DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and its characters are the property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Takes place immediately post-"Ghost".

By FicChick


The postcard was intentionally nondescript. "Welcome to the Centennial State" with a generic photo of the Rockies. Just enough to let her know where she'd landed and that she was in one piece, even if it meant breaking a thousand rules that she had followed religiously for more than a year. Alex sat in her car outside the mini mart, considering what, if anything, to write on the back. Olivia would recognize her handwriting in the spare lines of her address, she was certain of that. Maybe that was enough. What, after all, was there to say? That the ache of her absence was somehow even worse now than it had been before the trial? That seeing her had opened up a floodgate of melancholy in Alex that had nearly drowned her? That being with her that night, sleeping beside her again, had been exquisitely, beautifully, acutely painful, and that she would do it again in a heartbeat, even knowing how hard it would be afterwards? Alex hesitated a moment, her pen hovering over the empty space, then wrote the one word that said all of those things and so many more.

Olivia sighed and pushed her key into the mailbox. The week had been long, made longer by the hint of spring in the air, something she used to love but which now felt like a betrayal. A promise of something that would never arrive. She grabbed the few pieces of mail, bills, something from a nonprofit she'd supported in the past. She paused as her fingers touched something slick and smooth. She frowned at the snowcapped mountain peaks, before turning the postcard over in her hands. Her name and address swam before her in familiar script as her eyes filled. Every "I" dotted, every "t" crossed with a firm, precise stroke. And in the message field, perfectly centered, "Still."

Taos was flooded with tourists this time of year. Ski bums and art lovers and crunchy granola types mingling in the streets and lunching in the overpriced bistros. In her jeans and white denim shirt Alex blended right in. That was the point, after all. And now that the sun had finally darkened her skin to a light golden brown she looked as if she'd lived there her whole life. Which in this case was six months. She sat at the bar and ordered tequila. Salt, shot, lime. As the alcohol burned its way down her throat, she slipped the postcard out of her back pocket. An overexposed shot of the pueblo, with "Greetings from New Mexico!" in garish yellow letters. She thought how Olivia would love the desert. The way it could be so quiet and so alive all at the same time. The endless horizon line, the heat waves shimmering up from blacktop, the way storms would burst and subside out of nowhere. She borrowed the bartender's pen and closed her eyes, trying to channel all that she felt and wished and remembered before committing it to paper.

"I'm on my way," Olivia said, cradling the cell phone between her chin and shoulder, careful not to spill her coffee while she reached in for the mail. "Yeah, I have the case file right…" Her voice drifted off as she looked at the picture and the postmark. They had talked once about traveling to the Southwest. Hiking in a national park. Maybe even camping, though the look Alex had given her made it clear that there were limits to her good nature. And that tents and sleeping bags fell well beyond those parameters. The handwriting was slightly less…composed. Something in the loops and angles was more expansive, not quite as careful as it had been in the margins of so many DD-5s. But recognizable, for sure. "Sorry, El. I got distracted for a minute," she said, regaining her voice, tracing over the one word, feeling the impression of the letters under her fingertips. "Still."

The gridlocked traffic, the honking horns, even the cabbie yelling through the open window, it all made her smile. This is what she'd been waiting for, dreaming of. The sights and sounds and smells of this overcrowded, overwrought, overwhelming place. This place that was her home. She strode down the sidewalk confidently, easy with familiarity, her body lighter without the weight of constant fear of discovery and reprisal. She liked the new apartment. There were more windows, more room to spread out and breathe. She'd started unpacking. Filled the refrigerator with all of the things she had loved and missed. The work was waiting for her, her place in the system secure. There was only one thing left to do. And because it was the most important, she had saved it for last. She stepped up to the counter, selecting an oversized photo postcard of the Statue of Liberty. "That one needs an extra stamp," the woman behind the cash register advised, barely looking up. Alex nodded her understanding, handing over a crisp bill that she'd withdrawn from her own bank account using her own name and her own signature.

Olivia locked the deadbolt into place behind her and leaned, for a brief moment, against the door before depositing the groceries and the mail on the table. She put away the orange juice, the milk, the vegetables she promised herself she would use before they wilted. She'd learned, all over again, how to cook for one. And she did it, every night. Not because she was hungry—she rarely was—but because she knew how easy it would be not to. She turned on the news for company and shifted her focus to the small pile of mail. At first, she thought it was a circular, more junk to pile into the recycling bin. Then she saw the handwriting. And the postmark. And the date. And, for the first time, an actual return address. And the way that, after all the days and weeks and months and years of waiting, one word had finally become three: "Olivia. Still? Alex."

The End

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