DISCLAIMER: Characters belong to Dick Wolf and NBC/Universal.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Most of the show.

One Hundred Things That Might
Have Happened

By Mira


Usually, she sips a scotch when she gets home from work. It's habit. That was what they did in the office because that's what the big boys drank, and it was a rite of passage, a way of proving herself. Today, though, marks two years since she's heard her own name; she's drinking whatever she wants. She pulls the Stoli from the fridge, pours herself a double shot.

Tips it down her throat. Swallows once, twice, grimaces—she never got the hang of taking shots. It's a smooth burn, a comforting pain, not unlike sex with Olivia, not unlike Olivia.

She smiles. "It was my mother's favorite restaurant."

"Really?" Alex hopes her voice doesn't betray her. She can't see Olivia's mother, the alcoholic, enjoying a place this…nice.

"She was a professor." Olivia's tone is clipped.

"Can I ask you something?" Might as well really offend her.

She nods.

"Did you hate her?"

Olivia looks surprised. "Of course not. She was…a good woman, Alex. She loved me." Alex hopes she won't start crying. "But now that she's gone, it's hard to remember sometimes. The good parts."

Alex wishes she knew what to say, but she's never been good at this part.

Normally Olivia welcomes an excuse from paperwork, but she's already pretty sure she won't like the new ADA. It's something about the way she wears her suits.

Cabot approaches her, her steps measured, and Olivia thinks, grudgingly, that she's got great legs. Patrician features, a bare hint of makeup, gorgeous eyes.

"Alex Cabot," she says, her words carefully pronounced. She doesn't smile. "I'm your new ADA."

Olivia steps forward, suddenly acutely aware of her pigeon-toed gait, her sensible shoes, and meets the cool gaze of their new colleague. "Olivia Benson," she says. "Pleasure to meet you," although she doubts it.

Alex hates it when it's rough. Not because she doesn't like it, not because it hurts, but because it means it's been a bad day in the squad room, means there will be more horrific pictures on her desk soon.

She threw up on her first set of photos. Olivia, though, sees it in real life. Smells it, has to write reports that leave out the important parts: the rot, the stain of evil, the stench of death that seeps into her skin.

It's not even that Olivia is brave, Alex thinks. She probably couldn't stop if she wanted to.

Alex leans over the table conspiratorially, her clothes rumpled and her cheeks flushed. It's been a rough day; she's drunk. Olivia thinks she's never been more beautiful.

"Do you know what color your eyes are?" Alex's voice is seductive, but she looks like she's about to start laughing.

Olivia, amused, eyes her suspiciously over her third pint of Guinness. "Please don't say chocolate. I fucking hate it." Come to think of it, she's pretty tipsy herself.

"No." Alex looks around the bar, stares into Olivia's eyes, and whispers, dramatically, "Beer-colored."

Olivia can't remember the last time she's laughed so hard.

Her phone rings, waking them both. Olivia groans. Alex hears her mutter, "Oh, who wants to fight me at this hour?" and can't help chuckling.

"Benson…Okay. Give me twenty."

"What's up?" Alex asks sleepily.

"I have to go. Village rapist's got a hostage."

Alex watches her pull her clothes on in the shadows. Her heart tightens.


She glances up from her holster. "Yeah?"

Alex doesn't know what to say. "Be safe."

Olivia pauses a moment and looks at her. Her expression is unreadable.

"Sure," she says. "I'll see you later." Her smile is rueful as she turns to go.

When she staggers home, finally, it's been four days since she's slept in her own bed. Two days since she's slept. Sixteen hours since she killed a man.

There's only one light on; Olivia's grateful for the darkness, because she wants to disappear. But Alex is waiting up, Alex with her careful eyes that hold greeting but no answers, blessed Alex who does not ask, does not talk, just hands her clean clothes and takes her to bed and holds her until she sleeps.

Olivia thinks that Alex doesn't really understand, but she's unhappy too, so it's almost enough, maybe.

When she gets back from her run, she's surprised to see Alex already awake, waiting bleary-eyed at the table for the coffee to finish brewing. Alex is already smiling in greeting, but it's the brown bag from Balthazar that makes her eyes light up. She's surprisingly easy to please.

"Chocolate croissants," Olivia explains, suddenly a little shy. "Morning."

Alex crosses the narrow kitchen, slips her arm around Olivia's waist. Pulls her close for a chaste kiss, a good-morning kiss. I could get used to this, Olivia thinks.

"Watch out," Olivia warns. "I'm sweaty."

Alex grins. "I like you that way."

Alex feels a little bereft after the agents leave, as though she hadn't spent the last three weeks hating them. The walls feel like they're closing in on her, and she decides to go outside. She won't be able to see her new yard in the dark, but maybe she can catch her breath.

She's stunned by how many stars there are here. It's like they're mocking her, as though the loss of streetlamps and bright squares of windows and the glow in Olivia's eyes could possibly be made up to her by the light of a thousand other suns.

Olivia hears heels clicking down the hall and realizes it must be Cabot. Nobody else wears shoes like that in the precinct, and Elliot's flashing her a shit-eating grin.

"Must want to talk to you about the Bateson search," he smirks, glad it's not him. Olivia sighs.

"It should have been covered by plain sight," she argues halfheartedly, and turns to meet the ADA's you-fucked-this-up glower.

But Alex, instead, is smiling, holding out a cup of coffee that smells better than Munch's concoction. "I figured you could use something to help you through this," she says dryly.

Olivia smiles back.

Alex grimaces. "This donut is stale."

Elliot chuckles. "Of course."

"Is Olivia here?"

Elliot looks at her like he's seen something new. She feels herself blush. "I…needed to go over her testimony."

"She went to pick up lunch," he says, not unkindly. "We gonna nail this prick?"

She knows he's apologizing for seeing too much—not that there's anything to see. She tells him that it's going to be a tough one; she's having a hard time strategizing. She's worried. And then Olivia walks in, cheeks pink and hair tousled, brushing snow off her coat, and Alex forgets about everything else.

"Hi," Alex says quietly, sitting down next to her. Olivia hears eighteen months of lies.

"Hey." It's one night, Benson. Put your game face on.

Alex looks at her lap. Olivia's struck by how small she seems, how thin and sad. She wants to tell her it's going to be okay, but she can't make promises like that.

"Olivia, were we in—"

"Yes." Olivia can't hear that question. Not tonight. Not from her.

"I always knew," Alex says, and even her voice seems smaller. "Did you?"

Olivia's so upset she can't breathe. "Of course," she says. But she didn't.

"Ready to go?"

Alex looks at her shyly, and Olivia notes with the slightest flicker of satisfaction that she's thrown the ADA off her game.

"Sure," Alex says.

She fucked it up last time, Olivia knows; she scared her, made her think she might have been reading the signals wrong. She looks at Alex across the remains of their dinner, and her heart skips a beat. It feels nice, this heat between her legs. Innocent, like a crush. Almost like normal, almost like she can want someone without feeling like a perp.

When they stand up, Olivia takes her hand.

Things look different from the roof of the precinct, all the people brightly colored specks below. Some are victims; some are perps. Some are witnesses. The rest don't matter.

And what of Alex, their shared secret, their shame? She can't stop thinking about her, the curve of her back, how tired she seemed sometimes, the way she hated losing. She wonders whether she's gotten the help she needs, whether her hair is still blond, whether her eyes are a victim's eyes. Whether she's still alive.

Olivia walks to the edge of the roof and stares down. And does not jump.

Alex holds it like a trophy. "My favorite Riesling!" she crows. "Let's get two."

Olivia eyes her skeptically. "If you say so."

"You'll love it. I've been looking for this vintage forever."

Olivia insists on carrying their purchases, Alex's wine and her own six-pack of Bass, and Alex feels overwhelmed for no reason at all.

"Wait here," Alex says suddenly. She strides purposefully into another store and emerges with a half-dozen roses.

"For you," she offers, a little shy. Olivia looks so surprised and so pleased that Alex's eyes sting. Yes, Olivia, she thinks. You deserve flowers. You deserve everything.

"Thai?" she asks dryly, and arches an eyebrow. "Sounds better than my PB&J. One o'clock, then."

She hangs up and stares at the phone, puzzled. Alex isn't quite sure what's going on anymore. They have lunch almost every day; she no longer marks it on her schedule. It's a standing date.

Appointment, rather. To discuss cases.

Alex goes to the bathroom to freshen up before she meets her. Reapplying her lipstick, she stares at herself in the mirror and wonders, suddenly, why she's so concerned about her makeup. What she's afraid of is that she thinks she might already know.

"I can't go home."

Olivia shifts her weight. "My offer of a drink still stands."

"It's four o'clock in the morning. Nothing's open."

"My kitchen is."

Alex's stomach flips. "Did you just invite me home?" Christ, Alex, she's trying to be your friend. Shut up.

Olivia looks uncomfortable. "Yeah." A pause. "I mean, not if you don't want to, but I've got beer. And a couch that's pretty comfortable. If you don't want to be alone."

"I'm sorry about the warrant." She wants to scream.

"Don't worry about it," Olivia says, gently. "I'm getting the car. Coming?"

Alex breathes. "Yes."

Olivia hates stakeout, although it's nice to be with Munch for a change. Gives her new things to talk about, even if it's the Kennedy assassination.

"I'm getting drowsy," she says. "Want some coffee?"

Munch does, so Olivia goes across the street, bundled against the cold. Five minutes later she hurries into the car, shrugs out of her coat, unwinds her scarf, and tosses them unceremoniously in the backseat.

She hands him his coffee and takes a sip of her own. He's staring at her, thoughtfully.

"What?" she asks, scalding her tongue.

"When did you start trading scarves with Cabot?"

She's so close she can smell gin and metal, Olivia's lips. She's drunk and feeling dangerous; she's finally about to kiss her.

Until she looks at Olivia's eyes, bright and fearful, and when Alex falters, Olivia whispers, "No. Not like this." She starts back to the street like she's lost something. Alex can't believe how upset she looks, how vulnerable.

"I'm drunk. Olivia. Oh God, I'm so sorry."

Olivia looks at the ground, decides, looks back up. "Will you have dinner with me tomorrow?"

Alex stares. "Yes."

"Good." Olivia grins and walks away, her leather jacket spinning in her wake.

"Come home," Olivia says quietly, and Alex just nods. Elliot takes them back to Olivia's apartment—it's okay for him to do that, tonight; there's an excuse—and Alex is still wrapped in that damn blanket and she doesn't say a word.

Olivia tucks her between her sheets. They make love, regretfully, and Alex cries afterward and falls asleep clinging to her.

Months later, after the pain has dulled to a low, twisting throb, Olivia will think often about that night, think that the desperation of the sex alone should have warned her, that she should have seen it coming.

After they fight, Olivia goes for a run, leaving Alex to maintain her stony façade until she's gone. Alex might cry afterwards; Olivia knows because one time she returned to an Alex so exhausted that she had fallen asleep on the couch without cleaning up her cheeks, streaked with mascara like a watercolor painting. Separation is a dignity they allow each other.

Olivia listens to her feet hit the pavement until her lungs drop out of her chest. The burn is satisfying. She pauses to catch her breath on the quiet street and realizes, suddenly, that she misses her mother.

Olivia hears herself talking, but she's not really paying attention to her own voice; it's like she's on autopilot. She can't get over how sexy those glasses are.


She flinches, falters, stops talking. "What?"

Alex cocks an eyebrow. "You already told me about Wallace's girlfriend."

Right. "Those are great glasses, Counselor," she blurts. Deep fucking breath, Benson. You're just a woman complimenting her coworker. It's not weird at all.

Alex leans over her desk. "You want to hear a secret?" she breathes.

Olivia swallows hard and hopes Alex doesn't notice. "Sure."

Alex's smile is predatory. "I have perfect vision."

Oh, Christ, she can't breathe when Alex kisses her like that, daring her to take control. Instead she waits, gasping, for Alex's hands to slip under the hem of her shirt, smooth firmly over her stomach, tease her breasts until Olivia moans and arches into her.

Alex is an intense and methodical lover, the intimacy of her stares unnerving. She likes to talk—Olivia wasn't surprised—whispering her into a frenzy, licking hungrily along her thighs, biting her hips, pressing her fingers into her and rasping her orders until Olivia comes, hard and soft at once, and it's like dying.

In the morning, dreading her murderer's trial, she's grateful to find Olivia next to her. Olivia stirs, and then her eyes snap open, unguarded with sleep, wide and full of pain.

Olivia looks like she wants to say something important, but she's never been one to talk much; off the job, she speaks in silences. Alex, trying to ignore the lump of memories in her throat, wonders whether maybe that was always the problem.

Olivia blinks, and her eyes veil over again. "You'd better get ready for court, Alex," she rasps, her voice gruff. Saying her name like a wound.

"Who is he?"


"The guy you've been seeing."

Olivia narrows her eyes at him. "Hey," he says, "I'm your partner. I can tell."

"Not that much, you can't," she says, smirking. "It's a woman."

"Really," he drawls, and hands her a donut. "Do I know her?"

Alex uses a purple toothbrush. Hates the smell of jasmine, buys People at a newsstand because she's too embarrassed to subscribe, has nightmares about their victims, drinks orange juice from the carton, likes to sing, is usually off-key.

"No," she says, thoughtfully, and bites into her donut. It's more or less the truth.

"You okay?" he asks. Two days after the funeral, it's a stupid question, but he wants her to say yes.

She doesn't answer. He feels like an asshole for asking her that on stakeout, because she can't get away. Too late now.

The silence stretches out. Jesus, Stabler. What did you want her to say? I'm happy? She's alive but it's all a lie, and maybe it's worse than thinking she's dead, but she'll never say it.

"She's alive," she says finally, as though it helps, and he looks away, wondering why he thought she'd let herself say anything else.

That's the McKay brief finished, and now she can finally go home, to a glass of wine poured and a frozen dinner warmed and consumed in the deafening silence of her apartment.

When she hears the knock, she wonders briefly why Liz is still here and calls, wearily, "Come in." She's surprised to see Detective Benson.

"Rough day," she says, like it's an explanation. "I was wondering whether you might want to get one drink with me."

Like I would pass up a chance to figure out what makes you tick, Alex thinks. Out loud she says, simply, "Sounds good."

"We can't tell anyone," says Alex, nestled into Olivia's arm, and Olivia's momentarily confused before she realizes what she's talking about.

She stops stroking Alex's hair. "Wow. You're really one for morning-after romance."

Alex twists to meets her eyes, the awkward angle of her neck making her wince. "Our careers," she says, warily. "It would be suicide."

"Maybe for yours," Olivia says acidly, and gets out of bed.

Alex, lying there staring after her with her resigned, accusatory gaze, is right, of course, and Olivia's a private person anyway, so she doesn't know why it bothers her. But it does.

In the snow that last winter she had kissed off Alex's lips, Olivia makes her way over, flashes her badge, and ducks under the tape.

"What have we got?" she asks Fin, and he steps aside so she can see the vic as he starts running it down for her.

"White female, blond, blue, prob'ly early thirties. Raped, shot, execution-style. We—"

Fin falters. Something's wrong, and Benson's staring at the body like it's her first DB.

"Olivia? You okay?"

Surely they took her farther away than Harlem.

She shakes her head. "Fine," she says, like she's never been better.

"No, tell him I—listen, all he needs to do is reference—Tell him to fucking run a search on Westlaw! It's not that hard!" She pauses. "Just fix it, okay?…Fine, I'll see you in an hour."

Alex glares at her phone as she snaps it shut, then turns a smile to Olivia. "Sorry about that."

Olivia's shooting her a lecherous grin. "Do you know how hot that was?"

"Oh, shut up," Alex murmurs, embarrassed. But Olivia's hand slides up her thigh under the tablecloth, and God, Alex thinks, God, I hope next semester's clerks aren't any brighter than these.

The beach near the temporary safe house is quiet and cold. She's found that it calms her to walk along the shore, as though if she walks enough miles and stares into enough inscrutable gray water, she can conjure Olivia up beside her again and say the only thing that could have made anything worth it.

She likes to wander along the beach, even though her stomach clenches when she sees children, or dogs, or couples, playing in the surf. Even though it hurts every time she thinks about why the rhythm of the waves seems stronger than her heartbeat.

"One minute," Olivia promises. "I just have to listen to Huang's message."

"Perp's a serial rapist and murderer," Alex says. "Let me guess. The fact that he rapes women means he likes to, I don't know, assert control? Then he smashes their skulls, indicating that he has anger issues? Probably didn't get along with his mother?"

Olivia looks stunned. Oh, God, Alex thinks, how unprofessional. "Uh, he's probably a great clinician—"

She's cut short by a huge, rolling laugh she's never heard from Olivia before. "I thought Elliot and I were the only ones," Olivia gasps, wiping away tears.

"Well, if it isn't the delightful Miss Benson," Munch says. "Someone sent you flowers."

"Don't call me that, John," Olivia warns. But someone certainly did send flowers. The bouquet is both riotous and refined, Gerbera daisies, the ones she loves because they're so bright and cheerful, so unlike herself, so unlike everything she does. The ones she was talking about at lunch with Alex—no. Really?

Munch watches curiously as Olivia opens the card. Her broad smile is rare and breathtaking, and he wonders who made her so happy. But he can only guess, and he guesses she's not talking.

Olivia is moaning softly as Alex works her fingers into her, catching at her lips between whimpers, when suddenly an image of Harper flashes into her mind, and she gasps and sits up, suddenly feeling dry and sore. Dirty.

Alex shrinks back and looks up, confused. "Olivia? What's wrong?"

"Nothing," she mutters. "Just…stop. I'm not going to come."

"Do you want—"

"Jesus, Alex. Let it go, okay?"

Olivia finds Alex in the morning facing away from her, curled into herself, her pale cheeks gilded with the tracks of tears. She touches her own face, realizes she was crying too.

Alex quirks a questioning smile at her, her breath clouding the air into puffs of fog. Olivia's marveling at her, the way her eyes catch the light, the way her cheeks, pinked with cold, seem luminous, lit from within. The slightly arrogant turn of patrician lips, the delicacy of lashes caught with snowflakes.

"Anything wrong?" Alex asks, more gently than she's accustomed to speaking. "You seem a little off."

"No, I'm good," Olivia answers absently, pushing at her hair. "It's cold, is all." It's not that, she thinks. It's just that I don't think I could ever get over you.

"How long?"

Olivia. Oh, fuck.

And he's watching her, watching his partner's face shatter, and he can't believe he didn't know before this.

He doesn't offer to let her drive.

They're silent on the way back, the only noise the thumping of uneven pavement beneath their tires. When he steals a glance at her, she's staring straight ahead, her eyes huge.

Finally she whispers, "I love her, Elliot." Her breath hitches in her throat.

He exhales. "Yeah."

"I never told her."

"She'll be back, Liv." He has to think it's true.

"Sure," she says. But she doesn't look at him.

She meets Cragen's questioning eyes, shakes herself back to reality. "Well, we can get him on child endangerment at the very least," she says. "Pick him up."

Her eyes wander back to Olivia in the observation room, talking to another shattered kid about the picture she's just drawn, complimenting her in the honeyed voice she uses when talking to victims and just after sex.

It's funny, she thinks, that Olivia can only relate to tragedy: raped women, molested children. Normal people don't interest Olivia, Alex thinks; she doesn't know, really, how to deal with them, the ones somehow without demons.

"Oh, yes," Alex says, her voice husky with wine and desire. "We definitely have plans for later."

Olivia lifts an eyebrow. "Getting a little ahead of ourselves, Counselor?"

"This is the thanks I get for a Tiffany necklace?"

Olivia can't decide whether it's the Beaujolais she's drunk on, or the woman sitting next to her. "Isn't someone going to notice that it matches yours?"

"You worry too much." Alex takes a forkful of cake and stuffs it in Olivia's mouth.

Olivia grins, her mouth so full of chocolate that her words come out mushy. "This is a great birthday, Alex."

Oh, Alex thinks, this whole damn mess is my fault now? She turns, case file in hand, her smile thin and cruel. "Maybe our victim's mother actually is a good mother, Detective," she hisses, calmly, deliberately. "It's not as though you would be able to tell."

For a moment, time feels suspended, the air like glass: crisp and brittle and ready to shatter.

"Fuck you," Olivia whispers, but there's no malice in it, only a peculiar sound like disbelief, and her face is gray as she spins on her heel and walks out.

Alex is shaking as the door shuts.

"I've never been ice skating before," Alex says, matter-of-factly, wide-eyed at the expanse of Rockefeller Center's rink.


Alex's smile is sheepish, and Olivia squeezes her hand reassuringly. "Don't worry, I'll show you how."

Twenty minutes later, after Olivia's helped her up for the fourth time, Alex rubs the seat of her jeans and winces. "It's too numb to hurt right now, but I think my ass is going to be bruised for weeks."

Olivia tries to keep herself from snickering, but they both end up doubled over, breathless with laughter. "Merry Christmas, then," Olivia gasps, and Alex adores her.

"Alex, it's Olivia. I was wondering whether—what was that, you piece of shit? I will fucking break you if you don't—"

That noise could, indeed, be something breaking. Elliot's voice: "—assaulting a police officer. You have the right—"

Then, "Sorry, Alex, thought I had some time. Um, I thought maybe we could have drinks tonight. I mean, if you're not too tired? Anyway, call me back if you don't have plans. Or if you do, I guess. Talk to you later."

"Press seven to erase," says the automated voice. "Press nine to save."

Alex presses nine.

"What's she like?"


"Novak." Alex can't bring herself to say "my replacement."

"Ah." Olivia runs her hand through her hair. "She's all right." She can tell Alex is trying to hold it together, hearing about her life going on without her, and she offers her a tentative smile. "We hated her at first."

Alex almost smiles back. "That's not entirely surprising for this squad."

"Casey and I are friends, I guess," Olivia says, trying not to hurt her. "But it's weird with her, somehow. I read people for a living, and I still don't have a handle on Casey."

"How did I let myself get suckered into this?" Olivia mutters.

"You're a good partner," Alex whispers. "Plus, there's no way those kids won't think a couple of guest speakers isn't cooler than the aquarium."

Olivia steps into the room, packed with the twins' classmates. Dickie flashes her a thumbs-up, but the noise is deafening, and she hears one ask, "Where are the manta rays? Can we go home?"

She ducks back around the corner. "Would you ever want kids?"

"Hell, no."

"Can we make a deal on that?"

"It's what I'm good at," Alex says, grinning. "Knock 'em dead."

Alex is settling into her new job, although she's not quite sure her detectives trust her yet. Benson and Stabler, in particular, are giving her trouble; they seem to forget that she may be on their side, but she can't run around tossing people in jail. She answers to the law. And to Donnelly, who is, really, no less formidable.

When Benson sees her walk in, her stance shifts slightly, probably unconsciously, shielding Stabler, protecting her partner. Alex, briefly envious and a little hurt, wonders what it's like to be a cop. To know that someone's always got your back.

"Whatcha staring at?" Elliot inquires around a mouthful of his burger.

Olivia looks at him. "Where'd you get that?"

"Felipe's," he answers, wiping his mouth. "Uni who thinks I'm cute brought it back from Harlem."

Olivia pulls a face. "Who eats Mexican burgers?"

"They're good. What are you looking at?"

"Nothing," Olivia says quickly. But Alex looks over from her latest warrant argument with Munch and drops a pen.

Olivia sees the outline of a thigh as Alex bends down, and the outline of a grin as Alex stands up, and ah, she thinks, so this is how it is.

"What are you reading?"

Olivia pushes her bangs out of her face and looks up. "Uh, 'Violence and the Prior Victim-Stalker Relationship.' Why?"

Alex looks down at her own choice of reading material: "Forensic Use of Actuarial Risk Assessment with Sex Offenders: Accuracy, Admissibility and Accountability." She grimaces. It's like law school, only much less fun, much more real.

"It's Friday night," she says. "Do you think tomorrow we could go out? Maybe get dressed up? And drink, or something?"

Olivia glances at her reading, looks back up. "Yeah," she says, and smiles. "Yeah, I think that would be nice."

In the hazy darkness of a city that never gets black, they sit companionably on Olivia's fire escape—Alex's building is much too expensive for something so old-fashioned—and drink pinot noir, a good one Alex's mother once sent her from France.

Alex looks over at Olivia, her expression pensive as she stares out over the alleys behind the buildings, the strangely lovely pattern of lights pooling on gravel. She moves closer, fitting herself into the curves of Olivia's body, and clinks their glasses together, gently.

Olivia doesn't ask what they're toasting, and Alex figures she doesn't need a reason.

"Leave me alone," she mutters, but Elliot knows she doesn't mean it, because now that Alex is gone again, it feels final.

He catches up, finally, and when she turns to him he blinks, because her grief makes her transparent, and he sees all the pain and regret that should be wrapped up in the neat, polite package of her skin, and it's obscene, and her face is flooded with tears.

When he holds his arms out, she collapses on herself, and he holds her until she wipes her eyes and leaves. She doesn't thank him, but he knows anyway.

Olivia props herself up on her elbows, carefully so as not to jostle the bed, and studies the woman sleeping next to her. The rosy, muted light of early morning gilds Alex's cheekbones, sets her hair aflame.

Olivia frowns at the strand of hair caught to Alex's lip, lifts it away, and looks down the long, pale body: the spare planes of hips, the gentle swell of slim thighs, the lean legs tangled in her own.

She brushes her lips to Alex's forehead, but she doesn't stir. "I love you," Olivia whispers, glad Alex can't hear her, wishing she could.

Olivia avoids meeting Alex's eyes as they walk down the street in silence. The tension is thick enough to breathe.

They pass under a burned-out streetlight, and Alex stops. "I'm sorry," she says, and her eyes are blazing. "I just, I can't take this anymore—"

"What are—"

And then Alex is kissing her, kissing her, and her lips are soft and her mouth is warm and tastes like the fondue and wine they shared at dinner, and her hair is smooth under Olivia's fingers, and Christ, Olivia thinks, if a bullet doesn't kill me, this woman surely will.

Olivia gives her a wary look before leaning in. "Don't try to slip any tongue on me, Counselor," she says, grinning, and Alex is too surprised to respond before Olivia kisses her on the lips, very gently, very chastely, and not a second longer than required.

Olivia turns around. "You happy now?" she demands.

Munch is laughing. "Them's the rules, Benson."

It was the Christmas party, there was mistletoe, they were probably both a little drunk. It didn't mean anything; Alex knows that. But in the cab she treats herself to on the way home, she can't stop smiling.

"I have something to ask you," Olivia says, a little shyly.

Alex swallows the last of her cappuccino. "Shoot."

"Well," Olivia says, "a detective at the three-three gave me two concert tickets she couldn't use, and I can't ask Elliot to go with me, so I thought maybe I'd ask you."

"You've swept me off my feet," Alex says wryly. "What's the concert?"

"Uh." Olivia looks hesitant. "The Indigo Girls."

Alex chokes. Shit, does Olivia know? "Is this because I'm—"

"Because you're what?" Olivia asks, confused.

"Nothing at all," Alex says quickly. "I mean, thanks, Detective. That sounds fun."

Alex wakes to an odd, keening sound she can't quite place. "Olivia?" she asks. Maybe she's in the bathroom. She cries there sometimes, when a case bothers her and she doesn't want to wake her. But Alex's back feels cold, and the bed feels empty, and it doesn't feel like Olivia's been here lately.

When she turns, flinging an arm across the bed, it hits nothing but the mattress. Olivia's not there, of course, and Alex opens her eyes slowly, tentatively. The room is dark; it's always dark after the sun goes down here, and quiet as her own grave.

Alex trudges painfully to the door of her apartment. Last time I wear new shoes to work, she thinks, wincing at her swollen feet.

She feels ready to collapse as she unlocks the door, pushes it open. It smells like—food?


Her detective pokes her head out of the kitchen. "Hi, gorgeous," Olivia says, smiling widely, and emerges holding half a tomato. She's wearing Alex's old apron, and Alex thinks she can't possibly deserve this.

Olivia kisses her, and even her kiss is like coming home. "Dinner in twenty, I think. How'd your day go?"

Alex smiles. "Better now."

When her phone rings at 3:30, Olivia's too tired to do anything but sigh.


Elliot. "The two-seven just got our guy on a B&E. Cap wants to go ahead on him, so you should get down here."

She rubs her eyes. "All right."

"And, Olivia? We need Cabot, but I called her apartment, and she's not picking up. Did she say she was going anywhere after we all left O'Malley's?"

Olivia looks at their very naked ADA, who's regarding her sleepily, and allows herself a self-satisfied grin. "Yeah, I think she had plans. Maybe you should try her cell."

"I'm sorry I never met her," Alex says quietly.

"Me too." Olivia smiles. "She would have liked you."

Olivia bends down and lays the flowers on her mother's grave. "You know, her drinking, that was from the rape, and sometimes that was hard to deal with." She wipes her eyes, and Alex thinks it's strange for her to say so much. "But she loved me anyway."

Ah, Alex thinks. And suddenly she understands it, Olivia's need to convince herself that she deserves to be alive.

"Anyway," Olivia says after a few moments. "Thanks for coming with me."

Alex nods, solidly.

They're eating outside at a French-inspired bistro Alex likes on MacDougal Street, and the air is thick and hazy, perfumed with the smell of summer in New York.

"I love this season," Alex proclaims, pushing her ganache away. "Everything comes to life outside, and people actually talk to each other."

"I hate it," Olivia growls. "All the psychos in this town crawl out of the goddamn woodwork, the heat pisses everyone off, the pressure always builds up, it's like a—"

"A boil?" Alex suggests, quirking an eyebrow.

Olivia pauses. "Yeah, something like that," she agrees, and now she's laughing.

"I can't do anything with that," Alex says.

"Come on, Counselor!" Elliot says, and he sounds pissed. "You got us a warrant two weeks ago with the exact same evidence we've got on Carroll!"

"He was on probation." Alex's voice is clipped. "It's a different standard, Elliot. You know that."

Olivia realizes that she hasn't just been listening to Alex talk. She's been listening to the breaths she takes between words, so that each sentence is only an extension of her breathing, and Benson, she thinks, as she grabs her coat to follow her partner out, you've got it bad.

When the captain announces their destination—Cincinnati?—the agent posing as her husband leans over and whispers, "Just temporary."

She nods. She doesn't care.

It's a late flight, and as the earth drops away under their wings, she strains to commit to memory this last, fast-receding glimpse of the glittering spread of Manhattan. The plane climbs higher, away from New York, away from Olivia. Everything falling away.

Alex watches glimmering strands of lights appear far below, jewel-like against the darkness, knitting cities together, and imagines she can follow their faint trail forever from Olivia to wherever it is she's going.

"About time," Olivia says, smiling at Elliot. "Have a seat."

There's some mumbling and shuffling as Elliot wedges himself into the tight circle around the table. It's a small bar and a crowded night, so Alex doesn't really notice, even, when Olivia's knee presses against hers in the jumble.

Elliot settles in, and everyone readjusts, turns back to one another.

Olivia doesn't move her leg.

Alex tries to catch her eye, figure out what's going on, but Olivia doesn't look at her, so Alex spends the rest of the evening pleasantly flushed. In the bar's ruddy light, no one notices.

Olivia walks to the window and is surprised to see snow blowing in the streets below. "Oh, hell," she mutters.

She jumps when Alex wraps her arms around her from behind and sets her chin on Olivia's shoulder. God, you're adorable, she thinks, watching in the window as Alex's eyes close in contentment.

"What's wrong?" Alex asks.

"It's just that I wasn't expecting snow, and I don't have my gloves with me," Olivia explains. "I don't even have a scarf."

She feels Alex's chin dig into her shoulder as she smiles. "No problem," Alex purrs. "Just take one of mine."

The clothes are too expensive, the hair too severe, the mannerisms too haughty, the speech too measured. She's another Ivy League political climber, calling in favors from her federal judge uncle, flaunting the family name in case someone missed it.

Olivia's seen it before; she's distinctly unimpressed. She raises her eyebrows at Monique after Cabot's five-hundred-dollar shoes click out of the squad room. "What do you think?" she asks. Jeffries snorts. They're cops, they're too busy for gossip, except this bitchy ice princess is already getting on her nerves.

"Girl looks like she's never been touched," she says, and smirks.

Alex's spare lipstick, her coat in the closet. Yes, she can handle those. The hair caught in her brush. Harder, but doable, if Olivia doesn't let herself touch it. Or think about it, tangled in her fingers, whispering against her lips, spread around Alex on the pavement as she bled out.

She's never felt emptiness as a physical presence before.

Olivia wanders around her apartment, cluttered with memories, trying to see what she can handle. Her stomach feels hollow and her throat raw; she still can't believe Alex is dead, that something as ordinary as a bullet could kill her.

"Here you go," Olivia says softly, stepping carefully into Alex's bedroom so she won't spill the tea. Alex smiles at her and sits up with some difficulty.

"Thanks," she says, and starts coughing again.

"Hey," Olivia whispers, smoothing Alex's hair away from her clammy forehead. "Don't talk, okay? Just take it easy. I'll just sit here with you."

Alex takes the tea gratefully. Olivia, noting each movement so she can gauge how sick she is, watches her curl her fingers around the mug and realizes, with a stab of fond recognition, that it is a gesture Alex took from her.

"No." Alex frowns. "It's too…motorcycle gang for you."

Olivia runs her hand through her hair, blows out a breath, turns around. "Fine."

"Don't be like this," Alex says around the dressing room curtain. "And also, you really don't need to close it. You're just trying on coats; you're not naked." Not that I would mind.

"How's this one?" Olivia asks.

Oh, Jesus. Alex can feel the heat pooling between her thighs as Olivia struts in front of her, grinning. If I'm here much longer, I won't be responsible for my actions, she thinks, and "Olivia," she says, "get that one."

Olivia, leaning down from her harness at the top of a daunting gray wall, yells, "You scared?"

Yes, Alex thinks. She hadn't expected to be invited along after asking Olivia how she managed to relieve her job-related stress, but now she's got something to prove.

Ten minutes later, arms screaming, she swipes damp hair out of her eyes and offers her detective a defiant smile. She can't keep her eyes off Olivia's lean, muscled back.

"Nice work, Counselor," Olivia says. Her voice is dry, but Alex reads respect in her eyes. Her efforts to wrestle down her elation are unsuccessful.

"I wanted you to know I requested a transfer."

"Okay," Olivia says, staring at her lo mein.

For some reason, she wants to explain. "I…it didn't seem like we can maintain a professional relationship. After the fight we had. Things getting into work."

Olivia looks up, and Alex thinks, guiltily, that she looks like hell. "You brought them there," Olivia says. Suddenly Alex sees her for what seems like the first time, shy and disappointed and lonelier than anyone she's ever met.

She says quietly, sincerely, "I'm sorry," and when Olivia looks up again, Alex thinks she can fix this.

"—jazz," she mumbles, against a wall outside the Blue Note.


"I hate jazz. I'm sorry, Alex, it was nice of you to invite me, but I just. Hate it."

Alex stares at her. Would it kill you to pretend, Olivia thinks? Another night like this one, trumpets screaming muddled torture through enough smoke to darken the sky? Yeah, probably. But you had to tell her that. Really fucking smooth.

Alex suddenly, inexplicably, smiles. "Me too. I only invited you so you'd think…" and because Olivia wants to save her the embarrassment of saying it, she just smiles back.

Alex doesn't turn as the convoy pulls out. If she sees them, still wearing those stunned looks, Elliot's dry-eyed shock and Olivia's numb misery, she'll never keep it together. Was this idea as bad as it now seems? Is Olivia glad? Is she wishing she didn't know?

Alex wishes she could tell her it would be okay to think that. She wouldn't blame her.

Well. There will be time for regrets later, she thinks, when she's staring at white walls in a sleepy town somewhere, twisting her hair around cold fingertips, trying to pretend her loneliness will let her breathe.

"Damn." Olivia stares at the sky. "Paper said it would be sunny all day."

Alex laughs, because it figures that it would rain the day they finally try to do something like have a picnic in Central Park. "Well," she says, "at least we already ate."

They stand up, dusting off their pants, just before the sky opens up. In seconds they're drenched, Olivia's shirt clinging to her like a second skin, her hair plastered to her forehead.

Alex leans into her, eyes closed against the water streaming down her face, and kissing Olivia in the rain feels like drowning.

"Can I kiss you goodbye?"

"Yes," Alex says, and both of them smile into it a little, so that their teeth knock together. Which means Olivia's laughing when she leaves for work, and Alex is glad of that.

She walks into the bathroom, and then it hits her. She's sleeping with Olivia. She's wanted to forever, and it's wonderful, but it's Olivia; Olivia who's beautiful and good but possibly dangerous. Who's got edges sharp enough to cut deep.

She stares at her reflection. "What the hell are you thinking?" she asks, out loud. It echoes off the tiles. Nobody answers.

They walk into the squad room, and Alex watches the way their legs line up, even though he's six inches taller, and she wonders whether they know they do that.

Elliot says something to her, and she smiles. Alex is stunned. She's never really seen Benson smile before, never one that managed to reach her eyes, and holy hell, she thinks, as she transforms before her from tired, pissed-off detective to something that leaves her gaping, Benson is absolutely gorgeous.

Alex presses her lips together, gathers her papers, and decides that one day, Olivia will smile that way for her.

"Christ." Alex tries not to roll her eyes. "Can you not take this personally?"

Too late. "Maybe if you weren't so manipulative and calculating, and if you ever worried about something besides your win-loss ratio, we could get some justice for this girl!"

"Cut it out, Olivia! Your Messiah complex does not actually make you the savior of every woman in Manhattan, you paranoid, self-centered maniac!"

They glare at each other, neither willing to move, until the corner of Olivia's mouth twitches. "Feel better?" she asks.

"Yeah," Alex admits, and they share an awkward, embarrassed smile before Olivia leaves, chuckling.

She thinks it's honorable, courting death, and Olivia can't say anything, really, because God knows she's done it herself. But she's got a bad feeling about this, and she's always had good instincts, and she wants to tell her.

Wants to say, it's not noble, this. Your body betrays you, after you die, and there's piss and shit and blood everywhere when they kill you. It's like you were never in it, and I've seen it too many times, and please don't.

Honor has nothing to do with it. But Olivia respects her, so she never gets to say so.

"I'll take Alex home." Olivia shoots her a sidelong glance. "See you all tomorrow."

"I'm not drunk," Alex protests, and she's not, really, until she stands up, which is when her three—four?—vodka tonics hit her, and she stumbles a little in her heels.

They struggle to the front of the bar, and Alex draws a few leers from a table near the window, and then she feels Olivia's hand on the small of her back. Protectively. And she's wet, just like that, in front of everyone. And because she's just this side of sober, she laughs out loud.

After a second, Olivia opens her eyes again, confused. Alex is staring at her with a studied fierceness that tightens her throat.

"What is it?" she whispers.

Alex looks doubtful, like she can't believe she's about to say this, and finally she says hesitantly, "You're so beautiful it hurts, sometimes. To look at you."

Alex seems afraid to kiss her, now, but something must say it's safe, because Alex's lips on hers are painfully soft, unbearably gentle. Olivia wonders what it was that told Alex kissing her was okay, because she's more afraid right now than she's ever been before.

Olivia pads carefully, silently, back into the bedroom, but it's already too late. "Who was that?" Alex asks thickly.

"Cragen," she answers apologetically, and Alex sighs.

"I don't have to go in," Olivia says quickly. "He just wanted to tell me we got a lead on Alvarez, but Fin's catching."

"Good," Alex says, and Olivia smiles, because even half-asleep she over-enunciates. "Come back to bed." And Olivia does, and her cold feet make Alex gasp, and when she wakes up three hours later nestled into the curve of Alex's neck, Olivia thinks she might recognize this odd feeling as happiness.

As the credits roll, Alex wonders what she was thinking, like a fucking romantic comedy would help. Like watching people fall in love in the city would be fun. Like an aerial shot, trying desperately to pick out what might be Olivia's building, wouldn't knock the wind out of her.

She stumbles out of the theater like she's been spit out, wraps her arms around herself, starts toward her fucking used Ford Taurus. She blinks. As long as there are only a few tears, she figures, she can write them off as products of the blinding brightness of the afternoon.

Maybe it's getting Olivia back for that look she gave her the night she rose from the dead, the one that said she didn't know what to think. But she has to tell her about him, has to get a reaction. Just like old times.

And Olivia seems unsure whether she should be jealous or glad, like she's not sure which one would hurt less, which one would hurt Alex less. And Olivia's uncertain smile looks unfamiliar on her face, like her muscles aren't used to pulling that way anymore. And Olivia's smile makes Alex wish she really had died.

She gives the vegetables a savage push and turns to hide her blush. She'll never be able to concentrate with Olivia standing so close to her.

"Alex!" Olivia yelps. "Turn around!"

Alex watches in stunned horror as flames lick around a piece of zucchini she seems to have shoved into the gas burner and erupt around the pan. She grabs for the fire extinguisher.

"Fuck," she mutters, as the dinner she's been trying to make disappears under a blast of chemical foam. Olivia looks like she's trying not to laugh.

Alex sighs. "How's Chinese take-out sound?"

Olivia grins. "Just fine."

"Come here," Alex says, and Olivia's expression seems wild and panicked before it softens, becomes hard to read. She slides up the bed and nests herself against Alex's body.

"Thanks," she pants, her breath warm on Alex's skin, and Alex doesn't really know how to respond, so she wraps her arms around Olivia's shoulders, smoothes her hair. She strokes down the length of Olivia's side, trying to reassure her, though she doesn't know why.

Her breathing evens out after a few minutes, and Alex looks at the water stain on the ceiling and thinks about ways Olivia could break her.

Her mourners pack the cathedral with the weight of their sorrow, and Olivia clutches Elliot's hand next to her like it's the only thing keeping her from drowning. The coffin is empty, and they're the only ones who know.

She's gone, she might never see her again, but she's alive, she's alive. Olivia thinks it over and over, giddily, guiltily, like a prayer.

"As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives," she whispers, following along in the funeral rites, and can't help smiling, carefully, triumphantly, for her absent, frightened, living, breathing lover. Elliot is the only one who sees.

She'd promised Mrs. Cabot to go through Alex's things, and after a few weeks, she thinks she can handle it.

Opening the door feels achingly familiar, and Olivia blinks back tears. The books in Alex's living room seem easiest for now. They remind her of her mother's office, and Olivia places them neatly in boxes—she'll store them herself; God help the woman who throws away Alex's books.

When she's done, she leaves without looking at the rest of the apartment. She'll save the bedroom, the kitchen, with its stove and its too-familiar scorch marks, for later. When it's easier.

Usually they pull off their own clothes, inelegantly, and occasionally Olivia gets her head stuck in a pullover and Alex laughs at her, a sound not quite cruel and not altogether friendly.

But sometimes Olivia stands still and lets Alex undress her like she's unwrapping a gift, and it's unnerving, the way Alex studies her. She takes her time, folds each item neatly and places it on the floor—something Olivia finds maddeningly endearing—traces a newly exposed curve with finger or tongue until Olivia, finally, is naked, wet and covered in goose bumps and quivering like a plucked string.

Alex has never liked guns. It's not political—she can't afford politics anymore—but they make her nervous. The coldness of them, the metal, the way they allow people to kill without courage, without looking someone in the eye.

She'd never planned to sleep with another woman's gun on her nightstand, but she did. And when the agents come in the middle of the night, guarding her compromised doorstep with wary faces and automatic weapons, the guns don't remind her of dying. Rather of Olivia, of the way kissing her made her feel safe and dangerous at the same time.

Olivia shows up at Alex's door looking good in a casual way Alex figures probably took her an hour to get exactly right. "No flowers, Detective?"

"Seemed cliché," Olivia says, grinning, and ducks in to kiss Alex on the cheek. Shit.

Instead of analyzing the kiss, she gestures toward the box Olivia's holding. "So?"

"Open it."

Lifting the cover, Alex takes an appreciative sniff. "You brought me tea?"

"First-flush Darjeeling," Olivia clarifies. "I thought you'd like it."

Alex knows Olivia doesn't drink tea, and she smiles. "Thanks," she says, genuinely touched, and this time Olivia kisses her on the mouth.

It's full morning when Elliot drops her off at her apartment. She takes the stairs because the elevator reminds her of the hospital.

When she steps inside, she's assaulted by the sheer facts of Alex's presence, her perfume, her papers on the coffee table, and they seem like they couldn't be lying.

She walks into the kitchen and makes herself a pot of coffee. She's already been awake for a day, but she'll do anything to avoid going to sleep, because she knows waking up will make it real. Will make it finally and abundantly clear that Alex is gone.

"Are you all right?" Alex asks, although she knows Olivia hates the question. She's not sure why she does it, like a duty, like a need.

Olivia doesn't look up from the dishes. "I'm fine."

Alex sighs, because she fucking hates pressing her when she's like this. "Look," she says, "it must have been hard for you; I talked to Cragen when I was there for the Patterson confession. Are you sure you don't want to talk?"

Olivia spins around, her eyes hard. "I don't need you to save me, Alex."

And there's always that. "Who said I was offering?"

When Alex opens her eyes, she's embarrassingly happy to see Olivia there. Usually Olivia is up first, working out before Alex wakes, and though she feels a little silly, she treasures waking up next to her.

The dim light of early autumn makes Olivia look tired, a little old. Alex's heart wrenches. She wonders why she's such a coward, why she hasn't told Olivia yet that she loves her.

Maybe she'll stay home this Christmas and let her family go to Newport without her. Maybe she and Olivia can have a tree.

Yes, Alex decides. She'll tell her at Christmas.

"And here's where you'll be working," he says, smiling brightly.

A cubicle, Alex thinks. I'm working in a cubicle, and she won't cry, she won't.

Her new boss is pudgy, with a weak chin and eyes the wrong shade of brown. My old boss could destroy you, Alex thinks, and the thought makes her smile a little.

He seems willing to pretend it's gladness, ducks out. "You can keep your food in the break room fridge!" he calls, walking away. Alex remembers other working lunches, sharing spanakopita at the diner, knee pressed against Olivia's, and she won't cry, she won't.

"That's not quite it, I don't think," Alex says. "Maybe if you could move it a little to the right?"

"Oh, no problem," Olivia mutters, adjusting her already-precarious position on Alex's footstool.

"Too far." Alex tilts her head. "Back to the left, maybe."

"Next time, you can hire a professional," Olivia says.

"Perfect!" Alex exclaims suddenly. "I want it that way. What do you think?"

Olivia steps back to look at Alex's newly hung painting, which looks vaguely like a Chagall and is full of colors she hates. "It looks great," she lies, and Alex's smile seems worth the deception.

When Alex was younger, she took piano lessons. She never got far past "Country Gardens"—too stubborn, really—but it was enough to teach her the peculiarity of muscle memory, the way a practiced piece would stay in her fingers of its own accord. The way she could only acquiesce.

Olivia gets under her skin like a halting melody she can't forget, and when she falls asleep alone, she finds the memories of her fingers roaring back. Tracing in air the planes of Olivia's face, the swell of her breasts, the curve of her belly, and it's almost good enough.

"Maybe she'd like tulips," Olivia says.

"Maybe," Alex agrees. The florist pops up from behind the counter, and Alex jumps. "We're looking for flowers for a colleague. She's having a baby."

The florist squints at her. "Your picture was in the Post yesterday!"

"Yes," Alex says tightly.

"You're even prettier in real life!" she chirps. Olivia watches Alex's jaw twitch and stifles a laugh.

"Yes, well," Alex says. "You know, maybe we should get her something else."

"I think she's allergic to pollen anyway," Olivia offers, and Alex's smile is supremely grateful as she steers her out of the shop.

Olivia, she notices when she looks up from the Yale Law Review, has fallen asleep in the armchair across the room, Kingsolver splayed open in her lap. She hasn't seen Olivia read fiction in a long time. The murky light of early evening washes over her tired features, and even asleep she looks exhausted.

Alex gets up, thinking her joints seem creakier than they used to, rescues the book, kisses her awake. Olivia stirs and mumbles something unintelligible.

"Hey," Alex says, softly. "Let's get you to bed."

Olivia's sleepy smile strikes Alex as the most beautiful thing she's ever seen.

Alex is thrashing, her hips bucking wildly, and Olivia curls her fingers, feels her contract around them. Alex never screams when she comes, thank God. The most she allows herself is an odd, strangled whimper, one that sounds like she's been hurt.

It gets Olivia every time. "Hey," she whispers, moving to cradle her, and kisses her shoulder. "It's okay. Do you want some water?"

Alex shakes her head languidly. "No," she says, her voice gravelly. "Just stay here."

Olivia kisses her neck, gently, and thinks that falling asleep with Alex is the most impossibly comfortable feeling in the world.

Alex frowns. "Possibly. Did the girl's teacher see physical signs of abuse?"

"Bruising around her wrists," Elliot says, rocking back on his heels, and Alex looks at him again, at the carefully controlled anger she's sometimes seen coiled in Olivia too.

"Good enough for me," she says, glad she can give him at least this. "You'll have the warrant in half an hour."

Elliot smiles, goes to tell Cragen. Alex drops her voice. "Can you still come over for dinner?"

"Only if I'm cooking," Olivia says.

Alex grins. "Deal." And because she desperately wants to kiss her, she walks away.

"We should talk about this," Alex says, in the coolest tone she can muster. She plucks her suit jacket from the chair. "Why don't we have lunch?" she asks breezily. "Business, of course."

Olivia tilts her head, gives her a curious look.

"I know a good Indian place," Alex says. "With big tables, so we'll have lots of room. To spread out the files." Please, Cabot, fucking stop talking now.

Olivia grins, and it's like rain in the desert. "Lead the way," she says, and Alex knows she's only imagining Olivia's hand on her back as they leave her office.

"No, not O'Malley's," Olivia says. "Too many cops."

Elliot lets her pick another place, quieter, less wary. It's been a decent day, and neither of them is in the mood for heavy drinking, just a beer, maybe, to take the edge off.

Perched beside him, she takes a slow sip of her Guinness, and she looks a little sad.

"You all right?"

She looks into her glass for a long moment, a private, careful smile lingering half-remembered on her lips.

"Yeah," she says softly, and he's pretty sure he knows who she's thinking of.

"Next round's on me," he says.

"Are you sure about this?" Olivia asks, and Alex would smile at her clumsiness if Olivia's need for explicit consent came from someplace else.

She thinks about ways to run away. What about work, what about my career, I haven't had sex in ages, what if someone finds out, I'll be no good, you scare the hell out of me anyway.

Instead she stares at Olivia's lithe, muscular body, even more impossibly beautiful than it was in her imagination, sleek and powerful and utterly feminine, and she thinks about it arching under her.

Her mouth is dry. "Yes," she whispers.

Her stomach is twisting so deep she thinks she might throw up. What if everything's changed, what if Olivia doesn't want her anymore? It might have happened. These things do.

Olivia opens the door, and Alex watches the color drain from her face.

"Alex," she whispers.

"You weren't expecting me?" It's a bad joke, and she knows it.

Olivia's eyes fill with tears, and she looks at the floor. "I thought you might not come back."

Oh, Olivia, where to begin? Alex reaches, very gently, for her hand. "I should have told you this a long time ago," she starts.

The End

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