DISCLAIMER: The characters of Kyle McKenna and her family are mine. They may not be used without permission. All other characters belong to Dick Wolf and NBC who also own the rights to Law and Order, Special Victims Unit. No money is being made from this story.
SPOILERS: Post "Loss" and "Ghost". References to other episodes.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Star Struck
By Marymartin


Part Six

Olivia was suddenly wide awake. The shooting pain in her ankle and the itching in her wrist were the culprits. Both limbs were healing beautifully according to her doctor, but she was more than ready for the casts to come off. Five weeks of limited mobility was making her more impatient and combative than usual. She'd snapped at Fin and Munch for no reason when they'd stopped for a visit. Elliott had been giving her a wide berth for several days now. Although she was grateful to Kyle for taking her in and taking care of her, a side of her also resented it. The worst part was not being able to work; not even desk duty until her wrist was cast free and she could bear weight again on the ankle.

The digital clock read 3:45 a.m. She stared at the ceiling, willing herself back to sleep for what seemed like forever. When she looked at the clock again only thirty minutes had passed. Giving up on sleep, Olivia maneuvered from the bed to her wheelchair and headed for the kitchen. In the first couple of days following the accident, it had been a challenge to operate the wheelchair with her wrist and hand in a cast. Now it had become second nature. The hardwood floors covering Kyle's apartment made it easy to get around and Olivia navigated the distance from her bedroom quickly.

Opening the commercial refrigerator she perused the contents. Leftover roast chicken, several chocolate dipped strawberries, and some pasta salad had her mouth watering. Resisting temptation, (after all she'd been eating regularly and exercising not at all since moving into Kyle's place) she grabbed a bottle of water to wash down her pain pills and resolutely left the kitchen.

Olivia settled on the couch and turned on the flat screen tv, channel surfing until she found an old black and white movie. Lowering the sound, she tried to get comfortable, hoping that the combination of the mindless movie and the pain pills would lull her back to sleep.

She drifted in and out of slumber for several hours. When she awoke, sunlight was streaming in the windows. She could hear Kyle and little Alex's voices coming from the kitchen. Opening her eyes she found herself face to face with Katie. The toddler was standing beside the couch, inches from her nose.

"Wivvie, up!" To emphasis the point, Katie tugged on her right hand. Caught off guard, Olivia almost toppled from the couch. Recovering, she tugged back, pulling the little girl to her and catching her in a hug. Katie smelled of baby lotion, Ivory soap and citrus shampoo. Closing her eyes, Olivia drank in the scents.

"Morning, sweetie." Katie was dressed in a pair of overalls and a long sleeve light blue turtleneck, the exact shade of her eyes.

"You finally awake?" Kyle joined them, a steaming cup of coffee in one hand, and a graham cracker in the other. Passing the coffee to Olivia, she broke off a corner of the cracker and offered it to her daughter. "Rough night?"

"A killer." Olivia sipped gratefully at the coffee. "What time is it?"

"Almost eleven. We're going to have to leave for the game pretty soon. You feel like coming or would you rather stay here?"

Alex's soccer game. The little boy had talked about little else all week. Shaking off cobwebs, Olivia struggled to sit up. "I'm fine. How much time do we have?"

"About an hour. I'm fixing us some sandwiches. Just yell when you're ready to get dressed." Shrugging off the detective's thanks, she corralled her daughter and returned to the kitchen.

While Olivia bathed (showers were out of the question until she was out of the casts -- she'd gotten quite adept at hanging her left arm and leg out of the tub to keep them dry), Kyle began assembling a quick lunch, all the while listening to her son's excited chatter and her daughter's babbling. Kyle loved week-ends; she enjoyed the break from work and spending time with her family – a family that now included Olivia and Slim.

The doorbell rang and her son raced to answer it. "Ask who it is," Kyle called out. There were a limited number of people the doorman would admit without checking with her first, but one could never be too careful. A few minutes later Alex returned, talking excitedly. "We're going to play the Mustangs today. My friend Mikey's on their team. He's a goalie."

"That's right champ. You all set to score a goal today?" Alex Cabot followed the little boy into the room. She was wearing jeans, Converse tennis shoes and a cardinal red hooded sweatshirt with 'Stanford' emblazoned across the front. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a pony tail, protruding from the back of a 'Yale' baseball cap. She also sported a whistle on a chain around her neck.

"My, don't you look official," Kyle teased. Slim had been railroaded into acting as assistant coach to Alex's soccer team, when the little boy's coach had discovered that she'd played soccer on a championship team in high school.

Ignoring the comment, Alex poured herself a cup of coffee and greeted Katie who was clamoring to be picked up. "Everybody about ready to go?"

"Uh huh." A diabolical thought occurred to Kyle and she immediately acted on it. "Listen, you want to hurry Olivia along? She'll probably need some help tying her shoe or something."

"Come in," Olivia called in response to the knock on her door.

"Hey, you ready …" Alex paused mid-sentence. Olivia was sitting on the edge of the bed, wearing only a pair of briefs and clutching her bra to her chest. Alex caught her breath at the sight of so much skin. She quickly averted her eyes, focusing on the toned, muscular thighs and the detective's left leg, encased in its white plaster cast. "Sorry, I didn't realize you weren't dressed." She could feel her cheeks flame.

"It's okay. Actually, I'm going to need help to get dressed. I can't fasten this."

Of course, she can't use her hand. What an idiot!

"Sure. That's what friends are for." Alex crossed to the bed and forced trembling hands to fasten the clasps on Olivia's bra, trying hard to ignore her chiseled shoulders and taut back muscles. With the detective's back to her, Alex spent a long minute openly admiring her toned, trim body. Her hands were inches from Olivia's shoulder blades and she longed to run them over the vast expanse of olive skin. Swallowing hard, she stepped back. "All done."

"Thanks." Olivia sighed. "Alex, I'm going to need some other help too." She gestured to a pair of sweatpants and NYPD hoodie lying on the bed.

Trying to inject some humor into what was clearly an uncomfortable situation for them both, Alex said "I hope you'll be more cooperative with me than Katie typically is."

"Can't promise that," Olivia shot back. "Let's see how persuasive you can be counselor."

It took a team effort, but working in tandem they got Olivia dressed and in her wheelchair, neither woman acknowledging the charged atmosphere between them but both acutely aware of it.

It was a perfect day – brilliant blue sky, fluffy white clouds and just a touch of autumn in the air. For the first time in days, Olivia felt her black mood lift. The game was more amusing than exciting. Watching the five and six year olds struggle for the soccer ball, she was reminded of a swarm of bees. Back and forth they went, covering the same 15 to 20 yards of the field. Based on the first twenty minutes, Olivia thought it unlikely that either goalie would have to worry about anyone scoring.

Alex Cabot was much more interesting than the game. Animated, she was prowling the sidelines, calling out encouragement to the players. Olivia leaned back in her wheelchair and openly admired the blonde.

With a soccer field between them Olivia indulged in a daydream involving Alex. Usually she prohibited her thoughts from straying beyond anything PG but today she drifted into an R rated version, prompted by the earlier memory of Alex kneeling between her legs to help her with her sock and shoe. She pictured both of them naked, the blonde smiling up at her seductively, and her tongue tracing a path down Olivia's stomach toward the v of dark curly hair …….

"If you looked at me like that I'd have you in my bed in five minutes," a distinctive whiskey laden voice said, interrupting her prurient thoughts.

She turned in the direction of the voice. Kyle parked the stroller with a sleeping Katie in it, and sat down on the grass at Olivia's feet.

"I thought you said you weren't hitting on me."

"I'm not. I told you, I don't hit on someone that my friend's interested in." She gestured to the sidelines.

"You were talking about Alex?"

Kyle was looking up at her with amusement. "You know, Olivia, for a detective, you can be awfully thick at times."

Olivia didn't dare hope that Kyle was right. "Alex and I are just friends."

Kyle shook her head. "God, you're just as stubborn as she is. You were obviously staring at her just now." She looked archly at the brunette. "From the expression on your face I don't for one minute believe that you were thinking about what a great soccer coach she is."

Olivia stared dumbly at Kyle.

"Both of you light up when you're together. I've watched you. She follows you with her eyes; you follow her with yours. It's obvious that you're attracted to each other." She sighed heavily, "I'm probably going to regret this, but I'm tired of waiting for one of you to make the first move. What are your feelings for Slim? Do you love her?"

Olivia's eyes widened. "Pardon me?" she asked in a strangled voice.

"Olivia, I want to share some things with you, to try and help explain what's going on with Slim right now, but I don't want to broadcast intimate details of her life with someone who isn't willing to stick around for the long haul."

Taking Olivia's silence for consent, Kyle continued. It was if she couldn't stop, now that she'd started on the subject. "Alex has convinced herself that she can't feel anything anymore. Those years she was in hiding really affected her. I've never in my life seen her so bottled up emotionally. She has deep, unexpressed feelings for you but she will try and push you away if you let her."

The actress looked intently at Olivia. "I love her too much to let her go on like this – in some kind of emotional limbo – afraid to really live. You, I suspect, are in love with her. The question is, just what are you prepared to do about it?"

Olivia squirmed under Kyle's penetrating gaze but held her tongue. A million thoughts were racing through her mind and she couldn't formulate an articulate sentence if her life depended on it.

A roar from the crowd spared her from having to reply. One of the players had separated himself from the pack and was running down the sideline, his little legs pumping furiously. It was Alex! Moments later he kicked the ball, sending it flying into the goal.

Alex's shot proved to be the game winning score. They celebrated the victory with frozen yogurt sundaes, followed by a trip to the zoo. By the time they returned to the apartment, both children were exhausted from the day and ready for bed. Slim stayed for the bedtime routine and then took her leave.

Once she was gone, Olivia expected Kyle to finish grilling her about her feelings for the ADA. She was almost disappointed when the actress excused herself to make phone calls. Pleading fatigue, Olivia turned in. However for the second night in a row she couldn't fall asleep. She couldn't stop thinking about Kyle's earlier comments. Was she in love with Alex?

Every relationship she'd been involved in had started with an intense physical attraction. Sex typically came first. If she was lucky, getting to know her partner followed. Olivia shied away from commitment; she had done so her entire life. Her job took precedence – its demands and her devotion to it inevitably doomed anything long-term.

As a result of the accident she didn't have work as either a distraction or an excuse to avoid confronting her feelings. She wanted a physical relationship with Alex; she'd wanted one for a long time. She'd never desired anyone more in her life but she knew that an affair with Alex wouldn't be enough. To her surprise, she realized that she wanted commitment.

Kyle's right. I am in love with Alex.

The intensity of her feelings terrified her but the thought of a life without Alex being part of it terrified her more. Patience in personal relationships had never been one of her strong suits. This was probably one of the reasons she was alone, on the down side of forty, longing for a child.

After some deep soul-searching and with brutal honesty for the first time since Alex had come out of hiding, she accepted that she loved the blonde too much to give up without a fight. As the first rays of dawn peeked through the blinds, Olivia made up her mind. She was prepared to apply every bit of skillful, deliberate fortitude that she used in interrogating suspects, to wooing Alex Cabot, and she was not going to procrastinate.

"Look, I've been thinking about what you said yesterday. I want to talk to you about it."

Kyle looked at the detective with amusement. One look at her, dark circles under the eyes and sallow complexion, and it was obvious that she hadn't slept. She'd probably been worrying like a dog with a bone all night. Kyle had barely stumbled into the kitchen before Olivia confronted her.

"Would you like some breakfast first? Or at least some coffee?"

Olivia inched the wheelchair closer. "Kyle, the kids will be awake soon. I want to finish our conversation before they get up. Food can wait." She took a deep breath, before continuing. "You're right. I do love Alex."

Kyle's smile was smug. "I KNEW it! I told Casey …" In her excitement, she blurted out more than she'd intended. From the look on Olivia's face, the detective had not missed her slip of the tongue.

"You told Casey what? Since when are you and Casey Novak having conversations about me and Alex?" Olivia's tone was anything but friendly.

Kyle mentally kicked herself. Although she and Casey had agreed to tell Olivia and Slim that they were now a couple, she hadn't planned on making the disclosure quite so soon. She poured glasses of orange juice, popped two bagels into the toaster and pulled cream cheese, butter and jam from the refrigerator, in an effort to buy time. However, Olivia's set expression told her that there would be no avoiding the subject.

"We've been spending a lot of time together lately. Casey and I talk about anything and everything." Kyle began spreading cream cheese on one of the bagels as she dropped her bomb, "You're not the only one in this room who is in love with an ADA."

It took a few minutes for Kyle's words to sink in. When she had absorbed their full impact, a broad smile replaced the scowl on Olivia's face. "Well, I guess my detective skills have gotten pretty rusty. You two had me completely fooled." She pondered the implications for a minute. "Wow, you and Casey. I think it's great -- great that you two are together -- not that you're discussing my love life."

Kyle poured them both mugs of coffee and sat down again, their knees almost touching. "Olivia, you and Slim are family. I'm sorry, worrying about you; caring about you; talking about you – it's all part of the package."

"I'll try and keep that in mind." The brunette ducked her head. "It's not what I'm used to. It was just me and my mom growing up and I've been pretty independent for a long time." Brown eyes met Kyle's blue ones as she returned to the original subject of the conversation. "Tell me about Alex."

They talked nearly an hour, both children miraculously sleeping late. Kyle told Olivia about Slim's childhood, about the enormous toll the three-year custody battle had exacted on the little girl. "She was helpless, Olivia, engaged in a tug of war with the two adults she cared most about. She spent the next twenty plus years of her life trying – and I might add failing -- to please them. There never was any way to please those two. Their greatest pleasure in life was to spite each other. I don't think either one of them ever realized how that impacted Slim."

Kyle brushed back a shock of hair which had fallen in her face, and continued. "I've teased her for years about her tendency to want to assume responsibility for every single thing that's happened since she was born. I think it's a carry-over from childhood – from feeling responsible for her mother and grandmother."

Olivia nodded, recognizing those characteristics in Alex. She had always taken things so seriously. Kyle's description was dead on.

"It's important to understand what happened then because of how it impacts what's happening to her right now. When she went into Witness Protection, she lost all control over her life. The longer she was there, the worse it got. She hasn't recovered. Her shrink thinks that the trauma of the shooting and the time in hiding resurrected all those childhood insecurities."

"You've talked to her psychiatrist?" Olivia was shocked, being well acquainted with confidentiality rules.

"Relax. Slim gave her permission. It's her way of letting me know what's going on. She can't bring herself to talk about it but until she does, she can't heal." Kyle rested her hand on Olivia's knee. "She claims she can't feel anything but the truth is that she is not letting herself. She's terrified."

Olivia's heart ached for the woman she loved. Unaware, a single tear escaped her right tear duct and made its way down her nose. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to convince her that we belong together. I don't want to lose her again."

"She's going to need all the love and reassurance we can give her, Olivia. That and lots of patience and resolve, because she's going to fight us – you particularly, every step of the way."


"She's convinced herself that she can't give you what you need; what she wants for you – someone emotionally whole to share your life with."

What I want in my life is exactly what's been missing from it for so long.



"Her." Absolute conviction was in Olivia's voice. "And I plan on doing everything I can to convince her of that. I'm not stopping until I do."

Part Seven

Alex was so engrossed in the brief she was writing that at first she didn't hear the telephone. When the incessant ringing finally penetrated, she finished the sentence she was working on and grabbed for the receiver. "Cabot."

"Alex, hi. It's Elliott."

"Hello, Detective. This is a pleasant surprise." Alex hadn't seen or spoken to Elliott in several weeks. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm calling to invite you to a coming out party for Liv."

She nearly choked at his choice of words. "Excuse me?"

"For when her casts come off. We're planning a get together at Branigan's a week from Friday. Actually, I was hoping you could bring her. We'd like it to be a surprise."

She checked her appointment book, more out of habit than because she expected to find a conflict. She'd abandoned the 'serial dating', preferring to spend her free time at Kyle's.

"Sure. What time?"

"After work. Everybody should be there by seven-thirty. Also, could you let Kyle know? We'd like her to come too if she can."

"I'll mention it to her but she probably won't be able to make it. Her tv show usually shoots on Fridays. She's out of town right now but I'll let her know when she gets back." Alex was staying at Kyle's place, helping out Olivia in her absence.

"You know I never thought I'd admit this, but we've all missed Liv's not being here. She can be a real pain in the ass at times but she's the best partner I've ever had. I can't wait for her to get back to work." She could hear someone in the background calling his name. "Alex I'm sorry but I've got to go. See you next Friday. Good talking to you."

After ending the call, Alex glanced at her open appointment book, calculating the number of times the notation 'O' appeared. O for Olivia. When had the older woman become such a vital part of her life? Looking at the past month, she realized that they'd been together nearly every day. This time together, without shop talk and work as part of the equation had turned out to be surprisingly easy and the two women had never been closer.

Thinking back to when she'd first gone to work for the district attorney's office, Alex now realized that in her goal to be the best she could at her job, she lost all sight that there was more to living than her professional life. During the time that she worked with SVU, her eyes were opened to more than just wins/losses. The job became about the victims; about justice. Her personal and professional lives ultimately overlapped in the person of Olivia Benson, and when she'd finally realized it, circumstances beyond her control kept her from acting on her feelings for the detective.

Despite months of counseling, Alex still was handcuffed by her past. What was going to happen when Olivia went back to work – would they still see each other or drift apart again? She didn't want to think about that possibility. Resolutely she returned to the brief. If she hoped to be out of the office at a reasonable hour she had to finish.

Casey Novak swallowed nervously as the taxi halted in front of the two story Victorian home. "It looks like something out of a Normal Rockwell painting," she commented to her companion.

Kyle smiled. "I guess it does." She squeezed Casey's hand reassuringly. "Come on, they're gonna love you."

Kyle's parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and her brothers, sisters and their families had gathered in South Bend for the event. Kyle had finagled a two day absence from work but Katie, Alex and the nanny had arrived separately a few days earlier so that Pat and Mary could spend some extra time with their grandchildren.

Kyle and Casey's affair had blossomed and grown to the point where they were discussing a possible future together. Kyle had committed to only one season of Badge and Bar. She would be returning to California when her obligation was complete and she wanted Casey to come with her. They hadn't worked out all the details but Casey realized that if she was going to be part of Kyle's life there wasn't going to be any public acknowledgement that they were lovers. She understood Kyle's reasons for secrecy and accepted them.

Kyle's family knew, as did many of her close friends and colleagues, all of whom wrapped her in a protective cocoon, refusing to divulge anything when asked. Casey was amazed at how many people kept the 'open secret'. Casey too, had always been discreet about her sexual preferences. In fact, she'd only come out to her family two years earlier.

To the world at large, Casey's cover story during the trip was that she was Kyle's attorney. In actuality it was 'meet the parents time'. The redhead would have preferred a less momentous occasion for the event. Frankly she was terrified. Her desire to make a good impression was so strong that she'd prevailed on Alex to go shopping with her, hoping that the other woman's strong fashion sense would rub off. The two of them hadn't exactly become bosom buddies once Alex knew that Kyle and Casey were involved, but they had moved beyond cautious politeness when around each other.

The shopping expedition turned out to be surprisingly pleasant and Alex had prevailed on the redhead to select several outfits that flattered both her figure and her coloring. Kyle really liked the brown and green tweed jacket and pants she was wearing over a v neck cashmere sweater in a matching shade of green. Swallowing the butterflies in her stomach, Casey followed her girlfriend up the flower lined walk way.

The house was overflowing with McKenna's. Kyle greeted her parents, siblings, their spouses, nieces and nephews with enthusiasm, never once leaving Casey's side until she was introduced to each family member. After the first fifteen minutes everything was a blur. Casey was sure that if she'd been tested on the names and relationships of the people she'd just met, she would fail miserably.

Her dismay must have shown on her face. Kyle made her way through the throng of relatives and sat down beside Casey on the couch. "Listen, about half the family is either named Mary or Patrick," Kyle whispered in her ear with a grin. "If you're having trouble with a name, it's a pretty safe bet to use one of those."

"I'll keep that in mind," Casey said wryly.

Mary McKenna and her youngest child were catching up over cups of green tea. Of all her children Kyle resembled Mary the most. Looking at her mother across the kitchen table, she could picture herself in forty years. The party had been over for hours and everyone else had retired for the evening. Most of the family was staying at a local hotel, but Diana, Kyle, Casey and the children were ensconced in three of the five bedrooms at the family home.

On the rare occasions that Kyle visited her parents, she always stayed at the house. She'd discovered early on that it was easier to avoid the circus atmosphere that invariably followed her if she didn't move back and forth between her parents' home and a hotel. Sometimes, if she was lucky, like she had been so far on this trip, she was able to escape notice altogether.

"You look tired, sweetheart, and too thin." This was her mother's familiar complaint and Kyle couldn't help but smile when she heard it.

"You always say that. I'm fine – just busy with the kids and the show."

"Um hmm." The same noncommittal response as always. Kyle sipped her tea and waited for her mother to get to the point.

"Casey's nice. I like her."

"I'm glad, Mom."

"That's rather an unusual name isn't it?"

This coming from a woman who named her daughter Kyle?

"Her dad's a huge baseball fan. She's named after Casey Stengall. She's got a brother named after Cal Ripken and a sister named after Connie Mack."

Mary, a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, was familiar with the names. She'd been a dedicated professional baseball fan since the age of eight, when her father first helped her complete a box score. Patrick, who'd also grown up in Chicago, but on the south side, was a White Sox fan. The fact that they'd survived fifty baseball seasons without bloodshed was a testament to their ability to compromise. It helped that both teams were pretty abysmal until the White Sox won the 2005 World Series. Like the diehard fan she was, Mary was certain that the Cubs would end their own curse soon.

"She seems to be good with the children," was her mother's next observation. Casey enjoyed Alex and Katie and they her. She'd never had any desire to have children of her own, but she was coming around to the idea of fulfilling the role of possible stepmother.

Kyle smiled. "Yes. They all get along great."

"Is it serious?" There had been no one in Kyle's life since Lauren's death and like all mothers Mary hated the thought of her child's being alone. Casey's accompanying Kyle to her parents' home for their anniversary was significant.

She nodded affirmatively. "I know it's all happened pretty quickly but I think it's for real."

"Well then, your decision to spend this year in New Year has reaped all kinds of benefits, hasn't it?" She added hot water to their cups. "How's Alexandra doing?"

Mary and her daughter talked often. She was familiar with Alex's circumstances and Kyle's concern for her friend's well-being.

Kyle sighed. "I don't know, Mom. It's been great these past months being in the same city. We've spent a lot of time together and she's had a chance to really get to know the kids. They're crazy about each other and it's going to be tough on everyone when we leave." She paused, already picturing the tearful good-bye scene. "I'm not sure she's really happy though." She looked past her mother to the backyard, her thoughts miles away. "Maybe I can convince her to come west when we go back to L.A."

"Darling, Alex is a grown woman. You can't rescue her from life like you would a puppy or a kitten. You have to let her choose her own path, no matter how difficult it might be."

"I know that. It doesn't make it any easier though when you care about someone."

Her mother shot her a meaningful look, this child of her who had marched to the path of a different drummer her entire life. "Kyle Patricia McKenna, you just said a mouthful."

It was an unusually warm day for November and Olivia had insisted that they sit outside the restaurant. She relished the feel of the breeze on her bare left arm, smaller than her right, after weeks in its plaster confinement. The cast on her left foot had been replaced with an air boot and she could now walk on it. Leaning back in her chair so that she could feel the sun on her face, she flashed a full toothed smile at her companion. "How about some champagne to celebrate?"

"Olivia, it's not even noon yet. Don't you think you ought to pace yourself?"

"Nope. I'm too happy."

The doctor's visit had gone well. The broken bones in both wrist and ankle had healed and were 'stronger than ever' in the words of the doctor. She'd been cleared for limited duty at work and despite the prospect of weeks of physical therapy, she could finally see light at the end of the tunnel. When they finished with the doctor they'd stopped at the station where Olivia bore the brunt of some good-natured ribbing from her co-workers. Kyle insisted that they use her limousine while she was away. This proved to be a great source of amusement, particularly to Munch, when they'd pulled up outside the 16th precinct and disembarked.

"Come on, Alex, humor me."

Looking into pleading brown eyes that reminded Alex of nothing more than a cocker spaniel puppy, the blonde relented. Olivia's good mood was infectious. "Okay. But let's not go overboard. I do have some work that I need to finish sometime today."

Olivia's face fell. "I thought maybe you took the day off. You know, to help me celebrate."

In fact Alex had done just that. The work she referred to was in her briefcase and could wait. Looking at Olivia's crestfallen expression, she decided against teasing her. She wanted to see that smile return.

"I did. The day is yours, Detective and I am at your disposal, ready to take directions and go wherever you want to go."

Olivia, you are so beautiful right now with the sun shining on your hair and that huge smile on your face. I wish I could find the courage to tell you what you mean to me; the courage to do something about it.

Although Alex was making progress in counseling, the emotional barriers she'd erected were still intact. She had recently begun talking to a rape counselor in addition to the psychiatrist. The suggestion, which might have seemed absurd to someone without Alex's background, made perfect sense to her. Rape, she knew, was about power and control. Caesar Velez had stripped her of all power and control for years. Until she could regain it, she could not fully heal.

"Alex?" Olivia's voice interrupted her woolgathering. Looking up, she saw that the waiter had returned with the champagne. A chilled flute containing the sparkling beverage was sitting in front of her and Olivia was raising her own glass in preparation for a toast.

"I'm here." She lifted her glass. "What are we drinking to?"

Olivia touched her flute to Alex's. "To us," she said simply.

Alex's heart suddenly began to pound violently, not just from the choice of words, but also from the look Olivia was giving her. "Us?"

"Us. As in you and me." After weeks of subtle courtship, Olivia was ready to make a move. She and Alex were closer than they'd ever been. It was time to put her cards on the table.

She reached for the younger woman's hand which was resting on the table, and covered it with her own. "Alex, you're very special. You mean the world to me. I'd do anything for you." She tightened her grip and looked deeply into Alex's sapphire blue eyes. "I feel more for you than a friend should. But I think you know that don't you?"

Alex's throat had gone dry. Olivia had just said words she'd long ago given up hope she'd ever hear. Four years ago she would have thrown her arms around the brunette and confessed her own love. Today, panic and fear kept her from voicing her feelings.

"I'm not ready to have this conversation." She pulled free of Olivia's grasp and buried her face in her hands. When she looked up again, her face was drawn. "Don't waste your time on me. I can't give you what you want Olivia. I'm not the same person I was. Too much has changed."

Olivia recaptured the hand, relieved when Alex didn't pull away. "Don't sell yourself short, Alex. I know you felt something more than friendship for me once. We've both been pretending that it never happened but I still remember the way you looked at me when Hammond took you away."

So did Alex. The look on Olivia's face when she'd seen her for the first time had been burned indelibly into her memory. She'd wanted to shout her own love for the detective, to hold her, hell – to take her with her. Instead, years of decorum having been drilled into her by her family, she'd tried to communicate everything she wanted so desperately to tell Olivia through her eyes. She hadn't cried, not then anyway.

Cabots don't cry.

Alex swallowed the large lump that seemed to have suddenly lodged in her throat. "There's been an awful lot of water under the bridge since then. Too much time has passed. Too much has happened." Olivia nearly turned away from the pain she saw in Alex's face, but encouraged that Alex hadn't bolted on her, she pressed on.

"You trust me, don't you?" Alex was mesmerized by those chocolate brown eyes that seemed to caress her. She'd never seen them so open.

"Of course I do. I trust you with my life."

"I want you to trust me with your heart." Olivia smiled her lopsided smile and Alex's own heart skipped a beat.

She looked away. "I don't know if I can, Liv."

Hearing the special nickname she permitted only Alex and Elliott to use sent a surge of hope through the brunette. The last time Alex had slipped and called her Liv was when Olivia was in the hospital. Those were the first words she'd heard when she regained consciousness.

Olivia continued to hold Alex's hand, her thumb making lazy circular motions. Her voice was soothing. "Help me understand, Alex. I want to be there for you. I want to help you, if you'll let me."

Yanking her hand away, Alex's eyes flashed fire, the first sign of spontaneous emotion Olivia had seen in months. "Everything changed. I went from being totally self-sufficient to completely dependent in less than 24 hours. Do you have any idea what it's like to be utterly powerless? To have no control over anything?"

Olivia looked down at her left ankle, encased in its air boot. "I think I do."

"It's not the same!" Alex's tone was frustrated.

"Of course not. But I have some idea of how you felt. I know how much I've hated these past couple of months when I couldn't walk, couldn't work, couldn't go anywhere without help." She leaned forward, pinning Alex with her eyes. "Hell, I couldn't even dress myself. I haven't been in my own apartment in so long that I may need directions to find the place again. You get where you resent everybody and everything. The only bright spot has been you, Kyle and the kids."

"I didn't have that. I was completely alone." Alex was appalled at how whiny her voice sounded.

"I know, sweetie." Olivia's tone was soothing, calm. "Alex, neither of us can change the past, but we can do something with the future. These last couple of months have been the best I can ever remember, despite everything. You can't tell me that you haven't enjoyed the time we've spent with each other; that you haven't felt the special connection we have."

Alex was silent, torn between hope and despair. She wanted so much to believe everything the detective was saying but the walls she'd constructed to protect herself from getting hurt were tall and thick. They'd been a familiar companion for a long time. Still, she wasn't going to lie to Olivia.

"No. You're right. I've loved spending time with you. I'm going to miss it." She spoke as if it was inevitable.

"You don't have to. It doesn't have to end." Olivia looked deeply into Alex's blue eyes. "Alex, I'm tired of regrets. I've spent too many years thinking about what could have been between us."

"Me, too." The detective's heart turned over at the simple admission.

"So, shall we take a chance? See where we go? I promise not to rush you. We can take things as slow as you'd like."

Alex leaned forward, resting her hand beside the detective's, but not touching her. "I do care for you Liv but I'm not sure I can give you what you want from me; what you deserve. The last thing I want to do is hurt you." She knew all too well the pain Olivia had suffered because of her rash actions involving Zapata.

"Alex, I think that's my decision to make, not yours to make for me. You are what I want." Olivia's voice was gentle, her expression determined.

She looked intently at the brunette. "Are you sure?"


"Even if it means more of the same – spending time together as good friends and not lovers?"

"I hope that someday you'll change your mind about the last part, but the answer is still 'yes'. I want you in my life Alex, on whatever terms you're comfortable with. I won't push you. When you're ready for more, you can let me know."

Alex took a deep breath. For the first time in a long time, she allowed herself to hope. "Okay." She lifted her champagne flute and made a toast of her own. "To the future."

Part Eight

Kyle had invited Alex and Olivia to her country house in Connecticut over Christmas. Olivia usually worked holidays. She'd long ago stopped counting the number of times she and Munch had shared stale fruitcake in the squad room and exchanged gag gifts on Christmas day. This year she and Elliott were swapping their usual roles. It was Kathy's holiday with the kids and he'd volunteered to work.

Elliott surprised her the morning of the 23rd by dropping by her apartment with a gift. He grinned at the sight of his partner whose eyes were sparkling with excitement and anticipation. Olivia usually downplayed the holidays but he could tell how much she was looking forward to celebrating with Kyle and her family.

"Hey, El. I didn't expect to see you today." She was puzzled by his presence. They'd exchanged gifts at the squad party. She stepped back, waiting for him to come in but he shook his head.

"I can't stay. I just wanted to bring this by. It's for Kyle," he said sheepishly. "It's from all the guys."

Suppressing a smile, Olivia took the gaily wrapped package. Kyle had apparently supplanted Alex in the fantasy department of her male co-workers. "I'll see that she gets it." Just then the buzzer on her intercom sounded. "Yes?"

"Ms. Benson? It's Jack, are you ready to go?"

"Yes. Come on up."

Elliott was now looking at her with unbridled amusement. "Is that your driver, Queen Olivia?" He waggled his eyebrows at her, the familiar smirk in place. "How could I forget that your standard transpiration these days is chauffeured limousines? Pretty rough, Liv."

"Put a sock in it Stabler." She punched him good naturedly on the arm.

"Have a great holiday, partner." Surprising them both, he gave her a quick hug in parting. "I'll see you in a few days."

"Hey, you." Olivia greeted Alex as she climbed into the back of the limo.

"Hi." Alex gave her a peck on the cheek and settled against the leather cushions opposite, sighing contentedly. Stating the obvious, she commented, "looks like we're going to have a white Christmas."

"Sure does." Olivia peered out the window at the swirling flakes. "I hope we can make it to the house. It's starting to come down pretty hard." She grimaced and rubbed her left ankle. "My foot hurts like hell." Since the accident, her leg, her wrist, or both, predicted changes in weather with incredible accuracy.

"Want me to massage it for you?" Alex's innocent smile belied her suggestive tone. The two of them had continued to see each other regularly once Olivia returned to work and her own apartment. During that time Alex had become very comfortable flirting with the detective. Although they frequently hugged each other, even exchanging chaste kisses on the cheek from time to time, Olivia was still waiting for Alex to make the first move.

Two things had become very clear to Olivia since early November. The first was that she had fallen even more deeply in love with Alex Cabot, something she never would have believed possible. The second was that taking things slowly was proving to be a much greater challenge to her self-control than she'd ever imagined. Alex's tone and the look in her eye certainly weren't helping.

She set her jaw. "Uh, no thanks. I'll put it up on your seat though if you don't mind."

The trip took longer than usual. About a mile out of the city the snow became so thick that it was difficult to see out the windows. With each passing mile, the roads became more and more covered and difficult to traverse. Even though the two women kept up a steady conversation, road conditions made it difficult to relax. Both of them sighed in relief when the house came into view.

Kyle's country place was a two-story log home, perfectly positioned against a wooded background on several acres. In the swirling snow, the setting looked like a Currier and Ives painting. A huge wreath trimmed with a green and red plaid ribbon adorned the front door. Candles (battery operated, Olivia assumed) twinkled at each window. At least two dozen red and white Poinsettia plants had been carefully arranged on the covered porch which ran the length of the house along with a Victorian Santa and sleigh. Smoke from the chimney billowed and mixed with the swirling snow. The visual image almost shouted 'Christmas'.

"You think Kyle and Casey are already here?" Olivia asked.

Alex shook her head. "Impossible. When I talked to Kyle yesterday she was still in L.A. Her plane isn't due in for another three hours."

"Elves?" was Olivia's second guess.

Alex smiled. "Elves named Cassidy most likely." Andy and Emily Cassidy were Alex's caretakers. She looked at the overcast sky and the blowing snowflakes. "Hopefully there's food in the house. I don't think we're going to be going anywhere anytime soon."

Not only was there food, but the inside of the house was also filled with greenery. Garlands trimmed in red and green bows ran the length of the banister and along the rail overlooking the first floor. Fat red candles in sparkling hurricane lamps adorned the wooden mantle. Christmas carols were playing softly in the background and a nine foot Balsam fir occupied a corner of the family room, waiting to be trimmed. Boxes of ornaments and lights had been carefully piled beside it.

Olivia drank in the delicious pine smells, wide-eyed as a child at the Christmas decorations. She'd been to Kyle's home once before, after they wrapped the Mitchell Shepard case. A family room opened off the foyer. It flowed into a combination great room – dining room – kitchen. The great room ceiling was easily over twenty feet and a fire crackled merrily in the massive floor-to-ceiling fireplace. Powder room, office, guestroom, and bathroom with whirlpool tub completed the downstairs with additional bedrooms and baths on the second floor. There was also a loft/playroom for the children.

The limo driver had been toting in suitcases and packages. He deposited the last load in the foyer beside the stairs and turned to Alex. "You ladies need anything else?" he asked politely.

Alex smiled at him. "Thank you Jack. I think we're just fine."

He tipped his hat. "Okay, I'm going to start back to the city before the roads get any worse. Merry Christmas."

Olivia stretched out in one of the leather wing chairs flanking the stone fireplace. "This place is incredible." Her eyes fell on the piles of shopping bags piled in the corner of the family room. "Did you leave anything in the stores, Cabot?"

Alex shot her a malicious look. "Don't give me that. I seem to recall Jack making at least three separate trips to haul in all your stuff." She joined Olivia by the fireplace, hands on her hips. "Exactly how many presents do you have for Katie and Alex?"

The brunette looked casually at her boots before answering. "You should know." They'd shopped for the children together, spending almost an entire day in FAO. Schwartz. Alex had dragged her away before she could buy little Alex a collector's edition Lincoln Log set and Katie a Steif teddy bear to go along with the clothes and toys they'd already purchased.

Something about the detective's demeanor raised Alex's suspicions and she hunted through the shopping bags, ultimately spying the bear with a big red bow around its neck. A square shaped package wrapped in red and white candy cane paper that Alex didn't recognize sounded suspiciously like blocks when shaken.

"Olivia Benson. You went back without me."

The detective shot her a guilty look.

"It's a big deal, Alex. This is the first time I've celebrated Christmas in a long time. I want it to be perfect." There had only been a handful of pleasant Christmases when she was a child. Most of Olivia's Christmas memories involved tucking her inebriated mother into bed to sleep it off.

Alex's expression softened. "Me too." Secretly she'd been thrilled when the snow starting falling. She'd never outgrown her childish delight with a white Christmas. The country setting and the gently falling snow filled her with a peace and contentment she hadn't felt in a long time. Or maybe it was the presence of the woman beside the fire.

Kyle telephoned shortly after they arrived at the house. The near blizzard conditions were interfering with cell and satellite reception but the landline still worked.

"Listen Slim, it's looking like I'm not going to be able to get a plane out until late tonight or early tomorrow. Everything in and out of New York is grounded right now because of the weather. I'm going to try and get on the red-eye if possible, but I doubt if we'll be there until tomorrow afternoon or evening. You two got everything you need?"

Alex was quick to reassure. "Absolutely. We certainly won't starve. The larder is overflowing. The refrigerator has enough food in it to feed the entire McKenna clan and it looks like Mrs. Cassidy has been cooking for a week. The wine cabinet is fully stocked with reds and whites." As she spoke, she pulled a particularly appealing bottle of burgundy from the cabinet and decanted it. "There's easily a half cord of wood stacked in the breezeway. I'm sure we can keep ourselves amused until you get here."

"Okay. Listen there are some DVD's in the family room. I think there are some episodes of the tv show in my office too, if you're interested. My producer just sent me the latest advance episodes last week." Kyle seemed to be running down a mental hostess list as she continued. "Sometimes the power goes out. There's a generator but there's also candles, oil lamps and extra blankets if you need them. The snowmobile is fully gassed and there are suits, boots, and helmets in the garage."

"Relax will you? We'll be fine." Her eyes fell on the bare Christmas tree in the next room. "The tree hasn't been decorated though. Do you want us to wait until you guys get here?"

"Well I'd planned on all of us decorating it tonight but that's out of the question now. Would you mind? I really would like it to be ready for the kids when we arrive."

"No problem. It'll be fun. It's been years since I decorated a tree."

After a lunch of clam chowder and grilled cheese sandwiches, they spent several pleasant hours decorating the Christmas tree. Alex had insisted on popcorn strings. The search for heavy thread and needles took a while before yielding results and then she accused Olivia of eating more popcorn then she was stringing. Naturally the detective had taken umbrage at the accusation and a good natured food fight ensued. Neither woman could recall the last time she'd indulged in such childish activity nor the last time she'd had such a good time.

Stepping back to admire the finished project, Alex suggested that they watch Kyle's show. Her character was scheduled for a dramatic demise during February sweeps and Alex was curious to see how the writers were going to dispose of her.

"Want some hot chocolate?" Olivia called out from the kitchen.


Alex inserted the DVD in the player and settled back on the couch, calling out to Olivia. "Hurry up. It's starting."

"I hope you like lots of marshmallows."

When she entered the great room, Olivia found Alex transfixed, her eyes on the large plasma display above the fireplace. Onscreen, Kyle's character, Detective Sydney Gardner, had just exited a bar with a group of friends. Suddenly a car screeched by and a series of shots rang out. Images of dozens of bullets hitting Gardner's body, that body falling to earth like a marionette whose strings had been cut, filled the screen.

As the drama unfolded, Olivia immediately flashed back to the fall of 2003 when Liam Connors tried to kill Alex. She could hear the shots, smell the freshly fallen rain, see Alex's lifeless body on the street, and feel the hot, sticky, blood pouring from multiple wounds as she tried desperately to stop the bleeding. Just as she had then, she felt like she was going to be physically sick.

Seconds after the gunshot fire died out onscreen, Alex was on her feet and out of the house, running blindly into the woods. The banging of the front door as it slammed violently against the wall snapped Olivia back to the present.

Oh shit!

Pausing only long enough to grab both their coats from the hook by the front door, Olivia tore after her.

The snow continued to fall, but it was still light enough to see Alex's fresh tracks clearly. Olivia followed them for almost half a mile before she caught up with her. Alex was leaning against a tree, shivering violently, her chest heaving from exertion. Approaching her cautiously, like a wounded animal, Olivia spoke, her voice low and soothing, "Alex, sweetie, it's cold out here. Why don't we put your coat on?"

Alex lifted her head, but seemed to look right past her, her eyes unfocused and glazed. Olivia could see that she was in shock. The brunette continued to murmur words of comfort, ultimately coaxing the younger woman into her coat and back to the house. Once inside, she stripped off Alex's wet jacket and sweater, rubbing her hands to restore the circulation.

"Sit here," she urged, guiding an unresisting Alex to a chair near the blazing fire. "I'll be right back." Moments later she returned, a cup of hot chocolate in one hand and wool throw in the other. Wrapping the blanket around the still shivering Alex, she sat down cross-legged at her feet. "Drink this," she urged.

Slowly, warmed by the fire and the hot liquid, Alex returned to herself. Blinking, she looked down at Olivia. Her face was plastered with worry, her hair still damp from the snow.

What just happened?

Above her, the Badge and Bar episode continued. A white coated figure announced to the group in the hospital waiting room that 'Detective Gardner is in critical condition.' Recent events suddenly flooded back to Alex. The tv episode had caused her to relive her own 'death'. A familiar feeling of rage washed over her. To her astonishment it wasn't rage at Velez and his minions, it was rage at herself.

Alex's M.O. for dealing with any situation thrown her way, be it personal or professional, was to pick it apart and put it back together, pick it apart and put it back together, as many times as it took. She believed fervently that if she thought something through enough, concentrated on the desired result enough, examined every conceivable possibility, anything could be fixed. This course of action had served her well her entire life until she was forced into witness protection. That's when everything fell apart because no matter how many times she struggled to 'fix things', she was stymied at every turn by the realities of the situation she found herself in.

Snap out of it Alex! You've ceded enough of your life to Caesar Velez. Those years are over and done with. It's time to move on.

"I'm okay," she reassured the detective. "But I need to talk to you. I need to tell you about the last four years. If you're willing to listen."

Olivia nodded slowly. Alex seemed to have recovered from her earlier shock, but she was eerily calm. Olivia braced for what was to come.

Having sought and received permission, Alex began. The words poured out of her. She talked for almost thirty minutes, sharing with Olivia every painful memory of her time in Witness Protection, beginning with those first months when she was forced to deal not only with the strange new life she'd been abruptly thrust into, but the after-affects of the multiple injuries that had nearly killed her. She spoke calmly and dispassionately, her expression neutral, almost as if she was reciting a closing argument to a jury, summarizing the facts and outlining the devastating impact on her life as if in third person. She talked about her withdrawals – missing her job, her friends, the sights and smells of New York, her mother. She confessed that she'd ached for her mother's comforting arms so badly those first months, that she'd sobbed herself to sleep almost every night.

She told Olivia about the toll returning to New York for the Connors' trial had taken on her; how she'd lost all hope of ever getting her life back after that trip. She painted a picture of the ever present loneliness; the fear that she never could quite control and the helplessness she fought against almost daily. She told her about 'dying' five times in four years and how with each 'death' another piece of Alexandra Cabot disappeared. She ended with, "It's like I've been in a holding pattern. I've forgotten how to really live. I want to live again so badly."

Halfway through her narrative, silent tears began to fall, but Alex never once broke down.

Cabots don't cry.

Olivia had seen Alex near tears a few times but she had never seen her actually cry. She hadn't done so after two of her most difficult cases – Cheryl Avery and Sam Cavanaugh – even though those two experiences had profoundly affected her. No tears were shed after the explosion that killed Federal Agent Donovan and the attempt on her own life. Even when the federal marshals drove her away on that cold October night, Alex rigidly maintained a determined stoicism, almost as if she'd been afraid to let go, as if she once surrendered to her emotions, she'd shatter into a thousand pieces and lose herself in the process.

So, the sight of a steady stream of tears coursing down Alex's face, her blue eyes swimming in them, unnerved her more than the attorney's words had. Instinctively she offered comfort. "Alex, please don't cry. You're going to be all right now. He can't hurt you anymore if you don't let him." She scrambled to her feet. Perching on the arm of the chair she pulled Alex's unresisting body against hers, whispering soothing phrases, her arms around the too slender form, one hand softly stroking Alex's back.

Without conscious thought, Olivia kissed Alex's temple. Startled blue eyes met brown, momentarily bringing Olivia back to earth. For a long moment time seemed to have stopped. Every one of Olivia's senses was heightened. She could feel Alex's soft skin under her fingers; hear her own heart racing and Alex's ragged breathing; smell her perfume; see her eyes, eyes that seemed to caress her. They held each other's gaze for an interminable period of time.

I should let her go, one part of the detective's brain told her while another was urging her to see what the younger woman would taste like. Looking deeply into Olivia's brown eyes, Alex felt like she was caught in the swirling currents of a riptide. Warning bells were going off in her head at what Olivia's eyes were communicating, but the sound of the blood rushing to her brain drowned them out. Surrendering to the inevitable, Alex lifted her face, closed her eyes and waited, holding her breath in anticipation of what she knew was coming. A moment later she felt it... felt Olivia's lips against hers. With that first touch, she was lost.

Olivia's lips were velvet soft and gentle. What had begun as a tentative kiss, quickly escalated. The minute Olivia's lips touched hers, Alex felt a jolt of electricity run through her body. Moaning, and opening her mouth, she met the demands of the kiss with some of her own. Her hands roamed freely up and down the detective's body. With each touch, each caress, the protective emotional wall she had erected was crumbling. The normally reserved attorney was gone. Here was a banked fire, now blazing completely out of control.

Urgent, desperate, need demanded attention. They met it with ruthlessness, recklessness and roughness. Clothes were ripped off and tossed carelessly about. Olivia's mouth, hot and eager, met Alex's in another bruising kiss. Her hands and lips covered every inch of the counselor's trim form, mapping the territory thoroughly before beginning again. Alex moaned at the sensations Olivia was evoking in her body. Her legs buckled and she sank to her knees, pulling the brunette down beside her. Looking deeply into Olivia's eyes she confessed what she'd been afraid to admit for months. "I never stopped loving you Liv."

She wrapped her arms around Olivia's neck, leaning in to kiss her throat, nipping gently at the pulse point. Olivia growled in appreciation. Alex's mouth moved up the detective's neck, marking a trail with her tongue. When she reached an earlobe, she whispered huskily, "Make love to me, Liv."

Olivia wanted nothing more in the world than to do just that but she wasn't sure Alex had recovered from the emotional tsunami she'd just been through. Reining in her own hormones, the detective pulled back, her arms still loosely around Alex. "Are you sure?"

Seeing the love and desire in Olivia's brown eyes, Alex wondered why she had fought against her own feelings for so long. "I've never been more sure of anything in my entire life."

Olivia started to get to her feet, but the blonde stopped her. "No. I can't wait."

The eyebrow shot up on its own accord. "You want to make love here?"

In response, Alex lay back on the floor beside the fireplace and held out her arms. With a groan, Olivia stretched out on top of her, their hearts against each other. As Olivia's lips found hers again Alex realized that her fears had all disappeared. She moaned as the detective's lips traveled down her neck. One of Olivia's hands dipped into Alex's sex. "God, you're soaked."

Olivia's heart was racing. The woman underneath her was flesh and blood, not a fantasy. She'd never been nervous about her sexual prowess before, but this was Alex, after all, and the stakes had never been so high. Her throat was dry and she hesitated momentarily. Alex's voice, low and pleading, recaptured her attention. "Liv, please. I need you inside of me."

Olivia slid several fingers into Alex and began moving in and out. Alex was moving her hips in rhythm with the brunette's hand, her eyes closed. Before she could climax, Olivia withdrew and sat up, back on her heels. Sliding both hands beneath Alex's buttocks, she lifted her slightly. Kissing one delicate ankle, she moved languidly up Alex's leg, kissing her calf, the inside of her knee, and then her thigh, with lingering leisurely caresses.

Her chocolate brown eyes burned into Alex's sapphire blue ones. Smiling wickedly, Olivia settled her mouth where her hand had recently been, giving Alex the most intimate of kisses. The blonde arched and bucked as Olivia's lips caressed her with her tongue, drinking in her taste. Olivia's entire concentration was focused on providing Alex pleasure, showing her how much she loved and treasured her; she failed to notice her own damp thighs or the liquid trickling down her leg.

Alex was lost in the sensations. Time and again she strained toward orgasm, only to have Olivia pull back, quiet her with soft kisses on her stomach or thigh, all the while murmuring gentle words of love, and then began again.

"Please, Liv, please," Alex was begging for release and Olivia doubled her efforts. "Oh God, Liv," Alex moaned, the brunette's tongue driving her wild, sending her towards an orgasm so shattering that she was momentarily lost, awash in a golden haze. As she slowly returned to herself, she discovered that her cheeks were once again covered in tears. This time however, they were tears of joy.

Opening her eyes, she found Olivia lying in the cradle of her hips, her chin resting against Alex's stomach. She could feel their combined wetness on her legs. Reaching down, she stroked the brunette's cheek tenderly.

The normally verbose attorney could only articulate one word to describe what had just happened. "Wow," she said.

Wow indeed. Olivia too was awash in endorphins. Alex's orgasm had triggered Olivia's own even though the blonde had not touched her. She suspected that when Alex did make love to her it would be an experience unlike any she'd ever had with a lover. Anticipating what was to come, Olivia's lopsided grin made an appearance.

"I can't move," Alex said weakly.

Olivia chuckled.

"I love you Olivia Benson. Give me a minute to catch my breath and get my limbs working again and I'll show you just how much."

The broad, cocky, smile Olivia was now wearing indicated that she was pretty pleased with herself and the turn of events. "I know how competitive you are, Alex," she teased. "I promise you, I'm not going anywhere."

Part Nine

Was there anything more wonderful on Christmas Eve than waking up in the arms of the woman you loved and several feet of fresh snow on the ground outside? That was Alex's first thought the following day. She was wrapped securely in Olivia's embrace, her head nestled in the hollow of the brunette's throat. From the rise and fall of Olivia's chest, she was still asleep.

Both the psychiatrist and her rape counselor had told her that once she could accept and move past what had happened to her, she would rediscover her emotions. They'd been right. The Badge and Bar episode had been the catalyst.

Last night had transformed Alex. Not only had it been the most incredible sex of her life, but for the first time she had experienced a complete emotional connection. Olivia treated her as if she was the most precious being alive and Alex had never felt more fulfilled or loved. If Olivia would have her, she'd spend the rest of her life with this woman.

Olivia shifted slightly. "Allie," she murmured. Smiling at the subject of Olivia's dreams, Alex gently kissed the brunette's throat. "Mmmm," she moaned, her eyes still closed, somewhere between slumber and wakefulness. Trailing delicate kisses downward along Olivia's throat, she paused momentarily at the juncture between the older woman's breasts. Then she began her gentle exploration again. Her tongue made a circular pattern around Olivia's left breast, taking a nipple into her mouth and gently nibbling. Hands tightened in her blonde hair.

"Allie?" Olivia's voice was sleepy.

The blonde smiled at her mischievously. "Were you expecting someone else?"

Olivia's back arched as those soft lips fastened again on her breast. "No."

Alex's hands and mouth covered Olivia's breasts, alternating between the two. She was determined to return the pleasure that the older woman had given her well into the early morning hours. As she gently suckled, her fingers dipped between Olivia's legs, parting her hair and dipping inside. "You are so wet," she whispered, stroking the inner walls.

Olivia was now fully awake and fully aroused. "God, please don't stop," she begged. Alex's mouth and hands were driving her wild.

"Not a chance, sweetheart," Alex promised, inserting additional fingers and curving them upward. She increased the friction, adding and removing fingers at random, her hand finding the perfect rhythm with her lover's body. Olivia was racing towards orgasm, her hips rising and falling in tandem with Alex's strokes. When Alex's tongue joined her fingers, Olivia hurled over the edge, calling out as she found release. As the waves subsided, Alex pressed butterfly kisses on the soft curly hair. She felt Olivia's hand on her head, then Olivia's fingers, gently rifling her soft blonde hair.

After a few minutes, a sated Olivia pulled her back into her arms, kissing her deeply. Alex's face was wet with her juices and she could taste herself in their kiss.

"What was that for?" the brunette asked, raining a trail of kisses along Alex's jaw line.

"Just an early Christmas present. I'm not sure you can exchange it if you don't like it though," she teased.

"Not likely." Olivia looked deeply into Alex's eyes, still trying to absorb everything that had happened between them in the last twenty-four hours. Their lovemaking had been beyond anything she had ever experienced before. She'd given up trying to analyze it. She'd decided that sex, like every other aspect of her life, was just light years better with Alex.

She gazed lovingly at the woman in her arms. Alex's hair was tousled and she was flushed from the pleasure she had just given Olivia. Her blue eyes sparkled. "Allie, you are so beautiful. I never knew I could love anyone like I love you."

Alex snuggled closer, wrapping her leg around Olivia's thigh, half draped atop the brunette, her hand resting on her abdomen, making lazy circles. "I love you too Liv. I'm sorry it took me so long to say it. I'm not sure I deserve you, but I'm so grateful you didn't give up on me … …on us."

The detective chuckled. "Well, I have been accused of being stubborn on more than one occasion. I remember a certain blonde ADA who shall be nameless who once called me the 'most intractable, hard-headed, and unreasonable person' she'd ever had the misfortune to work with."

"Well, she failed to mention that those are also some of your most loveable traits given the right circumstances." Dropping her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, Alex said, "I'll go to my grave denying it if you ever mention this to anyone but sometimes I can be too stubborn for my own good."

Filing that admission away for future use, Olivia tucked her head under Alex's chin. Their resting place was soft and warm. They were cradled together on a soft feather bed, wrapped snuggly in snowflake patterned flannel sheets and a matching down comforter. A part of her didn't want to move, but her muscles were sore from last night's activities and she imagined that Alex was stiff as well.

"Why don't we check out the Jacuzzi and then have some breakfast?" she suggested.

Those lazy circles Alex's hand continued to make on her stomach were driving her crazy. Stilling the hand, she rolled over until she was on top of the other woman. Supporting her weight on her arms, she pressed her nose to Alex's. "Or, I can return the favor here first?"

Alex pulled her down until Olivia's full weight rested on her, relishing in their close contact. "How about all three?"

Olivia grinned at her. "You are definitely my kind of woman."

"Alex come on, I thought you said you wanted to go for a snowmobile ride."

Alex smiled at the impatience she could hear in Olivia's voice. "I'm coming." Running a hairbrush through her blonde tresses, she pulled her hair into a tie-back and joined the detective in the great room.

Oh. My. God.

Olivia was a vision in black and silver. Alex never could have imagined anything sexier than the detective in her leather jacket (wearing clothes that is; in her birthday suit she was to die for) but the first glimpse of her lover in the snowsuit that hugged every curve of her body, leaving nothing to the imagination, made her rethink that belief. She could swear that the temperature in the room had gone up ten degrees.

Grabbing two bananas, an orange and an apple from a bowl on the counter she tossed them to Olivia. "Better take some food along for the ride. There should be bottled water in the garage." Collecting several protein bars and a thermos of hot cider, she followed the detective from the room.

Minutes later Alex too, was covered from head to toe in black and silver. As she looked up from fastening her boots, she found Olivia regarding her apprehensively. "Are you sure you know how to drive one of these things?"

"Liv, I spent practically every winter vacation of my life in Colorado skiing and snowmobiling. It's like riding a bike."

They explored the countryside, leaving tracks in the virgin snow. Yesterday's snowfall had left at least three feet of fresh powder on the ground but today the sky was a brilliant shade of blue and the sun was shining brightly. It was cold enough that you could see your breath in the air. Houses were dotted against the hillsides, most decorated for the holidays, and occasionally a deer could be seen. Olivia felt her spirits soar as mile after mile flew by. Thirty minutes into their trip, she actually caught herself humming Christmas carols. They rode for several hours, content with each other's company and the scenery until Olivia finally broke the mood. Leaning in to the back of Alex's neck she shouted over the roar of the motor, "Alex, I can't feel my feet anymore. Can we head back?"

The house was empty when they returned a few minutes past four. A red light on the answering machine flashed in time with the twinkling Christmas tree lights. When Alex pressed the button Kyle's voice filled the room. "Hey guys, I guess we missed you. I hope you're having a good time and everything's okay. The plane got in on time and we're on our way. If the roads stay clear we should be at the house by six at the latest. See you soon."

"Want some wine or something?" Olivia suddenly appeared beside her. She'd shucked off the snowmobile suit, helmet and boots -- her hair was sticking out in places, and her cheeks were rosy from being outside. Alex thought she looked adorable.

"Sounds good. Feel like watching a DVD until they get here?" There was a moment of silence, both of them thinking back to the previous day, before Alex added, "Your choice. Anything but 'Badge and Bar'."

Olivia flashed a grin. "'Kay."

Alex quickly assembled a tray of cheese, smoked salmon, crackers and fruit. Adding two glasses of pinot noir, she joined the brunette in front of the fire.

Olivia held up two DVD cases. "So counselor, you in the mood for Shrek or Finding Nemo?"

Kyle, Casey and the children arrived at half past six. There was the usual upheaval involved in transferring two small children, tired and bored with traveling, from car to house, but the whining and sniffles immediately stopped when they spied the Christmas tree.

Katie, in particular was transfixed. Her eyes were like saucers and her little mouth made an "o" of delight. "Pitty," she lisped, pointing to the tree. Alex was more interested in the mountain of presents, but his mother stopped him before he could fully investigate.

Between the four women, the kids were coaxed out of their outerwear and persuaded to come to the table. Alex put out macaroni and cheese and applesauce, but both children were too excited to eat.

Casey and Kyle looked exhausted. "Rough trip?" Olivia hazarded, pouring wine all around.

Kyle sipped gratefully at the mauve liquid before replying. "The roads were a nightmare. Katie cried non-stop for the first hour of the trip. I've been up since four California time. It took us almost five hours to get here instead of two. Yeah, rough pretty much describes it."

Casey smiled in sympathy, gently massaging her girlfriend's neck.

Alex began heating soup and setting out ingredients for a salad. "You two need to eat something. Liv, how about slicing some bread and helping me make a salad?" Olivia joined her in the kitchen and the two of them worked comfortably, tossing the salad and filling bowls.

"Is there any of that apple pie left?" Olivia asked, squatting down to peer inside the fully stocked refrigerator.

"There is if you left any. I seem to recall you putting away two slices for breakfast this morning." Alex teased. The detective had also consumed six pieces of bacon and a healthy serving of scrambled eggs.

"I was starving." Olivia shot back.

"Wonder why." Alex muttered under her breath.

Kyle and Casey exchanged glances at the exchange between their two friends.

'What's going on?' Casey's eyes asked Kyle.

Kyle shrugged, continuing to watch the interplay between Slim and Olivia. The two of them were in each other's personal space, so close that a sheet of paper couldn't come between them. Watching closely, she picked up on more subtle signs. There was Slim's hand in the middle of Olivia's back. Olivia was smiling at something Slim had just said, the smile reaching all the way to her eyes. Kyle had never seen Olivia look at her friend in that way when Slim was aware she was doing so. Her suspicions were confirmed when Slim smiled back, communicating in an age old lover's language.

By the time they returned to the table with the food, she was convinced that something monumental had happened between her two friends since she'd last seen them.

"You two got something to tell us?" Kyle asked, taking a bite of salad.

"Yeah," Olivia said, coming up behind Alex and wrapping her arms possessively around her waist. "There's apple pie left if you want dessert."

Katie and Alex were up at dawn, tearing eagerly into the packages waiting for them under the tree. Four bleary-eyed adults watched them over large mugs of coffee, sharing in their delight. It had been a very short night for the women, who'd swapped stories and assembled gifts well into the early hours of morning. Now, vicariously enjoying the season through the children, each woman shared a common thought. Thank God Kyle came to New York.

Little Alex was shouting excitedly over the model train set circling around the base of the tree as Casey helped him work the engine. Katie, with Kyle's help, struggled to maneuver her tricycle around the packages, her feet barely reaching the pedals.

Alex sat down on the arm of Olivia's chair. "There's nothing like experiencing Christmas through the eyes of a child, is there?"

"It is pretty special," Olivia agreed. Resting her hand on Alex's knee, she asked idly. "You ever think about having kids?"

Knowing that the question wasn't as innocuous as Olivia would have her believe, Alex smiled. "Well actually, I've been thinking about it quite a bit lately. You know, a little girl with big brown eyes and a lopsided smile, or maybe a little boy …"

"… with blonde hair and blue eyes." Olivia finished for her, her heart pounding wildly at the implications. Alex was looking at her, her eyes shining with love, and in that look Olivia could see the promise of the life she'd been hoping for.

Setting down her coffee mug, she pulled the younger woman onto her lap. Her eyes closed, she drank in Alex's scent, whispering, "This is the best Christmas of my life."

Alex draped her long legs over the edge of the chair and wrapped her arms around Olivia. "You haven't even opened your presents yet," she pointed out practically.

"Doesn't matter." She rested her head on Alex's shoulder. "Think everything you wanted Santa to bring you is waiting under the tree?" Olivia asked the blonde. Alex shook her head vehemently and leaned in for a kiss. Against Olivia's lips, she whispered, "Everything I want for Christmas is right here in my arms."

The End

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