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 Two

"Tell me again what we're doing here?" Olivia didn't even try to hide her aggravation, shutting the car door with more force than necessary.

Elliot wisely stayed two steps behind. "Beats me. The Feds asked," he offered with a shrug. "I don't think they've suddenly started giving answers as well."

"Guess not." Olivia agreed, her tone still curt. "But if I'm called to Brooklyn before I can even finish my coffee, I want an answer."

"You try your luck," Elliot suggested, motioning at the man stepping out of the entryway of the brick house to greet them. It was Agent Hammond.

Hammond. Olivia disliked him on an entirely unreasonable and personal level. He was the person who had sent Alex out of her life, he had been there that night, he was the one who had closed that car door and had taken Alex away from her. Olivia knew that he wasn't to blame, but she did anyway.

Before she could angrily ask what kind of a reason the Feds had to drag them out to Brooklyn on a Monday morning, Hammond nodded for them to walk in before him.

Olivia had to swallow against the overwhelming stench of blood, spilled wine and spoiling food. About two dozen bodies were splayed around the remnants of a festive dinner table, clearly ambushed in the middle of what looked to have been a big family reunion. Whoever had ordered this hit must have had intensely personal motives – the shooters had clearly done as much damage as possible, evident in unnecessarily broken wine bottles and splintered furniture.

At what must have been the center of the table lay a middle-aged man, obviously the center of so much hateful interest. His suit was torn with bullet holes, nearly half of his face missing. Next to him was the body of a young boy in a suit and tie, only a small puddle of blood next to his head indicating where he had been shot.

"It was his first communion," Elliot observed, aghast. The little boy in the well-tailored suit couldn't be older than seven. "Bastards."

"Perhaps the Orthodox don't share the custom," Hammond offered coolly, walking up to them and shrugging off Elliot's look. "Nesterenko," he stated by way of explanation. "The new Russian cartel?"

Olivia nodded. She had heard the name of the up and coming dynasty mentioned a couple of times over the past few months by the colleagues from Narcotics during her now habitual inquiries.

"It's a war over authority on the drug market," Hammond continued unemotionally. "Until yesterday I'd have said that Velez still has the upper hand, but by the looks of it, the Russians are kicking out the Latinos." He pressed his lips together. "In this case, for good."

Behind them, Olivia's steps slowed at the same time her heart suddenly beat faster. Elliot stumbled into her, slowly tearing his eyes away from the sickening sight around them.

"There were a few riots over the past months," Hammond admitted, sidestepping a few people in Forensics jackets who were packing their kits together. "Territorial things. But nothing like this." He shook his head, seeming oblivious of the turmoil he had set loose with his words. "Slaughtering the entire family on a holiday. It doesn't get any lower."

Olivia couldn't think, couldn't breathe. Finally, Elliot asked the question. "Velez?"

"Cesar himself." Hammond gestured at the man with the missing face. "And his entire family and closest employees. Even his youngest son. His whole network." With a hand, he signaled the coroner's team across the hall that they could begin to transport the bodies. "I don't like the method, even if it sure takes a lot of work off our hands."

Olivia looked at the still form of the little boy, wondering whether one of the others in the room had been his mother or grandmother. This hadn't been in the official files. Velez had a life and a family. A little kid. Everything that he had taken away from others.

She thought about Alex who was somewhere far away, without family, all by herself. If she hadn't built herself a new life in the meantime. If she hadn't met someone. If she hadn't settled down, made a new career and perhaps founded a family.

"At least this also means that several people are out of danger." Hammond almost smiled with this small bit of good news and it seemed eerie amidst the gory crime scene surrounding him.

"Are you sure?" Olivia stared at the mutilated male body, trying to ascertain that it was indeed Cesar Velez, trying to recall every single characteristic mark she remembered from his file, comparing it to the still form at her feet. She knew every word of that file, every photo, every dog-ear. All the leads on this man that she had followed over the past twenty months, all the nightmares she'd had where he had found Alex, where he had killed Alex.

Alex. If this was indeed Velez, it meant that Alex…

Her brain stopped short of the thought.

Alex might be free to come back. To come home. Alex back in New York. Alex back in the courtroom. Coffee at Luigi's with Alex. Alex to look at. Alex to squabble with.

Her heart was beating frantically, but she couldn't form a clear thought, feeling strangely numb. After all this time, could Alex suddenly be safe, just like this, only because some Russian gang had taken a territorial conflict to new levels of vendetta? She had always envisioned one of her leads finally paying off. Catching Velez. Snapping handcuffs on him. Making him admit to his crimes. Seeing him proven guilty in court. Seeing him put away for good.

This was too simple, too fast.

"Positive." That idea of a smile was still ghosting across Hammond's face and hinted at how rare announcing a possible reunion was in his line of work. "We're still double checking, of course, but even if one of his lieutenants should have gotten away… I doubt that anyone on the street would do anything now that could link them to Velez or admit to ever having worked for him. Not after this. They'll all try and live under Nesterenko."

Olivia looked back at the body of the little boy, upset at the needless death and upset at the incredulous relief that was flooding her body despite the sight of this massacre.

Hammond walked them out, casually looking around himself before he continued. "I will send someone to inform her." He didn't say any name, but to Olivia it felt as if Alex was closer to them already, just by being mentioned, even if indirectly. "Would one of you like to come along?" He looked at Olivia with the suggestion, making her stop for a moment and wonder what he was thinking. Hammond relented when she didn't answer, looking at the both of them again. "It might make it easier on her. It's been two years."

Not quite, Olivia immediately thought, but she didn't say it out loud. Hammond wouldn't be the only one to look at her funnily if she could tell him the exact number of months and days off the top of her head. She knew how long it had been.

"Nah, that's more your area of expertise," she demurred instead, wondering what she would say if she went along and if Alex opened the door for her, smiling happily, while the husband or stable girlfriend was setting the dinner table in the background.

A lot could happen in twenty months.

If Alex didn't want to return, Olivia didn't want to hear it from her. She didn't think she could take it. Also, if that exact scenario should play out, she didn't want to be forced to hide her disappointment and fumble for an excuse as to why she, Olivia, was there to inform Alex that she could come back. It wasn't as if they had ever been close friends. And if Alex had come to embrace her new life, there was no room for Olivia and any tentative admissions that she'd been thinking about Alex for the past twenty months and thirteen days. A lot.

Hammond didn't ask again although from his expression, he seemed to have expected Olivia to agree. Elliot seemed puzzled as well, but Olivia refused to acknowledge either of their looks. She didn't really understand it herself. After all, this was what she had wished for, for Alex to be safe and free to return, and even with Olivia herself getting the chance of being the bearer of the good news.

She had imagined this countless times: her solving the Velez case, then flying out to wherever Alex was, to bring her home. Standing on Alex's doorstep, telling her that she could come back now, and Alex joyfully agreeing, as if she had spent all this time waiting for this one moment, a moment that Olivia had never stopped hoping for. And now that it was upon her, she was hesitant.

Hesitant to destroy her fantasy.

"You don't want to go see Cabot home?" Elliot asked quietly, walking up next to her. "I'm sure you could get a couple of days off for that."

"If she even wants to come home," Olivia pointed out, intently surveying the clinker brick of the house. "If they want to send someone to bring her back, her mother should fly out." She remembered Mrs. Cabot from the funeral, stricken underneath the achingly familiar façade of poise, and from the official wake where she had accepted a commendation on Alex's behalf, her voice steady, but her hands knit tightly together to keep them from trembling while she spoke. If anyone had a chance to convince a possibly undecided Alex to return to New York, it was her mother. "That's family business, Elliot." Olivia mumbled. "What would I do there?"

Elliot shrugged wordlessly.



I throw myself down automatically, feeling Elliot do the same next to me. It's a seasoned reflex, one of the first things they drill into you in Officer Safety class at the academy: dive for cover and offer minimal target space.

But we have someone with us who is not a police officer, and who has never had an Officer Safety class.

It's not the shots that make me feel nauseous. It's when I turn around and don't see you standing there anymore. My gaze meets empty space and it is an eerie feeling, as if a pillar has been ripped out of my perception. Vertigo. You are supposed to be still standing there. Instead, I see you lying on the ground.

I call out to you, and you don't move.

No, I think, crawling towards you. No. No, no, no. This can't be. You can't be hit.

You don't react to me, not when I crouch above you, not when I shake you. Your blood is hot against my hand, pulsing and pushing against my fingers and your shoulder encased between my hands feels so slight. I've never thought of you as frail, but this is your body, thrown to the ground and bleeding, and I never knew your shoulders were so slim. You don't even look at me, staring up at the night sky unseeing and it feels as if you're slipping through my fingers. As if something of you is already gone.

You don't even blink. I keep calling your name, but you don't recognize me, or perhaps you can't hear me anymore.

--- I remember the blood. Sometimes I wake up at night, and can still feel the phantom sensation of it pooling against my palms, hot and thick, pushing out where I try to contain it.

I know I talked to you then, encouraging you to hang on, but I don't know what I said, only that I was frantic in my tries to make you listen to me. You didn't react at all. Your eyes never even focused on me.

Only much later I realized I had torn my pants while crouching on the asphalt, after I'd already been absently picking threads out of the tears for half an hour, staring up at the clock in the nondescript hospital corridor. I don't know what color the walls were anymore, but I know that there was no real back to the chair I was sitting on. The clock on the opposite wall was ticking, dividing my desperate hope into neat little intervals. And I waited. Elliot had tried to relay a call to Mrs. Cabot who was staying with relatives upstate. It would be hours before she arrived, even if she had immediately arranged for transportation.

You couldn't be gone. You just couldn't. If you were, they wouldn't need that long in surgery with you. You'd make it, and before I knew it, we'd be sitting at Luigi's again, arguing over warrant limits, and you'd give me that look from behind your glasses – "Detective, you should know that it takes a little more to knock me out."

I knew it right when he came out and looked at us. That professional look of sympathy, and that of honest helplessness. He asked who we were and I said I was a colleague, and I didn't get any of what he said after "We did all we could…" because the walls were closing in on me. I looked down at my hands, trying to stop the vertigo, and then I realized that there was still blood on my sleeves, your blood, and that the body this blood belonged to was dead now.

The nurse looked at me sympathetically later when I walked out of the bathroom that she had quickly shoved me into.

I didn't know what you meant to me then. I didn't feel much of anything, those two days, just numb with shock, the guilt over not having been able to protect you warring with the sheer insanity of having to think of you as dead. The thought was clawing at me, at all of us. It wasn't just losing a colleague, even if you only occasionally hung out with us beyond that. It was suddenly hard to remember why we were doing this job. Why I was doing it. Things I had come to rely on were suddenly not there anymore, mocking my balance. Vertigo again. The sensation of the ground underneath my feet being pulled away, leaving me stumbling at the edge of some unknown depth.

I knew that I was in love with you when I saw you alive then.

But before I had even fully grasped it, you were gone.

You were gone. I thought that those two days believing you dead had been the worst, but I hadn't lived through that moment yet – seeing you, pale and frightened, but alive, about to be torn away from everything you knew. You looked so lost, and so serious. I just wished that I could keep you safe, that I could make it all go away for you. And I knew I couldn't.

And then you were crying when you looked at me. You might have latched onto anyone even remotely familiar in that situation, looking at them like that, with that desperate intensity, knowing you'd have to leave everything behind in a heartbeat. But you didn't look at Elliot, you looked at me.

And I knew I'd miss you like no one else.

Alex. Alex. Alex.

I wonder what your name is now, and whether you like it. I know that many people in Witness Protection don't ever come back, either because the threats against them never cease or because they have come to love their new lives, to love them better than their old ones. I can't imagine you anywhere else than in New York. I can't imagine you voluntarily staying anyplace else, for good, but that could just be because I can't imagine this place without you for good. The squad. Us. Me.

You can return now. But who's to say you're waiting, or even want any part of your old life back? A life I was only a small part of, a life that certainly didn't revolve around me. What influence could I have on making you want to come back?


The door to the drugstore slid open when she walked towards it, even though she had already been prepared to push it open, with her left shoulder. The drugstore she'd gone to for the past twenty months hadn't had sliding doors. She should have remembered that this one did, though. She knew this store, she had been here many times since it was only half a block from her mother's place.

Her mother. That had been quite another story still. Even though the Program had dispatched a counselor to inform Mrs. Cabot of her presumably deceased daughter's return, and even though it was a reunion Alex had wished for so badly, the actual moment had been of a bittersweet awkwardness and a far cry from Geraldine Cabot's usual formidable poise. It had been a mix of tears and bewilderment, helpless anger and incredulous joy, nearly two years of grief being poured out over Alex while all she could do was to hold on to the desperately sobbing woman in her arms, blind with tears herself, flinging herself into her mother's embrace and wanting to be a child again, wanting that embrace to be able to make everything alright again, just as it had back then.

Her mother had looked at her yet again, a hand twisted against her mouth, unsuccessfully trying to contain the sobs, the other smoothing Alex's strangely dark hair back over and over. "Your name is still on the headstone at the vault," she had whispered, aghast. "With the date…"

More tears had followed, marking one of the emotionally most overwhelming and exhausting days Alex had ever seen. It was a long time until she picked up her bags where she had dropped them in the hallway, and hesitantly carried them into her mother's guest bedroom. It had been surreal. Just like seeing her photo, serious in black and white, in a heavy silver frame on the mantle, next to the one of her father.

But three days into the family reunion, Geraldine Cabot was back to full form, planning a welcome reception and seeing real estate agents, although at night, she sat with Alex in the kitchen until late, wanting to hear all about Alex's other life and filling her in on the family related gossip in return. She had also, and at remarkably short notice, arranged an appointment at Jerôme's, Geraldine's longtime hairdresser of choice, who had then honestly cried upon seeing Alex again.

Which was why Alex, newly blond hair curling on the shoulders of an also new gray-in-gray pinstripe jacket – her mother had found time for an extended shopping spree in between estate appointments – was at the drugstore, looking for the highlighting conditioner she'd last needed over twenty months ago.

Tomorrow, she had an appointment at the DA's office to discuss possible job prospects for her, and even if she didn't particularly feel like ADA Cabot at the moment, she would do her best to look the part. She hadn't expected to need time to readjust – after all, this was her life. This was what she had wanted to return to all this time. And now she hadn't even remembered that the drugstore had sliding doors.

Searching the shelves, she walked past one of mirrors lining the walls in the cosmetics section. She stopped, staring at her own reflection. Had her hair really ever been that blond? She pushed a few strands back behind her ear, satisfied with the cut.

After that official visit with the DA's office, there was still another visit she could pay, if she wanted to. A visit to the 16th Precinct.

She located the bottle she had been looking for on the top shelf and reached up, the familiar slight twinge running through her shoulder with the movement.


I remember when this light twinge was still an ache that tore through my shoulder as if someone was twisting a knife into it, making the edges of my vision go black with nausea.

Nausea and tears.

The car is driving away, and when I try to turn, try to catch a last glimpse of my life through the rear window, the pain in my shoulder makes me double over, slamming me awkwardly into the seat. Hands are trying to help me sit up, but I don't feel them through the pain and the twin echo of the physical sensation of something tearing my heart in two.


Did I latch onto her because she was the last known person I saw? Or because I saw that night, as all the social formalities fell away, for the first time what she might have been to me?

All those dreams I've had since, all those images, the fantasies – was she just a projection, something I conveniently reached out for because I needed a hold, a fixed point, any point to angle myself towards to keep my sanity? The thought of her hurt, but that hurt kept me keenly aware of the deepening gap between where I was and where I wanted to be. It reminded me of who I wanted to be. Who I am again, now.

I am back. I should be rejoicing – I am – but I still feel lost. The city seems louder, the people faster and cooler than I remember. And I still look back over my shoulder when a car drives by at slower speed.

Loss. Loneliness. They were words. Now, they are filled with so much meaning – nights spent staring at the ceiling and listening to every sound, or waking up sweat-soaked from nightmares, or starting at the face looking back at me from the mirror, crying in the middle of the spring fair because of a shooting booth, awkwardly signing receipts with a foreign name – that the words seem too small for their content, straining to cover the meaning they're supposed to convey.

The marshals didn't even want me to get a pet. For reasons of easier relocation and harder traceability. They didn't want me to have any real attachment at all. But I've come to realize that people need attachments. And that these attachments are worth the risks they bring. If nobody around you really knows you, then who are you?

Michelle called yesterday; I'd only left her and Nick a message that I had to tend to some urgent family business. She was at the office, I could hear the bad fan rattling over the line and I was suddenly so glad to hear her voice that I was crying before I knew it. She was worried out of her mind that my – Caroline's – ex-husband had forced me to run, so I told her that the man who had threatened me was dead. And that I could go back.

Then Michelle was crying, asking me to stay, pointing out that I had managed to build up a life on my own, away from my husband and family, and that I shouldn't feel as if I had to prove something by going back. I told her I was sorry, sorry to leave, and then I realized that for a moment, I had really meant it like I said it. I sat on the bed in mother's guestroom for a long time after that, ashamed of having grown attached to my other life, and angry at my incapacity of simply being happy to be back home. Back where I belong.

Mother is out at the bank this morning, trying to transfer some of the family funds back to me. Then, it's looking at another apartment. I'm thinking I'll let her decide. I don't think I am up to building a home anywhere right now, not when I still feel so uprooted. Besides, Mother would love to go on a decorating spree, and it makes her happy when she can do something about things. When she looks at me now, she often seems helpless, just as helpless as I feel.

I still feel lost. Only now, I'm neither here nor there.

I don't really care that much about the funds. Although now I can go and send Esteban a new tennis racquet. I'll have to remember that. Michelle said he asked about me. Mother said she dissolved and donated my general account after my disappearance - she never says death – and that she'd write something else over to me in exchange, but I told her she didn't have to. She gave the money to a Crisis Center for abuse victims, thinking I would have liked that, and she was right. I even remembered the name of the center when she mentioned it, Olivia had spoken of it a time or two.


I am wary to think of her, suddenly. Even wary of conjuring up her name. The real her is out there, too close all at once, and I am reluctant to be reminded of my fantasies. They already seem embarrassing to me now, and I don't want to ridicule myself by walking into the precinct and realizing that I conjured up an image of her that could never live up to reality. One that she would most likely have a good laugh at, if she knew.

How often did I imagine seeing her again? How often did I picture scenarios of her coming after me, her coming to bring me home, her coming to stay with me?

She never came, of course, but now I have come back. I'm here again.

I'm trying to imagine what the moment will feel like for her, what she will say to me, how she will look at me. – And I'm thinking that if I look at her and feel even a tenth of what I felt all this time away, and if I see only a tenth of the look she gave me that night in her eyes, that then I will grab the bull by the horns, get over the what ifs and ask her out.


"I only get her voice mail." Olivia adjusted her cell phone against her ear. "And she's not in her office." She shrugged in reply to what was said at the other end of the line. "Because I'm standing in front of it and it's locked."

She leaned against the wall of the hallway with a shoulder, glancing up and down the corridor before she spoke again. "Nope." She shook her head. "Hell if I know, Elliot. – We said one p.m., and she knows we're in a hurry."

But that knowledge notwithstanding, Casey Novak was nowhere to be found. As was, by extension, the signed warrant for Elijah Montgomery's apartment. For all Olivia knew, Elijah would try to trash the place and make a run for it and she'd be damned if they lost precious time over waiting for Casey to get back in.

"She'd wish!" She replied with a curt chuckle to her partner's next comment. "But I don't think 'lunch with a judge more than twice your age' falls into that category." The hallway was still empty as she peered down it again. "Listen, I'll call you back in a few. – I'll try her line again."

She positioned herself a bit further down the hall so that she could keep an eye on the elevators, pressing the speed dial for Casey's number. ADA on seven. Alex had been on three, she thought absently. Top right to lower left. It had taken some getting used to, making her wonder just how often she had called Alex. And even after Alex had left, Olivia had kept the number in her phone for almost a year.

Waiting for the connection, her thoughts lingered on Alex, and then strayed to the strange encounter with Agent Hammond. Alex probably knew already that there was a chance for her to come back, even if transitioning her would take weeks. If she even wanted to return. Olivia shied away from asking for an update on that front now, a thing she hardly comprehended herself – after all, she had always wished for this, for Alex to have a chance to return. She had never had the Velez file far away, always making sure to stay in the loop. Now, she was almost afraid to learn more. Afraid to hear that Alex didn't want to come back. That she had moved on. Besides, if there was anything to know, Olivia reasoned, she'd hear it through the grapevine anyway.

The second ring sounded and Olivia mentally crossed her fingers, willing Casey to pick up. Further down the corridor across the hall a door opened, a soft jumble of voices carrying over to her.

"Come on, Novak, Montgomery will be in Canada by the time you get back," Olivia murmured impatiently, glaring at the elevators again. Steps advanced down the hall. One pair of heels among three or four others, Olivia noted.

One pair of heels, resounding on the polished floors. The hair at the back of her neck was suddenly standing on end.

"This is ADA Casey Novak. I'm currently…"

Olivia let the phone sink from her ear, turning around slowly.

"We are looking forward to…" A light male voice, swallowed up by the steps around him.

A second voice. "I'll consider it."

That voice. She knew her mind must be playing tricks on her, yet again, but still Olivia found herself unable to move. It couldn't be. Not so soon.

Liz Donnelly rounded the corner, together with two men Olivia didn't recognize. And there, between them –

For one blindingly clear moment, there was nothing. No movement, no sound, not even the beating of her own heart, as Olivia's world came down to the sight across the hall. Weightlessly, it seemed to tilt on its axis before it came rushing down, past her, and towards the figure stepping in front of the line of elevators with her companions.

Her breaths came faster, dizzying her, and yet too slow to keep up with the sudden hammering of her heart against her ribs, having already recognized the figure long before her brain had processed the image. She'd recognize her everywhere, Olivia thought, drinking in the sight.

That same shade of pale blonde. The same striking presence. The same confident gait, enhanced by those heels. The same way she lightly gestured with her hands when she talked. The same slow, serious nod.

Olivia didn't realize how she shifted, naturally angling herself toward the focal point of her perception. But she did realize how everything suddenly seemed to come together. How suddenly, everything was clear.

It was her.

And she wasn't just a fantasy. If anything, no fantasy had done her justice.

It was real. She was real.

Right there, waiting for an elevator across the hall, was Alex Cabot.



It's you. It's really you.

How often have I imagined this? How often has someone, in passing, made me stop and turn, leaving me breathless for that blissful split second where I could believe it was you? A flash of hair, a tone of voice…

None of them were you. I know that now because none of those times has it ever felt like it feels right now. How could I have forgotten…?

Nothing stops the rush this time. You're still there after I blink. After I draw a shaky breath, and then another.

Of all the scenarios I had in mind, none entailed this: me, too shaken to react, and you not even aware of my presence. I want to run towards you, and at the same time I don't want to.

I always envisioned us walking towards each other somewhere, an airport, or the precinct, magically alone, looking at each other while I said something like "Welcome home" or even "I missed you", searching your gaze for some unspoken truth… for a reply, an acknowledgement: that you missed me, too.

If you're here, it's probably job related. Does that mean you're back for good? That you'll be working here again? With us? Or are you just here to clean out some old business? But why would you have to? They all thought you were dead.

Part of me is irritated that you're already having business meetings with Liz before you bother to tell me that you're back. But why should you? There never was anything… at least nothing outspoken.

I'm still dumbstruck where I stand, your presence washing over me in waves. It's trickling into me like rain, humming inside me, and I realize I had forgotten what it feels like. I hadn't known how dried out I was until now.

I fantasized about seeing you again. None of the fantasies looked like this, but this is perfect, too. Because I look at you and it is all real. And it is scary, and it is so beautiful that I can't breathe.

I don't know if minutes or seconds have ticked by, how much time - time that wouldn't pass while I was waiting, and now suddenly, time has no more relevance as I look at you. There is you, and I am thinking that there are possibly no stars left in the sky. I feel like a plant that is naturally turning itself toward the light, like a compass needle adjusting towards North, and I know you still mean as much to me as you did the day you left, and every day since.

Twenty months, I remind myself, feeling self-conscious of my sudden emotional overload. And I look at you and yes, time has passed, and no, time hasn't passed at all.

I still can't seem to move and your elevator has arrived; the men and even Donnelly step politely aside to let you enter first and the last thing that etches itself into my brain is the line of your shoulders in the narrow suit jacket and a flash of blonde in the overhead light of the elevator.

The sudden movement against my palm startles me and I need a second to realize that my cell is ringing. Elliot.

"Liv, we got the warrant. Casey just dropped it off here on her way in."

"Yes…" I manage, and my voice sounds funny. I don't even complain about Casey letting me wear down the floor in front of her office for fifteen minutes.

There is a small pause at the other end, but Elliot doesn't ask. At least not now. "We gotta go."

"On my way," I say, disconnecting. One last look at the closed front of doors at the elevators. One last deep breath. The line of her shoulders, a flash of blonde…

I shake my head.

Elijah Montgomery. Search warrant. I take the stairs, three steps at a time.


"Oklahoma?" Fin repeated flabbergasted, staring at the formerly deceased and bemoaned ADA who was leaning against Benson's desk as if she had never left.

"Quite the change from 42nd Street," Munch commented drolly. He half whistled a sketchy Rodgers & Hammerstein tune, making Alex smile. She hadn't realized how much she had missed him, all of them. Another half glance at the desk behind her reminded her that Olivia was still missing from the tableau. As was Elliot.

Still, the welcome from Don, Munch and Fin alone had been overwhelming already. She didn't think she'd ever seen Munch smile that broadly in her entire time with SVU, and Fin had hugged her so tightly that she had honestly been struggling for breath. Don hadn't said much, but his hug had been heartfelt and he had blinked something away looking suspiciously like tears when he let go of her again.

"Oh yes, it was," Alex agreed, thinking of her first months in witness protection. "And I was never that fond of Rodgers and Hammerstein in the first place."

"I know… For the Counselor, it's got to be the Met," Munch stated with a flourish, and Alex was surprised he remembered. "Another reason to stay. – Are you staying?"

"One way or the other," Alex nodded, crossing her legs at her ankles. Her mother had already begun decking out the new apartment for her – just something basic, she had suggested, so that Alex could add a more personal scheme when she got around to it. She had sounded so hopeful that Alex didn't have the heart to tell her that she wouldn't feel like decorating anytime soon. Not as long as she was still caught in limbo between the life she had been ripped out of over twenty months ago, and the life she was now supposed to pick up, as if they both were the same. They weren't.

Things had changed, and even if she chose to accept the offer that the DA's office had just made her, it wouldn't be the same job. It would be different, and the job offer reflected just that. Major Cases had been mentioned, and even a possible position in relation to the UN – it seemed that two years of working with international law texts had considerably enlarged her options on the diplomatic and political parquet that she had always been so keen on succeeding on. That, and her spectacular return from the dead. Her career apparently wouldn't suffer, but she was less excited about this news than she should be. Alex looked around herself almost wistfully. Her detectives. Her precinct.

She would have to get used to new colleagues, new offices. But building a routine didn't make a place home yet. She knew that very well. Still, she had been moved when she watched her mother take the Roederstein down from where it had hung in the dining room, wrapping it up to be sent to Alex's new place.

Her squad was someone else's squad now. Even the room had changed – were those new chairs? She remembered Olivia joking about how she only preferred to sit on the desks because she didn't trust the chairs.

She wondered how much Olivia would have changed. Suddenly, she wasn't so sure it had been a good idea to come here.

"So what did they make you do?"

Fin's voice carried into the hallway as Olivia and Elliot stepped into the precinct.

Elliot blinked. "Did they haul in Sorensen already?"

"You speak French?" That was Fin's voice again.

Olivia cast a dubious look at her partner. "I don't think so…"

A smooth voice interrupted their exchange. "Right now, a lot better than two years ago."

Olivia almost stumbled around the last corner, her heart missing a beat over that voice. And there, in conversation with Munch and Fin, was Alex, arms crossed over her chest, nodding at something Munch had just interjected, looking as if she had never left.

The sensation of lightheadedness returned. Alex was even leaning against her desk, Olivia noted dazedly, her briefcase perched atop it next to her.

"Well, I'll be damned!" Elliot's voice rang out as he strode past Olivia. He grasped Alex by the shoulders, smiling widely. "Alex! … When did you get back?"

Fin stopped short at that. "You knew?"

While Elliot tried to explain, Alex looked past the two men at the figure across the bullpen, her hands finding a hold on the tabletop beside her. "Hello Olivia."

Olivia had taken two steps forward, or she thought she had, before she remembered. "Welcome back." It came out hoarse. She cleared her throat. "Alex."

It took a second before Alex blinked behind her glasses and pushed loose from the table. "Thank you," she said. She was in front of Olivia with four steps and, after the tiniest bout of hesitation, gave her a brief hug, so politely loose that it felt like another fleeting image to Olivia, except that there were Alex's warm hands on her shoulders, and a brush of smooth hair against her cheek, and that mix of expensive shampoo and skin and classy perfume that she'd always associate with Alex. She breathed in, something in her threatening to burst.

Elliot shot her a puzzled look, but it was Munch who broke the small silence. "I sense a reason to celebrate." Before Olivia could question his smile, he continued. "How about tomorrow after the squad game? They'll probably lose, so they'll be in need of a drink either way." He quirked a smile at Alex. "That is, unless you'd like to forsake your dignity, watch the game yourself and cheer on the troops."

It was clearly intended as a joke, but Alex nodded. "Sounds like an event I shouldn't miss." She was smiling despite her dry tone. "When does the game start?"

There was a startled bout of silence. ADA Cabot had never attended a squad game before, but granted, there hadn't been that many invitations extended, either. Munch, again, was the first one to recover. "You sure you can stomach Stabler here in the outfit, Counselor?"

"Hey! Casey's on, too," Elliot was quick to protest, missing the look Olivia sent his way, but Alex caught it. She knew that Casey Novak had taken her place with SVU. Apparently, to a greater degree than Alex had assumed. She looked over at Olivia again who had her head turned away.

Her hair was a little bit shorter again, Alex noted, and she didn't seem to be conscious of the way she had her hands tucked tightly into the pockets of her jacket. There were a few deeper lines around her eyes and lips, further enhancing the stark clarity of her profile, and one of her eyebrows still formed a higher arch than the other. Slowly, Alex's eyes followed the lines of the jacket as if she were painting the image, up to the collar, taking in the way the leather touched the skin of Olivia's neck, the way her neck blended into the curve of her jaw, the outline of her profile…

Olivia chose that moment to look up again, and Alex was caught in a gaze so intensely familiar that she started as if she had been physically touched. Or perhaps she had, she thought, feeling something in her respond to that look that she had forgotten existed. The room around her was melting away softly, until nothing remained but the deep brown of Olivia's eyes and, over the rusthing of blood in her ears, the calming sensation of having arrived somewhere.


Those eyes.

During how many nights, through how many dreams have they haunted me, hovering just out of reach?

And even when I did look into her eyes, in some dream or fantasy, it was always just a weak memory of this, and I realize it only now, now that I really look at her. Now that she is looking back at me.

I thought I remembered her so well, but there are a hundred details that are suddenly assaulting my perception – the exact shape of the fine lines around her eyes, the shadows moving along her neck as she swallows, the way her shoulders tense when she has her hands in her pockets like this – and I don't know how I could have forgotten about them, ashamed at my negligence.

Suddenly, everything is there again, everything at once, and at the same time, I feel as if I really know to appreciate it for the first time. Looking at her, all kinds of things seem to shift into place within me, and I strangely know that they are settling exactly where they are supposed to be.

Somehow, this look is more intense and more intimate even than touching her earlier, when I had to reach out to her, doing it without even consciously deciding to, just to make sure she was real.

And she is really here, in the same room as I am, only a few feet away from me.

The enormity of the situation is suddenly catching up to me.

She is here. With me.

The thought echoes inside of me, and I draw an unsteady breath, willing myself not to cry.


In looking at her, I find myself suddenly remembering a thousand tiny moments – sitting in the back of Elliot's car as the two drive me home after a court date and I am watching the outline of her profile in the low light as she stares out onto the street. Standing behind her in line at Luigi's, she has her hand placed on the counter, and there is something incredibly alluring about how the sleeve of her leather jacket falls over the arch of her hand. Having her catch up to me on the courthouse steps and the split second she looks at me as I watch her walk up the steps, and I hear myself thinking: towards me.

And now she is standing right here, looking at me.

I feel like someone who has just received an incredibly great gift and I breathe in and out, slowly. My vision stops spinning, but not really. I'm thinking that if I concentrate enough, perhaps I can hear her breathing from where I stand.

I feel giddy.


"Do you think Cabot copped out?" Olivia tried to sound casual. She really tried. Letting her gaze sweep across the bleachers again, she had to admit that Alex still wasn't in sight. Not yet.

"Nah." Fin shook his head, leaning back against the metal bench in search of a comfortable position. "She would have said no if she didn't want to come. She never had a problem with that." He shrugged. "She doesn't have a caseload yet. Maybe she just wants to relax and catch up on things."

"Probably takes her a while to dress down, too," Munch commented, throwing a quick look at Olivia as if he were expecting a sharp retort, but Olivia wasn't looking at him.

"…or not," she stated instead, motioning at the chairs up front. In tandem, both men pushed loose from their seats for a better look.

Walking towards them was former ADA Alex Cabot, glasses perched on her nose, hair pulled back into a ponytail, her hands loosely tucked into the pockets of a pair of comfortable looking cargo pants. A fingerbreadth of skin was visible between the waistband and the hem of what was technically a tank top, but was clearly the designer version of it, judging by the elegantly understated cut.

"Can't shake class once you've got it, I guess," Fin murmured under his breath, but Olivia didn't even hear him.

Shielding her eyes with one hand, Alex surveyed the crowd, smiling when she discovered the detectives. She actually waved up at them as she dodged a few haphazardly placed folding chairs and started her ascent, Olivia noted with charmed disbelief. It didn't even cross her mind to not look at Alex as she walked towards them. After yesterday's somewhat awkward reunion in the squad room that had passed in a breathless blur for her, she was surprised to see Alex so relaxed. She wasn't as pale as she remembered her, Olivia noted and she wondered how she hadn't noticed it the day before. Also, Alex wasn't as painfully thin as she had been – her shoulders were a bit broader, too, as if she had been working out regularly while she was away. Perhaps she had picked up tennis again, Olivia thought, momentarily distracted.

She hadn't planned for Alex to sit next to her – hoped for it, maybe – but the moment Alex stood before them, Munch was mumbling something about getting some hot dogs and Alex slid into the seat next to Olivia, who found it suddenly hard to breathe, so close to Alex who looked so… approachable. Nearly blushing at her choice of word, Olivia dropped her eyes to her hands, knitted together in her lap, admitting with chagrin that she felt as if she were fifteen years old.

"So tell me…" Alex leaned into her conspiratorially, a smile in her voice and Olivia thought she could smell the scent of her shampoo over the tiny bit of distance. "Do they really play as bad as Munch said?"

"Worse, I'm afraid," Olivia replied, a blink of an eye too late to sound smooth. She was fighting the urge to straighten up in her seat. "But it's the spirit that counts, right?"

"That indeed," Alex murmured. Her eyes were twinkling.

Olivia drew a deep breath, wondering why suddenly, everything seemed so suggestive. She glanced at Alex from the corner of her eyes.

She seemed older, as if more than twenty months had passed. There were fine lines around her lips that hadn't been there before. Worry-worn, Olivia thought, but also more relaxed – there was a solidness to the strength Alex had always exuded that was new. And very appealing. But Olivia didn't think she could ever see Alex and not find her utterly appealing.

Her eyes followed the lines of the top Alex wore. Her shoulders really were a bit broader than before, but then Olivia's mind drew to a still as she noticed a flash of more elevated, reddish skin showing half under the fabric's seam.

For an instant, she was back in the dark street, frantically talking to the fallen woman, blood hot and smeary against her palms as she begged her to hang on.

Olivia swallowed hard. An odd sense of pride settled over her as she took in the ramifications of Alex wearing something sleeveless. Of course Alex wouldn't back away from any choice of outfit only because it might show a bit of scar. It was so typical of her attitude – Alex had always been a little vain, but she had always had an even greater sense of pride.

Olivia smiled. "You look really good," she offered.

"You think so?" Alex laughed, and there was delight in her gaze, behind her glasses, and perhaps a hint of something more. "My mother was mildly scandalized when I showed up to lunch in these pants."

Olivia arched an eyebrow at her, using the chance to trail her gaze over Alex's outfit. "Well, if you had lunch at the Ritz…" Alex's laugh left her with a sensation close to gasping and Olivia hastily dropped her eyes to her feet to hide her reaction.

Slightly scuffed sneakers were peeking out from underneath the hems of Alex's cargo pants.

The sudden rush of tenderness overwhelmed Olivia. This was Alex – next to her, alive, breathing. Laughing at her from behind her dark glasses, wearing a doubtlessly overpriced designer top, scars on her shoulders and worn-down sneakers on her feet. It wasn't a convenient fantasy about an untouchable, arrogant attorney in a thousand dollar suit. It was real. And it was perfect.

Any excuse Olivia might have had about Alex just being a projection blown out of proportion in her absence vanished in the face of this realization. Being at the squad game with Alex, without any job reasons, suddenly seemed like a first step into a direction she would very much like to explore further. If Alex was agreeable. She wondered whether Alex might have left someone waiting for her in Oklahoma. Someone whom she perhaps planned to bring to New York with her. Olivia shifted in her seat. She would have to rely on Munch's infallible curiosity to shed a light on things after the game.

And the game went pretty badly, Olivia hadn't been kidding. The only one who seemed wholly enthusiastic about it was the husband of Thompson from Narcotics who had only recently joined the team. Olivia shook her head as she saw him drawing out a digital camera. He would probably do his wife a favor in not recording her first game.

Next to her, she more felt than saw Alex flinch, only to have her suddenly leaning closer against her side.

"Alex, are you alright?" Olivia's arm was already protectively curled around Alex's shoulders before she even realized what she was doing. It took her a few seconds to connect the abrupt tension in the other woman's body to their surroundings. "The camera?" she guessed.

Alex nodded, her expression embarrassed as she sat up again. "Reflex."

Olivia waited another precious moment before she withdrew her arm. "It's over," she stated gently, even though she felt a pang at Alex's instinctively frightened reaction. "Nobody's after you now. He can't hurt you anymore."

Alex shrugged. "He still does, though," she admitted quietly, looking out onto the field with seemingly great concentration. Then she shook her head, almost as if to force the thought out of her head. "If they keep losing at this rate, I'll need some food to stomach the defeat before it is complete."

Olivia wasn't quite sure how much worse it could get – the other team was up by six runs with the bases loaded – but she figured that at this point, Elliot would forgive her if she snuck out for a moment to get some hotdogs.

Upon her return, balancing her junk quarry in both hands, Olivia found Alex had slipped into her seat, smiling at Fin who yelled something encouraging at their still sorely losing team. Alex even listened to Munch's latest theory on how the streak of misfortune the squad team was experiencing could be explained as she tucked away her hotdog with gusto. And even that had a certain elegance when Alex did it. A few strands of hair had come loose from her ponytail, and Olivia watched, transfixed, missing the punch line to whatever story Munch had dug up now. She only saw Alex laughing out loud. Olivia wasn't sure whether she had ever heard Alex laugh like that, but it was a glorious sound, reverberating inside her with the calming reassurance that Alex was back with them, safe and sound.

Alex chose that moment to look at her, slightly breathless, tendrils of hair framing her face. "I can practically hear Liz saying that…." She trailed off, gathering that Olivia had missed the joke.

"You're laughing more," Olivia observed offhandedly. She wanted to add that it looked beautiful on Alex. And how happy she was that Alex was safe, and back with them, and so many other things that she should have said the day before when all she could do was numbly stare at Alex, half afraid she would vanish into thin air every moment.

Alex looked back at her curiously for a second, momentarily pinning Olivia to her seat with her eyes. "I didn't have a lot of reason to for a while," she then said, her voice soft. "I knew what I had lost." Unable to look away, Olivia thought she would get lost in the ambiguity of the moment, but then Alex smiled, breaking the intense gaze. "And now I'm reclaiming it." Olivia wasn't sure if she had imagined the fleeting look that accompanied the remark, but Alex was already looking back at the field, gesturing down at their team with a wry expression. "Although I am not sure I'd admit to any prior association with this team." She shook her head in chorus with Fin and a groaning Munch as they gave up a triple.

The eventual result was flattening, but didn't manage to ruin the good mood. "Lousy," Olivia announced cheerfully, patting Elliot on the back when he joined them after having changed his shirt.

"You only want us to pay for your beers, out of sheer sympathy," Munch stated, his expression suspicious.

"We get sympathy points?" Casey asked, stepping up to them with her sports bag thrown over her shoulder. "Great. Does that extend to not bartering for a warrant without any evidence next time…?"

"Why?" Olivia grinned, not noticing how Alex seemed to draw a deeper breath at the bantering. "You bartering for the ball doesn't seem to be that much different from me bartering for a warrant."

"Watch it, Detective," Casey retorted playfully. "There's a big stick on my side in this game."

Before Olivia could think of a reply, she heard Alex mutter next to her, "I should have used that line on you back then."

Only now Casey took a closer look at the figure next to Olivia, a blonde who managed to look elegant even while wearing cargo pants. "Cabot, right?" she guessed, offering her hand. When Alex shook it, she was surprised at the underlying firmness of her grasp. "Heard you were back," she added, not quite sure what to say. "Hell of a story."

Alex merely nodded.

Struggling to identify the undercurrents of that particular exchange – taking Alex to a game that her successor played in might not have been the smartest idea Munch had ever had – Olivia was glad when her slightly miffed partner broke the moment.

"Beer and a steak," Elliot stated with emphasis and nodded towards the adjoining greens where a barbecue had been set up for the players. "And that's just what I'm expecting from you, Benson."

Olivia arched an eyebrow at him and then turned towards Alex, uncertain whether the woman would really want to join the team's barbecue instead of going to a pub or a bar with just their little group.

Munch beat her to the question. "You sure you want to fight for the meat with the horde, Counselor?" In a low tone, he added, "Personally, I'd be very grateful if you said no."

Alex gave him a sympathetic smile. "I think I can handle the horde, Detective." She slid her hands into her pockets and squared her shoulders. "So, what do I have to do to get a steak and a beer?"

And even with a bottle of beer between her fingers, balancing a paper plate with a greasy steak on her knees, Alex still managed to look classy. It was the attitude, Olivia finally decided on an inner sigh. That, and the glasses. And it affected her just like it always had.

So far, none of the others had asked Alex about her life in witness protection, but with them being part of a bigger group here, it was hardly the place for a more intimate conversation. Olivia wondered whether she should just bite the bullet and try to steer their conversation towards more personal topics. Especially since Alex had stayed in her vicinity for most of the evening, but it might just as well be that she was staying with the familiar group she had come with. Alex Cabot was a perfectly polite woman after all. The conversation between the two of them had been light so far, almost as if they were dancing around something. At least one of them was for sure, Olivia admitted wryly to herself. Her eyes searched for and found Alex, who sat by herself as she looked out onto the field where a few people had picked up batting practice for fun. Since dusk was setting, batting had become quite a challenge, and Olivia noticed how Alex had chosen a spot in the half shadow, her back shielded by a bench.

She swallowed against the angry feeling of helplessness. Even though Velez was dead now, the time in witness projection had left its mark on Alex. Picking out safe spots with maximum overview. Ducking away from cameras.

Slowly, Olivia walked over, hands tucked into her pockets. She wanted to reassure Alex again that she was safe, that it was over, but she knew that it wouldn't change a thing. Velez would still haunt both of them for a long time to come. Instead, she sat down next to Alex who was still watching the players. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the loose strands of hair around Alex's face move softly with her every breath. "Would you like to a have a go?" she suggested after a little while. "We could get in line."

Alex turned her head, one eyebrow lightly arched. She smiled ruefully. "I don't think I'm up for rolling around in the dirt, Detective."

It sounded so much like Alex always had that Olivia couldn't stop the grin creeping across her face. "Not up to batting?" she challenged teasingly, but then relented. "We could always play catch instead." Only when the words were already out of her mouth, she realized how ambiguously they echoed back at her. "I could get Elliot's glove," she added quickly, shying away from the sudden tension. "We couldn't be worse than our team was today."

Alex just looked at her sardonically. "I'd rather not put that theory to the test."

Olivia's grin returned, and she leaned a little closer. "What? You are refusing a chance at hard evidence?"

Alex shook her head, looking past Olivia for a moment. "I can't move my shoulder enough to bat, let alone throw," she admitted quietly.

"Oh shit, Alex, I'm sorry…" Olivia could have kicked herself for the oversight. "I didn't think…"

"It's all right, Liv." Alex's voice was warm and Olivia was still stuck on how her name had sounded in that tone when Alex added lightly, "I heard it's murder for the elbows, anyway." There was a small pause while Alex went back to observing the players. "I don't notice it much, really," she then offered. "Mostly when I have to reach into high cupboards."

"Or when you'd have to bat," Olivia supplied. She remembered how Alex had talked about playing tennis, how much she liked it.

"Did you just say something about evidence, Olivia?" Casey called out, walking past them with an empty bottle of beer. "Practicing your warrant bartering skills?"

"As if they needed practice," Olivia shot back, unwilling to be interrupted. It was the first quiet moment she had gotten with Alex and she didn't want to share it with anyone.

"At least you're admitting to it," Casey said, holding up her empty bottle. "And if you can tell me where I can find a fresh beer, I might even cut you a deal."

Olivia pointed to another small group on the lawn. "Thompson still has some, but she drives a mean bargain."

Casey snorted. "And after two years with you, that should frighten me… how?"

Olivia shook her head at the retreating figure, only to have her thoughts interrupted by Alex. "I see you're making the same impression on every ADA." Olivia wasn't sure whether it was her imagination, but Alex sounded cooler suddenly. "And here I thought it was just me."

For a moment, Olivia watched helplessly as Alex pulled up her knees and rested her hands atop them, not looking at Olivia, who wanted to say that it had always been just Alex, and Alex only, but didn't find the courage.

She'd merely have to lift her hand and it would brush against Alex's arm. Alex's expression was pensive, her head was slightly bowed, the smooth outline of vertebrae where her neck met her upper back just visible. It was a posture typical of Alex and Olivia had seen it a hundred or possibly a thousand times before, but she had never realized before how much grace lay in the small movement. Looking at Alex left her with a feeling of relief and downright humble gratefulness, making her afraid to speak out or touch, even though she ached to find the right words, the right gesture.

Alex was so close that she'd only have to bend her head a little to the side and down and she would be able to press a kiss to a bare shoulder.

Satin and salt and scar.


Lost in the scrutiny, she noticed the light shiver running through Alex's body before it had even fully settled over the woman. Of course she would be getting cold in her tank top, Olivia reasoned affectionately. The last time she checked, pricey designer garments hadn't been made for functionality. She held her breath as she shrugged out of her jacket and gently placed it around Alex, only then realizing, somewhat chagrined, that after twenty months of conjuring up elaborate schemes in her daydreams, this not very original little gesture might actually convey to Alex what she really wanted to say.

For a moment, the shoulders under her grasp stiffened, and of all the things coming to mind, "Getting chilly, isn't it?" made it past Olivia's lips. It sounded unsteady. Smoothing the leather over Alex's shoulders, she felt her relax into the warmth of the jacket. Olivia wondered when thinking of a more clever phrase had become so hard and when her heart had started beating so fast. "Here you go."

"I don't…" Alex started to say, but then she pulled the jacket closer around herself by the lapels, breathing in deeply. "Thank you."

"You're w…" Olivia had to clear her throat. She pulled her hands back to herself and found that they were tingling. "My pleasure."

Casey walked past them again, triumphantly holding up a fresh bottle of beer. Luckily, she didn't interrupt them again, but Olivia's quiet glower was lost in the increasing dark either way.

And then Alex was looking at her again. "Why don't you do that with me?" she asked offhandedly.

"What is that?" Olivia couldn't think of many things that she wouldn't be willing to try with Alex, if the other woman were game.

"Treat me like the others. Normally." Alex looked up at Casey's retreating figure, seeming exasperated. "Talk to me like you talk to her."

But Alex was not like the others. Not to her. Olivia shrugged with a smile. "I'm trying to be nice for once and you object?"

"You've always been nice enough," Alex insisted, her tone holding none of Olivia's easy humor. She didn't blink as she looked at Olivia, who, in return, had to blink. It seemed to be warmer than before, even though she had given up her jacket. "Well, most of the time," Alex added with a quirk to her lips.

Olivia's easy façade crumpled effortlessly at that smirk. It always had. "It's just… a little overwhelming still," she said honestly, allowing her insecurities to show. "I should tell you that everything is fine now, but… I still expect Hammond to show up any minute, sending you away again." She gestured helplessly. "I'm scared that if I close my eyes for a moment too long, you'll be gone when I open them again." Looking into Alex's eyes again, she felt vulnerable like she rarely had before.

"I'm scared, too," Alex said, slowly reaching out a hand to cover Olivia's. "But I'm not going away again. I'm back for good."

This was as good an opening as she would get, Olivia decided, turning her hand and feeling Alex's palm against her own. "What about your other life?" she asked carefully. "Don't you have anyone waiting for you in Oklahoma?"

Alex's smile let her know that her question hadn't sounded as casual as she had intended. "No Laurey there," Alex said lightly. "And Curly was never really my type in the first place."

Olivia couldn't help the near giddy half-grin when she realized that Alex had yet to take away her hand. "You honestly missed me arguing with you?" Her voice sounded lighter than she felt.

Alex's expression was open and almost wistful. "That, too." She had spoken quietly, but there was no mistaking the look on her face. Olivia shifted, suddenly unable to sit still.

The barbecue around them was beginning to wrap up, and when Alex suggested that the two of them should share a cab, Olivia didn't object. Only when they were already sitting in the back of a taxi cab, with Alex's hand inches from her own on the seat, both of them silenced by the energy suddenly charging openly between them, Olivia realized that Alex hadn't even asked whether she was still living in the same apartment.

The ride was over much too fast as they rolled to a stop in front of Alex's place – her new place, she explained – while Olivia was still fumbling for an appropriate goodnight wish, and about how to ask whether she should call Alex the next day. To see if she wanted to go out for coffee. Or lunch. Or shop for apartment decorations. Or on a dinner date.

It only occurred to her then that she didn't have Alex's phone number yet. But before she could even ask, Alex turned to look at her. Her smile was at once assertive and nearly bashful. "Would you like to come up for a nightcap?"


She is so much braver than I am.

From where does she take the courage to ask when I'm still worried about how I could signal my interest without scaring us both?

This is like a daydream I could have had while she was away, only now the daydream is moving faster than my heart can beat, and I stumble after it to catch up with the images that flash across my mind.

Getting the tour of Alex's new place in the middle of the night. It doesn't necessarily mean a thing, she could just want to share a drink more distinguished than beer from the bottle with a former colleague – a formerly close colleague – to end this first night back in the circle of people she used to spend most of her time with. But with the way she looked at me earlier, not half an hour ago, in the park, all bets are off. Half of me knows she would never do something so rash, and the other half of me isn't so sure about that anymore. She is so much braver than I am.

There were nights where I wanted to ask her that question before. Leaving the office late at night after spending all evening staring at a case file, or actually sitting in a cab with her after one of the rare occasions where she went out with us. And I always knew that if I asked outright, she'd say no. But now it seems as if she wouldn't say no anymore.

And neither will I.

I want to tell you how much I've missed you. How miserable I felt those first few months sitting on the bench outside of the courtroom waiting for a verdict without your quiet, strangely soothing presence next to me. How, when I walked past your former office, I sometimes caught myself almost knocking on the door, envisioning you looking up from a pile of paperwork when I would look into the room. How I had to think of you when I stood in line at Luigi's – I knew it was your favorite – and knew exactly what you would order. Sometimes I did, just to feel close to you again and then I felt ridiculous.

It's not ridiculous at all anymore as I look at you and I marvel at how I didn't know it before you were gone, and only guessed at it while you were away, and now that you're back, all it takes is one look at you and I simply know.

I take a deep breath and can't help but smile. "I'd love to," I hear myself say.


"She has your exact shade of hair."

Alex turned to look at Olivia who stood in the entry to her living room somewhat uncertainly, motioning at the painting that hung above the single couch. Now that she surveyed her apartment with Olivia's eyes, she had to admit that there wasn't really much to give a tour of yet.

"But the green dress would look a lot better on you," she replied, keeping her eyes fixed on the painting even as she felt Olivia look at her. "You have one like that," she added after a moment.

Olivia's startled intake of breath was the only indication that she had caught the other woman by surprise. "I used to," Olivia said. "But I gave it away."

"That's a pity," Alex stated. "I really liked it on you." She turned to look at Olivia who had stepped into the room, acknowledging the luxury of being able to drink in the sight without having to fear being jolted out of this particular daydream. It had to be something about Olivia's stance, her posture – the way the shoved-up sleeves of her shirt bunched up around her elbows, drawing attention to her forearms, or the way she kept her weight on both feet, a hand tucked into her pocket – that made Alex feel decidedly weak in the knees. That, and the hesitantly hopeful expression in Olivia's eyes that she knew had to be mirrored in her own. The silence between them stretched out for long moments.

"Would you like to go to the Met with me on Saturday?" Alex suddenly asked, surprising both of them. "I have my mother's season tickets this weekend." She shrugged ruefully. "I used to have my own."

"You can get your own again next season," Olivia pointed out, her tone gentle. She didn't ask whether this would be a date. "Sure, I'd like to go."

Alex tilted her head to the side, studying Olivia curiously. "Have you been there before?" The look Olivia gave her made her feel like an idiot. A snobby idiot.

But Olivia was smiling. "I went there once on a fundraiser, on NYPD tickets. Cragen didn't feel like going."

Alex wanted to ask with whom Olivia had been there. "What was it?"

"Some kind of gala medley. Very stiff." Olivia shrugged. She looked down at her own hands, studying them with casual intent. "I've been to City Opera a few times on my own. But I prefer jazz clubs over it."

Alex closed her eyes for a moment. Leave it to Olivia to sweep her off her feet without even intending to. She made a mental note to look up her old favorite jazz club haunt as soon as possible. Perhaps they still had that singer who sounded like the older Ella.

The argument she had always used on herself – that dating a female cop would be political suicide as far as her career was concerned – didn't sound half as convincing to her own ears anymore. Not that it wasn't true any longer. She simply cared a whole lot less about it.

And, as this past week's Sunday brunch with her mother's acquaintances had made clear, there were exceptions to the rule. After all, Eileen Vanderbilt was still the chairwoman of the NYC Junior League, and most everyone seemed to know that she was sleeping with the female treasurer. And Eileen was a Republican.

Looking at Olivia again, Alex remembered the careful question from earlier this evening. No, she didn't have anyone waiting for her back in Oklahoma. Rather, she'd been in Oklahoma waiting to come back here.

And perhaps Olivia had been waiting, too, in a way. Munch had mentioned that she hadn't been seeing anyone for real – "If there was, we'd know. Trust me on that, Counselor." – since before Alex had left, and she hadn't taken her hand away earlier at the park. And she was here, right now, looking at her with a quiet intensity that was taking Alex's breath away.

The air between them seemed to move, and then it was Olivia moving towards her, her gaze trailing over Alex's face like a slow caress, as if she were overwhelmed with where to look first.

Not looking where she went, Olivia bumped against the arm of the couch, knocking down a small box that had been propped up against the cushions.

Startled for a moment, Olivia bent down to pick up the parcel. "Sorry."

"No, it's…" Alex shook her head, a hint of a blush coloring her cheeks. "Actually, it's for you. Was for you." When Olivia looked at her in puzzlement, she gestured at the box. "It… I found it in my mother's guest bedroom closet the other day. I had left it there, Christmas three years ago." Olivia's expression wasn't any less puzzled, but Alex's eyes were drawn to Olivia's hands holding onto the small carton, tan skin against eggshell paper. "I had gotten it for you. For Christmas," Alex clarified. "But then I… chickened out."

Olivia's smile was slow and warm, and she looked down at the gift in her hands for a moment before she arched an eyebrow at Alex. "You chickening out of something?"

"Fine," Alex replied, rising to the bait. "Open it now, then." She found herself shifting her weight from foot to foot when Olivia slid the lid off the box, and made a conscious effort to stop her fidgeting. There was no reason to be nervous over a three-year-old gift.

"Oh." Olivia seemed a little lost, faced with a pair of dark brown leather gloves, while outside, it was May. "Thank you. They're beautiful," she assured Alex, tracing her fingers along the soft material. Then, something else seemed to occur to her. "That was the year it was so cold in December and some perp stole my gloves…"

Alex nodded, and then she had to avert her eyes because the absurdly pleased expression on Olivia's face made her blush all over again.

"Let me try them on," Olivia suggested, setting the box to the side. Alex never took her eyes off the hands, until Olivia's voice drew her head up again. "You even got my size right." The soft amazement in her tone threatened to undo Alex completely. "Did you ask Elliot about it?"

"No, I just looked at your hands," Alex said without thinking, too distracted to consider what she was admitting.

For a moment, there was nothing but quiet breathing and the ticking of the clock as they both stared at Olivia's gloved hands. Finally, Olivia moved to take them off again, struggling with the small buttons at the wrists, until Alex cut in. "Wait, let me help you…"

Smooth leather under her hands, and then, even softer skin, and the smell of Olivia, just like the jacket she'd reluctantly parted with in the entry hall. Olivia's breath against her temple. Olivia's fingers tangled with her own.

And, when she looked up, Olivia's lips inches from her own.

She was still stroking her fingertips across Olivia's palms, almost absently now, her eyes suddenly heavy, overwhelmed with the nearness of scent and skin and those lips.

"Wait…" Alex more felt than heard the soft utterance against her own lips. Olivia was looking at her, her eyes wide and dark with something that made it very hard for Alex to focus on her words.

"This might be a bad idea… you barely…" Staring at the lips so close to her own, Alex realized that Olivia was breathing fast and unsteady. Panting. "You've barely gotten back. It… this could be too soon. We… we should wait. Wait and see. And if…" Olivia swallowed with difficulty, drawing Alex's gaze to the column of her throat. "What if…"

"Liv…" Alex almost didn't recognize her own voice in the low murmur. She curved a hand to Olivia's shoulder, fingers stroking along the line of the shirt collar. "The last time I opted for 'wait and see', I was sent away and spent twenty months asking myself 'what if?'. – I… I have to know…" She exhaled shakily, her eyes drifting back to Olivia's lips. "I have to…"

For a moment, it seemed as if Olivia wanted to reply something, her eyes shimmering with something indefinite, but then her hands slid around Alex's waist and her lips curved into an idea of a smile under Alex's reverent look. "I'm not objecting here…"

Consent given, Alex simply leaned in, pressing her lips to Olivia's.

Soft. So soft. And warm. Junk food and salt and sweetness and heat. Olivia.

Better than all the kisses she had ever imagined.

When she drew back, her hands had found their way into the hair in Olivia's neck, and she was too dazed to notice at first that Olivia's eyes were glistening with tears.

"How long?" Olivia asked, and her voice cracked over the simple question.

"I have no idea," Alex admitted, gently brushing a single tear away with her fingertips. "Before I left. But I didn't know until I was gone…"

"Me either." Olivia breathed heavily. "God…"

And then her lips were on Alex's again, and Alex's tongue against her teeth, and then, finally, against her own, and then there was just Alex. Alex's hair brushing her cheeks, Alex's gasps against her mouth, Alex's hands grabbing her collar. And when Alex tore her head away after long minutes, struggling to breathe and staring at Olivia with wide eyes, Olivia could do nothing but marvel at how right it all felt. Alex. With her.

Alex, who was now mastering a shaky, but triumphant smirk. "Do you still think we should wait and see?"

Olivia shook her head. "Waste of time," she ground out, her voice little more than a gasp. "In fact, do you think we could… we could book this down as a first date? In retrospect?"

Alex nodded vigorously, her hands still twined into Olivia's collar. "At least."

"So, what are the rules?" But the look in Olivia's eyes belied her easy phrase. Her half smile was helpless as she cupped Alex's face between her hands. "I want to do this right by you. Every bit of it. I've… for so long… and I don't want to risk this…"

"There is only one rule," Alex interrupted her, her tone light even though Olivia's faltering confession made her want to cling on and never let go again, but Olivia was right, this was too important to rush. Or to wait for any longer. "As Michelle always says – " Off Olivia's lost look, Alex explained. "She is… was… my office colleague – and one of her favorite phrases was, 'Go for it while you can.'"

"Thank you, Michelle," Olivia uttered on a shaky breath, her fingers firmly threading through Alex's hair. Then her expression turned somber. "One day, I want to know all about it. How you lived. What you did." Her movements had gentled, fingers kneading slowly now. "What you miss about it. How you feel about it all. – If you want to tell me, that is."

"I'd like that," Alex said, surprised at the unexpected offer. "Someday, when I can make sense of it myself. – Right now, I'm in between everything…" She struggled to put the feeling into words. "I'm slowly arriving home, but with every bit I rediscover, I have to realize it's not the same place I left."

Olivia tilted her head to the side, her gaze coming half from underneath her lashes. "You can never step twice into the same river?"

Quoting Heraklit on her in the middle of the night. And in a much more alluring way than any lawyer Alex had ever dated. "You impress me, Detective," she stated, her voice all but a drawl, not noticing at first how Olivia went quiet, breathing deeply. She frowned. "…Olivia?"

Shaking her head, Olivia drew herself out of her stupor. She gestured, half embarrassed. "It's… it's your voice. It always – " Alex wasn't sure, but she thought she saw a slight blush creep up Olivia's neck.

"Hmmm…" Alex's smile was lazy and her voice dropped to a lower tone as she leaned in again, resting her whole body against Olivia. "You have no idea, how often I imagined your voice." Looking up into Olivia's eyes, her expression was filled with an openness that left no further questions. "Your voice… and everything about you."

Olivia raised an eyebrow, bravely teasing lest she melt away under Alex's gaze. "Everything?"

It was Alex's turn to blush. "Everything." Her eyes tracing Olivia's face, she looked away before she added something on a murmur.

She had forgotten how good Olivia's hearing was.

"You had fantasies of a life with me in bikinis?"


Her eyes are incredible. And I'm not about to admit to any teenaged Caribbean fantasies. Or any other fantasy from that cabinet.

Eternal sunsets, quiet beaches and Olivia in bikinis walking next to me holding my hand. I should be embarrassed; I am, but part of me is still trying to decide what color would look best on her for a bikini.

Olivia just smiles. "Penny for your thoughts…" She brushes a few strands of hair out of my face and I find myself automatically angling my face into her hand and my eyes are closing again. I mumble something about it not being important, I think, and then I lean in to kiss her again, startled when she dodges my touch without really pulling away. When I look at her, I see the teasing twinkle in her eyes and she moves her lips out of reach again.

My hands link behind her head, and there is surprise in her expression for a brief moment, and then arousal, as I pull her towards me and then her eyes are closed and her lips are even softer and warmer than a minute ago and even though she pretends to fight for the lead in this kiss, it only takes moments until I feel her melt into the touch. Into me. And I don't know anything else but her. Part of me wants to curl around that feeling in my stomach and never wake up again.

My eyes are unfocused when she finally pulls back. I'm still wondering how every part of my body can feel so light and so heavy with awareness at the same time, so at first I miss the way she looks at me, but then I catch her smile. It is teasing. "So… you whisked me off into the sunset?" she prods, but there is something in her tone that is not mockery at all. Not even teasing. "What did I wear besides the bikinis? …A hibiscus blossom in my hair? …A frozen margarita in my hand?"

"Not funny," I grumble, feeling myself blush crimson. There is no need for her to be that accurate in her guesses.

"But very cute," she comments, her grin entirely too pleased.

"It got me through twenty months of Oklahoma," I state defensively.

Her smile immediately gentles and she moves to tuck a few more strands of hair behind my ear even though there are no stray ones left, but I am not about to protest. "The Caribbean doesn't sound too bad," she observes. Her eyes still have that damned twinkle, but she doesn't seem to be kidding me anymore. "Perhaps we could go there on a vacation sometime."

And here I thought I was taking things too fast. Pushing her into this, for fear that she will think differently of it in the morning and I will have lost my chance. Part of me is still afraid I'll wake up any minute. That this is just my fantasy, just like the tropical beaches and the image of her holding my hand, and that she doesn't really understand how serious this is for me.

But in looking at her, in how her eyes soften and gentle as she smoothes her fingers over the slight furrow between my brows, I realize that it is not just me. And that whatever this is, it's been there for a long time.

On vacation with Olivia… now there is a tempting idea. I don't care much whether it's sunny beaches at Réunion or sightseeing in Italy or glacier-climbing in Alaska. I care much more about the fact that it would mean time with her alone, away from the others, and without having to fear that a phone call will send either of us out to a case.

Although right now, with my arms still looped around her neck, I don't feel like traveling anywhere. Not when she is right here, smiling at receiving three-year-old gloves and trying them on in the middle of May, and with her shirt sleeves bunched up and her hair sticking out behind her ears where I tousled it a little too enthusiastically. I think I don't even need the sunsets anymore.

"Bikinis and beaches are a nice idea," she comments, and then she shrugs. "Sure beats running into glass doors because someone has your hair color or getting your espresso ristretto latte thing at Luigi's, and I never even liked it."

I can just stare at her.

And then I just kiss her and kiss her and kiss her.


The hard edge of a doorframe – the one to the bedroom, she noted dazedly – pressing into her back momentarily drew Olivia out of her haze. "Do you…" Her own gasp interrupted her. She valiantly tried not to think about the lips trailing up the line of her jaw, and in just the right way to drive her crazy. "Do you think we're… rushing this… a little?"

There was no real reply except for a hand smoothing more firmly to her hip, and those maddening lips now mouthing a path down her neck, and a whisper against her skin that must have been "No", but sounded a lot more like "God, Olivia…"

Olivia bit back a groan, trying to focus. "Not that I wouldn't… but… what if our expectations are too big… now…" She noted with regret that the lips moved away from her neck.

"I might have built up some expectations when it comes to you, Detective," Alex gave her a look over the rim of her glasses. She pulled Olivia further into the room by her shirt collar. "But I think it's safe to say you're exceeding them all."

Years of watching ADA Cabot exercising her formidable prosecution skills in the courtroom, being interviewed by her on the stand, witnessing her reducing defendants to tears, being peered at through those glasses: Nothing of it had prepared Olivia for the reality of Alex wanting her. She took a deep breath, trailing her fingertips along the edge of Alex's tank top only to stop her actions and reach up, tenderly pulling the glasses off Alex's face. "I've always loved these, you know." She carefully put the frames on the dresser.

"Really?" Alex blinked. "They're just glasses."

Olivia raised an eyebrow at her. "And we were just colleagues…"

A long look passed between them. "I…" Alex shook her head, pondering the lost time between them.

"I know…" Olivia murmured, pulling them into a loose embrace. Closing her eyes, she remembered the cars driving away, the night air cool against the tears on her cheeks, the difficulty of drawing breath against the sensation of her heart being torn into a hundred little pieces. She focused on her breathing, and on Alex's, reveling in her nearness. Hands were untucking her shirt, skimming up her back, and she wanted to suggest they move this someplace where she could be off her unsteady legs, but Alex was faster. Olivia found herself spun around and pushed backward, toppling onto the bed. It took Alex only an instant to climb on top of her, straddling her hips and smiling down at her with a predatory gleam in her eye. "You're overdressed," she observed, laughing when Olivia pushed herself upright in one fluid movement. Despite two sets of eager hands, Olivia's shirt caught up over her head, but she didn't care much when it made Alex laugh again, deep and full.

She found Alex staring at her body with a gaze that was decidedly hungrier than before and, struck dumb by that look, she must have missed her cue because Alex was already pulling her own top over her head – impatiently, but without getting stuck – and Olivia's mouth went dry, taking in the body in front of her. And then she grew still.

She must have been quiet for a moment too long because Alex began to look worried. "…Liv?"

Olivia kept her eyes on Alex's skin as she traced her fingers along the scars on her shoulder. "I had nightmares about him finding you."

"So did I," Alex said quietly, threading her fingers through Olivia's and closing her eyes when a gentle kiss was pressed to her shoulder, and then another, and yet another, washing over the old wounds.

Hesitantly, Olivia placed a hand over Alex's heart, feeling the pulse beat against her palm before she leaned in and replaced her fingers with her lips. Arms crossed behind her back, hugging her close, and Olivia replied in kind, crushing Alex against her and holding on as tightly as she could. She curved her hand to the back of Alex's head, blinking away her tears.

Alex was alive. Alex was with her. It was Alex's heart that beat beneath her ear, strong and fast, and it was Alex's hands, unerring and confident, that moved across her skin, hands that were strong enough to push her back down again, into the mattress. It was Alex's body, lean and gracious, that was hovering above her now and then, finally, covering her, sinking into her.

Olivia arched her neck, her fingers aimlessly raking across Alex's back, taking in the sheen of sweat and the trembling of muscle and the ragged breaths so close to her ear. She blinked through the sensations, feeling her body blush at the sight of Alex, teeth sunk into her lower lip in concentration, eyes wide and dark, bending down to taste.

She had fantasized about this, tried to picture this – holding Alex in her arms, seducing her, being seduced by her, but any daydream scenario was paling in comparison to the reality of Alex touching her. She had always imagined it would be her drawing Alex out of her reserve, both of them dancing around that ever-present edge of cool, but this… there was no cool, apart from the steely edge to Alex's intent. The relentlessness of her taking charge, the slight edge of desperation to her movements left her open, vulnerable, in turn drawing Olivia in. It was the disregard for the propriety that otherwise so defined Alex – or perhaps it wasn't disregard, but deeming this passion and this touch as essential and following it unhesitatingly.

Open. She had never dreamed of Alex being so open, not guarding her reactions in the slightest. Teeth scraping against her collarbones, a hot tongue blazing a trail across her chest made Olivia whimper, Alex's rough, answering moan only driving her higher. "God, Liv…" Her hands were unceremoniously pulled against soft curves, and Olivia closed her eyes when she felt Alex rock into her. There was something reckless about the way Alex responded to her, so unabashed about showing her own need that it made Olivia dizzy. She heard herself whisper things, but she didn't know what they were. "Don't stop. Don't leave. Don't leave. Please don't leave…"

And for a moment, they were in the eye of the storm, hot breath gentle against her lips, palms caressing her cheeks with reverence. "I won't." Blue eyes regarded her seriously, and they kissed, softly. And when Olivia opened her eyes again, Alex was still looking at her. She kept her eyes open the entire time, as if she was afraid to miss a thing, even a minute detail. Her eyes remained open even when Olivia succumbed to the sensations rushing through her, everything dissolving into heat and light and…


She saw the awe in her voice mirrored in Alex's eyes, inches from her own.

And there was something else, something that prompted her to say it again. "Alex…" The look she received in return was liquid and wide, and for a moment, it seemed as if Alex would cry.

Olivia understood. "Alex…" Slowly, she pressed a kiss to a curved shoulder, never letting her gaze wander away. "Alex…" Her fingers drew letters across Alex's chest – capital A, capital C. "Alex." Another kiss, in the valley between her breasts. A soft tremble ran though Alex's frame, and Olivia stroked her hands across the expanse of stomach, leaning in so closely that her murmur seemed to seep right into the skin. "Alex."

She said it again and again, whispering it against her skin, writing it all over Alex's body with her lips and her breath, until Alex curved up into her, and around her, holding on blindly as she closed her eyes, falling into Olivia.


She is lying in the cradle of my hips, her face buried against the flesh of my stomach, and I can feel that she feels safe for the first time in a long time.

My hands are combing through her hair, and her breaths against my skin come calm and deep.

I don't know what I expected or feared when we tumbled through her bedroom door earlier, perhaps there was still a bit of doubt whether this vision I had of her and me was only in my head, something neither of us could ever live up to. I've never been so happy to have been wrong.

Wrong, and humbled by what happened between us, and not a little bit awed. I had expected a connection, perhaps the edge of passion, and her relentlessness, even if not like this. But I would never have predicted the reverence, the abandon, or the easy laughter in between. Or the way she looks at me as if she knows me better even than I know myself. And perhaps she does. The thought is scary, but at the same time, it also feels pretty damn wonderful.

She shifts against me, pressing kiss after kiss along my stomach and the bone of my hip. My fingers are still playing with her hair – I've never seen it so tousled, and she looks more beautiful than ever – and then her arms wrap tightly across my waist, and I only notice from the wetness against my skin that she is crying soundlessly.

I scramble to pull level with her, drawing her face up to look at me. "Alex…?"

But when she looks at me, her eyes are the bluest I've ever seen them, and her smile is so happy that I think I could cry, too.


The phone was picked up on the second ring. "Benson."

Alex released a breath she hadn't been aware she'd been holding. "You know it's me," she teased gently. "Remember, I watched you program my new number into your cell and you have my caller ID in capitals."

"And I'm at lunch with three detectives who are just dying to tease me with whatever they can get their grubby hands on." Olivia didn't think that Alex wanted the entire squad to inquire as to the reasons for the particularly happy smile that was refusing to fade from her face right now. "So, how did it go?"

"Is that Cabot on the phone?!" Alex heard Fin holler in the background. There was laughter, and Olivia replying something, and then Fin's voice again. "Hey, Cabot. How did the interview go? They hand you Major Cases on a silver platter?"

"Excuse me for a moment, guys." There was the noise of a chair scraping across the floor, and then steps, and a door opening and closing. Then Olivia's voice was close to the phone again. "Alex? How did it go?"

Hearing the forced casualness in Olivia's voice, Alex hesitated. "They did offer me quite a few things," she admitted. "But would you also date an attorney who prosecutes for the UN?"

"Don't you want to come back to us?" Olivia's question held disappointment, even though she immediately tried to make light of it. "I know we're not Major Cases, but I heard you had an offer to come back to SVU." There was a slight pause. "And I thought…"

Alex closed her eyes, cursing the grapevine. "Yes, I could come back to SVU. But…"

Olivia phrased her next question carefully. "Is this about the publicity, and about possibly being a target again?"

She didn't ask whether it was a convenient career decision. "No. And Yes," Alex answered. And then she acknowledged the unasked question as well. "And yes, it is a career move, but that's not the only reason." She shifted her grip on her cell phone. "Olivia, if I went back to SVU as a primary…"

"..seeing me everyday," Olivia interjected, only to take it back the next moment. "I'm sorry, Alex. Just kidding."

Alex picked up the phrase. "Seeing you every day… and every…" She cleared her throat. "And quite a few of the nights, as well. At least I'd hope so." Olivia didn't jump in with a reply, even though Alex let a few seconds pass. When she continued, her voice was quiet and serious. "And we would have to play hide and seek with the IAB, and even if it wasn't our fault, sooner or later some defense attorney would figure it out and use it against a case, and against the squad. And you know that as well as I do."

"Oh." Clearly, Olivia hadn't thought about it this way. Alex only hoped that it wasn't because Olivia didn't think they could last long term, but rather because she preferred to think that she could outsmart the IAB when she had to.

"And I don't want to jeopardize your career, or mine," Alex continued. "Or give the squad some headlines it really doesn't need." She took a deep breath, wondering if she was getting ahead of herself, or of Olivia. "And I don't want to live in fear of defense lawyers showing up every time I take you out to dinner."

She heard Olivia's breath hitch over the line.

"So… let me ask this again." Alex tried to ignore the sudden solemnity. "Would you consider dating an ADA who is prosecuting international cases for the UN?"

Olivia's voice was rough with emotion. "Hell, yes."

Alex slumped against the wall behind her in relief, allowing herself a moment to gather herself. "And do you think that you and your colleagues might want to have a celebratory beer with her tonight?"

Olivia breathed in deeply, willing herself not to cry in the entry hall of Mike's. "I do."


I never thought I'd find myself missing Liz so much. And if I ever thought security clearances at the DA's office were exhausting, I'm apologizing. It's my third day here, and I think I'll never memorize all the codes. Fréderic – my assistant – tends to look at me with a sympathetic smile when I struggle with the multiple keycards again. I still have to find a way to wipe the expression off his face.

His office is bigger than mine used to be with SVU. And my own office here is what Olivia would call 'beyond posh', with a very raised eyebrow, and Michelle's and my office would probably fit into one of the elevators.

Michelle called last night, advising me not to break Esteban's heart. Apparently he read too much into the new tennis racquet I sent him. Michelle also told me at length that she put her summer decorations up in the office – this year's theme is Tropicana – and I am actually relieved that I don't have to witness that. And Ludovic apparently tried to hit on Elena without much success. I'm thinking that one day, I'd like to travel out there again and visit them all, but not yet. I've let the agents pack up everything I wanted from my place there. It wasn't much.

For a while, I probably won't even have the time to think about traveling unless it's job-related. I already found out that I will be traveling quite a bit. And that I will make quite a bit more money. And that I have a very fancy company car, with a personally assigned parking space. I also found out that actually arguing with a French diplomat, even with a translator in the background, is a lot more strenuous that just translating French files. On the bright side, I now know the place that arguably offers the best brioches in all of New York. And since Olivia loved them when I brought some yesterday, they're good enough for me.

And seeing her smile over a bite of brioche really made my rather frustrating day – damn Fréderic's sympathy, nobody could possibly need that many keycards – fade away like an old headache. I woke up next to her this morning, half curled around her, and even though it was a very early morning, I didn't mind. I could get used to waking up with Olivia.

I'm still debating whether I should subject her to a few of the '…and guest' socialite events I'll have to attend in my new job – from Sunday brunches to art show openings – but if she is agreeable, I will. I haven't quite figured out the company stance on same-sex couples yet, but if they adhere to their own charta, it can't be that bad. Besides, it's not as if I'm the only lesbian attorney in town.

I think I could really get used to waking up next to Olivia. And to falling asleep next to her.

I've been here three days, and my generously sized desk is already covered in paper stacks. Thank God I can take some of this work home with me so I can do it tonight because I definitely need a few hours off this afternoon.

I'm meeting with my mother. Shopping spree. I should probably be scared, but I need a few more suits. And a dress.

Tomorrow, I'm taking Olivia to the opera.


Her cell phone began to vibrate silently just before the break. Olivia moved toward the doors of the loge, but not without indulging in an apologetic touch to Alex's half-bared back on her way.

She was on call this Saturday, but had asked Munch to cover for her barring an emergency because she didn't want to go back on the opera date with Alex. Although she spent more time looking at Alex in her dress – forget-me-not-blue silk – than at the stage.

Olivia stepped into the corridor, glancing at the display before she hit the receive button. "Don't tell me we've caught a case."

"Nah, I was just wondering whether you'd like to come over for dinner?" Elliot asked cheerfully. "Kathy's making…" He stopped, taking in the applause and shouting in the background. "Geez, Liv, where are you?"

"At the Met," Olivia replied, hoping he would not ask her with whom she had gone. She wasn't quite ready to share that bit of news yet.

"You're at the Met?" Elliot sounded dubious. "What are you doing there?"

Olivia arched an eyebrow in reply, even though he couldn't see her. "Watching an opera?"

"You're watching an opera?" Elliot still wasn't convinced he wasn't being kidded with. "What's it called?"

She knew it was some ancient queen, but Olivia couldn't remember the foreign name. "Uh… Alexandra the Great?"

Elliot sounded skeptical. "That's an opera?"

"It's one of those early castrato things," Olivia stalled. It was true. She just couldn't remember what it was called. Alex was really more interesting than the singer. Blue silk. Hair done up. Low neck. Sparkling little drops for earrings. Lips shimmering with…

As if on cue, her accompaniment for the evening stepped out of the loge, walking up next to her. Definitely Alexandra the Great.

A hand brushed across her arm and settled in the small of her back. "Liv, Darling, who is it?"

Olivia mouthed "Elliot," waving off Alex's apologetic expression. At least it was a memorable scenery for this particular outing. She held her breath as she counted the seconds Elliot's brain needed to process that particular voice in that particular cadence in relation to his partner. She knew she was done for.

"Alexandra the Great, hmm?" Elliot sounded entirely too gleeful.

"The very great," Olivia confirmed meekly.

Elliot cleared his throat. "How long?" he asked.

It wasn't what he thought. "Five days," Olivia replied, Alex's fingers tangling with her own.

Elliot whistled through his teeth. "Holy God."

That made Olivia grin. "Better."

"Were you already…" He clearly wasn't sure how to phrase this. "Was there anything before she left?"

Olivia sighed. "I didn't really know it until she was gone."

"Why didn't you talk to me?" He seemed more puzzled than angry.

"About what?" Olivia shook her head. "It's not as if there was really something to talk about. It was just a fantasy. I didn't know…"

"And when she came back now?" Elliot's question was hesitant, as if realizing how much of an impact this must have been.

Olivia kept her answer simple. "I realized it wasn't just a fantasy."

There was a moment of silence. "Are you happy?" he asked then.

Olivia smiled, warmed by his concern. She focused on Alex, on the way she was ever so slightly leaning into her. She answered honestly. "I didn't know I could be this happy."

"Sounds like five days going on forever," Elliot commented lightly.

Olivia tried to sound just as casual. "Well, a girl can dream."

"Good for you, Liv." He sounded honestly pleased. "You do of course realize that I'll never let you live this one down – busted at the Met."

"I know," she acquiesced, trying not to think of the months of pranks to come. But then, she didn't really mind that much. Alex's hand was still in hers.

"I'll let you get back to your opera." Elliot's grin was audible even over the phone. "And say hi to Alex for me."

"Will do," Olivia nodded, closing her eyes in relief for a second. This had gone over a lot better than she had thought. "And El? – Thank you."


The street is dark when I finally arrive, having chased after a suspect in a senseless case I don't recall the details of. I remember searching containers, dust all over my clothes, and that I knew I had no time because I had to be here, and now I am here and the street is empty. I only see the backlights of a line of sedans disappearing down the street. I try to run after them, but the street becomes longer, and longer, and the lights become smaller and smaller.

They have taken you away again. I call after you in the middle of the street, and then Hammond is there, taping my mouth shut and telling me I'm endangering you as he drags me off the street, and the red lights are only tiny dots on the horizon now.

There is a silhouette on the street, and I turn around. It's you, but I can't call out to you because my mouth is taped shut and Hammond is holding me back, but then it is not Hammond, but Velez, I recognize the bullet holes in his suit. He reaches to draw a gun, and I throw myself between him and you, but he still fires, and the bullets tear right through me, towards you. I can only look as they hit you, and you stagger, but you walk on, not minding the bloody trail you leave on the pavement.

I look down and there is blood pooling in my hands, too, and suddenly my mouth is free again – "Alex!"

But you don't even turn around, you just walk away, and I can't move my feet to run after you, my feet are glued to the asphalt, and…

"Olivia… Liv…" A voice slowly reaches through the fog of panic. "Sweetheart." Gentle hands are grasping my shoulders. "Wake up, it's just a dream."

I come awake with a gasp, blindly reaching to my side, and Alex is there and I wrap my arms around her as if I never want to let go of her again.

"Nightmare again?" she asks, drawing her fingers through my hair in a soothing manner.

I nod against her chest, my breaths fast and ragged. My shirt is clinging to my skin.

"Figures it would be your turn," she teases gently, her voice still thick with sleep. "Since it was me the night before last."

"I'm just so glad you're here," I manage to get out. "With me."

"I am," she agrees firmly. Then her tone becomes quieter. "Velez again?"

"They took you away again and I was too late to say goodbye, and then Hammond kept me from running after you." I try to piece the fading bits together. "And then you walked down the street, and Hammond turned into Velez, and he shot you, even though the bullets hit me first, but they went right through me, and hit you. And I called your name, but you walked away and…"

Her arms tighten around me. "I'm not walking away," she states simply. I wonder how she does that – how she always knows to say what I need most in such moments.

"I'm glad," I sigh and I snuggle closer into her.

"So am I," she says, pressing a kiss to my temple.

I should probably get up and find a new t-shirt, since this one is drenched in sweat. But when I finally drag up the energy to pull the shirt over my head and sit up, she just takes it from me, tosses it into the room and drags me back down to her.

"I don't think you'll be needing that," she points out practically before she bends down and kisses my neck.

Even the nightmares aren't as scary anymore when she is around. Some days I'm not sure what I did to deserve this woman. And that's the last thing I think before her lips reach mine and I kiss her back.


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