DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and all characters are property of NBC and Dick Wolf. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Takes place shortly after Ghost. A very special thank you to Debbie for taking on the job of beta for this fic as well as the 22 others and especially for agreeing to write her specialty, Birds of Prey, as part of this 24 fandom series. Thanks, Deb, I truly do appreciate it.
CHALLENGE: Written for the first International Day of Femslash.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Other Side of the World
By Ann


Detective Olivia Benson sat ramrod straight in her desk chair, the rest of the squad room going about their daily business and not giving her a second glance. Her dark eyes remained steadily focused on the middle drawer of her desk, almost as if she was willing it to open of its own accord. Finally, she gripped the handle and eased it open to reveal a shiny badge that had become a permanent fixture in the drawer ever since Alex's 'death.'

Staring down at the gold shield, the detective ever so slowly took it in her hand, its leather case fitting snuggly in her palm. Alex had given away everything – her home, her life, her family, her job, and her lover – she'd sacrificed her world, her entire being, for the sake of justice. Now, she'd come back to right another wrong, to insure a killer wouldn't go free, to face the man who'd been directly responsible for wrecking her world. And her sole reward for her testimony? Another life in yet another unnamed city.

Olivia closed her fist and squeezed hard. At that particular moment, she hated who she was and what she stood for. The system had failed. It'd taken Alex away from her again. For a second time, her heart had been ripped from her body, and Olivia wasn't sure she'd be able to survive. Tossing the badge back into the drawer, she slammed it closed and pushed to her feet, before walking to her captain's office with a determined stride. She needed to get away and regroup. It was time to finally put her hopes and dreams away and move on.

Majestic mountain tops, reaching up into to the clear blue sky, slowly came into view from the airplane's window, but the passenger didn't seem to notice the beauty spread out before her. Instead, her thoughts held her attention captive, not allowing her to enjoy the breathtaking scenery before her. Her memory of her conversation with Captain Cragen replayed in her head.

"I'm requesting two weeks vacation, effective next Friday." Olivia had marched into Cragen's office and made her demands without as much as a blink of an eye, drawing a concerned look from her superior.

"What's this about, Olivia?"

"My mother and I always talked about going to Italy." Olivia had lied smoothly. In actuality, it had been she and Alex who'd had the conversation. "My family has roots in Palermo, and I'd like to go while I'm still young enough to make the trip."

"Young enough?" Cragen motioned for Olivia to take a seat, but the detective declined, refusing to lose her focus.

"Captain, I'd like to take this vacation now."

"Is this about Alex?"

"What?" Olivia had been caught off-guard by Cragen's question, but she quickly regained her composure, still able to tell her lie with a straight face. "I can promise you this has absolutely nothing to do with Alex."

"Okay, if you're sure. Fill out the proper paperwork and leave it on my desk. I'll sign it this afternoon."

"Thanks." Olivia turned and quickly walked from the room before the captain had a chance to change his mind. She's known from Cragen's expression she hadn't fooled him, but it hadn't mattered. Her vacation had been approved.

Olivia started when the wheels of the airplane touched down on the runway with a hard bump, and she turned her focus back inside the plane to note a few people had already undone their seatbelts and were scurrying around to the overhead compartments. Not in any hurry to get anywhere anytime soon, she just looked back out the window.

Two hours later, Olivia strolled into the lobby of Hotel Joli, an elegant residence which had been converted to a luxurious hotel. Located in the heart of Palermo, it had been all Alex had talked about and had also been the topic of many heated debates, but Olivia no longer cared about the exorbitant cost that she'd fought over with her lover. She was bound and determined to carry out every facet of the trip Alex had planned to the letter. If she was going to face the reality that her lover would more than likely never return to her, she was going to do it in style.

The ding of the elevator caught her attention, and she glanced over just in time to see the back of a blonde as she entered the car. Olivia froze and stared – the woman was just the right height and build, but the hair length was wrong. Squinting, she tried to make out the face of the hotel's guest, but a tall man stepped into the elevator, just as the blonde was turning, effectively cutting off Olivia's view. Shaking her head, she chalked it up to her overactive imagination of conjuring up an image of Alex to go along with her recent thoughts and walked toward the main desk. She really needed to get some sleep.

The light of the late afternoon sun crept across the bright, colorful bedspread and slowly roused Olivia from sleep. With a groan, she rolled to the edge of the bed, eased into a sitting position, and keeping her eyes firmly closed, placed her hands over her face and scrubbed vigorously. Another low moan halted the motion, and she finally opened her eyes in an attempt to get her bearings.

The rich color of the marble floor drew her in immediately. Olivia hadn't noticed anything except the large bed and four fluffy pillows when she'd first entered the room. She'd just tipped the bellman, and the minute the door had closed, she'd trudged toward the bed, slipped off her shoes, and climbed in. The sheer beauty of the room had escaped her notice.

"I must've been exhausted," whispered Olivia as she moved her gaze slowly around the spacious, bright room, taking in the warm wood décor and the captivating prints and paintings. Her focus then moved to the ceiling, the crown molding around the walls acting as a wood-scrolled frame to the scene painted above. "Wow, no wonder Alex wanted to stay here."

The soft light filtering through the sheer curtains of the floor to ceiling windows highlighted the colorful designs, and Olivia took it all in, her gaze shifting from left to right, memorizing the details of the pattern. Alex would've been in heaven.

With a final sigh, Olivia pushed to her feet and walked toward the window, the marble cool against her bare feet. She pulled back the edge of the curtain and peered outside, her peripheral vision noting the small balconies of the rooms adjacent to hers. Taking a step back, she noticed that the window furthest from the bed was actually a door which led to her own private balcony. She didn't hesitate to take advantage of the feature and was soon standing on her balcony, overlooking the Piazza Florio, with a view on Monte Pellegrino. So absorbed in the wondrous sight, she never saw the short-haired blonde just two balconies down, staring out across the beauty of the city, a hint of sadness in her blue eyes.

After having dinner at a restaurant just down the road from the hotel, Olivia found herself yawning and her eyes drooping. Figuring she was suffering from jet lag, she returned to the hotel and went straight to bed, but not before stopping by the concierge to arrange a visit to The Palazzo dei Normanni Cathedral for the next day.

Waking bright and early and feeling more refreshed than she'd felt in quite some time, Olivia took to the streets, looking for just the right location to have breakfast. A small, quaint restaurant nestled between two large trees caught her attention. It was just the place Alex would be drawn to. With a smile, she headed for the door.

By late evening, Olivia was dragging once again, but this time, it was due to her over-exuberance. She just couldn't help herself; with every museum and gallery she visited, she thirsted for more and, in some strange way, she felt closer to Alex. But finally, she was just too tired to see anything else, and so she headed back to the hotel, mentally planning her next day of sightseeing.

Exhausted, Olivia pressed the button to her floor and leaned against the back of the elevator; closing her eyes, she rested her head against the glass surface as she listened to the soft ding that announced each floor. When the fourth bell sounded, Olivia pushed away from the wall and opened her eyes just as the doors slid apart. She wasn't at all prepared for the sight that greeted her.

"Alex?" Olivia swallowed hard and took a faltering step forward, but not far enough as the doors started to close on her surprised expression. A slender arm shot out and stopped the doors from closing.


"Alex?" repeated Olivia, staring at the woman before her, still not quite believing what she was seeing. The long locks Alex had worn when she'd return to testify against Liam Connor had been shorn away. Olivia had never seen Alex's hair so short.

"What…" Alex faltered, "… What are you doing here?"

Olivia finally found sure footing and stepped from the elevator. Taking Alex by the hand, she tugged her down the hall to her room, her hand shaking slightly when she put the key in the lock. Flinging the door open, she pulled her lover into the room and closed the door behind them.

"What am I doing here?" Olivia took a step back, trying to put some distance between the two of them. "What are *you* doing here?" As much as she wanted to just grab hold of Alex and never let her go, she needed answers.

Alex had other ideas.

"Liv, right now, I couldn't care less." Easing forward, she pressed tightly against her lover. Olivia reflexively placed her arms around Alex and pulled her closer.

"But . . ." Olivia started but was silenced by a soft pair of lips against her own. Sliding her hands down Alex's back, she went with the flow, deepening the kiss as she slowly walked the pair backward until Alex's legs bumped against the bed. Gravity took care of the rest.

Tucked safely into her lover's arms, Alex smiled. "God, I missed that."

"Me, too." Olivia kissed a nearby shoulder and snuggled closer. "I thought the night before the trial would be the last time I'd be able to touch you."

"I know," said Alex, tilting her head toward Olivia and nudging her lover's shoulder. Olivia smiled and scooted back to allow Alex to roll onto her back, but she was taken by surprise when Alex outmaneuvered her. Olivia was flat on the mattress before she'd realized she'd been had.

"So, what do you say we try it again?" Alex eased on top of her lover and smiled.

"But what about later? What happens later?" Olivia's voice broke, and she bit down on her lip. She hated showing weakness; she hated feeling scared. A hand gently cupped her face, and she leaned into the touch.

"Liv, I can't promise you anything right now, and I don't want to get your hopes up, but I've got a plan and Hammond thinks it might work."

Olivia looked up into clear blue eyes and found nothing but honest and sincerity. She knew Alex wouldn't say a word unless she believed in what she said. With a smile, Olivia nodded and reached for her lover. If Alex believed, then so would she.

The End

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