DISCLAIMER: All characters of "Law & Order" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" are the sole property of Wolf Films and Universal Television. No copyright infringement was intended -- just borrowing them to feed the imagination! No profit is being made from this fiction. All other original characters created and owned by the author.
FANDOM: "Law & Order", "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"
PAIRINGS: Abbie Carmichael/Original Character; Alex Cabot/Olivia Benson
RATING: M for language, themes
SPOILERS: Just a small one related to Jack McCoy and his past.
OTHER NOTES: Everything in between asterisks are Carmichael's thoughts. By no stretch of the imagination is the author of this story an expert on New York State law or the New York Police Department. To SVU fans... yeah, yeah, patience, friends... Alex and Olivia ARE involved in this story... read on!

The Path of Most Resistance
By Saxony

Chapter Five

The Reid case had gone into deliberation on Wednesday -- only two days after Roberto took the stand. Neither the 27th Precinct nor the Special Victims Unit had come up with anything substantial on the weekend to keep Roberto from testifying, which saved Abbie and Kelly's case. After taking the stand on Monday morning, Alex had Olivia and Elliot take Roberto into custody as they continued to investigate his complicity in the rapes and eventually, the detectives made a break through. What made it better was that their newly discovered evidence pointed towards wrongdoing by other members of the Bottella organization -- an organization that District Attorney Nora Lewin was determined to shut down.

Abbie and Kelly worked that Sunday, but with obvious tension between them. Abbie had kept her tone business-like, which baffled Kelly. Things between the two did not improve over the few days after that and it appeared to Kelly that Abbie had withdrawn into a protective shell. Their usual playful banter had all but disappeared at work and Abbie had kept her distance.

That Wednesday night, Kelly's plans for dinner with Olivia Benson and Alexandra Cabot had been slightly altered, with Olivia working overtime on the Roberto case -- another rape with similar MO having occurred. Alex and Kelly decided to have dinner anyways, and after dinner, the two women found themselves settled into leather armchairs in the lounge attached to the restaurant.

"Did I just lose you again, Jordan?" Alex asked, showing concern for her friend who she had noticed seemed a little off that night.

"Mmm? God, Alex, sorry. What were you saying?" Kelly responded sheepishly, knowing that she had just been caught daydreaming.

"Actually, I wasn't." Alex placed her wine glass down on the table in front of them before she stared her friend down. "Kelly, what's going on with you? I've known you long enough and well enough to know you're not yourself tonight."

A small smile played on Kelly's lips as she met Alex's unyielding gaze. She was accustomed to Alex's occasional all-knowing tone. "Okay Counselor, if you've known me that long, you tell me what's wrong with me."

Never one to turn down a challenge from her long time friend, Alex settled back into the chair she was lounging in. "Okay, Counselor," she said imitating Kelly's earlier tone. "Are you challenging me?"

Kelly chuckled. "Take the bait, Alex."

Regarding her friend, Alex shrugged. "Fine. Abbie Carmichael."

Kelly's face drained itself of color as her friend nailed her with precision accuracy.

"I'm taking your silence as an affirmative," Alex said lightly.

"What gave it away?" Kelly asked simply.

Alex tried to give the other woman a reassuring smile. "Don't worry, Kelly. Nothing obvious." She picked up her glass again, took a sip and then sighed. "You're one of my best friends, Kelly, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that it takes someone close to you to notice... and I did. And there are other reasons..."

Kelly waited expectantly. "Well?"

"Probably the more obvious clues include your interaction with each other. It's... There's... Hmm..." Alex began, trying to formulate the right words. "There's something there between you and Abbie. I just can't put my finger on it, but I can sense that there's a connection that goes beyond work, and perhaps beyond friendship. However, I also know both of you, and I suspect neither of you have addressed it because you're both confused."

Kelly digested what Alex had said and then something dawned on her. She eyed her friend suspiciously. "What aren't you telling me, Alexandra Cabot?"

"What do you mean?"

"You haven't even indicated to me that you're surprised that your supposedly straight friend might be entangled in romantic emotions with a supposedly straight colleague of the same sex."



"Um. What can I say? I've known for quite some time that Abbie Carmichael wasn't straight."

"Oh," Kelly eked, suddenly forgetting her suspicion of Alex. "How do you know?"

Alex debated for a moment and then appeared to make up her mind about something. "Let's just say I know, and that perhaps one day Abbie should tell you herself as to the reasons why I might know." Noticing that the suspicious look on Kelly's face had crept back, she added, "And no. I have not been involved with her."

"And aren't you surprised that this is happening to your supposedly straight friend?" Kelly asked, the suspicion remaining in her voice.

Alex knew that their conversation might be broaching too closely to something that she and Kelly had never talked about so long ago. She wasn't sure she wanted to talk about it. It would feel strange to do so. She had, sometimes, wondered what would have happened if Kelly hadn't met Chris when she did -- but only sometimes, as Alex was a believer in the notion that things happen as they should. After all, life's happenings led her to meet Olivia -- a woman she was deeply in love with and the first woman she could ever say that about.


"Sorry." Mentally detaching herself from her musings, the blue-eyed blonde attorney said, "I'm not sure how to say this, but I've never really believed you to be completely straight. Just call it my intuition. So, no, I'm not surprised that this is happening between you and Abbie."

After one more dubious look at her friend, Kelly seemed to sink into deep thought. "I'm not sure what to do. You telling me that Abbie's not straight changes things."

"Why? Were you going to dismiss your feelings for Abbie because you thought she might be straight?" Alex challenged.

"No, it's not that. It's just... well, it makes things complicated," she said resignedly.

Alex let out a loud laugh. "You mean more complicated than two female Assistant District Attorneys who work side by side every day, who each believe the other is straight, and happen to be attracted to one another? You don't think that's complicated enough?"

"I get your drift, Counselor," Kelly grumped.

"Then do something about it. What's stopping you?"

"Well, it may not matter. We... had a very weird moment with each other on Saturday. I joked about something and all of a sudden her mood changed, like some notion had struck her out of the blue. Since then, she's withdrawn from me, and I still can't sort out exactly what occurred between us on Saturday."

Alex thought for a moment, drawing from what she knew of Abbie. "Kelly, give her some time. Abbie's a thinker. At least from what I know of her. And obviously she's anxious about this." Alex experienced a moment of internal debate and then said, "Look, without getting into too many details, Abbie's been hurt -- I mean really hurt. She got into a complicated situation and... well... she didn't come out of it unscathed. I'm not at all surprised she's really struggling with this... with you."

Kelly knew her longtime friend well enough to know that she wasn't trying to hide anything from her. She knew Alex to be highly moral which meant that she would not divulge someone else's private information. "Aside from Abbie struggling with this... I'm not even sure I know how I feel about this."

"So talk to me," Alex prodded.

"I could be reacting to my break up with Chris. It could just be that we're spending a lot of time with one another and our relationship is taking a natural course of growth. And... about the whole same sex thing -- I can't be sure about that either."

"Yes, you probably are reacting to what's happened with Chris, but perhaps not in the way you think you are. I'll admit that I sensed this chemistry thing between you and Abbie before you broke your engagement off with him. Perhaps what you're reacting to is that you don't have Chris as an excuse to hold you back from exploring something with her. And about the same-sex issue," Alex sighed and then continued. "What can I say? You're talking to somebody who believes in loving someone for who they are and not what gender they embody."

"That's all you're going to say about that?" Kelly asked, really wanting to hear Alex's insight because she was the first person she had gained enough courage to discuss this with. "How did you deal with this when you first discovered you were attracted to women?"

Alex chuckled. "I didn't deal with it. I just accepted it. I'm not saying it's that easy -- I have to be concerned with outing myself because of my career. I also have to be careful for my partner's sake. If anyone ever found out Olivia and I were together, there would be consequences for both of us. But I love her and I wouldn't trade anything in the world for what we have. So I guess I'm saying that when I first knew I was interested in women, it didn't faze me. Frankly, it was interesting -- at least from an intellectual side," Alex said with a lop-sided grin. "It occurred to me back then that I had double the chance of finding the right partner."

Kelly let out a laugh with Alex's last statement. "So are you still interested in men?" she asked curiously.

"Yes. In both sexes. At least I would be if I didn't have Olivia in my life. I don't let gender get in the way of whom I want to be with. If it's there -- it's there. And with Liv, it's there." Alex paused and an idea struck her -- one she hoped would help her friend understand. "Kelly, if you met someone who you had this incredible connection with, that you were physically attracted to, that you craved to see even moments after parting with that person, that you were satisfied intellectually and emotionally with, that your heart yearned for, and that you were totally crazy in love with -- would it matter to you that that person was a woman?"

Kelly took a long moment to let Alex's heartfelt question sink in, and she knew the answer. "No."

Alex said nothing more. Instead, she settled back into her chair comfortably and gave Kelly a knowing look.

In spite of Alex's pep talk, Kelly had no idea where to start with Abbie. What made it harder was that Abbie was still emotionally distant from her, which frustrated her to no end. It had been two weeks since Abbie started to withdraw from her and what Kelly had hoped would be a short phase was beginning to look a little too permanent. She had tried everything to get back on the same footing they were on before, but the resistance from Abbie was strong. She was starting to resign herself to the fact that perhaps Abbie had lost interest in her. Something, though, nagged her into not believing that.

"So Mercer's lawyer wants to plead Man Two. I think we should accept," Abbie said, the two women sitting at the table in her office.

"Fine," Kelly replied. "Saves us from having to go to trial on some so-so evidence," she sighed.

"Next one up is Drury. No saving taxpayer's money on this one. No plea bargain because his lawyer believes he can win this case," Abbie said.

"Can he?" Kelly asked.

Abbie looked up from the document she was reading to peer at her colleague. "That's a strange question coming from you, Kelly."

"Never mind," Kelly sighed again.

Her partner's demeanor as of late did not escape Abbie's notice. Non-responsive was the only word Abbie could think of to use, and the sparkle in Kelly's eyes had all but disappeared. She sighed inwardly and thought the lack of interaction was for the best, having decided that she could not afford to get involved with Kelly because she had no wish of becoming someone else's bi-curious experiment. Abbie didn't know what hit her on that Saturday night at Kelly's place, but it triggered in her a lot of soul-searching and revisiting of some hurtful memories. She had come to the conclusion that what was happening between her and Kelly was emulating too closely to what had happened between her and Kim, and Abbie wasn't about to find out if it would end the same way too. Her heart -- and her soul -- could not afford it. Not a second time.

Shaking herself out of her private musing, Abbie said, "Cabot wants some consultation time with us on the Roberto case."

"When?" Kelly asked distractedly as she chewed on her pen.

Abbie smiled inwardly. *At least that's one thing that hasn't changed -- she still has that cute look on her face when she does that.* Abbie sighed. "Thursday afternoon at two."

"Sylvia has that booked for both of us?" Kelly asked referring to their assistant.

"Yes, as far as I know," Abbie replied as her telephone rang. "Carmichael," she said with little emotion. "Okay. His lawyer's there already?... Fine. One of us will be down."

Without giving Abbie a chance to say anything, Kelly knew it was a call from Lieutenant Van Buren. "I'll go. I need to get some air anyways."

"You sure?" Abbie asked hesitantly.

"Yup," Kelly answered in monotone without looking at the other ADA. She packed her things and left Abbie sitting in her office.

Abbie put her head in her hands and said out loud, "This cannot continue."

"It's your call," District Attorney Nora Lewin said to the two women in her office.

Kelly was sitting in a chair in front of Nora's desk while Abbie was pacing behind her.

"I just don't know, Nora. Lewis wants us to plead out because he knows he doesn't have a case. But the instinctive part of me says we can get the max on this guy from a jury. God knows he deserves it."

"What about you, Kelly?"

"I'll defer to Abbie on this one," the other attorney replied, after sitting quietly through much of the conversation.

Nora looked at her questioningly -- unusual behavior for an ADA who usually had input. "Fine. Abbie -- if you two think you can win this, take it to court. Just be sure we don't end up with nothing on this guy." The two women nodded and as Kelly got up to leave with Abbie, Nora said, "One more thing, Abbie and Kelly." That stopped them in their tracks. When they turned around to face the DA again, she continued. "I'm not sure what's going on between the two of you, but it's been obvious for the last couple of weeks that you're not getting along. Whatever it is, I don't want it affecting your focus. I would suggest that you resolve whatever is distracting the both of you -- and do so quickly."

The two women didn't look at each other but only nodded at the DA before leaving the room.

Nora sighed to herself. She had been worried about the two attorneys as of late. She no longer sensed the camaraderie and chemistry they had when they had first started working together -- a chemistry that had impacted their performance positively. What she saw happening was that their work lacked the spark that made them stars in the first place and she suspected that it had to do with some kind of conflict between the two of them. She didn't like seeing them lose momentum. She sighed inwardly and hoped that the pair would get back on track sooner, rather than later.

"Hey, good work," Abbie complimented to her partner after they received a guilty verdict on their latest trial.

"Thanks," Kelly replied as she gathered her papers from the desk. "This was one I was glad to put away. The guy creeps me out," she muttered.

The mother of the victim who had died at the hands of the man they had just tried interrupted them. "Thank you, Ms. Jordan and Ms. Carmichael. Your work won't bring Sherry back, but at least she'll know that justice has been served."

The mother's tired, haggard face affected Abbie profoundly, pulling her out of the cold, technical world of putting another criminal behind bars and into the human world of grief that was so markedly reflected on the woman's face. "Mrs. Sterling, I am so sorry for your loss," she could only say.

"Thank you for your kind words and thank you for putting that man away. I rest easier knowing he can't harm anyone else's daughter." Mrs. Sterling regarded the two attorneys with sadness in her eyes. "I wish my daughter had been able to meet both of you. You're remarkable young women, and you make a good team. Keep doing the good work that you're doing for victims like my daughter."

Abbie and Kelly glanced at each other self-consciously.

"Mrs. Sterling, if there is anything else we can do for you, please let us know," Kelly offered earnestly.

After Mrs. Sterling left them standing by themselves, Abbie said quietly, "You hear that? She said we make a good team."

"I heard that," the other replied. A series of emotions flashed in Kelly's dark, obsidian eyes, but just as quickly as they had appeared, they disappeared, leaving her eyes expressionless. "I should get moving. I have that Cranston arraignment in half an hour."

"Okay," Abbie answered, nodding reluctantly, as she watched her partner walk off. *Damn.*

"Come on, Kelly," Alex begged.

"I'm not sure that's a good idea."

"What are you scared of?"

Kelly frowned at her friend. "That's not going to work on me, Cabot."

"Fine. What if I told you Olivia would love to spend some time with you? She missed dinner that other night and is mad at me for having had the opportunity to hang out with you without her. C'mon. It'll be fun. With the last few weeks we've all had, we could use some reckless fun," Alex said, giving Kelly her best pleading look.

After a meeting with Abbie and Kelly, the blue-eyed blonde ADA was doing her best to convince her moping friend to go out dancing with them the next night. She had hoped that a carefree night out with her and Olivia would help lift her spirits.

"I don't know, Alex..."

"Kelly, you used to come to girl bars with me all the time in law school and you never batted an eye in doing so. And admit it -- you had fun," Alex pointed out matter-of-factly. "What's there not to have fun with -- all those girls hitting on you every time we went out," she teased lightly.

"Very funny, Alex. It's not the fact that it's a girl bar that I'm hesitating on. I'm not sure I'm in the mood," Kelly admitted.

"All the more reason for me to kick you in the butt to come out and have some fun with us. If not for me, then for Olivia," Alex said, knowing that she had just used Olivia to sucker-punch her friend with guilt.

"Fine," Kelly sighed, giving in to the other woman's insistence. "Call me tomorrow and tell me what the dress code is and where to meet you two."

Alex gave Kelly her biggest smile. "You won't regret this."

"Abbie? You're doing this to me again. This whole zoning out thing."

"Sorry, Christina."

Abbie Carmichael had called Christina on a whim and had asked her to go out that night. It was the first time they had seen or talked to each other since that first night they had met. Feeling some restless energy and frustration, Abbie had thought that a night out with Christina would take her mind off of her problems with Kelly. Standing in a discreet women's club in mid-town Manhattan called HighWire, and having just been caught in her preoccupation with her issues, Abbie suddenly realized that perhaps she wouldn't make good company for the other woman after all.

"So what made you think I would be single enough to come out with you tonight?" Christina asked with a glint in her eye.

"Just a hunch," Abbie replied.

"What? Didn't think I would have a girlfriend?" Christina asked playfully.

"Like I said. Just a hunch." Abbie had noticed that her sentences were quite abbreviated that night.

And then she saw her.

*What is SHE doing here?*

There walking into the club by herself was Kelly Jordan. "Shit," Abbie said out loud.

"What?" Christina asked, peering into the direction Abbie was looking in.

Abbie glued her eyes onto Kelly's form as she walked through the club, not only because she wanted to know whom she was meeting there, but also because Kelly looked... *Hot. She looks hot tonight.* It wasn't that she didn't always look attractive in Abbie's eyes, but that night was a Kelly she had not seen before. She was decked out in a pair of fitted shiny black pants with a slight flare at the bottom and a perfectly fitting silver mesh tank top -- showing off Kelly's trim athletic body and a pair of unbelievably toned arms.

And then she saw them.

*What are THEY doing here? Olivia Benson? Alex Cabot? What's going on here?*

"Um... Abbie? You okay?" Christina asked, noticing Abbie's more than slightly bewildered look.

"Uh... It's just that a few of my co-workers are here," Abbie replied, not bothering to give more of an explanation.

"Oh... I see... and you're not out to them," Christina said, attempting to draw her own conclusions.

An attractive woman approached them and asked Abbie to dance. Before Christina could wave her off, Abbie said distractedly, "Christina, why don't you go ahead."

Regarding Abbie curiously, Christina gave her a dubious look, but then agreed and let the woman who had approached them lead her away.

Leaning on the table she was standing at, Abbie observed her three colleagues at the other end of the club. She wondered why she had not spotted Olivia and Alex in the club earlier, as it was apparent that the two had arrived there before Kelly had. Taking sips of her vodka, she silently watched the scene unfold before her. It took but a brief moment of observation for Abbie to recognize that Alex and Olivia were a couple, seeing Olivia's hand linger on the small of Alex's back. *I had no idea.*

"I thought Alex told me you weren't looking for trouble tonight?" Olivia said teasingly. At Kelly's confused stare, Olivia let out a loud laugh as she shook her head. "About three-quarters of the women in this bar now suffer from neck trauma from twisting to get a good view of you sauntering through the club, and the other quarter of this crowd suffers from blindness -- or they're straight. Nice outfit, Jordan."

Visibly embarrassed, Kelly only said, "Uh, thanks."

Alex laughed at her clearly uncomfortable friend and turned to the bartender to order Kelly a gin and tonic, knowing a drink would calm her friend's nerves. "I was beginning to think you jammed on us, Jordan."

"Sorry, I'm a little late. I got a consultative call from the 27th that I had to take care of before I turned my pager off for the night."

"Is Abbie catching cases tonight?" Olivia asked.

"Uh, I'm not sure. I don't think so."

Alex shot her partner a look, as Olivia realized that perhaps that wasn't the best question to ask. She then handed Kelly a freshly made drink and said, "You look good tonight, Kelly. Are Olivia and I going to have to fend off the women for you?"

"Funny, Cabot. Very funny."

"Oh, I don't know, Alex. I think we just leave her to fend for herself," Olivia teased.

"Enough out of you two. You're embarrassing me," Kelly muttered. Taking a glance around her she remarked, "Nice club."

"And very discreet," Alex said. "This is a word-of-mouth-only club -- as you noticed, no sign on the front. Most of the women who come to this club seek privacy -- some are high-profile -- and they come here because they wish not to be seen with their same sex partners in public, most likely because their careers can't afford it."

"I see. You two come here often?"

"Actually, no. Just once in a while, when we want to dance. Neither Alex nor I are big bar fans," Olivia replied.

"Tonight, Kelly, we relax. Have a few drinks, dance a little, talk... hang out." Alex paused to give Kelly a devilish grin. "And..." she said, scanning the club full of women, "...You can check out the scenery," she teased as Olivia stifled a laugh and gave her partner a light elbow to the ribs.

"She's the one, isn't she?"

Abbie startled at the voice beside her. "Pardon?"

"I watched you from the dance floor watching her -- the cute dark-haired one in the silver top... the one with arms to die for," Christina said.

"Look... I..." Abbie tried to get out an explanation.

Christina put a finger over Abbie's lips to quiet her. "I'm not offended, Abbie. I knew why you called tonight -- because you're still trying to figure stuff out. And as last time, I wouldn't have come out with you if I wasn't okay with this. I have no illusions of dating you, Abbie. At least I've met -- well, at least seen -- the one who seems to be on your mind all the time. I can see it in your eyes, and I think you need to talk to her tonight."

Like the first night they were together, Abbie was taken aback with Christina's understanding of her distracted, wandering state. And like the first night, Abbie knew the words that Christina spoke were true.

"Hey, Abbie?" Christina said when her acquaintance didn't respond. "You know what you have to do. I'm going to split. That cute one who tried to ask you to dance, well, she wants to go home with me."

Abbie gave the other woman a grin and a hug and only said, "Thanks."

Not watching Christina leave, Abbie turned around to face the group of familiar women across the club, took in a deep breath to settle herself, and willed her legs to move her body in their direction.

Chapter Six

"Hey," a familiar, smoky Texan-accented voice whispered into Kelly's ear from behind. The glass Kelly was holding dropped onto the floor, resulting in a loud shatter, turning Olivia and Alex's attention away from the couple they were talking to.

"Can I buy you another drink?" the voice said wryly, again into her ear.

"Uh, hi, Abbie..." Olivia said, clearly surprised and at a loss for a more profound greeting.

"Hi Olivia," Abbie said shyly. "Hi Alex... Hey, Kelly. Sorry about your drink," she said when Kelly turned around to face the owner of the voice who had startled her from behind. "Um, fancy meeting you all here," Abbie offered, smiling inwardly at the slight absurdity of the situation. In less than fifteen seconds, three colleagues had outted themselves to one another. *Maybe four?* She looked at Kelly and wondered why she was in a women's bar.

"Hey, Carmichael," Alex greeted, coming up behind Olivia. She wasn't sure if she was unhappy at Abbie's discovery of her relationship with Olivia, or extremely happy for the reason that Abbie and Kelly were in the same bar together.

"So can I get you another gin and tonic?" Abbie asked, trying to dissipate the awkwardness of the situation.

"Um, yeah. Thanks," Kelly replied.

After retrieving a replacement drink for Kelly, Abbie decided that an attempt at normalcy was in order. "So, if you don't mind me asking... How long have you two been together?"

Olivia chuckled, "A little over a year. Surprised?"

"Uh, yeah. A little. But that's great. Never would have guessed. But no worries. Your secret's safe with me," Abbie responded with a reassuring smile while realizing she was in abbreviated sentence mode again.

Alex chuckled at Abbie's nervousness. Wrapping an arm around the waist of her lover, Alex hoped her action would reassure the uncertain woman.

It worked, as Abbie smiled genuinely at them. "You two make a very good looking pair."

"Thanks," Olivia responded in kind. "So, uh, what brings you here tonight?"

For a moment, Abbie had the appearance of a deer caught in headlights. After regaining her balance she joked, "Hanging out with a friend who just ditched me for a roll in the hay." After a round of chuckles circulated, she continued by saying, "In truth, I only just noticed you all. How long have you been here?"

"We've been here for about half an hour... Kelly just got here," Alex responded.

Kelly had remained silent after her first few words to Abbie. Initially dumbfounded by Abbie's sudden appearance, she was then overcome with a sense of.... Well, Kelly couldn't help but stare at Abbie. She looked incredibly sexy in a pair of dark blue jeans, black cowboy boots, and a black spaghetti-strap top.

"Tongue-tied, Kell?" Abbie poked, trying to tease her daydreaming work partner back into the present, and hitting her stride again after the initial awkwardness of meeting up with the group.

"Sorry. Just... Well, you caught me off guard," the other woman stammered.

"So, Abbie... just to put it out there... are you here for the same reason Alex and I are here?" Olivia asked, wanting to level the ground of the newly acquired knowledge about each other -- especially between a group of women who had to work together.

It did not escape Abbie's notice that Olivia had excluded Kelly's name from her question. Flicking a glance over at Kelly first, she then met Olivia's gaze. "Well, if my secret's safe with you, then yes."

Olivia nodded in understanding while Alex watched on with interest. Observing the exchange between Olivia and Abbie, Alex saw her partner visibly relax at Abbie's assurance of privacy, knowing Olivia to be fiercely protective of her private life.

Alex, of course, had known Abbie was gay, but had never talked to her colleague about it, wishing to respect her privacy since her privileged information was a product of the office rumor mill. She had heard the rumors of Kim and Abbie's affair and had surmised from Kim's departure from the DA's Office and Abbie's miserable state after the fact that the affair had ended abruptly. After Kim had parted for private practice, everyone in the DA's Office gossiped about how Abbie's heart had been stomped on.

Settling into a comfortable rhythm of conversation, the women chatted for a little while until Olivia said to Alex, "Hey, Hon? Do you want to dance?"

"Sure," Alex said, letting Olivia pull her off of the stool she was sitting on. As they walked to the dance floor hand-in-hand, Alex leaned over and gave Olivia a peck on the cheek and said, "Good move, Detective. I was wondering when we would escape to give those two some time alone."

Olivia smiled and said with a twinkle in her eye, "Yes, but what makes you think I didn't want to give US some time alone?" She didn't wait for Alex to answer but instead pulled her partner in for a quick kiss that quickly evolved into a long passionate one.

"You look, um, wow... Kelly, you look incredible tonight," Abbie stammered.

Kelly turned three shades of red. "Um, you're looking pretty amazing yourself, Tex."

Abbie instantly warmed at the nickname -- as she always did when Kelly spoke it. "Thanks. So... have you known about Alex and Olivia for a little while now?" she asked.

"Yes, actually from the day they started their relationship," Kelly admitted.

"Of course you would know," Abbie said, mentally slapping herself. "You've probably known about Alex for quite some time."

Kelly only nodded.

"So, um, are you okay here? I mean being in a gay bar?"

"Yup," the other woman replied casually. "Alex used to take me out to women's bars when we were in law school."

"Oh," Abbie responded, wondering if Kelly's presence in those women's clubs was solely based on spending time with Alex.

"Alex dragged me out tonight to check out the scenery," Kelly said, flashing Abbie a mischievous grin.

"So do you like?" Abbie asked jokingly.

"I do now," Kelly replied in a low, serious voice, locking eyes with Abbie.

Abbie almost bolted, but a screaming voice in her head stopped her. *Don't you dare run away again, Abbie Carmichael! Not this time.* She forced herself to keep her feet planted, and then a realization struck her. This was the first time that Kelly had outwardly voiced her attraction for her. *If you choose to do nothing, you might not forgive yourself.* Christina's words wove through her mind. She stepped into Kelly's space, met her intense gaze, and took her hands into her own. "Kelly... I..." she began.

Gently placing two fingers on Abbie's lips, Kelly halted the thread of words from the other woman's mouth.

Abbie's heart began to race with Kelly's feather touch.

"Let's go dance," Kelly said simply as the first strands of a slow song began to play.

Nodding wordlessly, Abbie allowed Kelly to lead her to the dance floor, their fingers intertwined. *If you choose to do nothing, you might not forgive yourself.*

Abbie slipped her arms around Kelly's waist as Kelly wrapped her arms around Abbie's neck. She pulled the other woman into her and closed her eyes, reveling in the feel of Kelly's body in contact with hers. They swayed and moved together naturally, in sync to the music -- and to each other.

Kelly floated in and out of the heady feel of Abbie's arms wrapped around her, the feel of Abbie's breath by her ear and just the feel of Abbie Carmichael.

As the song played on, the two women instinctively held each other closer.

"Hey," Olivia whispered into Alex's ear as they were slow dancing. "Look," she said, as she turned Alex in time to the music to face the striking couple six feet away.

Alex chuckled into Olivia's ear. "It's about time."

As the song ended, the women met up again at their table -- Alex and Olivia with knowing looks on their faces and somewhat self-indulgent grins; and Kelly and Abbie looking somewhat uncertain. Alex noticed that the seemingly hesitant couple still had their fingers interlaced.

Knowing that a few drinks were in order for the nervous pair, Olivia said, "Can I get everyone another round?" When they all agreed, Abbie left with Olivia to help her carry the drinks from the bar, leaving Alex with Kelly.

"So?" Alex asked expectantly. "How are you doing?"

"You know..." the other woman began, "I'm fine, actually. I think things will be fine." Kelly's response began tentatively but was finished with certainty in her voice.

"Good. It's a good sign when neither of you have made a run for it. One step at a time, Kelly. One step at a time," Alex reassured, giving her friend a squeeze of the shoulder, recognizing that Kelly was wandering into uncharted territory.

"So Abbie... Are you doing okay?" Olivia asked gently as the two stood in line for their drinks.

Abbie smiled at the detective. "Thanks for asking. I, uh... yeah. I am."

Olivia chuckled and shook her head. "Who knew?"

This made Abbie laugh out loud. "Well, I think Kelly and I have known for a little while, but we've both been cowards about this."

Olivia took a moment to give the other woman an assessing look. "I don't know you very well, Abbie, but if I may say, just let it go. Life is too short not to take risks."

Abbie nodded in comprehension, almost to herself. She gave the detective a sincere smile. "Olivia... Thank you."

"I think we're going to head home now," Olivia said, standing behind Alex with her arms wrapped comfortably around her. The four women had spent the remainder of the night laughing, talking and dancing. Olivia was glad that she had gotten the chance not only to spend time with Kelly, but also to get to know Abbie a little more. Although the two had worked together previously, it had been far from a relationship of a personal nature. Now with a glimpse of Abbie's off-work character, she had decided she liked the other woman. She smiled amusedly to herself and realized that Abbie was not quite the cool personality she had encountered in the squad room. An ice queen she was not.

"Hey, it was really, really good to spend time with you two," Abbie said. "Let's make sure we do it again."

"Indeed... it was fun, wasn't it?" Alex replied, looking from Abbie to Kelly. "And we will do this again."

After Kelly gave Olivia and Alex parting hugs, and after the two left, Abbie asked, "So... how about you? Are you ready to head home?"

"Mmm, I'm a little tired, but..." Kelly said, not sure if she should push.

"But you want to talk."

"We should."

"Then let's get out of here."

Abbie and Kelly emerged onto the street from the club holding hands, in hopes of settling a myriad of unspoken emotions between them.

Walking. There was something about walking for Abbie and Kelly. Always comfortable, always familiar and always connected. They left HighWire and began to walk with no particular direction in mind, neither of them saying anything but both with a multitude of emotions and thoughts running through their heads. It was clear to both Abbie and Kelly that the attraction they had for one another needed to be dealt with. No running away. No avoidance. No cutesy segue ways. And no more denial.

"I'm sorry, Kelly," Abbie said, finally breaking the long silence between them.

"For what?" Kelly asked in return, throwing a questioning look at Abbie.

"For being a jerk the last few weeks. I know things between us have been exceedingly strained. And... I'm very well aware of the fact that I withdrew from you," the other woman iterated quietly.

Kelly didn't respond immediately. She stuffed her hands deep into her coat pockets as they walked and began to think. She had to admit to herself that Abbie had been somewhat cool towards her, but jerk was hardly the word. What was the word?

"You haven't said anything, so I must have been a real jerk," Abbie said worriedly, staring off into the dark of the night to avoid eye contact with the other woman.

"No, Abbie... it's not that. But I have to say I've been really confused with your behavior towards me," Kelly replied quietly.

"You're being polite. I won't lie by saying I haven't noticed you upset with me -- with how I've been acting."

Kelly exhaled softly, perhaps letting off some frustration. "Yes. I have been upset. Not at you though. Just upset." She paused to gather her next words. "Abbie, aside from everything else that's going on between us, we're friends, and it was hard to suddenly be faced with what looked like the loss of a friend I cared about."

"I'm sorry," Abbie said again, quietly.

"Well, at least we're here tonight." Weariness touched Kelly's voice. "Let's just talk honestly, okay? That's what we need to do now."

"Okay." Suddenly swallowed with uncertainty, Abbie ventured, "Um, where do we start?"

"How about starting with the reason you've been keeping your distance from me," Kelly said without reproach.

Abbie smiled wryly. "You're one to start with the tough ones." Sobering, she searched for words to answer the other woman's stark question. "Well, if you want honesty, I've been keeping my distance from you because I don't know what to do with you." When Kelly only looked at her expectantly, she continued. "I think you've been aware of an unspoken 'something' between us."


Abbie didn't expect such a short, simple answer from the other woman, but forged on anyways. "And, well, I just didn't think that 'something' between us was a good idea."

"So you backpedaled," Kelly commented, again without reproach.

"Something like that."

"Are you not attracted to me?"

The question sounded so innocent, so child-like. Abbie couldn't contain a chuckle. "You really meant honest when you said honest, didn't you?" She became serious again. "Kelly, it's not as simple as attraction -- at least not for me. Yes, I'm attracted to you -- and had been from the day I first met you. And yes, my attraction grew into something much more when we started spending more and more time with each other."


"But you're straight."

Kelly had wondered when Abbie would bring that particular issue up. She had been thinking all night about her own answers around whether or not she was straight. She still hadn't come to any conclusions, so she answered the best way she could. "Yes, perhaps I am, but that doesn't change how I feel about you."

Another answer that Abbie hadn't expected. She had been prepared for Kelly to deny her straightness or at the very least say she was possibly bi-sexual or bi-curious. "So what DO you feel?"

They walked several paces before Kelly offered an answer. "I'm very attracted to you, Abbie, and I'm not afraid to admit that. And yes, I do feel our connection." She paused again. "Tex, what are you afraid of?"

Such a simple question, but a question that had the power to expose those feelings that Abbie had tried to forget. *Where to start?* "You scared me, Kelly. Or maybe I scared myself because I had these strong emotions for you. God -- even the word 'emotion' scares me," she sighed. Formulating her next words carefully, Abbie forged on. "I've been hurt by someone who, like you, was straight but thought she could be involved with another woman. I mean really hurt."

"Oh." It suddenly made sense to Kelly -- the internal struggles she perceived in Abbie when their connections and interactions became intense.

"Even more, it was someone I worked with."

Abbie's added statement took her aback and before she could think, Kelly let slip, "Oh, so that's how Alex knew."

Abbie stopped in her tracks and turned to look at Kelly with unease in her eyes. "What do you mean by that?"

"Oh, I... Damn. I didn't mean for that to come out. Something Alex said to me. She knew you were gay, Abbie."


"She didn't tell me how. I sensed she didn't want to divulge any information that might not be for her to divulge. She said that perhaps one day you would tell me."

"How did this all come up?" Abbie asked, alarmed that Alex had known all this time.

"Um, it's not like we were gossiping about you. She, uh, just nailed me one night at dinner and asked why I was moody. And she guessed that it was about you."

"She did?"

"Uh, yeah... She said there was just something between you and I that she sensed, and that's when I asked her why she assumed you weren't straight."

"Damn. Those rumors of Kim and I," Abbie mused outwardly.


Abbie, realizing she was thinking out loud explained, "Kim was an Exec ADA I was involved with in the office. That's probably how Alex found out about me. Probably heard a rumor. Or two." Her last comment was made self-deprecatingly.

"Kim's the one who hurt you," Kelly conveyed quietly.

"Yes," came the exhaled reply. "But it's something I don't want to talk about right now, if you don't mind."

"Then let's talk about us."

"Is there an us?" Abbie asked with uncertainty.

"Do you want there to be?"

This time, with surprise at herself, Abbie didn't hesitate. "Yes."

Kelly wasn't fazed by Abbie's response, and instead of responding with words, she took Abbie's hand in her own and was glad the other woman didn't tense or pull back. Taking advantage of the silence, Kelly sifted through the things she wanted to say to the woman who was quickly claiming her heart. After walking for several minutes wordlessly, she began, "Abbie, I can't fix your past, and I'm not so naive to think that the past doesn't affect how we react in the present. However, I can say to you that after all that has happened in our lives, life is too short to not allow ourselves something good. I can't answer your question about being straight. At least not right now. But I do know, Abbie Carmichael, that I am very attracted to you -- and it's more than just that." She paused to grasp at the right words. "I have this incredible connection with you and I... I know that it's not just that simple, it's an emotional connection for me. The significance of that is immense, because since my parents died, I've struggled with my emotionality. And I want you to know that what I feel for you... Well, I haven't felt this way before. And I..." Kelly said, her voice trailing off as she struggled with her words. It was then that Alex's words from the other night struck her. "And I know this connection... this indescribable something... is there because my heart really, really misses you whenever you're not with me." And then she fell silent, not sure if she had said too much.

A wave of emotion hit Abbie hard, a sweet tendril of emotion that she felt wrapping itself around her heart. She stopped their walking and without words or hesitation, took Kelly into her arms and held her tightly. And just like earlier that night in the club, each woman reveled in the feel of each other.

"Kelly," Abbie whispered as she held the other woman. "I'm so sorry I pushed you away all this time. I had no idea you felt that much."

"Then don't do it anymore."

"I won't."

Abbie released her hold on Kelly, but only enough to hold her back slightly so she could gaze intensely into the deep pools of Kelly's obsidian eyes. She whispered again, "... I'm so sorry," and slowly closed the distance between them, her lips lightly brushing Kelly's. With that first touch, the two women felt a powerful current pass between them, moving Kelly to lean in for a more intense but still slow, lingering kiss. The two women exchanged tender kisses for several moments, and as their kisses deepened with an intoxicating passion, their exchange conveyed all of their emotions for each other, perhaps and most especially the ones each had pent up behind walls of self-protection. Kissing passionately and with increased urgency, their kisses welcomed each other home -- for the first time.

*Like coming home.* Abbie gently pulled away with that stray thought, marveling at how quickly things had come to be.

Pulling Abbie back into her arms for a gentle embrace, Kelly said under her breath, "Breathe. Can't forget to breathe."

Abbie let out a low chuckle and then sighed. "God, what took us so long?"

Kelly took a slight step back from Abbie to look into her eyes and queried, "Does this mean we're okay?"

"Yes, but I think we have a lot to talk about," Abbie replied gently, brushing Kelly's cheek with the back of her finger.

Kelly thought for a moment, still slightly distracted from having just kissed Abbie for the first time. "I'm not trying to put off what we need to talk about, but it's really, really late, and..."

Abbie gently interrupted her with an affectionate smile as she took Kelly's hands into her own. "... And we're both tired and we should get some rest. I think that's a good idea. We can talk tomorrow."

"How about we find ourselves some cabs?" Kelly said, giving Abbie's hands a quick squeeze.

"Hello?" a sleepy voice eked into the phone.

//"Still sleeping?"//

The teasing voice was familiar. "Alex?"

//"The one and only. So you didn't answer my question."//

"Yes... what time is it?"



//"Late night?"//

Alex's voice was teasing again. "Yes, but not for the reasons I'm thinking you're thinking," Kelly replied. "So why are you interrupting my sleep?"

//"Actually, I just called to see how you and Abbie made out last night."//

Even in her sleepy state, Kelly smirked at the different connotations of Alex's statement. Made out all right. "Um, good."

//"That's a cryptic answer if I ever heard one."//

"Alexandra Cabot. Are you being smart-assed with me first thing in the morning?" Kelly chided with annoyance marring her voice. "Give me a break -- I just woke up," she grumped.

//"Well, it's first thing in the morning for you, but we've been up for several hours wondering how things ended up with you two."//

Kelly realizing the 'we' in Alex's statement meant Olivia must have been near the telephone. "Hi Olivia," Kelly mumbled, trying to wipe the sleep from her eyes.

//"She said hi."//

Kelly heard Alex pass on the message and the return of a greeting from the background on Alex's end of the call. "We're going to be fine. We still have some talking to do -- actually a lot of talking, but at least we've admitted to one another that avoiding this thing between us is a dumb thing to do."

//"Good. So what are you up to now that I've woken you up?"//

"I'm not sure. Abbie and I are going to meet up later on -- probably for dinner."

//"Well, since I owe you for waking you from your slumber, why don't you come over to my place. Olivia and I have started on a batch of crepes, and we'll feed you some brunch."//

Kelly chuckled. "Okay, you have a deal. Give me forty-five minutes?"

//"Perfect. See you in a bit."//

"So? Is she coming?" Olivia asked as Alex hung up the phone.

"Yup," Alex replied as she turned around to pull Olivia into her arms. "Mmm, you fit nice," she murmured as she snuggled into the other woman's embrace. Although her own frame was trim, she very much enjoyed the feminine strength Olivia's athletic body exuded.

"Mmm, I have to agree," the detective purred, encircling her own arms around the lithe blonde in front of her. "Ms. Cabot, life is good, isn't it?"

"It is, Ms. Benson. We do have it good."

Olivia looked endearingly into her partner's eyes and said, "You know, Alex. I'm glad you're looking out for Kelly."

Alex seemed to contemplate a moment before responding to her partner. "C'mon, we have some crepes to start," she said as she towed the other woman by the hand into the kitchen. "Kelly's never really liked people fawning over or worrying about her -- you know, that independent self thing. But she's wandering into uncharted territory in regards to her sexuality; she's just broken off an engagement with a guy; the person she's getting involved with is someone she's working with; and the last time Abbie got involved with someone at work, well, it was disastrous."

Olivia digested all that Alex had said, and stated the obvious. "You're worried about her, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am. She's one of my best friends, and I just want her to know she has friends who'll be there for her. This is pretty complicated stuff to deal with." She paused and then remarked, "Hey, Liv?"


Alex gazed over at her partner, who was in the process of cutting some mushrooms. "Thanks for spending time with Kelly this afternoon. I know that you haven't known her as long as I have, and I know it's kind of cutting in on some of our own time..."

Olivia shushed her gently. "Alex. Hey -- I really like Kelly, and consider her a friend. And I know she's been there for you in a similar situation..." she said, her voice trailing off with a smile. Alex had revealed to Olivia that when she first recognized her attraction for the detective, she had struggled with her feelings because of the complications around the two women working together. Kelly had been there for Alex, to listen and to offer support -- and sage advice. Olivia smiled inwardly. Whatever Kelly had said to Alex, she privately thanked an unknown deity for, because she was sure Kelly's counsel was one of the reasons why Alex was with her today.

"Yeah," Alex said, picking up on Olivia's unspoken thoughts. She chuckled and said, "She gave me a good swift kick in the butt when I needed it -- otherwise I would still be here trying to figure out how to ask you out on a date."

Olivia laughed at her partner and then became serious. "Well, regardless, and putting all other complications with a budding romance aside, coming out to oneself is not an easy process."

"Hmm. I wonder how she's doing with all of that. I've known her for a long time -- and somehow I can't see her making a declaration of lesbianism," Alex thought out loud.

"Well, maybe for Kelly, it's just a case of meeting the right person regardless of whether that person is male or female."

"You are astute, Olivia," Alex said with an endearing smile.

"I guess that's why I'm a detective," Olivia chuckled back.

"That was delicious," Kelly sighed satisfactorily. "Thanks for spoiling me."

As Alex took the dishes away from the table she posed, "So would now be a good time to talk about you and Abbie?"

"You don't like subtlety much, do you? Straight to the crux of the matter, huh, Alex?" Kelly kidded.

"I think it has something to do with that prosecutorial thing you attorneys have to have," Olivia commented wryly.

Kelly chuckled. "So what do you want to know?"

"I'm assuming you and Abbie had a chance to do a little talking last night after we left?"

"Yeah, we did. It took us long enough to realize we needed to, but at least now we're starting on a good road to clearing things up between us." Kelly paused as her thoughts trailed back to the previous night. "God, there's been a lot of unspoken misunderstandings between us, and a lot we should have said to one another but were too afraid to," she finished with some regret in her voice.

"But," Olivia began. "At least you're talking now. And who knows? My hope is that things will work out between you two."

"And Kelly... Just know that we're here for you. You have an interesting, and somewhat difficult road ahead of you -- in terms of sorting things out. And don't make yourself think that you have to figure things out all in one day. Most of all, don't forget that you're not alone in all of this, okay?" Alex iterated meaningfully.

"Thanks," Kelly replied, giving them both a warm smile, "To both of you. Your support means a lot to me." Kelly paused and a sheepish look crossed her face. "I, uh, um, I've, uh, never dated a woman before."

Olivia and Alex started laughing. It was Olivia who spoke up between chuckles. "Sorry, Kelly. We're not laughing at you. It's just never occurred to me that we'd ever be having this conversation."

Alex added, "You know, I have a feeling you'll be fine with it. Somehow I don't think Abbie being a woman is going to change how you feel about her. Am I right?"

Kelly thought for a moment. "No. You're right."

"Good. That's what you should be thinking. Remember our chat that night at dinner?"

"Yes. I do. In fact, I thought back to that conversation when Abbie and I talked last night."

"Kelly, just go with it. That's what life is all about with you. I've known that about you since the day we met, and I don't think that's changed in you," Alex said reassuringly.

"You know," Kelly started. She gave Alex and Olivia an affectionate smile. "I've come to recognize how lucky I am to have the two of you in my life."


"Hi," Abbie greeted shyly, as she entered Kelly's apartment. *I'm nervous.*

"Hi," Kelly replied, appearing to be just as nervous. "Come on in."

"Hey, I was wondering, since you and I have a lot to talk about, that maybe we could hang out here instead of going out for dinner. I think I owe you pizza, anyways," Abbie said wryly. "That's if it's okay with you."

"Sure," Kelly answered with some hesitation.

The two women stood there regarding each other, still not knowing quite what to say after an emotional night less than twelve hours before. "I, uh," Abbie started with uncertainty. "I've had a lot of time to think, and, I, uh..." Abbie paused to look down at her feet, struggling with her words. When she looked up at Kelly again, she saw trepidation written all over her face.

*No baby, it's not that.* Abbie pulled Kelly into her arms, locked eyes with her and said softly, "Kelly, don't you go doubting me. Not now and not after all we've been through." With that, she captured Kelly's lips tenderly. Kelly responded to her, moving her mouth against Abbie's with less and less hesitation, kissing unhurriedly but resolutely. After a few moments, Abbie pulled away, still holding the other woman's face in her hands. "If you think I have any reservations about us, I hope that just told you that I don't and that I am very much okay with this. More than okay," she stated with certainty in her voice and conviction in her eyes as she held Kelly's.

The other woman answered with an uncertain smile, meeting Abbie's intense gaze. "Thanks. I think I needed that."

"C'mon," Abbie said, as she led Kelly from the entranceway and sat them on the couch in the living room.

"Kelly. I need to tell you everything I thought about when I got home last night... and all day today. Please, just let me get through this, because," she paused to look down nervously at her hands, "Because I've been waiting all day to say this and I'm nervous." She took a deep breath and looked up at Kelly again. "When I met you, the first thing that came to my mind was a recognition that I was attracted to you. And quickly after that, the second thing that came to my mind was that I was not going there again. Not with someone I worked with and not with someone I presumed straight. And so I pushed it aside for a little while, knowing that with me, attractions often melt into the woodworks. But then we started spending more and more time with each other outside of work, and we just clicked... we really connected. That's powerful for me because I don't connect with just anybody." She smiled wryly. "I'm sure you've figured out that I'm a pretty aloof person and I keep most everyone at arms length. That's why people around the courts call me the ice queen." She chuckled slightly at the self-deprecating remark before continuing. "But with you, I found it so easy to... to just let you in. Let you into a place that very, very few people are allowed.

"I then started to realize that it was more than an attraction. The more time we spent together, the more I found myself... falling for you. And it scared me because I didn't want to get hurt again. I knew that the hurt would be more than what it was with Kim because I realized that if anything should happen between us and it didn't work, I would never heal from the wreckage of my heart if I lost you. That's when I started to push you away. I couldn't risk that kind of hurt. It was hard, Kelly. I saw this hurt in your eyes, and in my mind you probably couldn't figure out why I was doing that. And it broke my heart to hurt you."

Abbie paused to take a deep breath and gathered her words in her mind, subconsciously looking down at their clasped hands in nervousness. After a long moment, and seeming to make up her mind to demonstrate more certainty in her words, she looked up again at the other woman so that their eyes could meet. "And then I saw you last night, at HighWire... when you walked into the club, and it struck me like a bolt of lightning. I realized that because I had such strong emotions for you, that the hurt would be more if I didn't attempt to find out what we had, than if we tried and failed. And that's when I decided I couldn't live with that uncertainty."

Abbie paused to gaze intently into Kelly's eyes and then continued. In a soft voice, and with a sliver of shyness, she said, "Kell, I don't know why and how you've done it so quickly, but somehow you've managed to capture my heart... and it's about time I let you into it," Abbie finally finished. Again, she looked down at their intertwined hands, not sure of wanting to know what expression Kelly wore on her face.

She got her answer when Kelly placed her fingers under her chin and gently tilted it up so that their eyes could meet. And Kelly's obsidian eyes said everything -- burning intensely into Abbie's, almost as if searching her soul. Their eyes stayed locked for a moment before Kelly leaned in to brush her lips against Abbie's. She pulled back before Abbie could respond with her own kiss. "Tex. Thank you."

Abbie stammered for a moment. "I, uh, I'm not sure for what."

"For letting me in." Kelly leaned in again to kiss Abbie, and this time she let Abbie respond. They kissed for a long time, enjoying every moment of their gentle exploration. Neither rushed their exchange. Instead they used their kisses to convey unspoken promises to each other, finally giving recognition to the path they were on.

The End

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