DISCLAIMER: Not mine. No money made. "Law & Order SVU" belongs to Dick Wolf & Co. All I own is my brain that concocted this little story, which I lay personal claim to.
BETA THANKS: to Meredith for the editing and all the late nights it took; to Caren for her comments, to E.B. for her unbeatable language mojo and to "Eagle-Eye" Maria for her typo-spotting.
NOTE: there is a reference to the musical "Oklahoma" in here, but all you need to know is that Laurey is the female and Curly the male lead in the piece.
TIMEFRAME: post-"Loss" (yep, another one of those). Not considering the events depicted in "Ghost".
ARCHIVING: Passion & Perfection and var[title] only.
BANNER: made with screencaps by angharad

By Nique Bartok

Part One

di sere nere
che non c'è tempo, non c'è spazio,
e mai nessuno capirà…
Puoi rimanere?
- perchè fa male, male
male da morire senza te.

[Tiziano Ferro, Sere nere]

It was warm, very warm for a spring day. The faded sun blind of Ed's Diner shielded the usual early afternoon crowd from the bright light, if not from the heat. The opposite side of the street, where the sun had warmed up the pavement and heat was radiating off the colored house fronts, lay empty as if holding a siesta by itself. Sunbeams reflected off the huge windows of the large office building on the corner that also housed Marivaux & Mendenez, Translations Services, most of whose employees were currently enjoying a late lunch and lots of iced tea at Ed's.

"One more week like this and I'll be ready for another vacation," a dark-haired man with fashionable beard stubble stated, adjusting his tie. "How are we supposed to get the French version done by Friday?"

"Well, Ludovic… I suppose you'll have to be really nice to Caroline," a curvy blonde with a cutely freckled face replied. "Right, Lynnie?"

"Sure," the addressed – a pale brunette with dark-framed glasses – agreed absently, staring up at the sun blind overhead while the crowd around her chuckled. It must have been a bright, warm red once, she thought.

"The last time I was nice to Lynnie, she told me I had no chance with her, period," Ludovic said with a mock scowl, drawing more chuckles. "Also, she actually enjoys working on these legal reports."

"That's because I actually have a brain, Ludovic," the brunette allowed with a small grin.

"And because her type runs more towards… oh, I don't know, how about that one over there?" The blonde suggested, drawing everyone's attention to a tall woman in a green skirt suit who was exiting the office building just then.

"Forget it, Michelle," Ludovic offered immediately. "Not Lynnie's type."

Michelle crossed her arms over her chest. "And how would you know that?"

"Because she always says no when you suggest someone to her," Ludovic pointed out.

"He's right," Caroline conceded, shaking her head at Michelle. "No."

"Fine," Michelle sighed, still surveying the attractive stranger who had to be in town on business. She took in the vividly green skirt suit the woman wore. "It's the green, right?"

"No," Caroline said with exasperation. "It's just no."

"Oh well." Michelle shrugged in defeat, swirling the ice cubes around in her glass. "Who could wear that kind of green anyway? No woman would ever look good in it."

Caroline looked up, catching a flash of green as the woman walked past them. "I don't know," she murmured, more to herself.


Even to someone raised toward exactly this sort of social event this function is stiff and boring. Smalltalk muzak staged in anthracite colored dresses and champagne colored dresses, interspersed with a few daring examples of rosé. I smile without enthusiasm and wish I could yawn instead as I survey the perfectly understated sea of subdued tones around me, my own choice of charcoal gray not being any exception. Why am I never urgently needed in the office when I really want to get away from something? – Probably because half of my office is here.

I'm contemplating the ice cubes in my glass, listening to them clink against each other, when a sudden flash of green draws my attention.

At first I don't recognize her, and when I do, it is by her hair and I almost spill my drink.

Her hair is short, and it looks even shorter in contrast to the long gown and a room full of chignons. She looks good with her hair. In fact, she looks better than good. The first words that spring to my mind are 'damn sexy' and I focus on my drink, surprised at myself.

I've never seen her in a dress before. I'd probably have expected her to be somewhat awkward, given her everyday demeanor, but I was wrong.

She is walking up the stairs to the next level when I look up again and there is a sensual kind of confidence about her that makes me look twice. I've never seen her like this. She walks as if she knows that she is wearing the only green dress in this entire room, and at the same time, as if she was completely unaware of it.

Her hair is just a bit too tousled to rate as plain elegant, her strides are just a touch too long to go unnoticed, and her pose is just a tad too comfortable to let her disappear within the crowd.

And the dress… The dress is really, really green. And she looks really, really good.


"You go get the next pitcher, Benson. I'm beat," John Munch announced, leaning back into the booth with a grin.

"You already got to see me limp in, Munch. Don't press your luck," Olivia replied, sliding deeper into her own seat. "No way I'll hobble over to the bar when each of you guys, unlike me, hasn't pulled a muscle chasing down Herring today."

"That was quite some stunt," Fin agreed readily. "You been secretly training for the Marathon?"

Olivia flashed him a grin. "Nah, I've always been this good."

"Guess that means your partner is paying the next round." Elliot pushed his empty beer glass away from him as he got up and patted Olivia on the shoulder. "After all, you've given us a reason to celebrate. Herring is booked and we're off on time."

"Perhaps you'd like to hobble over to the bar after all," Munch suggested, nodding in the direction of the counter. "Because the cute brunette there has been looking at you for the better part of the last hour and she seems to be in a mood to celebrate, too."

Olivia wanted to brush him off in reply, telling him that his observation skills were off the clock, as well, but she found herself already glancing over at the bar out of sheer reflex. And then she forgot about her remark when she was met with a charming smile and a pair of clear, intelligent eyes. Eyes that were looking at her intently from behind black eye frames.

Before she even realized what she was doing, Olivia smiled back.


Another face, another pair of eyes – blue, not gray – and another pair of dark eye frames. "Detective." Her look is demanding, and she doesn't even smile.

I know this expression well, countless times I've stood in front of her desk, arguing my point while she is looking up at me with reserve, leaning back to survey me intently.

I don't know how many times this exact scenario played out, but now I wish I had counted them so that I knew at least that bit of trivia to recall her by. There are so many other things I don't know about her. Where she is. How she is doing. What her name is now.

Other things, I've learned in the past nineteen months. Like the fact that I miss her, up to this day. Like the fact that being around her was something I cherished, even through the fights and the frustration. That her absence has left a void behind that still remains unfilled - and that it's not a professional issue at all. Casey does a good job.

And I still miss Alex.

For the first few months, I saved her every night.

I was quicker. I saw the gun sooner. I pushed her down in time. I covered her. I took the bullets. I raced down the car and caught the shooter, and she never got hit. She never left.

Being deprived of looking at her was like a physical ache. It was crazy since we'd never been that close, and since, even though I was aware of her beauty, she had never been more than a safe, fleeting fantasy. Alex Cabot was unattainable, back then just as much as now.

After the first grief was over, I put myself through all the scenarios starting with "if only", trying to place the blame and make some peace with her parting. If only we had caught Velez. If only she had given up the case to the Feds. If only the shots had missed her. If only I had been more alert and covered her in time. If only I had saved her.

After a few months, I stopped dreaming about her every night, although it still happens every now and then, to then haunt me for days. Thinking of her has lost the edge of despair. Now it has become a ritual that, despite the loss it implies, has become so familiar to me that it is almost soothing. It's a place I visit when things get rough. I allow myself to think of her on hard days, when I need the memory – need it to remind myself that there are things that can still reach me, and that once, I knew it all and that it was tantalizingly close: Intelligence, dedication and beauty. Strength, attitude and elegance. I didn't know what a luxury it was until she was gone.

It was just a fantasy, just like it is now. But it still hurts to think that I may never see her again.


The fan circling overhead didn't do much to lessen the heat. Rather, it was providing the residents of the office with stiff necks from the draft. Michelle had left for the day already, taking her latest project home with her, which made the pale brunette the sole occupant of the room. Caroline Roberts, the engraved plaque in the corner of her desk read.

Gingerly rolling her head from one side to another, she tried to loosen some of the tension. It was late, but she didn't mind the longer hours, preferring to work at the office instead of using the study in the spacious quiet of her house. Perhaps it was a habit she had preserved, or the fact that it was still strange to live in a freestanding house all on her own, even after more than nineteen months.

Shifting her shoulders, she winced at the knots she felt. She would have kicked off her shoes and stretched out her legs, but still hesitated for a second before doing so, years of maternal lectures on what was socially appropriate carved into her like an automatic reflex. Shaking her head at herself, she slowly shed her shoes. It wasn't as if she had a public position anymore. Or any press-sensitive social functions to attend. Or even a family she belonged to.

She didn't need to look at her calendar to know that today, it was 19 months and 17 days since she had last seen her mother. For lunch. 19 months and 12 days since she'd last had an authentic espresso doppio ristretto macchiato, down the block from the courthouse, at Luigi's. 19 months and 11 days since she'd been forced to give up on her job as an Assistant District Attorney.

She crossed her legs underneath the table, absently staring at the pastel print Michelle had put up on the opposite wall.

19 months and 9 days since she had last seen Olivia.

Sliding deeper into her chair, she uncrossed her legs again.


She sits on her desk, comfortably. She owns her space, the whole room around her. It's such a typical gesture for her that at times, I wonder why she even has a chair when she seems to prefer to sit atop or perch against her desk, oozing that self-assured casualness that always throws me a bit for a loop, but not unpleasantly so.

The first time I saw her like this, my immediate thought was: My mother would never have me let sit like that.

Align your knees, Alexandra. You're a lady, Alexandra.

It's the culturally conditioned body. I own rooms in other ways, by sorting bodies into appropriate and inappropriate poses, and automatically assuming the most appropriate one, channeling my aim through that pose. Harnessing it. It's not even a conscious action anymore, but I am reminded of it as I look at her sitting on her desk, feet casually resting on the neglected chair.

I can't help staring at her, legs comfortably set apart over a desk corner, forearms propped loosely on her thighs, hands tangled together in the middle. Relaxed, and confident. It's natural to her.

My feet are set perfectly next to each other, the pose as natural to me as the casualness to her.

I still hear my mother's voice: Hold your purse like this, Alexandra.

I have to smile, looking at Olivia sitting on the desk across from me. She is combing a hand through her hair, only succeeding in making it look even more tousled than before. I know she can hold any purse if she wants to, wear about any dress – I've learned that she's very versatile when it comes to looks – but this is how she is the most comfortable. This is how she sits when she feels at ease or at home, and it's perhaps why I enjoy it so much.


The neon sign at the end of the murky alley was flickering on and off in irregular intervals, barely illuminating the doorway Roger de Santiago had been sighted disappearing into half an hour ago.

"Sorry for ruining your evening," Elliot said, casting an apologetic glance at his partner in the dark of the car.

Olivia shook her head, more to ward off the chill than anything else. "Don't worry, El. I don't mind." Apart from fact that the dressy spaghetti strap top was a bad choice of clothing to sit in a cold car with, and that in these pants and these heels, she'd have to leave any sprints to Elliot.

"But I do," Elliot stated. "I was so glad you went out. You haven't been on a real date for… well, just about forever."

Olivia tried to count back in her mind and gave up. She had simply been too busy to see anyone, she reasoned. Not interested enough. Aloud, she said, "It wasn't such a hot date. Just a nice evening." Which hadn't been Diana's fault, really. She was smart, beautiful and charming. And very interested. Olivia shrugged. "Lukewarm."

Elliot tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. "Do I know her?"

Olivia looked at him. "Remember the brunette from the pub last week?"

Elliot nodded, thinking that the woman had seemed a lot more than lukewarm. Classy and smart and very attractive… Elliot put two and two together. "Cute glasses," he finally commented.

A few moments passed. "Yes," Olivia then conceded quietly.

They hadn't even been friends, and yet she was seeing her eyes every time she tried to kiss someone else.

She stared ahead at the empty doorway, appreciating that Elliot didn't say anything else. They sat in companionable silence, with the neon sign across the alley still flickering on and off.


She leans against the desk, perched with a hip, the curve an alluring contrast to the hard angles of the tabletop. I have to look up to see her face – following the line of the narrow skirt and the parade of tiny buttons up the front of her blouse, the two topmost of them undone. A hint of shadow and cleavage, accentuated by the arms crossed over her chest. Her hair falling in perfect layers around her face, the tips curled inward. There is a slight quirk to her lips, and her eyes are incredibly blue.

"Good morning, Detective."

I swallow as her voice echoes through me. In this moment, I know that she is the most alluring woman I have ever seen in my life.

At first I thought that it was only physical. Body chemistries feeding off each other. Add the slightly antagonistic energy we had, making for a safe dig between us, and she was the ideal object for a little safe projection, without any risk of ever growing out of hand. – I never expected to like her, too.

It isn't just a physical thing. The attraction runs deeper. I reasoned with the commonplace of 'opposites attract' for a while, but are we really that different?

I don't mean the whole 'woman working in a male dominated field' thing – although that is a valid point, too. I don't mean the entire class issue, either, because I know that it would be an issue, if I ever racked up the courage to actually ask her whether she'd like to go out with me sometime.

Of course it could be said that she's privileged, with her background. But she has to function in a tighter social corset, too. There is no risk I'll end up in the gossip column if I go out with a beautiful woman. Unless the woman in question would be her.

I don't have that kind of abstract distance to keep at work: I can fight with her about the search warrants she won't give us, but what does she do if she wants to fight the paragraphs? I can yell and rage. I can reach out and comfort. How does she deal behind the poise?

At first I thought she simply didn't feel it, but I've seen the façade crack a few times too many. It's just as hard on her, she's simply in a different position.

But even if we fight in different places, and with different weapons, the way we go about things is similar: The passion. The strength. The dedication.


"How about going to the opening party of the spring fair on Saturday?" Michelle asked enthusiastically while she prepared to leave the office for the day, shoving the files she wanted to look through at home into a large, orange shopper. "That is, if we can get reduced tickets, but since the office is sponsoring this year, it should work out for us." Caroline was looking at her skeptically, and she shook her head. "No roller coasters or shooting booths, not ever again. I promise." Last year's foray into spring amusement, along with trying to set Caroline up with Ludovic, which had culminated with him trying to win her the biggest prize at the shooting booth, had been disastrous. "It's just a bigger kind of party. They even have some guitar serenade concert, and you like that kind of music, Lynnie."

When she, after refusing an invitation to a rock concert, had told Michelle that she preferred quieter styles, like chamber music, she had more thought of the lute recitals she had heard at Juilliard, or the piano sonatas evenings, or the cozy retro jazz club where they had a singer that sounded just like the late Ella, and she'd always imagined she'd take someone special there one day.

But the latest Met production or the next Lang Lang recital at Carnegie Hall were so far away from her now that it was hard to imagine she'd have gone there if she were still in New York. If she still had season tickets. If she still had a name that could buy them.

Forlornly, she looked up into Michelle's expectant face and decided that she could just as well give the guitars a try. It might not be an Isbin concert, but it would be an evening less in the lonesome quiet of her house. It might even be fun.

She thought that if she still were Alex Cabot, she'd invite Michelle and Nick to a chamber music night at Juilliard, trying to show them what she meant. And who she was. Aloud, she said, "That'd be nice."

"Great." Michelle smiled broadly. "Nick will come, too, and Ludo said he'd bring this mystery girl he met." They shared a knowing smile before Michelle leaned against her desk, canting her head to the side as she peered down at Alex. "I guess I shouldn't ask Elena from the Accounting Firm on the third floor to join us?"

Alex arched an eyebrow. "Elena?"

"The new one. We saw her at Ed's the other week," Michelle said a tad too innocently. "She's currently single. – I could ask her not to wear green."

Alex blinked. "How do you know her name already?" She shook her head. "Scratch that, how do you know she's available?"

"I have my ways." Michelle grinned. "So, should I ask her?"

Alex shot back an exasperated glare, but she was grinning as well. "Let's keep it limited to the guitars for now. It's not even May yet."

"Okay," Michelle agreed, pleased with the reply. Caroline didn't smile a lot. And when she did, she always seemed far away. "I'll try to get the tickets on my way home." She waved at Caroline, already half out of the door. "I'll see you tomorrow – and don't stay in here all night again, Lynnie. Your headache's only gonna get worse."

Michelle was right about that. The dry air was still giving her headaches, and the chill of the newly repaired fan wasn't helping. The air was always dry here. Even when it rained, which was a rare occurrence.

She missed the rain. Closing her eyes, she tried to imagine the clouds, the steady raindrops, the humidity, the soft gray skies and the tang of salt when the ocean was close. April in New York. Any season in New York.

She missed New York. She missed herself.

She missed the New York cultural life, and having the money to experience it. She missed Olivia. She missed being a Cabot.

Her mother. Olivia. Arguing in court. Soirees at the Met. Coffee at Luigi's. Olivia. Her work. Her career. Her political aspirations. Being in the public eye. Olivia.

She missed Olivia.

And she hadn't even known how much she'd miss her.

Looking herself down, she remembered that she was wearing the red sweater, the one that they had given to her at the safe house in the very first week. She hadn't even been able to pull it over her head then because she couldn't lift her arm. The agent had picked the color at random, but it was one of the brownish reds that had always looked so good on Olivia.

She doubted that the color looked good on herself.

It was one of her favorite pullovers.


The light rap on my office door interrupts me in mid-sentence and I look up to find you leaning easily against the doorframe as if right out of a fantasy I shouldn't have – short hair slightly tousled, arms crossed over your chest, a red knitted pullover with a white t-shirt showing underneath and my first flash of thought is how I want to pull them both over your head and toss them across the office, kissing my way down your neck. My fingers tingle with the urge to reach out and tousle your hair some more.

I should really put a stop to the overtime for a while and get some sleep. Fantasies like this belong in dreams that fade away when the alarm sounds, and not in my office.

You cock your head to the side. "You want to go grab a bite?"

Oh, yes. But instead I calmly say, "Sure." And I don't even look back at my files – files that are actually demanding my undeterred and immediate attention – as I follow you out of the office, admiring the way your jeans cling to your hips and I wonder how snugly the t-shirt you wear underneath your pullover fits you.

We end up at some hole in the wall deli, eating wildly spiced soup and tiny sandwiches and black olives, and you're in a good mood. You smile a lot and it's making your eyes sparkle, and every time you pop an olive into your mouth, I feel butterflies in my stomach.

Later, you insist that we walk off the food for a block or two and I'd agree to just about anything. Perhaps it is the beer, but I can feel the heat in my cheeks when you hold the door for me and I have to brush past you out into the street. My hand accidentally touches yours, and when I look down, your fingers are tangled with mine and I don't let go.

I look up into your face, slowly, afraid of what I'll see written there. You still hold onto my hand and my heart is beating wildly, until I see that you're smiling and you gaze at me as if you don't know whether you're dreaming or not, and then everything fades away except for your eyes that are dark and warm and deep like velvet stars and autumn fires.

I distantly feel you tug on our joined hands, and we stumble into each other. Your lips are soft and taste of wild spices, but your mouth is sweet and your tongue is hot and smooth against mine.

I couldn't tell upside from down if I had to right now.

We're leaning against the wall of the dark alley, the rough bricks scraping across my suit jacket. Smells of exotic dishes are wafting out onto the street from the deli and mix with the scent of your skin when I bury my face against your neck. You're so intoxicating I can't think anymore. My hands are unsteady when I trail them down the expanse of your back.

"You're driving me crazy," you murmur close to my ear and your voice is hoarse. I feel your breath on my skin and my legs threaten to give way under me.

I need you.

I pull you closer against me, one of your thighs pushing in between mine, but my skirt is narrow and we're still in this alley and I want you somewhere where it's just you and me and where I can shed this suit, and where I can see you.

I take you home to my place. The red pullover doesn't make it past the hallway, ending up somewhere on the hardwood floor between the apartment door and my bedroom. Your t-shirt does indeed fit you snugly, but I don't have more than a moment to appreciate the fact because you're impatiently pulling it over your head and tossing it away and then you're tackling me onto my own bed.

You leave me breathless. You are both passionate and playful and your body is sleek and smooth and strong, and melting into mine as I touch you, and your hands are moving over my skin confidently and tenderly.

You look at me, and your eyes are dark and soft. "Alex," you say. "Alex."

And I can only stare at you. Slowly, I rake my fingers through your hair. "You're so beautiful," I whisper, and I sound as stunned as I am. And then I lean in to kiss you again.


I jerk awake when my head falls forward and my pen drops to the floor. Fumbling to pick it up, I look around my office disoriented, finally checking the time. It is late. I must have dozed off sometime after Olivia asked me whether I wanted to go grab some dinner.

I said I still had to work. I told her good night and never left my office.

I should have gone with her. I wanted to. I want to every time.

Another night stolen from me, I think, a night with her in some hole in the wall deli with brick walls and beer from small bottles, and faded Bollywood posters lining the counter. And I want that night, and every other night, too.


Gingerly, Olivia placed the ice pack against her temple. "Ouch."

"Sorry – does it hurt much?" Elliot winced sympathetically. "I really thought you had seen the door." As it turned out, he had been wrong and when he looked around at the dull noise behind him, he'd seen his partner on the other side of the glass door holding her head.

"I'll live," she reassured him, angry at her own clumsiness. "Everyone will assume I've taken up boxing, of course, but that's better than telling them that I..."

"You walked right into that door." Elliot shook his head in puzzlement, worry evident in his tone. "Perhaps you should pull fewer doubles for a while and catch some real sleep. – There wasn't anything distracting out there, and I even called out to you to watch it."

"It's not your fault," Olivia waved off Elliot's guilty conscience. She moved the ice pack a bit to the side, pulling a face. "Besides, a nice bruise will cover up the bags under my eyes really well."

"You're heading out of here on time tonight, Liv." Elliot's tone brooked no argument. "I mean it. – Whatever were you thinking about?"

Olivia shrugged. "Nothing."

It had been nothing, after all.

Merely a business woman walking around the corner, tall and slender, wearing an expensive skirt suit. She carried a newspaper under her arm and a coffee in her hand, and blonde hair – that exact same shade of light blonde – was falling onto her shoulders, half obscuring her face.


It didn't happen as often anymore. But is still happened, every now and then, catching Olivia all the more unguarded. A laugh reminiscent of hers at the next table in the pub. A similar gait on the courthouse floors. Someone walking by wearing her perfume. Flashes that made Olivia's pulse race, where for one blissful moment she thought it was her - before reality and reasoning caught up with her and she knew that it couldn't be Alex.

Some months were worse than others. Still, nothing ever was as bad as those first few weeks where every tiny detail – a pair of black eyeglass frames in a shop window, the faded photo from the last Christmas party in the corner of the squad's bulletin board, walking past Alex's former office – seemed to choke her with such a sense of loss that she couldn't breathe. It was then that she realized that she didn't really have anything of hers to put her memories to – no photos, no tokens. She had some now, thanks to a trip to the DA's office news data archive and its very patient custodian – a small video copy of public statements by ADA Alexandra Cabot that had been deemed politically relevant enough to be stored away for future reference, and some copies of news articles. If the custodian had wondered why she was getting such impersonal things to put together an obituary on a friend and colleague – which was what she had told him – he had been tactful enough not to comment on it. She must have looked as pathetic as she felt.


I remember falling for her. Rather: the moment I realized that I was falling for her.

I knock on her office door, it is late in the evening already, and she finishes writing the phrase she is working on before she looks up. Her desk light is dim, and I can't see her face, all I see is the fall and shine of her hair, and how the light casts a gentle glow over it so that it looks like pale, shimmering gold. - I am still puzzled as to when phrases like that made it into my vocabulary when she looks up, blinking behind her glasses against the light falling in from the doorway behind me. She adjusts her glasses and there is a slight smile playing about her lips as she looks at me and I feel like a teenager with a first crush.

She oozes class and elegance, and now she smiles fully and I can't think.

This is an idea I shouldn't even have, a fantasy I shouldn't even entertain. She'd never go out with me, even if I were a man. For fun, perhaps, if she's into that – she must be, if she dates at all, since she doesn't do serious relationships, much like me – but she'd never look at me the way I am looking at her. She's a Cabot with high political aspirations and a conservative family behind her.

Even if she were gay, and interested, she wouldn't go out with me. She'd be stupid to do so, and perhaps it's better this way. I'd rather not be the cliché cop affair of some career oriented uptown girl.

It's not just her career plans. It's also her background.

I am not ashamed of myself, of who I am, or where I am. Whatever struggles I may have are my own. But when I try to see myself with her eyes, I don't know what she sees, and that makes me hesitate. I don't have her picture book Park Avenue family. I've never had a father. I don't have a mother anymore. I don't have her kind of education or money. – Would she look down on me? Would she pity me? Would she simply consider me some lower class thrill?

The expectations placed on her are so different from what I know. When she, offhandedly, mentioned her debutante ball – once, after Munch had talked her into a third beer – I laughed. And I only realized that she hadn't been kidding when she looked at me squarely.

Oh, Alex.

When I was sixteen, nobody made me wear white gloves and smile at smarmy men in suits. At age sixteen, I kissed Keira Mendenez on the rooftop, bought beer with a fake ID and was home after midnight most nights.

I wonder what she was like as a teenager. If she had a bad perm on her prom night – I guess she probably looked perfect – or braces. Or if she was lanky and awkward when she started Law School – although it is hard to imagine her awkward at all, ever – or if she ever went through a rebel phase with her hair dyed red.

And I know I'd have found her adorable either way.


"Caroline, wait!"

Turning around, she saw Esteban from the Accounting Firm catch up with her.

"Listen, I managed to get two free hours on the tennis court tonight and we still need a fourth man for a double – Ludo said you play?"

"Not anymore." She shook her head regretfully. "I badly dislocated my shoulder and had to stop."

"Ludo said something like that, but he said it was about two years ago…" Esteban flashed her his most beseeching smile. "You sure you're not up for a little training game? We'll take it easy."

"I'd like to, but I'm really out of it." She sighed. "Thanks for the offer, Esteban, but I have to pass."

"All right." He nodded. "Too bad though – Another time, perhaps? I dislocated my shoulder twice myself, and can play just like I used to."

She shrugged evasively. "It wasn't really treated that well at first."

It was a meager excuse, but Esteban accepted it with an understanding nod before he took off. He, like most of the small circle of people she had closer contact with here, believed the rumors about her divorce – which belonged to Caroline Roberts' back story – having been an escape from an abusive marriage, her former husband disagreeing violently about the separation.

The rumor fit well with the battered and withdrawn woman who had moved into town twenty months ago, and Michelle's wild speculations about the abusive ex-husband still following Caroline's trail had kept any questions at bay. It had also given her a very good further cover. Of course, Michelle with her vivid imagination also believed that the actual reason for the violent divorce had been Caroline's coming out – her proclivities were a fact that Caroline had, even if with great reluctance, shared after the disastrous try on Michelle's part to set her up with Ludovic. The possibly dramatic back story also made Michelle, though generally having a more conservative stance on the 'gay agenda', as she called it, very supportive of the reclusive colleague and her individual pursuit of happiness.

Alex shifted her shoulders, feeling the familiar twinge running through the right at the movement.

Not dislocated.


No tennis this year, either, and possibly not ever again.


"Did you ever play sports, Counselor?"

I've run into a baseball debate between the detectives of my squad and while Munch and Elliot are still arguing, you are grinning at me now. I shrug as I reply, "Just the usual."

You cant your head to the side. "Tai Chi and kick boxing," you guess teasingly.

I shake my head, trying to file away the images of you at either of these disciplines for leisurely contemplation on my part later on. "Tennis and golf."

"Tennis?" Your grin grows wider and you're casually looking me over as if assessing my suitability for the sport. I feel warm, even though I know that this look doesn't mean anything. Not to you.

"I've never tried that," you say and it's on the tip of my tongue to offer you a lesson, just for fun, but it's not as if we're on that kind of footing with each other – I can't just drag you off to the tennis court at my mother's club. I wish I knew you well enough to be able to do just that without having to offer you any explanation as to why I'd like to spend time with you. As things are, I don't even know whether you'd agree to it in the first place.

"Oh, I used to play a lot," I answer instead. I imagine you in a tennis outfit, but can't get past the image of a tennis polo shirt stretching across your chest, buttons splayed apart. It's not getting any cooler in here.

I can think of a few other things that you've probably never tried and that I wouldn't mind sharing with you, but I don't tell you that.

I don't tell you how Eileen Vanderbilt looked at me on that late summer morning in the Hamptons when I was sixteen. It was almost September and the thing I remember most is that the grass was still wet with dew against our ankles – we always went for a few balls before breakfast – when we walked off the court. Eileen's family owned the property next to ours and the tennis court was theirs. She was two years my senior, and every time I saw her in her little white tennis outfit with the sleeveless polo shirt I didn't want to be the well-bred society girl I was.

That morning, it was different, and she smiled when she leaned in and I kissed her and she tasted of dew and sweeter yet, and her eyes were green like the grass.

These days, I am partial to brown eyes.

You wouldn't wear a tennis skirt, I reason. You would wear navy blue running shorts. I know you have a pair. A rare reward of being called in at ungodly hours is that you never know what Detective Benson might be wearing – it could be a backless dress, or a pair of running shorts. It was before seven a.m. that morning when I arrived at a potential diplomatic disaster of a crime scene on the upper East Side.

The call jolted me out of bed, but it obviously caught you in the middle of a jog already. For a moment I wonder how early your mornings are and what you might look like in your pajamas and with sleep-tousled hair, but then I'm distracted by the actual sight of you as you turn to greet me. The hems of your running shorts are barely grazing the top of your thighs and I can count the seconds my eyes need to travel up the length of your legs. A hooded, sleeveless top is clinging to your upper body, and the fabric is darker between your shoulder blades where it is sticking to your skin.

I push my glasses back up firmly.

You casually comb sweat-matted hair out of your face with your fingers and I try to look away and am, again, distracted by the way the hemline of your shorts is brushing against your toned upper thighs. I feel thirsty.

"Alex, I didn't know you'd be here." You sound slightly embarrassed, shifting your weight from one bare leg to the other.

…Here? I'm not here. I'm on the floor of a gym with your body falling into me and your naked thighs tangling with mine. I easily reverse our positions – which would never be that easy in reality, not with how toned your thighs are and with your training in holding down guys much larger than me… I'm sure you'd never even think of me this way, desirous and a little reckless, but in my fantasy you do and I look down into your face, and you smile. "Nice move, Counselor."

You're sexy when you're formal.

"What about this one?" I murmur, your naked thighs against mine making it hard for me to concentrate on anything else, like speech, and I lean in and kiss you and you taste sweeter than dew or anything else…

I clear my throat. – No gym. No running shorts today, either. We're at the precinct. Munch and Elliot are still arguing about baseball and you and I are having a harmless conversation about perfectly appropriate physical activities. Like tennis.

I smile. "Do you play any sports, Detective?"


"Where's the victim?" Olivia asked, stepping from the elevator that was covered in cushy wall-to-wall carpet. The hallway the uniformed cop pointed her along was no less elegant, dominated by marble columns and high ceilings.

"Liv – there you are!" Elliot stepped out of a doorway, waving her over with a gloved hand.

She nodded, stepping into a spacious antechamber beside him. "What do we have?"

"Lauren McCoy, thirty-four, partner in the company here." Elliot pointed towards the adjoining office. "Colleague found her in the morning. Looks like a rape that escalated into murder. – No robbery. Seems he was just after her. Maybe he stalked her."

"So he knew she was working late," Olivia guessed, snapping on a pair of gloves as she stepped over the threshold. "Oh, shit."

Lauren McCoy had been a beautiful woman, and she retained that beauty even in death. She lay sprawled across her office desk, one arm dangling off the edge, the wrist at an awkward angle. Her pencil skirt was bunched up around her hips and torn at one side, the matching jacket and blouse ripped open. Between reddish bruises, a diamond solitaire was still nestled in the crook of her neck, partly tangled in light-blonde hair that was only slightly matted with blood, fanning out around her head like a distorted halo.

"Definitely not a robbery," Elliot stated, pointing at the Cartier watch still attached to a slender wrist.

A flash of light on the black carpet caught Olivia's eye and she bent down to pick up a pair of black eye frames, its twin set of embedded stones sparkling in the light. One of the glasses was splintered.

"Liv?" She heard Elliot's voice from far away. "Are you okay?"

"The donuts…" she still managed to choke out, before she dashed from the room with her hand pressed to her mouth.


"New glasses?" It's the first thing I ask when Alex walks into the observation room. I've never seen this particular pair on her, and I think I've memorized them all.

"Yes," she says, sounding surprised and she smiles, pleased that I noticed. She draws the black frames off her nose, contemplating them closely for a moment and I take note of the double C engraved discreetly into the side. "At first I wasn't sure whether they'd be too flashy for me."

"Are you kidding?" 'Flashy' in ADA Alexandra Cabot's book apparently extends to a double set of tiny Swarovski stones set along the edge of the frames. I think they look elegant and appealing, but that might also be due to the fact that Alex is wearing them. "They look great on you, Alex." You look great. You always look great.

She smiles again and I wish I could keep her smiling like that all day. "Chanel Spring Collection?" I guess, venturing a little further into the personal small talk.

She arches an eyebrow at me. "Admit it, you've been pilfering Munch's crib exemplar of Vogue again."

That actually makes me laugh, and then we both smile at each other and I can see her eyes sparkle behind her glasses.

Perhaps it is that sparkle, or the smile, but it seems as if I'm closer to her all of a sudden, even though I'm still standing in the same place, and so is she. There is a feeling of infinite possibilities when I look at her.

I wonder what she would say if I were to ask her out, right now.

Sometimes, I ask myself whether a successful relationship in our line of work is even possible – we all ask ourselves that question at some point – or whether it'd be better to content myself with a fantasy that can't be hurt.

My general belief has always been that the job excludes big romances, period – unless you're damn lucky, like Elliot. But for the rest of us, I don't hold out much hope. Because people don't know how to deal with what we do, and half of the time, we don't know how to deal ourselves. Because seeing attraction and sexuality all gone wrong day in, day out can kill any magic and any trust. Because a job taking place in between abuse victims and sick perps doesn't further the courage to believe in love, or the possibility of a successful relationship at all.

But then there is Alex. And even though she doesn't know about it, sometimes I wonder whether it could be more than a fantasy. Because she knows the job. She understands what it does to people. And yet she can still smile at me in a way that makes me think that there are infinite possibilities.

And even if it makes me vulnerable: She makes me believe in things again.


"Come on Lynnie, it's just a radio show," Michelle had argued. "I'll get you the album for your birthday, but you simply can't skip the office party!"

But to her, it wasn't just a radio show and she hadn't relented. Rather, she was, after having hastened home early, sitting comfortably in front of the radio with a glass of wine, her eyes closed, enjoying the Met live broadcast with near religious attention.

It felt like New York. It felt like Alex Cabot.

It was the closest to Lincoln Center she got these days.

Letting the tragic opera love story wash over her, parallels to her own life suddenly didn't seem so far away: the woman forced to leave everything behind because of a tragic accident, living under another name and in constant fear for her life; by tragic circumstances losing her lover to the whims of an unforgiving fate that also made the lover believe she were dead…

She had lost her life to a case – her life, her family and a lover she hadn't even had. And the heroic certainty of having done the right thing, of not having caved in, sounded hollow to her ears when she measured it against her losses.

She missed New York. She missed the humid heat of the summers, but most of all the walks in falling autumn leaves. Their colors, and the feeling of walking into a warm house from the rainy cold, shedding soft black leather gloves. The fireplace in her mother's library. The crispness to the air that also signaled the approaching holiday season. Functions and balls. Dancing.

Dancing with Olivia. Entertaining the risqué thought at all was enough to send a tingle down her spine and she leisurely tried to imagine a dress she'd want Olivia to wear; she'd guiltily fantasized about dancing with her the night she'd seen her in that black backless number, picturing her hands resting on all that invitingly framed bare skin.

She asked herself what Olivia might wear if she were to invite the detective to the opera. She imagined Olivia dressing up for her. The backless black dress. The green dress. Something red and low-cut.

Tousled hair, a knit pullover and a white t-shirt underneath.

She wondered if Olivia would enjoy going to the opera. Where Olivia might take her on a date in return. Whether Olivia's friends would accept her – especially Elliot and the squad, not as an ADA, but as someone who belonged with Olivia. Whether Olivia would still look at her the way she had the night she had left. Whether Olivia could fall in love with her.

She didn't know whether it could even work, but she knew that she would want to try.

It was sheer irony that here, she could be out in front of her office if she chose to, and that now there wasn't anyone to be out for anymore.

The break between the first and second act shook her out of her musings, and she absently listened to the commercials in between. She wondered whether Olivia would go to the opera with her, if she asked her. And whether she should simply have asked her back then, when she still had a chance. Some days she couldn't believe she hadn't done it.

Sure, she had bravely argued that going out with a cop, and a female cop at that, wouldn't be a smart career move, being in the public eye as she was. And surely she was right about that – that bit of gossip, falling into the wrong hands, might very well have meant political suicide. But did she really care about those political ramifications anymore?


The doorbell to my house is ringing and I wonder whether I forgot a social call. I walk downstairs towards the entrance in my bare feet, expecting an impatient Michelle or a sheepishly grinning Esteban, but when I look through the spyhole – I always do, the agents at the safe house drilled that into me beyond return – it's neither of them.

It's her.

Leather jacket, knit sweater, snug jeans, short tousled hair. She looks a bit nervous, fidgeting, but then she looks up as if she knows I am there on the other side of the door and I see her eyes and her eyes are large and calm and deep.

I hasten to unlock the door, my fingers are trembling and my throat is parched. I feel dizzy. Finally, I manage to pull the door open and she looks at me. She looks at me just the way she did when I left. When I last saw her.

Suddenly, my hair is blonde again and I look inexplicably great, even at this hour, and she is wearing a leather jacket although it is much to warm for it in the weather here.

She says, "Alex". She says my name and it's like rain in the desert.

"It's over," She tucks her hands into the pockets of her jacket and she's so close I can see every single one of her lashes. "He's dead." She looks at her feet for a moment and I think she shot him herself, perhaps. "There's no more threat against you."

And then she looks at me and I see her eyes, and then her lips, and she says, "Please come home."

And I say yes.

If I ever saw her again, I'd say yes to many more things. Deli dinner, and squad sport events, and a nightcap at her place after dinner, and seeing her in that green dress again.

I'd say yes even if she didn't ask. – Or I would ask her. If only I saw her again.

At first, it was "when I see her again", then it became "if I see her again". Now it's "if I saw her again" and I am afraid of the day where I will say, "If I had seen her again…"

I am so homesick. This is not my life.

My life is courtrooms and skirt suits and not listening to the Met broadcast, but being there. My life is five-hundred delis on the block for a hasty late lunch, and fighting tooth and nail with my squad over a search warrant, and then having coffee with them. With her.

I am sick of not being me. I am homesick for my life. Homesick for her.

They took away my life. If ever faced with this choice again, I'd give up the case, or take the risk of getting killed, or extinguish an entire cartel on my own.

I've learned what being lonely truly means. And I've learned that there are things worth dying for and things worse than dying. I wouldn't give up who I am again. I wouldn't put my family and friends through this again, and I wouldn't put myself through it again, either.


"You know I can't give you a warrant on that." Casey's patience was wearing thin as she looked at the detective who was pacing through her office.

"What? We have his prints on the hallway cupboard right next to her office!" Olivia tossed the file onto the desk angrily. "The tape was from that cupboard!"

"Did you find the tape roll?"

Olivia stopped her pacing for a moment. The silence answered Casey's question. No, they still hadn't found the tape that would link Benedict Connor to Lauren McCoy's murder, but Olivia knew that she and Elliot were right about him. All they needed was a warrant for his apartment; Connor was the type to keep trophies.

"Olivia." Casey waited until the detective looked at her. "Connor has his own office on that floor," she then continued pointedly. "Which makes it his hallway, and his supply cupboard, too. His prints on it don't prove anything."

"I can't believe you won't give us a warrant for his apartment." Olivia's stance was belligerent. "Six different colleagues have reported that Connor had issues with Lauren being his boss."

"I don't like Connor, either. But his alibi is solid." Casey shook her head. "Put a dent into it – any kind of dent – and I'll get you your warrant."

"He works in this place – he'll know how to get past the doorman and the surveillance cameras." Olivia resumed her pacing. "That rat bastard is playing us. He raped and killed Lauren McCoy. And we both know it."

"I told you, I don't like Connor, either," Casey said regretfully. "But your ire won't help us. I need evidence, and like this, you're no use to this case." The look she gave Olivia wasn't unfriendly. "You're too involved."

"Too involved?" Olivia shouted incredulously. She raked her hands through her hair in a gesture of frustration. "He raped and killed her in her own office because he couldn't deal with the fact that she was a hell of a lot smarter than him. Perfect case to be calm about!"

"Olivia…" Casey began, her tone appeasing.

But Olivia didn't let her finish. "Damn it, Casey, don't you care at all?"


"Damn it, Alex, don't you care at all?" I'm yelling at her, and I don't care. I can't believe she's going to deny us the search warrant because of a stupid formality. "This is no goddamned paragraph chess. – Don't you think about the victim at all?"

The sudden silence I'm met with indicates that I have hit a nerve, but I'm not finished yet. "Don't you care about justice at all?" She doesn't have any idea of what we're dealing with. She was at some fancy concert when this case got called in. She wasn't crouching in a muddy cellar next to a bloodied and frightened Viola Johnson, trying to calm her while waiting for the stupid backup to show up. Because without any equipment, we couldn't break the handcuffs the bastard had used to chain her to the heating pipes. "Why did you even become a lawyer?" I can't get the image out of my head. The pipes. The cuffs. The chafed wrists. When Alex first saw her, Viola had been taken care of, cleaned up and dressed. "Is it only some fancy family tradition your dad wanted you to continue? Great challenge!"

There is a long pause while she sits there, and I pace restlessly through her office.

"Actually, it was quite a challenge, Detective," she finally says and her voice is eerily quiet. "The women in my family may be expected to study law, but not to become lawyers."

Her reply has me dumbfounded enough to make me lose track of my ire. "What for then?" I ask. I'm exhausted, and frustrated, and angry, and I can't make any sense of all this right now.

"To meet and marry lawyers." Alex's voice is clipped and if I wasn't so angry and tired, I'd realize I've struck some old hurt. "You may think I don't care, Detective," she then says coolly. "I think that you're tired. – And I think you should know better."

I want to bristle at her tone, but I am so damn exhausted. I slump down into one of her chairs.

Much later that day, we're all in a better mood. Munch has struck gold while canvassing and found an eyewitness who picked the bastard out of a lineup. We have him. Also, Viola's boyfriend has flown in and she could leave the hospital already, with him.

We're sitting over our beers, relieved and exhausted, and trying to forget about the images I know I'll see for nights to come. It's one of the rare instances where Alex has joined us. She's sitting next to Fin and is nursing what has to be at least her second drink. She doesn't look at me and I haven't spoken to her since my outburst in the morning.

I grab my glass and slide from the bar stool, and I swear I hear Elliot snicker as I make my way over to Alex. When she looks up at me, I can see that she's been through the wringer, as well. I heard Liz tear into her earlier, something about a pending case, when I was about to knock on her door with the good news about our eyewitness.

"Sorry about this morning," I say and I look at my glass as I sit down next to her. "I was frustrated, and I took it out on you."

"I was frustrated, as well," she says, and her hair falls into her face as she looks down at the table where she is toying with her drink. "I get frustrated just like you do. I only lack the convenience of an ADA to yell at." She looks at me now, an eyebrow arched, and with a half smile, and I realize I'm forgiven. I also realize that what I said this morning really hurt her.

"I shouldn't have said all that." I'm staring at my glass again. Even if I don't know why Alex studied law, it's a good thing she did it anyway. "You do a damn good job, Alex."

Her smile at that is so pleased that I could kick myself for my outburst in the morning all over again. The day's tension seems to seep out of me, finally, and I don't know if she's been inching closer but I think it's probably been me, involuntarily, but we're sitting a little closer together in the booth and I realize that I am smiling, too.

For a while, there's companionable silence and I am simply enjoying this – that she has gone out with us, that I am sitting here with her, that we aren't fighting, and that I made her smile.

"So, why did you study law then, if it wasn't to meet a lawyer?" I finally ask and my voice is quiet even though I am grinning at her.

If Alex is surprised at the question, she doesn't show it. "I like law," she says and her eyes are on me, and they are calm and clear and blue like a mountain brook, or at least that is how I imagine one. I'm counting the beers I've had. Mountain brooks indeed. "And I like arguing," Alex adds and only at second glance I see the mischievous sparkle in her eyes. I like her like this.

"No kidding," I murmur into my beer, but she catches on to it anyway and I'm a bit startled when she nudges me in reply. It must be her two or three drinks, I conclude, because I can't remember Alex ever initiating much body contact. I know it because my body would remember this feeling.

Also, I hadn't noticed that we are now sitting right next to each other.

"And it's about justice," Alex concludes thoughtfully. "That's why I became a lawyer." She leans back in the booth a bit. "And also, Detective, because that way, there's the chance of someone meeting me." Her tone is dry, but she is grinning and I don't really know why. Before I can put my finger to it, though, she smoothly has the question redirected at me, asking me why I signed up with the police, and I like the way she looks at me as she asks.

She knows about my father already, so I find myself telling her about all the other things. How we didn't have the money for a fancy college, or the credit rating for student loans. And that I had no chance at a scholarship with my average grades – I often missed out on classes and homework because someone had to pick up the slack at home. I try to tell her about the need for independence and being able to rely on oneself and one's strengths, and I see understanding in her gaze, even though she doesn't know what it feels like to grow up on a block like mine. And how it ultimately made me want to do something for the kind of women who lived in the apartments around us and who had to put up with abuse on a daily basis.

Alex's eyes are on me the entire time.

Only much later, when I try to walk off the slight buzz from my beers for a few blocks, it hits me. She didn't study law to meet and marry a lawyer, she said. --- "…and also, Detective, because that way, there's the chance of someone meeting me…" --- But who runs around law schools trying to find a lawyer to settle down with? I stop in my tracks in the middle of the street, stuck on the image of a row of smitten female law students gazing at Alex adoringly.

Alex on a dinner date with a woman, one in a lovely dress and she is looking at Alex from underneath her lashes, and the watch on Alex's wrist gleams in the light as she reaches for her purse to pay.

Alex coming home after a long day in court, and a woman is helping her out of her coat in the hallway, kissing her hello and saying that dinner is ready.

"…the chance of someone meeting me…"

I recall Alex's sly grin and my heart misses a beat or two.

Alex… and women?


Knocks on her door tore her out of her sleep and for a moment, she looked around herself disoriented before she realized that she had dozed off on the couch over the news.

She hastened to the door, but walked the last few steps quietly and looked out through the spyhole first, the gesture so much a routine now that she could almost ignore the tiny bout of fear that always accompanied the maneuver.

"God, Lynnie, did you just fall out of bed?" Michelle asked with amusement, her arm linked through Nick's.

"Off the couch, actually," she replied, her voice still gravelly. Not the best condition to visit the evening spectacle at the home garden show. "I'm sorry. Just give me a couple of minutes, all right?"

She asked them in to wait, a thing she had needed more than a year to offer, always afraid that something about her house would give her away, would show the synthetic nature of her life. The colors that weren't really hers. The lack of photos and souvenirs.

Catching a look at her mussed hair in the vanity mirror, she smiled wryly at herself. Michelle was right, she really looked as if she had just fallen out of bed.

For a moment, she surveyed herself critically. She wished she could dye her hair blonde again.

She wondered how Olivia might have her hair these days, whether she had let it grow out yet a bit further or whether she had decided to cut it short again. She had always liked it short.

Downstairs, Michelle and Nick were talking in the living room, and she remembered how Michelle had asked her why she didn't have any family photos around when she had first made it past the entryway, only to nod tactfully when Alex had replied that she had made a clear cut between her past and her present. Michelle assumed since that Caroline's parents and family had sided with the abusive ex-husband.

Alex thought about the lifeless flower stills on her living room walls and wished she had one of her family's paintings to put up instead. Or a poster sized picture of Olivia.

Although that was something she would rather have put up in her bedroom. Olivia to look at first thing in the morning, with the dreams still close by and her body still warm from sleep.

She only had dream images now, and they faded quickly. Sometimes, during the day, she couldn't even recall Olivia's face, as if her memory was a limited stock and she had used it up already. And the more she tried to conjure her up – the exact shade of brown of her eyes, the curve of her lips, the line of her neck – the more the image seemed to escape her.

Then again, the memory simply overcame her at moments, intense enough to leave her gasping. Triggered by a smell or a sound, her mind's eye would paint Olivia in front of her so clearly that she felt she could reach out and touch her, only to find the image gone again all too soon. She could never make it last longer – her own memory seemed to elude her grasp, fading and losing its colors the way old pictures did.

She wished she had a picture, just one. It wouldn't even have to be a poster. She'd content herself with a badly taken passport shot or a newspaper clipping – anything. Something that she could hold in her hands to recall Olivia by, something that would remind her that it had been real, and that she hadn't simply dreamed her other life when the relived tendrils of it vanished into nothingness when she woke.

She was the most alone in the mornings.


I know what you look like in the morning. It's how I can pinpoint the very moment I realized that I was attracted to you, one very early morning after we'd fought over a case the night before.

It's early, nobody has even bothered to switch on the full lights yet. I've never seen it so quiet in here. I'm at the precinct on my way to work already, hoping not to run into any of my detectives. Tempers still have to cool a bit from last night, mine included. Which is why I didn't call about having forgotten my shawl when I angrily stormed out of here last night, but am here to stealthily pick it up myself. I don't need another comment from Elliot about my paycheck in relation to my choice of cashmere accessories, or another of your reproachful looks while you murmur something about my minions having to carry not only my cases but also my winter wear after me.

I don't get lucky. Or perhaps I do. It seems I'm not the only one who spent the night over the case file because you are sitting at your desk with your head resting on an open copy of said file, sound asleep.

My shawl is draped over the edge of your desk and I almost overlook it because I'm looking at you. Your mouth is slightly opened, and your breaths are calm and easy. You look relaxed, and I think how I've never realized that one of your eyebrows forms a higher arch than the other. Your eyelashes are long where they rest on your cheeks, and I feel a tingle in my stomach when my eyes follow the shape of your lips – the widely swung, even bow of your upper lip, the full, smooth curve of the lower…

I jump back guiltily when you stir in your sleep.

You don't wake up, not yet. Cragen will be here any minute now, and I should take my shawl and leave. But then I am thinking that you probably wouldn't want the guys to find you like this, and my hand is already reaching out to gently nudge you awake before I can stop myself.

There are still tingles running through my stomach and I can't find any of my ire at you from last night. Instead, I reach out to lightly to touch your shoulder. Your body is warm with sleep through your sweater.

You mumble something unintelligible, still fast asleep and I marvel at the sudden twinge of tenderness I feel. It is simply absurd after last night's fight.

Your eyelids flutter open and I can't hide my smile. "Good morning, Detective."

At that, you jerk upwards. "Wha…?" You look around yourself wildly and then your eyes settle on me. "Alex?"

Your voice is hoarse and deep and I can feel it resonate through my entire body. There's that strange tingle again, and I'm afraid I'll blush.

Your eyes are unguarded – heavy, dark and liquid with sleep. It makes me wonder what you've been dreaming about. You try to sit up straighter, blinking the sleep away, but with your hair sticking out in every direction and that slightly disoriented look, the tough cop act fails you. God, you're cute.

You swallow and my eyes are drawn to your lips again. Why did I never notice that you have the perfect mouth? Another tingle runs through my stomach, dangerously low.

"...Alex?" You are looking at me expectantly and I realize that I must have missed something you said.

Now I am blushing.

And I know I'm done for.


"Son of a bitch had the tape roll in his car!" Sliding into the seat across from the ADA, Olivia pushed a report copy across the table. "Forensics already matched it to the remnants we found on Lauren McCoy's wrists."

Casey had to smile at Olivia's triumphant expression. "And now you owe the folks at Forensics a beer," she guessed.

"Or three," Olivia admitted. She motioned at the waitress for a coffee before she pointed at the report again. "There were still traces of her lipstick, as well. – Can you believe he stored it in the glove compartment?"

"He won't believe what's in store for him after being so stupid." Casey looked very satisfied at the outcome as well. Then she nodded, her expression more serious. "You were right about the car, Olivia."

Olivia shrugged it off. "Yeah, but I was wrong about the apartment." That hadn't been one of her better moments. "I'm sorry I yelled at you."

Casey all but snorted. "As if I haven't yelled at you before." She shook her head, smiling. "Don't worry about it. Besides, I'll probably make good on it next time. – So, can we go over your star witness statement for Wednesday sometime this afternoon?"

Making up with Casey was much easier than it had ever been with Alex, Olivia mused as the conversation went on. Probably because fighting with Alex had been a lot worse. It had been unsettling on a larger scale. But then, making up had felt a lot better, too. The feeling of seeing her smile slightly behind those arrogant glasses of hers again. Or to watch her argue a case in court and forget about the clashes they'd had while putting it together, and instead enjoy the fact that this woman was, ultimately, on their side.

Of course, disagreeing with Casey might also be easier because they were lacking that set of purely personal undercurrents that had always been there between Alex and her. Olivia didn't have a crush on Casey.

Alex had been a crush, once Olivia had gotten past the first, wary impression of Alex being too young, too posh and too inexperienced to be any good with SVU. And too beautiful.

And while Alex kept and perfected her skills of aggravating her squad at times, she also gained experience and, eventually, Olivia's respect, if only for her tenacity. But when Olivia had been ready to admit, if grudgingly, that Alex did her job well, it had already been about more than just the job. She had grown accustomed to having Alex around – to her confident attitude that, when applied in their favor, was actually quite enjoyable, or to the only slightly annoyed, challenging look she gave Olivia when the detective started to bargain for a warrant. And it had been a good feeling to revel, just a bit, in Alex's grace and her intelligence, her strength and the passionate intent that was well concealed behind the cool society air.

And then it had changed already, even though Olivia couldn't have said how it had happened. She only knew that when she was ready to admit her crush to herself, Alex had already become more than just that. An idea to secretly hold onto when cases went bad. Someone she knew would be there with them, even when things didn't turn out in their favor. Someone who was there in the morning even when they had been fighting the night before.

Alex had always been around. Nodding at her in wry commiseration at another date having gotten interrupted because of work. Sitting next to her on the bench outside the courtroom over a bad case, waiting for the verdict, without saying a word. Alex had even been there for her after her mother's death – not outwardly comforting, but very mindful of her. It wasn't the lilies she had sent, although the gesture had been appreciated, but that she had more or less bullied Donnelly into switching witnesses on two pending cases to give the detective some space. She had never mentioned it, of course. Neither had Olivia.

Alex had been so much more than a fantasy.

And yet, there had never been anything. Olivia took a sip of her coffee. There hadn't been anything at all. And thinking about it now wouldn't change a thing. There was no use in romanticizing her memories. Alex wasn't the type to be into women anyway. And if she were, then probably into some perfect blue blooded Park Avenue femme with a row of debutante balls under her belt instead of a gun on her belt.

There had never been anything.


It's nice and comfortable and I don't want to leave here… but something is landing on my shoulder. At first I think it's butterflies, but I'm sitting on the rooftop and I've never seen butterflies on my block. I expect someone to shout from downstairs but the voices are soft. There is still this something on my shoulder and just when I think that the touch is too heavy now to be butterflies, I realize that I am waking up.


I jerk awake and need a moment to realize I must have fallen asleep at my desk sometime during the night. I blink against the light, still sleepy, and the first thing I see is the curve of a waist, nicely clad in something tailored with dark pinstripes. I glance up.

Sharp blue eyes. Those glasses. A slight quirk to her lips. "Good morning, Detective."

She is smiling now, and I try to wrap my mind around that fact. Last night, I yelled at this woman and told her that she needed to grow up, and to get real, and whatnot, leading to her icily recounting paragraphs and Court of Appeals decisions and telling me to get real myself. The last I saw of her were the backs of her heels storming out of here and I was mad at her all night. And frustrated. And so angry that I couldn't sleep but went back to work on the case.

I must have fallen asleep after all and now she stands here and she is smiling and I'm not even mad at her anymore.

For a split second, before the day comes and takes me out of this state between sleep and wakefulness, I think that I should ask her to go out with me.

The moment passes, and the day swallows us up, but when I see her again later, in her office, that stray thought lingers at the back of my mind, startling me.

She has taken her glasses off, they're dangling from her fingers and she is thoughtfully chewing on one end. Even that looks elegant when she does it. – Is that an additional open button on her blouse? I can see the vague outline of a collarbone and I wonder when I started to look at her like this.

I want to…, I think, but I can't say what it is that I want. I feel thirsty.


You make me see I'm still normal. That I still have normal impulses, normal reactions. That I'm still human. That I can still feel honest-to-God attracted to someone. Work hasn't killed or corrupted that yet. There's something inside me that is untainted when I look at you.

I look at you and I desire. Wholly. Purely. Joyfully.

If nothing else, I'll always be grateful for that.


"Gracias, Caroline, that is such a great gift." Esteban was smiling broadly at her, happily holding the gift certificate for a set of hours on the tennis court in his hands. "You'll have to play at least one of those with me!"

"You know I can't, with my shoulder," she said regretfully, charmed by the enthusiastic thanks for her gift. She would have loved to give him a new racquet instead, she knew he could have used one, but those had become gifts she couldn't afford to make anymore. Sometimes having to live on a relatively frugal salary still felt like a big impairment. She remembered the first weeks of trying to reorganize her grocery shopping habits, actually looking at the price tags. It had been humiliating.

"I know this great sports doctor," Esteban offered, the energy and decisiveness in his large dark eyes ringing at something, leaving her aching. "I'm sure he would look at your shoulder for free if I asked him to."

"That is very kind of you, but I couldn't do that," she protested, panic rising within her. No doctors. Doctors meant having to undress, and exposing her gunshot scars. That first winter, the agents had barely left her to her own devices, she had been struck with the flu and she had needed weeks to fight it off on her own because she had been too scared to see a doctor. The scars hadn't even been fully healed then. "Believe me, I've tried every kind of doctor already," she hedged. "To no avail other than adding to my frustration. – It's a very sweet idea, though. Thank you." She aimed an unfair smile at Esteban that placated him instantly. She thought how she'd never have called an idea 'sweet' before she came here. "I'm sure the color will look great on you," she said, nodding at the simple dark polo-shirt she had wrapped the certificate in, trying to make her gift look a little bigger.

"You think so?" He almost blushed at her compliment, holding the shirt in front of him.

"Sure it looks great," Michelle called from across the room where she was perusing the buffet table. "Lynnie should get you the matching pants for Christmas!"

The party crowd laughed, and now Esteban was blushing indeed and she felt sorry for him. Esteban was such a gentleman, he'd never have made such a remark himself and while he didn't know that she was gay, she was sure he wouldn't come on to her unless she encouraged him. She shook her head at Michelle. "Stop embarrassing the birthday boy!"

"What?" Michelle laughed, shrugging. "It'll save you the worry of finding him a Christmas gift."

Alex couldn't prevent her smile from slipping. Christmas was a bad time.

Especially because the family theme of the holiday hit home all the more when sharing an office with Michelle, who loved holidays of any kind, especially when she could go overboard with little gifts and kitsch decor. And a work place setting didn't stop Michelle from bringing her favorite holidays into the office as well. On the contrary.

Last year, Michelle had put up a little Eiffel tower, purple and sparkling, in the middle of their desks. She had even placed a little Santa hat on top and had then, to top off the arrangement, woven a tiny, colored light garland all around it. And since the light garland had come in a double pack, she'd woven the other around the brush picture of two dolphins in pastel relief that hung over her desk.

Alex had seriously been contemplating wearing sunglasses to work for all of December. She had been really glad when Christmas was finally over.


I miss the Brose mother has in the salon. And the Chagall sketch in the entry hall. And the Roederstein that used to be in father's office and that my mother gave me for my apartment. I wonder who has it now. If Mother gave it away.

My things. I have no things that are mine, and I am nobody's daughter anymore. Nobody's lover. I was nobody's lover when I left New York, either, but… But.

I wonder if Olivia would have liked the Roederstein.

Christmas times are horrible.

Last year, I lied about going away to see friends and hid out in my house in front of the TV. I caved in by nightfall, lit three candles and cried my eyes out. And then I drank Michelle's gift of dreadfully sweet spice wine, the entire bottle – which was shaped like a Santa boot, no less – and then I had to take Advil to counter the headache. I wanted to call my mother so badly. I already had the first digits dialed.

But I hung up again, and cried even more at the image of Mother alone on Christmas Day. Sometimes I think that if Michelle had given me a bigger bottle of spice wine, I would have called my mother that night.

The first year, Christmas wasn't that bad. It was bad in another way. I was drugged and scared – full of painkillers, trying to fight off the flu, and still terrified of my own house, the yard around it, all the space that was unmonitored by a doorman. Every tiny sound would wake me up and paint feverish nightmares of guns pointing in through my windows and, this time, finishing the job.

The second year, I was awake and lucid and I knew just how lonely I was. It's not as if I'm socializing much here in general, but that night I realized what it means to be truly alone.

Christmas is a horrible holiday when you have nobody to share it with. Nobody to give gifts to. Nobody to call.

Why didn't I give her the gift I had for her back then? Granted, we weren't particularly close, unless you'd count the arguments where we got into each other's faces, literally, or the solidary quiet when we were waiting for a verdict, but there was respect.

I knew she was alone for Christmas, with her mother gone. She'd be with Elliot's family, I had heard that, and I was relieved to hear it although I was still thinking about her, wondering how she would feel without family on such a family holiday.

If I had known then what it feels like, I'd have given my gift to her, regardless. And I'd have at least called her on Christmas Day to wish her a happy holiday. Even tough-as-nails Detective Benson would have appreciated that.

Respect was enough of a reason to give her a gift, I argued, or wasn't it? Attraction was a more logical reason and so I didn't give it to her, for fear of making a fool of myself.

It was a peculiar gift, anyway – a pair of dark brown leather gloves, smooth and finely padded. You had come into the precinct blowing at your hands in the middle of December, your fingertips nearly blue with cold, cursing and complaining about how some rat perp must have stolen your gloves at the morning's crime scene while canvassing. Your cheeks were bright red from the cold and I remembered how your old gloves had been pretty worn down, some kind of dark wool, definitely a favorite pair. When I saw the leather gloves the next day, I simply bought them on impulse, but then I chickened out and just sent the squad the usual goody basket for Christmas. Like my mother always does with the servants. She even has a little package for the mailman.

I had the wrapped gloves with me at my mother's over Christmas, and then I left them at her place, in the guestroom closet, too embarrassed to take them home with me again.

Sometimes, I still see the image of Olivia blowing at her freezing fingertips, her cheeks red from the cold.

I wish I'd have given her the gloves. At least some piece of me would be around her that way, even if after a while, she wouldn't really think anymore about who had given them to her. But perhaps once in a while, she would, and she would have to think of me for a moment.

I wish I'd have given her the gloves.


Olivia only looked up from the paper she was frowning at – checking the ridiculous limits on the warrant they had just been granted – when she was already bumping into the body that had unexpectedly appeared on the courthouse steps in front of her.

"Sorry," she mumbled, before she recognized the figure and had to tilt her head back to look Trevor Langan in the eye. Still with the ridiculous hair, she thought.

"Not a problem," he replied smoothly, looking at her for a second longer, his long coat open, showing off an expensive pinstripe suit with a perfectly matching tie. He was already brushing past her, down the stairs, and Olivia found herself looking after him. Even his shoes were ridiculously polished. He walked towards a woman who seemed to be waiting for him at the end of the stairs; Olivia only noticed the short skirt and long, dark hair, and how she looked at him, and the big, too big, smile he flashed at her in return.

Bastard, she thought, tightening her grip on the paper cup of coffee in her left. He had apparently forgotten about Alex just fine, unlike herself. And that although he had been going out with Alex. Unlike herself.

In the back of her mind, an image of Alex appeared, Alex in a low-cut red dress and she remembered very well how low-cut it had been because her head had been swimming with all that exposed skin and curled hair and the deep red of the dress. And with the revelation that ADA Cabot had more curve to her body than her work attires had ever hinted at. She looked better than every damn fantasy Olivia had ever had, and she looked like that for Trevor Langan. Dining with the enemy, she had called it, blurting it out right into Alex's face and Alex had not been amused.

Why Trevor?

Not that she wouldn't have held a jealous grudge against any possible candidate, but it could hardly get any worse than Trevor. Trevor with the ridiculous hair and flashy smiles and damn expensive suits. She remembered his smug smile from the night at the restaurant, Alex's dress and that smile, a smile Alex would have to shower off her body. If that was even what she wanted. Olivia felt a pang of protective jealousy even now. Oh, she had known his look. She had looked at Alex enough herself, albeit a whole lot less obviously and a whole lot more respectfully, to know that this was the ultimate fantasy – the most tempting and most chauvinistic scenario there could be: to try and imagine how to melt that ice. To unravel that poise. To break through that cool composure of hers. To imagine Alex coming undone in her arms.

Only when Trevor and his companion had disappeared into a cab, Olivia realized that the small accident had splashed her coffee all over her jacket. She cursed.


It's on my way up the steps to the courthouse that I notice the shadows between the columns to my right. It's late, but I still need to see Alex about the hearing tomorrow – we'll probably fight over how to proceed, but that is okay. I think I'll ask her if she wants to grab a bite with me while discussing the hearing, she' s been in court all day and will be hungry. I haven't had dinner yet, either – the donuts Munch dragged in earlier weren't really edible – and I'm counting my luck that she isn't planning on another fancy dinner with a defense attorney. That was quite the shock the other week, seeing her with Langan, and then I couldn't get her dress out of my head all night.

If she wants dinner, she can just as well have it with me. I'm at least working on her side. And I don't have hair like that.

The shadows to my right are moving, a tall man is reaching for the hand of a smaller woman, his shape half obscuring her, but I can see that she is wearing a knee-length skirt and her polished heels are glinting in the low light. They're leaning towards one another, it seems, and then they're moving towards the stairs, and the moment I recognize Trevor, he moves to the side enough that I can see the woman with him.


And he has your hand in his.

For a moment, I am frozen where I stand. From the corner of my eye, I see you turn and look over your shoulder, as if the lack of movement and the outline of another person on the stairs had drawn your attention, but I've already moved up and in between the columns and you can't see me.

But I can still see you, the way your open coat is gently moving about your body in the wind, it is a mild night, perfect for a date, the hemline of your skirt is just a little longer than the hem of your coat, and there is the sound of your heels on the stone steps disappearing into the street noise, and I wonder why I feel sick all of a sudden.

I'll have to tell Munch to never get donuts at that place again.

I'm leaning against one of the columns, trying to get my breathing back under control, I'm not quite certain when it started to go faster, when steps are sounding on the stairs behind me.

"I'm sorry," I hear your voice. "But I need my briefcase, I still need to go over a few files later tonight. – I have to be prepared for my hearing tomorrow."

"That's all right," Trevor answers, and I can hear that flashy smile in his voice.

I turn and push loose from the column and I see him standing there, tall, but now he has his hands to himself since yours are on the door. My movement must have alerted you because you are suddenly looking into my direction and I step into the light a little further.

"Olivia?" There's surprise in your expression and I see you put two and two together in your head; there's not much reason for me to be here this late unless I wanted to see you about something. "Was there something about the case?"

I'm trying to judge whether that tone of voice is cool and annoyed or cool and professional. "It's about the hearing," I say, stepping closer, my hands in the pockets of my jacket.

"Oh – of course." You nod at me and then you turn towards Trevor. "I'm really sorry," you say and I don't hear that much regret in your voice. "But we'll have to cancel the dinner – sorry as I am, but this hearing is crucial for my case."

For a moment, Trevor looks as if he is about to protest and I take yet another step closer. Closer towards you. He relents. "Too bad." He shrugs, his posture deflating a bit. I don't know what he had planned for tonight but I'm not sorry for putting a big dent into it. "I'll call you," he says. He hesitates for a moment as if he wants to linger for a quiet goodbye with you, but I'm not stepping away.

Finally, he walks down the stairs, with measured steps, and you look at me squarely. "Jealous?"

That came out of the blue. "Wha..?" I wheeze, too surprised for a smooth denial.

You step closer, you're standing right in front of me now. "Yes or no?"

My head is spinning. I look at my feet. At your heels. At the hemline of your skirt. My stomach is clenching. "Yes," I murmur.

For a few unbearably long moments, there is silence. Then your hand is reaching for me, tilting my chin upwards so that I have to look at you, the gesture achingly gentle, and your eyes are incredibly soft and blue. "There's no reason for you to be jealous." Your expression is serious. "It's you. – Don't you know by now?"

I can't breathe, overwhelmed with the sensation of your fingertips on my skin and then you lean in, Trevor hasn't even fully walked down the stairs yet, and you lightly kiss my lips, the touch so sweet and tentative that I'm not sure whether it really happened or whether I only imagined it, so I reach for the lapels of your coat, and slowly pull you closer, and then I am kissing you back.

And you're kissing me back, and there are roller coasters in my stomach and butterflies in my chest and sparks going off in my head, and no silk has ever felt as silky as your tongue against mine. We tumble back against a column and I don't care if Trevor sees us or if anyone else does. I don't want to ever stop kissing you.

But at some point we do break apart because I feel my legs giving way under me, and I want to look at you. Your eyes are wide and full and intent, and your lips are a bit more red than a minute ago, and when I swallow reflexively I can taste your lip gloss on my tongue. You're tugging on my hands, pulling me towards the stairs.

I stumble after you, your hand in mine, and if I were sure of my equilibrium, I'd pick you up and twirl you around. We're headed down the stairs and then I remember. "Your briefcase…" I sound as dazed as I am and you shake your head at me, telling me you've got everything you need, and then we're sitting in a cab, I don't even know where we're going, but you are still holding my hand and for all I care we can drive right through to Boston.

We end up at your apartment instead. I don't see much of it because you keep kissing me and my eyes are closed – I couldn't keep them open if I wanted to, and your hands are in my hair and we barely make it to your bedroom. My breaths are coming so fast that I think I'll pass out on you at any moment, but then your hands are on my belt, and your movements are slow and gentle, making me aware of every tiny detail. My heart is beating out of my chest and your eyes are so warm. You hair is falling into your face when you trail kisses up my stomach and in my mind I can see your fingers, long and slim, as you link them behind my neck, and pull me on top of you.

I can still think that I'll never move from this place again, and then all I know is your scent and your pulse beating underneath my lips.

You don't take off your glasses and your hands on my hips are like a caress even though you just hold me. "Please," you moan, but I'm the one who is melting away here.

Oh, that voice.

You know what you do to me, it's not that hard to see, not with how I'm looking at you, and you playfully arch an eyebrow at me. "Detective?" – God, you're so sexy like that.

When I first heard you speak, I was surprised because I had expected your voice to be much lighter, and higher, and surprised at how the deepness and confidence of your tones rolled through me, at the resonance I felt.


She never came back. She probably didn't need her briefcase that night after all, and I watched her disappear with Trevor, and the next day, when I told her I'd been looking for her the night before, and asked her how her evening was, she just looked at me from behind her glasses as if she could see right through me. "It was all right, Detective." Her tone warmed then, and she smiled at me. "Thanks for asking."

I'd do just about anything to hear her voice again. Even if again, I'd have to see her disappear down the stairs with somebody else. Even with Trevor.


Shots rang out through the office, making her jolt half out of her chair and she reflexively cowered away, awkwardly leaning into her desk. A feeling of iciness spread through her, from her right shoulder all through her body.

"Oh, darn…" Michelle cursed from her workplace across the room, having spilled her soda over her keyboard in shock. "I should have remembered the stupid memo." Only then did she look at her officemate. "Lynnie? …You remember the memo? Construction work next door? They're starting today. Obviously." Caroline didn't laugh, though, and Michelle's tone was suddenly uncertain. "Lynnie, what's up? – You're as pale as a…" She trailed off, taking in the death grip the other woman had on the tabletop, the tips of her fingers starkly white.

"I'm fine. – Stupid me," Alex laughed unconvincingly. "I completely forgot about that memo. The noise caught me off guard." Her voice was eerily thin.

"You sure you're okay?" Michelle looked at her oddly, clearly not convinced. "The way you jolted just now, you'd have thought it was gunfire…" Now it was Michelle who paled. "Jesus. – Tell me he didn't!"

"I'm okay," Alex repeated, forcing herself to breathe slower. This shouldn't have happened. "Really, I'm okay."

"Okay," Michelle echoed, accepting that Caroline apparently didn't want to talk about it. Of course, she wouldn't want to recall a memory that made her jump out of her seat still years later. "I'll get you a glass of water," she suggested instead, feeling helpless. She knew that Caroline's ex-husband had been abusive, but what this scene just now hinted at made Michelle feel really nauseous. In her opinion, stuff like that belonged in soap operas. She threw a last tentative glance back at Caroline, who was clearly still struggling to get her breathing back under control, having wrapped her arms tightly around herself now. She wondered if the ex-husband had only threatened Caroline, or pulled the trigger for real.

Watching Michelle slip out of the office with a very concerned expression, Alex felt bad for letting Michelle believe that the supposed ex-husband had abused her in yet another way. Alex had worked with enough abuse victims during her SVU days to be ashamed at being treated with that same kind of mindful care. She was feeling as if she was mocking their hurt with her stupid façade. She carried no wounds on that front. She had, thankfully, never had to experience any abuse in that regard, and Michelle's quietly understanding concern was embarrassing her.

Alex had never had a violent partner. In fact, she hadn't had any kind of involvement in years, and she had most certainly not been with someone when she had left New York – much as she had to admit in retrospect that there had been someone whom she would have liked to be involved with, even if at that time, she hadn't done anything about it.

And here, nobody knew it anyway. Here, everyone believed her to have fled out of a violent marriage and attributed her general wariness and her habit of keeping to herself to the fact that reaching out to people again after such a traumatic experience had to be hard.

It was with the same quiet sympathy that they looked upon her sometimes excessive hours at the gym where she was working out against the feeling of helplessness, of losing herself. And against the fear, even if the fear never let go completely. She still preferred the machines that were placed against the walls, allowing her to keep the entire hall in her gaze. Running helped, running excessively, but more often on the treadmill than actually outside. She used to jog in New York, occasionally, but here wasn't Central Park and on many days, she found herself looking nervously over her shoulder whenever a car went by at slower speed. The gym was safer. The treadmills were placed against a solid wall and she could simply run, run until she was outrunning her thoughts. And sometimes even her fears.

Also, when she ran long enough, there was a point where her mind became devoid of thoughts and worries, where nothing was left but the sensation of being alive, the calming assurance of body and breath. And there, the fantasies came. Images and daydreams, effortlessly flowing into one another like the surreal components of a Dalí painting, or the serene clouds in a sky fresco by Tiepolo.


The fantasies are harder to keep at bay at night. At first they were tainted with so much fear, but now they come with more leisure.

…How she leaves everything behind to come and be with me, finagling my address out of her contacts, bribing and bullying her way back to me. She arrives in town with a new identity, perhaps as an addition for the security team at the bank, as a counselor at the child and teenage care center or perhaps even as a cop. She suddenly stands in front of me, at the ice cream parlor or at the gym, and she smiles when she introduces herself and asks me to go out with her. – I've spent hours pondering what kind of a name they would give her, making a game out of coming up with the most horrendous propositions, but I've come to the conclusion that I'd love her by every single one of them. And that there would be situations where I would always call her 'Olivia'. Or 'Liv'.

…How out of the blue, she walks past Ed's in the afternoon, being in town on business – having to transfer an inmate, or perhaps attending some distant relative's wedding – and how I get up and call after her. And there is that look in her eyes when she turns and realizes it's me, that same look she gave me the night I left, but with the pain in it fading. We hold onto each other tightly then, unwilling to let go again, the smell of her is surrounding me and I can feel her heartbeat. And from far away, there is Ludovic's voice. "See, Michelle, that is her type of woman."

…How I leave my fake life behind, ignoring the patronizing warnings of the agents sent to keep me in the program. Instead, I head for New York, straight for the precinct, for my squad. She looks up at me standing in the door, coat flowing around my body from the draft I bring in, and there is delight and worry in her eyes. "You're not safe," she insists. "I know," I say, "But I couldn't do it anymore." By now, everyone is looking at us, and I hold out my hand. "Come with me?" And she takes my hand, even though everyone is staring at us incredulously – that's right guys, she's with me – and we simply walk out, and away, and get plane tickets to some cozy locale with palms and turquoise waters.

…How she rings on my door one day, telling me I can come home and I fall into her arms and say, "I am".

And on the most unbearable nights of all, the black nights where I'm on the verge of forgetting who I am, afraid that I will lose my mind in between those two lives of mine, I suddenly hear her voice, so close that I can almost feel it brush against me.

"Alex... Alex… Alex… Stay with me."

I asked myself whether I had only dreamed it – her voice, her body hovering above me and the blurred outline of her profile. The pressure of her hands through the numb chill and the faint memory of her scent as I sank into the concrete, swimming toward someplace cold and calm. I asked myself whether I had only dreamed it all while my whole life unhinged around me, agents in suits arranging a new fate for me in the sterile atmosphere of a hospital room. But when I saw her again, even through the haze of the painkillers, I knew it was true.

And then I was gone.

And even today, I still think that if I hadn't been so drugged, so paralyzed with fear and so worn out by the cocktail of painkillers and intimidating pep talk on part of the Feds, I would have said something. But all I could do was look at her and think how this couldn't be the last time, any last time. And before I had a chance to think of what I really wanted to say – something meaningful, anything – I found myself already sitting in that car, rolling away. I tried to turn my head then, to see her once more through the shaded rear window, an impulsive gesture, and the pain tearing through my shoulder at the unpremeditated movement cleared the fog in my mind enough to realize what was happening.

And only then I started crying, crying desperately, crying over something as mundane as not being able to turn my head to look at her for one last time.

"Alex... Alex… Alex… Stay with me."

I try not to imagine it too often, for fear of using up my memory, afraid that the intensity of it might lessen when I replay it in my mind every other night.

"Alex... Alex… Alex… Stay with me."

I never wanted to leave.

Part 2

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