DISCLAIMER: Any similarities to people and events real or made up are purely coincidental. This is a work of fiction with characters borrowed from Dick Wolf. Inconsistencies with canon, if any, are intentional.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The first chapter of this story was originally published on 08/27/2005 as HAUNTING. This is Post "Ghost", so technically, it's AU.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Adrienne Lee
Grace Lockhart-Flores. That's what the name plaque on the desk reads. Grace Lockhart-Flores, she says in her head every time she sees the name. Every morning, every afternoon, and every evening when she leaves, she repeats the gesture, staring at it, as if saying hello in the beginning of the day, as if saying goodbye at the end. Grace Lockhart-Flores, Associate Librarian VII Rank, she reminds herself, before going around the desk to sit behind it.
Grace Lockhart-Flores looks at the man's watch on her wrist. The oversized silver watch dwarfs her slender hand; it weighs her down in more ways than one. It tells her that she still has ten minutes before the library opens. Slowly, moving like an old woman ravaged by time, she reaches for the mirror in her purse. She checks the tendrils hanging from her face, tucking the stray ones into her bun. Looking through the tortoise rimmed glasses, she meets her reflection.
She's not an unattractive woman. She just looks old. Well, older than she's ever looked, older than her thirty-seven years. The light brown rinse in her fair blonde hair against her pale white skin simply washes her out. Then there is the deep fatigue that perpetually haunts her pale blue eyes. Still, she was attractive, more attractive than anyone has the right to be, at least anyone who's a two-time ghost.
Suck it up, soldier, she tells herself. Maybe this time you'll get to keep this life. Although which is worse? Getting shot up by hired assassins, or falling into the ocean when the big one hits?
City of Angels. Where's yours?
Well, maybe if you stay here long enough, if they let you, your son can have a world class education. You can even help him with his research should he develop a scholarship interest in his own culture. After all, you are the Associate Librarian VII Rank in the Latin American Center. Although maybe you'll be a Librarian III Rank by then. You'd hope so, right? Three plus years per promotion, that's not a lot to ask, is it? She laughs lightly to herself. The last time she had a calculated career goal, she wanted to be the governor of a state How pathetic.
Now Grace Lockhart-Flores just waits for time to tick by, to add to the lines on her face. She looks at the large watch on her wrist and wonders if its previous owner misses it. She wonders if its previous owner misses her
The door of the bus slides open with a puff. She shuffles up the steps and slides her card. Then she finds a seat by the window, pulls a novel out of her bag, and pretends to read.
In her mind she's remembering her lunch hour spent outside the law library, admiring the flowering bushes, and watching the students come and go. She wondered how many of them will join private firms, and how many will receive the calling for public service. And how many will give up a life in the law, like she had?
Maybe tomorrow, Grace decides. Maybe tomorrow she'll gather the courage to walk into the massive building. In reality, the more modern structure is smaller than her place of work, the doors and the facade much less daunting. To Grace though, it was her gateway to Dis and Heaven all rolled into one.
Maybe one day, she'll even apply for a job there. That might be the closest she could ever get to her former life, her first life.
Soon enough, she reaches her destination. Before disembarking the bus, she puts on a smile, one reserved only for her son.
The boy is waiting for her just outside the entrance of his school. He, too, has put on a smile reserved just for his mother.
He's such a good boy, Miguel Alejandro Flores. Sometimes she thinks she doesn't deserve him. Then sometimes she wonders if she had made the wisest or soundest decision, convincing them to let her keep him. But then where else was he going to go? Float around in foster system until he's eighteen? He's has no one, just as she has no one. They understand each other, ghost to ghost.
Still smiling, Grace takes his hand. But it is Miguel who leads them both to the bus stop across the street. It is Miguel who guides her onto the bus. In a small timid voice, he asks her how her day was. In a quiet gentle voice, she replies with a question about his day at school. So he proceeds to fill the silence with all the details of the things he learned in class. He tries to make her laugh with a tale about his new substitute teacher, told with a young boy's mischief. He tells her all the things he did after school, the various activities that keep him occupied from between three to five-thirty, every weekday, until she picks him up.
She's sufficiently in her single-mom character by the time the bus takes them back to Westwood. It stops right outside their apartment building. With a warmer, genuine smile, she leads him to the door, and watches him run happily up the stairs to their tiny two-bedroom apartment. Miguel is always excited; like always, he runs up the stairs ahead of her, and waits impatiently for her to reach their door. On a good day, a rare day, usually on a Saturday, when she's wearing her sneakers, she'd race him up those three flights. Today, she pulls her legs up like an old woman, or at least a woman weighed down by her past
Today, after she closes the door, she asks him for the first time, "Why are you always in such a hurry to get up the stairs?"
He looks at her, and tips his head. Then he smiles this bright smile. "I feel safe here," he says in Spanish, "I like it here, with you." The last two word he says in English, as if to make sure she understands him.
"I'm glad, Miguel," she says, in his mother tongue.
He smiles. He smiles as if that was his name given to him at birth by his parents, and gives her a quick hug around her long legs.
She flips her wrist and looks down at her watch. "Dinner in 30 minutes, okay?" She asks as she drops her purse onto the kitchen counter.
"Okay," he shouts back, as he runs down the short hall to his room.
Young people, maybe they're more flexible. Or maybe Miguel is just more resilient, certainly after what he's been through, Grace decides, as she looks around their sparsely furnished apartment, walking distance from her work. Miguel is right, she does feel safe here. It's definitely much better than anything she could have afforded on her own. Thank goodness for Uncle Sam, eh? She smiles ruefully, and pulls open the freezer to retrieve their microwave dinner
It was his hands she had first noticed, his hands that were almost too feminine for a man. Instead of a utilitarian metal man's watch, he wore one of those cheesy gold vermeil timepieces with the faux alligator leather. Still, he was a good man, a gentle man. And his hands felt familiar if she closed her eyes.
His kisses though, they were different, too different. He worshipped her, she could tell, she could tell by the way he whispered her name late at night, after they made love. But it wasn't her name. And they weren't equal; he wasn't the mate to her soul. And the supposed love and affection for him, she had to make, had to manufacture with her body, because someone else had held her heart.
Even though that was another lifetime ago, this someone still holds Grace's heart.
Will it ever change? Somehow she doubts it.
Meanwhile, in this life, she can't fall into bed with someone as easily as she could in the last. Well, she can, but who would want to get involved with a woman with a son, an adopted stepson? A woman who was recently widowed, whose husband gave his life to serve his country?
Besides, she doesn't have the boredom and loneliness she did when she was stuck in small town mid-America. Now she's in a big city. Now she has another person in her life; she has her son. And she doesn't even have to create love for him; she already feels it. After all, it's hard not to love a child, especially one like Miguel.
Maybe that was one of the reasons why she wanted to keep the boy. So she couldn't, wouldn't want or need to latch onto somebody, any body.
Alas! The instinct to mate is strong or maybe Grace is just too weak
It is the color of her eyes that first catches her attention - the same gentle, intelligent dark brown eyes with the fathomless depths that she used to drown in.
When the girl stops by Grace Lockhart-Flores' desk to ask for information, the librarian finds herself staring a little longer than she should.
She finds herself blushing when the girl thanks her with a winking smile. It's such a familiar smile, too. She could see it on someone else, someone with the same shaggy dark hair, with a similar lilting voice. Even their cocky swaggers are comparable
But she's just a girl, Grace reminds herself. In actuality, the woman is probably in her mid twenties, maybe a grad student, possibly too young to be a visiting scholar, although she could be staff. Anyway, thinking of her as a girl prevents Grace from looking at her any other way
She's just a girl, Grace reminds herself again and again when the girl shows up again and again to ask for help. Each time Grace reminds herself with a little less conviction. The girl is also a student, so she adds, to bolster her resolve.
Then she finds herself answering questions about her late husband, and her son. Then she hears hers words reminding both of them that she's a student, and she's young.
"A grad student," the girl tells her. "I'm finishing up my thesis, and applying to post-doc programs now."
"But you're so young."
"How old are you?"
"Well, I'm twenty-nine. And in a few weeks, I'll be thirty. We're less than ten years apart."
"Oh, you look so young," Grace responds, caught off guard. She remembers there was a time she looked younger than her age. In fact, she recalls having a similar conversation with someone else, except she was the younger looking one, and they were born in the same year.
"If age matters so much to you, well, I've been told that I'm an old soul," the girl offers with a lopsided grin, and adds with a smirk, "An old soul with a librarian fetish."
That straightforwardness makes Grace laugh. For some reason, it sets off a streak. "I don't think I've, no one has ever said that," she chokes on her words, and pushes tears back in her eyes. It's been a while since she felt like this.
The girl waits until the laughter stops, and extends her hand, "I'm Cass by the way, Cass Devereux. You have a beautiful smile."
"Thank you," Grace says, almost mechanically.
Cass sees the sudden vacant blue in the woman's faraway gaze, and she asks, "Did I say something wrong?"
"No. It's just. You remind me of someone."
"Someone not your husband?"
"No. Someone before my husband."
"Ah, I see." That's all Cass says. Then she changes the subject, "So what do you say, Ms. Flores? Would you like to help an old soul work out her librarian fetish issue?"
That makes her laugh again, "Call me Grace. And why me? There are many librarians on campus."
"But I haven't been running into all the other librarians on campus."
"Well, you could've gone to their desks instead of mine," Grace reasons.
"Oh, no, I don't mean here. Just the other day, I saw you with your son coming out of the grocery store. Before, you were at the cafeteria getting coffee. I can keep on with the list."
"Really? What are the odds? It's such a big campus "
"Kismet. Fate. I think we're meant to hook up."
"Kismet," Grace repeats, trying to wrap her brain around the concept.
"Okay, Kismet," she tastes the word.
"God, you look like shit. What happened?"
"Nothing," she shrugs, not looking up from her paper work.
"Are you not sleeping again?"
Why does her partner have to be so aggravatingly persistent? "Leave me alone. I'm not in the mood."
"You need to let it go."
He didn't say what 'it' is, but the detective knows. 'It' has been the object of their discussion for months now. "Just leave me alone, Elliot," she insists.
"Talk to me."
"What's there to talk about?" She says, trying unsuccessfully to hide the whine in her voice. She hates it when she's so weak. Only one person alive in this world can reduce her to this this whiny, pathetic excuse of a cop. "Do you believe in ghosts?"
His face twitches to her seemingly abrupt change in subject. "Ghosts? I believe in the Holy Ghost."
"Right. We're not talking about your religion."
It's yours too, at least at some point in your life, he responds in his head. After a pause, he asks, "Ghosts. As in Casper?"
"You've gotta be kidding me," he says, watching his partner carefully.
"Remember the case last month? The mother insisted her daughter was dead because she came to her in a dream?"
"What if it's true?"
"What? That people come to tell you they're dead? In your dream?"
She twists her brows together and sighs. "I've been dreaming about her. Last night, I woke up, and I, I think I felt her."
"Oh my god, Liv! Get a grip!"
Now she's furious, and she slams her folder closed. "You're the one who wanted to talk!"
"Look," he spreads his hands open, as if to offer peace. "You need to let her go, get on with your life."
"I can't. What if something bad has happened to her?"
"What? And she's coming to haunt you in your sleep?"
"What if she's trying to tell me?"
"Jesus. We're cops, with the NYPD. Not Agents Scully and Mulder on TV," he says with more exasperation than sarcasm. "She didn't even bother to say goodbye."
"Maybe they didn't let her," she tries to convince him with the same excuse she uses on herself.
"They said, and I quote, 'she decided not to say goodbye'."
"You of all people listen to the Feds?" She demands. "You know as well as I do, you can't trust them."
"Look, you can believe whatever you want "
"Maybe she didn't say goodbye because it wasn't a goodbye?" The detective voices her hope.
"She even took your watch as a souvenir."
"It could be a token."
"What? To hold your affection hostage? You're not the one who schtooped the first guy you met. You pined for her after she left, the first time. Christ, Liv, and you're still doing it."
Why did she tell him about everything? Oh right, because he's her partner, the older brother she wishes she'd had, and because she was distraught when her lover left the second time.
"It's different, for her," she defends her heart.
"Seriously, wouldn't you want to latch onto somebody, anybody? When you're so alone in the world?"
And why aren't you doing that? He asks silently. Sometimes he pities his partner, to be so in love with a ghost. Other times, he envies her. If he knew how to love like that, he'd still have his family. "You should date," he says bluntly.
Now he teases, like an older brother would, "If you wanna keep it in the family "
"Don't even say it," she warns, knowing exactly where he's heading.
"Come on, the way she's been making eyes at you?"
"She's not my type."
"She's our ADA " he winks.
"But so was our ghost," he reminds her, more out of confusion than cruelty.
"She's her replacement!"
"Okay " He says, scratching his face.
It's obvious to both of them that they're at an impasse. "Just leave me alone," she says, not wishing to explain herself.
He sighs loudly and grabs a file.
"Look," she pauses, staring at the still foreign face of her watch. "She already has her job " She admits quietly, letting her partner complete the sentence for himself. That's the best she could do.
"So you're not gonna give her your heart?"
You can only give what you possess. Someone already owns the detective's heart
"Shut up!" Grace says, laughing to another one of Cass' outrageous comments.
"No, really," comes the girl's giggling response.
Quickly, boldly, she tosses another shot. What's it called? Kamikaze? The librarian doesn't really care. She hasn't laughed so much since forever ago. She hasn't felt as free, or as young. At least for a night, she could be anybody or nobody. At least for the next few hours, she could forget herself, could stop thinking about who she was.
Maybe she could even stop missing the keeper of her heart. At least for one night...
"Okay, I think you're drunk," Cass observes while Grace tries to walk along the low ledge without stepping onto the grass.
"So what if I am?" Grace replies with a laugh.
"Why don't you get off of there before you break your neck, and hop on? I'll give you a ride home."
"Can you really see me on a motorcycle?"
"To tell you the truth, no. But seeing isn't the same as believing."
"What does that mean?"
Cass shrugs with a cryptic grin, speeds ahead and stops at the end of the flower patch.
"Hey, you're blocking my way."
"That's the idea. Come on," she says, holding out her hand
"I thought you were taking me home?" Grace shouts over the chopping noise.
Making another turn towards the ocean, Cass yells back, "I am. After you sober up a little. What would your son think?"
A pang of guilt hits her. "He's not there," she explains, her voice trailing off.
"He's sleeping over at our neighbor's. He and her son, Roger, are about the same age, and they're friends. Usually Roge sleeps over at my place when she goes out on her dates," she goes on, justifying to herself why she isn't home with her boy.
"Are we on a date, Ms. Flores?" Cass asks quietly.
Grace jerks away, suddenly realizing they've stopped and that Cass has cut the engine. How long has she been sitting there with her face pressed to the warm leather of the girl's jacket? "I, I don't know," she freezes. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay," the young woman leans back, and offers a smile. "Maybe I should take you home."
"Yeah, maybe," Grace sighs. She lets Cass take her hands and wrap them around her torso. Before she knows it, her nose is once again buried in the comforting scent of leather
"Do you want to come up?" She asks, standing at her door, hoping the desperation in her eyes doesn't show in her voice.
"Is it really a good idea, Grace?"
"But it's your birthday," she offers as if it were the most logical and obvious reason.
Cass laughs a girlish laugh. "I'm not eighteen. You don't have to give it up for my birthday."
Once again, the young woman's candor disarms Grace. She laughs along. "True. But now that you're thirty, you should work harder on your issues."
"What? We're starting with my librarian fetish?"
"Carpe noctem, Grasshopper."
"Eh," Cass taunts, "I think you were the one hopping in the grass earli " Full lips reach down to interrupt her words
Slowly, Grace opens her eyes to the ceiling. Then she feels it, the way her skin used to tingle when someone else stared at her. For a moment, she feels disoriented. It's almost like she has traveled back in time, back to a place where she was still herself. It almost felt as if they were together again
But in her heart, she knows that is a lie, a figment of her imagination, manifestation of her desperation.
She wants to look at the starer, to break the magic, but she doesn't. She wishes she could just stay in this instant forever, bridged between reality and illusion.
A soft sigh from her bedmate demands her attention, and she turns. "Hi."
"You went somewhere."
"What do you mean?"
"You went somewhere," Cass repeats, offering no further explanation. Then she smiles another inscrutable smile, and says in a gentle voice, "You know, I've had people tell me to go a little left, or a little right. No one has ordered me to live before."
"Oh god." She clasps her mouth with her hand. Until that moment, she didn't realize she had said it out loud. "I'm so sorry," she chokes, ashamed and horrified.
"I'm really sorry about your husband," the young woman offers, believing Grace is still mourning the man's sacrifice, not knowing he wasn't the one who forfeited his life.
"It's not about my husband," she reveals, breaking into sobs.
"But you told me to live "
"No. It's, it's not live, not a verb."
"Not a verb," Cass imitates patiently.
"No. It's, it's her name. I'm so sorry," Grace apologizes again. What else can she say? She has unwittingly used the girl. She could see it so clearly now. This shouldn't have happened, this thing between them. "I'm so sorry," she repeats, her tears flowing freely
Finally, the tears stop. The mask that had served her so well all those years is in place again. She pulls a tissue from the nightstand, and blows her nose. Then she rolls out of bed to throw away the Kleenex, using the moment to gather herself in her robe.
"I'm so sorry, I just " She stops when the other woman waves her off.
"Would you like to talk?" Cass asks, shifting onto her side, and resting her head on her hand. She looks more at home than Grace does.
"There's really nothing to talk about."
"And you tell me I have issues."
"No, that was your idea," Grace defends herself. "You're the one who said you had a fetish."
"That's true. Anyway, it'll make you feel better if you talk to someone."
"I really don't " She begins, then the defensive anger hits, "Why do you care?"
"Because I do?"
"You're leaving town in what? Three months? And we'll never see each other again," Grace argues. Why does permanence suddenly seem so important? She had never concerned herself with it until now. If she had, if she could admit to herself that there were some things more important to her than her job, she wouldn't be here. She wouldn't be apologizing to a girl she just exploited to relive some desperate memories.
"Look, I care about you, if nothing else, as a fellow human being. Beyond that, I care, for as long as I'm here."
"Why? I just fucking used you."
Cass shrugs. "That's your way of looking at it."
"How do you look at it?"
Instead of answering, Cass smiles, and pats the space next to her on the bed, "Come on, Grace, you're shivering over there. I promise I won't bite. And blue skin ain't cute."
"Why? I mean not about the blue skin."
"So we can talk?"
"I told you before, there's really nothing to talk about."
"Right, next thing you're gonna sell me Disneyworld. Don't you think you owe me?" Cass asks, without malice in her voice.
Grace stares at the younger woman, half expecting her to back down. The unflinching dark eyes dispel her hopes. "Fine. Fair enough," she finally acquiesces, flopping down on the bed, and pulling her legs to her chest. "I told you from the beginning that you remind me of someone." Contributory negligence, she lays it out like a lawyer would, subconsciously assigning fault.
"You're both stubborn as hell, too."
"Thank you. You're not so bad yourself."
Grace shakes her head at the response, and chuckles her resignation. "Well, she was the love of my life."
"From the look of things, she still is."
Her denial would be pointless. "So what do you want to know?" She asks instead.
"Whatever you want to tell me."
So Grace starts by telling her audience how they met, she and the love of her life. Leaving out all the identifying details, she talks about how they argued, their personalities and all the other differences, and how, despite the odds, they became friends, then lovers.
To the younger version of her soul-mate, Grace acknowledges for the first time how she really feels. She enumerates her regrets and laments her loss. She even articulates her dreams, no matter how unrealistic they are.
Once again, she apologizes for her behavior, and admits that she never mourned the separation until just now, when she cried her river of tears.
Through the monologue, Cass remains attentively silent. When she's certain Grace was through, she reaches over and squeezes her arm briefly. "Feeling any better?" She asks with a lopsided grin.
Grace takes a deep breath, and tries a smile. "Yeah, actually. Thanks."
"So you're not mad?"
"How I treated you?"
"Oh, right. You used me." Before her friend could react, she gives her a playful nudge. "Just kidding. You wanna know what I think?"
"Us, running into each other and hooking up."
"Kismet?" Grace ventures, ultimately still unsure of the concept.
"An acausal connecting principle, according to Jung."
"Plain English?" Finally, Grace is on the other side of the demand, and she finds it almost funny. Suppose only a lawyer would. Would she ever stop thinking like one? "Please," she adds, to halt her mental digression.
"Do you believe in karma?"
"Maybe you should. Anyway, there are no such things as coincidences."
"Are we still talking about Jung?" Something concrete like a famed psychiatrist she can grasp.
"Yes. You attract people, things, whatever, to your life for a reason. It's never random. For instance, to help you learn a lesson, or to make you evolve," Cass explains without philosophizing.
"Okay So you're saying we met because one or both of us have lessons to learn? Maybe from each other?"
"You have to keep an open mind, Grace. But yes, maybe."
"How do you come up with these off the wall ideas?"
Cass laughs. "Can you see yourself hooking up with a stereotypically dull research scientist?"
"Claims adjuster," Grace offers.
"Ew. Really? Why not an ambulance chaser? What's wrong with you?"
She just smiles her reply. "So, what lesson or lessons are you learning?"
"That librarians are hot in the sack?"
"Thanks for not asking, by the way," Grace changes the subject abruptly. "Um, about why I left her."
"I'm sure whatever the reason, it was valid at the time. It's really none of my business. Besides, everyone's entitled to their secrets "
It's the darkest hour of the night when the detective finally turns the lock to her apartment. Slowly, carefully, she opens the door, and looks inside before stepping in. It's a habit formed from being chased after and stalked, she's sure. It's not at all because she's haunted.
It's got to be my overactive imagination, Olivia tells herself over and over. She tries to steer her mind away from the case they worked, where the daughter announced her death in a dream.
They would tell me if something happened to her, right? She reasons. They told her about her mother's death
But it's not the same, is it? It was her mother, someone who gave her life. Who am I to her anyway? Somebody she worked with? Somebody she loved, or at least claimed to love?
Someone she loves so much, she couldn't bear to say goodbye?
With a grunt, Olivia kicks her shoes off extra hard, secretly enjoying the thumping sounds they make as they hit the closet wall. Then she peels off her clothes, and settles into the chill of the sheets, of her double bed which is too big for one.
With a sigh, she flops onto her stomach, and closes her eyes. Her thoughts wanders to the last time they shared this bed, the night before her lover's first death. She could still taste the soft sweetness of the woman's skin, still hear her sighs, her passionate moans. She feels the long fingers winding delicately in her hair, urging her on, and the flutters in her long legs as her arousal built
She climaxes as the ghost in her arms does, when the frost in the air finally permeates her soul. Wiping the streaks of tears with the back of her hand, she wonders if she'll see her heart again. Even if it's in a dream
"Liv," her partner calls her name with warning.
Or is it disapproval? The detective doesn't care. When she hears that tone in his voice, she doesn't even look up any more. She knows what he's going to say next.
"You should let it go."
Yep. The same tune that falls unfailingly onto deaf ears. Why doesn't he get tired of it? "Why don't you stop worrying about me?" She asks.
"Maybe you should go talk to someone."
Oh, that's new. She decides to entertain him, "Like whom?"
"I don't know? Maybe George?"
For the first time, she meets his eyes. "Look, Elliot " She seethes.
"Do you, is she, do you still think she's, you know, haunting you?"
She sighs, loudly, and returns her attention to her file.
"Um, Liv? Maybe you should talk to a priest?"
"Screw you, Stabler!" She almost knocks her chair over, standing up. Without grabbing her coat, she storms out the squad room, leaving a pair of guilty eyes and two curious ones behind.
She's not dead. She's not dead. At least not like that. Olivia chants in her head as she sprints down the sidewalk. Running always helps her calm her emotions and clear her mind. She runs until her legs can't carry her any longer, then she walks.
The detective is empty by the time she wanders up the steps. Discarding all the sacramental details, she stuffs a twenty into the box on the wall. Then she lights the nearest candle, and snuffs out the stick. With the same emptiness, she leaves.
If her lover were there, Olivia would've gotten some form of punishment or another, be it snide remarks, or a plain cold shoulder.
"Well, you're not here to mom me, are you?" She yells to no one in particular, and hears her own voice echo in the empty apartment.
"Mom," she chuckles, raising her glass skywards before tossing it back. "Thanks for the genes, Mom."
Maybe Stabler is right. She needs to get over 'it', and get on with her life. She needs to forget her.
Impossible. She's impossible to forget. Less impossible to love. Most impossible to live without. Simply impossible.
Then she hears a soft sigh, a familiar sigh from deep sultry throat.
Impossible! Olivia repeats to herself, squeezing her eyes shut.
Suddenly, she's stone sober, and she's afraid. "Alex?" She whispers loudly in panic.
No one answers. Not only that, the presence she felt earlier is now gone. Disappeared, like smoke. Like a ghost.
"Alex?" She sobs. "Come back?"
Maybe it's a dream. It's got to be a dream, the detective thinks. Then she remembers No, no, no, can't be a dream. You can't be dead. Not like that.
Maybe it's just the booze, she decides, and gets up to pour the rest of the bottle down the sink. When the last drop of amber disappears down the drain, she feels an approvingly smile against her lips. She freezes. "Impossible." She shakes her head, left and right, to make a point.
Maybe it's me. Maybe Elliot's right, and I need to talk to someone
"Impossible," she mutters as she sinks into the mattress and pulls the covers over her head.
At the unexpected voice, Grace jumps. "Jesus."
"Sorry," Cass smiles an impish smile, and plops herself onto the table, making a clattering of noises in the process.
The librarian gives a warning glare, and asks in a hushed voice. "How'd you know to find me?"
"I didn't." She shrugs. "Kismet, I tell you."
"Right. I keep forgetting my boss changed his name to Fate," Grace grins, assuming that's how the younger woman tracked her down.
Cass simply grins and pulls the book from the other woman's hand. "Legal Ethics, huh? I didn't realize you're into that."
"Uh. I've always wanted to be a cop," she fibs.
"Hm. Officer Flores?" She shakes her head and laughs. "You should read Kafka's Penal Colony. That's justice for ya."
Grace can't tell if her friend is being facetious or genuine. "What do you " She starts to ask, until she notices brown eyes looking intently at her. "What?"
"Are you okay?"
"You don't look so good," Cass says, making circles with her index finger around her eyes.
"Oh. That." She thought she had covered up the marks; evidently, her efforts failed. "I just haven't been sleeping well."
"No? I can't remember..." Grace tries to define her experience, and her inexplicable fatigue. "I'd go to sleep, and I'd wake up and feel like I haven't slept at all."
"And you can't remember?"
"Not a thing."
"Huh." The younger woman appears thoughtful for a moment, then she kicks her feet, propelling herself off the wooden surface. "I gotta go. Meeting with my prof in ten."
"About your thesis?"
"No, she wants me to write another paper, with her, just the two of us."
"Wow. Isn't that quite prestigious?"
"It'll definitely help me with aps."
"How's that going to work? With your schedule, I mean."
"It'll probably take about three extra months, you know, to write, edit, and present. The conference people already accepted her abstract. But I don't know if I want to wait."
With an encouraging smile on her face, Grace remains silent, unwilling to commit her emotions either way. "Well, I'm sure you'll make the right decision," she says.
Nodding, Cass leans up to kiss the blonde on the cheek. "You still making me dinner tonight?"
"If you still want to come over."
"Sure. I'd love to!" She beams, and gives Grace a brief squeeze around the waist. "See ya!"
Grace watches the younger woman disappear around the hall. With a soft sigh, she reshelves the book, and begins her journey back to her desk.
"I won! I won!" The young boy cheers. "Let's play again!"
"I think it's your bedtime," Cass points to the clock on the wall. "We can play again next time I come over."
"Can we, really? You promise?"
"Yes, I promise. Now, go wash up; I'll come see you before I leave, okay?"
"Okay!" Happily, he chirps, and skips towards his room.
Cass puts away the controllers, and shuts off the game console. Leaving the tv on for noise, she walks to the kitchen, and rests her chin on the other woman's shoulder. "Can I help?"
"Nope." Grace pats the dish washer, and wipes her hand on a towel. "All done. Thanks for playing with Miguel."
"It's fun. You should try it sometime."
"Yeah, well, I'm not so good at twitching."
"You just don't like losing to a kid."
"That, too," Grace admits, turning around to face her friend. "Are you " Staying? She wants to ask, but her voice gives out.
"No, I actually have to go back to the lab, there's some data "
"It's okay, Cass."
"I didn't think you, you know." She doesn't wait for the other woman's reply. "I have something for you. A book. Let's go get it," she says, and moves towards the next room, pulling Grace by the hand
"What is this?" The librarian pushes her glasses up her nose and furrows her brows.
"Read the title."
"I did." She makes a face. "Astral projection? Are you serious?"
"Just read it."
"Maybe you'll sleep better?" Cass grins a Cheshire cat grin. "Anyway, I'm gonna go say goodnight to your son," she decides, leaving her nonplussed friend behind
"Cass is gone?" Miguel asks in a quiet voice.
Grace nods, tucking the blanket around the boy's shoulders.
"I know," she smiles, and kisses him on the forehead.
"I like her," he says, as if to offer his approval.
"I like her, too, Sweetie. You should go to sleep," she says, smoothing his hair away from his face. He's such a good boy; really, she's lucky to have him. It's just sometimes she wishes he were less astute.
Or maybe she's reading too much into his words. After all, he's only a child.
"Maybe she can stay with us? A sleep-over? Like me and Roge?"
"Why don't you ask her next time you see her, okay?" She coaxes, secretly hoping he'd forget. To be perfectly honest, she wishes Cass had stayed. Not so much as a lover, she doesn't know if she's really ready for that, if she'll ever be ready for that. But she misses the companionship, the friendship between two adult women "We have to get up early tomorrow," she reminds the boy, and kisses him again, on his cheek this time. "Good night."
"'Night, Grace," he says, closing his eyes. Then just after she turns off the light, he asks, "Grace?"
"Do you miss home?"
"Yes," she replies, with her back to the light, and her voice a mere breath. She waits. Then when she thinks he's through, she starts to retreat from the room.
"Grace?" He calls out softly.
"I miss Olivia, too."
"Goodnight, Sweetheart," she manages, before closing the door silently
"Here, maybe this will help your morning," she hears, then feels the soft plop of paper against the wood of her desk. The sweet smell betrays the bag's content.
"It's fresh," he says, when she doesn't look up from her file.
"Thanks, Munch," she replies warily. "I'm not hungry."
"Oh, I thought you always have an appetite for chocolate croissant," he sits in her partner's chair, and puts down a cup of coffee. "Or did you think I forgot this?"
"Look, it's really sweet of you, and I really appreciate it, but "
"I get it, it's not the goods, but the courier," he observes.
To prove him wrong, Olivia grabs the bag, takes a big chunk of the pastry and washes it down with a gulp of cappuccino. "Thank you," she says, ignoring the burning sensation of her mouth. Now would you please leave me alone, her grimace conveys.
"You're welcome." He smiles, and sips slowly from his own cup. "I see why Alex liked this place. Great coffee. And the pastry, they reminded me when I was in college, the time I went to "
"John?" She interrupts and scowls. "I don't mean to be ungrateful, but "
"I hear you're seeing ghosts," the bespectacled detective breaks her off, finally getting to his point.
Damn Stabler, she swears silently.
"So it's true?"
"I'd rather not think about it."
"Sometimes when people grieve "
"I'm not crazy, okay?" Olivia fires back. "And I haven't touched a drop of alcohol, not since," she stops, suddenly.
Her deep sigh signals defeat. "I felt her, all right? At least I thought I did," she admits, withholding the frequency.
It's almost a regular event now, the haunting. Sometimes she would wake to the feel of her ghost standing at the foot of her bed, watching her. A few times, her visitor even joined her in bed, her presence warming the dank cold. The detective no longer cares about the 'how' or the 'why'; she gave up searching for reason after the third 'visit'. Now she just hopes it would last, that her lover would come back to her, even if only in dream, in the still of the night.
"You did?" He asks, as if he's querying about the weather.
Nevertheless, she defends herself, "I'm not crazy."
"Never said you were," he leans back and looks her right in the eye. "So what do you think it is?"
It's apparent to her he has something in his mind. "Why don't you tell me," she orders.
He curls his lips into a dry smile, and holds his cup leveled with his chin for effect. "Have you heard of Project Star Gate?"
"What? The TV show?"
"No. A CIA project that lasted for a couple of decades. A group of government operatives allegedly found Soviet submarines during the cold war. They tried to locate Gadhafi before the 1986 bombing of Libya, and found plutonium in North Korea in the mid-90's."
"They specialized in 'psychotronic' warfare, inspired by the Soviet's research."
"You're losing me, quickly. I'm not sure what your conspiracy theories have to do with me going out of my mind. And what the hell is psychotronic warfare?"
"I wish it were a conspiracy theory, Liv, considering how much our government spent on the project. It's well publicized. Star Gate is one of the remote viewing programs, using psychic espionage "
She doesn't let him finish. "Psychics? Are you serious? And again, what does that have to do with me?"
"Or maybe it has to do with her."
"Okay, I was wrong, I'm not the one losing it. You are."
"Bear with me, my dear Benson," he smiles wryly, "It's simple Holmesian deduction: you start with all the possible explanations of an evidence, and then find the one explanation that's clearly the best. In this case, you already ruled out alcohol. Were you under other types of influence?"
"I don't touch that stuff!"
"Well, then, unless you want to believe you're going crazy or that you're seeing a real ghost, what else do we have?
"Nothing." Absolutely nothing. "That's the problem."
"What, Munch? You're saying she's some kind of psychic? Spying on me?"
He shrugs. "Maybe it's not intentional. Might not even be the same exact thing."
"Then what is it?"
"Forget the labels. The human mind is a powerful tool. So is the human heart."
"You should try it. Here," he reaches into his pants, and peels a business card from his wallet. "This is a buddy of mine from back in the day. He used to be an intelligence officer with the military. Now he teaches RV. Claims you can learn to gain direct knowledge about inaccessible targets, like people, places, events, in the past, present or future. Even has a DVD course you can buy online."
So this is not about her ghost or her hallucinations, but about trying to find out information the Feds refused to provide. Is she really that pathetic? So desperate that she's willing to try anything? No matter how remote and unlikely? In this case, absurd and crazy?
Olivia gazes at the small piece of paper on her desk. Her instinct is to crumble it, and throw it in the trash. Instead, she simply stares.
"He said he'll talk to you, gratis. Just give him a call."
With a deep sigh, she picks it up and slips it into her breast pocket.
"Let me know if you see Armageddon," her colleague quips, smiling a self-satisfied smile as he walks back to his desk.
Her colleague's friend turned out different than she expected, not that she knew what to expect in the first place. He was an intelligent man, a normal man, almost boring - someone she would pass walking down the street without a second look.
Again, what was she expecting? Someone wearing a tinfoil hat?
His office was stark white, except for the wood of his furniture and his books, stationery and military distinctions. He carried himself like a soldier, complete with his crew cut hair, and spit shine boots.
After a brief introduction, he launched into his area of expertise with authority. He spoke openly of the now declassified government project, and various types of metaphysical phenomena. At no time in the conversation did he bother to tell her to keep an open mind, he was so certain that she would believe him after listening to his talk of scientific methods, protocols and quantum mechanics. Even the parapsychological experiments conducted at CUNY were mentioned as if in afterthought.
Reality is comprised of a matrix of electromagnetic grids, he explained. And in RV, individuals could move their consciousness from one grid to another, experiencing events in two or more places at a time.
Was it just a bunch of mumbo jumbo? The detective isn't sure. She is, however, certain that he wasn't using their meeting to sell his product - he had sent her away with a copy of his lessons, saying a friend of a friend is also a friend.
So now, she's sitting alone in her apartment, and staring at the set of DVD's, hours of materials which promise to help train her clairvoyant abilities - except the more scientific word of 'subconscious' is used.
Is she really going to pop in the video? And try to become a psychic spy?
With a shake of her head, and a quiet chuckle, she pushes the small stack of unopened cases away, and sits back in the sofa.
Immutable facts and solid science, those are the cornerstones of Det. Benson's beliefs. She is, however, going to try the man's relaxation technique. She's had a rough day, she could feel the tension up and down her spine and across her shoulders, culminating in a dull ache at the base of her skull, and in the middle of her forehead. Besides, the routine is simple enough.
Shrugging her shoulders and stretching her spine, Olivia molds her body into the comfortable seat. She clears her mind, and closes her eyes. Then she tells her toes to relax, then her calves, then her thighs. By the time she reaches her neck, the tension headaches are gone. She's in a cozy haze, floating away from consciousness
"Trust what you see," she hears the man voice explaining to her. "Go with the flow."
She's dreaming, she knows she is.
And she finds herself standing in a room, shrouded by darkness. She can barely make out the shapes, shifting and changing. Still, she tries.
Slowly, a small platform comes into focus. Then she sees a gentle form reclining on the surface. A bed, she decides, and moves closer.
Closer and closer until she's almost face to face with the figure. A woman, judging by the hair covering her face, and the rise and fall of her chest.
Then she sees that the woman is not alone. Moving to the other side, she looks at the sleeping form - another woman. This one has short hair. Dark hair, like the detective's own.
Who is she? In her 'dream', Olivia doesn't recognize herself. She can barely make out the features of the person she's hovering over.
And who's that? She wonders about the first figure she saw.
Tentatively, she floats back to the other side of the bed. She squints, forcing the woman's pale face into focus
"Alex!" She gasps, awaking with a start.
Was it a dream? Olivia keeps asking herself the next day. It's got to be. How else could I explain what I saw? I'm probably working too hard. Maybe Elliot's right. Maybe I should date, or at least hang out with someone besides myself.
At the end of her shift, the detective leaves the station, not thinking about her destination. Soon, she finds herself in the Criminal Court building, punching the elevator to the eighth floor. She stands in front of the office she'd spent so much of her time, and so many of her evenings. A light still shines on the inside, and she wonders if she should knock.
"Olivia?" A voice behind her makes her jump.
"What do you need?" The ADA asks.
She can't help but notice the too sweet smile, and too excited lilt of the woman's voice, and she freezes. What did she say the first time she searched out their former ADA during off hours? She thinks she had made up some poor excuse about a file, she can't for the life of her remember.
"You wanna grab a cup of coffee?" She hears herself asking, and immediately dreading the other woman's response.
"I'd love to, Olivia, but I can't. I just came back to drop these off," Casey waves the files in her hand, "Then I'm meeting with Arthur."
Whew. "Oh well, maybe some other time," she says with her poker face in place. "See ya."
Back in her apartment, Olivia sits a half-drunk glass of orange juice on the coffee table. With a relaxed sigh, she stretches out in her couch. Well, at least she can tell her partner she tried, and maybe he'll shut up about Novak now. Hey, maybe the ADA gushes around them because it's really him she likes. Heh.
Stretching and sighing again, the detective turns, to get more comfortable. Her eyes fall onto the stack of DVD's from the day before. Strictly out of boredom, and on a whim, she unwraps the first one and pops it into the portable player beside her.
Soon, the man's words begin to blur, and she eases into another dream. When she finds herself in the same darkened space, it becomes apparent she has returned to the dream from the night before.
Her lover's face comes into focus almost immediately. The detective can see every detail as if she's shining a light on her quarry. This time, Alex is alone in the bed. There's no sign of another soul in the room.
Olivia looks around the unfamiliar place, wondering where she is. It's not her own apartment for sure, nor is it her lover's old bedroom. Even shape of the bed looks different.
Is this a dream? Or am I moving through alleged grids? She wonders, but not too hard, for fear her conscious mind would interrupt this fantasy, whatever it is.
Slowly, she crouches by the bed. Carefully, she moves closer. Until she can feel Alex's breath like a ghost's whisper on her skin. Her heart breaks at the signs of tiredness on the once youthful face, the lines that were edging their way around her eyes the last time they saw each other. Gingerly, she reaches out, to smooth away the furrow between light brown brows. Damn! She swears, when the body loses focus. Quickly, she recoils, not wanting the image to fade away.
How long has she sat watching Alex sleep? Olivia doesn't know; she doesn't care. She sits, holding her own knees, counting her lover's breaths. She smiles when the woman shifts onto her back, and a slight snoring ensues. Then she hears a soft moan. Are you having a nightmare? Or are you The detective queries. If I'm not dreaming, then who was the woman
Sharing your bed? Her mind finishes the question, as a sharp pang of jealousy jerks her back to consciousness.
Grace awakes to a small hand at her shoulder, shaking her gently. "Yes?" She mumbles sleepily, peeling open her eyes, to find him covering his with his other hand. "Miguel? What's wrong?"
He peeks through his fingers, and glances at her torso, then immediately closes the space again.
"Oh." Sometime during the night, while she was tossing and turning, her shirt has ridden up her skin. Or did she push it up intentionally? She can't remember. "It's okay," she laughs to cover her embarrassment, and pulls the material over her stomach. "You can look now."
Immediately, he throws his arms around her neck.
She returns the hug, rubbing his back soothingly. "What's wrong, Sweetie?" She asks carefully, still not entirely sure what to do with her adoptive son. Growing up an only child, and then dealing with children only as witnesses didn't help with her general discomfort around them. Nevertheless, she tries, and coaxes, "Come on, honey, talk to me."
"I'm sorry, I heard noises and I got scared, I just, I want to make sure you're okay. Are you okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine," she reassures with a warm smile. The haunted look in his dark eyes troubles her. "Did you have a bad dream?" She asks, from experience.
He nods. "I dreamt about, him, the Ghost. He was gonna shoot you, like he did, momma and papa "
Even though his parents' assassin haunts Miguel less frequently now, when it returns, Grace is forced to remember that he's just a young boy. He's not the mature little man who is well behaved and tries to make her smile. "Shh " She pulls him into bed with her, and cradles him in her arms. "He's put away, in jail. He can't hurt you anymore. And no one can find us here. We're safe."
"What if he kills you, too?"
The Ghost had already done that twice. He's not doing that again. This life, she swears, she's going to keep. If not for her own benefit, for his. "He shot me, and I lived; he can't kill me." she reasons with a child's logic. "And he shot you too, and here you are."
The boy looks at her skeptically, and sniffs.
She sighs. "He's not going to hurt either of us again, I promise." Then she smiles a bright, catching smile, "You'll grow up, and I'll be there, when you get your university diploma. And when you get married. Then, when you have children, you can bring them to visit me at the old folks' home."
"You'll live with us!"
"We'll see," she laughs. "Suppose I can babysit. Anyway, we'll be okay. Okay?"
"Pinky swear?" He sticks out his little finger.
She hooks hers with his. "Pinky swear."
He giggles, gives her a hug, and hops off the bed. "I'm gonna go get ready."
Grace smiles, and waves. After the door closes, she glances at the clock, flops back into bed, and groans
"Is Marjorie still taking care of the boys tonight?" Cass asks, handing Grace her coffee.
"Yeah. Then I get them for next two Fridays."
"Slumber party! Can I come, Grace, huh? Can I come?"
Grace chuckles and ruffles her friend's hair. "Sure. If you're done with your homework. And you can be the designated loser."
"I won a game playing with Miguel last week."
"Try doing it with Roge."
Cass shakes her head, and changes the subject, "So we still on for dinner?"
"Are you sure you really want me there? I mean, I don't know any of your friends, and I'm not sure I'll fit in," she provides. There was a time she would jump at any social gatherings, if nothing else, to network, and make connections. Now she's hesitant to meet new people, almost shy about it. At first she told herself it was because she didn't want to be recognized. It has since become obvious that she's just not the same person anymore. These days, she's Grace Lockhart-Flores, the boring single-mom librarian.
"They're not really my friends."
"Your labmates, whatever. I just, I don't know."
"Come on, it'll be fun. You'll get to meet my professor. She's hot."
That makes Grace laugh. "Oh, what? Teacher fetish?"
"Unfortunately, she's happily married, to some ho-hum government guy." Cass shrugs, then pleads, "You're not going to let me go stag, are you? Meanwhile, it'll help my rep if you go."
"Right. We're not even dating."
"They don't know that! All they see is me walking in there with an older woman. Our hottest, most desirable librarian, for god's sake."
Grace knows that's just Cass's way of getting her out of the house. "Oh, all right. Suppose I can't say no to that kind of flattery."
"Great. Pick you up at seven?" Cass confirms, as she hops back onto her bike.
"What should I wear?"
"I don't know. It's casual!" She yells, speeding away
"Thanks for a wonderful evening," she says, as they stand before her apartment building.
"Glad you had fun," Cass smiles, running her finger along the lace edging on the other woman's tank top. "You look really nice, with your hair down, figuratively and literally."
"Thanks," Grace pulls her cardigan self-consciously around her shoulders. "Didn't think you'd want me there with the white shirt buttoned up to here," she points at her throat, then pulls a wisp of her hair forward, "Or this in a bun."
"I don't know. You looked pretty "
"Your professor," Grace changes the subject. "She's very proud of you."
"Yeah, Rachel's a really nice woman. Everyone loves her."
"Do you know where she's from, or what her husband does?" Something the scientist said during their chat made Grace ask.
"She's from here, I think. I've only met her husband a couple of times, he's got like, a watered down Brooklyn accent, maybe? Why?"
"You said he works for the government?"
"Yeah, the feds, I'm not sure what exactly he does though. Why?"
"Um, my, friend," she waits for signs of Cass' comprehension, then continues. "I think her college best friend married a doctor, and they moved when she was offered a post at a university here. But I don't think his name is Feinstein. They went to a Catholic university."
"Oh, no, Rachel kept her last name. He's Gentile, Henry something, I can't remember. Where did they go to school?"
"Near Albany. Anyway, she could be at USC. Rachel is a common enough name, and the federal government employs many people." What are the odds, right?
"Well, true, but she's the only Rachel in my department. Do you know "
"No, I don't know anything more about them," Grace replies quickly.
"Do you want me to ask?"
"No, it's really not a good idea." What could she accomplish anyway? She's stuck here, thousands of miles away, not allowed to make contact for the sake of everyone's safety. Besides, after last time, she doubts Olivia would be waiting around for her.
"You sure? I don't mind."
"No. Really, don't. I'm sure."
"Okay," Cass shrugs. "If you change your mind "
"Yeah, I'll let you know."
Before the silence grows uncomfortable, Cass grins. "So how's the book?"
"Haven't gotten too far, just about half way."
"You gonna try it?"
"Why?" So she could torture herself? Assuming she even believed in that stuff? She's not Serena Southerlyn from Homicide who goes to psychic readings. "It's just too new-age, for me," she excuses. And I'm chicken shit; I don't want to see her in bed with my replacement, she confesses to herself.
"It's really not that scary, I went to Egypt once, even met Cleo."
"You and Shirley MacLaine," Grace laughs. "Tell me, how does this jive with Biomedical Engineering?"
"You've got to have an open mind for scientific discoveries?" Cass laughs along. "I was just kidding about Cleo, I did have a conference with Caesar though."
Suddenly, the older woman's expression turns serious. "Would you like to come up?"
"Is this euphemistic? You gonna try to make me suckass coffee, and we end up falling into bed, and ripping each other's clothes off?"
"Uh." She wasn't expecting the direct questioning. "I suppose. If, uh, if you want."
"Look, Grace, I'd really like to."
"But you don't want to, it's okay. I'm sorry," she says, wishing there were a place to hide. "I'm not really sure I should be doing this anyway," she looks towards the sky, and laughs lightly.
"I really like you." Cass takes her hands, to force blue eyes to meet her own. "And I like being your friend. Real friends don't need benefits."
"Right. What do I have to offer you? As a friend?" Meanwhile, the younger woman has been including her in social events, like tonight. She has invited her to student theatre, helped Miguel with his homework, made her laugh with her slightly off the wall antics the list goes on. She wishes circumstances were different; she could fall in love with Cass.
"You're a good listener? Sometimes I talk my theories out with you, and while you have no idea what I'm blabbing about, you let me talk, and you give me this indulgent smile," she explains sincerely. "I don't have many friends at the lab. We're all too busy, and too competitive. Here, I have a place to go to besides my dorm room."
"You don't live in a dorm room."
"Graduate student housing; it's still feels like a dorm, everyone's there for one reason - to get their diplomas. I can't even have a pet. Besides, you cook dinner for me."
"Yeah, spaghetti. Wooo."
"And quesadillas? And pizza? I come from a big family, Grace, and being with you and Miguel, it helps me miss them less." She reaches up, to brush the light brown strands away from her friend's eyes. "Honest."
"Okay." Grace smiles, and resigns herself to the situation.
"So we cool?"
"Yeah, we're cool." She gives Cass a quick hug. "Thanks for bringing me home."
"See you tomorrow, chica!"
She watches the motorcycle round the corner of her block, then follows the steps to an empty apartment
It's getting easier now, the relaxation routine. With a soldier's mental discipline, the detective no longer has to go from her toes to her head to make her various body parts let go of the tension. Instead, she puts on a CD, and within a few minutes of deep breathing, she floats away with the sounds of the ocean, of the waves crashing along the shore.
The ocean. Olivia is almost certain she saw it the other night, when she tried to get out of the darkened room. Did she just move from one grid to another miles away and maybe even a different point in time? That, she isn't sure.
Maybe this time, she'll just explore the apartment
Once more, she enters the hypnagogic state, where she's bordering on sleep. Behind her eyes, she sees the light patterns resulted from neural discharges, which she has learned to ignore. Then she loses the awareness of her body, and her thoughts. Then she feels it - the release, of her subconsciousness
If only Munch could see her now. She could just imagine him holding his chin to express satisfaction, complete with the superior little smile tugging on his lips. Of course, if her partner saw her like this, he would fit her into a straitjacket, and drag her to Bellevue.
She's back in the room again, as if drawn instinctively to her lover.
Again, Olivia is relieved to find Alex alone, as she had for her almost nightly visits aside from the first. Whoever that was, if that person even existed outside of her imagination, was obviously just a ship in the night - a temporary someone for Alex to exorcise her loneliness. That's okay. That the detective can handle.
But this Can she really live with this? And for how long? Someday, one day, her lover may find someone, someone to replace her in her heart. She may even forget her entirely
Why can't I leave the room? How come I can't even go towards the window? Am I bound? She laments, despite the RV instructor's warning against thinking too hard. I just need a hint, even just a small hint. Is it too much to ask? If she had even a street name, she would have something to start with. Instead, all she sees is the darkened bedroom. All she has is this ghost of her lover, almost within reach but never near enough, haunting her dreams.
Still, the woman is right here, in front of Olivia's eyes, near enough to scent, to savor. And she has learned to touch, to seduce, like a succubus might.
Not this time, she promises herself in the beginning of every night. Just this time, she finds herself saying now. Just once more, she swears as she hovers over the reclining form.
"I love you, Alex," she whispers next to the sleeping woman's ear, and hears her responding sigh, and feels her full lips parting, as if welcoming her kiss.
She knows it's her imagination, that she can taste the sweetness of her lover's breath, that she can feel the flush of her lover's skin. And it's sheer fantasy, that she can sense the pounding of the woman's heart as she kisses smoothly, softly down her exposed neck, sliding, stroking her hands carefully down her sides.
Then, gently, she pulls back. "Love you, Alex," she tells her again, and again. "Forever. 'Til the end of time," she says, caressing with her words, wishing they could be heard.
It's got to be pure coincidence that Alex chooses this exact moment to push up her shirt, to form her body into a graceful, offering arch, with the same impatience she showed the brunette in the past.
"Liv," she breathes, in her sleep, assuaging the detective's guilt. "Please," she moans, wanting more.
Long and deep, she kisses Alex, sucking the pleas from her lips. With her eyes closed, she can almost feel the probing response of her lover's tongue, and the warm wet of her mouth.
She can feel the slender body rising up to meet her own, as she makes her way down the exposed chest, as she skims her fingers over excited flesh
Then the legs parting, then the arms clasping, pulling her in.
A shudder runs through Olivia's spine as she covers her lover... as nails bite into her back, urging her on as graceful fingers twine with hers through the soft cotton material, encouraging her.
And she touches Alex, as if she has never touched anyone like this before. And she reaches inside and holds her, like she's holding the world, like she's squeezing her own heart, in her fist.
And she loves her, with all her emotions, with each thrust, long and gentle and slow, hoping to fill the emptiness, to end the loneliness
And she touches her very core, and hears the soft sucking wet noises of her arousal, and the hoarse sexy cries of her passion. And she feels the fluttering tremor that grows and grows, until it pulses through and overwhelms them.
Even her own climax, it seems so real. She's near tears when she promises and prays, "I'll find you. Somehow." For a moment, she even believes.
For the next lingering seconds, she holds Alex close, cuddling with her, just like they used to, whispering sweet nothings to her, watching her ease into deeper slumber.
"Dream of me?" She asks, and kisses her one last time before rising from the bed. Then she looks up, just in time to catch the door creak open.
First she sees his large eyes, shiny with concern in the darkness. Then the rest of him creeps in. He looks exactly the same as when she last saw him, maybe just a little taller. She smiles, glad to know that he's not shoved into the foster care system, that her lover and the boy have each other to rely on.
Then he gazes right at her. "Cass?" He squeaks.
They say children can see things adults can't because cynicism hasn't clouded their innocent sight. "Can you see me?" She wonders out loud, not really expecting him to hear.
"Olivia!" He cheers, recognizing her voice, and sprints towards the bed.
"Shh Antonio!" She hushes, but it's too late.
"Liv?" Alex wakes, just as Olivia does, too.
Am I crazy?
Did I just imagine all of it?
But it felt so real.
I want it to be real.
Even though it's completely unrealistic, and on so many levels.
Why would they put her and Antonio together? They could dye her hair, but a white woman and a Hispanic child together would still draw attention. Would she willingly endanger Antonio's life?
Or are they both marked, since together they put away Velez's favorite assassin? It would take less resources to watch over both of them if they're under the same roof
Does it matter? It's probably all just a figment of your imagination, Benson. You're so effing pathetic that you're willing to believe in anything, even hocus-pocus.
Really, he couldn't possibly see you, could he?
Yeah, you really are losing it.
But what if, just what if
"Hey," Munch greets, putting a cup of coffee on her desk, and sliding into her partner's empty chair.
Olivia twists her lips into a curt smile. "Thanks."
"So how's research?" He asks casually, then bites into a donut.
"Oh, Elliot's doing that," she shrugs.
"Come on, Liv, don't hold out on me."
Making a last ditch effort to evade the question, she starts, "Who says "
The older detective just shakes his head. "You look haunted."
"Can you think of a reason," she drops her voice, "Why they would put them together?"
"Them? You mean "
"So you saw them?"
Instead of answering, Olivia voices her concern, "It's not safe, for either of them." Then realizing Munch would just infer the reply, she adds, "You know, hypothetically speaking."
"Hypothetically speaking," he repeats, as if weighing his thoughts. "You know she can be very convincing, if she wants."
"Enough to convince the, them?"
"You tell me. You know her better than any one of us."
Despite herself, Olivia smiles a real smile. "She gets what she wants. Always."
"So you did get results?"
She sighs, and rests her forehead against her hands. "Just more questions than I had before."
"I see." He drains his cup, and tosses it in the trash, allowing the noise to emphasize his point, "Well, look at it this way: you at least know enough to have questions."
"So you don't think I'm crazy?"
"Not more so than the average person."
That's reassuring. "Right." She's just about to sip from her coffee when her cell phone rings. Flipping it open without looking, she answers, "Benson.
"Hello, Rachel," she smiles widely. "How are you?"
"I'm gonna," the other detective mouths, pointing to his desk. Then he stops.
"Oh my god," she whispers. "How?
"Sure. I'll be there as soon as I can," she says, and hangs up the phone.
"Are you O.K., Liv? You look white as a ghost "
"I gotta," Olivia stands, nearly knocking over her chair.
"I gotta talk to the captain," she says without meeting his eyes, seeing only the wooden door.
A few minutes later, without acknowledging her colleague's questioning gaze, she walks passed her desk, and away from the squad room
"Make me a channel of Your peace. Where there is hatred let me bring Your love. Where there is injury, Your pardon, Lord. And where there's doubt, true faith in You "
With tears in her eyes, Grace listens to the haunting hymn.
So this is your mother's favorite song. I didn't know that. I didn't even know you can sing like this. There's so much I don't know about you. So much I'd love to know She thinks to herself, doubting she'll ever get the chance again.
"Oh, Master, grant that I may never seek. So much to be consoled as to console. To be understood as to understand. To be loved as to love with all my soul "
There's so much I don't understand. Were you really here, with me, all those nights? I thought I dreamt you. But Antonio swears he saw you. Could he? Was it possible?
She looks at the boy sitting quietly beside her, and the woman on the other side of him, and her mind weaves to their conversation yesterday morning. Only yesterday morning
"Hey, I've got great news!" Cass had shown up at her desk with a letter in hand.
Grace recognized the wild-eyed excited look, the same one she had when she got the acceptance letter from Columbia, when she thought her law degree would allow her to somehow change the world, or at least the state of New York. "Which school?" She asked the younger woman.
"How'd you know?"
"Come on, just spill."
"You'll be in San Diego." She felt the flutter of excitement. San Diego wouldn't be that far away. They would stay in touch; they would continue their friendship, and maybe
"Unless I get into Johns Hopkins."
Choosing to ignore that comment, Grace offered instead, "Come over tonight, and we'll celebrate."
"Chuck e Cheese?"
"If that's what you want," she laughed with her friend.
But that was then, and this is now
"Make me a channel of Your peace. Where there's despair in life let me bring hope. Where there is darkness, only light. And where there's sadness, ever joy."
Do you even believe in what you're singing? Grace wonders as she listens to the emotional voice. I wish it were true that, there were joy in this, in any of this.
I wish I never came here. I shouldn't have come here. It's so inappropriate, to begin with
Her friend had showed up that night at her house, supposedly to celebrate. Instead, she stood by the kitchen island, shuffling her feet, and uncharacteristically sullen. The elation from earlier in the day missing entirely.
"What's wrong, Sweetie?"
"My prof's husband, he got shot on the job."
"He's law enforcement?" Grace blurted, feeling sympathetic sorrow. "Is he all right?"
"FBI." Cass shook her head. "Didn't make it. He shouldn't have been in the field to begin with. Guess if it's your time to go, it's your time to go."
"How's your professor?"
"Still in shock, I assume. She's got to explain to her son why dad's not coming home." She sighed. "I'm not sure how people do it, loving someone who put their lives in danger like that."
"The greater good." That was all the librarian could say. She couldn't share the constant dread that hangs over her head loving a cop, or that she had put her own life in danger like that.
"I guess... Hey Grace? Will you go to the funeral with me?"
"I, uh, I don't think that's a good idea. I don't even know your professor."
"You've met; she likes you. I'll tell her it's my idea if she even says anything. Besides, it's a big mass in a big church with many, many people, she probably won't even see you. Please, please, please? I've never been to a funeral before, and, I just. Pretty please with sugar on top?"
Grace listened to the impassioned plea, and found her resolve weakening. Maybe it could be some sort of closure for herself, about her own deaths, and her mother's. She didn't even get the chance to visit her mom's grave last time she was in New York
"When is it?"
"But Majorie's taking Roge to see her parents. I don't have a sitter for Miguel. I can't take him to a funeral."
"Why not?" The boy piped up from his seat at the table. "I'll go."
So here we are
"Make me a channel of Your peace. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. In giving to all men that we receive. And in dying that we're born to eternal life "
A channel of peace? Can you forgive me for leaving like that? For breaking your heart? I tried so hard to stay away, to not see you even one last time before I had to give up being Alex Cabot again.
And now, we're here, both in the same room. I'm so sorry about your college best friend. I wish I could offer you comfort.
I wish for so much more than that. I wish for an eternity with you. I wish
But what about New York? What about your job, or my job? She asks herself. What do I tell the marshals? What about all the other things? So many things
He might find us one day. I can't put you in that danger. No.
I can't let you see me.
Don't want to have to say goodbye. Not again. I can't Grace resolves.
A frantic tug at her sleeve catches her attention. She looks down at the boy, who shouldn't have been here in the first place. "What's wrong?" She whispers.
He points at his nose.
Oh, great. What do I do? What did mom do? She puts her finger under his nostrils to hold back the sneeze, and prays that it works.
Finally, he relaxes, and smiles.
As soon as she removes her index finger, Miguel gasps and pulls his shoulders to his ears, letting out a huge sound. "Excuse me!" He yelps.
The outburst broke the tension in the air, and some people laugh. Grace feels eyes on her, and involuntarily, she looks to the podium.
In that instant, blue meets brown, and time stands still
"Hurry, Miguel, we have to go."
"But what about Olivia? I want to see Olivia."
"We can't, Miguel, I'm sorry."
"But why?" He whines, for the first time acting his age.
She doesn't have any answer for him. "Because," she says, as her own mother would say. "We have to go home now." To our apartment, in the safest neighborhood in town. Where it's safe. Safe. When has Alex Cabot ever played it safe? But that's not who she is anymore, is it?
Not Grace. Mom. And he's saying it like he means it. She doesn't have time to dwell on that right now. "I'm so sorry," she tells him. "We just can't stay."
Olivia didn't want to be here. She had to. She didn't want stand up in front of the entire congregation either. What could she possibly say in eulogy about her friend, her best friend for almost two decades, even after he got married, until Alex Cabot came along. She didn't say anything at Alex's supposed funeral either. She couldn't.
But this was not about her, was it? She was doing it for Rachel, her friend's widow, and Chris, their son, her godson. Still, she found no words of her own. So she borrowed from her mother's favorite hymn; it seemed appropriate, and it related her wishes.
And like everyone else, she heard the sneeze interrupting the organist. Like everyone else, she chuckled at the agitated apology from the child. But something about that voice made her look, made her search the aisles for the source.
Then she saw them - the little boy, and the woman who haunted her days and nights. Her eyes were still the same unmistakable shade of piercing, almost inhuman blue; and dressed in black, she looked almost ghostlike.
She would have leapt from the podium that instant. Then she saw the brunette sitting next to them, smiling and ruffling the boy's hair with a familiarity that filled her with jealousy, and held her back.
The thing about another door opening when one closes? That's total bull, she decided, and returned to her seat
After the mass, the detective watches her heart flee from her with the boy, and sucks in her tears.
Suppose I could ask Rachel, she'll know. But why should I even bother? Obviously, you don't want to see me. Maybe you're happy with your life now. Maybe I should let you go, she tries to convince herself.
She's surprised when the younger, shorter version of herself approaches. Part of her wants to just punch her and challenge her to a duel or something. Winner takes all.
But that's barbaric. And you'd never approve. Besides, she's just here to talk to Rachel, to express her condolences.
Still, Olivia stands her ground, and stares, watching and wondering just how much hold the other brunette has on her lover. Yeah, well, it's my name she moans in her sleep, she gloats childishly, no longer doubting what she saw and felt all those nights.
She's completely taken aback when the woman turns to her, and extends her hand.
"You must be Liv," the woman smirks, appraising.
How? Did you talk about me? "And you must be Cass," she charges, like she would a criminal.
"I think there's something you should know," Cass simply says, and starts walking away.
Despite her annoyance, Olivia excuses herself with her friend's widow, and follows
"I need to talk to you, Grace!"
"I can't. Go away," she says, stifling her wants.
"Open the door! I'm not going to leave until you do."
"Please, just leave, and forget about seeing me."
"You know I can't do that!"
"You must!" She insists, even though she doesn't believe it herself.
"I love you, Grace!"
She simply can't answer; she just can't. Instead, she responds to the furious shaking of the knob. "Stop it! Just stop it!"
I can't let you get away again. Not this time. "Open the damn door!" Olivia bangs her fists on the wood. "I'll break it down if I have to, you know I can!"
"Stay in your room Miguel!" Grace yells, the first time she ever raised her voice at her son.
She can't stop herself. "Don't make me ask you again!"
Before the echo of her outcry ceases, her phone rings. Then her neighbor's concerned voice comes through the answering machine. "Grace? Are you there? Do I need to call the cops for you?"
She quickly picks up the phone and replies, "No, I'm okay. We're both okay."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, yes, I'm sure."
"Grace!" The whole apartment vibrates from the harsh kick.
"Leave me the fuck alone!" She screams at everyone.
Both women on the other side call out, "Grace!"
"I gotta go, Marjorie, I'm sorry. I'll explain later." She hangs up the phone, and rushes to the door, opening it with a whoosh. "What do you want?" She barks, frustration rising above all her other emotions.
"I want my heart back! I want you!"
When the barrier remains open, Olivia reiterates her point, softly this time, "I want you, Grace." She pants, "And I want this.
"I want this," she says, taking her lover's pale face in her hands, placing a soft kiss on her mouth. "I want you, Grace," she repeats, passionately. "I don't wanna live without you. I can't."
"But I'm not, but you "
She hushes the protest with another kiss. "I love you. That's all that matters," she promises, her lips sinking, melting with her lover's...
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