DISCLAIMER: sadly we cannot have everything-- therefore, I don't own the ladies or other characters, I merely use them as I wish and get a great deal of enjoyment out of it.
SPOILERS: This is all post-loss. Occaisionally flashbacks will involve details from various episodes (ex. Abuse, and a few others)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Chapter Thirty-One: Novak
When my alarm goes off at 10:30, I hear the shower running in the other room, and at first I wonder why you didn't wake me up for work. I vaguely remember waking up earlier, and as my brain unfogs, I definitely remember waking up earlier. The thought of our little workout brings a sleepy smile to my face, and even though I remember now that Hammond will be here for you at noon, I decide to join you in the shower as a thank you for earlier.
My entry into the bathroom makes you turn under the water, and I'm breathless at the sight of your silky whiteness under its cascade. I'll never get used to looking at you.
"Want some company?"
"I've gotta be ready to go at noon"
"I'll keep it perfectly innocent " I can't stop my wink.
"You'd better not." You reach your hand out of the curtain to pull me in with you, and I'm glad I didn't get dressed.
After a few minutes we both realize we're too tired and sore to try anything really frisky in the slick tub, and we resign ourselves to washing each other's hair and bodies, making our touches linger, and trying at once to see who can make the other more aroused, and more clean. It's an interesting game, and before long the whole thing dissolves into those intoxicating kisses we both love, holding onto each other under the showerhead. I like this closeness to you. I like the feeling of being tucked into your arms, safe. I wish I could stay here all day, I wish I could stay here forever, just safe.
"I need to get ready Livvy. And so do you." You speak reluctantly against my lips, and I drop my head onto your shoulder, feeling a few tears mix with the water that slides off our bodies.
"What if I can't convince Julie, Alex? Am I supposed to just let it go?"
"You can though. I know you can. Just, be you. Not Detective you. My you."
I sigh against your skin, "I don't know Lexi. What am I supposed to say to her?"
"Tell her whatever you'd want someone to tell me." You pull away a little, using your hand to draw my head up to meet your eyes. "Olivia, I know that you are stronger than Sophie was. Maybe you don't believe me, but you are. If anyone can help this girl it's you. Get her to testify Detective. I know you can."
"I hope so Alex."
"And don't worry about the vodka, I'll get rid of it before I leave." You kiss me gently and then step out of the shower. I stay behind, absent-mindedly rinsing my hair, trying to prepare for my meeting with Julie. When I finally shut off the water and step dripping back into the bedroom, you're already in the kitchen, and I hear the familiar clink of my glass and bottles as you open them and pour them down the drain. It's not as hard to hear as I expected. Maybe that's because I'm still so surprised that I don't remember buying them all. I'm relieved to have the decision taken out of my hands.
But still, there's a piece of me deep down that wants to keep a bottle for myself. Not necessarily to drink, just to have. I sigh and move to my closet, preparing for the rest of the day.
By the time Hammond arrives at noon I've finished cleaning up vodka bottles, and the glass you poured is washed and put back in the cupboard. I couldn't resist pouring it back into the bottle first, checking the levels. It's clear you didn't drink any, and I almost feel guilty for checking. Almost.
I skip breakfast, opting instead for coffee in one of your travel mugs and I call out a goodbye to you as I follow Hammond to the car, pausing to lock the door behind me with my key.
"Are you ready to go over your testimony?" Hammond is unusually talkative this afternoon, and I'm not sure if I'm relieved or annoyed.
"I don't know. I'm ready to testify, yes. But I'm a little worried about Miss Novak's ability to handle the case."
"She seems competent enough"
"Maybe I'm just too close to this to be objective. She doesn't seem to have the passion for this that I'd like to see."
"Well counselor, you have to admit you've had enough passion for about five people about this case. If you hadn't, I wouldn't be chauffeuring you around two years later."
I can't help the perplexed look on my face. Hammond turns to catch my eye and explains, "Hate to admit it counselor, but I've actually gotten used to you. The truth is you remind me of my daughter. I'll be lucky if she turns out to be half as intelligent, passionate, and strong-willed as you and your Detective."
"Don't you mean obstinate and annoying?"
Hammond enjoys a rare chuckle. "Well, that too. It seems to have served you fairly well."
"Yes, my obstinacy served me so well that I had to go into hiding for two years without being able to tell anyone but my ex-girlfriend what was happening."
"It's a long story. It doesn't really matter now anyway, that's all behind us." Mostly. "And anyway it has nothing to do with this trial. Who's the other witness? Do you know?"
"A little boy. He witnessed one of Valez men murdering his parents, and then caught a glimpse of the guy as he himself was being shot. They shot him through a pillow and must not have had a taste for it, gun was off center and the bullet just grazed his skull. He was lucky. Your detective and her partner were part of the crew that found him about a month ago."
I can't stop the look of surprise.
"She's been a little preoccupied, plus I don't think she knows he's a witness yet. Maybe she hasn't put the pieces together yet."
"Maybe." I know better. You probably meant to tell me at first, but I distracted you with all of my questions, wanting to clear the air. And then the Patterson case happened and I can see how you got sidetracked. It's not like you to miss those kinds of connections. Usually you're the first one to notice correlations. Part of the reason you're good at your job I suppose.
I wonder if you're ready to talk to Julie. I wonder if I'm ready to talk to Novak again.
When Elliot arrives, I've stolen some of your coffee from the pot, deciding I need the jolt of caffeine for a change. He raises his eyebrows at the sight of my coffee cup, he's used to seeing me chugging orange juice.
"Rough night?" There's a wink in his voice and I shot him a nasty look. "Sorry. Did you get any sleep, or did Alex make you talk all night?"
"By the time she got here I was pretty much done using my brain. Last thing I remember for awhile is heading face down towards the floor."
"Passed out? Jeez Benson, I knew you were stressed but.."
"Not sure how she got me to the bedroom, but when I came too she was wiping my face with a washcloth. I'm fine now though. We had a long talk afterwards, and then again this morning."
"Are you sure you can do this one?"
"Look I know you went to Don and told him you were concerned." I can't help sounding angry.
"Liv. This has been a big week for you, and this case is understandably difficult."
I cut him off, "I can do this Elliot. If I don't, who will? I'm the only who can talk to this girl."
"I can talk to her."
I sigh, wishing that were true. "No. Not this way. I have to do this. For Sophie."
"All right, let's do it."
I take a few deep breaths before ringing the bell at Julie's parents where she's been staying until she finds a new apartment. She answers the bell herself, face stained with tears. "I had a feeling you'd be here."
"Miss Naysom "
"Patterson. Julie Patterson. We were-- we were going to Canada to get married next year."
"Julie. We have a few more questions we need to ask you. Can we do this here? Or would you rather "
"It's fine. My parents know about everything. They were the ones paying for our wedding. My mom was going to go with Sophie when she was ready to tell her folks."
Julie opens the door wider to let us in, sniffling back more tears as she leads us to a fancy living room-- the sort of room I'd expect to see in your mother's house-- and I'm struck again by how much this case reminds me of us. A well-dressed woman with finely coiffed hair sticks her head into the room as we sit down, "Julie, is everything all right?"
"It's fine mom, these are the detectives who are working on Sophie's case." Julie's voice breaks at her lover's name, as her mother comes in to place one hand on her shoulder, extending the other to Elliot and myself in a firm handshake.
"We're so sorry to bother you at home Mrs. Naysom. We'll try to make this is as quick as possible."
"It's quite all right, we were all very attached to Sophie, looking forward to having her in the family. We want to do all we can to get justice for her death. Those men are murderers. We want them punished."
"Well, Mrs. Naysom, as much as I agree personally, the bottom line is that Sophie is the only one responsible for her death as far as the law is concerned." The refined woman harbors an expression of intense anger as I quickly continue, "But I can personally guarantee that those three little rodents will pay for what they did to her."
"I certainly hope so detective. You can't imagine how difficult this has been for us. Sophie was practically our daughter-in-law. We wasted a lot of Julie's teen years fighting over her choices, and we all feel as though we've been cheated by this."
"Actually, I do understand. And that's why I'm so determined to help the ADA make a case against those men. But I need Julie's help to do it." I turn my attention from mother to daughter, noticing her fatigue and stress in the dark circles under her eyes. I'm familiar with the feeling. It's hard to sleep with a dead lover. "Julie, I need you to tell me everything you remember from the night Sophie was attacked. I know how terrifying it must have been for you, but Sophie told me that you were there and you're the only one who can help her now."
Elliot is silent beside me, notebook out and pen ready. I have to trust he'll take the notes that I would, I need to focus my attention on the victim who was left behind.
Julie's mother kneels beside her chair, and puts a hand on her arm, using the other to smooth her daughter's long black hair back behind her shoulders. "Talk to them baby, it's what Sophie would want. What if they get out? If you don't stop them, no one will."
I watch Julie's shoulders fall, the stiffness leaving her body as she settles sadly into the chair and begins to talk. I can't help but wish Sophie had been so open. Maybe then this wouldn't be necessary.
The meeting with Novak is about what I'd expected. She's business-like as usual, and I still feel a little concerned with her missing passion. Hammond waits outside as we discuss the case and the questions she'll be asking. When we both feel comfortable with the coming testimony she settles behind her desk and shakes her hair out of her face.
"Was it hard?"
"Was what hard Miss Novak?"
"Casey, please. Coming back. Being here?" She gestures at her office.
"You must be a very good ADA, you're office is much nicer than mine ever was."
She scoffs lightly. "Sometimes I wonder if they're trying to inspire me to further heights."
"Meaning what? The office is supposed to inspire a passion for your job?" I hope that doesn't sound as petty as I think it did.
"I suppose. How did you do it? How did you do this job? I've been here almost two years and I still feel like I don't know what I'm doing."
"I was lucky. And so are you. You have the best detectives on the force working out there. And it helps to have someone to come home to."
"Did you? The office rumor is that you had a relationship with Trevor Langan."
I can't help but laugh. "Trevor Langan and I went to law school together. He's an arrogant prick and a sleazy but effective defense attorney. And he's not even remotely my type. But what about you? Doesn't Serena offer a little understanding at the end of the day?"
Casey looks surprised. For someone who listens to the rumor mill, she certainly seems shocked that she's in it. "Word gets around counselor, remember?"
"Things at home haven't been very calm since Arthur fired her. She's understandably upset, and not entirely sure it's not a political thing. She's been on a tear cleaning the house, talking about moving to Washington. She won't talk about how she feels about leaving, just keeps going on about the political climate, and the state of the world. It's been a little tense."
Sounds familiar. "Olivia was always like that. Talked about everything but what was really bothering her." Before I can stop it, I realize I've outed you to a woman you despise and I slap my hand over my mouth, hoping maybe the lawyer is as dim as you've been telling me.
"Olivia? Guess Trevor really isn't your type." You're half right it takes Casey a minute to put two and two together, "Wait. Detective Benson? That Olivia?" She reads my face and continues, "Not to worry counselor, your secret is safe with me. I always sort of wondered about her anyway. All those dates and no relationship to speak of. Although I had sort of chalked it up to being a consequence of the job."
"It wasn't always the easiest relationship to maintain," that's an understatement, "but since I've been back she's been different." I'm trying to avoid the elephant in the room, but Casey broaches the subject,
"I'm sure she's told you I've been rough on them about the Patterson case."
"You've done all but terrorize Elliot and Olivia about it. Do you really think they're slacking off on this?"
"You know as well as I do that my case is only as good as the evidence I've been given. This one touches on a personal matter as well and I'm sure you can understand my desire to have this end the right way."
"And I'm sure you understand that my girlfriend is already walking a very thin line and your constant and unnecessary pressure isn't helping her nerves."
"Look, Miss Cabot, you of all people should understand my position. I have three 20 year olds sitting in a holding cell. I have had to fight the judge and opposing counsel at least 3 times a week for a month to keep them there without an actual prosecuting witness. The only thing that's keeping them there is the hate crimes charge that I have to refile and attempt to justify every other day. And knowing what I do about your relationship preferences, you should also understand why I'm so determined to win this case."
Now I get why you don't like her. And I'm sort of getting a vision of my early days on this job. Was I really this annoying?
"There is more to this than a case Novak. Olivia is wrung out on this one. You have to back off."
"I'm sorry if your girlfriend is stressed Alex, but I need her to grow up and be a detective on this one. She still has a job to do."
I don't stick around to hear the rest of her argument. Turning on my heel, I storm out of her overfurnished office and whip past a confused Agent Hammond, who follows me quickly, but knows better than to ask what happened.
Chapter Thirty-Two: Trial and Error
By the time I see you storming into the bullpen with Hammond at your heels, Elliot and I have had a chance to give all the new information to Cragen. He places a call to Novak and I'm glad to finally have something worthwhile to give her. Julie's memory of that night is incredibly vivid, as I'd both hoped and feared. She had especially important details about a unique piercing, and an unfortunately placed tattoo. Two of the three guys were sunk. If she could pick the third out of a lineup, he'd go down too.
I'm distracted from celebration by the sound of your heels clicking into the room. You grab my arm and pull me into the interview room, slamming the door behind us.
"That woman is insufferable!" I haven't seen you fuming like this in awhile it's kind of sexy. Until I realize that you're genuinely angry.
"Meeting with Casey went well huh?"
"She practically accused you and Elliot of not knowing how to do your jobs."
"Why were you talking about me and Elliot?"
"It came up. She was asking me how I handled the job when I was here, and we got to talking about her and Serena and you and I and--"
"You told Casey about us?! Alex, look, my reservations aside, I abhor that woman! How could you give her more ammunition to use against me? She's already on my ass about this without you pissing her off."
"Me pissing her off?! Me? That woman... that woman. She she! Argh!"
I jump at the sound of you pounding a fist on one-way. I go to your side and kiss the edge of your hand as you try to shake out the pain. "Alex, calm down. I tried to tell you she was infuriating."
Your shoulders are heaving, your breath heavy I don't think I've seen you like this before. "What's going on Alex? Really?"
You turn to me, and I only hope noone decides to check in on us. I'm still holding your clenched fist, which I'm sure is starting to throb-- you're not used to hitting things. "I'm sorry Liv. I guess I'm a little worried about this testimony. I'm not used to being on that side of the witness stand, and then there's your case, and Novak just went too far. It's my fault, I opened the door by asking about Serena."
"Don't talk like a lawyer Alex. This isn't court. What happened?"
"She asked me how I did it, when I was on the squad. It was all well and good until I spit out the bit about us. Which I'm sorry for, by the way. She was mentioning being frustrated by Serena's unwillingness to discuss how she felt about being fired, and I popped out about how you used to do the same thing. You were right about her though, it took a minute before she connected your name with you."
I sigh, unwilling to have this fight right now. "It's ok. I get it. Believe me, I of all people understand how quickly Casey gets under your skin. Besides, maybe you're right about telling people anyway." I pause, and you stare straight ahead, I know your mind is somewhere else. "It'll be ok Alex. It's just a trial." My words fall flat, after these last two years we know that's not true.
"Look, at least its almost over right?"
You nod, but I can see you're still distracted.
"You should probably get out of here Casey's on her way to hear about the new evidence."
"Julie talked?" You turn to meet my gaze, and I can see you trying to shift your focus to me.
"Yup. With a little help from her mom she finally told us everything. I think her memory is better than Sophie's was. Assuming tattoos and piercing match up, we should have enough visual evidence to make the charges stick again. And she has an amazing aural memory. Even Novak should be able to make the hate crimes stick now."
Your smile is tired, but I know you're trying.
"Do you have more meetings today?" You shake your head, and play with my fingers. "Do you think Hammond would let you stay with me again?"
"Probably. Turns out he is a human being. With a gay daughter."
"No kidding. He has humor and emotions and everything. He even chuckled today."
I wish you sounded amused. You look a little bit like me all of a sudden.
"Go home Alex. Have Hammond take you to my place, see if you can make him human enough to clean while he's there, our laundry's getting out of control." I lean in to kiss you as someone knocks on the one-way.
"Shit." For a minute I debate pulling away but decide to go with it. It's enough to shock you back to the present as you respond after a moment's hesitation. It's not a long kiss, but whoever knocked clearly can't wait. I'm not surprised to see Casey's head pop into the room over your shoulder.
"Detective? A word?" So much for office romance. I squeeze your hand and lead you out of the room, past your replacement.
"I'll see you at home. Agent Hammond-- take care of my girl ok?"
He nods curtly. I guess I'll have to take your word on the human thing.
I'm exhausted. Tired of this whole ordeal. The stress of the last two years seems to be catching up with me all of a sudden, and the idea of this trial frightens me. I've been so busy being scared and annoyed at my circumstances that I hadn't stopped to think about what happens when it's over. Seeing Novak in her office today, listening to her talk about Serena, and yes, about you makes me wonder what will happen when it's over.
I don't even bother to look at Novak after she interrupts our moment, just let you whisk me past her and into Hammond's capable hands. We leave the squad room and head towards his car. He opens the door for me, and helps ease me into the sedan.
"Where are we headed Miss Cabot? There's a hotel room waiting if you want it."
I shake my head, "Liv's." I need to be in your space, surrounded by your things, waiting for you to come home. We ride in silence for a while, my head turned to watch the streets of New York whizzing past me.
"You know, a lot of people choose not to go back. For a lot of people in WPP the idea of taking up their old lives is too stressful. It's too painful to watch the world they left behind try to take them back in, when it never stopped moving. No one is going to make you stay here. The department is willing to maintain your life in Oregon. All the papers can be transferred directly from our possession to yours, you can even keep the name if you want. Or just have it all transferred to your given name. It's a lot of paperwork, but the department understands how complicated this process can get for people."
I'm only half-tuned in to what Hammond is telling me. Trying to weed through my brain, decide what I want to do.
"You don't have to decide right now either, Alexandra." This first use of my full name brings me back to the moment.
"Thank you Agent Hammond. I guess I just didn't expect "
"You didn't expect it to end. Most of them don't. And at this point, you might as well call me Jack."
"What do most people do? When they get out?"
"Most people don't get out. You're one of the lucky ones."
"Why don't I feel lucky?"
"Have you talked to your detective about this?"
"No. Mostly we've been talking about her. About the past. Sorting through some things."
"Maybe it's time to talk about you, and your future."
There's a beat, a pause
"It's time for you to get used to having one."
I turn my head back to the window and nod as we pull up to your apartment. Hammond is right-- It's my turn now. My life.
Chapter Thirty-Three: Future
I'm only paying cursory attention to Casey's questions, letting Elliot handle most of the answer, since he's the one with the notebook. I'm still worried about you, hoping you didn't go to the hotel that's been empty since your return. It seems like our psyche's aren't going to get a day off while you're here and I'm only sorry that today was your turn to take a beating.
"Well Detectives, it looks like you've finally given me something I can work with." Novak's tone is sarcastic, and Elliot puts a hand on my arm to stave off my anger.
"We can only give you what we get Casey. It's not like we weren't trying."
"I'm sure you were detective. I'm just glad you and your partner didn't blow the case"
Cragen cuts in, "Counselor, I'd suggest you watch what you say. These two detectives have been working their asses off trying to find something for you to latch on to. I also suggest if you have a better idea of how to work a case that next time, you do the legwork yourself. It's not our job to find evidence for you, it's your job to do something with the evidence we give you.
"Why do I feel like I've said this before?"
Elliot and I share a look. We've had this fight before, but last time the ADA was blond, and nearly got us fired.
"All right. Novak, go do your job, Olivia, Elliot, take a break. Good work today. Go home. And Miss Novak, the next time you want to accuse my detectives of not working hard enough, spend a day on the job with them, then come talk to me."
Elliot and I walk out of the office together, and I accept his offer of a ride home. I hear Casey's heels clicking behind us, catching up.
"You don't want to talk to me right now counselor."
"Olivia, wait. Let me explain."
"Explain what Casey? How you threatened me through my girlfriend?"
Elliot shifts in place, looking decidedly uncomfortable.
"Liv, I'm gonna get the car. See you downstairs in five?"
I nod, then turn the brunt of my anger on the Red-headed ADA. "You had no right to turn on Alex like that. Your job is to help her prepare for her testimony. Your problems with me have no bearing on her. You have a problem you talk to me."
"I'm sorry. When Don called I started thinking maybe she was right. I'm taking this case personally and instead of dealing with that I took it out on you and Elliot. Especially you."
"On Alex too. Who, quite frankly, has enough to deal with right now."
Casey has the good sense to look ashamed. She nods, and for once I can see contrition in her eyes.
"Problems at home?" I can't help being petty. Even though I know she's sorry, I'm still angry at the way she spoke to you.
Casey nods. "Serena is upset. She's thinking of moving to Washington, joining a law-firm that specializes in equality law. I'm not really sure what's going to happen with us." She pauses, and I see her eyes soften, "I'm glad you got Alex back Detective. She'll be good for you. I doubt she lets you get away with much."
I can't help but chuckle. "No. Not a damn thing."
I didn't hear you come in. I was in a half-sleep, listening to the hum of the television Hammond is watching in the other room. I don't know you're home until I feel you slide into the bed next to me, stretching your arms around me, turning me gently to face you.
"Agent Jack has gone back to the hotel, after making me swear not to let anything happen to you. I think he might have a crush on you."
"He just understands me more now I think. He told me today I remind him of his daughter."
"Wow, high praise coming from the fascist himself."
We fall quiet together, and I take a moment to enjoy that familiar safety of your arms around me. This is your specialty, making me feel protected.
"I talked to Novak before I left."
"Is she happy about Julie's testimony?"
"Yes." You pause and I can tell you want to tell me more.
"She apologized. For getting angry at you, at us."
"Does she do that a lot?"
"Apologize? Casey? Never. I think she's just worried about Serena. Sounds like maybe she'll be leaving New York."
"I should call her. Serena, I mean. I haven't talked to her since I got back. I still can't believe Branch fired her. Seems bizarre."
"I don't know anything about it. I'm not really in the legal-gossip circuit. And I try to stay as far away from the likes of Branch and Donnelly as I can."
"Hmm.---- Olivia, what happens now?"
"What do you mean? You testify day after tomorrow, then Friday I thought maybe you'd like to listen to the closing, wait for the jury to come back. I asked Don for the day off."
"I don't know if I should stick around." You look surprised and I try to explain. "I thought maybe I should head back to Oregon for a little while, get things in order."
"You mean pack, sell the house? That sort of order?"
You shake your head, your eyes full of questions. I know you didn't expect this.
"What do you mean, maybe? I thought you wanted this I thought you wanted to come back. What about us?"
"I don't know what I want Olivia. I think maybe I got so excited about being with you again that I didn't stop to think about the rest of it."
"But Alex, I lo-- I stop you with a kiss, not ready to hear you say that right now.
"I know Livvy. It's just for the first time in two years I actually have a choice. And I'm not sure what I want to do. It doesn't change how I feel about you. I'm just not sure how I feel about my life. Besides, what would I do here? Novak has my job, and it's not like there's a loft for me to move into again. All of my stuff is gone, and I'm certainly not going to move in with mother.
"I have a whole life in Oregon. Maybe it's not the best but it's a life. I wouldn't have to start over again. And as far as 'us' there are airplanes, and trains, and cars, and buses. Telephones and the internet. You know I'm alive, you know where I am."
"You have a whole life here, you can live here, Alex. We did it once before. And it'll be even better now, you know that. You can work independently, start a new law practice. Hell, with your background you could run for mayor for Christ's sake. Just don't leave me again."
I can't believe I'm hearing this. After all of this time, after all that we've talked about since you've been back you're going to leave again?
"Livvy. Please. Just listen to me. I wouldn't be leaving you "
"Really? That's funny since I don't remember having a clone in Oregon." I know I sound like a child, but the idea of losing you again terrifies me, and I feel like this is coming out of left field. I wasn't even remotely prepared. I just assumed that when you went back to Oregon next week it would be so that you could get ready to move back here.
I can't stand this feeling. "Alex you can't just leave again. I thought this was the end. I thought we got to start over now. How can we start over if you go back all the way across the country?"
"Slowly. Like we did before."
"Alex we have never done anything slowly and you know it."
"Well, maybe that's our problem."
"Are you serious? Alex, don't blow all of our progress by dwelling on all the mistakes we've made-- the mistakes I've made! We finally have a real chance here."
"We can still have a relationship if I go back."
I want to believe you. I want to agree, to say that we could make it work. But I know better. I've waited for two years to get you back. And yes, I would have waited longer if I'd had to. But now you're here. And I can't do that again. Not now.
"No Alex, we can't. I can't spend my life waiting for you to come back to me."
"I'm not asking you to wait forever Olivia, just give me time."
"Yes, you are Alex. You're asking me to let you go away again, only this time, I get to let you go knowing you had the chance to come back every single day. I hated losing you the first time. It nearly killed me to be without you. I never got used to having to live every single day without you. The only reason I didn't go totally crazy is knowing that you would have come back if you could have.
"So now you're back and you're telling me that you want to go away again? I can't play this game Alex. I won't. I have to have a life too."
"Dammit Liv, you've had a life. You got to stay here, keep your job. Nobody had to call you by another name, you didn't have to change your hair, your eyes, everything. You didn't have a team of federal agents following you around. You didn't have to give up everything you ever wanted and lose everything you really loved."
"See, that's what you don't understand Lexi, I did lose everything. I did give up everything. I lost you. Twice, if you'll recall. First you died, and then they took you away. In the course of a week I lost my whole world twice. Maybe you had already walked out on us, but there was still a chance. There was always a chance, until you decided one trial was more important than everything else."
You don't say it but I know you're thinking something a little different. Thinking that I decided the Valez case was more important than you.
"Olivia, I love you. I love you and I can't tell you how glad I am to be here, with you, now. We both gave up so much because of Valez, and now we're both charging ahead without thinking about what we really want."
You interrupt-- "I know what I want Alex. I want you back with me. I thought that's what you wanted too."
"So what is the problem? Why can't I be enough for you right now?"
I just don't know how to explain this to you. How can I explain something I don't really understand myself?
"Because nothing is enough for me right now. For the first time since I started going after Zapata and Valez, I have a chance to really live. I'm a ghost here Liv. I'm always going to be running into someone who knew me when. I'll always be forced to come up against the person I was before I died. Do you know why I haven't called Serena yet? Do you?"
You shake your head, and I can see you trying not to cry, surprised that you haven't pulled away from me during all of this arguing. I think maybe you're holding me tighter than when we started.
"Because calling Serena means having to tell her that I'm alive."
"I'm sure Casey's told her that by now."
"I know Liv, but it's different. How do you talk to someone who thinks you've been dead? I don't have the energy to explain my last two years a thousand times a week. If I go back to Oregon now, then maybe someday, if I decide to come back here, my reincarnation will already have made it through the gossip circles. Maybe if I wait to come back for good I can just start fresh here, and not have to remind people that I'm alive. Does that make any sense at all?"
"A little. But Alex, what if I can't wait that long?"
I wasn't really expecting this, but I suppose it's a fair question, given the circumstances.
"I guess I can't ask you to. You've certainly done more than your fair share of waiting for me." You're crying now, not bothering to brush at your cheeks. I hold you for a while, letting you adjust to the things I've said. As you cling to me I feel like I should say something, try and make it right
"Look, I don't have to make a decision tonight. It was just a thought."
"Right. So why did you say it then?" I barely understand the question beneath your sobs.
"Because if I decide to go back, I didn't want you to be surprised."
Your voice is nearly gone, and you respond in a hoarse whisper between tears, "I'm surprised."
Chapter Thirty-Three: Advice
I wake up before our alarm and crawl out from under your arm, careful not to wake you. I'm still in shock from your talk last night, and as much as I know I should stick around to talk to you this morning, I can't stand the thought of being here knowing you're going to leave me again.
I call Hammond and ask him to come early, that I need to get out for a bit before work. He sounds groggy, and annoyed, but he comes anyway.
"What do I say when she asks where you are?"
"Tell her I went for a walk before work."
"Look, detective, I don't know what she told you, but this is never easy. Some witnesses they get used to the newness. Some don't. Honestly I thought this one was going to go crazy having to be somebody else, but that doesn't make it any easier to get back to what got left behind."
"Yeah well, I guess it doesn't much matter now anyway. She'll go back, pick up in Oregon, start fresh. I just thought she was in love with me. Guess we'll both survive this one."
"Look, Hammond? Just do your job ok? Watch her until she's safe again, and leave it at that."
"Any messages for her?"
I think, trying to figure out something I could tell you. "Just tell her I lover her ok? And maybe it would be best if you take her to the hotel until the trial's over. She'll be safer there once everyone knows she's back."
I know it's a cop out, and so does Hammond, but he can tell I don't want to fight about it, and the hand resting on my gun convinces him further. I leave the apartment without ducking in to kiss you goodbye the way I would have yesterday. I'll let you decide what you want without trying to sway your judgment.
I shove my badge and gun in the zip-up messenger bag I like to carry while I run. That way I have a spare t-shirt and deodorant and I can go straight from running to work without having to stop back home. I take off down the street, making a lazy jogger's path between my apartment and the station house across town. I use the time to think about what you told me last night.
I still can't believe you want to go back there. You spent all that time telling me how much you hated being in Oregon, hated your job, hated your name, hated your life. But now, two days before you're set to go back and get things ready to return to me, you think you want to stay there? I feel like I'm banging my head against a wall with you. Ever since we first started dating it's been this way up and down and up and down, and usually it's my fault. I guess I had it coming. But I still don't understand why.
Something I said to you last night comes back to me as I approach the station.
"Why can't I be enough for you right now?"
"Because nothing is enough for me right now I'm a ghost here."
The thing you don't see is that you're not a ghost to me. And I still feel like that should be enough. All I can do is hope that you change your mind. For the first time in years, I find myself saying a prayer. I don't think I can lose you again, especially not when it's your choice to leave.
I knew you were upset when I woke up to a cold bed. For a minute I'm immobilized by your absence. I hear movement in the living room, and I can only assume that you called Hammond to watch over me before you left. I can't help but wish I knew what was going through your mind right now. I should have kept my mouth shut, it's not as if I've made a decision about this, I just didn't want to dump it on you at the last minute. I didn't want to call from Oregon in a week and tell you I wasn't coming back.
I shut off the alarm, and drag my body from the bed. I think this is the first time I've woken up with clothes on since I got back. It's not a feeling I'm enjoying. I strip in the bathroom, dropping my sweats in a hamper with your clothes. I should do laundry when I get back later. If I left it up to you we'd never have clean clothes. In the shower I step under a scalding hot stream, trying to wash away my fears. Today I have a meeting with Branch, and lunch with Donnelly. I'm not really looking forward to either of them. I'm hoping to have a chance to ask Donnelly about Serena's firing. She's usually up on all the good gossip-- but her versions generally have some root in the truth.
Thinking about talking to Donnelly reminds me that I need to actually call Serena. She's a good friend, when I was really frustrated by our relationship; Serena was the one I talked to. I told you last night that I don't want to call her because I'm not ready to explain myself again. You and the squad voiced your opinions about my going after Zapata, but none of you heard Serena. I'm a little afraid of an "I told you so." She likes those. Likes to be right. I'm just not sure I'm ready to see those too-blue eyes. Too green-eyes. It's a cop out-- but I can't help thinking the phone works both ways. Surely Casey's told her that I'm back, and knowing me the way she does, Serena would know to call me here. I use it as an excuse and decide to let her call me first.
My meeting with Branch is first, and I dress in clothes the old me had in spades: dark suit, light shirt, heels, hose, glasses of justice. *heh* Will there ever be anything in my life that doesn't immediately make me think of you? You must be at work by now, called out to a scene maybe? Or cleaning up paperwork? Are you and Elliot and Cragen finishing up the details of the Patterson case? Are you still angry? Still hurt? You're right, about the changes. I can't believe the differences I see in you now. A long time ago, our conversation last night would have made you pull away from me, made you sleep away from me, at the edge of our bed, not touching. But last night, even in your frustration and your pain and your surprise, you slept in my arms-- clinging to me.
So what do I do? Do I stay, just because I can see you're different? Do I stay just because I know how much you need me? Or do I take this opportunity to go back and figure out what I really want now that this is all over?
I finish dressing, step into the living room and see Hammond sitting at the kitchen table, waiting. "Sorry, I'm not late right?"
"No." He has a funny look on his face, something I don't recognize.
"What? What's wrong?"
"She went to work."
"I figured. Did she say something to you?"
Hammond shifts in his chair. I can tell he doesn't want to be in the middle of this.
"That she loves you "
"And?" I know there's more, even without his hemming and hawing.
"Maybe it would be best if I take you to the hotel until the trial's over. She thinks you'll be safer there once everyone knows your back and testifying."
I nod curtly, knowing that's not why you want me away. It has nothing to do with my safety. You can keep me safer than any federally funded hotel room. This is about last night, and while I don't blame you I'm angry. This seems an awful lot like the "Old Olivia." Maybe I'm making the right choice after all.
I'm halfway through my day, wading through old paperwork, trying to tie up loose ends and making a valiant effort not to think about you when I see Hammond striding into the bullpen. My stomach drops when I see that you're not with him. It's not like him to leave you alone I don't think.
"Oh god what happened? Where is she?"
"Is there somewhere we can talk?"
"Oh my god. oh my god oh my god."
I lead him into Cragen's office and close the door.
"Hammond, where is she?"
"She's fine, at a meeting with Arthur Branch? I left Rosco outside the door. He's good, don't worry."
"And you came here why? To scare the shit out of me?"
"I want to talk to you."
"About what?" Suddenly I'm starting to see what you mean about Hammond.
"About your girlfriend. I don't think you're handling this the right way."
"You have got to be kidding me. Look Hammond, I think you and I have had enough talks to last our entire lifetimes. If you recall, they don't end well. I generally end up losing my girlfriend and wanting to kill you."
Hammond doesn't listen to my protest, just launches off in his typical fashion, "I know how hard this is for you, and for her. I've watched people going into WPP for years. Working with the DEA you see it a lot. We don't see as many people come out of it though, not just because the danger doesn't go away, but because a lot of these people, like Miss Cabot, find it difficult to return to a life that didn't stop moving when they left.
"It's especially hard for someone like your girlfriend. Not only has the world kept going without her, but there's someone new doing her job, her old home is now someone else's, she has friends and family who may never find out she didn't die, even if she does come back. And if she returns to the legal profession, she will forever have to explain to people that she is in fact, that Alex Cabot, that she is in fact, not dead, and everyday she's going to be confronted with her own ghost. It's not an easy prospect to consider."
"And what about me Agent Hammond? Huh Jack? Maybe the world didn't stop moving without her, but I did. I did my job, I handled my cases, I lived day in and day out. But I was stalled, for two years." I can't help my anger. "For the first time in two years I feel like my life is moving forward with me for a change. And now she wants me to put everything on hold again and wait? No. I'm done waiting."
"And if she left, you'd what, find someone else?"
"Maybe." It's a lie and he knows it.
My meeting with Branch is typical. Mostly. He seems, like a lot of the people I've encountered, to be vaguely uncomfortable with my presence. I almost wish you were here to see it, then maybe you'd understand what I was talking about last night.
"Well, do you feel you're ready for the trial tomorrow Alexandra?"
I squirm in the chair across from Arthur's desk, at once uncomfortable, and yet not feeling like I've been gone for all that long. "As ready as I can be I suppose."
"How does it feel to be on the other side of the witness stand?"
"I don't know yet, I don't testify until tomorrow."
"Don't split hairs with me Alexandra. What are your plans now that it's over?"
Ah, the famous question.
"I haven't really decided that yet. I'm flying back to Oregon on Monday."
"And will you be returning to New York, or have you chosen to continue your new life?"
"Well, that's sort of up in the air right now. There's a lot to consider."
"It's not like you to straddle the fence Alexandra. What's the problem?"
"You're used to complicated. You never did know when you were getting in over your head. That never used to stop you from charging in anyway."
"There are certain relationships to consider this time. And a job, which I don't have here anymore obviously."
"What exactly have you been doing in where is it, Oregon?"
I nod. "Legal assistance to an Oregon based national company. Mostly I provide basic legal advice and defense strategies for corporate misdeeds."
"And you enjoy this job?"
"No. But it's as close to the law as they'd let me get. So I took it."
"Well, I'd offer you a position here, but as you know we've just replaced Serena and Casey seems to be taking to her position fairly well."
That's not what I've heard, but I don't challenge Branch.
"So, what do you think of Serena's replacement?" It's a fishing question, and Arthur knows it.
"I didn't fire her because she's gay Alexandra."
"I didn't say anything."
"It was implied. You forget I know the way your head works."
"Well, since you brought it up, are you sure it's not because she's gay? How did you find out anyway?"
"At the last black tie fundraiser she brought a date, a statement."
"A date?" I'm surprised since Casey seemed to imply that she and Serena had been together for a while. Although it wouldn't surprise me to have Serena leave Casey at home and bring a backup as a statement.
"Yes. But that's not why she was fired Alexandra, so get that thought out of your head. She's better off on the other side of the table. And as I'm sure you're aware, there are other gay attorneys in this office. Attorneys who have not been fired."
"I wasn't questioning your judgment Arthur. In fact, if you'll recall you're the one who brought up the question of her sexuality."
Branch startles me by laughing. "Noone can argue semantics like you, Alexandra. You're missed here."
"Yeah. Well " I sneak a look at my watch and realize that I have to go if I'm going to meet Liz for lunch.
"Alexandra, when you get back, if you come back come talk to me. If nothing else I can certainly give you a recommendation."
"Good luck tomorrow."
I leave the office, surprised to find Rosco waiting instead of Hammond.
"He had a thing."
"Jason " My tone implies a certain threat.
"He went to talk to your girlfriend."
Chapter Thirty-Four: Testify
It's odd, being back here without you after the last few days. I can't believe you've been back less than a week and we're already fighting again. At least this time I don't feel responsible. I wish that meant I also didn't feel guilty, but I do. You have your friend agent Hammond to thank for that. Nothing like being dressed down by a federal agent to get the wheels turning.
It looks like you got the message this morning. Your dirty clothes are still in the hamper, but your bags are gone. If your leather jacket wasn't still slung over the chair in the bedroom, I could almost forget you were ever here. Well almost. I can still smell you in my bed, and I curl into your side, my head on your pillow, trying to figure out how this happened again.
Tomorrow, you have to testify against Valez' assassin. It took me awhile to realize that you and Tonio are witnesses for the same case. I guess I've been distracted. Monday the trial starts on the three mousketeers who raped Sophie. Julie called and asked if I'd meet her and her mother for lunch on Monday afternoon. They want to meet with Sophie's mother and talk about everything that's happened. I didn't have the heart to say no. You'll be on your way back to Oregon then. Leaving me again.
I pitch around in the bed for a few hours, then give up on sleep. I pad barefoot into the living room and curl up on the couch in my sweatpants, tank top and your leather jacket. Maybe I was too hard on you last night. The things Hammond said today made sense, in an annoying sort of way. Last night I accused you of not understand where I was coming from. But I think I'm guilty of the same thing. I'm not sure why I thought it would be easier having you back.
I flip lazily through the TV stations, not really looking for anything in particular. Most of the shows this late are infomercials, and since I really think my current knife set is just fine, and my thighs are toned just the way you like them I turn the TV back off. I feel restless, and nervous. I'm worried about the trial, worried about you. Everyone at work has been dancing around it all week, not asking the questions they know I don't want to answer. I've been trying to pretend it wasn't happening. Acknowledging this trial means thinking about when you left, and despite all of our discussion, we both want to leave it in the past. I'm starting to feel like maybe you want to leave us in the past too.
Maybe you're right, maybe after all of this I just can't be enough for you. I guess I'd just feel better if you'd let me try. I know I should sleep. I still have piles of paperwork to do, things that got shoved aside while I was trying to get evidence for Casey last week, and while I was spending time with you this week. If I want to get to the courthouse in time to watch you testify, I need to keep my head together while I'm at work.
I return to the bedroom and lie down not bothering to take off your jacket, pretending it's your arms around me. I lie awake this way until my alarm goes off at six. At work I push papers around on my desk, sitting in silence across from Elliot while Munch and Fin go to a scene. At two, Cragen pulls me into his office.
"Well what Captain?"
"Shouldn't you be getting over to the courthouse?"
"I don't think I should go. I kind of get the feeling she wants to do this on her own."
"Trouble at home Benson?"
"No. Just "
"I've known you for a lot of years Detective. And although Alex wasn't my favorite person to begin with it'd take an idiot to deny the fact that she's good for you."
"She's the one that got me to quit drinking."
"I figured as much. So what's the problem?"
"She's going back to Oregon on Monday."
"And she may not come back."
Cragen leans back in his seat, staring me down.
"So what are you going to do? Do I need to start looking for a new detective?"
I'm blindsided. It never occurred to me that I could go with you. Probably because we both know I could never leave New York.
"I could never leave New York. Don't worry Don, I'm not going anywhere."
"I can imagine that Alex said the very same thing a few years ago."
It's something I never even considered. The fact that he's right stings. And it makes me think that maybe the key is giving you a real reason to stay behind.
"I've gotta go. Most of those files are done, Elliot's working on the rest, I'll get Fin to cover the end of my shift. Am I still off tomorrow?"
"Yes. But Olivia, don't do anything you'll regret, ok?"
I just hope it's not too late for that.
I look out from the stand and hope to see you sitting in the observation section, but all I see is Casey in front of me, waggling her eyebrows, and trying to make a point. I think I've found the missing passion. She does a decent job in the courtroom, but I can still hear things I think she should be asking, points she should be making. I recite my testimony, talking about the car the shooter was driving, about my knowledge of Valez' threats, of Zapata's organization. I keep trying to see beyond Casey, trying to find you and seeing only the faces of Hammond and Rosco, then watching Liz enter and sit in the back, not sure if she's here to see me or Novak as she seems to be splitting her attention between the two of us.
By the time I'm done I'm exhausted. I'm used to asking questions, not being interrogated, and the defense lawyer is brutal, calling me back to the night of the shooting, questioning my memory. I have to bite my tongue to keep from snapping at him, telling him it's hard to forget certain things when your girlfriend is standing above you watching you die.
When I'm dismissed, Hammond and Rosco flank me, taking me out of the courtroom and into the hall where I finally see you.
The look on your face is of sheer relief as you see me waiting in the hall. You shake off the goons -- I suppose I should stop calling them that now-- and run to me, the stress of this day wiping out our last argument.
"It's over Lexi, it's ok. It's all over now. It's out of your hands."
I've been sitting next to Tonio on the bench, waiting for you to return. You pull away from me and hand something to him, wiping tears from your eyes, trying to show him a brave face.
"You can do this Tonio. Don't worry, it's easy. Just tell them the truth."
He nods, still looking frightened, and taking back what looks like a coin on a small silver chain.
"Can we go home now Livvy?"
"Yeah, yes let's go. Do you need to tell Liz anything before you go? Or talk to Arthur?"
"No. I just want to go."
"Ok ok." I nod to Hammond and a younger gentleman I can only assume is Jason Rosco. "I'll take her back to my place. We'll call."
Hammond nods and walks away with Rosco.
I lead you from the courthouse, to find Elliot waiting with the sedan outside.
"What are you doing here?"
"Cragen thought you might need a lift home. May I?"
He opens the backdoor and holds it open as I crawl in behind you.
"How did it go?"
"It was fine Elliot. Thanks for the ride."
"Anytime Alex. You think the ID will stick?"
"If Tonio gets up and is able to tell them what he knows without getting railroaded by the defense, I think our combined testimony will kill the guy."
"What happens now?"
I feel you lean your head against my shoulder, shifting your weight against me, settling into my body next you on the backseat. I reach a hand around your shoulder, pulling you to me, and playing with the ends of your hair.
"We haven't really decided that yet El. We both have a lot of thinking to do."
"When are you moving back Alex?"
I can feel you tensing in my arms,
"Alex may stay in Oregon for awhile. Decide what she wants to do."
You tilt your head to look at me, wondering if you heard correctly.
I lean and whisper that I decided you were right, which is not easy for me to admit. I don't want to let you go again.
Elliot doesn't respond, but insists on walking us to the door when we reach my apartment. As I lock the door behind him you pull me into a tight hug. "Did you mean it?"
"Hammond came to see me yesterday. He had some valid points to make. I think maybe I've been rushing you into coming back this week."
"Olivia, it's not like I don't want to come back. I just need to know that I'm doing it because I want to, and not just because I can. I need to know I have something to come back to."
"What about me?"
"Well, you're a huge incentive, that's true. But to paraphrase, 'one cannot live by love alone.' I need to decide what to do now. And I need that to include more than just you. You know that. We'd drive each other crazy if I was stuck here all day with nothing to do. And the odds are with you-- I don't get to carry a gun."
I can't help but chuckle at your logic. You have a point. And as much as I feel like I could get used to you puttering around the house all day, I definitely wouldn't want you to take over in the kitchen. Experience has shown that cooking is not your forte. I'm a little afraid that you'd experiment if you had nothing else to do. A memory of homemade teriyaki comes to mind and makes me cringe.
"Teriyaki?" How do you always know what I'm thinking?
"Sorry about that."
"No, it's fine. But you're right. You could never be happy just hanging around the house. And I couldn't ask you to do it."
"Maybe not never Olivia, just not right now. Right now I've spent too much time living by someone else's rules. It's time for me to make my own."
It's the same thing you told me night before last, but this time I'm a little more receptive.
"I'm not sure. A month, two months, six? Maybe a year."
"A year?" Despite my understanding, the thought of a year between us knocks my breath out.
"I don't know Livvy, I just need to do this. I won't ask you to wait for me."
"I'll wait. I mean, I can wait. What else can I do? You deserve this. Just don't forget that I'm here ok?"
You lean in towards me, taking my hands in yours, pulling me closer,
"Not in a million years."
It's amazing how quickly we stop fighting. Yesterday we slept on opposites sides of town, and I thought maybe I'd have to leave without even getting to say goodbye. I can't help wondering exactly what Hammond said to you yesterday. I'll have to make a point to thank him before I go.
I pull away from a particularly delicious kiss to continue our talk. Which is, admittedly difficult. How on earth do you do this to me?
"Does the offer about tomorrow still stand?"
You look as sorry about the broken kiss as I feel. And I can see that lusty depth in your eyes. "You mean about watching the closing? Of course. I checked with the Captain and I have the day off if I want it. Are you sure you want to be there?"
Yesterday I would have said no. The way this turns out may take the choice back out of our hands. If for some reason the jury doesn't buy Tonio's ID, or my testimony I'll have to go back. No choice. Forever. And it'll mean moving again. Too many people know where I was. You and I both know that tomorrow could end all of this arguing for us. And all of the bliss too.
"I think it's important for me to be there. I don't want to hear it from Hammond, or anyone else. If this goes wrong I want to know right away."
"It won't go wrong Alex. They'll give him the death penalty; they'll kill him, you have to believe that."
"And if they don't? If they let him go?"
You pause, taking my hand again and pulling me to you, and I put my head on your shoulder.
"Then I'll kill him."
Chapter Thirty-Five: Verdict
Last night was sweet, talking until we fell asleep together, making plans for when you finally feel ready to come back. Turns out you've been thinking about what I said about starting your own law firm. You were in the middle of talking about how you'd decorate the office when we drifted off to sleep.
The alarm came too early this morning, and neither of us is really ready to go to the courthouse. Casey's closing starts at nine, and if all goes well, the verdict won't take long. The jury either believes the IDs or they don't. If they do, then the only other thing that needed to be proven was his danger, and your testimony should do that. To me, it seems fairly cut and dried, but I'm still nervous about today, and I know you are too. Last night is the first time I remember you having nightmares. Usually you're the one taking care of me at night, but at 2am I found myself staring at your beautiful face, contorted by what? Fear? Pain? Anxiety? I'm not sure.
We take separate showers and get dressed. When I put on my belt holster and tuck my badge in my jacket pocket you shoot me a look. I promised you last night that if this jury didn't do their job, I would. I guess you didn't think I meant it literally. I refuse to lose you to this again. I know you're going back, but I won't let this end forever. As for whether or not I could actually pull the trigger or not I don't know. I'd like to think I'd do whatever it took to protect you, even at the expense of my job, of my freedom. I cross my fingers and hope it doesn't come to that.
You dress in jeans, pulling out one of my work tees, and topping it off with one of my old leather coats. It's one I nearly threw out last year because it's been worn threadbare. I'm glad I didn't get rid of it, it was always your favorites and I can tell you need that comfort today. I pull out my favorite jeans and a button-down shirt. A similar jacket goes around my shoulders, pulled closed at the front to hide my piece. If you weren't looking at me so disapprovingly I'd almost laugh at this cloak-and-dagger feeling. I can't help wanting to protect you. This is the only way I know how. It won't matter if we get the guilty verdict. It will all be over soon.
When we're both done dressing I head to the kitchen for some orange juice, but you stop me before I get to the coffeepot.
"I think I'm jittery enough without caffeine today. Orange juice?"
I pour us matching glasses and we sit without speaking again. Our anxiety is palpable, as if there were a third person in the room. I finish my glass, and you hand me your half-full one. After rinsing them in the sink, I come up behind where you're waiting at the front door. You turn to face me and I can read the tension in your jaw. Your eyes are full of fear, and the look on your face breaks my heart.
In a copy of last night, I pull you to my body, your head settled on my shoulder. I hadn't realized until now that you're shaking.
"No matter what happens Alex, we'll get through this. But you'll see, they won't let him go. I won't let them take you away from me for good. I promise."
I can feel you nodding against my shoulder, still quivering in my arms. I don't think I've ever seen you quite this scared, not even the night we first heard the threats against you. I can understand why. Back then, annihilation was just a theory, but now we've been there. And we're both terrified that it could happen again, all it takes is one jury. Just one.
I can't think this morning. Can't eat. I feel like my whole life is riding on this. Probably because it is. I don't approve of you bringing your gun. You know how I feel about that, but I don't try to stop you. Last night you said you'd kill him if they let him go. At first I thought you were just trying to make me feel better, but the gun strapped on your belt tells a different story. I know it's meant to make me feel safe but for some reason, the sight of it makes me even more frightened. The fact that you're carrying it makes me think you're as worried as I am.
One jury. That's all that's standing between me and my freedom. In a way, I almost feel like I'm the one on trial. But for me, the words "not guilty" are the prison sentence. If Casey can't convince a jury that this is the man who was hired to kill me, I go back to WPP. Just because Zapata is dead and Valez is out of the picture doesn't erase the hit. The assassin has already been paid. They don't like to leave loose ends.
I don't bother to finish the orange juice you poured me. My stomach has enough acid churning already without help. I wait for you by the door as you wash our glasses. When I feel you behind me I turn around, needing to see in your eyes that you'll be with me. One look at my face finds your hands pulling me to you, my head on your shoulder again. Despite my thick borrowed tee, and your old leather jacket, I'm shivering. Shaking from my nerves and my fear and the anticipation of this day. The feel of your arms around me is nice, but not enough to knock away my fears.
"No matter what happens Alex, we'll get through this. But you'll see, they won't let him go. I won't let them take you away from me for good. I promise."
I nod, not pulling away from your embrace. We stand for a moment, my body wrapped up in you, and when I feel like I can hold myself up on my own again, I pull away from. We walk out the door, and you take my hand. Like last night, Elliot is waiting outside. We fall silent in the car, Elliot playing chauffeur, my hand clenched tightly in yours, our fingers laced together between us. You sit awkwardly, facing slightly inward towards me, your left knee and thigh so close to my right that we're almost connected, your free hand on my knee, patting me absently. I'm surprised to see camera crews at the courthouse, hadn't stopped to think that the return of a once-murdered ADA would be newsworthy. Elliot pushes a way for us through the crowd, and instead of dropping your hand like the old me would have done, I clutch you even tighter, letting your muscle pull me safely through the throng.
"Miss Cabot, how does it feel to be back?"
"Miss Cabot, do you think the jury will convict?"
"Miss Cabot, what happens if the verdict is returned not guilty?"
"Miss Cabot, will you be returning to New York when this is over?"
The questions fly from every angle, I wasn't expecting this push. You push cameramen away, flinging "no comment" to every reporter who comes close with a microphone. If I'd known, I would have waited at home for a phone call.
No. I couldn't have waited that way. I need to be here. To hear it for myself, one way or another. We break through the cluster of reporters, and after their yelling and pushing, the courthouse seems eerily silent. I see Hammond and Rosco waiting by the doors to the courtroom, and Elliot stops to shake hands as you put an arm around my shoulder, the other on my arm, almost shielding me. Hammond nods and Rosco smiles, and the five of us enter the courtroom quietly, to see Casey at the table, getting ready. My assassin isn't here yet, but his lawyer sits across from Casey, looking not even slightly worried.
I try to tell myself that plenty of defense lawyers don't look worried before they lose, but I'm not convinced today. Casey turns at our entry and smiles confidently at me, nodding to you beside me. Your left arm lies on the back of the bench behind me, left hand cupped around my shoulder. With your right hand you stretch across your body, holding mine tightly, neither of us willing to let go. Elliot sits to your right, and Hammond and Rosco to my left. I'm surrounded by protection and still I feel unsafe as the bailiff brings in my attacker. He's dressed in a fancy suit, and I can't help thinking I helped him to afford it. From what the federal agents were able to ascertain Valez paid a hefty price to have me out of the way. My only real threat to his organization being my unwillingness to give up on Lydia's case, my unwillingness to let justice for her death go unfought.
Casey's arguments are brief, to the point. Her voice softens and hardens in all the right places. She addresses the jury and the judge. She is succinct, to the point. She touches on all of the things I would have were the situation reversed. I still don't like her, but at least I feel as though she can do the job.
The defense counsel brings up Tonio's state of mind, calling into question his ability to question someone he constantly refers to as "the ghost." How can someone identify a ghost? He looks at me as he reminds the jury that I didn't see who shot me. That I don't remember a license plate number. He questions my ability to identify the voice of the man who agreed to pay me a visit after speaking to Zapata. His points are valid, and I can see how the jury might be swayed.
I feel you squeezing my shoulder, your grip on my hand pulling it into your lap. I don't want to speculate about the look on my face. I feel terrified. I'm sure it shows. Closing arguments are brief, which surprises me. As the jury files out for deliberations, I feel you pulling me out of my seat, drawing me back to the hallway. We sit together on a bench outside the door, and the pose feels familiar somehow.
You break our silence as Hammond, Rosco and Elliot go to retrieve some coffee.
"Casey did a good job today."
I nod. "So did Travis. If I hadn't been the one who got shot, I'd almost have bought it."
"The jury didn't."
"Really?" I wasn't watching the jury. I'm used to trying to gauge their reactions to things, trying to figure out when I've lost them, or won them. Today, all I could do is stare at the man who tried to kill me. Stare at the man who did kill me.
"The glasses of justice would have been waggling."
I try to laugh. "You think so?"
"Definitely." I know you're trying, but we can both tell you're as nervous as I am. You continue quietly, almost whispering.
"If. and I do mean if they come back not guilty." I whip my head up to meet your eyes. "If, Alex. I'll come back with you."
"I'll come back with you, to Oregon. You won't have do this all alone again."
"They'll move me."
"We could end up in some Podunk town in the middle of North Dakota, or Alaska."
"I don't care. I won't let this take you away from me forever."
"What about that?" I gesture to the butt of your gun, exposed as your jacket falls open slightly.
"It's more of a prop for confidence. I'd like to say I could use it Lexi, but I just don't know. And if I did, would it make me any better than he was? I'm sure Casey would enjoy the chance to prosecute me. But then we just end up separated again."
I nod again. I seem to be finding myself without words a lot today. We fall silent as the men come back with coffee for us, and tea for you. Elliot talks with Hammond and Rosco, and you and I sit together on the bench, our drinks untouched, free hands still clinging to each other. After about two hours, Elliot has to go home. Kathy's let him have the kids again for the weekend, and we all know he has to clean up his sty of a house and buy some real groceries before they get there. You were right about his weight loss, and the circles under his eyes have only gotten bigger since I got here. I can see why you're worried about him. He kisses me sweetly on the cheek before he goes, and claps you on the back, telling us it will all be ok.
We spend the rest of the time waiting silently. Rosco and Hammond occasionally going off for more coffee, taking turns getting food from the courthouse cafeteria. But you and I stay still. About an hour after bringing them to us, Rosco collects our still full, now-cold cups and throws them out. When we've been waiting for four hours, you lean in to speak in my ear.
"Do you want to go? We can wait at home, you know Casey will call us."
You shake your head, than lean to rest it on my shoulder. I can feel you sigh against me, and I tuck my arm behind your shoulders and use my hand to tuck you closer to me. It's a sweet pose, and we stay this way for a while, growing tired of the waiting.
"What could possibly be taking so long?"
"I don't know Lexi. I don't know."
After five hours that feel like an eternity, Casey appears out of the doorway,
You pull your head off my shoulder and I squeeze your hand before we file back inside. I'm trying to be strong for you, but I don't feel it. One way or another, this is all about to end.
"Has the jury reached a verdict?"
"We have your honor."
"In the matter of The People versus Liam Connors, how do you find the defendant?"
I feel as though the whole courtroom has stopped moving. I look at the jury, then at Connors at the defense table. I try to see Casey, suddenly aware that the whole courtroom has erupted. I watch the scene in silence, suddenly unable to hear what's happening. It's not until I see you reaching for me, pulling me up from the bench, your face lit up, grinning ear to ear that I realize what's happened.
"Alex-- we won. They convicted him. It's over baby. It's over."
And suddenly I'm sobbing. Crying like I never have before, not able to understand. I feel my knees go numb, and then the feeling of being pulled towards the ground. It's odd, I don't think I've ever fainted before. The last thing I remember seeing is a flash of panic rolling through your eyes. I try to tell you something but no words come out. And then, like once before blackness.
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