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 arrived at work on Tuesday looking pale and wearing the same clothes she'd left with the day before. Her hair was damp, indicating that she'd had a shower, but the guys quickly deduced that she hadn't had it at her own apartment. She said nothing at all through Cragen's informal roll-call to start the shift for the uniforms still working on what they believed would be the final viable case in the Johnson ring, then she immediately excused herself and said, "I need to go to the locker room to change my shirt."

Unfortunately, Cragen had other plans. "Benson, Stabler, Tutuola, Munch, my office."

They made their way into the office, but all four men stopped to refill their coffee mugs on the way. Olivia looked even paler when the smell of squad room coffee started to fill the office.

"It looks like we'll be breaking in a new ADA very shortly," Cragen said, getting immediately to the point, eliciting male groans and a sickly look from Olivia.

"It took forever to get Novak up to speed. I hope the selection process is more efficient this time," Fin grumbled.

"It had to happen," Munch added philosophically. "We knew Alex was slumming. And the powers that be couldn't have been happy with her twenty-eight per cent close rate."

Four pairs of eyes turned to him. "Think about it: she's a star and they like their stars to have good win-loss records. Average for sex crimes is six per cent. Average for Alex in sex crimes is just under 30. Politically, if they put her in a bureau with a better record of success to begin with, she'll bend the numbers the same way – but with stories they can actually use in the press – not 'man rapes seventy year-old male grocery clerk and eats his dog'." He shrugged. "She's a political goldmine: tall, great body, beautiful, brilliant - she's a DA's wet dream… in a purely professional way, of course."

"She didn't have to volunteer to help out the Unit when Novak moved on," Cragen pointed out, "and Arthur and Liz didn't have to let her."

"She had political capital to spend," Munch said with what passed for passion from the laid-back detective. "She literally lost her life for three years because of the job. She wanted to do something selfless on her return, so do you really think there was the political will to stop her? How would that look in the press?"

"Alex wouldn't go to the press if she didn't get her way," Fin demurred.

"No, she'd have taken Arthur's balls and tied them in a knot with Liz's ovaries," Elliot opined.

"Thanks for the visual, Stabler," Cragen said, not looking happy.

"Sorry, Cap, but you know what I mean. Nobody pushes Cabot around. She was here because she wanted to be here, which means she's leaving because she wants to leave."

Olivia ground her teeth.

"So which bureau is going to be getting the luscious Miss Cabot?" Munch asked. "I'm guessing Major Case or White Collar – something that gets a lot of press time anyway.

"My money's on private practice," Fin decided. "She could probably pull a million-plus a year in one of the big firms."

"Like she needs the money," Elliot smiled.

Cragen scowled. "You're all wrong and I want the speculation to end at the door. Whether she was offered the job for superficial reasons or she demanded a higher profile job, the fact remains that ADA Cabot has accepted the position of Senior AUSA for the District of Columbia and she'll be leaving after sentencing in the cases against the principals in the Johnson mess."

The meeting broke into three male versions of "good for her" and "that's great news" and then Cragen said, "Speak of the devil. I guess you'll get a chance to congratulate the lady in person, because ADA Cabot just walked into the squad."

"Rough night?" Elliot finally had the courage to ask as he and Olivia were the last to walk out of the office. He was dying to know what she and Carmichael had been doing that hadn't allowed time for a trip back to her apartment, especially since he had never really believed that "just friends" line she'd spun the day before.

"I need to go to the locker room and change my shirt," Olivia repeated her earlier statement as though the meeting with Cragen had not happened.

Elliot frowned and put a hand on her arm. "Aren't you going to congratulate…"

"I already did," she interrupted him tersely.

Elliot's eyebrows shot up. He knew that his partner and Alex Cabot were friends, even though Olivia seemed to have recovered from her crush on the ADA. If anything she'd gone a bit in the opposite direction, seeming to deliberately keep her distance when Alex was visiting the squad, but he'd never sensed animosity between them. Her reaction to the news of Alex's imminent departure didn't make any sense. He shrugged. She was female and hung over; no point in trying to understand why she seemed generally pissed off. In his experience as a husband and the father of girls, either fact could be the root cause. He went over to join the group that had surrounded Alex to offer her their congratulations.

Tuesday turned out to be even longer than Monday, but Olivia wasn't surprised to walk into her apartment to find a light on and Alexandra Cabot sitting stiffly on the sofa, as the stack of work she'd brought to occupy her while Olivia predictably delayed their inevitable confrontation sat untouched on the coffee table in front of her. They stared silently at each other and then Olivia walked into the kitchen. Alex didn't follow.

When Olivia eventually emerged, she handed Alex a cup of tea and said, "I need to have a shower and change." She didn't close the bedroom door as she stripped down and Alex noted with a painful knot in her stomach that Olivia had not been wearing panties. It was a more damning observation than the fact that she'd been wearing the same clothes that morning that she'd worn to go out with Abbie Carmichael the day before.

Alex looked down at the tea, a typical, wordless Benson peace offering, and wondered about its significance. Losing Olivia to work was something she'd been marshalling her internal forces to deal with. Losing Olivia to Abbie Carmichael…

She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, inhaling the aroma of the tea and deliberately clearing her mind of the thoughts that threatened to overwhelm her. It was a skill she'd honed since her undergraduate days which helped her to juggle information and decisions calmly. Most people didn't understand the power of even momentary stillness of the mind.

She opened her eyes again when she sensed Olivia's presence and looked up to see the dark-haired detective walking towards her in soft pajama bottoms, a white tank top and bare feet. Olivia smelled faintly of shower gel and her hair looked damp; she also looked pale and tired and a wave of tenderness washed over Alex as she stared at her. While she'd expected to look at Olivia and see nothing except the skin that Abbie might have caressed the night before and the lips she might have kissed, all she felt was the same powerful yearning to be close to Olivia that she always felt when they were together. To be held by her, to listen to words of endearment, comfort, encouragement… love, even if the word was never spoken. Abbie Carmichael couldn't touch that, so if she'd had the pleasure of Olivia's body for one night, it changed nothing between Olivia and Alex.

"Are you ready to talk to me now?" Alex met Olivia's eyes.

Olivia sat down next to her visitor, close enough for her thigh to rest against Alex's denim-clad leg. "I'm not really good with words, Alex, so I don't know what you want me to say." As though unable to help herself, she smoothed her hand down Alex's thigh. "I don't have the words to tell you good-bye, even though I know, without reservation, that your decision to take the job was the right one."

"Why does it have to be good-bye?" Both women were staring straight ahead as Alex asked the question.

"We both know that a long-distance relationship with our schedules would be the same as no relationship at all. Why lie to ourselves?"

"There is another solution, you know," Alex covered the hand on her thigh with her own, "you could come with me. Move to DC."

"And do what?"

"You know that you could get a job with Federal law enforcement…"

Olivia stood up stiffly and walked to the window. "My career with NYPD might not be as high-profile as your stellar legal career, but I've put in almost fourteen years and, despite the best efforts of IAB, I know I'm short-listed for a promotion. You want me to walk away from it like it's no big deal?"

Alex put down the tea, stood up and walked over to her. "Of course it's a big deal, Liv. I know that. And beyond any career aspirations you may have, and I'm sure Captain is within your grasp, I also know how much good you do working directly with victims and how much satisfaction that gives you. In fact, we both know that that would be harder to walk away from than your next promotion."

Olivia silently acknowledged the truth of the statement. SVU had allowed her to work through the issues of her childhood and exorcise her demons in a positive way. She'd relived the horrors of her own family through case after case and by helping other families find peace, she'd found her own. Now she wasn't as emotionally invested in each case, but, if anything, she felt an even greater obligation to continue to help those traumatized victims, because earlier in her tenure on the unit, she'd got as much from her job as she'd given to it, without knowing or acknowledging the benefit to herself. The fact that Alex knew that about her made her heart ache with the magnitude of the loss she now faced. Not even Elliot knew that and he'd worked with her since she'd joined the unit. "So you know what you're asking me to turn away from."

"I know what I'm asking you to turn to. I'm asking you to give us a chance. I've never allowed anybody to be as close to me as you are, Liv and I know how deeply you've allowed me to see into who you are. I'm asking you to turn towards that and not to let it go. It's not the safe thing to do, but nothing about us has been safe."

"And continuing what we have would be even more unsafe for you, have you thought about that? The US Attorney is a political appointee by a conservative administration. If it becomes common knowledge that you're a lesbian, do you honestly think it wouldn't matter?" The words were hard to say, because Olivia didn't want to verbalize yet another reason why their relationship had to end. It so happened that they'd just got to the point where they'd been deciding whom to tell, anyway, which is how she'd come to be introduced to Julia and Brian and why Alex had met her friend Mariah.

"Theodore knows," Alex said quietly and Olivia turned to stare at her, dumbfounded.


"I didn't out you, but I did tell both him and Arthur that I'm happily involved in a lesbian relationship and they needed to be prepared for any fallout from that fact whether I stayed with New York County or went to DC." She met Olivia's eyes. "But before you ask, I'm not asking you to come to DC and be a kept woman or the professional wife of an AUSA. I'm asking you to consider other career options that you have. Options that you haven't had a reason to pursue in the past."

"Alex, I'm going to be forty years old next year…"

Alex smiled faintly. "All the career magazines will tell you that it's the perfect time for a change." Her smile faded and she looked seriously at Olivia's downcast eyes. "I know how much you do and how good you are at your job, so I can't possibly tell you that I'm positive that you'd be doing the right thing by leaving – only that I don't want to lose you and what we have." She reached out and cupped Olivia's cheek. "You might not know how to say good-bye to me, but I've got a worse problem: I'm not ready to say good-bye to you. So if you really want this to be over, you're going to have to help me…"

Olivia looked up at her and tears spilled out of her wide brown eyes. "I wouldn't know where to start," she admitted hoarsely. "I only know that, for the sake of self-preservation, I have to find a way to accept the fact that you're leaving."

Neither seemed to move, but a split second later they were in each other's arms. Surprisingly, despite the desperate emotion of the preceding conversation, there was only tenderness in the embrace. Their kisses were slow and sweet and when, by mutual consent, they made their way to Olivia's bedroom, their lovemaking was almost silent. The absence of words seemed only to intensify the sensations.

Emotion and sexual compulsion drew them together so that they felt as though neither could survive their being wrenched apart. Love flared between them; a love so strong that it seemed to consume them, leaving them tearful and spent as their breathing slowed and Alex pulled up the covers to preserve the warmth from their lovemaking.

It was almost six when Alex woke up. She wasn't surprised to find that she was alone. Running shorts that hung on the edge of the laundry basket alerted her to the fact that Olivia had returned from her run and showered, but Olivia's gun and badge were not in the bedside drawer and the detective's favorite leather coat wasn't on the coat rack where she'd hung it the night before.

The apartment felt painfully empty without the presence of her lover - ex-lover? - and Alex didn't linger. She had a quick shower, blow-dried her hair and got ready for work, but she didn't take the previous day's clothes with her. She refused to act as though their affair was over, just because her job was about to turn Olivia's life upside down or force them to live hundreds of miles apart. Neither had asked for this, but they both needed to face it, if what they had was worth saving – and she believed it was.

Olivia would probably go back to ignoring her, even after last night, and her Texan competition, Carmichael, would be at Fin's party on Saturday, but Alex was not going to walk away without a fight. She believed in what she had with Olivia Benson and she was going to do everything in her power to keep her.



"Knock knock"

"Who's there?"


"Boo who?"

"No need to cry about it!"

Olivia clicked the mouse and another face showed up on the screen, she forced herself to concentrate on the small, innocent features in yet another school photo as she tried to match up her six-year old dumpster victim with a missing child while, at the same time, dreading the moment when she found a match because then she'd have to tell a mother that her child was dead. That her child had been brutally killed.

"Knock knock…"

She wished she could stop thinking about the drive back from Westport on Sunday, when she'd tortured Alex with knock knock jokes. She wished she could stop thinking about the laughter and the teasing; about the intimacy of the interior of Alex's new Lexus that had smelled of leather and her lover's perfume.

"You know, my grandmother had blue eyes."


"So, if we could have a child, there's a fifty/fifty chance it would have blue eyes like you."



"She. We'd have a girl. And she would have brown eyes."


"It's my fantasy, so it has to conform to my rules. And in my fantasy, my child has your eyes. Simple as that."

"Any luck?" Elliot was looking over his partner's shoulder.

"Don't know if you'd call it bad luck, but haven't found a match so far. What about you?" He'd been following up on a report from Social Services that a six-year old with a history of being abused had disappeared from his foster home.

"If they'd just found a photo of the kid, it would have saved me a trip to Brooklyn. Kid ran away. He was hiding in the school cafeteria – had been there for two nights. He looked nothing like our John Doe."

She nodded and went back to clicking and looking.

"So, Miss Cabot, any other odd fantasies you want to share with me?"

"You think Daria is odd?"


"My daughter."

"Maybe it's not hereditary and she'll be fine."

"Anyway, don't get too nervous. I still want a seat on the Federal bench despite that black triangle I will soon have tattooed on my forehead, so I have no intention of demanding that you throw away your birth control pills and impregnate me any time soon."

"Do you really want kids?"

"I don't think so, but I have friends who used to say that and changed their minds. Right now I want you. We love our jobs and I have a hard enough time sharing you with your mistress, the NYPD. I don't want to share you with a child. Well, maybe Daria, because she's imaginary."

Only one hundred and fifty-seven files to go.

"You take my breath away, Olivia Benson."

"And there are some days, Alexandra Cabot, when I think you give me mine."

Olivia clicked again and another face flashed up on the screen. She stopped. The face was the same, even though the skin in the photograph had not been mottled by death and the eyes shone a clear hazel. "Benjamin Jefferson." She said under her breath. "I'm sorry to have met you."

"Is being a Federal judge your only other fantasy?"

"Oh, that's not a fantasy, Detective Benson, that's just a career goal. To answer your question, I have several other fantasies and a few of them feature Patrol Officer Benson in a sexy blue uniform."

"With a night stick, no doubt."

"Night, day, baby, I'm not really fussy."

"Well, some of those can move out of the realm of fantasy without jeopardizing your seat on the bench."

"You still have your uniform?"

"Mm hmm, and unlike most Detective Grade ones I know, I can still fit into it and do up all the buttons."

"I was thinking more along the lines of your undoing the buttons… to music."


"Joe Cocker. 'Leave Your Hat On'."

"God, Alex, that's not a very original fantasy."

"Really? How many people have you stripped for to the tune of 'Leave Your Hat On'?"

"None – yet. But that doesn't mean I haven't been asked."

"Doesn't count. I'll be your first."

"Stop speeding."

"I now have a powerful incentive for us to get back to your place as soon as possible."

"ADA's should not willfully break the law."

"Between the two of us, we must know somebody who can fix a speeding ticket – and that's if the trooper still gives me one after he sees your badge."

"You think I'd flash tin to get you out of a speeding ticket after I specifically asked you to slow down?"

"Of course. Because you know you want to get home and start turning fantasy into reality as much as I do."

"You are a very naughty ADA."

"You've barely had a taste of my naughtiness, Detective. But I intend to rectify that."

She pulled up the full file and started matching details to the M.E.'s records of her John Doe. The more she read the less doubt there was that the child who'd been last seen in the food court of a mall at 34th and 6th was not ever going to go home to Lorena Jefferson of East 1st Street, who'd turned her back on her six year-old, because her toddler had thrown her toy at another table, knocking over a drink. The mother's account indicated that she'd only looked away for about a minute or two and her son had been occupied with his burger, so she hadn't dragged him the six feet or so she'd gone to help clean up after her other child. When she'd turned back to the table, her son had been gone.

Olivia wished she didn't have such a clear picture in her head of how the woman would take the news: inconsolable with grief and self-recrimination, she might scream to drown out the sound of what Olivia was saying, or she might go mute and weak, shrinking under the weight of it. There was seldom a reaction in the middle of the spectrum and that was before the parents recovered enough to demand that their child's rapist, torturer and killer be caught and punished, because they'd managed to persuade themselves that it would help. The irony was that, while catching the killer seldom helped, not catching him seemed to amplify the grief of shattered families. People talked about a win/win situation, her job too often resulted in a lose/lose-more situation. "And I'm about to walk into yet another one," she muttered, rubbing her temple as a headache threatened.

"I can't move, I think I'm paralyzed."

"Give yourself a few minutes. Multiple orgasms tend to sap your energy."

"You're an inexhaustible source of invaluable information…"

"Yeah, I know. And you can trust me, I'm a police officer."

"So how come you're not wearing a uniform?"

"I'm wearing the hat. And I have a night stick."

"Is that NYPD standard issue? Hmm… I never knew they came in that particular shape or that they fitted so neatly into a harness."

"It's experimental equipment. I had to buy it at a special store. Only the most talented officers get issued one of these."

"You'll get no argument from me. I am a limp testament to your talent. But I have one more question."

"You're sounding an awful lot like a lawyer…"

"I'd like to invoke my Fifth Amendment rights…"

"Definitely a lawyer. Do you know what we do to lawyers around here, Counselor?"

"I think I remember. And I think I liked it... In fact, I think that's the most amazing thing about being together with you like this…. We're nothing alike, but when it comes to what we want, we just… gel. You feel everything I feel; you want everything I want."

Well, that wasn't strictly true. Alex wanted a high-flying job in Washington DC and Olivia wanted… She looked helplessly at the screen and lively hazel eyes seemed to look expectantly back at her. "I want justice for you, Benjamin Jefferson, even though I know that I might work your case for months and the odds are only one in five that anybody will be arrested and less than one in ten that he'll be convicted."

"Do you have a match?" Elliot had overheard her talking to the image on her screen.

"Looks like it, but we'll have to interview the parents to be sure. They live on 2nd Avenue and 1st Street."

Elliot got up and reached for his jacket, but his partner made no move to rise. "You ok?" he asked.

"Just tired. Tired of breaking bad news without being able to offer much hope of resolution. Tired of being the first witness to grief."

"Comes with the job," Elliot said unnecessarily.

"Some days the job sucks."

"You should take some time off."

"I was off last weekend. When last did you have two weekends off in a row?"

"I've had that a lot more than you have. You've covered for me more times than I could ever repay, Liv. If the case is getting to you, I think the Cap will understand. You've been putting in more time and effort on the Johnson ring than anyone else and you deserve a break."

"I'll think about it," she said wearily, as she rose slowly from her chair and slung her jacket over one shoulder. But she knew she wouldn't. She knew that time off was the last thing she needed. Time off would mean time to brood. She'd rather stay at work and focus on other people's misery than go home and face her own.

"At least you're not catching Saturday night or Sunday, so you'll be able to enjoy Fin's party."

"Yeah," she said noncommittally, immediately starting, and failing, to think of a good excuse for not going to the celebration of her friend's engagement.



The apartment was in an Art Deco building near Grand Army Plaza. They'd spent almost a year renovating it, removing decades of paint from the molded ceilings and installing gleaming cherry hardwood floors. Each had sold an existing Brooklyn apartment to buy this one, Fin's had been in Cobble Hill, an area where property values had quadrupled since he'd bought his place, and Shanai had sold a loft in Brooklyn Heights. The plan had always been that when their home was ready they'd get married. Neither saw any possibility of their relationship ending, so they'd decided that they might as well make it official.

As they'd gone over the guest list for the party, she'd remarked, "Odafin, you realize that almost all your friends are cops?"

"Three of them are lawyers – and Tariq and Marlene do some banking thing on Wall Street. Oh yeah, and Malcolm is a mechanic and Jay manages that restaurant on Flatbush."

"Malcolm and Jay are your cousins and the lawyers work with the cops, which leaves two people, Tariq and Marlene, who are brokers. And I was the one who introduced you to Tariq!"

"Nature of the job, I guess. Not too many people can relate to what cops do." He kissed her. "Which is why I feel so lucky."

The doorbell rang twenty minutes after the time that had been stated on the invitations and over the next half hour there was an influx of guests. The weather was still foul, so initial conversation tended to focus on that, but it wasn't long before alcohol and laughter started to flow among the guests, many of whom had met each other at Fin and Shanai's Kwaanza party the year before.

"You know," Munch said to his partner, gesturing with a pink cocktail decorated with a Maraschino cherry, "this is an extraordinarily good-looking party."

"That's what happens when you marry a woman who's a fashion executive and former model. Many of her friends and co-workers just happen to be genetically gifted."

"Speaking of gifted, is that AUSA Carmichael hovering by the door?"

"Wow," Fin replied. "I think I need to play host."

"Just remember, you're an almost-married man."

"Just because I'm happy with my purchase, doesn't mean I can't admire what's on display in the window. Besides, I don't think Abbie bats for our team."

Abbie Carmichael's hair was loose and fell in shiny dark waves down to her waist. Her black jeans rode low on her hips and black boots with killer heels showed off her long legs. The shiny red top she wore with the jeans emphasized her exotic coloring and as she caught sight of Fin, she smiled, revealing the deep dimples that combined with her large dark eyes to lend a mysterious innocence to her features. "Shame," Munch said sadly, sipping his drink.

"Sorry I'm late, but I got directions from Benson, who obviously has not visited you since you moved here."

"She was here last December when we were in the middle of renovations but decided to have a party anyway. Although she did kill a few brain cells that night, so it's no wonder her memory is a little messed up. Come on in, let me introduce you to my fiancée and get you a drink – not necessarily in that order."

Shanai had just handed Abbie off to other friends at the makeshift bar, a glass of wine firmly in the AUSA's hand, when the door, which had been left ajar, opened again. She and Fin both wandered over to greet their newest guest and they both hesitated for just a beat when Alexandra Cabot walked in. A superficial description would have been that she was wearing a little black dress that came to mid-thigh, but that description would not have done justice to how the dress draped over her slim body without flattening out her curves or how the spaghetti straps showed off surprisingly strong shoulders. The long curve of her neck was emphasized by a teardrop diamond suspended from a delicate platinum chain and by the way her hair had been swept up and secured with a black comb.

"Alex, you look gorgeous," Fin said, honestly, kissing the ADA on both cheeks. "You remember Shanai?"

"Thank you and of course I do. Congratulations to both of you." She kissed Shanai.

"You smell lovely," Shanai smiled warmly at the blonde, "and I'm pretty good with perfumes, but I don't recognize it."

"It was blended for me," Alex looked embarrassed at the admission.

"Well, it certainly works – as does the dress. Not many women have the legs for it. Rodriguez should pay you to wear his clothes."


Fin was surprised to see Cabot literally blush. "Come on in, Alex. For some reason the SVU contingent keeps gathering near the bar, so you'll see some familiar faces if you step this way." They were about to turn towards the bar when the door opened again to admit Olivia Benson.

Alex had just been mentally agreeing that she could use a drink. Olivia had refused to return her telephone calls for the last three days and although she hoped that the detective was too guarded about her private life to make an issue of it, she'd steeled herself for the sight of the detective consoling herself in the arms of AUSA Carmichael because she perceived that Alex was choosing a job over their relationship.

Alex had known that she was running late, so she'd been hoping to slip in unnoticed when the party was in full swing and just observe her fellow guests from the sidelines, thereby minimizing her humiliation if she had to watch Abbie and Olivia interact as lovers. A quick glance around the room had indicated that, unless she was in the toilet or hiding in the kitchen, Olivia was not at the party and Abbie was being crowded by three men with hopeful expressions. Alex was disappointed and relieved and about to accept the offer of a drink, when Olivia Benson walked in wearing a bronze top that seemed to have been sprayed on to her upper body, freshly cropped and spiked hair, dramatic, bold makeup and, god help everyone with a pulse, chocolate-colored leather pants.

Their eyes met and held and Alex felt herself get wet. Her nipples tightened against the fabric of the Narciso Rodriguez dress that Shanai had admired, her lips parted and she said nothing.

Olivia's lashes lowered and her eyes traveled over Alex's body even as greetings were exchanged with the hosts and Fin teased her about her tardiness.

"Sorry," Olivia joked, turning her full attention to Fin, "but when I realized I'd given the wrong directions to Carmichael, I thought it would be downright reckless to get here before she did, so I've been walking around the neighborhood for half an hour."

"I hope you didn't cause any traffic accidents," Alex murmured.

Fin and Shanai laughed. "Yes, that is one very sexy outfit, Detective Benson," Shanai agreed.

"Thank you. Am I the last to arrive?"

"Nah, my cousin, who doesn't live more than three blocks away, still hasn't shown his face, but that's typical," Fin reassured her, "not to mention we have another tardy lawyer and her date."

"And four of my friends called to say they're running late and having trouble finding a parking spot, so you're fine," Shanai added.

Fin was impeccable in his role as host, even if he'd noticed the heated look exchanged by his coworker and their ADA. Interesting, he thought. "Come on in, ladies, let me get you your first drink and then it's strictly a self-service bar. I have to go and get the music together. So let this be your first warning to get your dancing feet ready."

The two women were quickly engulfed in the room full of friends and friends of friends and then the noise level got even higher as a sultry dance beat emanated from speakers in the corner of the living room. Before they'd said a private word to each other, Abbie Carmichael was kissing Olivia's cheek and hugging her. Alex watched the brief molding of their bodies as their slender arms wrapped around each other, curves and hollows pressed together, and she was at once increasingly aroused and slightly annoyed. She hated that they looked so hot together.

She was still working on hiding what she knew to be jealousy when Olivia was whisked away by Shanai to be introduced to someone else and Abbie turned to her. "Hi Alex," she said in that raspy voice. "I understand you'll be joining the team. Welcome." She reached out her hand and Alex took it. Their fingers clasped and Abbie smiled at the ADA. There was nothing but warmth in her expression and there was something endearingly idiosyncratic about the deep cleft in the chin of such a conventionally pretty face.

"Thank you," Alex said, feeling uncomfortable. She wanted to dislike the AUSA, but she'd been working with her for weeks and had developed a certain rapport and a degree of professional and personal respect for the Texan. She was finding it impossible to erase that just because Olivia had had the chance to verify Serena's claim that the woman was good in bed.

As if sensing her ambivalence, Abbie grinned and squeezed her hand. "You worry too much, Alex, and you hide it too well. It wouldn't hurt anything to just let go, you know?"

"Abbie, can you settle an argument for us, please?" Munch's voice broke into the exchange. "Tariq here doesn't believe that the Federal government is blocking an investigation into health problems experienced by people who worked on the World Trade Center site because they don't want it revealed that there was a munitions dump in the level below the PATH station."

"A what?" Abbie had obviously not been exposed to Munch's more exotic conspiracy theories.

"Well, I can't blame him," Munch explained, "he and his wife work in the area and they've probably been exposed, too, but…"

"Hold on," Abbie said, being sucked in despite herself and Alex almost smiled. She knew from experience that it would take Abbie at least ten minutes to extricate herself from the "debate".

"Alex," the word, spoken softly in her ear, made Alex close her eyes and suppress a shiver.

She didn't turn around because she didn't want to have to deal with the impact of the way Olivia looked tonight. "You haven't returned my calls."

"I thought it would make it easier. But it didn't." Alex couldn't help herself; she turned. And then she found herself trapped by an anguished brown gaze. They stood inches apart, but she felt as though Olivia was physically touching her as she continued speaking. "You look so beautiful and you smell so delicious that I want to lick every pulse point where you've applied that damn perfume. I want to hold you tight and pretend it's last Saturday again and we have a whole day left to spend together and that we can still talk about forever. And I want to be so deep inside of you…"

"Liv…" The rush of arousal was twice as powerful as it had been by the door.

"Don't say you don't feel it, because I saw the way your nipples looked against your dress. Don't pretend that you're not wet for me right now."

Alex closed her eyes, unable to deny the truth of Olivia's declaration. "Why are you doing this? You ignore me and then you gloat about your power over me?"

"The last thing I'm in any condition to do is gloat. I didn't return your calls, but I missed you… so much." The sentence ended on a whisper.

"Olivia! Hey, about time you showed up." Olivia loved Elliot, really she did, but his timing could not have been worse.

"Hi, Elliot. Where's Kathy?" Olivia looked around curiously, mainly because she hoped her partner's wife would come and rescue her.

A cloud seemed to pass over Elliot's face. "She, uh, couldn't make it." He didn't meet her eyes.

Olivia knew immediately that her partner and his wife had had another fight. And it must have been a pretty serious fight for her to have made a last-minute decision to miss the party. Kathy was too polite and liked Fin too much to make that decision casually. Olivia was torn. She desperately wanted to speak to Alex – she hadn't been joking about missing her. While it was true that they only managed an entire night together once a week or less, they did speak frequently, send each other silly or sexual text messages and share a meal together every couple of days, even if the "meal" was from the catering truck outside the court house.

"Was it really bad?" she asked Elliot, putting a sympathetic hand on his arm.

Alex had sensed something serious about the conversation between the partners and stepped away to give them privacy, so she was immediately commandeered by one of the horny men who'd been hitting on Abbie earlier. Olivia knew he was from Narcotics and considered himself to be God's gift to womankind. She forced herself to focus on Elliot, who was dipping his head in an affirmative response to her question. "Some guy she dated while we were separated called her this afternoon. I… didn't react well."

Alex was dancing with the Narcotics detective to the song "Rumors" by Timex Social Club and Olivia took perverse satisfaction in noting that he was dancing out of time with the music. To make it worse, the asshole was actually singing along to the song and Olivia relaxed. No matter what that windbag said, he was in no danger of winning over Alexandra Cabot and whisking her off to Bensonhurst with him tonight. If anything, she thought that Alex would welcome a rescue attempt, but she looked at Elliot's hangdog expression and said instead, "Come on. Let's find somewhere to sit."

Shanai was setting up a buffet that looked suitable for a Roman orgy, "Half of it's catered," she explained at the awed looks on the partners' faces as they walked in. The far corner of the dining room was deserted and the music provided privacy for their conversation. They shared a window ledge and Elliot immediately said, "I know I was wrong, but now I don't know what to do about it. I can't unsay the things I said."

"Tell me what happened and maybe when I understand, I can help you to find a way to make Kathy understand. She knows you're not perfect and that you're both capable of making mistakes, so how you deal with the mistake probably matters more than the fact that you made it."

Elliot smiled wryly. "You know, I think you've done more to save my marriage than I have, Liv."

Yeah, well, I figure one of us should have a relationship that lasts. "It's what friends do."

"All I'm saying is that whoever she is, she's lucky to have you."

Olivia blinked and looked away briefly, but said nothing.



By the time dinner was served, Alex was feeling as though her earlier exchange with Olivia had never happened. She'd decided to take Fin's advice and put on her proverbial dancing shoes. She didn't want to be moping about and pining for Olivia when Olivia hadn't paid any attention to her from the time Elliot had interrupted their conversation. The music was fun and she never wanted for a dance partner. If she secretly longed to watch Olivia moving to the beat it was a longing she successfully ignored… for the most part. She knew that Olivia would be a good dancer – the woman was wonderfully physical and Alex knew from recent experience that her dark-haired detective could keep a rhythm going for long enough to make her wake up the neighbors.

Some of the music was unfamiliar, but the driving beat was made for dancing and she found it worked unexpectedly well as a distraction from the anxiety and pain of the pending separation from Olivia. Even if she managed to persuade herself that the separation would be temporary and Olivia would see that coming with her was the right thing to do, the knowledge that at best they'd be apart for weeks or even months was like a deep painful wound that bled whenever it was touched.

It wasn't until she joined the line forming for the buffet that she caught sight of Olivia again, deep in conversation with Elliot as they sat close together on a windowsill on the far side of the dining room. The music had changed to Fin's "old school throw-down" version of dinner music, which was a series of Motown and Philly classics and Alex tried to ignore the lyrics while making polite conversation with the good-humored people who were on either side of her as they tried to choose from the selection of food on display.

"I don't know when last I heard 'Heartbeat' by Taana Gardner," a man who'd been introduced as "Gavin", remarked. Gavin was gorgeous with a chiseled jaw, cleft chin and smooth skin the color of dark chocolate.

"I remember, but that was before I met you, so I'm not going to get into what it reminds me of," his partner replied with a cheeky grin. His partner, Allen, was equally beautiful, with Olive skin and big dark eyes that would have been stunning even on a woman. They'd met on a photo shoot eight years earlier when they'd both been models and Alex had been chatting to them quite a lot that evening. She'd been anxious about Fin finding out about her and Olivia since he always struck her as ultra-macho and Olivia had mentioned that he hadn't been thrilled to find out that his son was gay, so she was still adjusting to the fact that several of his friends were gay.

"I have to admit that I didn't recognize a lot of the music, even though I loved dancing to it," Alex told them.

"And you weren't bad, for a white girl," Allen flashed his cheeky grin again. He'd been her dance partner for several songs. "But you're probably too young to have gone clubbing to the tracks that were playing earlier like Africa Bambaata and Cheryl Lynn."

"I'm over thirty," she objected. "And I recognized Paul Hardcastle and Salt n' Pepa…"

Both men found this funny. "We're over forty, darling," Gavin said, making Alex gasp. She stared at him and then at Allen, looking for a sign of advancing age on either man, but there wasn't a wrinkle anywhere, although Gavin's head was shaved so he might have been balding.

"Good skin care products," Allen explained conspiratorially, "and a touch of hair dye, in my case, but let's make that our little secret."

Unable to help herself, Alex laughed and when she looked around she was staring into the angry brown eyes of Olivia Benson.

"Enjoying the party, Counselor?" Olivia asked mildly.

"I'm being pleasantly distracted from real life by these two gentlemen. Olivia, I'd like you to meet Gavin and Allen." She gestured towards Olivia and said deliberately, "This is my girlfriend, my partner, my lover and the light of my life, Olivia Benson."

"Pleased to meet you, Olivia Benson," Gavin said, flashing a blindingly white smile at Olivia. "You have excellent taste in women."

"Th-thank you. Pleased to meet you." Olivia was clearly stunned by the introduction, but the two men probably thought she was just shy.

"Oh my god, you are hot," Allen decided, allowing his eyes to travel the length of Olivia's body. "Mind you, that Alex is a very, very nice as well. Honey, I hope you two make your own movies to remind yourselves of what physical perfection looked like in your younger days." Olivia felt the tips of her ears burning red and Alex's mouth fell open. "I know that we have," he added, earning himself a playful slap from the clearly more conservative Gavin.

There was a flurry of activity as the last guest to arrive was brought around to be introduced to anyone she didn't know. Gavin and Allen turned away from Alex and Olivia to get their food, but the two women stared with fascination towards the opposite side of the room as they witnessed the first meeting between Serena Southerlyn and Abbie Carmichael in four years.

"I didn't know you were in town," Serena admitted, when Shanai had withdrawn and left them "to catch up".

"And I didn't know you were going to be here tonight." Abbie's husky voice raised goose bumps on Serena's arms and she averted her bright blue eyes, lowering her head and allowing honey blond hair to partially obscure her face.

"Would you have stayed away from the party if you'd known?"

"I'm not the one who has a record of avoiding contact with you, Serena. We both know it was the other way around."

For a while no words were spoken as they half-faced each other in a polite stand-off. They watched people pile food onto plates and listened as Marvin Gaye talked about 'Inner City Blues'. Eventually Serena said flatly, "I didn't want to be another notch on your belt."

Even in the dim light, Abbie visibly paled. "How could you think that? How could you think that after that night…?" Then her frown smoothed and a mask of cool understanding came across her face, but it didn't quite hide the hurt in her dark eyes. "I guess for you it was nothing special."

Serena turned to face her. "There's no way you believe that!"

Abbie leaned closer to her so that her husky voice could not be overheard, even though the chances were slim because they were alone near the bar. "Let's examine the evidence, shall we? It's the night before I leave for Washington and we have dinner together. We laugh and talk and I feel an attraction so strong I think I'll die if I don't kiss you. You seem to feel it too and when I invite you to my hotel room, you agree. We sleep a total of maybe an hour and I experience what at worst could be described as the best sex of my life. And at best… well…" She swallowed and her eyes burned with anger. "At dawn I fall asleep and when I wake up less than an hour later you're gone. No note, no voicemail message. As if it had been a wham bam that didn't live up to the need for a thank-you-ma'am."

"That's not what happened."

"So, I tried to call you," Abbie continued, as though Serena had not objected, "but you didn't return my calls. I must have called a dozen times, but I know the law against stalking in New York and I know when I'm not wanted, although I'd apparently misread the signals earlier, so I stopped calling. And now you accuse me of being the one who avoids you?"

"I left because I couldn't be casual about it," Serena said flatly. "When we first met, you said you were happily single. And that night was so good… so unbelievable, that I knew that if you asked me, wanted me again, there was no way I'd say no. But I also knew that I couldn't handle a… I didn't want to be your fuck-buddy, ok?" With that she turned on her heel and headed for the bathroom, leaving Abbie staring after her with a stunned look on her face.

After Alex and Olivia witnessed what for them had been a silent tableau, Abbie walked over to them and said firmly, "Olivia, will you please dance with me?"

Sensing that Abbie needed to release nervous energy after what seemed to have been an intense exchange with her ex, Olivia excused herself and they made their way to the dance floor. It was almost empty, but Aretha Franklin invited them to "Rock Steady" and Olivia found it easy to fall into the rhythm. "You know," she said to Abbie over the music, "now there is no way in hell that Alex isn't going to believe that we slept together."

"Do her good to have some competition, although god knows that the thought of competition seems to have backfired with my former ADA."

"Serena thought you cheated on her?"

"Cheated would imply that there was some sort of commitment. She thought she'd have to stand in line to get to my bedroom, so she didn't bother." She smiled ruefully at Olivia, "Doesn't do much for my ego to think I wasn't worth the wait."

"Maybe she thought she wasn't going to measure up to the competition."

"That's just it. There wasn't any competition. She was everything I wanted from the second I touched her."

"I know what you mean," Olivia said, feeling a familiar ache in her heart.

"I won't lie, Olivia. I've been anything but a saint in the last four years, but it's been just sex, as it would have been with you if we'd both decided to fuck our favorite lawyers out of our heads for a few hours."

"Does it work?" Olivia asked seriously.

"Yeah, it does. But a few hours at a time makes for a lot of lonely space that feels even lonelier when the person you use as a distraction doesn't quite get why they'll never get anything more from you than affection and an orgasm."

Suddenly, Olivia pictured her future without Alex and she didn't like the images that sprang to mind.

Abbie read her expression and smiled wryly. "You and Alex better sort yourselves out. It was hard enough for me after just one night with her. I don't want to imagine what I'd have gone through if I'd had to deal with months of memories; years, if you count all that unfulfilled longing from before Alex was shot." Her smile widened. "So d'you want to drive her wild with jealousy tonight?"

Olivia looked apprehensive. "She has a really bad temper, Abbie. Last time you made her jealous she…" Her eyes widened as she remembered Alex's efforts to ensure that she said no to Abbie. The only problem was that she thought it hadn't worked and that Olivia had spent the night in Abbie's bed.

"Well, at least dance another song. It's all perfectly innocent, isn't it?" Without waiting for an answer, she pulled Olivia closer as Al Green started singing "Tired of Being Alone" to a hypnotic, rocking rhythm. Since it felt good to move to the beat against the AUSA's slim body, Olivia shrugged mentally, smiled at Abbie and went with the feeling.

A few more couples drifted on to the dance floor and most other members of the SVU squad seemed to have taken their food and sprawled on the chairs that had been pulled into a cluster at one end of the room to make room for dancing. Alex watched the migration and knew the location had been chosen because they were enjoying the spectacle of Olivia and Abbie dancing together.

As George McCrae began to sing "Rock Your Baby" and the two brunettes continued to dance, Alex's hold on her temper snapped. She was about to stalk out onto the dance floor when a voice next to her said, "I hear a rumor from Fin that you and Olivia are an item."

Stunned, Alex turned to face Serena Southerlyn's serious gaze. "How…?"

"He was trying to make me feel better about that." She gestured toward the only female couple on the floor. "You'd think that after four years of no contact I'd be past locking myself in bathrooms because she smiled at someone else."

"Well, what do you say we go and break up the little floor show?" She looked over at the male SVU detectives who were practically salivating as they stared at their colleague and the AUSA.

The two blond attorneys smiled at each other and made their way through the couples on the dance floor. "We'd like to cut in," Serena said, with more confidence than she felt.

Olivia looked even more surprised than Abbie when she saw Alex standing next to Serena. "Does this mean you forgive me for not calling back?" she asked as Abbie and Serena danced away from them. Alex said nothing, but she put her hands lightly on Olivia's waist and more by will than force, pulled her closer. Olivia wrapped her arms around the ADA. As their bodies pressed together, she sighed. She couldn't believe the emotional rush she got from feeling the way they fitted together and absorbing the warmth of Alex's body. "You feel so good," she murmured into Alex's neck.

Alex made a sound that was halfway between a sigh and a whimper. "I didn't know I could get so much satisfaction from just feeling someone's body against mine. From just being in someone's arms. I can hardly believe this is real – or that it has to end.

"When I accepted the job, I know it would make things difficult for us. I never allowed myself to think that it could break us up…"

"And when you hold me I can't even think about not seeing you again," Olivia replied softly. "When you hold me I think I'll do anything to keep what we have."

They weren't dancing, but as they stood with their arms around each other, the music changed and Gladys Knight's distinctive voice wrapped around them. Neither could avoid listening to the lyrics and without a word being said, they began to move slowly to the music.

I know that we both talked it over

And said it's best to forget

We'll leave all our memories behind us

It's better ended and yet

Alex put one arm over Olivia's shoulder and tangled her fingers in Olivia's hair.

So sad the song

Of two empty lives

When that moment of truth

Suddenly arrives

Olivia's hand splayed in the small of Alex's back, pressing their bodies together.

And so sad the song

Of what might have been

To see a lifetime of dreams

Scattered in the wind


We belong together

Never was that one lovely word

Easier to say

"I love you," Alex said. "I love you so much, Liv."

And so sad the song

Of just remembering when

Knowing the love of your life

Will never come again

So sad the song

That says goodbye

Olivia moved her head back so she could look directly at Alex and a smile spread slowly across her face and her expression of joy and wonder made her look so beautiful that Alex's breath caught in her throat.


We belong together

And I'll love you forever

On that you can rely

Olivia's smile faded, to be replaced with a slightly anxious frown. "And you know I love you, don't you? That I've known I love you since the night I felt your blood pouring out through my fingers? That I've loved you for so long that my love feels like a part of me… like my arm or my eye or my heart…"

So would it be wrong

To give our love

Just one more try

So sad the song

That says goodbye...

(So sad the song)

That says goodbye...

"Then can you promise me something? Can you promise me that you won't decide now about ending it with me? That you'll take a month off and spend it with me and decide then?"

"A month?" The music changed and Teddy Pendergrass was demanding than someone 'Turn off the Lights' but neither woman heard him.

"I'll be taking a month off between jobs," Alex explained. "Spend it with me and then if you want us to go our separate ways I swear I'll accept it. But at least let us have some time together and give this love we feel a chance to live before we ask it to die."


"Will understand after tonight. The news about our relationship will go through the DA's office and NYPD like wildfire, so just tell him what you want. You never ask for anything special, Liv. You've been through hell a few times without ever asking for time for yourself. So please…"

"Don't. Don't beg me to do something that's as much for me as for you."

"You'll do it?"


Part 22

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