DISCLAIMER: The characters in the story are the creation of Dick Wolf and I'm using them without permission for entertainment and not for profit. The story is my own as are any errors that may have slipped past my beta readers.
SPOILERS: Set after Alex comes out of witness protection, so there may be some spoilers for those who have not seen the show (or L&O) to that point. I've taken some literary license with Elliot's marital situation and Olivia's educational background, among other things, so fair warning to the keepers of the Canon. Oh, and this is my first L&O story, so your patience is appreciated and feedback of all kinds is welcome.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Open to Persuasion
By Allie



Olivia Benson slammed the door of the salt-encrusted unmarked car and pulled her foot out of a pile of gray slush, grimacing at the sucking sound that resulted. Filthy snow had crept under the hem of her black jeans and was melting into her sock. In minutes it would penetrate the leg of her long-johns and seep into the top of her Timberland boot. "Shit!" she muttered as she stepped onto the icy sidewalk.

"You ain't seen the half of it." The comment came from another member of her squad, Detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola, who had been waiting outside the building just off Delancey Street, where two dead bodies had recently been discovered.

"What we got?" Benson's partner, Detective Elliot Stabler, had walked around from the driver's side of the car to join them on the sidewalk.

"Two dead guys. Really messed up. And two kids hidin' in the closet who might have seen the whole thing go down."

"Might?" Benson frowned, her stomach churning because she never looked forward to dealing with traumatized kids.

"They ain't talkin'," Tutuola explained.

"Why were we called?" Every cop in the City knew that that building was a drug haven, doggedly resisting efforts at neighborhood gentrification. Two dead bodies would not be a particularly shocking discovery. It certainly wouldn't require the attention of four detectives from the Special Victims Unit that investigated sexually based offenses.

As if on cue, Tutuola's partner, John Munch, walked out of the building, his mouth pulled down in the corners and his usually inscrutable face showing signs of disgust. "M.E. says both vics were sexually assaulted shortly before or after death."

"Beaten pretty badly, too," Tutuola added. "Beaten and cut."

"The kids?" Benson asked the question that was immediately apparent in her partner's eyes.

Munch shrugged. "They were clothed and seem unharmed as far as we can tell – physically, anyways. Our best hope is that the perps didn't know they were there."

Benson tensed at his use of the plural when referring to the perpetrators of the crimes, her brown eyes narrowing. "We know there was more than one?"

Tutuola indicated with his head towards a pale man standing near the curb with two uniformed officers, stamping his feet and blowing into his hands to keep warm. "Dude was scraping snow off his windshield when he saw two guys walk out, get into a car that was double parked across the street and drive away."

Munch nodded. "Neighbor across the hall didn't want to get involved, but heard someone pounding on the door of the apartment around dinner time, looked through the peep-hole and saw two men being let in."

"Descriptions?" Stabler asked.

"The usual," Tutuola said wearily, "tall, male, wearing dark winter jackets and boots. Might have been white, or Latino, or light-skinned black dudes."

"And their backs were to the neighbor," Munch added, unhelpfully.

"So we got nothing." Stabler assessed the totality of their eye-witness accounts.

Benson sighed and walked toward the building. A uniform stepped aside and pushed the door open for her, making note of her name and the number on the badge that was clipped to her waistband as she opened her down coat with gloved hands. It was midnight on a Friday and she didn't really have anything better to do, so she might as well make New York safe for its residents.

"Apartment 4F, and I wouldn't trust the elevator," Munch supplied as they traipsed into the overheated lobby and the four detectives headed for the stairs.

It was almost 5:00 a.m. when Benson and Stabler stumbled into the squad room to complete their initial reports. The time in between had been spent talking to the Medical Examiner at the scene, attempting to interview the kids, who'd remained wide-eyed and silent, then waiting at the hospital while they were examined and then taken away by a social worker after doctors confirmed that they both showed signs of sexual abuse, although none of it appeared to have happened that night. Uniformed officers had interviewed everyone who'd been awake in the building and would continue to canvass in the morning, so the reports were already starting to pile up, even if the information wasn't.

Benson stretched her arms above her head and yawned. Her partner noticed the way the movement made her black ribbed turtleneck slide up to reveal an inch of smooth, fit midsection. The bits of Olivia Benson above and below that bit of skin weren't so bad, either, but he was beyond having to fight back his automatic male response to his partner. "D'you need a ride home?" he asked, acknowledging that they were both too tired to get any more work done.

"Yes, please. I don't know how you manage those drives out to the Island at the end of each shift."

He grinned. "It's all about the end result, Olivia." There was no doubt about the love he had for his wife and four kids. It was one of the things his partner respected about him, especially the fact that he and his wife had managed to repair a marriage that both had considered dead at one time. "Besides, after what I see on the job, I'm glad there's some distance between it and my family."

He was silent for a moment, because they were both thinking that distance was no protection from violence. They'd seen too many victims who'd felt isolated and safe: rich people in penthouses who had theoretically been protected from it all; until they weren't. Eventually he loosened his tie as though it had begun to strangle him and he admitted, "I need the time to get out of the mindset of all this…" he gestured the slightly grimy squad room with its white-boards covered in crime scene photographs and investigative notes, "and adjust to being me again. Being someone's husband. Someone's father."

They were just walking out of the Medical Examiner's office early on Monday afternoon, when Olivia's phone rang. "Benson," she said, automatically, without looking at the screen. Whoever it was would be a welcome break from the conversation they'd just had with the ME, the copies of the autopsy files that her partner was carrying towards the car and the images in her head.

"Hi, it's Alex."

Olivia felt her stomach do a funny little flutter and a small smile came to her lips. "Hi, you." Then the smile faded. "Please don't tell me that there is a problem with the case against that sleazeball." A repeat offender who had been accused of raping three high school freshmen was being tried by Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot and Olivia Benson had been the primary investigating officer.

She could hear the smile in Alex's voice as she replied. "No, nothing like that. I'm expecting his lawyer to call me about a deal by the end of tomorrow's session, which is why I need you."

I need you. The words, spoken in the ADA's signature alto, made Olivia's stomach do that funny thing again. "You do?" Olivia's smile was big and, in her partner's opinion, goofy. He narrowed his blue eyes and looked suspiciously at his partner. The woman had had no more than eight hours' sleep in the last three days, but she was smiling. Something was off.

"Yes, I do," Alex replied firmly. "The defense called a witness who implied that the police never followed up on leads pertaining to other suspects, particularly a maintenance worker named…" there was the sound of paper being rustled, "Lopez. They're claiming that there was a rush to judgment and I need you as a rebuttal witness to take the defense attorney's Johnny Cochran impression out of his repertoire for closing arguments."

"Lopez?" The detective's voice went high-pitched with incredulity. "They're claiming Lopez was a credible suspect?"

"He has a criminal record…"

"He busted another freshman's nose when he was eighteen in a college bar brawl. Took a plea because his legal aid lawyer worked out a deal for community service and no fine. The only thing Lopez is guilty of is accepting bad legal advice."

"I know. But we're still going to have to go over all the other major leads you followed up…"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Alexandra Cabot might make her nipples hard, but her perfectionism was a pain in the ass. Olivia stopped walking. Where had that come from?

"Detective," the ADA replied coolly, "believe it or not, I actually have better things to do with my time than review investigative dead ends, but I will not take a chance that some member of the jury with a negative view of law enforcement officers is going to hang it because of some unsubstantiated, bleeding-heart theory about police injustice."

"Then you should have weeded out the anti-cop jurors on the panel before the jury was seated!" Olivia knew she was being unreasonable, but she couldn't help herself. She was tired, hungry and frustrated by the absence of leads in her current case. An afternoon spent reading autopsy reports and waiting for CSU results to come in while two traumatized children languished in foster care and two killers roamed free, was making her want to lash out, and the ADA had just presented her with a target.

Immediately contrite, she squeezed her eyes shut and said quietly. "I'm sorry. That was unfair."

"And unwarranted," Alex added, not giving an inch, despite Olivia's apology.

"Yes, and unwarranted," Olivia agreed. She looked at her watch. "When do you want to meet?"

Alex said she'd be free in an hour and Olivia turned to her partner. "Elliot, I've gotta go and prep as a rebuttal witness. I'll swing by the house to get copies of whatever reports come in while I'm at the DA's office and take them home to catch up."

Stabler nodded, but he was smirking. "You should just leave the reports until tomorrow. Fin is tracking down the parents of the kids – they're illegals and in the wind, so we don't know the relationship with the victims – and Munch is going through the phone records for the apartment phone and the cell we found on the dead guy. There probably won't be much to follow up on before CSU information comes in and that probably won't happen until tomorrow. The scene was a mess."

Olivia frowned at him. "Why're you grinning?"

"You are so pussy-whipped Benson."

Despite her best efforts Olivia felt a flush move up her neck and suffuse her cheeks. "You don't know what you're talking about," she muttered, inadequately.

He chuckled. "In all the years we've been partners, I have never seen anyone tie you in knots the way she does." He looked thoughtful. "Of course, all the others were guys…"

"What others?"

"The other people you dated."

"I'm not dating her! I work with her."

"Whatever…" Stabler shrugged and got into the car.

His partner got in on the passenger side and slammed the door, pointedly ignoring him.



Alexandra Cabot hung up the phone and wiped her hand on the tailored skirt of her navy blue suit, more because she felt like a sweaty-palmed teenager than for any practical reason. Her pulse was racing and she tried to tell herself it was from outrage because Olivia Benson was so infuriating, but she knew it was more than that.

The simple fact was that Benson was right. She could put this bastard away without the detective's testimony, because she was a good enough advocate to do it. Of course, if Benson testified, the defense's last fig leaf would fall, so she was technically justified in eliminating even a hint of weakness in the people's case.

The people's case my ass, her conscience mocked, you just want to see her and spend a few hours sitting close to her.

The whole situation was so stupid that she blushed. She'd been working with Olivia Benson on and off for years. They'd always had a special connection, but it had been friendly and professional, even when they'd both been at their most antagonistic.

And then she had almost died.

Alex tried not to think about the night she'd been shot, but that was the night when, lying on the street and feeling the blood flow out of her body, she'd come to realize that what she felt for the woman struggling to save her life was more than professional friendship. To make it worse, there had been no hiding the love mixed with terror on Olivia's face as she'd watched the life draining out of Alex.

There'd been nothing Alex could have done about it, because she'd been sent into the Federal witness protection program, but she'd insisted on telling Olivia Benson and her partner that she was not dead. A luxury that not even Alex's mother had been allowed.

When she'd come out of the program to testify, she'd spent time with Olivia, admitting some of the pain of denying her identity and her attempt to ease it by starting a relationship with someone who only knew her by the name of her alter-ego. That someone had been a man, but how could she explain that sleeping with a man had somehow seemed less disloyal to whatever it was she felt for Olivia than finding comfort with another woman? Between the hurt she'd seen in Olivia's brown eyes at the admission and the fact that she didn't know what the future held for her, she had not insisted on saying good-bye to the detective before being whisked away the second time and when she'd been released from the program, she'd quietly accepted a role as Bureau Chief, where she had no direct contact with Benson.

Nevertheless, after two ADA's left to start their own practice, she'd volunteered to work on SVU cases to keep her hand in. And because you're a masochist the annoying voice in her head added. She sighed and went back to reviewing transcripts of the trial and making notes for her final statement.

When Olivia walked in she looked tired. The black leather coat she wore over her charcoal turtleneck and black jeans seemed to add to her winter pallor and her brown eyes looked haunted and somehow lost.

"Detective, please take a seat," Alex invited politely, cringing inwardly as she heard the coolness in her voice that had led to her "Ice Princess" nickname.

Benson didn't seem to notice. She seemed to be lost in her own thoughts and she avoided Alex's eyes. Alex was immediately glad of that when the detective took off her coat and walked over to the coat rack to hang it up. "Warm in here," Olivia remarked. "I guess the heating system's having trouble adjusting to the thaw we're having. Hard to believe we had wind chills below zero on Friday night."

Say something, the voice in Alex's head urged, but she couldn't even find the coordination to gulp as she took in the sight of Detective Olivia Benson in a snug turtleneck and low-riding jeans, viewed first from the back and then the front. Time seemed to slow as she watched the slight sway of the detective's hips as she crossed the room and the way the denim hugged those strong, lean legs. Olivia wore a wide black leather belt with a holstered police-issue semi-automatic that made the waistband of her jeans dip on one side and her badge was clipped just to the left of the silver buckle. There was something unconsciously sexual about the Olivia Benson swagger that made a small pulse point start to beat at a point considerably lower than the ADA's heart. She fought the urge to lick her lips before saying in a remarkably steady voice, "Yes, it is quite warm in here."

"Where do you want to start?" Olivia finally looked into Alex's eyes.

By kissing you…

Alex blinked behind the dark frames of her glasses and forced herself to look down at the files on her desk. "Why don't we go through the initial list of suspects? Apart from Lopez, who was the contractor for the school's heating system, there was also a janitor called Smith and a substitute teacher called Whitstable. Anyone else?"

"The sleazebag who we arrested, Peter Barnum," Olivia sneered.

Alex sighed. "Detective…"

"Fine." Olivia knew she was being petulant, but her hormones were pinging and exhaustion was starting to take its toll. Alex's slender body was less than two feet away, encased in a skirt that stopped just above her knee and a thin, tailored blouse that looked as though it would be silky and warm to the touch; Olivia fought the urge to bolt and remove herself from the vicinity of the unwanted sexual awareness she felt. She tried to concentrate on the information Alex needed.

She cleared her throat before speaking. "We knew the assailant was male and had dark hair. There were no genetic markers on the hair we recovered in the rape kit, but it was unlikely to have come from a man of East Asian or African descent." She folded her arms across her chest and didn't look at the file because she remembered this case almost too well. "We compiled a list of all teachers and staff who fit the description and started doing background checks and checking for opportunity – the first attack had taken place in a restricted part of the school basement, but control of the keys was not strictly maintained."

"The second attack happened outside of the school, though, so didn't that widen your possible list of suspects?"

Olivia's hackles rose, even though she knew that she was just being asked what the defense would zone in on. "The attacks were identical, right down to the things the rapist whispered to those girls as he was violating them. Two different men could not have committed those crimes, unless they rehearsed it together and worked as a team. It made sense to determine who had access to the basement and then cross-reference against whoever had access to the parking lot outside the school football field which, as Counsel has pointed out, is a much longer list of people."

"How many suspects did you have initially?"

"Initially we questioned more than a dozen men before narrowing it down to four people of interest: Mr. Lopez because he had a previous conviction for assault, even though he never controlled a key to the area in the basement, Mr. Smith because he had a key, Mr. Whitstable because he could have obtained the key and had left his previous position because of persistent rumors about inappropriate behavior with a student and, of course, Mr. Barnum, who had a key, had offered both victims rides home from school in the past, had a bruise on the side of his jaw and scratches on his hands and lied about his whereabouts on the night of the first assault when he was questioned initially by my partner."

"So you had a violent offender, someone with an inappropriate interest in children and the keeper of the keys to the crime scene; why concentrate on Mr. Barnum."

Olivia gritted her teeth. "We didn't concentrate on Mr. Barnum, we were left with Mr. Barnum as the only suspect after eliminating the other people of interest as the perpetrators of the crimes."

"How did you eliminate them?"

"Mr. Smith, the janitor, was in Atlantic City for one of the assaults and he was in Brooklyn heading up a cleaning crew at another school on the night of the second assault. Mr. Whitstable's alibis also checked out, although one of them got him fired." She said it with no hint of cynicism. "Mr. Lopez was with his family in the hospice where his mother was dying of cancer during one assault and we were able to see him on CCTV footage from a gas station in New Jersey twenty minutes before the second assault occurred."

She wiped her face wearily. "We also found that in addition to not having credible alibis and lying about his whereabouts on the afternoon and evening when the crimes occurred, Mr. Barnum was unable to verify his whereabouts on a few prior occasions when the victims had reported seeing a man loitering near their homes. And his phone records indicated several calls to the victims' homes, each lasting no more than a few seconds." She sighed. "The rest of it, the warrant, the searches, finding his trophies, we already covered that the first time I testified."

Alex said nothing more and Olivia lifted weary eyes to the ADA's. "Good enough?"

"More than good enough," Alex admitted. "I can't believe the amount of detail you can recall." She frowned at Olivia's pallor and the strain in her expression. "Will you be leaving after this to get some rest?"

Olivia closed her eyes and sighed; it wasn't even two in the afternoon. "I have stacks of phone records to go through and we'd only just picked up the autopsy reports when you called." She grimaced at the thought of reading the explicit details of the ME's dissections.

"I'm sure she gave you the most important information in her overview…"

"Yes, but…"

"Olivia, you won't be any good to your partner or the victims if you're dead on your feet."

"Or to you…" Olivia opened her eyes and looked straight into the deep blue irises of the blond lawyer.

"I…" Alex lost her train of thought. "I… won't be calling you until after two tomorrow. You can get some rest this evening and catch up on the reading for your new case tomorrow morning with a clear head."

"A clear head…" Olivia repeated numbly. Her head was anything but clear as her gaze moved from the startling blue eyes to those chiseled cheekbones and then down to the ADA's soft, pink lips. Her head was anything but clear and her heart had started to beat loudly enough for her to wonder if the lawyer could hear it. To make it worse, Alex's lids had lowered and her half-closed eyes seemed to be focused on Olivia's mouth.

Believing that she'd started to hallucinate, the detective stood up abruptly. Alex watched her walk away, noting the way the soft denim molded her backside and showed off the shape of her thighs. "Liv, are you ok?"

At the sound of the pet name spoken softly by Alex's husky voice, Olivia closed her eyes, wishing that the blonde didn't affect her so much. "I think you're right. I should just go home and get some rest. I'm so tired that I'm dizzy." It was true and she almost stumbled as she walked over to get her jacket.

As she reached for it, a warm hand covered hers. "Let me." She allowed Alex to retrieve the jacket and hold it for her to put it on. Just briefly, she seemed to be surrounded by Alex Cabot and she inhaled deeply, taking in the subtle fragrance of her shampoo and her perfume.

Alex stepped back and retrieved her own jacket before picking up her coat and a thick briefcase. "Come on, let's share a cab. I was thinking about playing hooky anyway since I'd reserved the afternoon to go over tomorrow's testimony with you and you don't need any rehearsal."

"I'm on West 22nd. Don't you live on the upper east side?" Olivia had bought what she'd thought was an overpriced condo in Chelsea twelve years earlier because the building she'd rented in from the time she'd been a student was being converted and the owner had offered longer-term residents a special deal. She had worked so much overtime in those days that her sleep patterns had changed for life. Even with the extra income, if she hadn't also had a room-mate, the mortgage could not have been paid.

"Yes, but we have to go past your place to get to mine from here."

It was rumored that the ADA came from old money, but little was known about Alexandra Cabot's personal life. Well, except that she's straight, dates defense attorneys and would be horrified by the fact that you're staring at the way that snug skirt is outlining her ass as she lifts her arm to hail a cab. "Thanks," Olivia said, wishing that the fluttering in her stomach would stop.

A taxi pulled up and they got in. "22nd and 7th," Olivia stated as she settled into the back seat. The taxi pulled away from the curb and, to her horror, her stomach growled.

"When last did you have something decent to eat?" Alex asked, looking concerned.

"I had coffee this morning…" Olivia couldn't actually remember her last proper meal – perhaps doughnuts on Sunday afternoon when the Captain had called them together for a briefing. It had been quick – the press wasn't interested in poor people being killed, so there was no political pressure to speak of, but he'd wanted an update.

Alex frowned. "Driver, we'll be going to 8th Avenue and 14th Street instead, please - Balduccis."

"What for?"

"You need food as much as you need rest. The human body is a remarkable machine, but like all machines it requires proper fuel and maintenance."

"I'll order Chinese takeout when I wake up."

"How the hell do you keep your body looking as good as it does on coffee, doughnuts and greasy takeout food?" Alex was patently impatient with Olivia's plans for late lunch-cum-dinner, so it wasn't until she'd asked the question that its implications occurred to her and she flushed.

Olivia chuckled, exhaustion forgotten. Alexandra Cabot had noticed her body. Every morning spent pounding pavements in running shoes and NYPD sweats, every evening of taking out her work-related frustrations on the heavy bag in the gym at the house and every Pilates class that Abby Carmichael had ever dragged her to, suddenly seemed worth it. She noticed Alex's blush and, taking a page from the counselor's book, refused to let it go. "Athletic sex," she explained with a wolfish smile.



Olivia sighed and wrapped her hands around her coffee mug. Her stomach was pleasantly full and her only contribution to the meal had been the making of the coffee – well, and the use of her kitchen. The taxi had dropped them off at Balduccis and Alex had told her what she'd needed to prepare the meal. Shopping with the ADA had made Olivia smile almost constantly; the methodical way she went aisle by aisle, the careful way she chose produce and the concentration and energy she put into getting the best possible ingredients, even though all she'd be preparing was a casual, impromptu dinner for two, were all adorable as far as Olivia was concerned.

Weighted down by shopping bags, they'd caught another taxi to Olivia's and when Alex had splashed water on her silk blouse, Olivia had offered her a change of clothes. "You can borrow my new skinny jeans and a sweater. You're only about an inch taller than me, but I haven't had them tailored yet. Especially since you're making stir-fry - that blouse will never survive oil splatters."

So she'd ended up with a prime viewing spot of Alexandra Cabot in a pair of jeans that would be more snug on Olivia because she carried more muscle, but which nevertheless highlighted the ADA's surprisingly nice butt and her unsurprisingly long legs. Olivia wasn't sure why she had these feelings about the blonde. Yes, she'd been attracted to women before, but she'd always shrugged it off as a healthy part of being comfortable with herself as a sexual being and she'd only ever acted on it once, with another cop in the first precinct down in Tribeca, where she'd been stationed as a rookie. After a long shift they'd gone for a drink at Garbo's. It was a lesbian bar but Anita, a five-year veteran, had been a lesbian and Olivia didn't have any trouble understanding why, after a double shift in NYPD's macho atmosphere, she'd want to just relax and be herself.

They hadn't had much to drink, since they were both wearing their service weapons under their jackets, but there had been a dizzying sense of relaxed taboos about the place, so when Anita had leaned close and whispered, "You are the most gorgeous woman in here", Olivia had blushed with pleasure. The blush had made Anita laugh and kiss her impulsively on the lips. It had been meant to be a brief kiss, but their lips had remained close and a second kiss had ensued, then a third. When they'd separated, there had been a round of applause from some other women at the bar and mortified, Olivia had rushed out. It had taken Anita a few minutes to follow, after all, somebody had to pay the bill. The older woman had found Olivia leaning against a wall outside the bar looking stunned.

"I'm sorry about that," Olivia had said, knowing she'd overreacted.

"It's ok. We work together, I shouldn't have started it." They'd both known that although she'd started it, Olivia had been an enthusiastic participant in the kiss.

"Ani, I'm not…" She'd wanted to say, "a lesbian", but her nipples had still been peaking against her t-shirt even though that would have been invisible to Anita under her jacket. And there was no denying the fullness and warmth she'd felt between her legs. The kiss had turned her on. A lot.

"You're not ready," Anita had replied softly. "And I should have known better. Lo siento." Her dark eyes had held so much understanding and affection that Olivia had impulsively hugged her, before they'd made their way to the Franklin Street station to catch the IRT.

Once she'd been out of Anita's presence, Olivia had consciously put the incident out of her mind and set about living a life of what she thought to be healthy heterosexuality, deciding that acting on any attraction she felt to women would not be worth the trouble of dealing with NYPD politics, especially when many men were also attractive and a hell of a lot simpler to deal with. Unfortunately, so far this thing she had for Cabot just refused to be boxed in and it made her think back to Ani's assessment of why their kiss could go nowhere. Not ready.

She also remembered all the dysfunctional encounters she'd had in the years in between – not even she could dignify them with the word "relationship". She used to think that she'd shied away from commitment because she had not grown up with a healthy parental relationship to serve as a model. Being a child of rape and being treated as one by everyone who loved you, even, occasionally, your own mother, will cause a certain amount of anger. That anger had been like her own internal bully that hadn't gone away until it had been confronted and dealt with.

At first she'd tried to deal with her issues obliquely, by becoming a cop, by joining SVU and seeking justice for people like her mother – protecting children like the vulnerable little girl she'd been… She'd tried to find peace outside herself, when she'd had the key to it inside her all along.

She knew that she'd changed in the last year or so. Elliot had remarked on it, as well. And she knew the reason for it. It was because she had stopped treating herself as a child of rape. Now when she helped the victims, it wasn't to make up for the help that had never been forthcoming for her mother. Now, when she went after the abusers, it wasn't because she wished someone had caught the bastard who'd spawned her, or to prevent more babies like herself from being conceived, or because she was fantasizing that she was putting her mother's rapist behind bars. Now when she did her job it was because it was her job and she was good at it. And having resolved all that, she found herself feeling things that she'd thought were reserved for other people; things which she had not felt for any of the men whose beds she'd been in. Things she had, in fact, never come close to feeling for a man.

"Penny for them." Alex's voice broke into Olivia's reverie.

"I was just remembering my rookie days," Olivia replied truthfully, while avoiding the issue at hand.

Alex's blue eyes looked intrigued. "Have you always wanted to be a police officer?"

"Yeah. In high school I concentrated on science and I took advantage of the sports programs to make sure I was as fit as possible. I so desperately wanted to get into John Jay that I didn't even apply anywhere else. My guidance counselor more or less said that she admired by determination, but that I was nuts." John Jay College of Criminal Justice was the City University of New York college dedicated to law enforcement and forensic science. It had a reputation for a rigorous admissions policy.

"But you got in."

Olivia grinned the trademark crooked grin that did something funny to Alex's heart. "Just as well, since I didn't have a plan B." She looked searchingly at the blond lawyer, curious about the faint flush that warmed her skin. "What about you? Always wanted to be a lawyer?"

Alex nodded. "Yes, I think so. I've always liked the idea of understanding the rules better than anyone else. I almost wish I could give a more noble or altruistic reason for having chosen my profession, but I'm afraid that's what it boils down to." The dry remark made Olivia chuckle.

"What did you do before you got to the New York DA's office?"

"After law school, I clerked at a firm in DC and then I worked there for a while…" She was obviously avoiding the details, which made Olivia curious.

"Come on, give. What did you do?"

"I… I clerked for O'Connor – it was a very junior position… A sort of trainee role which paid nothing…"

"O'Connor? Sandra Day O'Connor? You clerked for a supreme court justice straight out of law school?"

Alex's flush deepened, but her chin lifted in the haughty way that used to drive Olivia mad, and not in a good way, when they'd started working together on SVU cases. "I was competent! I'd graduated from Columbia with a 4.0 GPA and I was second in my class at Harvard Law…"

Olivia's brown eyes teased, "Baby, I'm sure you're more than competent at anything you set that big brain of yours to. I wasn't implying otherwise. The only thing I'm surprised at is that someone beat you out for first place in your graduating class."

"Don't remind me! And he is a complete asshole! He still manages to work it into the conversation when we have dinner every now and then."

"Why do you have dinner with him if he's an asshole?"

"Because he can be an entertaining asshole and he's a defense attorney here in New York, so dinner is often a two-hour battle of wits to see if either of us can glean the other's strategy for upcoming cases where the DA's office will be facing off against his firm."

Olivia shook her head. "Too complicated. The company of cops is much more straightforward."

"I know." Alex smiled at Olivia and it was a brunette's turn to flush.

Needing to change the subject, she asked, "And what's next? Politics? The bench? Both?"

Alex looked troubled. "I don't know. Either one involves surrendering my privacy, so for now I'm just content to put criminals behind bars. I don't… I'm not comfortable thinking too far ahead. Which is strange, because when I was twenty-five and working in DC with my newly minted degree, I had it all figured out."

Olivia nodded her understanding. "I don't know what I want to do next, either. I just don't have the personality for private security and I'm eligible for retirement in seven years."

"Wow. Have you considered moving to the Bureau or ATF?" Alex thought the Federal agencies offered a lot more scope for advancement than NYPD and Olivia certainly qualified for many of the positions she saw advertised.

"I'm not sure I have the political discipline to be a Fed, Alex. I'd open my big mouth and get fired in the first week on the job."

"Well, then, maybe all that discipline they require will be good for you – and from what I've seen, they'd benefit from your passion."

The word passion hung in the air between them. They sat at opposite ends of Olivia's sofa, but their gazes locked and neither seemed to have the will to look away. Passion. Each was acutely aware of all the various contexts in which the word could be used and neither woman's thoughts were related to work.

Olivia recovered first and literally bounced off the sofa. "Here, let me take your cup. Whatever coffee is in there must be cold by now. Would you like another one?"

She didn't wait for a response, but almost snatched the mug out of Alex's hand and headed for the kitchen. Once there, she rested the mugs on the countertop and clutched it for support, closing her eyes and breathing deeply. She tried to get images of Alex out of her head and everything passionate they could be doing on the sofa. She tried and failed. It's a girl crush. It will pass. She'd read about those girl crushes in an article in the Times and her feelings for Alex certainly qualified. She admired her: her look, her style, her intelligence, her drive and ambition. Being close to her made her feel happy, and a bit anxious. Of course, nothing in the article mentioned erotic dreams where you woke up just as you were at the brink of orgasm. Nothing was said about the way Alex's low voice on the phone could raise goose bumps on her arms and make her nipples tighten.

"Olivia?" That voice. She hadn't heard Alex move, but the voice sounded just behind her. "Did I say something to upset you?"

"I'm not upset." She didn't turn around.

"Then why won't you look at me?"

Olivia said nothing and Alex moved closer and put a hand on her shoulder. "Liv?" She asked again, but this time her voice was raspy.

"I can't do this, Alex. I thought I could, but I can't."

"Do what?" Less than a foot separated them. Olivia could almost feel the warmth of her.

"Be the kind of friend to you that you need. I'm exhausted and you've been so good to me – making me dinner and helping me relax, but all I can think about is…" Her gaze moved from Alex's eyes to her mouth. Alex's lips tingled and the arousal that had been triggered by lascivious thoughts of the detective increased a hundredfold at the want evident in Olivia's expression.

Alex stepped closer so their bodies brushed against each other. They were breast to breast, breathing each other's air, their lips were millimeters apart. "You don't have to be strong for me, Liv. You can just…be."

Soft breath touched Olivia's lips when Alex spoke and her words touched something much deeper inside. How had she known? All her life Olivia had had to be strong. For her alcoholic mother and for herself. To keep her scholarship and her fitness level while working to pay the rent at college. To survive and thrive in the male-dominated world of the NYPD and for her partner. For the victims of sexual assault and for the children of abuse. Even the men who had been in her bed wanted her strong, if only so that they'd have the satisfaction of overpowering and dominating the hard-nosed Benson whose reputation for hot, guilt-free sex had not been exaggerated. Nobody had ever invited her to just be…

She made a soft sound that might have been gratitude, surrender or just plain want, but whatever it was, it spurred Alex to close the final distance between them and cover Olivia's mouth with her own.



Alexandra Cabot had known that she was playing with fire. Despite a life of iron-willed discipline she had never been one to play it safe, so that was nothing new. But as much as possible she'd calculated the odds and known the pitfalls of every course of action and while she seldom allowed fear to dictate her actions, she was seldom out of control. Except when it came to Olivia Benson.

None of her usual methods of calculation and planning made sense when it came to the dark-haired detective. She'd never felt this way about a woman before and she was certain she'd never felt this way about a man. She could look at her for hours. She knew exactly how the hair grew over her left ear, exactly how she smiled when she was amused, or happy, or tired. She knew the smell of her because she'd stood close enough to feel her warmth as they'd shared coffee and conversation in the squad room.

She was fascinated by the working of Olivia's mind, even as she was frustrated by Olivia's compulsion to do what her moral code said was the right thing, although the law said it was the wrong thing to do. She was so good at her job – so tough when she needed to be and so tender with the emotionally and physically wounded victims whose cause drove her to bring their abusers to justice.

Alex was enthralled by the physical presence of the dark-haired woman. She was fascinated by those long-lashed eyes that reminded her of warm, molten chocolate. They could be pools of compassion or they could burn with fury when Alex didn't see things the same way she did. She often found herself wanting to trace her fingers or her lips along the stubborn jaw and the strong cheekbones and that mouth… full-lipped and mobile, smiling easily but so expressive of everything the brunette felt. And the fascination didn't stop at Olivia's face. Alex always had to work hard not to let her eyes dwell on those full breasts, emphasized by the flat, fit stomach and those strong, slim hips.

There was only enough fat on the woman to smooth over her muscles so that they moved fluidly under soft skin. Alex had found herself wondering what she'd look like with a sheen of sweat over those strong arms and shoulders… She'd forced her mind back to the present and the company of the woman who dominated her thoughts and dreams.

Olivia had changed into soft blue jeans with holes in the back pockets and in one knee that had been put there by use rather than design. The slight flare of the ragged hems almost covered her bare feet and there was a small gap between the frayed waistband and the faded FDNY t-shirt she'd pulled on to replace the turtleneck. Her hair was tousled from the change of clothes and her shoulders had been squared as she'd faced the microwave and refused to look at Alex.

Alex had put a hand on her shoulder, feeling strength of her. The detective had tensed and then slowly turned to face her. She'd raised haunted brown eyes to meet Alex's concerned look. Her admission of want had snapped the ADA's last shred of self-control, but there'd been no guilt or hesitation as she'd closed the gap between them.

It took several minutes for them to realize that the persistent noise on the fringes of their sensual fog was the ringing of Olivia's phone. As their lips separated, Alex said huskily, "Your cell…"

Olivia looked at Alex's mouth as it shaped the words; her lips were swollen and wet. "I know," she moaned, before tangling her fingers in the blond woman's hair, and kissing her again, hungrily.

Alex whimpered and moved her hands down Olivia's back to cup her ass. It wasn't a conscious action – she was just trying to bring Olivia's hips closer to hers. She wanted more of Olivia Benson. In none of her daydreams had the dark-haired woman tasted this good.

Olivia responded to the pressure of Alex's hands by stepping closer, forcing the taller woman backward until she was against the wall with Olivia's thigh pressed firmly between hers. She couldn't get enough of Alexandra Cabot. It was what she'd feared desperately. It was the reason she'd been horrified by the attraction. Yet, with the object of her desire writhing under her weight as she pressed her against the kitchen wall, the detective's fear was no longer in evidence.

The ringing of the mobile phone stopped and neither woman noticed, but they couldn't ignore the ringing of the kitchen phone that immediately followed. Their mouths reluctantly moved apart. They were both breathing hard. Alex lifted one hand and traced a finger over the detective's swollen lips. Olivia's lips parted under the almost imperceptible pressure and the ADA once more succumbed to temptation and pressed her mouth against Olivia's.

They all but jumped apart when Captain Donald Cragen's voice emerged with disturbing clarity from the digital answering machine less than a yard from where they stood. "Benson, I know you needed at least one night of R&R, but if you get this message I want you to meet Stabler over at HHC trauma center on Lenox Avenue. We have two victims, one dead and one barely hanging on. They've been identified as the parents of the two kids at Friday night's scene."

When he hung up, Alex pulled the dark-haired woman close again and they held each other as heart rates slowed and reality re-asserted itself.

"I guess you need to go," the ADA eventually acknowledged, but she didn't loosen the arms that were wrapped around her companion.

Olivia kissed her chastely, summoning all her willpower to resist the temptation to take up where they'd left off and tell Cragen she'd slept through the ringing of the phone. "I don't want to," she replied honestly. Her cellular phone rang again, this time playing the theme to Hawaii Five-O. "Shit, that's Elliot," she admitted.

Alex bit back the urge to sigh. Olivia might ignore a request from her commanding officer, but she would never ignore a request for help from her partner. The ADA let her arms drop and Olivia stepped away from her to grab the phone off the kitchen counter before moving close enough for the attorney to put her arms around her again.

She flipped open the phone. "Hi Elliot, what's up?"

She listened for a while and a frown creased her brow. Alex's long fingers stroked her hair in a comforting rhythm. As the attorney watched, a shadow seemed to cross Olivia's face and brown eyes that had so recently burned with desire, turned bleak. "Yeah, I got that. Why don't you swing by and get me?"

"Fifteen minutes?

"Yeah, ok. After we interview her we'll see what Cabot has to say." With that she ended the call.

Alex's lips twisted with a touch of wry humor. "Why don't you ask Cabot what she has to say now?"

Olivia returned the smile. "Because she might not want Stabler to know that she's available…" The smile faded. "Damn it, Alex, I don't want to leave."

Alex kissed her lips and then her cheeks and then her eyelids as her brown eyes drifted shut. "And I don't want you to leave… But that's sort of an occupational hazard for both of us, isn't it?"

"Will you be here when I get back?"

"You'll need to sleep. And in any event, you'll probably be gone for the better part of the night and I have to be in court at 9:00 tomorrow morning."

Olivia made an unintelligible sound of frustration. "Can I see you tomorrow night? I'm supposed to have a day off at some point."

"I'll be working at home tomorrow night. Come over if you feel up to it."

Olivia kissed her deeply, eliciting a low moan of arousal. "Oh, I'll feel up to it, all right…" She stared at the dazed expression on Alex's face. "Damn it," she said again in frustration, before reluctantly pulling away and backing out of the kitchen.

Her hands were shaking as she unbuttoned her favorite jeans and pushed them down her hips. She tugged her t-shirt over her head and flung it on the bed, then walked over to the closet to find something to wear, emerging with a pair of her trademark black jeans and a navy turtleneck. She turned around to find Alexandra Cabot staring at her from the bedroom doorway. The clothes fell numbly from her fingers. "God, Alex, don't look at me like that," she begged.

"Like what?" Alex asked hoarsely, slowly walking towards her, her eyes wandering over the detective's almost-naked body and back to her dark eyes.

"Like you feel everything I feel when I look at you." As their bodies touched, Olivia shivered. "Baby… you know I have to go…"

Alex's lips trailed over Olivia's throat to her ear. She bit the dark-haired woman's earlobe at the same time that she slid her hands up over lace-covered breasts. "Yes, I know. I just want to give you some incentive to come… over tomorrow night."

Olivia moaned as her legs almost buckled under the weight of her arousal. She clung to the ADA's slim waist. "I will get revenge for this, Miss Cabot. That, I promise you."

Before Alex could reply, the doorbell buzzed. "Damn it," Olivia muttered for the third time as she scrambled to pick up her clothes and clumsily dragged them on. Alex calmly sat on the bed and watched her sit on the floor next to the closet to put on socks and boots. Belt, weapon and shield followed and the doorbell sounded again. She ran over to the intercom, pressed the "talk" button and bellowed "Hold your horses!" before grabbing her coat. As Alex walked her to the door, she directed the ADA's attention to a small table near the door. "Spare keys are in the bowl over there, lock up on your way out. I'll see you tomorrow."

One more heart-racing, body-heating kiss later, Detective Benson was on her way downstairs. Despite the ugliness that she was about to face, the memories of what she'd just shared with Alexandra Cabot brought a grin to her face that was as wide as Manhattan.

Part 5

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