DISCLAIMER: All main characters either belong to Dick Wolf/NBC/Universal or Jerry Bruckheimer/CBS/Warner Bros./or Stephen J. Cannell/USA Network.
SEQUEL to Circumstances Beyond Control, And The Cradle Will Rock and Running With The Devil.
SPOILERS: Sometime during and post "Ghost." I took some liberties (as usual) with the dialogue so I could manipulate it for my selfish, I mean, artistic purposes and, also, made Alex's "claims adjuster" a female.
FANDOMS: Law and Order:SVU/Cold Case/Silk Stalkings.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Cheyne

It had been almost six weeks since Lilly Rush and Olivia Benson had been together. Their schedules clashed incompatibly every time they attempted to make plans. Thank God for cell phones, text messaging and the Internet.

Philadelphia Detective Lilly Rush was not a woman who lived in a fantasy world. She had experienced enough, seen enough in her thirty some-odd years to know that every choice had a consequence, every action had an equal and opposite reaction. She was very well aware that the woman she was hopelessly in love with was haunted by a virtual ghost, a very real apparition that could make or break what she and Detective Benson had impulsively and, somewhat intricately, built to this point. The threat of this phantom reappearing was always in the back of Lilly's head. Former New York City Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot was Lilly Rush's unintentional nemesis. Personally, Lilly held no ill will toward Alex. She did not know her. What she was aware of, however, was the effect the former blonde ADA had on Lilly's lover.

Things had been sailing along so smoothly for the Manhattan Special Victims Unit detective and the Philadelphia cold case detective that Alex Cabot was almost forgotten. Almost.

Lilly had just recently endured another family crisis with the brunette. Olivia's youngest half-brother, Rik Rogerios, had been thrown in jail on an aggravated assault and attempted murder charge because his wife, Reta, had been beaten into a coma by a baseball bat. Rik had taken the rap and stood by his story until a child psychologist had extracted the truth from his youngest daughter, Risa. Who was actually his half-sister. When Rikard Rogerios found out that his father, who was also Olivia's father, had raped Rik's wife, Reta, multiple times, threatening her if she told, he also discovered that Risa and Ronnie, two children he had been under the impression were, and were raising as, his own, were actually his father's, a horrible argument followed. When Rik left to calm down, Risa Rogerios attacked her mother with her younger brother's Louisville slugger.

Risa had never been a stable child, her temper and anger issues being the subject of many home and school conferences. No one seemed to know where this violent streak had come from. Then Grandpa Rogerios confessed almost all his sins on his death bed and a lot of issues were suddenly resolved, or dawned upon, that Tabor Rogerios' genetic make up could have been the catalyst for a lot of unexplained and unpleasant family behavior.

Wanting to protect his family, Rik told the police that he had lost control and hurt his wife. Olivia knew differently. In her attempt to get to the truth, she and Lilly were able to apprehend Risa and get the young teenager into a juvenile facility that could, hopefully, successfully treat her.

Olivia was finally able to convince her half-brother to set the record straight with the police and district attorney. Reta made it out of her coma but was still in rehabilitation because of her injuries. The most positive thing was the family was on the right track, moving toward healing.

As much as she wanted to stay neutral, Olivia couldn't help but feel protective toward these two men who were unexpectedly related to her. Even under the circumstances, they had openly and unequivocally accepted Olivia into the family fold. They were just as much a victim as she was, regarding their father's criminal history. It had been an eventful couple of months. It was only lately that they all seemed to be settling down into some modicum of a sibling relationship.

Picking up the phone at her desk, Lilly cradled the receiver between her ear and her shoulder while she reached for a pen. "Rush."

An extremely sensually low, husky voice at the other end said, "Tell me what you're wearing."

Immediately turning four shades of crimson. Lilly looked around at her co-workers to see if they noticed. They hadn't. Thank you, Lord. She'd never hear the end of it. The smile in her voice was obvious. "Just a grin, Detective, how about you?"

"Somehow I think if you were naked, at your desk, the last things your co-workers would do is let you take time to answer the phone."

"You are a bad girl, Olivia," Lilly told her, quietly.

"Then I will go to your room and await my spanking."

If it was possible, Lilly blushed even more. Just then, Will Jeffries passed her desk and Lilly cleared her throat, suddenly all business-like. "So what is it I can do for you, Detective?"

"Hmmm…let's start with a massage, then a Jacuzzi and a bottle of wine and, let's see, how about a romantic dinner and spending the rest of the night in bed, satisfying all our carnal urges?"

Lilly laughed, shading her face by hiding behind her hand, stretched out over her forehead like a bill. "And when will all this be taking place?"

"How about this weekend? I can be there Friday night and then we can have the whole weekend to ourselves."

"God, Olivia, that would be great. It feels like forever since I've seen you."

"Miss me?"

"As much as you missed me, I hope," Lilly loved this banter between them. Just the thought of Olivia being in her bed this weekend nearly immobilized all of her senses. "How's Elliot?"

"Oh, Packy's right here," Olivia laughed. "Would you like to talk to him?"

"No, I think I'll pass this time. My ears are still ringing from the last time you called him Packy." Lilly heard some noise in the background and there was a minute of dead air over the phone. "Everything okay?"

"Sure. I have to go. My boss is on the warpath for some reason. I'll call you later on in the week to finalize the plans."

"Great," Lilly responded, grinning from ear to ear.

"Can't wait to see you," Olivia admitted before terminating the call.

"Olivia, Elliot, in my office. Now!!"

The commanding voice of Donald Cragen warned them that he was not in a good mood. The partners glanced at each other, skeptically, before entering the captain's office, closing the door behind them. They regarded him expectantly, but clueless, about the source of his demeanor. Cragen folded his arms tightly across his chest and looked at his two best detectives.

Again, Olivia and Elliot exchanged looks and Elliot cocked his head. "What's up, Cap?"

"Is there anything either of you would like to tell me?"

Olivia was lost. "Um…my deck of Tarot cards got misplaced, so could you be a little more specific?"

"I spent a good portion of yesterday afternoon with Agent Hammond. Remember him?"

A wave of sweat immediately passed through Olivia like an accelerated body scan. "What's going on?"

Cragen returned her glare. "That's what I'd like to know. That night you two met with Hammond following the…incident…with Alex, you both knew she was still alive." It was not a question.

Both SVU detectives immediately studied invisible patterns in the floor. "Yes, Sir," Olivia responded, barely audible.

"And neither of you saw fit to share that with me?" His voice rose with every word.

"We couldn't, Cap, we were told not to." It was Elliot, coming to the rescue.

"Well, I hope that does not come back to bite us. Didn't you just arrest Liam Connors for the murder of Alex Cabot?"

"Yeah…but…" Elliot began and was immediately cut off.

"I don't want to hear it. You two can explain to Arthur Branch why a ghost is coming back to testify at Connors' trial."

Olivia suddenly felt faint. "Alex is coming back?"

"She's already here." They both followed the direction of Cragen's gaze, which was focused behind them.

Turning around, Elliot was speechless and Olivia wasn't quite sure how to react. Alex Cabot nodded to Elliot and smiled somewhat vacantly at Olivia. "Detectives. Good to see you again."

As Alex stayed in the squad room, helping to pick John Munch up off the floor, after he walked in and saw her, running directly into his desk chair and falling over it, they debated conspiracy theories together. Munch told her he knew all along she was alive. Odafin Tutuola told Munch he was full of shit. "You cried like a baby at her funeral!" Fin argued.

In the conference room, by themselves, Elliot and Olivia were told to decide between them who would take the day shift and who would take the night shift, guarding Alex until she testified. Immediately requesting the night shift, Elliot glared at Olivia.

"Don't forget," Elliot reminded her, "you are dating my cousin."

"I know, El, I know. I have no intention of lying to or deceiving Lilly. I promise." Olivia's external voice betrayed her inner voice. She had no idea how she was going to handle this. She did not want to hurt the Philadelphia detective, Lilly had come to mean a great deal to her, perhaps even having fallen in love with her. But she had to honestly reconcile her feelings with and about Alex in order to be fair to Lilly. Olivia was almost shaking. "Alex and I need to talk, though. Do you understand that? We need to sort out and zero in on what we may or may not have any more."

Elliot sighed and rubbed his eyes. "I don't like it, Liv. I know the hold she has on you."

Running her hand through her hair, Olivia shook her head. "I need to do this, Elliot. I need to spend the night with her. Now, whether that means talking, fighting, crying or sex, I have to do it."

"Fuck me," Elliot swore. "I knew this was going to happen, Olivia, I knew it." He turned to leave the conference room, then stopped, looking back at his partner. "You call Lilly, Liv." He pointed at her. "You call her and tell her that Alex is back because if you don't, I will." Elliot slammed the door behind him and she heard him say to Alex, "come on, Counselor. Let's take you to see Casey Novak for your prep and then you're stuck with me until eight tonight."

Once home, Olivia took a hot shower to hopefully relax some of the tension out of her muscles. She changed into a clean pair of sweats and lying down on the bed, picked up her portable phone. Pushing her speed dial to Lilly's cell phone, she closed her eyes while the phone rang.

"Rush," she heard on the other end of the line.

"Hi." It was the resignation in that one word that prompted Lilly to take notice.

"What's wrong?"

"Something's come up and I think talking about it can't wait."

"This does not sound good." Lilly rose from her desk and strolled outside the bullpen, outside the building. "What's going on?"

"Um…Alex is back, Lil. She, uh, showed up this morning. She's going to testify in what we originally thought was a money laundering case gone really bad but, as it turns out, the man who murdered the parents of this little boy he also attempted to kill, is the same man who shot Alex."

Lilly closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. The day she dreaded was here. She had planned to be mature about this, even cavalier, but now faced with the distinct possibility of losing Olivia, her heart felt as though it was bottoming out at her toes. "Have you two seen each other?"


"Are the sparks still there?"

"It's a little hard to tell at this point."

Hard to tell? Either they were or they weren't. "When are you seeing her again?"

"Tonight. She needs to be guarded until she testifies. Elliot and I are –"

"You and El are going to be there with her together?"

"No. Elliot is with her now. I get the night shift."

"You're staying with her tonight? Alone?" She didn't mean to but there was a hint of panic in Lilly's tone.

"Lil…I have to. Please. We've talked about this. I have never lied to you about Alex."

"Olivia, I know that. And I have appreciated your honesty. But that doesn't make this any easier. I thought you and I had something special…" Lilly's voice could not disguise that she was on the verge of crying.

"We do. We have something special. Don't go past tense on me. I don't know where this thing with Alex is going to go…"

"Yeah, that makes me feel better, Olivia. If she doesn't want you any more, there's always good old Lilly."

"That's not what I meant," Olivia was trying not to be defensive. She knew Lilly Rush had every reason to be angry with her, even though they openly discussed the 'what if' of Alex returning many times. If Olivia were in Lilly's shoes, she would respond the same way. "I need to see Alex. Alone. I need to talk to her. Alone. Maybe I don't have the same feelings for her anymore."

"Wait. Hold on, let me check something...nope, hell hasn't frozen over."

"Lil –"

"Look, Olivia, I have to go. I'm glad you made me aware. Call me when you've made up your mind." Hanging up her cell phone, Lilly proceeded to violently throw it against the concrete of the building, where it disintegrated into many tiny pieces.

"Lilly?" Olivia heard dead air. Glancing at the Caller ID window on the receiver, it read: call terminated. "Shit." She thought about trying to call her again but decided not to. What else could Olivia really say to her at this point?

When Elliot opened the door to let Olivia inside the room, his expression was pleasant but he gave his partner a reprimanding glare. That look said everything. It said, 'You better take care of this and don't you dare hurt my cousin in the process.' What he didn't know was that Olivia was thinking the exact same thing, not having the courage to tell him it was too late.

She waited until Elliot closed and locked the door behind him. Staring at the woman who certainly did possess her soul by Elliot's standards, Olivia could not help but be immediately awestruck by how much more beautiful Alexandra Cabot had become. She had not thought that was possible. The longer hair, the casual clothes which she filled out much nicer than the last time they had seen each other, the lines in her face that gave way to a maturity and character Alex did not have before. Two years of hiding had changed this woman. It had changed them both.

Olivia had every intention of flying into Alex's arms the second they were really alone together but the blonde took a lateral step away, crossed her arms and stared toward the darkened window.

Confused, hurt, defensive and needy, all that came out of Olivia's mouth was a quiet, "Hey."

"Hey, yourself." Alex's tone was not immediately decipherable.

"How've you been?" Olivia wasn't sure she liked this slow, anguished dance that was happening between them.

Alex shrugged, still not making eye contact. "How do you think? For the past two years I've been living in fear for my life, living a different existence, isolated from everything and everyone I've ever known and loved. I went from here to West Bumfuck, Wisconsin. Wisconsin, Olivia. I don't even like cheese."

Her last sentence made Olivia smile. That expression on the sultry detective's face made Alex break into a grin, in spite of herself. She quickly shook it off.

"My mother died, Olivia. She died never knowing I was still alive. She died, thinking I was dead and that she would probably reunite with me in the afterlife. I couldn't even attend her funeral…"

"I went," Olivia interrupted, hoping that helped some.

"I know you did. And I appreciate that more than you will ever know. But her death made me feel even more alone." Her arms went from folded to hugging herself, dismayed and angry. "I wanted my old life back, my old friends."

"Made any new friends?" Olivia asked innocently enough.

Alex's eyes connected with Olivia's for the first time since Olivia's arrival. There was something cruel in Alex's smile, as though she had been anticipating this question or one like it and was ready to strike with her reply. "A few. There is this claims adjuster. And when we're in bed, she calls me…Emily." Waiting for a reaction, Alex wasn't disappointed.

Shocked, tears stung Olivia's eyes. Had Alex just blurted out something so hurtful in a totally nonchalant manner? Did she not care about the possible emotional ramifications? Olivia opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out.

"What, Olivia? I'm supposed to remain a nun while you're carrying on a pretty passionate affair with a certain blonde Philadelphia detective?" Alex challenged.

"You know about Lilly?" Olivia asked, her voice barely above a whisper. She tried to hold them back but her tears spilled over and quietly made trails down her cheeks.

"You'd be surprised the things Agent Hammond keeps me informed about."

"Alex –"

"No. We're not going to do this. You have moved on. I need to."

"I haven't, though. The success or failure of my situation with Lilly depends on you."

"Wow," Alex commented, casually, moving away from the window and toward the edge of the bed. She sat down, crossed her legs and looked up at Olivia. "How does she feel about being the consolation prize?"

Olivia shook her head, looked up at the ceiling and wiped her tears with the back of her sleeve. "I've never seen this side of you. It's not particularly flattering."

"I am done tiptoeing around issues, Olivia. I had my life taken away from me. I almost died. I look at things differently now." Alex was trying to remain strong, unyielding, but watching Olivia break down so quickly over the possibility of them never being together again, was too much. Maybe Olivia was happy with her new "friend," but Alex was not with hers. She was way too restless being anywhere else but in Olivia Benson's embrace. Olivia was the only one who understood her, her demons, her skeletons, her passion. "Look, Liv," Alex's voice was much softer now, "I honestly don't know what to tell you. Velez is still out there. We've got one of his assassins by the short hairs, big deal…"

"Big deal? Yeah, it is a big deal, Alex, Connors is the one who tried to kill you. It is a big deal that we lock him up. For a very, very long time."

"And when he goes, there will be three more to take his place. Until Velez is taken out of commission, I am a dead woman walking. So, you see, I don't have time to play games anymore. Every second I breathe has to have some meaning to me now. I cannot, I will not waste time pining for you or expecting you to put your life on hold to wait for me when I don't have a clue as to when you and I can or will ever be able to be together again. As a couple."

"So that's it? You make all the rules now?"

"That's my point, Olivia," Alex protested, helplessly. "I don't make any of the rules. I have control over very little in my life now. So the things I can have control over, I need to maintain full control for some semblance of dignity and sanity." Alex studied the SVU detective, whose quiet strength seemed to be seeping out of her eyes.

There was an awkward silence between them as Olivia walked to the bathroom to splash water on her face and blow her nose. Exiting the bathroom, the brunette self-consciously shoved her hands into her jeans pockets. "So…what's she like? Your claims adjuster?"

"You really don't want to know, do you?"

"Actually, I do." Olivia pulled a chair away from the small table by the window and sat in it backward. She rested her arms on the back of the chair and placed her chin on the back of her hand.

Shaking her head, stifling a chuckle, Alex couldn't help but think how butch, yet femininely seductive Olivia looked at the same time, without even consciously trying to. "Well…her name is Joanna and she looks nothing like you. Has none of your characteristics. She is a very sweet woman but she's generically blonde."

"Meaning what? She's a featherhead? Because I cannot see you with anyone who is not your intellectual equal."

"No, I meant generic in the sense that she's got that pretty, blue eyed, apple pie, ex-cheerleader look about her. She has never known any violence in her life. But she's not naïve about it. She's practical and –"

"Does she satisfy you in bed?" Olivia got right to the point. If Alex didn't want to waste time mincing words, Olivia could more than oblige her.

"You mean like you use to?" Alex asked, with an arch of her eyebrow. "Nobody has ever satisfied me in bed the way you used to, Olivia. And, I honestly don't think anyone ever will." Suddenly the memory of the intimacy and raw, almost animal, sexual encounters they used to have rushed back to Alex. She momentarily lost her breath, then almost immediately regained her decorum. But the sizzling heat emanating from between her thighs was very distracting. Very distracting, indeed.

"Then what are we doing, Alex? Why aren't we discussing what we can do about working something out?"

"Like you'd give up your existence to follow me to hell and back while I am in this program? I think not, Detective Benson. And I don't want a part-time relationship. I want someone to make a life with, who can be in it for the long haul. You can't promise me that."

"How do you know? How do you know what I would or wouldn't give up for you?"

"Liv, I have no doubt you would give up your job for me. But then what? You couldn't be Olivia Benson anymore, could probably never be a cop again because it might be traceable. You would be miserable. And you'd start resenting me. And then when it didn't work out, you would hate me for stealing however many years of your life. And I would hate you for not being able to hang in there with me."

Olivia nodded. She certainly couldn't argue with Alex's logic. "Do you think Joanna will stay in it for the duration? Is she someone you could make a life with?"

"No," Alex responded, without hesitation. "Joanna is a wonderful woman. But we don't love each other. Right now in my life? She's just exercise."

"That's kind of cold."

"Cold. And honest." Alex once again, purposely studied the woman staring back at her. God, Olivia was so beautiful, so sexy, so strong, so passionate. The blonde's resistance was wearing mighty thin. "Tell me about Lilly."

"Tell you what? Everything Agent Hammond hasn't told you? Give me the parameters so I'll know where to pick up where he left off," Olivia began with a somewhat snotty tone.

"Agent Hammond tells me things he feels I need to know to help me cope with my life," she said, almost defensively. "He thought it was important that I know you were seeing someone. All he told me was that you were spending a lot of time with a female detective from Philadelphia. Weekends and sometimes more. I figured the rest out for myself."

"Her name is Lilly Rush. She works cold cases in Philly. She reopens and usually solves cases that are not officially closed but have been long forgotten. Did he tell you I found my father because of her?"

"Yes and that you have two brothers. Hungarian, huh? Never would have guessed that. I was almost positive it would have been Italian. I wish I could have been here for you during that time."

"So do I. But you weren't. And she was. I was very vulnerable, Alex."

"Olivia, don't defend yourself to me, okay? Vulnerable may have led to one time, two at the most, but you both have been quite cozy for a while now."

"I didn't know when or if you were ever coming back!" the brunette rationalized. "She filled a void in me that you left."

"And…how is she in bed…comparatively?"

"She's wonderful," Olivia responded, softly. "But she's not you."

Alex nodded, then leaned forward, intense blue eyes capturing fierce brown ones. "Hmmm. What do you say, Detective? One for the road?"

Sitting up straight, as though she hadn't heard correctly, she studied Alex's expression. "What?"

Alex laughed. It was rare when she could render Olivia Benson nearly speechless. She patted the space beside her on the bed. "You don't think I would have okayed you being the night shift bodyguard if I hadn't had ulterior motives, do you?"

"So…so, what? I'm just supposed to fuck you now?"

Alex Cabot smiled radiantly at Olivia Benson. "It certainly would ease some of my tension. Maybe we could be like that couple in 'Same Time, Next Year,' and just meet once a year and fuck each other's brains out."

Olivia was incredulous. "You have changed."

"Changed? That word is relative, Detective Benson." Surprising Olivia with her strength and determination, Alex grabbed the rungs on the chair Olivia was sitting in and pulled it closer.

Unexpectedly, Alex's face was irresistibly close to Olivia's, with the blonde definitely having the upper hand. Never taking her eyes off the detective's, Alex broke into a smoldering smile. "I have missed you so much."

"Then why are you breaking up with me?" Olivia could barely breathe. If she and Alex didn't kiss soon, both of them might possibly spontaneously combust.

"Because one of us has to do it. If you don't want to be the bad guy, then I guess I have to."

Not being able to stand the proximity any longer, Olivia touched her lips to Alex's and instantaneously felt like her sexual soul was on fire. While still kissing, Alex stood up and Olivia rose with her. The detective kicked the chair away and closed the minor distance between the two of them.

There was a drawing need, a hunger in their interaction, which was propelled purely by want. Both woman groaned and panted as their lips never lost contact with each other and their clothes hastily ended up on the floor. Thankfully, nothing had to be pulled over either woman's head to be removed.

Cupping Alex's face in her hands, their lips grinding against each other, tongues trying to outwit each other with endurance, Olivia guided their bodies back to the bed. As Alex sat down, Olivia straddled her, easing the blonde down and then stretched out on top of her. They knew sex between them was inevitable. They could taste it, smell it in each other.

Olivia only broke the kiss to move down Alex's supple body and concentrate on her breasts. Nobody could lavish attention on her nipples like Olivia Benson could. The anticipation, the memories, mixed with the actual performance nearly drove Alex over the edge with pleasure.

It took no time at all for either woman to fall into an instant rhythm. This was all familiar territory and it felt amazing to be back on what was automatically ingrained, like common ground. They both fell into old habits of what to do and when to do it. When Olivia was done working her initial oral magic on Alex, who was ultimately surprised and overwhelmed by multiple orgasms, once the blonde regained her mental equilibrium, she turned the tables and devoured Olivia Benson, a ravenous sexual appetite that both pleased and disturbed the detective at the same time. Alex had never been quite this rapturously aggressive or domineeringly erotic before. At the same time Olivia was absorbing Alex into her, she also felt as though she was making love to Alex for the first time. In a dichotomy that she could not completely figure out, this was and wasn't the woman she had lost to an assassin's bullet two years before. When they were both completely spent, Olivia was both sated and guilty.

The SVU detective had waited so long to have the former ADA back in her arms again. It was as she had always remembered and yet, it was so different.

"You're thinking about her, aren't you? About Lilly?" Alex's question held no malice. She knew the answer before Olivia could respond.

Following a long, thoughtful silence, Olivia said, "Yeah. I am. But I did not think about her when we were making love, Alex. I thought about you and only you."

Alex snuggled closer into the heat of Detective Benson's elevated body temperature. "I know, Liv. I know. I may hold your soul, but she owns your heart."

Tears formed again in Olivia's eyes. She felt so conflicted. Alex was right. She possessed a part of the sultry detective that would never belong to anyone else. But Lilly Rush now had Olivia's heart. The brunette squeezed Alex's shoulder and kissed her forehead.

"Will she forgive you for this? For us? Tonight?"

"She doesn't have to know," Olivia stated, her voice laced with culpability.

Alex raised up on one elbow and looked into Olivia's sienna eyes. "But she will. And if she doesn't sense it, you will tell her. I know you, Liv."

No more words were spoken. Alex settled back down into Olivia's embrace and with the detective lightly rubbing Alex's back, they both fell into a sound sleep.

Three hours later, Alex woke up and teased Olivia into another heated round of lovemaking, the detective's libido overpowering her common sense once again. She was so torn…

When Elliot arrived at the hotel to pick up Alex and Olivia and accompany them to the courthouse, Olivia was showered, dressed and watching television.

"Where's Alex?" He did a quick survey of the room. Only one of the queen sized beds had been slept in.

Not missing her partner's assessment of the situation, Olivia said, "she's in the shower."

"You fucked her, didn't you?"

Standing up, Olivia shook her head at him. "Don't start on me, Elliot. What happened or did not happen in this room last night is between Alex and me."

"And Lilly," he snapped at her.

Olivia stood before him, defiantly. "And what happens between Lilly and I is just that – between us."

"She's family, Olivia, I will not let you hurt her!" Elliot told her, angrily.

"It's too late for that, Packy," Olivia shouted back at him.

The bathroom door opened and Alex emerged, dressed, scrunching the excess water out of her hair with a towel. "Children, please. You'll wake the neighbors," Alex joked. "If you don't behave, I'll have to put you both in time out." When she realized no one was laughing with her, she looked at them both. "I know what side of the bed you got up on," she said to Olivia, "but you," she addressed Elliot, "I can only guess."

Neither Olivia nor Elliot acknowledged Alex or took their glares off each other.

"Jesus, why don't you get out a ruler and see whose is bigger?" Alex commented, returning to the bathroom to dry her hair. She held the blow dryer in one hand before she plugged it in and leaned against the doorway. The partners were still staring at each other, toe to toe. "Or maybe you should both go piss in a corner to mark your territories. I take it Elliot's a big fan of your new girlfriend."

Elliot turned and looked at Alex for the first time since his arrival. God…had she always been that beautiful? He blinked the admiration out of his expression. "She's my cousin."

Alex looked at Olivia with mild interest. "That's something neither you nor Agent Hammond told me." She then returned her attention to Elliot. "Don't worry, Elliot. There's hope for a happy ending yet."

As Alex switched on the blow dryer, Elliot looked at Olivia, confused. "What does that mean?"

Folding her arms across her chest, Olivia ignored him. Instead, she turned the volume of the television up and waited for Alex to finish getting ready.

The testimony Alexandra Cabot gave against Liam Connors was compelling and angry. She was able to provoke him into responding to her in a manner that left no doubt in the minds of the jurors that he was guilty. She might not have been so well equipped to do that if Olivia hadn't sneaked a file on Connors to her, which gave her the ammunition to use her expert skills as an attorney while seated in the witness chair.

Her declarations under oath were, indeed, truthful. But her manner of testifying pushed the envelope to the brink of contempt. Fortunately for Casey Novak and the case, Alex knew just how much the judge would let her get away with and when to stop.

Casey Novak was mesmerized by the way Alex Cabot took command of a room. When her predecessor spoke, all eyes were on her. Casey suddenly knew, without a doubt, why it had taken her so long to start earning the trust of the SVU squad. Now she knew why Cabot's shoes had been nearly impossible to fill.

Watching Alex on the stand was a new experience for Olivia. She was so used to seeing the former ADA doing the questioning. It was obvious, though, that Alex was most comfortable back in a courtroom, regardless of where she sat. When the jury came back with a verdict of 'Guilty,' it really was not a surprise. Alex Cabot had, once again, masterfully, wound the jury around her little finger.

Olivia offered to drive Alex back to her hotel to pack but she was informed, by Agent Hammond, that the suitcases were already in the car. Everyone else had already left for the precinct house to celebrate the victory and await the guest of honor. Only Olivia knew that wasn't going to happen. Hammond looked at Alex, then at Olivia. "You have ten minutes," he advised them, walking out of Casey's office and standing outside the door.

"Now what?" Olivia asked, quietly.

Alex shrugged. "New place. New name. New life."

"I'm sorry it has to be this way," Olivia told her sincerely.

"Me, too. But it is ultimately my decision. I can walk away from this program any time I want to."

"Ever thought about it?"

"I think about it all the time, Olivia. I almost did after my mother died. But shit rolls down hill, as you know, and until Velez is taken care of, whoever is with me is a target. It's just better that I stay in the program until then. I could never live with myself if anyone that I loved got killed because of me. I still have nightmares about Agent Donovan and he wasn't even really an acquaintance."

"You're a good woman, Alex."

The blonde reached over and took Olivia's hand. "I love you, Olivia Benson. I think I fell in love with you from the first time we butted heads on a case. But it is because I love you that I don't want you to wait for me. If you cannot commit to me, right now, while you have the chance, without hesitation, and walk this path with me, then you need to move on. And so do I. I don't know when I will be able to see you again. Honestly, Olivia, I don't even know if I'll be able to see you again. We can't do this to each other and we can't do this the other people in our lives that we care about. And if you think any of this is easy for me to say, to come to terms with, it isn't." There were tears in Alex's eyes.

Olivia looked at the ceiling hoping, maybe, to send her tears back inside her eye sockets. Of course, it didn't work and the moment she looked back at Alex, the moisture spilled freely from her eyes. She hated appearing weak but her heart was breaking and she couldn't hide it. Silently, she pulled the blonde into a tight embrace. Alex clung to her. "Why can't this be over?" Olivia whispered.

Pulling back slightly, it gave Alex just enough space for her lips to meet with Olivia's in a tender kiss. They kissed a few more times, gently, lovingly, but without the passion and lust that had overtaken them the night before. They only had a few more minutes to be alone together and there was no sense in working themselves into a frenzy and have no release. Resting her forehead against Olivia's, Alex said, "Lilly is a lucky woman. Very lucky."

Olivia hugged Alex again, her hand on the back of the blonde's head, fingering her silky hair. "There might not be a Lilly anymore, Alex. She deserves better than second choice."

"Yes. She does. Convince her that she no longer is second choice. She seems to make you happy, Olivia. Obviously there is something there on your end, too, or you wouldn't still be seeing her. I've never known you to waste time on dead end projects." Alex pulled back again and smiled at the detective through her tears. "I've seen you work a bar. If all you wanted was to get laid, you wouldn't need to drive all the way to Philadelphia to do it."

"She is special, Alex, I won't deny that."

"Then don't let her go. Don't let her let you go. It will be the biggest mistake she'll ever make. Trust me, I know."

There was a knock on the door but it did not open. "One more minute, ladies," the voice of Agent Hammond announced.

"Is there any way I can keep track of you? Stay in touch?" Olivia asked Alex, still holding her.

"I wish there were. But that's not my call. I'll discuss it with Hammond on my flight to…where ever…but I'm pretty sure I know what the answer will be."

Olivia kissed Alex again, more deeply this time. Returning the kiss, Alex knew this was their goodbye. "At least we got to do it right this time," Alex commented, breaking the contact.

"Yeah," Olivia agreed, barely audible, "but, unfortunately, you still have to leave."

There was another knock on the door and Hammond popped his head in. "Ms. Cabot?"

Not taking her eyes off Olivia, she said. "I know. I'm ready."

Olivia shook her head, tears flowing, "I'm not."

Moving away from Olivia slowly, Alex did not let go of the detective's hand until her body was completely out the door. Olivia folded her arms tightly across her chest, feeling lost and abandoned once again, even knowing Alex was right.

Three days had passed. Elliot was barely speaking to her because of Lilly. Cragen had a wild hair up his ass because of her giving Alex access to the Connors file. Munch and Fin were pissed off at both Olivia and Elliot for not sharing with them the fact that Alex had not died two years earlier. Melinda Warner was the only one who didn't find a reason to take her head off, so she spent time in the morgue, reviewing case paperwork and discrepancies with the pretty medical examiner.

The absence of Alex was strong but bearable this time, and Olivia was beginning to move in a direction that would eventually – hopefully - put her relationship with Alex in proper perspective. Maybe being allowed to say goodbye, in private, this time was what made the difference. Maybe the discussion of boundaries and knowing where they each stood with each other made the difference. Olivia felt much less confused and deprived this time. There was much more finality to their parting ways than was allowed two years ago.

It was now late Friday afternoon and Olivia had been unable to reach Lilly. Her cell phone number was temporarily out of service. Her desk phone went to voice mail but the messages she left were not returned. Her home phone went unanswered. Sighing heavily, thinking she had more than screwed up that relationship, mentally kicking herself for losing the second best thing that ever happened in her life, Olivia straightened up her desk and work area, said goodbye to everyone and left for the weekend. Her co-workers could barely muster a 'See Ya' or 'Have a good weekend.' Maybe a few days at home, feeling sorry for herself, would make her feel better. Maybe. But she doubted it.

She had taken a cab to work but she took the subway home. She hopped on the 1/9 train, which was especially crowded at that particular time, and got off at her stop on Broadway and West 86th street. She strolled down 86th to West End Avenue, turning left, hiked a couple more blocks south and rounded the corner, where her apartment building was. She stopped dead when she reached her stoop.


The blonde cold case detective was sitting on the third step, her hands folded on her knees. She was dressed like she had just left work. "Olivia," Lilly acknowledged.

"I've been trying to call you –"

"I know. That's why I'm here."

"What the hell happened to your cell phone?"

"Oh…that…I'll save that for another time."

"Do you want to come in?" Olivia asked, hopefully.

"Well, I didn't drive all the way here to sit on your stoop."

Olivia climbed the steps to the outer door, with Lilly right behind her. Once they got inside Olivia's apartment, shedding their jackets, the brunette faced the blonde, ready for her due verbal annihilation. Instead, Lilly walked over to Olivia's refrigerator and pulled out two bottles of beer, twisting the caps off and tossing them into the garbage pail. She handed one of the bottles to Olivia, who took it, eyeballing the blonde, skeptically.

"So is she still here or is she gone?" Lilly asked, her tone of voice calm, her expression neutral.

"She's gone. She left Tuesday."

"And that's why you've been trying to call me?"

"I've been trying to call you to apologize."

"Why? It didn't work out with her, so now you want me back?" There was an edge to Lilly's voice that hadn't been there before. She took a long swallow of beer, waiting for Olivia's reply.

"No. It's not like that. Look, Lil, I know I fucked up with you. I know I hurt you terribly and I will never forgive myself for that. I have no excuses for my behavior or my treatment of you. You deserve better. You have long deserved someone who cherishes you and puts you first. I have cherished you but I haven't been putting you first and I am sorry. I've tried to be honest about it and I realize now that my honesty certainly didn't make the situation any better."

"Meaning what? You should have lied to me instead?"

"No. And I wouldn't have lied to you, Lilly. What I meant was I should not have started anything up with you, knowing there was unfinished business that would, more than likely, come between us."

"Then why did you?" The edge was now gone and a hint of desperation replaced it.

"I couldn't help myself. It's so rare that I find someone who has a life even somewhat parallel to my own, someone who understands how and why I tick. And when I do find them, they almost never look like you or have your unbreakable resolve." Olivia paused to take a sip of beer. "You were such a wonderful surprise and you showed up in my life at a time when I really needed you."

"You mean 'someone,' don't you? You needed someone, not me."

"No, Lil, I needed you. If all I wanted was someone, I wouldn't have seen you more than once." Olivia shrugged, suddenly feeling very emotional. "I fucked up. And I'm really sorry."

"What about her…Alex?"

"It's…it's over. It's not meant to be. Did I love her to extreme? Absolutely. Do I still love her? I will always love her to some degree. But she is not the person I will spend the rest of my life with. We both know that now."

"So go for the 1st runner up?"

"Lilly, please. I know that's how it appears but it's not like that."

Taking another long swallow of beer, Lilly looked Olivia directly in the eyes. "Did you sleep with her?"

Before Olivia even answered, Lilly knew what the response would be when brunette looked down at her shoes. "Yes." Olivia then stared right into Lilly's eyes. "I did. I'm sorry."

"You're sorry you slept with her?" Lilly's voice was now reflecting hurt and anger.

"Actually? Yes. I am. It was not a healing experience, it left me with more questions than answers, I knew that she would be leaving again right away and the most important reason I'm sorry? Is how much I hurt you."

Lilly paced in Olivia's living room, thinking a while before she spoke. "I have never chased after anyone, Olivia. Ever. It's not in my nature. I don't want someone if they don't want me. I don't beg people for their affection. Not anymore. I usually view behavior such as that pathetic. So what do I find myself doing? Chasing after you."

"Lilly –"

"No, let me finish," she held her hand up in a halting motion. "I blame a lot of this on myself. I knew what I was getting into when we got together that second time. I thought I could handle it. I was wrong. I never expected to fall in love with you. Not as hard as I did. I should have pulled away from you…but I couldn't. When Elliot told me what kind of effect this Alex had on you, the kind of power she held over you, I should have taken the hint. And now I'm suffering the consequences of that."

"Then tell me, what do we do to resolve this?"

"Therein lies the dilemma, doesn't it? What to do to let us both walk away with our dignity intact and still respecting each other?"

"You really want to walk away?" Now it was Olivia's turn to sound panicked.

Lilly drew a deep breath. "Honestly? No. I'm torn between wanting to slap the shit out of you and tearing off your clothes and nailing you right here on the floor. How fucked up is that?"

"Well," Olivia shrugged, "I wouldn't blame you if you did the first one and would really be grateful if you did the second." She took a sip of beer, watching Lilly's reaction over the top of the bottle.

"Don't look at me with those bedroom browns like that, Olivia. I'm done with this cat and mouse game. If you want me back, you're going to have to earn me."

"Earn you?"

"That's what I said. I will not be a substitute for anyone. You either want me or you don't and if you don't, I'll leave. If you do? Then you need to convince me you really mean it."

"Okay…tell me what you want me to do and I'll do it." She almost sounded too accommodating.

"I'm serious, Olivia. I deserve better."

"I know you do, Sweetie," Olivia agreed, softly. "That's what I've been trying to tell you."

Lilly studied the brunette as Olivia took a step closer. "No more Alex?"

Shaking her head, she took another step closer, not losing eye contact with the blonde. "No more Alex. Just you and me."

Lilly cocked her head, waiving between suspicion and elation. It couldn't be this easy. Could it? She had spent her whole trip to Manhattan thinking up scenarios about how to deal with Olivia if the reaction was negative or resistant. She certainly never expected compliance. "Seriously…just you and me?"

Olivia nodded. She finished her beer, set the empty bottle down on an end table, took another step closer and swept Lilly into her arms.

Lilly laughed, nervously and wagged her finger at the brunette. "Oh no. You are not going to tell me everything will be okay and then just expect me to –"

Olivia shut her up with a kiss. There was something different about this kiss. It wasn't a foreplay kiss, it was a kiss that held promise, a kiss that suddenly made Lilly feel like a rag doll in Olivia's embrace but not in a sexual way. It was difficult to categorize, to define. Yet Lilly knew the second she relaxed and accepted this gesture for what it was. She no longer held any anger toward Olivia Benson.

Moving her face away to catch her breath, Lilly said, panting, "I'm still mad at you."

"I know, I can tell. Whatever can I do to make it up to you…?" Olivia commented, grateful that the blonde was back in her life, in her arms, and began kissing her again. This time, it was sexual.

It was a little past eleven o'clock at night. Both women awoke to a pounding at the door. Olivia sat up and immediately reached for her weapon when she heard Elliot's muffled voice. "Olivia! I am not going away until we talk, now, let me in!!"

"Oh, God…" Olivia replaced her Glock in its holster and fell back against her pillow. Lilly leaned down and kissed the brunette's shoulder. She slid out of bed.

"Let me handle him," Lilly told her, as she slipped on the blue shirt she had been wearing earlier and a pair of Olivia's NYPD sweat shorts. She padded to the door, looked through the peephole, unlocked and opened the door.

Elliot stared at her, speechless.

"Something you wanted, Detective Stabler?"

"What are you doing here?" he asked, finally.

"Spending the weekend with my girlfriend. What are you doing here?"

"Your girlfriend?" He looked very confused. "I thought…did she tell you…?"

"About Alex?" She gestured him inside and shut the door behind him. "Yes. I know everything and we are working on working it out." She looked at him, staring at her attire. "Something wrong?"

"No. Well…no, I guess not."

"Want a beer?"

"No. Okay." He took his coat off, placing it next to him as he sat on the couch.

Bringing him back a bottle of MGD and handing it to him, Lilly sat opposite of him. "How're you doing, Packy?"

Elliot took a long, swallow of beer. "Better now." He sat forward. "Look, Lil, I'm not trying to interfere, it's just…"

"It's just you came here to ream me once again in defense of Lilly," Olivia said, leaning against the doorframe that separated the bedroom from the rest of the apartment. At least she was dressed this time. Or close to it. More accurately, she was covered by an oversized t-shirt. "I do love you, Elliot, but you really need to mind your own business."

Feeling the strain between the two partners, Lilly shifted her attention from her lover to her cousin. "You know what? I'm going to go back to bed. Why don't you two straighten this whole thing out." Standing up, Lilly took a step forward and bent down, kissing Elliot on the top of the head. She passed Olivia on the way to the bedroom, stopped and have her a quick but passionate kiss on the lips. "Don't be too long," she smiled seductively at the brunette, who returned her lust-filled glance. Lilly turned and winked at Elliot before disappearing into the darkness of the bedroom.

"I …uh…interrupted again, didn't I?" Elliot asked, actually blushing.

Olivia smiled, shaking her head at him. "No. We were done."

"Oh, man…" Elliot shook his head. "You're my partner, she's my cousin. These visuals that pop into my head ain't right."

Olivia walked to the couch and sat next to Elliot. She reached over and took the bottle from his grasp and took a sip. She handed it back. "Did you have something you wanted to say to me?"

"I did. But it appears that I wasted a trip."

"El, I understand why you want to protect Lilly. I do. She is a phenomenal woman. She amazes me with something different and new about her every time we get together. But you should know me well enough by now to understand that I would never leave anyone so important to me hanging in the balance. Lilly came to me with her terms and, by God, I am going to abide by them. I don't want to lose her. I don't want to hurt her any more than I already have. You should have given me the time, space and courtesy to work this out on my own."

"I know. I'm sorry."

She took another swallow of Elliot's beer. "That word sure had been flying around a lot here today." Again she handed the bottle back to him. "What happened this week was extremely difficult for me. I had to make decisions, come to conclusions that that were very hard but necessary."

"Are you where you need to be?"

Olivia shrugged. "I'm where I want to be."

"Are you and Lil okay?"

"I think we can work it out," Olivia nodded. "I'm pretty sure she knows her only threat was Alex. And that's not a threat anymore. We'll work on a day at a time." She patted Elliot's knee. "You doing okay? Do you need to stay here tonight?"

"No. I'm good." He held up the MGD bottle. "This is actually only my third beer tonight."

"Uh huh. After chasing down how much scotch?" Olivia inquired, smiling.

"No, seriously, I was a good boy tonight and I don't want to interrupt your night any more than I already have."

Olivia stood up. "Elliot, please. I told you we were done. At least for tonight," she added, winking at him, knowing he would blush once again. He did. "You are welcome to crash on the couch. I'll even make you breakfast tomorrow."

"Sausage and cheese omelet?"

"No sausage. But cheese I can do."

He smiled at her. "Then I think I will take you up on your offer. Got anything I can sleep in?"

"Nope. You'll have to rough it, I'm afraid." She entered the bedroom and came back out with a pillow and a blanket.

"Thanks, Liv. Sorry for being such an asshole this week."

"Understood. And apology accepted." She leaned down and kissed his stubbly cheek and straightened up again. "Get some sleep and we'll see you in the morning." He returned her affection by taking her hand and kissing her palm.

"Love you, Liv."

"I love you, too, Elliot."

She stopped at the bedroom door. "Sleep well."

"Yeah, you, too."

He watched as she stepped into the bedroom, closing the door behind her.

The End

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