DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and its characters are the property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: A nod to Nick Earls the misuse of strawberry jam was his idea, not mine (Bachelor Kisses by Nick Earls, Penguin Books). Go read it. Feedback is, as always, very much appreciated.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Sum of Contradictions: 8. Red or White?
By beurre blanc
"We need to talk."
"Alex, we've done little else all evening, unless we count the fifteen minutes you spent in the bathroom."
"I told you, there was a queue." Olivia couldn't be sure, but she thought she could make out a faint blush marking the counselor's features as they strolled westward along 78th.
"Uh huh. Well, aside from that, I can't think of moment when one or other of us wasn't talking "
" or laughing. I haven't laughed like that since " Since that night with you and the guys at Mahoney's. " I don't remember when."
It had been a remarkable evening. Olivia had arrived right on six-thirty, to find Alex already seated at the bar. As she caught sight of the ADA, Olivia had actually stopped still, momentarily stunned as she caught sight of Alex, elegant, refined, wearing a dark skirt suit (she decided 'skirt' was a euphemism, given the amount of toned thigh it revealed) with a wildly inappropriate neckline
"Olivia, hi." The smile, and soft, genuine welcome as she motioned Olivia to sit next to her, were directly at odds with the predatory demeanor, and Olivia felt uncharacteristically flustered.
"Alex." She nodded, trying to recover her composure. "How was the rest of your day?"
"Oh, you know The usual. Watching Liz talk circles around Branch for the last hour was definitely the highlight. He is determined to take Collins to trial, even though he thinks Stynes v Whittaker represents a solid impediment. She thinks that if the defence argues 'natural justice'-, "
"Alex," interrupted Olivia, "there was nothing natural about Collins!"
"Hey, you're preaching to the choir here, Detective. Anyway, Liz thinks the defence will argue that the 'impressions' in the jelly represented nothing more than 'artistic expression', and that it is likely that the supermarket will gain much more from the notoriety, which is why they're pushing us to drop the charges."
"They're not! What about the - the public health implications? Surely you're not prepared to overlook that? I mean he put his-, "
"Well, it seems that his reputation is even bigger than his 'impression', and they feel that they can cash in by 'preserving the preserves', so to speak."
"Oh god, you're kidding!"
"Yes, I am." Gotcha!
"Actually it's an open-and-shut case of food tampering, regardless of 'motive'. The whole meeting was boring as hell. I just thought I'd embellish - the re-telling." Alex shrugged innocently, however the gleam in her eye was anything but.
"So, Detective, if I was to take a look at your CD collection, what would I find?"
"You mean, like 'Desert Island Discs'?"
"Yes and no. Musical tastes tell you a lot about someone."
"And you want to know about my tastes?" Olivia smiled archly.
More than you realize. "In music. And books. What would I find on your bookshelf?"
"And a couple of old crosswords, and the odd moth, I expect."
"What do you think?"
"But didn't she wait to find out?"
"Nope. Decided it was just too much like hard work, I guess. We haven't spoken in five years."
"So what bothers you more? The fact that he left her, or that he left her for another man?"
"Oh, the former. It was the betrayal, especially when their daughter was so young. She was still a toddler, and Taryn had put a promising career on hold to follow him and his job halfway across the country. So, for her - no job, no family, and suddenly no husband. All with a young child. I don't think I could've forgiven him."
"She was a doctor, right?"
"Yeah, both were. It's funny, you know. He used to talk about his older sister a lot she was about 15 years older than him, and openly gay, something their parents just never really came to terms with. But when he and Taryn met at med school he described it as 'love at first sight'. He proposed within a month!"
"Makes you kind of wary about the 'love at first sight' thing, doesn't it?"
"Yeah. You ever been in love?" That stopped the conversation. "Oh God, I'm sorry. It's none of my business."
"No, no. It's " complicated. "Can I get you another drink?"
"So, Counselor, chess or Scrabble?"
"Cats or dogs?"
"Manhattan or martini?"
"Manhattan. For sentimental reasons."
"Basketball or baseball?"
"Beethoven or Brahms?"
"Mahler. And Richard Strauss."
"Casablanca or Titanic?"
"Milk or dark?"
"Red or white?"
"Romance or thriller?"
"One-piece or bikini?"
"That is, and shall remain, classified."
Now she had time to reflect, though, Olivia found herself becoming increasingly uncomfortable. As she walked along next to Alex there was a distinct dichotomy developing between what she wanted to do, and what she had to do.
In the course of the evening they had shared laughter, pathos, politics. And more than a hint of ambiguity laced their exchanges, each flirtatious thrust and teasing parry forming the basis of a delicious contest which had extended well beyond 'late'. Something had shifted, something between them had changed, subtly, irrevocably, but with each step she became more certain that she had to act now, to stop it, hide it, deny it. To prevent herself from acting on impulses which had unfailingly caused her grief in the past, and she was damned if she was going to sacrifice the rich and newfound delights of this friendship on the altar of instant sexual gratification. And at this point, it would be instant. Alex deserved better than that.
'We need to talk.' Far better for both of us if we don't. Olivia's deft avoidance of the issue coincided with their arrival at Alex's building.
"I haven't laughed like that since I don't remember when."
"Since you last had a police escort, I should imagine."
Alex was still laughing at Olivia's rejoinder when the detective turned abruptly, and said with mock chivalry, "Your door, ma'am."
Then she made the spectacular mistake of looking directly into Alex's eyes.
Alex was still riding on the euphoria of the evening, a state in which audacity had temporarily supplanted rationality. Despite her misgivings, her former internal protestations that she could not be attracted to another woman, the evening had presented her with abundant evidence to the contrary. She was more than attracted, and she was for the moment beyond objectivity. From the minute Olivia had arrived Alex had boldly indulged every capricious inclination, spurred on by both the alcohol and the conversation, and even a walk in the cool quiet of a spring night had done little to diminish her sensibility.
Now, a charged silence ensued. Alex gazed at Olivia, her heart pounding in nervous anticipation, and in that instant she knew herself to be powerless to resist the primal urge to kiss sensuous lips. She leaned in slowly, deliberately, her eyelids slipping shut, even as she heard Olivia speak.
"No, Alex, no. I don't-, I'm not- just No!"
Alex's eyes flew open, registering first shock, then pain, then overwhelming shame and embarrassment, as she misinterpreted Olivia's refusal.
Exactly as Olivia had intended.
Oh god, what have I done? Oh Jesus, oh shit, shit, shit "I'm sorry," was all Alex could reasonably render as she called on the last vestige of self-composure to disguise her mortification behind a façade of haughty propriety. "I had a good time tonight, Olivia. I'll see you next week." And she fled.
Oh god, what have I done? Things had just spiraled way out of Olivia's control. If being caught in the sheer magnetism of Alex's gaze had been a mistake, this was utter disaster. The refusal she had intended merely to deflect Alex's advance, in favor of preserving the foundation of friendship they'd been building all evening had literally exploded in her face. Oh Jesus
"I'm sorry," echoed Olivia, "I'm sorry." I'm sorry for me, for you, for us. She turned, blinking at unshed tears, walking away to the slow insistent chant of her only coherent thought, 'I'm sorry'.
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