sender information was completed. She opened the envelope and another smaller sealed envelope slid out into her hands. "Olivia" was handwritten on the outside. She immediately recognized the writing as belonging to Alex. Her heart skipped a few beats.

She slid a finger beneath the flap and opened the envelope. She realized her hands were shaking as she slowly removed the letter. She unfolded the page to see a handwritten letter from Alex. Her nostrils flared as she caught the subtle scent of Alex's perfume on the page. A lump formed in her throat. She picked up her beer and downed half of it. She wiped the condensation from the bottle off her hand before touching the page again. It was if this was a piece of Alex and she couldn't let anything damage it. She began to read.

A tear rolled down Olivia's cheek as she read and reread the letter. Then she carefully folded it and slid it back into the envelope. She placed it on the coffee table and wiped her eyes with her hands. Crying was not going to bring Alex back, she decided. She picked up her beer and drained it. She had a fleeting thought of hurling the empty bottle across the room, but decided that would only make a mess that she would have to clean up later. Nothing she did tonight would change her situation. But tomorrow? Tomorrow she would begin anew her search for Cesar Velez. That was the only thing she could do that would bring Alex back safe and sound. And now, more than ever, she wanted nothing more than that.

The intercom buzzer sounded again, startling Olivia out of her reverie. This time it had to be Elliot. She pulled herself off the couch and padded over to the speaker. "Yes?"

Her partner's voice answered through the tinny speaker. "Hey, Liv. It's me. Just making sure you were OK."

"I'm OK," she answered back as she pressed the door release. "Come on up." She picked up her empty bottle from the coffee table and tossed it into the kitchen garbage. She took two more beers out of the fridge and opened them just as she heard Elliot's knock. She took the beers and went to the door.

Elliot stood in the doorway, still wearing his clothes from work, and smelling slightly of cigarette smoke. Olivia surmised that he had gone to Mulligan's or O'Malley's or some other cop bar after he left the courthouse. He had been doing that more often since Kathy and the kids left. She handed him a beer and said, "Come on in." She turned back toward the sofa and he followed, closing the door behind him. They had been partners long enough that Olivia didn't feel the need to play hostess.

"Thanks." He sat beside Olivia on the sofa and took a long pull from his beer. He looked over at his partner, eyeing the beer in her hand, and said, "I thought you weren't drinking tonight."

Olivia shrugged as she pulled her feet up beneath her and faced Elliot. "Champagne makes me giddy. Didn't really seem right. Much more appropriate to drown your sorrows with Sam Adams. Probably good that Jack Daniels wasn't around." She tipped her beer toward him and then took a drink.

He gave her a wry smile. "The wino said to say thanks, by the way." He took another sip of beer as the silence settled between them. "I got a little worried when Casey tried to call you a couple of times from the bar. We all went out for a beer."

"I turned off my cell."

Elliot nodded. After a few moments, he said, "So, you're OK?"

She hesitated for a second, trying to decipher what he was really trying to ask. "I will be. Like I said, it's been a crazy couple of days, you know?" Elliot seemed to have figured something out, but what exactly, Olivia wasn't sure.

"Yeah. It's not every day someone you know comes back from the dead." His eyes had settled on the envelope on the coffee table. Olivia didn't know if he recognized the handwriting, but he seemed to be waiting for her to say something.

"Alex messengered me a note. To say goodbye."

He cut his eyes over to her briefly and then looked away. "Too bad they didn't let her come to say it in person."

"It was her choice." She was looking at the envelope. "She thought it would be easier this way."

Elliot nodded and took another pull on his beer. He could see by Olivia's expression, that this was anything but easy. He opened his mouth to speak, but then stopped. He took another sip and then spoke quietly. "How long?" When Olivia gave a small frown, not sure what to answer, he clarified his question. "You and Cabot. How long?"

Olivia could tell by his expression and the tone of his voice that he wasn't being judgmental or angry, but merely asking because he wanted to know. She smiled wistfully and ran her hand through her hair as she said softly, "Not long enough." When he didn't respond she glanced at the clock and said, "Officially? About twenty-three hours."

He gave her a crooked smile. "And unofficially?"

She shrugged and shook her head, at a loss for words. "I don't know exactly."

He nodded. "Why didn't you tell me?" Again, his tone was concern not accusing.

"There wasn't anything to tell. What was I supposed to say? 'Let's chase this perp and, by the way, I have a thing for our ADA'?"

"That woulda been a good start."

Olivia rolled her eyes. "She was our ADA, Elliot. It never could have happened. And besides, I never knew if she felt the same way."

"But you know now?"

Olivia nodded and answered quietly. "Yeah. I know now."

Elliot waited. "And?"

A small smile played on her lips. "She does."


"And what?"

"What happened last night?"

Olivia's face flushed slightly. "Let's just say that we didn't play backgammon and leave it at that."

Elliot looked at her a moment, as if he had to let her words sink in. He smiled as he shook his head with a quiet chuckle. "That wasn't really what I was asking, but I guess that clears up any misconceptions."

Olivia blushed again. "Oh. So what were you asking then?"

"I don't know exactly. How did you leave things between the two of you?"

Olivia sighed. "In limbo, I guess. We obviously can't communicate, but I don't want to let this go, El." She shook her head slowly. "I can't really explain it, but…" Her voice drifted off while she still had control of it.

Elliot nodded. "I never knew that you… or Alex… were… you know…"

Olivia reigned in her emotions. "Yeah, well… It never seemed like the kind of thing I needed to discuss with anyone."

"Not even your partner?"

"Would it have made a difference?"

"Yeah." Elliot saw a brief look of surprise in Olivia's eyes when he answered in the affirmative. Knowing what she must be thinking, he smiled warmly and placed his hand on her knee. "I could have been there for you when she first went away. I knew that it was hard on you, but I had no idea." He gave her knee a squeeze and then moved his hand away. Olivia returned his gaze accompanied by a tight-lipped smile, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. "We're partners, Liv. I'll always have your back. Nothing's gonna change that."

"Thanks, El." Her voice was heavy with emotion and she spoke just above a whisper.

"So, back to my question. What are you gonna do? You can't live your life in limbo."

"I'm not planning to," she said with determination. "I made a vow to bring her home and that's just what I plan to do."

Elliot's eyes widened in surprise. "How exactly do you plan to do that?"

"I'm not sure, but I'm starting with a visit to Rikers to talk to Liam Connors. Maybe I can convince him to give me something on Velez."

"You really think you can get him to talk?"

Olivia shrugged. "Alex pushed the right buttons. I figure if I bug the piss out of him, maybe eventually he'll talk just to keep me from coming back."

Elliot smiled at his partner. "If that doesn't work, let me have a go at him. We'll double-team him and he won't know what hit him."

"Thanks, but I don't think Cragen's gonna free up any time for this. I'm gonna have to do what I can on my own time."

"I have a little extra time on my hands these days, so count me in."

"Elliot," Olivia started to protest, but Elliot held up his hand to stop her.

"You deserve a little happiness, Liv. Right now, I can't think of any better way to spend my time than helping you find it."

Olivia looked at her partner and had no words with which to respond. Her eyes, however, conveyed her love and appreciation of her partner at that instant. Elliot smiled and nodded as if to say, Message received. He drained his beer and stood up. "Thanks for the beer. I'm gonna go and let you get some shut-eye." He grinned at his still speechless partner and added, "Since you obviously didn't get much sleep last night."

His joke allowed Olivia to regain her composure and she actually laughed. "I'm never gonna live that one down, am I?"

"Not a chance," Elliot responded as he tossed his bottle into the garbage. He walked to the door and Olivia followed. When he reached for the doorknob, Olivia pulled him back and enveloped him in a warm embrace. Surprised, he tentatively placed his arms around her and lightly returned the hug. They had never been outwardly affectionate toward each other even though each knew how much the other cared. When Olivia didn't pull away, he tightened his arms a bit and pulled her closer. He felt Olivia's breath hitch and he swiveled from side to side as if he were comforting a child. He stroked the back of her head and placed a chaste kiss on her forehead.

She sniffed and said quietly, "Thanks, El. I don't deserve you."

"Nah. You deserve better, so get some rest, 'cause starting tomorrow, we're gonna bring her home." He broke the embrace and left the apartment, leaving Olivia feeling like there might be hope after all.


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