DISCLAIMER: I do not own SVU, Dick Wolf, Alex, Olivia, or Law & Order. All original characters are mine, but I sincerely doubt anyone will care enough to rip me off.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is Alex/Olivia, and it is AU...sort of. This is a they-met-in-school story, but with a little bit of a twist. I realize that the characters are almost ten years apart in age, so technically this would be an impossibility, but just roll with it because you want to read smut, k? I had several sources of inspiration, among them being Annus Mirabilis by the fabulous Alethea, in the Danny/Martin oeuvre of the Without a Trace fandom, Lost and Delirious, Therese und Isabelle, and in some small way, my own experience at debate camp the summer I turned 16.
DEDICATED: This is for my friend, Wendi, who because she loves SVU fic, and Mariska Hargitay, admitted to me in a breathless whisper that she eats up this A/O fic like it's candy. So, because I'm a devoted-but-emotionally-stunted friend, and uh, a poor bastard who can't afford to buy her a *real* Christmas gift, voila! She gets smut.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: early-Season 5-ish.

No Place Called Home
By Katie Ramsey

Part Four

"'Life seems nothing more than a quick succession of busy nothings,'" Olivia proclaimed to the group gathered in her dorm room as she sorted through her closet.

"What is that? Cheever?" Christy asked, lounging back on Alex's bed, inspecting her fingernails.

Alex rolled her eyes on her way towards the bathroom. "It's Austen, Mansfield Park. She's been like this all morning. Hagman gave us two novels to read over Thanksgiving break."

"Hey, just think about what life would be like if you had to spend T-giving with Aunt Cici," Ellen pointed out cheerfully. "No offense, Al," she called out as an afterthought.

"Where are you guys going for the holiday?" Olivia cut in smoothly, rummaging to find clean pairs of jeans.

"Well, my family likes to stay in the City from Thanksgiving until Christmas," Christy explained, touching up her nail polish with a bottle of topcoat from Alex's bureau.

"And my family likes to play Who-Can-Verbally-Emasculate-Who-the-Fastest," Ellen chimed in, wallowing on Olivia's bed contemplatively.

"So, we're spending Wednesday through Friday in the city with my family," Christy went on.

"And we're spending the weekend with my parents and Rachel," Ellen finished unhappily. "I wish my family would take a trip to Egypt."

"Ah ah," Olivia clucked. "They are yachting through the Mediterranean," she said dramatically.

"But of course," Ellen responded with equal flair.

Since Olivia could practically feel Alex's glare through the wall of the bathroom, she hurriedly changed the subject. "So you're going to do Christmas shopping while you're in town?"

"That's the plan, but we'll probably get distracted," Christy bit her lip and sent a wily grin over to Ellen.

"Oh, undoubtedly," Ellen replied without apology.

"We have to hurry," Alex interrupted, emerging from the bathroom. She was clearly embarrassed about the turn in conversation, and she wordlessly handed Olivia her cosmetics bag.

"Thanks Lex," Olivia packed everything haphazardly into the duffel bag at her feet, and was barely able to zip it closed.

"When is your cab supposed to be here?" Ellen asked, rolling over to look at the clock.

"Five minutes ago," Alex said, her tone clipped.

"Shizer," Christy sighed lethargically and removed herself from the bed, stretching her muscles lazily. She prodded Ellen. "Let's go, let them finish."

"Help me up," Ellen whined, and Christy reached out her hands to do so.

All four girls traded hugs and well wishes. Almost on cue, a horn from down below sounded.

"That's us," Olivia's eyes were bright with excitement.

"Bye," Christy and Ellen spilled out into the hall, where they waved their friends off.

"I hope Olivia doesn't get her pregnant," Ellen joked quietly.

Christy rolled her eyes and from down the hall, Alex called back "I heard that!"

The cab pulled up into the circular driveway of one of the largest houses Olivia had ever seen. The dignified red brick ascended three stories into the atmosphere, the steel gray of the trim matching the colors of the winter sky. Alex unloaded her luggage, possessing none of the awe that was entrancing Olivia at the current moment. She prodded her girlfriend along, holding her key in her mouth as she heaved their bags onto the front step.

"If you keep gawking that way, someone will think you're casing the place," Alex teased, beckoning Olivia forth. She unlocked the front door, stretching her frozen fingers.

She sighed when the lock gave way.

"Welcome to the Cabot estate. Entailed to my great-great-grandfather John Charles Cabot after the Civil War, handed down the line to my grandfather, Alexander Charles Cabot, given to my father John Michael Cabot, and one day, to me," Alex informed as they entered the large manor through the front doors.

"And you're sure no one is here?"

Alex rolled her eyes. "Yes," she stripped off her scarf and wrapped it around Olivia playfully, pulling her closer. "Aren't you interested in my history lesson?" Alex pouted.

"I'm actually more concerned that we don't get caught," Olivia grinned, allowing Alex to lay a toe-curling kiss on her lips.

When she pulled back, Alex said: "Mr. and Mrs. Abernathy are halfway to Egypt by now, to join the Merriweathers on their yacht. The staff has been given a week's vacation, I left word with the housekeeper Margaret to leave us provisions, and we've been given a week's reprieve from the ever-watchful eye of Battle-Ax Beasley," Alex squinted one eye shut comically, which reduced Olivia to giggles.

"Fair enough," Liv agreed finally, removing her coat. Alex put it on a hanger in the coat closet, then slipped out of her own jacket.

Crossing the marble foyer with their luggage, Alex proceeded with the tour, telling Olivia more than she ever wanted to know—or would ever be able to remember. Two sets of mirrored staircases led up to the second floor, they took the one to the left, and Olivia admired the smoothness of the mahogany banister. It was twenty-two steps up to the second level of the house, all the doors were closed against the draft, Olivia had yet to determine if the old house was equipped with central air.

The wallpaper was a floral pattern of English roses, adorned with gilded trim. Stiff-backed chairs that reminded her of the dining hall at St. Agatha's were set along the corridor, as if someone might need to stop and rest during their exploration of the mansion. Fresh flowers in antique vases were set out on tables along the walls, Olivia wondered if the manor had it's own garden or if the Abernathys had the flowers delivered regularly. She couldn't help but feel it was all a spectacular waste of money.

"And this is my room," Alex threw open a set of double doors into a room that was bigger than the Benson's entire apartment. A huge stone fireplace was set into the south wall of the room, flanked by bookcases jam-packed with books. Everything from well-worn children's books, to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, to every single book Jane Austin and Virginia Woolf that ever written. The shelves and furniture matched perfectly, the forest-green carpet and wallpaper accented the dark cherry wood.

Against the east wall was a four-posted bed, which Alex was currently bouncing on, gossamer fabric draped over the top in a canopy. Next to the bed on the left was a darkened doorway that Alex informed her led to the bathroom. On the north wall was an enormous picture window overlooking the park behind the house, with crimson tapestry loosely draped on either side. The desk beneath the window was the same dark oak, an ancient typewriter sitting atop it, not a speck of dust to be seen.

On the west wall was the closet door, and next to it an antique vanity counter and bench. To the left of that was the double doors where they had come in.

"Wow, Alex."

"Wow, nothing," Alex blew her bangs out of her eyes and wiggled her fingers childishly. "C'mere."

Olivia gave in to temptation and joined Alex on the bed, but not before kicking off her shoes. She rolled onto her back, next to where Alex was already in a similar position.

"This house…is incredible. This room, is…incredible." It had almost left her speechless.

"It doesn't mean much, really."

"What do you mean?" Olivia turned her head slightly in Alex's direction.

"I just meant that without the right people here to enjoy it with…it's just a house."

"Your dad?"

"This was my father's room, before he died," Alex rolled over onto her side to face Olivia, propped up onto her elbow. Olivia watched her lover with a quiet intensity, compelling Alex to continue.

"This was his room when he was a child, and he and my uncle Charles shared this room until Charlie died."

"What happened?"

"He drowned," Alex laughed bitterly. "All Cabots meet an untimely death, or haven't you noticed?"

"Is that what you're afraid of, Lex? Dying young?" Olivia moved closer, breathless as she waited for Alex's answer.

Alex remained silent, the pain and anger rolling off of her in waves.

"Tell me about your father," Olivia prodded, gently.

"It was a slow death." Alex swallowed hard, and Olivia could see that she was fighting tears.

"How long?"

"Years," Alex nodded. "I would come up here to see him, and he would read to me for hours, until he got tired. All of these books, they're my books, we kept them up here and we would sit in that chair by the fireplace. I would curl up in his lap and sometimes I would fall asleep just listening to him speak." Tears began to gently course down her cheeks, gravity pulled them to the mattress, the sheets soaked them up.

Olivia scooted closer.

"Once he got too sick, he would just lay in this bed, and I would come and see him, sit up here with him on the bed and talk to him. Sometimes I would read him my books, though I wasn't really reading them, I had memorized them from all the times I had heard them before. He was so proud of me, even then. I was so young." Alex's voice was strong, despite the tears. Olivia used her shirtsleeve to gently wipe Alex's face.

"He died before I ever really got to know him."

"I'm sorry, Alex."

"Why? You didn't do anything wrong."

"I'm still sorry," Olivia's gentle tone was full of empathy. Boldly, she continued, "I'm sorry that you've had to live with your mother all these years, wishing that it had been her and not your father."

Alex gasped, and Olivia ducked her head to obscure her always-honest eyes.

"How did you know I felt that? I've never told anyone that."

"Because you've been ashamed?"

Alex nodded, still looking as if she'd been slapped in the face. Her cheeks burned hot with ignominy and guilt, Olivia could feel the heat radiating off of her. "I would give anything to have my father back," Alex finally said, quietly.

Olivia's heart swelled as her quiet, alternately shy, alternately outrageously bold girlfriend confessed her darkest fears. To be trusted this much felt better than anything Olivia had ever felt before; better than desire, better than sex. Olivia wondered silently if this is what love was, having Alex trust her so deeply that it no longer seemed impossible to shine the light into the most secret corners of her shuttered heart.

She pulled Alex in close, holding her as she cried, willing her to release it all, to let it go, to let her heart rise like a bird on the first day of flight.

Olivia awoke feeling restless. The clock next to the bed told her it was just after six, though the room was already bathed in twilight shadows. Alex was still napping beside Liv, her face relaxed and peaceful. Olivia wondered what sort of "provisions" had been left for the girls—she'd settle for a sandwich and a soda right about now.

She eased off the mattress slowly so as not to wake Alex, and closed the door to behind her when she left the room. She padded down the cold marble steps in her socked feet, feeling the slippery give beneath her. She wondered how many times Alex had fallen down these stairs, if ever. She recalled with amusement the time she caught Alex crawling in through their door room window. How mysterious Alex had seemed then, how mysterious she still was, at times.

But now Olivia always knew when Alex had gallivanting, because it was she who would find the fresh bruises and scrapes on her lover's pale skin, marking her as a bona-fide adventuress. Alex certainly wasn't afraid of injury to herself, which worried Olivia constantly considering Alex's fondness for dangerous locations.

Olivia wandered through the cavernous foyer testing doorknobs, half-expecting them to be locked. The first door on the far-left side of the hall led to a half bath that reeked overwhelmingly of too-sweet potpourri. A very large portrait hung next on the wall, of a handsome young man with sandy blonde hair and a ready grin. A plaque at the bottom of the frame identified him as John Michael Cabot, Alex's father, as a teenager, or perhaps a little older. It certainly explained where Alex got her good looks. This man looked warm and friendly, not anything like the cold and imperious Catherine Abernathy.

The next door was to a formal home office, the surface of the huge desk was impeccable, the room cold and stark, damp. Olivia backed out quickly. Before she could move on, warm arms wrapped around her from behind, startling her.

"Hey," Alex whispered, her voice husky.

"Did I wake you up? I'm sorry," Olivia titled her head back to rest on Alex's shoulder. Alex nuzzled her ear affectionately.

"You didn't…the bed got cold when you left," she murmured.

"Who is that?" Olivia asked, pointing to a matching painting hung next to the door.

"That's Barbara Ramsey, Ellen and Rachel's mother…Aunt Barb is my father's sister."

"Reallllly?" Olivia stepped forward to inspect the portrait more closely, dragging Alex along behind her. Ellen Ramsey bore a striking resemblance to her young mother, with gleaming black hair and a slightly aquiline nose. Rachel had similar facial features, but was taller and thinner than either her mother or her sister. Barbara Cabot-Ramsey had unnaturally red lips and not even a whisper of a smile.

"She doesn't have much of a sense of humor," Alex commented, almost as if she was reading Olivia's thoughts.

"Ellen is such a sweetie, and so genuine. It's hard to believe you're all from the same family."

"Ellen and I spent a lot of time together as children, here with my dad and Uncle Charlie…it was only after I was sent off to school that we grew apart."

"Where does this go?" Olivia asked, gesturing to the next doorway along the wall.

"The den…entrée," Alex reached forward from her position at Olivia's back and turned the knob, marching them forward into the dark room. "Don't be scared," Alex whispered jovially. "I'll find the switch in a minute."

Lamplight filled the room a second later and Olivia blinked to adjust to the sudden dilation of her pupils. Wood-paneled walls made the room naturally dim, though the thick cream carpeting helped a bit to brighten it up. A stone fireplace set in the far wall looked like it hadn't been used in years, and was flanked by two sets of French doors that offered the same view of the park that could be seen from Alex's bedroom window. Against the wall to the right were shelves built into the wall, though currently not occupied by books. A television and sundry electronic equipment had been stacked there looking dangerously as if they could come crashing to the floor at any moment. Closer to the entrance of the room was a wet bar where a large number of liquor bottles had been lined up against a lighted mirror.

The furniture was all red, a chaise lounge was on the far end of the room next to the French doors looked very provincial, a big overstuffed armchair faced the television, and the pièce de résistance, a beautiful leather sofa stood in front of the hearth.

Olivia stepped forward, running her fingers along the rich buttery leather of the back of the couch. She eased down onto it, stretching her arms out to revel in it. Alex turned on the stereo, kept the volume low, something jazzy and sultry, Joni Mitchell.

"I could live on this sofa," Olivia moaned almost-deliriously, stroking the luxurious leather.

"It is sinful," Alex smiled wickedly as she came to Olivia and straddled her lover's knees. Leaning in for a kiss, she upped the ante by rubbing Olivia's braless breasts through the prim starched blouse. Olivia responded, arching against Alex's questing fingers, cupping Alex's bottom in her palms.

"Let's make love here," Alex whispered, tugging Olivia's earlobe with her teeth.

Olivia pulled back just enough to regard Alex fully, already breathing heavily. "Are you sure? Wouldn't it ruin the sofa?"

"Nothing a wet wash cloth won't fix. Besides, we'll be careful," Alex's eyes flashed hungrily, and Olivia thought sardonically that carefully would be the last word that came to mind when she thought of making love to Alex Cabot.

Alex was unbuttoning her own blouse looking quite ready to pounce. Olivia jerked her mind back into the game, slouching back to get a better view of her girlfriend, who was still perched on Olivia's knees, methodically stripping. Her shirt was tossed to the floor, followed by her bra. Alex threw her head back wantonly as she rubbed her own breasts indulgently, under the pretense of soothing them after being bound up for so long. Olivia had seen her perform this ritual many times, knowing secretly that Alex loved doing it more than she let on.

Alex had to stand to remove her pants, and she pushed her jeans and panties down off of her hips in one fell swoop. She repositioned herself on Olivia's lap, leaning in close once more. Her lips went straight to Liv's neck, carefully inspecting it with her tongue, sucking very selectively at the spots that caused Olivia to keen in response.

"You're still dressed," she pointed out unnecessarily, her breath coming in ragged pants.

Olivia laughed, quickly lifting Alex just enough to flip her over and pin her against the sofa, sinking down on top of her. Confident fingers drifted to Alex's breasts to tease and pinch, to arouse. Alex bucked against Olivia's palms, her mouth moving soundlessly in guilty delight.

"You're incredible," she moaned, before she lost all thought to Olivia's fingers trailing across her tummy. Olivia slipped down, down until her face was firmly nestled between Alex's thighs. In all their times together, she'd not yet had this pleasure, and this night seemed a perfect time. Alex's fingers twined themselves through Olivia's cropped hair, and Olivia found her own blunt-edged fingers against the tops of Alex's thighs, digging in more roughly than she'd intended.

Her moist pink tongue darted out for the first taste of honey, causing Alex to cry out desperately, her hands tensing against Liv's scalp almost painfully. Olivia began a rhythm, wanting so badly to bring Alex to climax this way. Broad strokes of her tongue on either side of Alex's clit brought a healthy reaction, as did darting her tongue in to rub lazily against Alex's g-spot. But the coup de grace was when she wrapped her tongue around Alex's clit and sucked. Alex came wildly against her dedicated mouth, her fingers clutching Olivia's shoulders as she shrieked in certain ecstasy.

As soon as the cry from her throat died, Olivia heard Alex whisper, "I love you."

Olivia had only a moment to catch her breath before a crash from the door caused both of them to jerk in response. Catherine Abernathy stood in the threshold, her hand to her mouth in mimicry of Victorian shock.

"I thought someone was dying in here," she stammered, clearly at a loss for rational thought. James Abernathy came skidding in behind in his wife and leered luridly at the sight that greeted him.

"Mom!" Alex shouted, sitting up and grasping for the floor frantically for cover. Catherine Abernathy finally excused herself, pulling the door shut, locking out all prying eyes for the moment. "Oh, God!" Alex's normally cool exterior was now frenzied. "What should we do?" She was trying to force her legs back into her pants, unnerved when her mother started pounding on the door.

"You've got to be kidding me," Olivia groaned, covering her eyes with her hand as if to shut out the world.

"Alexandra, I want you out here this instant! Dressed, young lady!"

"Coming," Alex rasped, buttoning her pants and reaching for her shirt from Olivia's outstretched fingers. She snatched at it away without apology, her shaking fingers making it almost impossible to button.

"I came back here because Margaret called to say you would be here alone for the holiday, and I found you like this!" Catherine Abernathy was yelling in a most unladylike manner, Olivia thought callously. Decorum be damned when you caught your daughter in the throes of passion with another girl.

"And that…girl is leaving this instant!" Alex's mother roared, and Alex bit her lip, eyeing the French doors as if she would like to escape and never look back. Olivia shook her head silently, emphatically. Alex grabbed Olivia's hand and pulled her towards the door.

"You have to go," Alex stuttered, opening the door and ignoring Catherine Abernathy's furious stare as they exited. She pushed against Olivia's back, propelling her towards the front door; "I'll send your bags back to the school, I'm sorry, Liv."

Catherine stormed after them as Olivia skittered towards the front door, almost afraid that Alex's mother was going to strike her. Alex was pulling a wad of bills from the front pocket of her jeans, which she shoved into Olivia's hand even as she was forcing Liv out the front door.

Catherine was still screaming excitedly, insane with anger.

"Please, Liv, it's only a mile to the train station," Alex's cerulean blue eyes pleaded with hers. "Go left at the end of the driveway."

"My coat," Olivia begged breathlessly, the air around her turning her words into white-whispered frost. Alex disappeared back into the house, and Catherine Abernathy filled the doorway imposingly.

"And you, tramp! You think you belong here?"

Alex shoved her mother aside and came to Olivia's side, tossing the coat into her arms. "I'm sorry," she repeated, her eyes already overflowing with tears.

"Where do you think you're going, young lady?" Catherine demanded when Alex's foot strayed to the top step of the stoop.

"Just go," Alex implored, pressing her fingers into Olivia's palm one last time before Catherine pulled her backwards by the collar of her shirt. The door slammed, the pane of glass rattled dangerously.

Olivia immediately put on her coat, watching the shadows play violently against the lighted windows. She couldn't hear the shouting from within, and she didn't want to stand around waiting for the police to show up and take her away. She certainly wouldn't put it past Catherine Abernathy to call in the cops. All she could do was take Alex's advice and head for the train station. She began to jog, eager to get as far away from the house as soon as possible.

Her lanky stride turned into a sprint once she turned the corner at the end of the drive, and it took her less than ten minutes to reach the train station, and another thirty to board a train into the city. She called her mother from the pay phone on the platform to advise her of the change in plans. It was all she could do to hold it together, not to cry in front of all of the other people waiting for the eight o'clock train.

She sat by herself, cradled in the green velvety softness of the seat cushion, her mind completely blank, her body totally numb. Raining now, hard against the plastic windows, rivulets like ice, the shadows playing across her face.

She'd lost her virginity to the only person she'd ever loved. She'd given herself so completely, never thinking about what would happen when it was over. Would her heart be broken? Would she be the one to end it? She'd never considered it, never thought it would end. It seemed too good to be true…it was too good to be true…and that should have been her first clue. She should have known it would never last.

She wasn't worthy of Alex, she never would be. What had she been thinking? She hadn't been thinking. She hadn't wanted to think about, the chasm in their worlds. They were so disparate in where they come from, who they came from, who they were. So what that they had everything in common?

Olivia fought her tears desperately, choking back a sob. That's what had initially attracted her to Alex, aside from the blonde's killer looks. They loved literature, Jane Austen and Walt Whitman, they loved playing cards and classic screwball comedies. They loved animals, and classic rock, singing in the shower, and they loved each other.

She sighed again as the rain pounded harder against the tin roof of the train.

She knew they couldn't be separated forever. They were sixteen, almost adults, almost free from the oppression and repression of parental obligation. But would they ever truly be liberated? Society was still their enemy, duty an adversary.

Where would they be twenty years from now? Would their lives be so disparate that neither would be able to recall what they saw shining brightly within the other? Would they have different careers, different lives, different homes?

If Alex did what was expected of her, what was wanted of her, she would graduate and marry Sam Merriweather before anyone else could steal him away. She would have a couple of children, to keep her mind occupied, and to console her on evenings when her husband didn't come home, didn't call. Her own kids would be packed off to boarding school, and she would fall into the same busy routine of fundraisers, galas, shopping, and God-only-knows-what else.

Olivia would graduate, go to college, maybe meet someone and get married, maybe not. Maybe she'd be a teacher, or a writer. Maybe she would be a firefighter, or a cop. Her whole life was in front of her, and just because she had an ugly past didn't mean that she had to flaunt it for all to see. It would always linger, like subtle fire, on her tongue, like the taste of fine liquor or a decadent meal. It lay just under her skin, reminding her of her own obligation to herself, to better than that, to be more.

Would they meet on the street, twenty years from now, and even recognize one another?

It was after midnight before she arrived home, what with all the hustle and bustle of the subway, and she hadn't hurried on her way back to the dingy little apartment. But later, in the comfort of her own bed, and finally alone, did she truly let herself mourn for what had been lost.

Olivia's first day back at school after Thanksgiving break was dreadful. Mrs. Beasley made every excuse but the honest one as to why Alex wouldn't be returning, even if she hadn't known the truth; Olivia could see the lie behind Mrs. Beasley's eyes. It was only six o'clock when her mother dropped her off Sunday evening, and even after the hour she spent piddling around at dinner, she still had almost three full hours until lights out.

Three hours to lie on her bed, stare at the ceiling, and think about Alex.

It was anguish.

How she'd ever made it without Alex before she wasn't sure. Two apparent opposites had come to fit together in some twisted puzzle, inexplicable. They were Fire and Ice, Yin and Yang, Agony and Ecstasy. Why she had let herself fall she couldn't explain. She'd vowed never again to allow depth of feeling for another girl to color her words and deeds so completely. Alex was like oxygen to her now, a necessity; and the forced separation left her in dire straits. Like a junkie without a fix, the most pathetic of all habits: another person.

Olivia had only ever known her autonomy; she'd never wanted to be a girl who whored herself to everyone else: mother, teachers…a man. And because Alex was none of those, because she was her own unique brand of addictive, she'd slipped through the cracks as a potential threat and ingratiated herself into Olivia's heart before Olivia had even known what hit her. A friend in need is a friend indeed.

I need you, need you, need.

She hadn't told her mother what was wrong; she hadn't wanted to burden Serena with the knowledge. Her mother knew she was upset about something, Olivia spent the entire long weekend moping around the apartment as if she'd just lost her best friend in life. Ha.

She was reminded of the death of her first pet, a kitten that she'd hadn't even decided on a name for yet. Olivia had been only six; her mother had been on one of her rehabilitation highs, the kitten had been a present for no special occasion. Though they had no way to know it at the time, the kitten was already sick when she came to the Benson home. She died less than a week later, breaking Olivia's tiny heart into a thousand pieces. Her mother had said: "Things die…animals and people, they die, Olivia."

All Cabots meet an untimely death.

It scared her, to get so attached to the people and the things in her life. The kitten, she'd spent days sobbing uncontrollably about the death of her first friend. Just like Becky, who removed herself from Olivia, and the Justice of the Peace 6 for New York County that finished the job. Alex, who had been so cruelly snatched away just when Olivia had figured out the mystery of love, just when she was getting the hang of it.

Where was the consistency in life, the constancy, when she had no real control over the events and outcomes?

She stared at the half-painted wall of the dorm room, willed Alex to call. She willed Mrs. Beasley to come knocking on the door, with that strange look on her face as she said,

"Olivia, you have a phone call down in my office."

The room remained silent.

Olivia turned over onto her side.

She wanted to sleep, she wanted to study, she wanted to do anything but torment herself about Alex Cabot. Logic told her it was likely Alex wasn't ever coming back. Her fantasy of Alex's life in some hazy, half-defined future would probably come true and Olivia would get to read about it in the paper, curled up on Sunday afternoons.

Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Alonso Merriweather the Second announce the birth of their first daughter…

Samuel and Alexandra Merriweather proudly announce the graduation of their son…

Mr. and Mrs. Merriweather of Albany, New York, announce the engagement of their daughter…

Samuel Merriweather the Second is survived by his wife, Alexandra, their two children…

Olivia suspected nothing in her own life would be so noteworthy that she would announce it anywhere, much less a periodical in high circulation. Their lives were so different…

Moreover, even if Alex did return to St. Agatha's, which was unlikely, Catherine Abernathy would probably enlist Mrs. Kennedy to keep them perpetually separated, alone and apart. Olivia would mysteriously lose her scholarship the following year, and be forced to return to the City, where she would finish out her education in the same shitty public schools she'd been in all her life.

It didn't mean much when Mrs. Beasley rang the bell for lights out, for Olivia stayed awake for most of the night.

"I need to see Isabel Baxter and Olivia Benson after class, please. Everyone else is free to leave, remember that those of you who did not turn in your research papers before Thanksgiving break have until tomorrow at six to get them in to me."

Class was officially dismissed with a wave of Sister Fitzgerald's hand, and all around her, students stood up, gathering their things in preparation of their departure. Some were shooting her sympathetic looks, some just pointedly avoiding looking her direction. Olivia remained in her seat as Isabel conferred with Sister Fitzgerald about an extra-credit assignment. Olivia allowed her head to loll back so that she could better inspect the rain-damp ceilings in the large classroom. Counting tiles also passed the time tolerably well, though multiplication certainly made that easier.

Olivia didn't realize that the room had become too quiet until Sister Fitzgerald cleared her throat nearby. Olivia sat up straight, self-conscious now that she was alone with her favorite professor. Sister Fitzgerald was one of the only people Olivia truly felt the need to impress, the felt like Sister Fitzgerald held standards for Olivia when everyone else held apathy, or even contempt. With the exception of Alex, Sister Fitzgerald's good opinion was the one that mattered most to Olivia.

The middle-aged nun approached the desk where Olivia now sat alone almost cautiously, choosing to rest her hip against another desk several feet away rather than come any closer.

"Olivia, I'll be frank with you," Sister Fitzgerald met Olivia's gaze and held it solidly. "You're now in very real danger of failing my class. The test after Thanksgiving break…you scored a 23. Your first two exams were high A's. Your research paper into the Roosevelt administration was excellent, but it only counts for ten percent of your final grade. You have only the final exam left, and if you do not pass, you will fail the course in its entirety."

She remained quiet for a moment to let this sink in. Olivia was torn between really caring about her grades, and feeling like it didn't really matter any more. She averted her eyes from Sister Fitzgerald's piercing stare, but didn't respond.

"Olivia, you're not the first girl at St. Agatha's to lose a roommate, even suddenly. I've spoken with Imogene Hagman, and because we…understand that this situation with Alexandra has undoubtedly shaken you up, we're willing to allow you to make-up your exam grades."

"Thank you," Olivia mumbled.

"You've been a dedicated student, Miss Benson, but roommates come and go…friends come and go. You can't let each little roadblock in life bring you to a screeching halt, or you'll never get anywhere. Now Miss Cabot may or may not return, but regardless, you've got to improve your study habits and work product to maintain your high standing as a student."

"Yes, sister," Olivia replied obediently.

"There are people at this school that would dearly love to see you fail, Miss Benson. As you are well aware, many of them are your classmates. But you are exceptional, Olivia. You're bright, and you're clever, and I know that you want to be more than what they expect that you will be."

Olivia continued to watch Sister Fitzgerald silently.

"Now I know Dr. Mackey and Sister Frances are both giving exams tomorrow, so study hard, Olivia. Sister Frances wouldn't let you make up an exam if you brought it to her on hands and knees," Sister Fitzgerald winked.

Olivia straightened out of the slouched position she had assumed in her seat and gathered her bag. "Thank you, sister."

"You're welcome," Sister Fitzgerald nodded and handed Olivia a packet of papers. "Here's a study guide for the make-up test, it will be completely comprised of essay questions, so come here on Sunday at 1pm ready to write."

"Yes, sister," Olivia accepted the work and carefully slid it into her bookbag. She retreated from the classroom, knowing she would have to hustle to make it to Study Hall in time. The library wasn't far, and Olivia slipped into the dimmed hall just in time to for attendance to be counted.

The study carroll that she had shared with Alex all semester was depressingly empty, but Olivia sat on her side just the same, trying to ignore the palpable absence. Christy Cameron slipped into the seat beside her as soon as the librarian was finished calling the roll sheet.

She was glowing with health and ambition. Her hair fell softly around her face, thick and shining in the low lamplight. Her red sweater clung to her breasts, the scent of expensive perfume dwelled in the musty air around them. From the high windows, Olivia could see the dust particles dancing in the amber light, a waltz of free particles. In the time BA (Before Alex), Christy Cameron was just the sort of girl Olivia would have been wildly attracted to.

Such perfect, rosy skin, and such an easy manner…she was a lovely girl. Now she was just another person, another person who wasn't Alex.

"Let's study for Frances' test," Christy whispered, and Olivia nodded gratefully. Christy would help keep her focused. She wanted to concentrate, honestly she did, but it was so hard when every other minute her mind jumped back to Alex. What was Alex doing? Was she thinking of Olivia? Was she angry, in pain? It was driving Olivia crazy.

And what made the forced segregation worse is that she'd heard nothing from Alex since she'd been banished from the Cabot home. Alex hadn't called, had written her a letter, a note, a card, nothing. She hadn't been in contact at all, and it was all Olivia could do to keep up appearances, not knowing what was going to become of their fledgling relationship.

Common sense would tell her just to let it go, to forget about it, but Olivia couldn't forget the sweet golden smile that only Alex possessed. She couldn't shake from her memory the time spent in Alex's arms, exploring her soft, supple skin with uncertain, trembling fingers. Pain washed over her heart when she remembered words, so softly whispered, words she couldn't return now. Did Alex know how much Olivia loved her? Could she begin to imagine the wealth of feeling, the bursting at the seams?

"Liv, focus," Christy snapped in Olivia's face, delivering her out of her reverie.

"Sorry, sorry. I just can't stop…"

Christy's sympathetic look was welcome. "I understand, Liv. If Ellen was taken away from me, I don't know what I would do. But you have to hold it together through the end of the semester."

Olivia sat up straighter, cleared her throat. "I know. I'm sorry."

She leaned in forward to pore over the study notes, and Christy's answering sigh was loud over the soft rustle of pages turning around them.

Olivia returned to her room that evening, grateful for the time alone, for once. She knew she had to study, and she was determined to put Alex out of her mind, at least for the evening. Rugby practice and their weekly games had been called off until the spring term to allow students ample time to study, so no distraction could be found in hard exercise and sport.

All other extracurricular activities had ground to a halt, though students in good standing were still allowed to indulge in their sparse free time, if they so chose. All projects and reports had come due in the two weeks after Thanksgiving break, and everyone was gearing up for their final exams with equal fervor.

The days had grown darker earlier; they were barely out of class in the afternoons before night fell upon the small school. The groundskeepers had strung white twinkling outdoor lights over all the shrubbery and trees, blanketing the entire campus in a warm bright glow.

A very large, very ornate Christmas tree had been erected in the dorm lobby, adorned with sheer pink ribbon and more white lights, small rose- and blush-pink balls hung on every available branch. A similar sight greeted students in the dining hall, except there in red and gold, the school colors. Garlands of greenery twined around each of the banisters, miles of pine-scented holiday cheer.

Olivia was the only one, seemingly, that didn't find her spirits lifted by these displays. She'd received a Christmas card from her mother assuring her that she was very much missed at home, and that the elder Benson was looking forward to seeing her daughter at Christmas. She knew her mother would make her favorite, Red Wine Pot Roast, and probably some vaguely alcoholic eggnog. Her few presents would be wrapped in brightly covered packages, but would be essentially practical in nature: new tennis shoes, clothes, perhaps a new coat.

Christy had confided that she had bought Ellen new cleats for Christmas, as Ellen's old, favorite pair where falling apart at the soles. Likewise, Ellen had confessed to purchasing a tennis bracelet for her feminine lover, one that Christy had admired in the jewelry store window as they'd passed during their after-Thanksgiving shopping spree. Olivia was glad that her two friends were still making each other so ridiculously happy despite time and the turmoil that their respective families created.

Olivia had pressed Ellen for any word of Alex, but Ellen had promised the Abernathys had been conspicuously unavailable for comment. It had been a very lonely December, and to distract herself, Olivia had been working on the mosaic in the room, desperate to lose herself in the labor and the sweat of her brow. It was almost finished now, Alex would be proud when she saw it again…if she ever saw it again. But tonight the paintbrush had to be set aside; Sister Fitzgerald hadn't been lying when she'd warned Olivia about her abysmal grades.

Olivia flopped down onto her bed and sighed. Her gaze drifted over to Alex's perfectly-made bed. On the loneliest nights, Olivia would turn down the blanket on her lover's bed and crawl into it, sleeping more soundly, it felt, amid the softly-rising scent of Alex's body, her essence. In the morning she would make the bed again, so that Alex would find everything just as she had left it when she returned.

She sighed again, and hefted her bookbag up onto the bed, finding her Business and Economics textbook and beginning to read.

"I can't take it anymore!" Olivia flung her books to the floor despondently. "I can't eat, I can't sleep, I'm miserable!"

"That's the idea, Liv," Christy Cameron answered from her position on the floor, remarkably calm. "Sister Frances has delighted in torturing students for almost thirty years now, and she looks like she's got another thirty left in her."

"She's a nun!" Olivia whined. "She's supposed to be sweet, and bake cookies, and hand them out to handicapped kids on the street corners."

Christy burst out laughing. "She's not perfect, Liv, she's only human."

"I'd like to give her one of her tests, see if she could pass it," Olivia groused. "Ten essay questions is ridiculous, no one should have to endure that kind of persecution."

"Just take comfort in the fact that she'll have to read all those essays to grade our exams."

"She probably doesn't even read them," Olivia complained. "She probably just slaps grades on them, and expect God to strike down the ones that aren't righteous."

Christy laughed again, holding her belly. "You need some sleep, you're getting as gripey as Ellen Ramsey."

"I do need sleep! That's just the point! I've been so worried about this test that it's been keeping me up at night."

"Would it help if I told you you've got this one in the bag?" Christy sat up, flexing her toes to help begin the blood flow back to her extremities.

"What do you mean?" Olivia asked, her brow furrowed.

"You know this stuff backwards and forwards, Liv. Ever since Fitzie lectured you about slacking off, you've been a machine. Give it a rest for the day. Business and Economics will be there tomorrow, and you can drive yourself crazy again then," Christy advised, grimacing at the tingling pain of her newly-rediscovered circulatory system.

"Maybe you're right," Olivia sighed, rolling onto her back and huffing at the ceiling.

"Of course I'm right," Christy answered brightly. "I'm always right."

"Funny," Olivia grinned, though Christy couldn't see it. "Ellen was telling me the same thing about herself just the other day."

"Oh, well, that," Christy waved her off. "I have to let her think she's right sometimes or she's insufferable."

Olivia unlocked the door to her dorm room stretching the muscles of her neck. She felt more tension in her body than a racehorse jockey waiting for the starting bell. The stress of the day and the week and the term was sitting at her doorstep taking its toll on her mind and her body. She wanted equally to fall into bed without another thought and to bang her head against the door repeatedly.

"Olivia, Mrs. Bates needs your activity form filled out ASAP," Yvette Peters informed her as she passed in the hall behind her. "If all the applications from the rugby team don't come in, they're talking about shutting us down next term."

"That's typical," Olivia rolled her eyes in response, but agreed to drop off her completed form by eight the next morning.

Olivia opened the door to her room and shed her backpack, fumbling for the light switch. When she flipped it, a broken sob rose almost immediately in her throat. All of Alex's belongings were gone. The bed had been stripped; the bare mattress stared back at her mockingly. The bureau had been emptied in a hurry; some of the drawers were ajar, one completely removed. All of her lover's cosmetics and perfumes had been boxed up and taken away, and a vacuum had been left of Alex's side of their closet. One of her shirts was still mixed in with all of Olivia's; Olivia grabbed it and held it to her chest as the tears overflowed up and out of her eyes.

How could they do this to her? After everything, after snatching Alex away? How could they remove her things as if she'd never been there? How could they take her spirit away from this room, away from Olivia?

Liv crashed into her own bureau, blinded by her tears, and flopped onto the bed, prone. She curled up into a ball, rocking, holding Alex's blouse to her hot face. She screamed into the fabric, her sorrow muffled.

Caroline knocked on the door of the bathroom that adjoined their rooms once, twice, and then let herself in wordlessly. She came to Olivia's side, pulled the weeping girl into her arms, and shushed her compassionately. Olivia couldn't speak, couldn't say a word to explain the terror and fear that was careening though her body like a derailed train. She felt so desperately out of control, out of her mind.

Where was Alex? Why hadn't she called, sent word? Did she know how wounded Olivia felt, how grieved? And now, to send this message, the scourging of a plague. The removal of Olivia from her life, and her life from Olivia.

Olivia wanted to scream, she wanted to hit something, to pound her fists against the wall mercilessly until someone came in and stopped her, subdued her for good. She wanted to punch Catherine Abernathy in the face, to plunder and fight and kick until she felt all the pain and heartache that Olivia felt.

Neither Caroline nor Olivia said a word as they sat together, Olivia's tears finally subsiding, drying on her face in sticky trails. Caroline stroked her hair softly, motherly, letting Olivia wrap her arms around the redhead's body and clutch her tightly, buoyed by Caroline's strength.

From the door Olivia had forgotten she'd left open in her terror, the girls heard a derisive snort.

"Serves you right, you big homo," Katie Fitzpatrick stood in the doorway, arms folded across her chest defiantly.

Olivia sat up in Caroline's arms and gasped.

"Oh, don't act so surprised. Everyone has already heard that you like, molested Alex. That's why her mother took her out of school and that's why she's not coming back."

While ordinarily any interaction with Katie usually involved a clever remark on Olivia's part, she was so taken aback and so flabbergasted that all she could manage to say was:

"Where did you hear that? Did Alex tell you that?"

"Alex didn't have to," Katie volleyed haughtily. "Everyone in the world is talking about what you did to her, you queer. You think anyone wants to room with you now? My mother would rather die than have me in a room with a lesbo."

Beside Olivia, Caroline stiffened.

"So you came here to repeat a rumor that you don't even know to be true?" Caroline stood, and advanced towards Katie rather menacingly for someone bound for nunhood.

"Stay out of this, Caroline," Katie spat. "Alex was my friend!"

"Alex is my friend, too. But I will not allow you to bitch at Olivia with baseless accusations!"

"There not baseless if they're true, Caro. And I notice Olivia hasn't even tried to deny it."

"She doesn't have to defend herself to people like you, Kathryn."

"No, she has you to do it for her," Katie retorted.

"Well, everyone knows you run your mouth about things you know nothing about. Lucky for her, Olivia hasn't been around long enough to know you're full of hot air, you pretentious jackass."

"Why are you so defensive all of the sudden?" Katie's face took on a gleeful gleam. "Are you a homo too?"

"Kathryn Fitzpatrick, that is enough!" Caroline's face burned hot with fury. "You will not spread your vicious gossip about me." Caroline shut the door in Katie's face, hard. Olivia had her hand to her mouth, speechless. Her tears were all but dry upon her face.

"How's that for giving her what for?" Caroline asked, tipping her head slightly, as if to say, "so there."

Olivia's eyes were huge with awe. "Aren't you afraid she'll just retaliate?"

Caroline dismissed Olivia's concerns with a wave of her hand. "Katie's not brave enough to buck the system. My father makes more in one year than her parents will see in a lifetime. She knows if she spreads rumors about me that my father would have her and her family wrapped up in a slander suit so fast her head would spin."

"Caro, I had no idea…" Olivia trailed off, gesturing helplessly.

"No," Caroline grinned. "You wouldn't. The only people I flaunt my money to are the ones who care about it."

Olivia leapt from the bed into Caro's arms, hugging her tightly. "Thank you. Thank you for standing up for me."

Caroline ducked into the bathroom for a wet washcloth and then came back to where Olivia was once again seated on the bed. She used it to wipe Olivia's face tenderly, then pulled Olivia in again for another hug before departing. As she slipped out of the room, as quietly as she'd entered, Olivia wondered what she'd ever done to deserve such a friend.

It was the week before Christmas break, and the entire campus was as silent as the grave. It was dead week, the final exams were two days away, and then the student body would be free until the second week in January. Classes were out of session, extra curricular activities had now been prohibited for all students, and everyone was spending every minute studying like mad.

Everyone except Olivia. She had been studying non-stop for seven hours when she finally realized that if she read one more word about macroeconomics or laissez faire her brain would surely explode from the top of her skull, spraying her gray matter throughout the stratosphere.

So she'd donned her old pair of overalls, covered her head in a handkerchief and was putting the finishing touches on the wall that she'd spent weeks working on. She wasn't sure it wasn't all for naught. She had made up her mind to talk to her mother about leaving St. Agatha's after the fall term, to enroll back in her old school for the remainder of the academic year.

There wasn't anything left for her here. Now that Alex was gone, she couldn't bear to be alone in their dorm room, and though Ellen, Christy, Amy and Caro could be counted as her friends, there were ten times as many people who despised her for being an interloper, for butting in where she didn't belong.

Sister Fitzgerald, though she didn't know of Olivia's plan to leave St. Agatha's, had generously agreed to write a letter of recommendation to the Admissions department at Bryn Mawr college, and was busy planning Olivia's schedule for the spring term. She knew the old nun would be disappointed to learn that her favorite student would not be returning, but she couldn't bear to tell her, not yet.

She stepped back to admire her work, hoping that whoever inherited the room would appreciate the work that had gone into the painted mosaic. She also hoped the maintenance staff would appreciate her artistic effort, and not immediately paint over it once she had vacated. Every inch of the wall was covered in a shade of blue, all the squares uniform, not more than one block of any one color pressed together. It had taken time, and effort, and coordination, but it was done, and it was effort that Olivia could be and was tremendously proud of.

She admired her handiwork all the way to the bathroom, where she stripped off her coveralls and jumped into the shower. She bathed herself quickly, dinner was in less than an hour, and she really needed to take her Chemistry practice test before then. She quickly toweled off, and hurriedly dressed in her warmest pants and sweatshirt. She sat on the toilet and pulled on her thick wool socks, and then laced up her running shoes. Rural winters were much colder than she'd ever experienced in the city, and getting dressed immediately after a shower kept the skin warm and cozy much longer than if there was a delay in the clothing process.

She opened the door to the bathroom to let the steam escape, and then wiped off the mirror with her shirtsleeve for a quick appraisal of her reflection. Suddenly, a very familiar scent wafted under her nostrils. That almost smelled like Alex's perfume…

Olivia poked her head out of the bathroom and her heart almost fell to the floor.


"Oh, Liv!" Alex approached her hesitantly, but Olivia bounded forward and crushed Alex to her chest.

"Alex, you scared the shit out of me!"

"I know, I'm sorry," Alex was already crying, pressed against Olivia's shoulder.

After the initial surprise of seeing Alex at her doorstep had begun to fade, Olivia's old friends wary and worry made their presence known. She backed up slowly, hesitantly, putting a little distance between herself and the one she held so dear.

"Why didn't you call?" Olivia asked, her tone accusatory.

"Oh, Liv, I wanted to," Alex sighed, pushing the scarf that was covering her hair back off of her lustrous golden hair. "But it's complicated. The easy answer is that I didn't want to make you crazy, down there in Mrs. Beasley's office, neither of us being able to say what we really needed to say."

"And the hard answer?" Olivia asked, guarded.

Alex bit her lip, conflicted about spilling out the whole sordid story. With a rising confidence, she vowed that there would be no more secrets from Olivia.

"So much has been changing, so fast. Mr. Henry, that's my father's attorney, he's working to expedite a motion through family court for my immediate emancipation."

"Emancipation," Olivia repeated, a little breathlessly. "Alex, that would…" she trailed off, her mind spinning with the ramifications.

"That would free me from the Abernathys, it would break the seal on my trust…it would mean a lot of things," Alex's eyes were bright with happiness behind the dark frames of her glasses.

"Why didn't you call me?" Olivia asked again, this time the hurt that she'd tried so desperately to conceal creeping into her voice.

"Sit down, Liv," Alex stepped backwards and arranged herself at the foot of the bed. Olivia cautiously made her seat at the head of the bed, on top of her pillow. Alex bit her lip when she saw the evidence of the distance between them. "When Mrs. Abernathy…found us, to her knowledge it was the first time anything like that had ever happened. I knew that if I kept you there, admitted to her and to myself what we were doing…what we had been doing, it would have made things so much worse."

"Worse, how?" Olivia asked, doggedly.

"Emancipation is so very rarely granted, and while I knew that the Court would find me more than capable of handling my financial affairs, I… I'm not sure how I would have explained this," Alex said honestly, one hand nervously going to her hair, twirling it around her finger.

"Let's say that you had stayed, that we had told my mother we were in love, and we were going to be together no matter what she said. When Mr. Henry filed for my emancipation, she would have told the judge about us, and presented a case that I was not fit to handle myself in the world. Moreover, it would give her a reasonable shot at my trust, which was left to me alone for a reason."

"Okay," Olivia nodded, prodding her to continue.

"As it was, they had only witnessed a dalliance, a mistake, or a dare. Her reaction was so perfect; I couldn't have planned it better if I tried. She made a fool out of herself, she hit me and screamed, and I was able to make a solid case for a detrimental environment."

"What did you tell the judge?"

"I told him that you and I were just friends, we did a little experiment, kissing and such, she walked in on it, overreacted, violently, and that she was no longer competent to be my legal guardian."

"And he bought it?"

"Hook, line and sinker. She has had me here so long it wasn't hard to make the case that she wasn't my parent anyway. And I know I should have sent word…but I didn't want her getting her hands on those phone records and knowing that we were still in touch," Alex scooted forward, cupped Olivia's cheek in her palm. Olivia closed her eyes, reveling in the contact of skin.

"I was so worried," Olivia admitted; pulling back to look at her darling's face. She stroked Alex's tawny hair lovingly; adoring the sight of the too-big black-framed glasses sitting pertly atop such a delicate nose and cheeks the color of ripe apples…

"I know, I'm sorry. I wish I could have…I wish a lot of things. But the best news of all is that Mr. Henry thinks I will be able to enroll again by January."

"What about the classes you've missed?"

"He's already talked to Attila. With proper tutoring over the spring term, I can test out of my courses and still get the credits."

"Would we still be allowed to room together in the Spring?" Olivia asked, reaching for Alex's hands.

Alex bit her bottom lip again, worrying it. "It depends on if Mrs. Kennedy has heard the rumors. Mr. Henry can only do so much for me. But I've talked to Christy, and if they separate us, she and Ellen are willing to accommodate us…I'm not sure how, but we'll find a way—I know we will." She pulled Olivia's hand to her heart, and held it there, steadfast.

"Where are you staying now?"

"With the Camerons, in the City. Just since yesterday, though. I've been at the Manor, packing up and trying to help Mr. Henry handle my…affairs."

"How much did your father leave you, Lex?"

"Almost seven million," Alex answered, after a pause.

Olivia shook her head in wonderment. "Why are you even bothering with Law School then? Why not just set up house somewhere and do whatever you want?"

"Because I never want to be Mrs. Abernathy," Alex answered fiercely. "Some part of me will always love her, but that doesn't mean that I agree with the choices she's made, or the choices she will make."

Olivia's heart swelled with pride and she embraced her girlfriend more tightly than she'd intended. "I love you, Alex."

"I love you, too. I never thought I would feel this way about…"

"A girl?" Olivia supplied sympathetically.

"About anyone," Alex corrected. She brought her mouth to Olivia's, squirming desperately, pulling Olivia closer, feeling her. She tilted her head back to offer herself to her tall lover, arching up to meet her.

They broke apart, panting.

"We're going to be together for Christmas," Olivia's smile was joyous, incandescent.

"We're going to be together forever," Alex whispered, before pulling Olivia in for another heart-pounding kiss.

Olivia awoke suddenly, her heart beating madly, panicked. A white wallpapered ceiling stared back at her, the pattern of tiny fleur-de-lis just barely visible in the dull darkness of the bedroom. She sat up straight up in bed and glanced over at the red glowing numbers of the clock on the nightstand. Four fifty two a.m., almost dawn. Snow was crushed against the windowpane; she shivered in the inky darkness.

She swung her feet over the side of the bed, standing and restlessly shaking off the remaining frenzy and rubbed her face wearily. Beside her, Alex's razor-sharp nerves had awoken her as well, and she opened her eyes to see the svelte backside of her love.

Olivia fitfully prowled about the dark apartment, drinking a glass of tepid water, stretching her tense muscles, then finally curling up on the sofa, facing the bright twinkling rainbow lights of their little Christmas tree.

Alex came padding in, yawning as she tied the sash to her silk robe. Olivia delighted in the sight of her lover's mature body, lithe and toned, and beautiful.

"I'm sorry, babe…I didn't mean to wake you," Olivia whispered guiltily as Alex came close enough to touch. Alex reached to cup Olivia's face gently.

"You're sweating," she observed, concerned. It didn't stop her from coming around the side of the couch and lowering herself into Olivia's lap, nestling herself between the arm of the sofa and warm thighs.

Olivia gave a shaky laugh, and made a concerted effort to control her harsh breathing, still too-loud in the forced silence of their living room.

"You won't believe the dream I just had..."

The End

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