DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and all characters are property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
SPOILERS: Major spoilers for the 5th season episode "Loss"
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Out of the Game
By D.S.

New York City, November 2006

"Detective Benson."

Olivia looked up into a face she never liked to see. "Agent Hammond." Just as it had the other few times she'd seen the man in recent years, his presence brought back a pain that had not dulled with the passage of time. Great. As if this day weren't shitty enough. Irritated, she started to ask what errand the Drug Enforcement Agency would like SVU to run for them this time, but Hammond held up a hand.

"Come with me." He crooked his head toward Captain Cragen's darkened office.

Sure – just commandeer someone else's office without bothering to ask. No, that was uncharitable, Olivia admitted to herself. Cragen wouldn't care. And it wasn't Hammond's fault that . . . .

Trying to bury those thoughts – again – the detective rose and traipsed after her visitor. Hammond closed the door behind her, and handed Olivia a photograph. It wasn't pretty, but it wasn't anything the SVU detective hadn't seen a hundred times before: An Hispanic male lying at the awkward angle of an unexpected death, half his brains splashed across the floor and wall behind him. She noted his clothing, and what she could see of the surroundings. Drug deal gone bad, it looked like.

"And I should care about this why?" she asked.

"That's Cesar Valez."

It took Olivia a moment to register what he had just said. "What?" She studied the photograph closely, even though she had never seen the man before. "Oh, my God." Realization sank in, and she looked at the agent with tear-filled eyes. "Does this mean . . . ?"

Hammond smiled. "Got any vacation time coming?"

Hammond turned another page of the New York Times he had grabbed before they boarded their plane that morning. His travel companion hadn't said one word on either leg of the flight, and another glance told him that she was still immersed in her own thoughts.

"The threat was made against you."

Olivia relived Agent Donovan's horrifying words, spoken urgently to the woman that she considered a friend, remembering the sick feeling that settled over her. And later, as they listened to the tape of some unknown prisoner's telephone conversation. . . . "That's my address . . . Oh, my God . . . I want to go home now."

"OK," Olivia offered quickly. "We'll take you." She didn't want to leave Alex now.

Outside the building, she decided to suggest an alternative. "Alex, why don't you stay with me tonight, til we get this whole thing sorted out?

"No, it'll be OK. But thanks."

The explosion had knocked the women to the ground. They lay there, gasping, covered in glass and debris, too stunned to speak.

For one of the few times since Olivia had known her, the Assistant District Attorney was clearly shaken. Sitting alone with a thin blanket draped over her shoulders, Alex appeared to be in shock. "Come on," Olivia urged. "Let's go." No response. "Alex, it's not your fault. There's nothing you could have done. Donovan made a choice."

This time, Alex did look at her. "We all did."

Agent Hammond had been out of his head then, taking out his fury at the death of his partner on the nearest target at hand, adding to the attorney's guilt. After he left, Olivia held out her hand. "Let's go," she said.

Driving them to her apartment, Olivia sneaked glances at the passenger seat. She was worried, not so much about the cuts and scrapes – most of those would be gone tomorrow, or could be covered – but Alex still seemed unfocused. The detective finally concluded that her friend was trying to process too many things at once. It might help to take some of the decision-making out of her hands.

"Sit down." She pointed to the couch, and Alex duly sat. Disappearing into her bedroom, Olivia re-emerged holding a gray t-shirt and sweats. She held out the clothing, then pointed to the bathroom. "Put these on."

While Alex was changing, Olivia yelled through the door, "Are you hungry?" She tried to think what she might have in the refrigerator.

"No," Alex replied, re-emerging wearing the officer's sweats. "Thank you," she added, almost as an afterthought.

Olivia hesitated. To hell with it. "Come here." She walked to her bedroom, hoping that Alex would follow, and pulled down the sheets. "Get in."

Not bothering to leave the room – Alex was too out of it to be embarrassed, she figured – Olivia stripped down to her tanktop and panties, and slid into the other side of the bed. With one flick, the room was pitched into darkness.

Making one last decision, she slid over and took an unresisting Alex into her arms. The exhausted women were asleep within minutes.

The next morning, Alex was back in form, insisting on picking up a suit at her apartment and heading into work as if everything were normal. Olivia, in turn, insisted on driving her.

Fleetingly, the detective felt a twinge of guilt. She should have been concentrating on Alex's safety, but instead her thoughts occasionally flickered to how it felt to wake up wrapped in Alexandra Cabot's arms. As they prepared to leave for the station house, Olivia ran a fingertip across a cut on the other woman's throat. "Alex . . . ."

"Don't." Alex gently laid a palm on the side of her face. "We have some things to talk about." She stepped forward and lightly pressed her lips to Olivia's. "When this is over."

"The captain has turned on the fasten seatbelt sign. Please turn off all electronic devices . . . . "

Olivia ignored the familiar instructions. She didn't have any electronic devices, and she hadn't moved from the moment they took off. From the tiny airport in Wichita, they would have another three-hour drive ahead of them. Another three hours for Olivia to think about what she would find there.

Russellville, Kansas

A bright yellow arrow warned them that all visitors must check in at the principal's office, and it wasn't hard to find the place in question. For several minutes, the two law enforcement officials waited behind a bubbly cheerleader who was jabbering at length to a woman behind the counter about the decorations for some party. What am I doing? Olivia chastised herself. Detective Benson had just run out of patience.

"Excuse me," she interrupted firmly, stepping around Buffy and speaking directly to the secretary. "We're here to see Teresa Winston."

Body language told Olivia that the elderly woman was offended. Too bad. "Miss Winston is in practice until 5:30," the secretary reported, somewhat stiffly.

Another hour? Screw that. "Where is it?"

"Miss Winston does not like to have her practice interrupted."

"Well, she'll have to live with it." Olivia flashed her badge. She had waited too long time for this. Concealing his amusement, Agent Hammond duly produced his own I.D. for added effect.

The woman's eyes widened, and she looked fearfully at the two agents. "I . . . I'll send someone down," she stuttered, but Olivia held up a hand.

"No need. Just tell us where it is."

None of the twelve teenagers noticed when an attractive, dark-haired woman in a leather jacket and an older man in a trench coat stepped through the double doors that had been optimistically propped open to generate a little better air circulation.


The girls on one side of the net changed positions, sending a new server to the line.

A few paces inside the gymnasium, Olivia stopped abruptly. Still blonde, she was surprised to see, with those same sexy glasses. But there the similarities ended. Gone was the pressed twelve hundred dollar suit. In its place, Coach Winston was sporting a grey t-shirt emblazoned with a Russellville Tigers logo, tucked into dark baggy latex pants that bunched up over white tennis shoes. God, she's gorgeous.

"Missy, you need to adjust faster than that."

A lump rose in Olivia's throat. That voice still sent chills through her.

"Rosemont has the best spiker in 1A. She's going to eat our lunch if we don't cover the middle better."

Olivia's legs began moving again, until she stood a few yards away from the beautiful volleyball coach.


This time, no one moved. They had finally noticed the pair watching them who clearly weren't from this neck of the woods. A blonde head turned to see what had diverted her players' attention.


Alex froze, unable to move. The two women stared at each other, until finally the detective could speak.

"Cesar Valez is dead," she said. Her voice, sounding much calmer than she felt, carried through the now-quiet gym.

Another long moment passed, and Alex walked toward her. They embraced tightly, and Alex buried her face in Olivia's neck, reveling in the smell of leather. The smell of Olivia.

Eventually, she stepped back and acknowledged her other visitor. "Agent."

"Miss Cabot."

Cabot? Her players were confused, along with the nervous secretary and school principal standing in the doorway. "Maiden name," a senior speculated quietly to her teammate.

"Whoa! You think Miss Winston was married?"

The next whisper, whatever it would have been, was cut short.

"He's dead?" Alex's question was directed at Agent Hammond, and he nodded.

"I have glossies," he offered.

She smiled slightly. "I'll pass."

Her attention gravitated back to Olivia, and Hammond decided it was time for him to finish his task and leave the two of them alone. This success story, too rare in his line of work, would keep him going for another few months. He held up an envelope.

"I need your signature a couple of places," he said. "Personal effects, things like that," he said, conscious of prying ears.

Alex was still staring at Olivia. "Hmm? Sorry. Just a sec."

She turned and looked at her snoopy players with amusement. "I don't think we've quite reached court nirvana yet," she announced. "Let's go. Side out – five serves and then rotate. I'll be back in a minute."

The paperwork brought with it a heavy dose of reality. Bank accounts and credit cards, all being transferred from Teresa Winston to Alexandra Cabot. She was getting her life back. Alex paused. She was also giving up a life.

"Uh . . . Do I need to do this now?" she asked.

Hammond saw Detective Benson stiffen, and realized too late that he should have warned her. Many protectees didn't want to look back. He really hadn't thought it would happen with Cabot, not after only three years, and not with the obvious connection the women shared. It was only because of the ADA's relentless demands to say goodbye to the detective that Hammond had agreed to breach protocol and allow Cabot to meet with her two closest friends before leaving.

"They don't deserve this," she had insisted.

That's right, Hammond had agreed, but that was beside the point.

"They risked their lives on this case, too."

True. But again, it just didn't matter. Witness protection meant witness protection.

"Look." This time, Hammond could sense pain, something beyond the physical. "I need to see Olivia again."

Uh huh. He wasn't surprised.

"I need to see her," she repeated, her voice still raspy from the bullet wound, the bandage covered by a colorful scarf. "We're . . . ." She closed her eyes. "We . . . ."

"I'm sorry, Miss Cabot. Can't do it."

"Then I can't do it."


"I won't do it. I'll take my chances."

Hammond sighed. Great. "I'll get a message to them . . . ."

"You can just mail the forms in when you're ready," he told Cabot now. "It takes a couple of days to process."

"OK. Thank you, Agent. For everything." Alex grasped Olivia's sleeve. "Don't go."

The detective smiled. "I won't."

Alex checked her watch. "We'll be wrapping up in about 45 minutes. We're heading to State tomorrow," she added excitedly.

Olivia wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but it was obviously an achievement. "That's terrific! Don't let me keep you from getting ready."

Alex started to resume her place on the court, but then turned back. "Don't leave," she pleaded again.

"I'm not going anywhere."

The two cops sat beside each other on a backless bench and watched the practice. "What the hell was that all about?" Olivia asked abruptly.

He didn't need to ask what she meant. "Witness protection takes people out of extremely stressful situations and transitions them into relatively calm settings," the agent explained as gently as he could. "They make friends, they live normal, satisfying lives. A lot of them just want to move on with their lives. They don't want to look back."

"So it's a psychological attachment?"

He held out his hands. "Or they just like it."

"But what about her mother? What about her career?"

Hammond shrugged. "She can bring her mother out here now. And she has a new career." He glanced up at a banner that proudly proclaimed Russellville the 2006 regional 1A champions. "A pretty good one, apparently."

"But this is–" She waved her hand slightly to take in the whole scene. "This isn't her."

"This isn't Alex Cabot," the agent agreed. "But it is Teresa Winston."

"Come on." Alex tugged at Olivia's jacket sleeve. "Let's get something to eat."

To her surprise, Alex drove them not to a restaurant, but to a small, one-story house with – Jesus – picket fence and the remnants of a summer garden.

"Burgers OK? It'll be quick."

"Sure, anything." Olivia draped her jacket on a coat rack in the entryway, and dropped into a chair at the dining room table.

"Kansas, huh?" She had been aching to be alone with Alex, but now that they were, she didn't know where to begin. She decided to start with something safe.

Alex shrugged. "At first they said Utah." She drew out a skillet and laid it on the burner. "I told them I'd rather take the chance of having my brains blown out."

Olivia laughed. "Good choice."

"I like it here."

That surprised the detective. "Really? It seems a little . . . ."

"Slow? That's what I like about it." Alex turned toward her, leaning against the counter. "Do you know how many rapes we've had since I've been here?" She held up her right index finger. "One. No six year old girls have been beaten to death, or sold for drugs, or found in a dumpster."

"That kind of stuff happens in Kansas, too, Alex."

"Yeah, and it's news when it happens here. In New York, people just shrug their shoulders."

"That's not true. You were one of those people. You cared. We care." Olivia didn't like the way this conversation was going. Please don't tell me that you're going to stay here.

"I know you do," Alex said. She sliced through a tomato. "That job rips you apart."

Olivia didn't want to talk about that. "So, what about your job? Don't you have to have a degree or something to be a teacher?"

"A teaching certificate. Teresa Winston has one. There's still a big shortage out here, so they were happy to have even a fake like me. I already had the child psych."

"And coaching? How did you pull that off?"

"Winged it – with a little help." Alex walked into the living room and pulled some folded blankets from a basket, grabbing up a stack of books. "Coaching Volleyball for Girls." With a smile, she tossed the book back into the basket. "Winning Volleyball for Girls. Youth Volleyball for Beginners." She displayed a couple of videos. "I played volleyball in college, so I had the technique. It's just learning to communicate with girls who think you're old enough to be their mother."

"Well . . . ."

"Don't say it." Alex handed her some placemats and plates. "Here. Make yourself useful."

Olivia was glad to do it. There were some other things she wanted to talk about, but she couldn't bring herself to mention them.

"So, how's Elliot?"

"He's good. I had to give him CPR when Maureen brought a guy home for Christmas, but he's handling it."

Alex laughed. "How about the others? Munch? Fin?"

"The same . . . ." She paused for effect.

"Unfortunately," both women said at the same time, laughing.

"So . . . ." Alex brought out some cheese slices. "Who took my place?"

"An ADA from white collar."

"You're kidding."

"It took some breaking in. She puked the first time she saw a DB."

Alex smiled. "So did I. But then, I seem to remember being called out to a particularly nasty one." She narrowed her eyes at the police officer. "In fact, I was so busy losing my lunch that I never thought to ask why I needed to be there."

The cop shrugged innocently, but the curve of a smile confirmed Alex's suspicions.

For the rest of the evening, the two women got reacquainted. Olivia told some of her success stories, and some of the heartbreaks. Alex talked about her students and friends. Neither mentioned anything about romance, or Alex's kiss the night before her "death." The attorney's long-term plans didn't come up, either.

"Got any plans tomorrow?" The blonde woman looked pretty content, reclining next to Olivia on the couch with her feet propped up on the coffee table.

"My flight's at noon, so I thought I'd head out after breakfast."

Alex's face fell. "Your flight?"

"Yeah. You know, that thing people do to get from one end of the country to the other?"

"You're going back so soon?"

"Well, yeah. I thought–" I thought you'd be coming with me. "I thought it'd be fun to tell you the good news personally."

"It was." Alex clasped her hand. "Seeing you again is–" She looked down at her lap. "Listen, I know this'll sound pathetic, but – can you stay another couple of days? Tomorrow we're driving to Hutch for the first round of the tournament. I really would like you to be there."

Olivia hesitated. Another couple of days to fall in love with Alexandra Cabot and have her heart broken again. Just what she needed. She met Alex's anxious gaze, and knew she couldn't say no. She stepped over to her jacket and pulled out her cell phone, activating the speed dial.

"Captain, hey." Olivia paused. "Good, thanks. Listen, do you need me back? I was thinking about taking another couple of days." She chuckled at whatever he said. "I wish." Another pause. "So, is Elliot there?" She frowned. "Nah, just wanted to say hi. Thanks, Cap. See you then." She clicked the phone shut.

"Thanks." Alex really did seem relieved. "'You wish' what?"

"Oh." Olivia laughed self-consciously. "Cragen said to enjoy my illicit love nest. I didn't tell them who I was visiting, so you know how their sordid little minds work."

Alex chuckled. "Your deadbeat partner cutting out early while you're gone?"

"Nah. Cragen said he's on a call with Munch."

"Well, could be worse. Could be you with Munch."

Olivia laughed. "Yeah, I'll take the present company." For a little while longer.

The next day, Olivia followed a large group of adults up the stairs through the school entrance. Guess the check-in requirement's been waived for this thing. In the gym, she squeezed onto a seat on one of the back bleachers. A pep rally, huh? That took her back a few years.

"Welcome, ladies and gentlemen." It was the stuffy looking principal from yesterday. "We're here today to give a big sendoff to our first State competition team in Russellville history!"

Olivia joined in the applause. The first time? No wonder she's Miss Popular.

"We couldn't be prouder of our girls, and Coach Winston. Let's give 'em a big welcome!"

The lights went out, and strains of Burning Down the House blared out from a portable speaker system. After a moment, strobe lights started up, and two rows of enthusiastic volleyball players hustled onto the gym with interweaving lines of sets and digs, all ending with a high five to the coach.

Olivia grinned. Alex really seemed to be enjoying herself. It's all about the presentation, Counselor. God, this is so cute! She desperately wished that she had a video camera. Like that one. She scooted closer to a man with a Sony plastered to his right eye. "I'll give you a hundred bucks for the video," she offered.

The man was obviously tempted, but a silent glance from his wife wasn't encouraging.

"Two hundred," she amended. "And if you have a Kinko's here, I'll make you a copy."

Objection overruled. "Deal!"

Olivia peeled off two one-hundred dollar bills. "Thanks," she told him. "Listen, I'm an old friend of the coach. Can you get her in some shots?"

He was more than happy to oblige. What a great excuse to keep his eye glued to that blonde hottie.

Olivia drew in a deep breath. 17-16. Game point – again. Watching Alex between serves, she couldn't help smiling. One thing hadn't changed: The woman was magnificent under pressure. There she was, calmly observing what Liv knew was extremely important to her.

It was a furious volley, and then a nice fake sent the ball smashing onto the opponent's court just inside the line. Six screaming girls leapt off the bench and rushed out to hug six other screaming girls, and then all twelve converged on their coach.

All around Olivia, parents hugged each other, some even including her in their celebrations. This is fun. Players rushed into the stands, and Olivia saw Alex springing up the bleachers toward her, catching her up in an unexpected hug. "Finals!"

"Congratulations!" Olivia said sincerely, letting the blonde woman spin her around.

For the next hour, the victorious coach was hugged or patted or complimented by half the planet, it seemed, then chatted for a while with tournament organizers and other people that Olivia didn't know. The bus ride back to Russellville was fun, too, watching Alex exchange barbs with her obviously devoted players until they pulled into the school's parking lot.

"Coach." The two women looked up from their seat into the serious expression of the principal. "If you have a minute, can you come inside when we get there? I need to go over the arrangements for Thursday."

Alex seemed confused. "I had Mrs. Appleman make them before we left. I'm arrogant, you know."

Olivia laughed. She remembered telling the ADA that a time or two.

"I got a call this morning," the principal said. "The hotel's overbooked."

"Oh, for Chri– for crying out loud," she replied disgustedly. "Great." She turned to her friend. "Wait for me?"

Like I'm tired of being with you. Loitering outside the principal's office, she heard the man apologize – "Sorry, I left my notes in the gym" – and Alex followed him out of the office, taking the time to roll her eyes for Olivia's benefit. She signaled to the detective that it would be just a minute.

A moment later, Olivia heard a shriek. Her right hand instinctively reached back for her gun, and she laughed at herself. Following the noise, she wandered down the hall and into the gym, where the entire Russellville High School volleyball team was leaping around ecstatically, the beneficiaries of an elaborate surprise party. If there were any residents of this berg who hadn't been at that afternoon's games, they were here now.

Alex spied her friend and walked over. "I'm sorry, Olivia." She looked around. "I had no idea. I don't know how they could have planned this so fast."

"They didn't." Olivia smiled. "I heard them talking about it yesterday when I got here. Whether you won or lost today, they were proud of you."

Olivia leaned against the wall, resting her weight lightly on her hands, and pretended to watch all the partygoers, while actually reserving most of her attention for a certain blonde.

"Hi." Two girls from Alex's team approached. "You're Miss Winston's friend?"

"Yeah." Olivia quickly realized that, in all the commotion, she and Alex had neglected to go over the details of their cover story. "We used to live in the same home town."

"Before she was a teacher?"

Olivia almost laughed. "Yeah. Before then."

"So, what was that you said yesterday about a dead guy?"

"Someone who hassled her family once," the detective said, thinking fast. "She was entitled to notification when he died, so I got to come out here and let her know."

"Wow. Cool. You're the first person she's hung out with here except the other teachers."

The conversation gave her a legitimate excuse to observe Alex openly for a while. She never would have predicted it: There was the former attorney, out at center court with a hundred other people, all dancing around.

"Everybody's waitin' for me to arrive. Get this party started . . . ."

Olivia hid her appreciation for the way Alex moved her body. Now the woman was pairing off with some crewcut, she noticed.

"That's Mr. Grover," one of the girls filled in. "He's Miss Winston's boyfriend."

Olivia was well trained in keeping her face expressionless, and outwardly there was no reaction to this news. This rather big news.

"Yeah, right," the other girl said. "Wannabe, you mean."

"They went to the prom together last year," the first pointed out.

"Yeah, and she went with old lady Armstrong the year before," the other replied.

"I've seen her with Mr. Grover at the Pizza Hut," the first girl continued. "I work there," she added for the newcomer's benefit.

"Well, he seems OK," Olivia offered noncommittally.

"Ashley doesn't like him," the pizza worker continued.

"He's just waaaay too boring for someone like her," said the girl she now knew as Ashley. These girls were proving to be a wealth of information. "Before Miss Winston came, our team totally sucked. We couldn't get new balls or anything, and they wouldn't let us use the gym. Miss Winston made them change all that. She knew a lot about the law. She's really cool."

"And he's not?"

Both girls laughed. "Mr. Grover?" the smaller one asked. "Geek alert!"

Of course, what said 'geek' to a teenage girl didn't necessarily say it to an adult woman, Olivia knew, and she watched the pair a while longer. Alex was laughing at something he was saying (or maybe just the way he's dancing, she thought meanly), and there seemed to be some fondness there.

The song ended, and when another one started, Alex sought Olivia out. "Liv, come on. This is perfect for you."

Olivia listened – it was Hand Jive – and frowned at Alex. "I'm not that much older than you, smartass."

"Oh, come on. It's a fun song." She tugged on Olivia's arms.

"Nah." She tried to draw away. "I'm not much of a dancer."

Alex stepped close and spoke into her ear. "Did you see the guy I was just with?"

"Uh, yeah, I think so." Olivia didn't want to admit that she had been staring.

"Do you honestly think you could be worse than him? You've got to save me."

That drew a laugh, and Olivia threw up her hands. "Fine."

"Wait." Alex put a hand on her jacket. "Lose the coat."

"No way. You know how much this thing cost? I'm not letting it out of my sight."

Alex smirked, and put her hands on the detective's arms. "Olivia," she said patiently, like a teacher to a student. "No one is going to steal your coat." She led the detective to a corner. "Just dump it here with my purse." She met the other woman's doubtful gaze. "I guarantee you that it'll still be there when we're ready to go. If not, I'll buy you a new one."

"Really? It's a Ralph Lauren."

"It is not." Alex grabbed at the jacket, but Olivia dropped it quickly onto the small pile.

"Yeah, it is, if it gets stolen." She nodded toward the court. "Come on. I feel an overwhelming urge to humiliate myself."

Alex grinned. "Don't worry. Anything that happens here is covered by teacher-cop privilege."

"Hey, don't give 'em any ideas. That's about the only privilege Judge Ridenour hasn't come up with yet." Against her slightly better judgment, she let the ecstatic coach drag her onto the dance floor.

Alex dropped her purse on the hallway table. "Yes!" She couldn't help letting out another happy yelp, and Olivia laughed.

"A little excited?"

"Just a little." Alex looked at her. "This has been one of the best days of my life. We make the finals. I get to dance with you." Her eyes were shining. "I am so glad to see you." She walked over to the detective. "And you are so beautiful."

Before she realized what was happening, Alex's arms slid around her neck. This was out of the blue. "Uh . . . ."

Alex pressed herself against Olivia. "Are you with someone?"


"Then be with me."

Olivia was torn. Alex was pumped, not drunk, but she still felt a vague sense that she would be taking advantage of her. "I don't know if this is a good idea."

The only answer was a soft kiss, followed by another, and soon the two women were devouring each other. "In there," Alex panted, pointing toward her bedroom. She followed close behind, eagerly lending a hand when she didn't think the other woman was undressing fast enough.

"On the bed."

Alex climbed on top of her, and the detective realized that she was about to be thoroughly subdued. Oh, God . . . Alex's mouth left hers and moved to her throat, then her breasts. Olivia's hand wound into long blonde hair, and she arched her back. "Yes . . .," she encouraged.

Alex slipped a hand between Olivia's legs, and groaned loudly when she felt how much the brunette was enjoying this. Two fingers, then three, slid inside easily, and her mouth returned to Olivia's as her thrusts grew more forceful.

Olivia had often wondered what ADA Cabot would be like in bed. She wasn't sure this was a typical example, given Alex's mood, but she hadn't expected the wonderfully inarticulate animal driving into her. It didn't take long before she was clutching at the other woman's back, gasping out her pleasure.

"Ohhhh, God . . .," she muttered into Alex's shoulder. She just needed a minute to recover, and then she'd have her chance at the overheated blonde. Alex gave it to her, and then took charge again, scooting up to straddle Olivia's shoulders.

It was unbelievable, watching Alex's trim, arching body from between the other woman's thighs. And the taste . . . perfect. Olivia slowed her movements. She didn't want this to end.

Olivia stretched, and felt a chill when she accidentally rolled onto a damp spot in the bed. Jesus, what a night. Three times in the bed, another with Alex on her knees beside the dresser, and one rather carnal interlude at the kitchen counter sparked by the sight of Alex bending over to retrieve water glasses from the dishwasher.

Alex had been the perfect host this morning, including an offer of breakfast that Olivia lazily declined, then drove off to work as if nothing had happened. That thought stayed with her. Maybe in Alex's mind, nothing had happened. A thank you fuck. No, not even that – just a carryover from her excitement about something else. About a life that didn't include Olivia any more.

Shaking her head to clear those thoughts, she tossed back the sheet. She needed to be at the school in an hour, Coach Winston's conscript for chaperoning the bus trip to finals in Topeka.

"What the hell is this?"

A couple of the girls tittered, but the highly displeased coach ignored them. She turned to Olivia. "No way are we staying here."

The detective had begun noticing several blocks ago what apparently had just caught Alex's eye: The x-rated video shop, the liquor store, the barred windows on every building. Without waiting for a reply, Alex stood at the front of the bus and addressed her players. "OK, two things," she announced. "First, when we get back home, someone is going to show Mrs. Appleman how to use Hotels.com." The girls laughed, and Alex continued, "Second, we are not staying here. I don't care what kind of deal they gave us."

A groan followed, and Alex knew what lay behind it. If they didn't get settled in quickly, they would miss the evening's outing that she had arranged and, foolishly, already told them about.

She plopped back down beside Olivia. "Maybe we could find a hotel after the play," she suggested.

"And you wanted them up how late?"

Alex gestured to the window behind the detective. "No way am I letting twelve teenage girls run around loose in this environment just so we don't have to change plans. That would be totally irresponsible."

"Are they going to be running around loose?" Olivia asked sensibly.

"I thought you of all people would be raising a red flag."

"Alex, it's Topeka, not the South Bronx. We'll be with them. Keep 'em in threes, keep 'em inside, tell them if anyone leaves without their chaperone" – she gestured to herself – "she's benched."

Alex considered it. The girls would be really disappointed if they were stuck in a hotel all night, when the whole reason they wanted to stay somewhere separate from their parents was to enjoy the excitement of a strange city. She had bought tickets to The Vagina Monologues with her own money to help give them this experience. "OK, fine," she decided.

Three hours later, the bus pulled up in front of the hotel a second time, and a happy group of girls began filing out.

"Hey, girls! Whatcha doin'?" a drunken voice called out from where a couple of men were sitting on a curb thirty feet away.

Olivia looked them over. There was no open container that she could see, but it was pretty clear that they had been customers of either the liquor store or one of the bars earlier in the evening. She turned back to the group.

"You girls wanna have some fun?" To the detective's dismay, one of the men was staggering to his feet.

"Ignore him," she directed the players. "Go on inside."

"Yeah, let's have some fun!" Moron No. 2 had now chimed in.

"Keep going," Olivia said. Glancing back, she saw the second man reaching for his crotch. Oh, great – he was pulling down the zipper.

"I got something fun for you to do," he called out. Another crudity died on his lips when saw a woman striding toward him.

From the hotel doorway, the players watched Olivia approach the pair. "Come on, we don't need to see this," Alex said half-heartedly. It wasn't like she was going to go inside, either. They didn't really seem to be in any danger, but she was worried about her occasionally hot-tempered friend. "Wait here," she instructed, and started toward the looming confrontation.

Olivia heard the familiar footsteps behind her, and swung around with a finger held up in warning. "Stay there, Alex."

"Alex?" one of the girls asked.

"Old nickname," the coach lied. "As in 'Smart Alec.'"

The team fell silent as they watched their coach's friend in action, even though they couldn't hear what was being said, and the officer was blocking some of their view.

"You get that zipper up right now, or you won't need one any more," Olivia warned the taller of the two.

"You're hot," he informed her drunkenly.

"You have no idea," she replied. "Get that zipper up or I'll do it myself, and trust me, you won't like it."

He smiled. "Oh, I think I would." He thrust his pelvis toward her.

Olivia glanced back at the hotel. Yeah, there they were, all watching. "OK." She pointed to the waist-high hedge behind the curb. "Over here," she ordered and, as she expected, both idiots followed her. A couple of howls later, the men hobbled off in considerable pain.

Detective Benson emerged from behind the bush and headed back to the hotel. "They apologize for their rudeness," she informed the group, then stepped inside.

After a moment, one of the awestruck girls spoke. "She is soooo cool," she declared.

Alex smiled at the detective's back. "Yeah, she is."

"Sorry about this," Alex said for the third time. "I'd blow it off, but they're wanting to make a big deal about State, and–"

"It is a big deal, Alex," Olivia cut in. "I'm really proud of you. But you don't need a fifth wheel at this," she protested.

Alex stopped in her tracks. "You're not a fifth wheel. They know you as my oldest and dearest friend. We've been having beer and pizza every Friday night since I got here, and people bring friends all the time. Besides, this is the last night I'm going to have with you."

That statement didn't hurt as much as Olivia expected, only because she had already faced the painful truth that Alex would not be returning with her.

Two beers later, Olivia was surprised to realize that she was having a good time. She could see the allure now of spending time with people who had things to talk about other than violence. When her cell phone rang, she stepped away to take the call.

Minutes ticked by, and Alex glanced over at her frequently. Her friend was obviously agitated, and when Olivia returned to the table, she laid a hand on her forearm. "Is something wrong?"

"That was Elliot," Olivia replied. "A nine-year-old and an eleven-year-old, both snatched from malls yesterday. Raped, then shot in the back of the head. One girl's mother blamed herself and committed suicide."

There was silence at the table.

The detective sighed. She should have been there with her partner. These always hit close to home for him. "Another girl was grabbed this afternoon. Elliot likes a guy for it, but he can't get a warrant. He thought we might be able to tie it to some park snatches I worked with the 2-9 last year, but the m.o. doesn't match."

"He wants to search the guy's place?"

"Yeah, but Novak can't get any of our gutless wonders to sign off."

Alex nodded. "That's probably because a federal district judge issued a habeas a couple of weeks ago on a bad supreme court warrant," she said. "There's always an overreaction for a while."

Olivia shook her head, not thinking to ask how the former attorney knew that. "Great. Some cop or ADA screws up, so we're all scum."

"What does he have on the guy?"

"Sounds like gut, mostly," she admitted. "The guy perped on a couple of six year olds in 1989, both grabbed from video arcades. He's been out eight years. Elliot talked to him."

"Eight years with no repeat? That's a stretch, Liv."

"Eight years without getting caught," the detective countered.

"Did he kill the other girls?"

"No, but Elliot thinks he's escalated. Last time, one of the victims was able to give a description. Guess he doesn't want that to happen again."

Distractedly, Alex dipped a breadsteak into some sauce. "Elliot thinks he has this girl?"

Olivia nodded. "Yeah. If the guy sticks to his schedule, she's dead in about six hours."

"Let me talk to him."

The brunette studied her for a moment, then pulled out her phone again and hit speed dial. "Hey, Elliot," she said. "You know who I'm with." She nodded. "She wants to talk to you. Be careful." She handed the phone over.

"Elliot, what have you got on this guy?" Alex listened for a moment. "That's a little thin. . . . I'm not questioning that. . . . No, I'm not. I know your instincts are good; they just won't get you a warrant. . . . OK, listen. Call Judge Seligman. . . . Elliot, shut up."

That surprised everyone at the table, including Olivia.

"I don't care if Novak already called him. You call Seligman, and you tell him that Alex Cabot once said he had a sharp legal mind. Did you get that? He'll sign your warrant." There was a brief pause, and Alex closed her eyes. "Because I know. Do you remember Albert Fonsso? Raped nine women and cut off their little fingers."

Olivia stared at her. Fonsso? She'd had a huge fight with Alex in the middle of that case – in the middle of the courthouse, in fact. SVU had been chasing the guy for a week, including the last 32 hours straight, and in her frustration, Olivia had said some hurtful things, shouting at the attorney in the hallway, drawing considerable attention to themselves. "This is great, Alex. You screwed up and got yourself suspended, so now you're gun shy. Or have you just decided to do whatever it takes to get back on the D.A. career path?" Before storming off, she had ended her tirade with a particularly sour accusation, "Maybe if he killed them, you might find this case a little more interesting. Page nine just doesn't do enough to get your ambitions back on track, Counselor?"

She had been shocked two days afterward to hear that Alex and a couple of DA investigators had served a warrant on Fonsso's place, where they found nine pinkies in the freezer. But instead of thanking the ADA, the exhausted detective had berated her. "This was our case. What the hell were you doing keeping us out of the loop on the warrant?"

Alex had brushed her aside. "You know me, Detective. Didn't want to share that big headline."

Weeks later, the disheartened detective, her stomach still churning over the groundless accusations she had hurled at the prosecutor, saw a light on in the ADA's office late one night. They had only spoken briefly in recent weeks, all business, and as little of that as possible. This time, Olivia had ignored Alex's pointed declaration that she was busy, and had forced the other woman to listen to an apology. It had taken a while, but after a few months they seemed to have put it behind them.

Now, she watched as Alex nodded. "Yes, I did, and it was bullshit, Elliot. Seligman saw me fighting with – with someone outside his courtroom, and he knew we weren't getting anywhere. He showed up the next day with a bogus warrant. He didn't have the backup, but he said it was 'somewhere' in his office. I knew it was crap, but I served it anyway. I told him that I was sure someone with his sharp legal mind could put his hands on whatever documentation was required."

Olivia was stunned. She'd never known any of this. She was shocked that the prosecutor would take another huge risk like that.

"He'll sign it, Elliot, and it'll probably hold up if it's challenged, but you know I can't call him. You do it." Alex shook her head. "It was a favor, but not for me," she said. "Have you ever met his daughter's partner?" Another brief pause. "Yeah, well, next time you do, take a look at her left hand."

She clicked the phone shut and handed it to Olivia, without meeting the other woman's gaze.

"You never told me."

"It didn't matter."

"It didn't matter?" Olivia's voice was raised.

Alex refused to respond, and there was an awkward silence at the table. None of the other teachers had anything to add to whatever they had just heard. Finally, Evelyn Spencer spoke up. "Just what exactly did you used to do in New York, Terri?"

"Child services," Alex replied vaguely.

Fifteen minutes later, Olivia's phone rang, and this time she took the call from her seat. "Elliot, that's fantastic. Have you got backup?" She smiled at whatever he said, then replied, "Well, sometimes you need a mommy. Call me when it's done, OK?"

The next call was from an elated Detective Stabler. "Son of a bitch had her in the closet," he announced without preamble when Olivia hit the receive button.


"Hell, yeah."

Olivia was thrilled for him. Every one of those helped to overcome the five that wouldn't end as happily.

"Give that ADA a big wet one for me," he shouted into the phone.

"Uh . . . yeah, I'll tell her." The call ended, and Olivia turned to Alex. "Elliot says to thank you." The two women exchanged a quick glance, and Alex smiled.

"You do that, detective."

Olivia pressed her lips to Alex's shoulder blade, and began a leisurely exploration. "You have a sexy back," she growled. Alex was moving beneath her, more so as Olivia's kisses trailed down her back and onto the curve of her hips.

Long minutes later, Olivia stood and reached for the belt on her pants. Alex watched from the corner of her eye, as first slacks, then bra and blouse ended up on the floor. Olivia knelt on the bed again, but Alex reached out a hand. "Leave the jacket on," she urged.

With a seductive smile, Olivia drew her leather jacket back on, making sure that Alex could see what she was doing, and then lay on top of Alex's long form. "Is this what you want?" she whispered. Her partner didn't respond, but her breathing was fast and uneven. Olivia began to rock against her, and heard her lover groan. "You're perfect," Olivia uttered, moving faster, enjoying the rhythmic noise of the bedsprings.

Afterward, she rose up on her hands and knees, and Alex turned over beneath her. The lovemaking lasted another two hours, and Olivia buried her face in Alex's neck. "I'm going to miss this," she mumbled.

"You don't have to," Alex ventured, and Olivia raised her head. "Stay here with me. They need cops out here, too, and--"

Olivia rolled onto her back. "You know I can't do that, Alex. SVU is--" She wasn't sure what words would fit. "It's . . . ." She shrugged. "It's my life. I can't give it up."

"That's what I would have said three years ago. But there are other lives out there. Lives that don't beat you down and hand you five scarred children or women for every one that you save."

"What we do is important, Alex. You used to be as passionate about it as we were. You're just going to give it all up?"

"I already have, Olivia."

The detective lay awake the rest of the night.

"OK, time's up." Elliot pulled out into traffic. "You've been back two days, and no word about Alex. What's up?"

"Nothing." Olivia didn't want to talk about it.

"Well, how was your visit?"


Elliot waited, but no elaboration appeared to be forthcoming. "How was she?"

"Fine," Olivia repeated. "She seems . . . relaxed. Happy."

"Oh." That didn't sound good. "So, she's staying there?"

"Look, I don't –" Olivia caught herself. Elliot was just showing that he cared; she shouldn't take out her frustrations on him. "Yeah."

"I'm sorry."

She shrugged. "Whatever."

He spared her a glance. "You seemed kind of excited about going out there. I thought maybe you and she might . . . ."

"Yeah, well, so did I," she sighed.

Elliot wasn't sure what to say. He finally settled on the truth. "I'm sorry, Liv." After a moment, he continued, "Maybe she doesn't bat for your team?"

Olivia snorted. "More like Barry Bonds," she muttered.

That one earned her a stare. "You and Alex . . . ?"

"Watch where we're going, Stabler, or I'll have to call in a 13."

His gaze return to the road. "OK, just how long were you and the ADA bunk buddies without me knowing?"

"We weren't. Not then."

"You slept with her out in Kansas City?"

"Kansas. They're not the same thing."

"Whatever. You and Alex slept together in Kansas, like two days ago? I want details!"

"Why do you care?"

"Liv, I'm a happily married man. The key word here is 'man'. Two incredibly hot women I know had sex with each other. If there's no video, you can at least give me a visual."

Olivia laughed. "Maybe for your birthday."

"No way! That's three months."

She shook her head. "Pig," she declared fondly, but then her grin faded. "It doesn't matter anyway. 'Teresa Winston' is perfectly happy to keep teaching driver's ed and coaching volleyball and hanging out at Denny's with her friends."

"So she's not even doing law any more?"

"Nope." Olivia shrugged. "She reads cases on some website, but she doesn't want any part of her old life any more."

Elliot laid a hand on her knee. "I really am sorry, Liv."

Even with the pain, Olivia couldn't help sharing some of her pride in Alex. "Her team took first in State."

"You're kidding!"

"No, and you should have seen it." She warmed to the subject. "The girls love her. And you know how competitive she is. She coaches at this tiny school, but she drove around everywhere scouting other schools. She has all these little tapes with labels."

Elliot was happy to hear Olivia's laugh.

"They had this pep rally--" She suddenly remembered. "Oh, man, I forgot – I've got this video. Wait til you see it." The speech was interrupted by the chirp of her cell phone. It was back to business at SVU.

Six weeks later . . .

"Hey, Cap. It's Benson. The bank was a dead end. We're going to re-interview the first vic, see if she remembers anything else. We're out of leads." Olivia listened for a minute, and nodded. "Let us know if they find anything." She clicked the phone closed, and told Elliot, "Munch and Fin are going to have another go at Barker's ex-wife."

"I hope they have better luck than we've had."

"Remind me again why we like this job, Elliot."

"Uh . . . ." He pretended to think as he held open the door to the apartment building for her. "Give me a couple of days; I'll get back to you. Shit!" He peered at the bottom of his shoe. "And I do mean shit."

"Nice. Maybe we'll at least get a pooper scooper bust out of this." Olivia walked to the second door in, watching in sympathy while Elliot scraped the sole of his shoe against the tattered mat.

She knocked on the door. "Miss Taylor?" She rapped again. "Miss Taylor? It's Detective Benson."

Two shotgun blasts tore through the door, and Olivia flew backward into the wall behind her. Frantically, Elliot pulled his gun. It wasn't the safest move, but he also drew out his cell phone. He could see blood pooling already in the hall, and he had to get help for his partner.

When the 911 operator answered, he tried to speak calmly. "This is Detective Elliot Stabler of Special Victims Unit. Shots fired and officer down at 134 59th Street. We need a bus. Repeat, shots fired and officer down, 134 59th Street." Sensing movement from within the apartment, he laid the cell phone down and raised his gun. The door opened, and an unknown male stepped into the hall, shotgun in hand.


The man raised the weapon, and Elliot fired three times, hitting him squarely in the chest. His training kicked in, and he checked to see if the shooter was dead, then cleared the apartment. Inside was their first victim, beaten badly but alive. With those necessary precautions out of the way, he returned to his partner. Only a couple of minutes had passed, but she was already deathly pale.

"Olivia." It was no use; she was out of it. Elliot drew off his suit coat and bunched it up against her wounds. "Olivia, don't you die on me," he yelled. "Don't you die on me." He tried to think of something else to say, but his mind went blank, and he finally just took her in his arms and held her until medical technicians took over in the ambulance.

Now, four hours later, Cragen, Munch, and Elliot's wife Kathy watched him pace the waiting room outside the hospital emergency room. Detective Tutuola wandered in. "I got hold of the ADA," he said. "There's no one else to call, is there?"

Oh, shit. "Yeah, there's one more," Elliot said. He grabbed Olivia's cell phone and paged through the address book until he found the name he was looking for, then headed outside.

"You drive me crazy, Miss Cabot!"

"And you drive me crazy! You barge in here and expect me just to sign off on whatever you and Stabler feel like doing at the moment. Judge Ridenour tossed a warrant last week that was less flimsy than this."

"Oh, please. Ridenour's the worst judge on the bench and everyone knows it. He'd rather see ten rapists go free than have one suspect inconvenienced."

"That may be true, Detective–"

"Olivia. If you're going to screw me, you should at least use my first name."

The attorney couldn't help it, she laughed. "I'll try to remember that." She stepped closer to Olivia. "Look, I'm not trying to screw you. Find me one hole, even one tiny little hole, in Rasmussen's alibi, and I'll get your warrant." She returned to her chair behind the desk, and Olivia started to leave. "Alex."

The detective turned back around.

"Call me Alex. I have a feeling we'll end up screwing each other."

Olivia smiled. "Alex."


"Earth to Terri."

Alex came back to herself. "Hmm?"

"You want a refill?" Evelyn held up a half-filled pitcher.

"Are we keeping you awake, Terri?" The gibe came from Cameron Hunter, a seasoned French teacher.

"Ha – not this bunch." She grinned. "Sorry, I'm just kinda tired tonight." It wasn't true, but if she told her fellow teachers what was really on her mind, they would grill her all night. She checked out the pizza pans. "Oh, nice – you space off for two minutes and someone grabs all the veggie," she groused. Her gaze settled pointedly on the plate sitting before football coach Fred Dewly. "Aren't you football types supposed to load up on the roadkill?"

She was saved from his reply by the pleasant tones of her cell phone – pleasant only because she had programmed this ring for just one person, and hadn't heard it since that person flew back to New York City. "Hey, you. About time."


"Elliot? What are you doing on--"

"Alex, I thought you'd want to know."

A surge of fear shot through her. She knew Elliot Stabler well enough to know when he was upset.

"What's happened? Where's Olivia?"

"She's--" He faltered. "She was shot this afternoon by a perp."

"Oh, my god." Alex felt faint. "How bad is it?"

Elliot was silent for a moment, then said simply, "It's bad."

Alex got to her feet. "Where was her backup?" she demanded.

"It was me. I fucked up, Alex." The detective sounded as though he was about to cry. "I fucked up."

"Oh, Elliot. I didn't mean it," Alex said. "I know you wouldn't . . . ."

"We just went to re-interview a victim," he continued. "We thought the perp was long gone. We didn't know he'd tracked her down."

"So how bad is it, Elliot?" She repeated her earlier question.

"Shotgun to the chest."

Unconsciously, Alex gripped the back of her chair for support. "Where is she?"

"St. Francis."

"St. Francis? What were you doing out there?"

"We were interviewing a vic, Alex. She moved back in with her mother after the attack."

Alex closed her eyes. "Sorry. I'm not thinking clearly."

Elliot laughed drily. "Yeah, I hear you."

"I'm coming. I'll be there tomorrow as early as I can get a flight in. If she dies before I get there, Elliot, I am going to be pissed."

"I know you will," he said quietly.

The call ended, and Alex walked, unsteadily, from the table to the restroom.

"Stephanie, go get a clean rag," Evelyn commanded, and the other teacher nodded. A minute later, they stepped into the women's bathroom and saw what they expected: their colleague on her knees, being sick into the toilet. When she was through, Evelyn stepped into the stall and pressed a wet washrag against her forehead.

"You all right, honey?"

Alex groaned, and sat on the tile floor for a minute. "No, but thanks."

"Is Olivia hurt?"

She nodded. "Shot in the chest. It doesn't sound good."

"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry. I know what she means to you."

Alex laughed without humor. "I'm glad someone does."

"Elliot." Dr. Stevenson shook the detective awake.

"Oh, hey, Ed." Elliot bolted upright. "Olivia?"

Stevenson shook his head. "No change. Listen, Elliot, you know she coded this morning after she was brought in. We got her back, but . . . does she have immediate family?"

The detective shook his head.

"Parents? Sibling? Power of attorney?"

Again, the answer was no.

Stevenson blew out a breath. "We may need someone to make decisions. I'll notify the State."

"No way," Elliot insisted. An idea occurred to him. "Olivia's domestic partner is on her way."

"Domestic partner? That'll work." He clicked his pen. "What's her name?"

"Uh . . . either Teresa or Alex. I'm not sure." At the doctor's confused look, Elliot added, "Olivia keeps her personal life private. I used her cell phone to call. She's on her way from Kansas City. So, can I see her?"

For the next hour, the weary detective sat by his partner's side. Checking his watch, he headed outside. Time to phone in an update to the precinct. At that moment, he saw a blonde woman in a bulky white sweater hurrying toward the waiting room. Even though he had never seen her in jeans before, he had no trouble recognizing her.

"Elliot!" She was practically running.

"Hey, Alex." She didn't look as though she'd had any more sleep than he had.

"Where is she? How's she doing?"

He shook his head. "No change, but she's still fighting. She's in here." He showed Alex the private room where his partner lay.

"Oh, Liv," she whispered, and walked over to the side of the bed opposite the respirator. Elliot discreetly stepped outside, and left instructions at the nurse's station that Detective Benson was not to have other visitors until further notice.

When Cragen, Munch and Fin reported for waiting room duty after their shift, they were dismayed by what they found. "You look terrible, Elliot," Cragen said. "Why don't you go home and get some rest?"

"I've told him the same thing," his wife added, rubbing Elliot's back. The detective did not bother to reply. That wasn't their partner in there. He rose abruptly and stalked over to a vending machine, fishing in his pocket for change.

"Well, at least get a shower and some clean clothes for our sake, if nothing else," Munch called after him.

The group looked up as a new doctor approached. "There's been no change," he reported, forestalling the inevitable question. "But in light of the close call this morning . . . . Detective Benson doesn't have a DNR on record, I take it?"

"I don't think so," Cragen said tiredly.

"Is her partner here?"

Kathy pointed at her husband, who was bending down to retrieve a coffee cup from the machine. "Elliot!" she called, and he hurried over.

"No, I mean her domestic partner," the doctor clarified.

Munch began to reply. "She doesn't–"

"She's in there with her," Elliot interrupted. He beckoned for the doctor to follow him.

The other detectives exchanged glances. "Liv has a shack up?" Fin asked, but the others just shrugged.

"Oh, my God," Kathy said. "What she must be going through . . . ."

When the two men stepped through the door, they found an exhausted blonde woman asleep, her head lying on the bed, a hand on Olivia's arm. She awoke, blinking, and looked up at them with a question.

"You're Miss Benson's domestic partner?"

Surprised, Alex opened her mouth.

"They need her domestic partner to make decisions," Elliot quickly interjected. Come on, Alex, go along with this.

"What decisions?" Alex panicked.

"Nothing at this time," the physician reassured her. "It's just a precaution. We had a situation this morning that we hope won't happen again, but getting the State involved in these decisions doesn't benefit anyone."

"No, it doesn't," she agreed. "Do I need to sign something?"

He presented her with a clipboard, and she signed the document without bothering to read it.

"Of course it can. The government has been experimenting with cloning for more than two decades," Munch declared as he and his partner walked back into the waiting room from the cafeteria.

Fin rolled his eyes. "We just saw someone who looks exactly like Alex Cabot," he explained to the captain. "It was pretty weird."

Any new topic of conversation was welcome in this marathon waiting session. "Really?" Cragen replied. "Where?"

"Coming out of the workout area," Fin said. "Had her hair up and a tanktop on." He spotted her again, coming toward them. "There she is."

The woman in question, now wearing an open lavender blouse, stopped at the nurse's station. "Hi. I'm Teresa Winston. I understand I was just paged."

The nurse pointed at a wall phone. "Any white phone. Just tell them your name."

Alex nodded, and walked over to pick up the receiver.

"Teresa Winston, my ass," Fin said. "You hear that voice? That's Cabot."

"Having fantasized many times about that voice calling out my name in certain contexts, I can definitely confirm that," Munch added.

The three men listened as "Winston" talked to someone on the other end. "No, no change. Listen, Evelyn, will you call Ron and tell him I'm going to be out a while?" She smiled. "I should have known; you're too efficient, woman. Did he round up a sub?" She listened for a moment, then chuckled. "Oh, not Fred. I don't even think he has a driver's license. He couldn't – have you ever ridden with him?" Another pause. "Yeah, me too. She's hanging on, so . . . Yeah, I will. Give my thanks again to your hunky husband for driving me. Tell him I'll sleep with him when I get back." She laughed at the women's reply. "OK, Ev. I'll give you a call tomorrow."

She cradled the receiver and turned around – to see three very familiar faces a few feet away staring directly at her. Uh oh.

"Don." She acknowledged Captain Cragen with a nod. "Detective Munch, Fin. It's good to see you."

"Alex, what the fuck?" Cragen was angry, and she didn't blame him.

"I've been in witness protection," she explained, knowing it probably would take some time to sink in. "Ever since . . . ."

"Ever since your bullshit death," Fin provided. "Was the whole thing fake?"

"No." Alex shook her head. "The hit was real. I almost died. That's the only reason I agreed to do it."

"Jesus, Alex," was all Cragen could come up with. "Where have you been?"


"Kansas?" That triggered something in his memory. "Benson went to Kansas a couple of months ago."


"Shit – she knew about this?" Fin asked.

Munch put the rest of the puzzle together. "You're Olivia's domestic partner?"

She nodded. She wasn't sure that Olivia would give the same answer, but she was claiming the title for as long as she could.

"Did Stabler know?"

She sighed. "I couldn't leave Olivia without telling her. Telling Olivia is telling Elliot."

The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Stevenson. "Miss Cabot?"

Alex froze.

"I think she's through the worst of it," he announced with a smile.

An uncontrollable sob burst from Alex's throat, and she wound her arms tightly around herself. Footsteps sounded in the hallway, and Elliot Stabler, freshly bathed and sporting a clean shirt, ran to her side. "What's happened?"

"Liv's gonna make it," Fin said.

Elliot closed his eyes. His wife caught up to them and wrapped a supportive arm around him. "Is--" Elliot cleared his throat and tried again. "Is she awake?"

Cragen nodded, and Elliot looked at Alex. "You going in?"

She glanced nervously at the door. Now that Olivia was conscious, she had to deal with repercussions. "I don't know," she replied, avoiding the surprised looks from the others. "I don't know if she'll want to see me." She looked at Elliot. "You know what happened?"

The detective shook his head. "Not really. You made a decision," he speculated.

"I hurt her."

"Yeah, you did," he agreed. "But she's not going to care about that right now. She's going to care about the fact that you're here." He stopped for a moment. "Are you here?" he asked.

Alex pursed her lips. "I don't know." She really didn't expect Olivia to be as forgiving as Stabler did.

"Fuck it," Elliot decided. "Get in there."

She tentatively stepped into the room, and walked over to where she could be seen.

"Alex!" Olivia gave her a loopy grin. "You're here!"

"And you're enjoying your pain medication," Alex replied. Encouraged by her reaction, she laid a hand on Olivia's arm. "I'm sorry I wasn't here when you woke up. I went for a jog downstairs to clear the cobwebs. I'm all sweaty."

"I like you all sweaty."

"Get used to it." Alex gazed at her meaningfully, then decided that she had better give the other woman an out. "If you want."

Being heavily drugged did not prevent Olivia from understanding what she was being asked. "I want." She squeezed Alex's hand. "This isn't just because I'm hurt, is it?"

Alex shook her head. "I've known since the day you left. I just . . . . It was just hard. But I know what I need."

She bent to kiss Olivia, a long, loving kiss, and after a moment, Elliot cleared his throat. "Can you guys wait til I get my videocam?"

She drew back, and Olivia's gaze shifted drowsily to her partner. "I could have sworn I just heard John Munch in here," she said. "Hey, Elliot," she joked, "I think we might have a lead on the perp's whereabouts."

Detective Stabler didn't laugh; the nerve was still too raw. "Yeah, well, he won't be hurting anyone else."

"How's Kelly Taylor?"

"She's fine. She was a little banged up, but you got the prize."

Olivia looked down at her hand, now linked tightly with Alex Cabot's. "Yeah, I think I did."


"This sucks, Elliot. Alex said if I made it to her place for dinner, she'd have a surprise for me." Olivia licked her lips. "I'm guessing homemade cheesecake."

"She likes to cook?"

"Mostly desserts, and oh, baby . . . ." Olivia gave a little moan.

"Are we still talking about food?"

His partner smirked. "Nice try, Stabler. I am not giving you a cheap thrill by talking about our sex life." She blew out a breath. "Like we even have one these days. This overtime crap is killing me, and her schedule with Narcotics is almost as bad as it used to be with us. At least when she was with SVU, we could see each other on the job."

"Well, tell you what – take off now. Go get your dinner. I can stop by the M.E.'s before we meet up with Thompson and Issak."

He would have received an enthusiastic hug if he hadn't been behind the wheel. "Thanks, Elliot. I owe you."

Thirty minutes later, Olivia let herself in with the spare key, and headed straight for the kitchen. "Alex, you here?" She reached into the refrigerator for a soda. "We're on stakeout tonight, so I've just got time to do you on the dining room table and hit the road."

From the living room, the detective heard a familiar voice. "Mom, you remember Olivia Benson."

Liv reddened. Oh, shit. She stepped reluctantly into the other room, where she saw – only Alex. "Oh, you're funny," she declared.

"Well, good grief, Detective. We don't see each other for six days, and the first thing you talk about is sex."

Olivia smirked at her. "And your point is?" She started to raise the pop can to her lips, but then noticed what the attorney was wearing.

"The point is, I accept your offer." While her lover watched, Alex walked over to the table and perched on its edge. "You're early; I didn't have a chance to get dressed after my shower." She slowly untied the belt on her white robe.

"Thank you, God," Olivia uttered. She was on Alex in two seconds, molding her body into the other woman's, pressing her back onto the table. The attorney's long legs snaked around her hips, drawing her in closer for the kiss. "I love you, Alex – goddamnit!"

Olivia glared at the ringing cell phone at the edge of the table. She clamped one hand on Alex's thigh to keep it where it was, and stretched the other to reach the offending item. "Benson. . . . No way, Elliot. We're not on for another two hours. . . . She what? . . . Stupid woman! . . . Trust me, you don't."

She slammed the phone shut with a groan. "Thompson's wife went into labor. Our shift just got sooner and longer, goddamn it." She stepped back, and tucked in the shirt that Alex had managed to tug out of her dark jeans.

With a sigh, Alex retied her sash. "Come back here afterward," she urged.

"I'd love to, Alex, but I've been crashing at the crib all week. My plants are probably on their last legs." She wanted to come back – desperately – but it probably wasn't the responsible thing to do.

"Bring them over here." Alex placed both hands gently on Olivia's face. "Bring all your stuff over here."

Olivia studied her for a moment. "Are you asking me to move in with you?"

"Impressive deductive skills, Detective," Alex complimented her with a smile. She placed a light kiss on her lips. "We'd have more time to finish things like you started tonight."

"Impressive advocacy skills, Counselor." It wasn't hard to make up her mind. "Leave a light on for me?"

"Always." Alex smiled. "Wake me when you get in?"

Olivia returned her gaze. "Always."

The End

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