DISCLAIMER: The Honorable Dick Wolf owns most of the characters. USA/Universal claims Mary Shannon. And the Venerable Ralst hosts us all for free.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a real person and the facts recited about him are true. Eva Reynaldo is based on a real victim. All feedback welcome.
SPOILERS: Familiarity with season 10 is not necessary, but events from season 10 are referenced. Lead however, doesn't exist, because I wanted to be the one to get them out of trouble.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
CHALLENGE: Written for Epic Proportions 2009.

Unfinished Business
By Muze


I. Cabot's Ghost

Chapter 1.

It was Friday night in New York City and Detective Olivia Benson was spending it sprawled out on the floor of a laundry room on the Upper East Side. And to think if it wasn't for a holier-than-thou pharmacist, I'd be at home in bed right now. She stretched and cracked her neck. On the other side of the door was an apartment belonging to Brent and Mia Lattimer. A few weeks earlier Mia had gone to the drug store to fill a prescription for the morning-after pill. The pharmacist refused to hand it over and the police were called to arrest Mia for attacking the pill-counter. By the time they got things sorted out, Mia admitted she had been raped and the SVU was on the case.

Olivia was still smarting from the pharmacist's attempt to press charges against a rape victim. Even a crusty old Roman Catholic like Elliot didn't object to the morning-after pill. Olivia assumed that the pharmacist episode was going to be the weirdest thing about the case. That was before Mia accused her husband of the rape, before they found the crime scene hopelessly contaminated by an oil slick and before she recanted her story and went back to him. "I told you that guy was a sick fuck," Elliot warned Olivia when she questioned why Mia would move back in with Brent. "You know abusers have a mental hold on their victims, it's like mind control."

"But it's wrong, El. She needs to get away from him before he kills her."

"I know, but you and I can't make her leave." As far as he was concerned the case was closed.

Instead of ending the investigation, Olivia was stationed inside the apartment of Mia's neighbors waiting for the husband to attack. The Malcoms shared a common laundry area with the younger couple. Somehow Olivia convinced them to let her spend the night a few yards from the laundry room door. The plan was for Olivia to save Mia before Brent raped her again. Or worse.

Olivia barely allowed herself to consider whether camping out at the apartment was a good idea. For her the scenario was black and white. She knew Brent was going to hurt his wife. She knew it was likely happen soon, in retribution for accusing him of rape. What else did she need to know?

Barely allowing herself to consider the ramifications of her actions had become quite a habit for Olivia. Few people had ever dared question her instincts when it came to the job. She was a good cop. That didn't mean it was impossible for her to make bad decisions; that much she would grant you. But Olivia was governed by a simple mantra: when in doubt, protect the victims. This had served the people of New York quite well. It didn't always serve Olivia.

On this night she restlessly paged through the New York Post. The woman, Linny Malcom, scurried in and out of the room, offering Olivia food and drinks as if she was running a bed and breakfast. Olivia passed on everything but the cup of tea. She stopped to consider whether she had ever stayed in a bed and breakfast. The answer was no. She hadn't bothered with a vacation in years and the idea of one was unappealing. Olivia had tunnel vision when she was working a case. And she was always working a case.

The newspaper was filled with things that didn't hold her attention. Her thoughts suddenly turned to Alex Cabot. She sighed and put down the newspaper. Where did that come from? She believed she had mastered her thoughts about the former ADA, but here she was again, popping up at times when Olivia least expected it.

When Alex Cabot first entered witness protection six years earlier, Olivia examined their relationship relentlessly. It was professional. It was personal. And maybe it could have been more than that. Cabot's "death" had left an unexpectedly big hole in Olivia's life. She had so many questions.

Then Cabot came back. True to form, the attorney made the most of her limited engagement. Alex put her life on the line to save her detectives, testified against the brutal killer who took away everything she loved, and spent one night in a hotel room with Detective Benson.

Some of Olivia's questions got answered that night.

Before she could think any more about Alex, she heard Brent screaming at his wife. Olivia kicked the door down in time to witness the horrifying spectacle of Mia with a meat cleaver through her chest. Linny and Olivia watched in horror as Mia bled to death before the paramedics arrived.


Chapter 2.

Don Cragen rushed to the apartment as soon as he heard Olivia call for an ambulance. She wasn't rogue on this; he had given her his consent despite feeling that the stakeout might be a fool's errand.

Mia's death reminded him yet again how often his detectives were right. But being right wasn't necessarily good for your mental health. He should know. After a lifetime of cases and crime scenes, the only thing that continued to surprise him was that he could still take the losses personally. His detectives knew that on some level he was affected by the job. None of them knew that he saw himself most in Olivia.

He flinched when Olivia blamed herself for what happened, even though he expected it. "I could've collared Mia for filing a false rape report. Then she might still be alive," Olivia said.

Cragen was already worried about Olivia. She had been out of sorts for months. He tried to console her. "You did everything you could. Sooner or later she would've gone back to him." She wasn't ready to hear it yet.

Cragen rued the day the SVU lost Alex Cabot for many reasons; her legal expertise was actually the least of them. On days like this one, her presence would have saved him a few headaches. Cabot would never have approved Benson's request for a laundry room stakeout. The case had been closed from the moment Mia recanted her story. The detectives were certainly free to advise Mia to seek help. However, the presence of a police officer eavesdropping on the apartment of a man who had been cleared by his wife would create a legal nightmare. If Olivia had broken down the door to interrupt a non-physical marital argument, a civil suit was inevitable. Even if she had saved the woman before Brent attacked her, the personal security detail given to one non-cooperating battered woman would be easy fodder for a defense attorney and the press.

Had Cabot been around, she would have told Olivia that the idea of putting Mia in jail for a night was noble but preposterous. Her words may not have been much different than what Cragen could offer. But Cabot was the only person who had been able to get through to the bullheaded detective. Even Elliot wasn't as successful as Alex at talking Olivia down. But Alex was long gone.

Olivia was desperate to get away from the scene so she could scrub the terrible images from her mind. As a parting shot, Linny accused her of killing Mia by pushing her to leave in the first place. Her husband disagreed. "Don't let him get away with it, detective." That's what Alex would have said, Olivia thought as she headed back to the station. Put him away for life. By the time she crashed into bed that night, her thoughts moved restlessly between the perp and Alex Cabot, once again thinking about that first and last night at the hotel.


Chapter 3.

There was something off about Linny Malcom. Olivia didn't know what it was, but once she left the crime scene, the woman was forgotten. She was obviously a murder witness, but that was their new ADA's problem, not Olivia's. When Linny's fingerprints showed up in the system later that week, all bets were off.

Linny Malcom had a secret. Her real name was Caroline and she had been on the lam from a murder charge for more than thirty years. She told the SVU detectives a harrowing tale about being beaten and raped by an old boyfriend. She killed him and escaped from prison while she was awaiting trial.

When Liz Donnelly barged into the interrogation room and ordered Olivia to arrest Caroline, Olivia realized she had no idea what was going on. Donnelly was on the bench now, what was she doing demanding an arrest? And where the hell was Greylek? She may have been a hack, but she was their hack.

"We have unfinished business, Caroline," Donnelly said, fixing everyone in the room with her iciest stare. She informed Olivia that she had taken a leave of absence to return to the DA's office so she could prosecute Caroline for murder and felonious escape. She was the prosecutor assigned to the case all those years ago, and she wanted another crack at it. She reminded Caroline that there had been no battered woman's defense in 1970.

Olivia tried to object, with a deferential "your honor…" but Donnelly would have none of it.

"Arrest her detective, or I'll bring in someone who isn't personally involved." Liz enunciated the word so Olivia wouldn't miss her point.

Olivia's training taught her the letter of the law, but she was driven by a powerful sense of the law's spirit. Whether the battered woman's defense was viable thirty years ago seemed irrelevant to her. That was a different world, and a different justice system.

To Olivia, Caroline was as much a victim as Mia Lattimer. But her protests fell on deaf ears. Caroline would be tried for murder and escape. Donnelly was obviously looking for revenge. What Olivia couldn't understand was why.


Chapter 4.

Even though Olivia no longer had a role in the prosecution of the case, she felt compelled to challenge Donnelly. She confronted the old Bureau Chief one night in the law library, reminding her that a woman in Caroline's situation would have had no resources for abused women, no special victim's unit, no women's shelters and no hope. Almost immediately, she sensed her appeal for mercy would be futile.

"Do not presume to lecture me about what it means to be a woman in a man's world, detective. When I was assigned this case, I was the only woman in the DA's office. I was selected because they thought that if a woman prosecuted, the jury would be less likely to sympathize with her. Before my boss would give me the case, he asked my husband for his permission to let me try it." Donnelly's face hardened at the memory.

Olivia couldn't believe what she was hearing. And Liz accused me of taking it personally? Hello pot, meet kettle. "So all this is about revenge? Because you're bitter?"

"Bitter," Donnelly spat back caustically. She decided to lecture Olivia on the circumstances of Caroline's escape. She had made a fool of Donnelly by playing on her sympathy in order to set up a meeting with the young prosecutor. She used the meeting as a pretext to escape through a bathroom window. The incident was a black mark on Liz Donnelly for years and blow to women prosecutors.

Olivia knew she was overmatched. She was more or less engaged in a one-way conversation with Donnelly about what it meant to be a woman in a man's world. And Donnelly didn't discuss. She barked, she bullied, she told you exactly what was going to happen and you couldn't object. She used to do this to Alex Cabot on a daily basis, although Alex always found ways to insert herself into the conversation.

When Alex vented to the detective about Donnelly, Olivia would tell her that her boss was just jealous of Alex's natural gifts. One October night the two were sharing a late dinner when the subject came up.

"My gifts?" Alex was skeptical.

Yeah, Olivia wanted to tell her, you know, those gorgeous legs of yours, the way your breasts look inside that suit, your glacier blue eyes…Instead she pointed out the attorney's less sexual assets. "Yeah, Donnelly is a great lawyer, but she's pretty one note."

"Liv-"Alex tried to object.

"No counselor, you asked about your gifts, and I haven't even gotten to them yet." Olivia wagged her eyebrows in what Alex recognized as pretty blatant flirting. Much to her disappointment, Olivia followed that up by getting serious. "You, on the other hand, can handle the media, navigate the bureaucracy, work the back channels, charm the right people. And still match wits with anyone in the courtroom." Alex was quiet, intrigued by her friend's assessment. "She doesn't have the political skills to be DA. I figure the ceiling for her is judge. You can do anything you want, Alex. The sky is the limit."

Cabot was pensive. Her legal ambitions were real. So were her political aspirations. Nothing could fuck up her life more than getting romantically involved with a colleague, and a female one at that. Yet her desire for Olivia just wouldn't go away. Olivia seemed to sense her turmoil. The two had been sharing an emotional roller coaster.

Alex uncrossed her arms and leaned forward, placing her hands on the table. "I…You…Olivia..." she had trouble finding her voice.

"Alex?" Olivia's spidey-sense told her something was up with the ADA, but it seemed to have nothing to do with their actual conversation. Alex's sudden difficulty finding the right words made Olivia nervous. She saw their waiter in her peripheral vision.

Alex continued. "Did you ever wonder…or do you ever wonder-" The waiter suddenly hovered over their table.

"Excuse me, can I get you ladies anything else?" He interrupted. Alex gave him the same look she usually reserved for defense attorneys right before she gutted their clients in the interrogation room. Olivia's fight or flight response kicked in. Before she could ask for the check and run out of the restaurant, Alex took charge.

"We'll take two shots of Patron," Alex said confidently, glaring at the waiter just in case he challenged her drink order. Then she tilted her head at her dining companion, waiting for her response.

"Um, yes, we will have…two shots," Olivia told the waiter, staring at the floor and feeling like an awkward fifteen year-old. When she looked up again, Alex had crossed her legs and slung one arm over the chair back, observing Olivia from behind her glasses.

"So Alex, we're drinking tequila now?" Olivia was amused.

"I think the slang term is liquid courage," Alex said.

Olivia felt a warm sensation in her gut. "Oh? Are we playing Truth or Consequences?"


"Well, don't I get a say in it?" Olivia thought she should put up a little fight.


The waiter returned with the shots of tequila. "Ladies," he smirked, "your drinks."

"What a rat bastard," Olivia offered.

"Agreed." Alex hoisted her shot glass to the ceiling, wasting no time. "Shall we?"

"Care to make a toast counselor?" Olivia teased.

"Just drink up detective, you're going to need it."

They clinked glasses. "Salud." Olivia suddenly had dry mouth. She choked on the alcohol. Mercifully, no tequila flew out of her mouth or up her nose. Alex smirked and was about to offer a quip when Olivia warned her: "Don't say it."

"Say what?"

"That I can't hold my liquor."

"That's not what I was going to say." Alex put the shot glass down. "I was going to say your mouth muscles must be pretty strong not to spit up half that drink."

Olivia stared at her, wondering if she really just heard Alex declare her lust with an awkwardly phrased pickup line.

The tequila immediately turned Alex's cheeks red. Or was it the embarrassment of blurting out her sexual attraction to Detective Benson with a lame statement about her mouth muscles? She had planned on giving a speech about why she was physically and intellectually and emotionally attracted to her friend. Instead she more or less reduced her feelings to "you're so hot I want your mouth on me."

The stunned look on Olivia's face quickly turned to amusement as she realized that Alex Cabot really did have the hots for her. The momentum had shifted again and she was back in control. Now it was her turn to put Alex on the spot. "So, you're just interested in my…mouth?"


"Yes, Alex?" Olivia said, letting her twist in the wind. When Alex still couldn't find her voice, Olivia's softer side won out. She was about to tell Alex that she would gladly crawl a mile through broken glass to find more evidence the next time the ADA told her she didn't have enough for a warrant. Before she could get started, Alex grabbed her hand.

"Honey, let go of the glass." Alex pried the empty shot glass from Olivia's death grip. "Not that I don't appreciate your strong hands, but we can talk about that later."

"We can?" Olivia said, the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end.

"Yes," Alex said definitively, mentally kicking herself. Maybe. You're supposed to say "maybe" Cabot. She tried to explain herself. "What I said before was just the voir dire. You know, where we try to decide whether someone will make a good juror? I've already determined you're qualified. The purpose of the opening statement is to let the jury know what the facts are and what the evidence will prove."

She paused to make sure she had Olivia's undivided attention before risking further embarrassment. Oh yeah. She's eating right out of my—Jesus Cabot, you are out of control, Alex thought ruefully. She closed her eyes and gave her head a little shake to clear the cobwebs.

"Olivia Benson. I've been preparing my opening statement about you for quite some time. And for some reason, your mere presence seems to be throwing me off my game. That in and of itself is a clue about what the evidence will show. But let's not skip forward just yet." Olivia recognized the prosecutorial cadence and knew that Alex had found her rhythm. "When I took this job I thought a lot about what it could do for my career. I thought about what good I could do too, but I had no idea how it would change me. The implications of this work are something you and I have discussed many times. And the people in the SVU, well, I've found kinship there. That was a surprise."

"The reason I'm telling you this is to let you know that for the longest time I would rationalize my…attraction…to you by claiming it was about the courage of the victims and the selflessness and passion of the unit. That's a crock. Those things do inspire me. But I'm into you Olivia."

"And it's not just that you're a sexy, leather-wearing badass," she whispered. "You push me. You make me a better lawyer, sometimes without me even knowing it until later." Olivia could see that Alex was just warming up. "I've learned more about justice from you than any other person I know. The law is about the heart as much as the head."

Olivia interrupted. "Alex, if you knew what was going through my head right now we'd both be thrown out of here for public indecency." Olivia threw a wad of cash on the table and pulled Alex to her feet. "Come on."

"You have to let me finish." Alex refused to walk.

"You can, you will, it's just going to be outside the restaurant."

"We haven't gotten the bill yet." Alex pouted.

Olivia sighed. Stubborn woman. She took Alex by the wrist and hustled her through the restaurant. "Alex, you know you're going to win this one by now, don't you?" Olivia said, looking at the indignant blonde as she marched her through the front door and onto the sidewalk.

"Olivia, as much as I might like a good perp walk now and then–" Olivia's eyes flashed a tad too happily for Alex's taste- "this is hardly the time or place. You really need to think before you go around grabbing people–" Olivia spun around and did the only thing she could think of to get the attorney to shut up. She planted a firm, quick kiss on Alex's lips.

"Now talk." Olivia said, stepping back and giving Alex the floor.

Alex was suddenly calm. "Let's do that again, detective." She grabbed Olivia by the collar and pulled her in for a longer kiss. Just as she was parting Olivia's lips with her tongue someone leaned out of a car and screamed at them to get a room. Alex pulled back immediately. "Let's walk." She offered her arm to Olivia.

Olivia laughed nervously and took Alex's arm. "I told 'ya, public indecency."

"Don't worry, I can take it," Alex smiled. "Before I put the cart before the horse back there, I was about to give you some more facts."

"Such as?"

"Once we became friends it didn't take long for the sexual tension between us to ratchet up considerably. It confused me. I knew you were feeling it too, but we didn't talk about our relationships with other people, men or women. Other than the fact that we both had no 'time for a relationship'."

"Now there's a clue."

"I knew you'd get that one. That was solid evidence, us studiously avoiding the elephant in the room: our sexuality. People who rank a one on the Kinsey scale don't avoid relationships like the plague or describe the people they're dating with gender-neutral pronouns."

Olivia could see the storm clouds gathering over Alex's head. "I see your point."

"One minute we're fighting, the next we're inventing reasons to see each other. I knew what you were up to last week when you left your umbrella in my office when it was pouring down rain." She glanced at Olivia. "We had a valid excuse to see each other later."

"I'll cop to that," Olivia said sheepishly, brushing her short locks off her forehead. "Guilty as charged."

"It's ok, I do it too. Sometimes I wonder if anyone else notices our little games, but I'm too far inside my own head to know for sure. After a while I resigned myself to just living with whatever is going on with us. And you know how well that worked out."

Olivia smiled, recalling their ups and downs in the office. They fought and made up a dozen times.

"Then recently I uncovered a new, crucial piece of evidence." Alex paused for dramatic effect. "You lost your mind when you saw me having dinner with Trevor Langan. Even though you later found out that the dinner was just some friendly intelligence gathering on the defense bar, the incident still bothered you." Olivia scowled. "And I see it still does."

Olivia was ready to defend herself, but Alex cut her off. "Hell, I think even you have more chemistry with Trevor than I do, but I won't lie to you Liv, the dinner was also about appearances. I've never had an issue with doing that sort of thing before. It's how the game is played. But for some reason, I'm having a tough time doing that with you around. That's how I knew something fundamental was going on and we had to have this conversation. So…" Alex glanced at Olivia, having suddenly run out of words.

"So…is that your entire summation?"

"More or less. You know we aren't really allowed to present pure argument in the opening, only facts. What you need to know is that the facts indicate we have quite a little thing going. And I know this doesn't make sense, but I can't tell you what the final verdict should be. There are reasons we shouldn't pursue this thing. I don't need to spell them all out now, but…" Alex fell silent for a few paces.

"But we really wouldn't be having this conversation if you didn't want to explore our thing, right?"

"Yes. Of course I want explore it. Whatever 'it' is."

Alex's effort to play dumb didn't faze Olivia. She gave her a sly smile. "Just so you know, what you're describing is the literal definition of la cosa nostra."

"What is? 'This thing?'" Alex said.

"Our thingthis thing of ours. Haven't you seen The Godfather?"

"No." Alex shrugged. "Never got around to it."

Olivia stopped walking and faced her companion. "Alex, you really drive me crazy."

"Good crazy?"

"Of course, good crazy. Listen," she looked left and right to make sure they were away from too many prying eyes, "can we begin to unravel the riddle of la cosa nostra by kissing again? Because if you don't let me touch you right now"

They were interrupted by a ringing telephone from deep inside someone's bag. Olivia recognized the ring. It was her phone. "Shit. I can't believe this." It was Elliot.

"Let me guess, work?" Alex asked. Olivia touched her check as the phone continued to blare away. "Are you going to answer that?"

"I guess. I'd rather stand here and look at you." Fuck. How are we going to be able to work together after this? "Benson!" Olivia shouted into the phone, turning away from Alex before her head exploded.

"What's the matter with you?" Elliot spat at his partner.

"What are you talking about Elliot? I don't have all night."

"Jesus Liv, you nearly snapped my head off. Hello and fuck you, too," he yelled.

"Sorry…" Olivia muttered. Her partner's silence let her know he was really angry, and worse, expecting an explanation.

"Well?" he said.

"Just bad timing is all. What we got?"

What they had was a raped, mutilated body that had washed up by the Triborough Bridge in Queens. Olivia and Alex's evening was over.

The conversation that started the night Alex and Olivia kissed was never continued. Two days later Livia Sandoval was murdered and everything changed. Olivia wondered would've happened if they had become romantically involved. Could she stand the stigma of being known as the dyke cop in the SVU? Would Alex have abandoned her ambitions? Or was it easier to believe that now that Alex was long gone?


Chapter 5.

The conflict between what an ADA wanted to do in a given case and what political considerations demanded she do was part of the job. The bureaucracy had run more than a few attorneys out of the prosecutor's chair. But Cabot thought she could find a way out of everything and still achieve a win for the People, for the victims and for justice itself. Many saw her attitude as pure hubris. Not the detectives of the SVU. They learned the hard way that Alex walked the talk.

Alex Cabot was a political animal. She could grandstand with the best of them. And yet, when she thought the D.A.'s decisions were less about justice and more about winning a few votes, she balked

Her convictions caught Olivia off guard. She didn't expect the attorney to care about anything but her career aspirations. That was ultimately one of the things she loved about Alex – the way she couldn't suppress her inner sense of justice, even if it surfaced without warning, even when it conflicted with her personal ambitions.

Liz Donnelly had been around the Special Victims Unit longer than Cabot. Olivia should have felt comfortable with Liz. As a lawyer, she repeatedly went to bat for them. She prosecuted perps and even vigorously defended Novak and Stabler in a civil lawsuit. But in all their years as colleagues, Olivia had a never truly had a personal conversation with her. Their discussion about Caroline had shaken her. She wondered if the old Benson was this intimidated by the likes of Elizabeth Donnelly.

Once she knew why Donnelly was so eager to prosecute Caroline, Olivia backed off. She was the last person with the authority to tell anyone not to take a case too personally.

Olivia sat in the precinct on the night before the trial, alone and thinking about the past. She was dangerously close to the edge, having nearly blown the head off a defenseless suspect a few days earlier. Thankfully Fin had been there to talk her down. It was the second time in the last six months that Fin had saved her. If he hadn't stepped in at the very last minute, she would have been raped while she was undercover. She was still struggling with the assault. When she put her gun to the suspect's head, she was replaying the near rape over and over in her mind.

Olivia needed help, but she didn't want to see a shrink and talking to Elliot was out of the question. The only problems she could stand to tackle were the ones that involved other people, and that meant that she was still itching to get Caroline off the hook.

She couldn't think of a damn thing she could do about Caroline's predicament, though. And she could hear Alex's voice inside her head, imploring her to stay out of it and let Donnelly work.

"Damn it, Alex, why aren't you here? You're the one with unfinished business."


Chapter 6.

The trial of Caroline Malcom was disturbing to Olivia on many levels. The reporters ringing the courthouse wanted a statement from her, but she pushed through them with a sarcastic "no comment."

By the time she made it inside the courtroom, she was having a panic attack. She rested her elbows on her thighs and took some deep breaths, long brown hair falling in her eyes. She pushed it away and tried to focus on the breath. Her hair fell in her eyes again. She ignored it and thought about slowing down her breathing even more. Then a loose hair got stuck in her eyelashes, making her eyes water.

Jesus, this fucking hair. She sat straight up and pushed it back on her forehead. Olivia wondered when she started growing it out in the first place. Who told me this looked good, again? A guy? You used to just fuck them Benson. Surely this doesn't mean you actually care what they think now, does it? This internal monologue had the unintended result of taking her mind off the panic attack, and ending it.

Criminal defendants rarely testified. But Caroline had to testify if she expected the jury to believe her story of abuse. Judge Petrovsky had already warned the defense that she would explicitly instruct the jury not to consider battered women's syndrome as a defense because it did not exist on the date the crime was committed. That meant the jury would only be instructed in the legal definition of self-defense. If Caroline couldn't prove she was in "imminent threat of bodily harm," she was guilty. And she hadn't been in immediate danger. She killed her boyfriend in his sleep.

Liz Donnelly thoroughly attacked Caroline's testimony on the murder, making mince meat of her self-defense claim. A particularly devastating series of questions ended with her admitting that she could have left the man. But when Donnelly went for the jugular on the escape through the bathroom window all those years ago, Caroline finally had the opportunity to give her side of the story.

She told the jury that the reason she asked to see the young prosecutor was because she was pregnant. If she remained in prison, she would have been forced to give birth. She climbed out that window so she could find someone who would perform the procedure. She ended up nearly bleeding to death, barren from a back alley abortion gone wrong.

When Caroline finished her story, Judge Petrovsky saw Donnelly stiffen. Whether in warning or in sympathy, she did not know. The jury was back in under an hour with a guilty verdict on escape – but they ignored the jury instructions and found her not guilty of the murder.

Before she could be remanded into custody, Donnelly advised Judge Petrovsky that the state recommended probation in lieu of prison time. For Donnelly, it was clearly time to let go of the past.

Olivia's doubts about Judge Donnelly had been misplaced. She wondered if Liz had planned to let Caroline off the hook all along, or changed her mind when she heard the reason for the escape. It didn't matter why - for the first time in weeks, Olivia felt like good people could still make honorable decisions.


Chapter 7.

Elizabeth Donnelly packed up her things slowly. Olivia waited for the courtroom to empty. She owed Liz an apology. When the last observer left, she hesitantly moved forward. The judge didn't need to turn around to know Olivia was there.

"Do you miss her, detective?"

"What?" Donnelly's clairvoyance knocked the breath out of Olivia.

"I said do you miss her." Donnelly was impatient, as if she was waiting for a two year old with chocolate on her face to admit she stole a cookie.

Olivia had just started to mouth the word "who," when Donnelly told her to shut it. "Detective Benson!" She yelled, turning around to glare at the detective.

Olivia dropped the pretense. "Of course I do. Every day."

"She kept us on the edge of our seats, didn't she?"

"That's an understatement."

"It's about time for her second act. Or third, as the case may be."

"I don't know that we'll see her around here again, judge."

"Chin up detective, it's always darkest before dawn."

And with that, the Honorable Elizabeth Donnelly headed toward the judge's chambers, closing the door on her prosecutorial career without a second look. What Olivia didn't know was that the judge had recently authorized wiretaps on what was believed to be the Bronx hideout of one Cesar Velez.


II. Stop Loss


Chapter 8.

Alex Cavanaugh woke just before dawn, minutes before the purple sun drew over Camelback Mountain. She had it down to a science. Or was it an art? She chided herself for analyzing the timing of the sunrise and its relationship to her sleep patterns. In New York she was up long before dawn, running or working, sometimes both at the same time. Occasionally the runner's high would spur a strategic breakthrough, so she would speak notes into her Blackberry to get a head start on the day.

Alex shook her head at her former self. When she first entered witness protection, she didn't know what to do without her work. The outward manifestations of her Wisconsin life were predictable: unplug her brain for eight hours while she worked a boring job as an insurance administrator. Come home and plug it back in. That's when the trouble started, because Alex's brain was on overdrive all night long.

The time she used to spend analyzing cases and career moves was spent thinking about Velez. Her mother. Her career. Her Olivia. She examined the last few months of her life repeatedly, as if she could somehow change the outcome. She could never pinpoint precisely the moment where she made her mistake. There had to have been a way to avenge Livia without getting herself sent up the river to witness protection.

When Alex fled New York, Velez was hot on her trail. Her "death" had been so high-profile that the Marshals were compelled to take extraordinary precautions. First they routed her through the U.S. Virgin Islands, where she was given a crash course in witness protection. A practiced stoic, Alex had not shed a single tear since she drove away from Olivia and Elliot. She conned herself into believing she could relax and enjoy a week on the beach since she hadn't taken a vacation since she was twenty. Then the islands went on hurricane watch. With nothing to do except sit in her hotel room between appointments, her ice maiden mask began to shatter.

There was one night that still affected her. She had turned on one of cable news channels, only to find some overwrought former blonde prosecutor breathlessly updating the world on the "hunt for the killer of Alexandra Cabot, the brave New York District Attorney who was murdered in cold blood!" Alex was used to being in the public eye, she even enjoyed it to some extent. This was different.

After the commercial break the shrieking prosecutor – Nancy someone – was talking about her as if they were close friends. A tabloid-style headline ran at the bottom of the screen: DEATH TAKES A D.A.!!

Alex ran into the bathroom and retched.

And then she fumed. The news reports contained nothing about Livia Sandoval, the real brave public servant she was trying to avenge. It was obvious that the press had decided to make Alex Cabot a martyr in the drug war. This was troubling. Alex had no sympathy for the Velez's of the world, but she viewed the war on drugs with a healthy skepticism. Who could look at the state of the American justice system and say that there was sanity on any side of the war on drugs?

Not Alex Cabot. She would never forget an argument she had with her father when she was sixteen. She was for legalization back then, full of youthful idealism and passion. She had been lecturing him on the evil of the Rockefeller drug laws – never mind that Jay Rockefeller had attended Alex's baptism and had been a family friend since before he landed in the governor's office.

Alexander Cabot liked his kid's moxie. He may have been from a conservative moneyed family, but he had an independent streak a mile wide. And Alex was the chip off the old block she was intended to be, inheriting both his classic good looks and his fearless intellect.

On this occasion, he had been looking at her with an amused kind of reserve, like he was waiting for her to shut up so he could waltz in and win the argument. She found it infuriating.

When Alex ran out of things to say, he looked at her calmly and said, "You keep describing drug abuse as a victimless crime, where only the addict gets hurt. What about all the innocent victims? Let's make drugs legal and then see how that helps the parents they steal from, or the friends whose charity they betray, or the children whose parents who are lost to them forever. How will legalization change that?"

That sent her back to the philosophical drawing board for a while. Meanwhile, she learned to execute her father's techniques: projecting bemusement with her opposition's arguments, then pointing out how tragically flawed they were until everyone could only drop their defenses and agree.

Alex still missed her dad. He was killed in a motorcycle accident in Africa right before she passed the bar. She knew her mother suffered after her father's death. She imagined that her own choices, bearing the same genetic imprint, inflicted twice the pain.

She envisioned lurid headlines in the Post, with her picture splashed all over the place, cameras following mom around in her grief. Grace Cabot was dead within the year. Alex's guilt was overwhelming.

Her field agent at the time told her media interest was so intense that they decided to keep her on the move for a while until things died down. "They love you, kiddo, you're a star. What we need is a plane crash or something to get you off the television news shows."

He wouldn't risk sending her through a big media market, so she shuttled through airports like Toledo and Tallahassee and Tacoma for more than two months, leaving her emotionally and physically exhausted. By the time she ended up in Madison, Wisconsin, her shoulder was a mess.


Chapter 9.

Back in Phoenix, Alex rubbed her right arm at the memory. The government had excellent cooperating doctors at their beck and call, but it was hard to get treatment while she was on the run. She had permanent nerve damage and scars to match.

During the first two years in witness protection, her interior world was off the rails. Sometimes she would cry all night. Then she would feel dead inside for months. She would stop eating. Days later she would binge on fatty foods. Once she caught herself thinking about purging. That got her out running again, but it was hard not to look over her shoulder.

Even though the Marshals usually recommend that witnesses keep their first name and last initial so that it's easier to adjust to a new identity, her field agents feared she might be recognized if she kept her name, let alone her occupation. So she became Emily and joined the faceless bureaucracy.

She met an insurance adjuster. He became her best friend. Friendship might be too strong a word, because what is friendship if not based on trust? She saw herself as fundamentally untrustworthy. You can't trust someone who won't ever be able to tell you her real name, when everything that comes out of her mouth is a lie. Bill was a gentleman, a divorcee with a five-year old daughter. He was all about moving slow and the only way she could stomach human contact was if it moved at a glacial pace.

She thought about Bill as she watched the Arizona sunrise. She had landed in Madison with a set of East Coast prejudices about people in flyover country. She assumed it would be a Hell where no one read anything on the New York Times bestseller list, or enjoyed art or knew the difference between Syrah and Petite Syrah wines.

She was wrong. It was more like purgatory. There were cultured people there, and people who cared about the world around them. Bill was one such person. He was a compulsive reader who subscribed to the London Review of Books. He was a good cook and a devoted father. He was uncomplicated, but smart in an unassuming way that snuck up on people. He would never be exciting, but eventually Alex found companionship with him. She wouldn't call it love.

In another life she supposed it could have been possible. If she had been a straight girl raised to covet nothing more than a white picket fence. Things had never been that simple for Alex Cabot. Not sex, not love, not marriage. From the moment she said goodbye to her detectives and climbed into the van, she had steeled herself to simply soldier on until this temporary situation was over. Even when she wavered on that point – when it was tempting just to give in and settle down and forget about her old life – something held her back. Of course that meant Bill would eventually get hurt, and that was just one more thing that made her feel guilty.

As far as Bill knew, Alex perished in a car crash. Her options after testifying in the Connors trial were vanishing into thin air without a word, or having the government kill her again. They strongly urged the latter. Alex agreed that it was a cleaner ending. It bothered her still, but there was nothing she could do about it.

The shrinks later encouraged her to achieve "closure" on Bill and her New York life by trying all manner of foolishness, like writing faux "goodbye letters" to people she had loved.

Alex's sessions with government shrinks were legendary. It wasn't because she was a raging sociopath – although once and a while she wondered what Dr. Huang would make of her now. Instead they were thrilled by her brilliant, wounded mind. Often she would start the session intent on saying nothing. Then she would get bored and begin to fence them. She'd throw out references to Freud and Heidegger and rant and rave about the culture of victimization and fast food therapeutic concepts like "closure."

They were unclear about whether she believed the things she said. One doctor decided she was merely playing Socratic method with him because she had no other analytical outlet. He called her case agent to suggest that the witness protection experience was doing his patient more harm than good, since she was prohibited from finding work that was even fifty percent equivalent to what she was used to. He argued that the intellectual limitations were slowly killing her.

When Alex was feeling magnanimous, she gave the shrinks the benefit of the doubt. But when she was feeling snarky, which was most of the rest of time, she lambasted them for thinking any sane person could close the book on their entire existence by writing letters. Especially when not everyone Alex loved knew that they were loved.

"Who doesn't know you love them?" This was a real sticking point with Alex and Dr. Willis picked up on it immediately. The Chair of the Psychology Department at University of Wisconsin, Dr. Willis had clandestinely treated relocated witnesses since the program's inception. She saw Alex for five sessions right before she returned to New York to testify in the Liam Connors trial.

Alex instantly regretted mentioning that there was someone who didn't know the depth of her feelings. Dr. Willis spent two sessions circling all of Alex's quips back toward that one question. "Who doesn't know you love them?" Alex would shut the question down with all the rhetorical skills she could muster, but Dr. Willis saw right through her.

In what would be their last session, Dr. Willis asked again. "Who doesn't know you love them?"

"It's personal. Don't you get it by now?" Alex snapped.

Dr. Willis nodded, satisfied with Alex's little outburst. "Your entire life has been laid bare except for this one little detail and you'd almost feel violated if you said it."

For the first time, Alex gave one of her shrinks her undivided attention. "And?"

"I'm not going to do the work for you," Dr. Willis said. "I don't need to know. You clearly already know the answer. The question is what will you do with what you know."

Alex shook her head dismissively. "I'm going back to New York. That's all I know."

"Think harder."

That answer annoyed the piss out of the ex-ADA. But late that night, when she lacked the ability to bullshit herself, Alex promised that by the time she made it on the airplane, she would know exactly what she was going to do about that person who didn't know she was loved.


Chapter 10.

When the detectives stumbled upon the gun that was used to kill Alex Cabot, they never dreamt it would lead to a chain of events that would end with Alex returning to New York. Casey Novak wanted to nail Connors for Alex's murder. When he was about to walk, Novak unwittingly forced Benson and Stabler to confirm or deny the crime in open court. Their jobs were on the line, but they could only think of one thing: protect Alex.

As soon as she landed in New York, Alex Cabot's mind was racing with too many things. In her mind, it was still the fall of 2003. Alex and Olivia had just acknowledged that there was something between them that was more than friendship. When Zapata came along, they were trying to find out how deep the feelings really were and if they went beyond the physical.

Alex and Olivia had many things between them that were simply left unsaid. After her sessions with Dr. Willis, it occurred to Alex that what held them back was fear. It was a painful revelation: that two women who had been blessed with more than their fair share of courage could be terrified by nothing more than love.

When Alex finally walked through the door of the 16th precinct, Olivia's brains got scrambled. She had prayed to a God she wasn't sure she believed in for a sign that Alex was ok. And now there she was, wearing that little smile that once upon the time the squad had mistaken for unadulterated arrogance.

"Who else is going to get you out of trouble," Alex said, looking straight at Olivia. And we've got to talk, she said with her eyes. But the Marshals had her movements tightly controlled. They weren't leaving her alone for a minute.

The reminders of what Velez took from her were almost more than Alex could take. When they brought lunch in from one of her favorite sushi joints, she was bitterly disappointed. What did I think, that I would be allowed to actually walk over to Sushi Royku and have lunch out in the open? You've lost your mind, Cabot. This was a mistake. She was so close to being home. All she wanted was to be free to roam the streets for an afternoon.

Lunch was served in a small room where she had worked so closely with the SVU detectives. Everyone was there. She immediately noticed that Fin had kind eyes, no matter what words were coming out of his mouth. She wondered why she never saw it before.

And Munch was just dying to make a wisecrack about government conspiracies and the whole dead thing, she was sure of it. But he seemed too awestruck by her existence on planet earth to speak up.

Casey Novak was just as Alex remembered her. She still couldn't imagine that Casey Novak working sex crimes. They would be meeting after lunch to prepare her testimony.

Alex sat between Olivia and Elliot, across from Hammond, Cragen and the Marshals. She understood why Hammond felt he had to be there. His partner is dead because of me. Because of Connors, she amended, as an afterthought.

But she resented her bodyguards from the Marshals. We're sequestered inside a windowless room in the police station, for Christ's sake. I think the NYPD can protect me from a Columbian drug cartel for one afternoon.

When they weren't making awkward small talk, the group talked shop. Instead of relishing the legalese, Alex found it jarring. One of the things she missed the most about the work was that it was just about the work, and not everybody's personal drama. Yet she found herself wanting a little human interaction with the people who were the last remaining link to her former self.

Mostly Alex regretted sitting so close to Olivia. They couldn't really look at each other from this vantage point. The detective smelled just like Alex remembered her, slightly soapy with mild hints of lavender.

Eventually Hammond and Cragen started telling a war story. It went on for what seemed like an eternity. Everyone was politely deferring to the superior officers by pretending to be thrilled by every detail. This attention to protocol annoyed Alex. She tapped her chopsticks on the table the same way she used to tap her pencil when she was impatient with what the detectives were telling her.

Within seconds Alex sensed Olivia looking at her out of the corner of her eyes, so she gave Olivia a quick sidelong glance. She was rewarded when Olivia softly grabbed her hand under the table and gave it a faint squeeze, caressing Alex's wrist with her thumb.

They had barely touched when the lunch suddenly ended and Cragen called Elliot and Olivia into the hallway. Alex was left staring at Hammond, Novak and the bodyguards. She gave them her megawatt glare. Now you people are in a hurry?

Like magic, Cragen popped back in the room. "Alex, if you'd like I've asked Elliot and Olivia to stay with you tonight. Hammond and I thought the Marshals might want a break."

"Thank you, Don." I love you Don. Alex was suddenly reminded why paying attention to protocol could be wise. The Marshals would have ignored the suggestion if it had come from Cragen alone, but they were flummoxed by an order from the FBI. They stepped into the hall to start calling the request up the chain of command. Eventually they decided to stake out the entrances of the hotel, leaving the SVU detectives to work the suite.

Once Alex realized she was going to get some Olivia time, she found it easier to relax. Her meeting with Casey ran long when she felt the need to quiz the attorney about every aspect of the case. She should've prepared her part and been done with it, but she wanted to be in the driver's seat.

Casey had the good grace to forgive her for it. "I haven't had anyone to give me direction since Liz went to the bench. You make a more than average stand-in for her," she joked.

"Sorry about that. The dictating, I mean."

"Alex, you've got nothing to be sorry for. Believe me. I only wish we could get you back full-time."

Alex was suddenly keenly aware that without Novak, she wouldn't have the opportunity to be there at all. "Thanks Novak."

"For what?"

"For everything."


Chapter 11.

By the time Alex left Casey, she was almost sick with anticipation. Elliot came over alone to stand guard for a few hours. He started his stint with an unexpected bear hug that broke the ice between them. Later, they played chess and had a deceptively light conversation about family and loyalty. But Stabler layered their talk with oblique references to Olivia.

Alex would analyze their talk for a long time over the months and years to come. What did he know? What did he think? Was he giving Alex something akin to his blessing, or warning her to stay away? It remained a mystery to her, even years later.

Finally, at 9:30, Olivia swaggered through the door looking like the cat that swallowed the canary. Alex's blood started pumping. She wanted to jump Olivia's bones. But all her other emotions and nerves ran interference, preventing her from acting.

Olivia Benson was still besotted with her ADA. However, she couldn't be stopped from falling right into in Detective Benson, Patron-Saint-of-Victims mode. Her first priority was to take the victim's temperature. She wanted to know how Alex was handling witness protection emotionally before she got personal. There was a time when she would have taken charge of the situation immediately. Those days were long gone. She was playing it safe, for both of them.

Alex was desperate to share a little bit of her soul with someone who wasn't paid by the government to evaluate her mental health. Someone who called her Alex, not Emily. She knew it was safe to show that vulnerability with Olivia.

Baring her soul was such a relief that Alex immediately told Olivia about Bill. As soon as the words left her mouth she regretted them. She was convinced she was having a total mental breakdown that would cost her Olivia and the trial.

Predictably, the discussion about Bill threw a wet blanket over the evening. Alex lost her nerve. Olivia went from being hopeful to merely hoping to survive the night. She shifted gears by retreating into trial preparation. Alex played along – at least for a little while.

Olivia bent the rules by stealing Connors' dossier. She gave Alex the file and they settled into a familiar rhythm: Olivia studied Alex while Alex studied the file. Alex peppered Olivia with questions. Sometimes she peered at Olivia over her glasses, listening intently to her answer.

Once they started working, Alex was just as Olivia remembered her. While Olivia's mind had always wandered between the task at hand and her attraction to the beautiful lawyer, she assumed that Alex was able to push away stray thoughts. So when Alex finished reading, Olivia expected another round of questions.

Instead, Alex shut the file and briefly closed her eyes. Her mind flooded with memories. Passionate arguments in the observation room… Olivia's eyes shining with pride after the ADA won a difficult trial… The two of them in the squad kitchen sharing a cup of tea… The fateful dinner from two years earlier…

The memories strengthened her resolve. She was determined to make them count. This may be my only chance.

Alex quickly closed the distance between herself and the detective. She tentatively traced the letters on Olivia's NYPD jacket. Olivia stopped breathing.

"Protect and serve," Alex said quietly.

"Alex," Olivia said, looking at her friend with dark, troubled eyes. It was hard for her to forget that the last time they touched, Alex was lying on the ground in a pool of blood, Olivia's hands pressing into the shoulder wound with all her strength.

"You saved my life," Alex continued, her voice suddenly filling with emotion.

"No Alex." Olivia was slightly alarmed that the attorney's vulnerability had returned. She was torn between taking Alex in her arms and stopping everything right there before she got out of control. She laid her hand on the spot where the bullet ripped through Alex's shoulder, just below the clavicle. "If I had done my job you never would have been in that position."

"I'm confused, Olivia. I was the one who waved the red flag at Zapata. Agent Donovan tried to warn me. So did Hammond. Even Branch told me to back off. I was the one who wouldn't let it go."

"Elliot and I should never have pushed you. Or we should have found a way to keep you out of it."

"Hindsight," Alex said dismissively. "In case you haven't noticed, I'm a little headstrong." The comment finally drew something like a smile from Olivia. "What more could you have done?"

"Stopped you from getting shot, for starters," Olivia said with disgust. She tried to move away but Alex grabbed her elbow before she could.

"Even superheroes can't always stop a madman, Liv."

Olivia knitted her brow, thinking of a retort than never came. "How do you do that?"

"That what?"

"Recover so well. Makes it hard to argue with you." Olivia said.

"Well Olivia, I'm a lawyer. At least I used to be." She looked away.

"Alex, listen to me," Olivia gently lifted Alex's her chin so their eyes met. "You still are, you always will be to me."

Alex looked deep into the brown eyes. She wasn't sure what was going on with Olivia, but they were living on borrowed time here. One of them had to act. She knew Olivia would follow her lead. "Touch me Liv," she commanded. She wasn't asking for a hug between friends.

Olivia knew what she was thinking. "Alex, are you sure you want this?"

Alex sighed, grabbing Olivia's collar with both hands and leaning in to give her a gentle head-butt. "God, I've been waiting to hold you for a long time." She felt Olivia's strong shoulders. "You literally had my life in your hands. The doctors said I would have bled out if you hadn't been there. The feelings I had for you didn't go away once I left. In fact, they only got stronger."

Olivia cut her off and pulled away. "But Alex, you have someone in your life. I don't want to disrespect that."

"That's my girl, always doing the honorable thing." Alex rolled her eyes. "I'll be moving to a new identity, so that's all over." She took a steadying breath. "But new identity or not, I'd still have to do this." She leaned in and slowly kissed Olivia. "I need to be Alex Cabot for a night. And what Alex Cabot wants-"

"She gets." Olivia gave in, returning the kiss and wrapping her arms around Alex Cabot at last.


Chapter 12.

"This is it," Alex whispered in Olivia's ear as she followed her detective into the courtroom to hear the verdict. Outwardly Alex looked calm. Inwardly, she was boiling over. All the essentials of her life had been obliterated. This courtroom, these people, the things that mattered most, were lost to her, no matter what the jury did. She was about to start over for the second time in two years. A new city, new people, new security measures. It was as if she were mourning a death in the family, only the death was her own.

As the judge took her seat, Novak turned around. Alex locked into focus, thinking only of the verdict. She gave the ADA an encouraging smile. The judge told the clerk to bring in the jury. She used to want these moments to go quickly, but almost before she knew what was happening the jury was seated. When the judge asked the defendant to stand while the verdict was read, Alex had to fight the urge to object. It was happening too fast.

The bailiff gave the judge the verdict form.


It was the most bittersweet victory of her life. The jurors were still being polled when Hammond suddenly appeared, telling her to come with him immediately. On the way out, Alex put one arm around Elliot and squeezed Olivia with her other arm. "You did it Alex," Olivia said.

"I'll be right back," she told them. As soon as the words flew out of her mouth she felt a sense of dread. The trial is over, time to become a human pinball. Her testimony was the only thing she had had any control over in years. In less than a minute the agents hurried her through the back door the judges use that lead to the armed parking lot. They hustled her to the car and through the swinging steel gates, releasing her back into confinement.


Chapter 13.

"I want out. Let me out now!" Alex screamed, jerking open the door. Hammond reached across the seat and slammed it shut, holding his arm over Alex like a father making sure his child doesn't go through the windshield.

"Wait, Alex. Wait! Listen to me."

"No Bob. I cannot do this again."

Hammond had expected this reaction. He flashed his lights at the van that was following them and both vehicles pulled off the expressway. They stopped in the parking lot of a McDonald's.

"Don't try to talk me out of it," Alex snapped.

"Hear me out. Your life is at risk right now." Hammond pounded the seat between them for emphasis. "The cartel knows it, you're already in the early editions of the newspapers. You've humiliated him. His people will be everywhere trying to track you down." His message wasn't getting through. "Alex, are you even listening?"

"No, I'm not." He had seen that haunted look in her eyes before. It was when her mother died. He delivered the news personally one early spring morning in Madison. She did not cry, but her eyes gave her away then, too. "I need a minute," she said, closing her eyes.

They sat in silence. Alex Cabot was special to Hammond in ways he could not fully explain. She was an officer of the law, like him. She was a victim of the same men who murdered his partner. He respected her, even though she could be as difficult as they come. That was obvious from the start, when she somehow strong-armed him into calling the two SVU detectives.

He did not understand why out of all the people in her life, it was so important to tell Benson and Stabler she was alive. All she would tell him was that it was personal. At the time, he thought maybe Alex was having an affair with Stabler.

Then he saw the way she stuck to Benson all day while they waited for the Connors verdict. Suddenly it dawned on him – Cabot had been pining away for Benson the entire time.

"Ok." Alex opened her eyes. They were wet, but her face was hard, determined. "Let's go."

Hammond turned to face her. "The reason you don't want to leave. It's Detective Benson, right?" When Alex didn't respond Hammond had his answer. "Alex, if I had known…"

"You would have what, Bob?" Alex said bitterly. "What difference would it have made?"

"Arrangements could have been made. We've had people enter the program together, you know that."

"I couldn't do that to her. She would have to give her life up. Besides…it's complicated."

Hammond was frustrated. "Alex, how can I help you if you don't tell me what the problem is?"

"Bob, I can't explain it to you except to say things that weren't clear two years ago make a hell of a lot more sense now."

Hammond chose his next words carefully. "If you leave the program now, she's at risk. I know she can handle herself, just as the entire squad would willingly protect you as much as they could, but people are going to get hurt if you go back. Velez is a proven commodity. He wants to hurt you and he has the means to do it. Her association with you makes her a big target."

Alex closed her eyes and leaned back into the headrest. "God damn him."

"I know." Hammond frowned. "I'm sorry Alex."

"It's not your fault Bob." She looked at him questioningly. "How did you know about us?"

"You'd have to be blind to miss it."


Chapter 14.

When Alex had to leave her life behind a second time, she didn't think she could survive it. After Hammond's talk, she knew she had to, if only for Olivia's sake.

Their night together was so brief and so intense that as time passed, it almost felt like a dream. There hadn't been time to discuss the ramifications of their love or what the future held, because if Alex's seasons in purgatory taught them anything, it was that life was unpredictable. Olivia didn't ask Alex if she wanted to come home someday. It seemed selfish to bring it up when she was about to have everything ripped away again.

Alex didn't think it was fair to ask Olivia to wait for her. What if that time never came? What if Olivia could be happy? What if she could have her own family? Alex knew Olivia wanted that more than anything, even though she had never said it out loud. Alex had seen Olivia with children and her instincts were strong and natural. As good as it was to share her deepest feelings, Alex still felt that the burden was hers to shoulder, and she would shoulder it alone.

There was a time when Alex never doubted that she would find her way back home. But after the Connors trial, the realist in her took over. Velez was still at large. When he went, someone else would take his place. She could be gone forever.


III. Lead Time


Chapter 15.

One of Alex's first arguments with Inspector Mary Shannon was about the meaning of the word "appropriate." The Albuquerque-based field agent with the U.S. Marshals Service had been assigned to Alex Cabot because of the witness's reputation for being "difficult."

A few weeks after the Connors trial, the two had their first meeting on what her life in Phoenix was going to look like. Alex wanted to practice law. Inspector Shannon disagreed.

"Everyone in the program is supposed to find appropriate employment. Who decides what's "appropriate" work for me? The government? You? The regs conveniently don't define the word."

"Where'd you get the regs from?" Mary wrinkled her forehead in annoyance. This one read the regs? Here comes trouble.

"From the CFR – you know, the Code of Federal Regulations. That's where much of the actual law is, you should read it sometime," Alex said arrogantly. "Of course since this program is the equivalent of a CIA black site, the full regulations are not publishable. In fact they aren't even available to Congress, which is why they only come up with a meager oversight report every five years or so."

"And you've probably read them, right?" Mary guessed. "You would agree, wouldn't you, that what we do here isn't the equivalent of torture at CIA black sites?"

Cabot snorted – like a horse, Mary thought – "I was merely making a rhetorical point."

"Well bully for you." Mary muttered. "Why are you being so difficult?" Let me guess, years of training.

"Difficult? Here I thought I was being reasonable." Cabot crossed her arms. You haven't seen anything yet. "I've been in the program for a while now. I wasn't interested in meaningful work before. But there is no way I can go on pushing paper for some insurance company. If you want me to follow the rules, you have to meet me halfway."

Mary narrowed her eyes, trying to decide if Cabot was offering her an opening or this was just the opening salvo to another round. "You're going to have to trust me here, or this will never work. I can consider letting you practice law. It can't be the type of high-profile activity you had before. Yes, I know you're not in New York so it can't possibly be on anyone's radar screen," Mary rolled her eyes, "but you're well known in legal circles. Someone could recognize you."

"My impression from the regs is that the government only cares that I'm not living off the public dole."

"Nobody is worried about you turning into a welfare queen, Alex. We are supposed to prevent you from undertaking activities that could get you killed. Prosecuting is out of the question."

"Did I say I wanted to prosecute?"

"Well do you?"

"I don't know," Alex said truthfully. "I don't know if I can do it again. I don't know if I can stand not to do it, but I want the option."

"Fine. Let's just start with the assumption that you work as a lawyer. We'll deal with the rest after we have the details worked out."

Alex sensed she was being played. "I may be a different person, living a new life. What hasn't changed is that I still can't imagine myself being a corporate lawyer. So if that's what you have in mind, it's not going to happen. I'm not some mafia half-wit you can play for a fool."

Mary sighed. "Then let's come up with something else." She held up a hand. "Don't ask me what, because I don't know yet."

"And what do I do in the meantime?"

"You're going to begin receiving monthly payments—"

"No. I have a trust fund."

"I know, we've already worked that out." Alex's trust fund was managed by her mother's estate and administered through secure government sources. "That doesn't mean you aren't entitled to the stipend." The government supplemented a witness's income up to $60,000 until they were on their feet again.

"I don't need it. I can support myself. If I can't, I'll draw on the fund," she said impatiently.

"You're still entitled to it. It's considered compensation for your services."

"My services." Alex closed her eyes. "I don't even know what to do with that one, so I'll spare you the rant."

"Gee thanks." There is a God.

"But the taxpayers don't need to send me entitlement payments when I've got money, that's graft, so I better not see any stipend."

"Fine. It'll be here if you need it, though."


And that was Mary Shannon's introduction to the puzzle of Alexandra Cabot nee Cavanaugh.


Chapter 16.

After the first year of witness relocations, the Marshals were only required to make annual visits with the witnesses. But they still received reports, they still did random checks, they still monitored what was happening in their lives – especially if there were signs of trouble. Part of the joy and pain of being a WITSEC Inspector was wearing the hats that enabled them to do this: career counselor, spy, therapist, financial planner and cop. They were empowered to step in as they saw fit. And she's right, Mary mused later, there isn't much oversight. We're expected to use our power judiciously and follow orders up and down the chain of command.

Most witnesses were able to support themselves well enough after a year. The government had cooperation of an impressive array of employers who were discrete enough to make jobs available and falsify background documents. If the public knew how many people and businesses cooperated with witness protection and managed to keep it a secret, they'd be stunned.

Some witnesses were more problematic than others. The most obvious was the career criminal or mafia don who was accustomed to living high on the hog. Placing them in high paying jobs was usually not going to happen. In pretty short order, they missed their old lives. They were the ones who eventually went back to a life of crime. Mary didn't lose any sleep over them. The inability of a guy like Henry Hill, the real life character from Goodfellas, to deal with being Joe Suburbia was not something she could fix, even had she wanted to.

The high-achieving professionals were difficult for other reasons. They were doctors, lawyers, professors and the like. Manufacturing brand new, believable credentials was not easy. If the Yale professor was willing to work at Pima Community College, they could make it work. If she wanted to be in the Classics department at a reputable four-year institution, the government was relatively powerless. They worked in small worlds, where everyone knew or knew of everyone else.

Mary didn't have a lot of them to deal with. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time happened very infrequently to the well-heeled and well-bred. Then there was Alex Cabot. A well-heeled, well-bred public servant with a reputation as a maverick. What was going to satisfy her? She figured out in short order that the answer was nothing.

Once Mary got to know Alex, she realized how dangerous a return to public service would be. This was no shrinking violet. She was beautiful, articulate and possessed a personal magnetism so strong it was almost scary. She would work her way right into the spotlight, even without connections.


Chapter 17.

Cabot's fate at the hands of the justice system should have made her a cynic. One could reasonably argue that she did everything right, yet still ended up on the receiving end of a pile of shit, while some of the pot weasels who did her harm remained free men. It was an argument she occasionally entertained.

Mostly she blamed herself for her predicament, such as it was. The ethical dilemmas she failed to solve as a prosecutor still bothered her and probably would for all eternity. But since I'm damned what does it matter, it's purely academic. She couldn't foresee a path back to the courthouse door.

While Shannon worked on getting her new legal credentials, Alex started taking contract work, which she could do without membership in the Arizona bar. It filled the time well enough but it was boring, tedious, paper-pushing work. Summarizing contracts, summarizing transcripts, logging data, logging documents. She almost relented on the corporate law bit, until she realized she'd just be doing the same type of work and working twice the hours.

That would seriously cut into her playing-the-field time.


Chapter 18.

It started innocently enough. She had been staying at the sprawling, luxurious Biltmore resort while she waited to close on a condominium on Camelback Mountain. The impeccable weather did not impress her. The contract work was already numbing her brain. She wandered over to one of the resort's many bars. She sat outside inhaling the fresh air and the smell of oranges, hating every minute of it. She was homesick for industrial grime and cold weather.

More to the point, she missed Olivia like crazy. Alex felt her absence more than she did when she first entered witness protection, even though it had been almost two years since the detective had been a daily presence in her life. The night in the hotel had loosened the vise grip on her heart. She knew Olivia loved her. That made everything worse.

Alex ordered martini after martini, finally ending up blitzed. Three men hit on her and she was ready to leave when a tall, dark woman with blue eyes sat down next to her. "You look miserable." Her accent was vaguely Australian.

"That's some pickup line." Alex shot back. "It's a shame, you stood a better chance with me than the three stooges over there." She gestured toward the men at the bar.

"I saw the way you rejected them. I think have something to offer you that they don't."

Alex appraised her strong body. "And what might that be?"

"I'm a woman and a massage therapist. I think I could help you out."

Alex had already stood up. "Let's go."

The one night stand with the massage therapist changed Alex. It was meaningless sex, but it was the first time she felt good since she left New York. It was better than getting drunk and pondering her fate.

Besides, she was making up for lost time.


Chapter 19.

Alex had always thought of her sexuality as complicated, but not because she didn't know which side of the fence she was on. She was a lesbian. She had known it since she was a first year law student. After a string of awkward relationships with men that were nothing more than glorified friendships, Alex suspected who she really was. Her feelings for women were complex, mysterious and exciting. Once she compared the two genders, the writing was on the wall.

She came out to her father less than a year later. He was stunned. "You surprised me Alex," he said.

"I'm sorry. You didn't raise me to be a coward. I thought you had a right to know."

"Does your mother know?"

"Not yet."

He stood and unlocked the liquor cabinet. "Scotch?"

"No. Yes." Alex accepted the drink. "Dad, women… excite me. Maybe it's selfish of me to tell you this now."

"No it isn't." He finished a double shot. "I'll adjust. We'll adjust." He poured himself another drink. "I'm still your biggest cheerleader. It's just going to take some time getting used to."

After a good thirty minutes he pulled it together enough to give her what he thought was a pep talk. He told her things were different than they used to be, that she could go far as a lesbian. He still believed his daughter was capable of doing whatever she wanted, with one caveat: if her career goals involved public service, she couldn't be gay. It had to be one or the other.

He was her idol. She took his words seriously – maybe too seriously. She vacillated briefly between women and career and chose the latter, always with dad's advice in mind. In order to make it in politics, she would need to have a series of beards or else live like a monk. Although Alex dabbled in bearding, mostly she preferred to live like a monk.

Then she washed up in Phoenix. Denied the opportunity to practice law, she turned her energy to the next best thing: sex.


Chapter 20.

Before she knew it, she was trolling for women whenever the mood struck. And it struck a lot. There were some gay clubs in Phoenix and she visited them all eventually. But for some reason she particularly enjoyed the young women she could find hanging out on campus at Arizona State. She would drive there on summer evenings after work and stroll around the quad, working her lean body and remembering the time in her life before things got so complicated that she was willing to suppress her sexuality.

The college girls frequently mistook her for a professor. Alex quickly learned that if that was their fantasy, she could go with it. She would buy them a drink and don the glasses and they would fold. She was amazed by the power the glasses seemed to wield with the twenty-something age group. Her forays onto the college campus were ethically borderline, but they were consensual.

For a while Alex was allergic to men, even in the workplace. When she said this to the male psychologist who the government hired to assess her progress, he visibly bristled. The psychologist asked her if she had hated her father.

She couldn't believe his reaction. "I love men," she clarified, "in a purely platonic, non-sexual way. But I just spent six months sleeping with one and I just can't go there again. I never will."

"Do you associate all men with violence?" He asked.

"You think I'm some dick-hating dyke?" She stormed out, vowing never to see another shrink.

Naturally, the incident came back to haunt her.


Chapter 21.

Inspector Shannon was enjoying a long lunch in Albuquerque with her partner when she saw her: Alex Cavanaugh striding into the restaurant like a bull in a china shop, looking for something to gore. And let me guess. I'm the one wearing red.

Mary was immediately on edge. "What are you doing here?" A client had never tracked her down before.

"Talking to my case agent," Alex said bitterly.

"Hi there," Marshall said. "You must be the famous Alex." He offered her his hand.

"And you must be Inspector Shannon's partner. My condolences." Alex kept her arms crossed.

Marshall was shocked. "You really are as advertised."

Mary was not happy. "Keep your voice down, both of you."

"Aren't you going to invite me to lunch?" Alex said sarcastically.

"No." Mary stood up. "Don't leave," she told her partner. "I'm not riding back to the office with this one."

Alex was incredulous. "Who said I would even drive you?"

"Ouch." Marshall smiled. "I'll be right here if you need backup."

"Let's go." Mary snapped, walking toward the side door. Alex immediately walked the other way, forcing Mary to follow her through the front doors. Mary knew why Alex was there. "So, I take it you're pretty pissed?"

Alex turned around and glared at the Inspector as they made their way through the parking lot. "You could say that."

Alex had flunked her annual psych exam. The psychologist's report suggested she was sleeping around because she wanted to feel and sex was the easiest way. He also wrote that her "hatred of men" could be dangerous. He recommended continuing therapy.

Mary had the discretion to ignore the report. She seriously considered it. She knew the comment about hating men did not make Alex a homicidal dick-slasher in the making. Hell we all hate men at some point, Mary thought, and I'm straight.

When it came right down to it, Mary thought she would be failing Alex if she ignored the recommendation. But forcing her into therapy as a condition of staying in the program was a pretty heavy hammer. Instead she sent Alex a letter scheduling a mandatory interview with the Inspector "at your earliest convenience." I guess today's the day.

Alex stopped in front of a dark blue BMW with the top down.

"This is yours? I thought you hated to drive."

"I do. But public transit is useless out here. Get in."

Mary opened the door, noting the white leather interior. "I would've pegged you for something a little more…" She tried to think of a word that would not offend.

"Boring? Economical? I tried that for a while. Then I thought if I'm going to have a midlife crisis, might as well look the part. This thing is a chick magnet," Alex deadpanned.

Mary decided maybe Alex did need therapy. "Are you kidding me?"

"Yes. Part of that was a joke. You guess which part. And don't put your feet on the dash."

Mary gave her a look but decided not to push. "Alex, I apologize. I should have called you first. I thought the letter might be more helpful. I know we haven't always seen eye to eye."

"I'm a lesbian, so your government hack thinks I hate men?"

"He's concerned, and not just about that."

"He decided I have sex to feel. As if I didn't know that. I'm in witness protection, not the loony bin. I didn't check my self-awareness at the door."

"Look, you can do what you want, but I want you to know that I'm watching you. Because I'm worried about you."

"I hate therapy, Mary. I can't believe you're doing this."

"There is no this. I'm not even comfortable telling you that you need therapy, because what do I know? Some people find it helpful. But I am looking at your long-term success in the program and I don't like what I see. And you can yell at me all you want, but protecting you is my job. It's not all taking bullets and running down bad guys. I have to think about your mental state and whether you're still capable of following the rules."

Alex was tired of feeling like she had the world on her shoulders. "I know it would be easier for you, for the government, for everyone – if I just lived a new life and was happy with it."

"Alex, I know that it is not that simple."

"Does everybody else you deal with just color inside the lines and never look back?"

Mary gave her a wry smile. "Some do. Everybody has trouble adapting at some point." She considered the situation. "For a lot of people in this program, this is a pretty good deal. Their lives weren't that great to begin with. To everyone else, it can be a struggle. People tend go back and forth on a continuum of acceptance and denial."

"So how do I…" Alex looked up at the sky and then started again. "How do those other people move on, then? I really want to know."

"They take up art, find a new passion, fall in love, have children…" Mary was grasping at clichés. When she saw the look on Alex's face her stomach dropped. Bloody hell. "There's more to it than that, it's hard to define." She opened the car door. "Let me buy you a drink. You look like you could use one."


Chapter 22.

The bartender was having an easy day. The place was empty, save for two beautiful women with long blonde hair. He could tell that despite sharing a hair color – or maybe a peroxide bottle – they couldn't be more different. They definitely were not sisters. The shorter one with pouty lips was wearing jeans and a blue blazer. She had on a purple tank top, and he suspected she was pretty curvy underneath.

The other one was tall and impossibly slim. She was wearing a pair of black pinstriped pants with high heels and a white blouse. She had blue eyes that could stop your heart.

"Just what is the big deal about these drinks, anyway?" Alex asked, sipping her mojito.

"Got me. Typical Miami hype." Mary considered her glass. "Real women drink bourbon."

"Or tequila."

"Really?" Mary squinted at her. "Huh. You're pretty unpredictable for a blue-blood attorney."

"Unpredictability runs in the family. Ran in the family," Alex said softly.

Mary sighed. "I'm sorry. This sucks for you." Her empathy made her take a few extra steps for her clients than most of her colleagues. But this apologizing thing was new. She only seemed to do that for Alex Cabot.

"Sorry for what?"

"That conversation we were having back there. I wasn't trying to sound trite. People heal a thousand different ways."

"I guess you just touched a nerve. When I was shuffled off to Portland after I testified in the trial, Hammond came to see me. He tried to tell me to get in a relationship, can you believe it?"

"Are we talking about the same Robert Hammond?" Mary spluttered. "I thought Bob didn't do sensitive chats?"

"He should avoid them at all costs," Alex said. "It was painful. I thought he finally understood that I loved someone. And that there wasn't going to be any substitute for her."

"Detective Benson," Mary said without thinking.

Alex ran her fingers through her hair. "I really want to hate you for knowing that. I guess I'm never going to be used to random people knowing my business."

"It's not random people. Just me and a few others with access to your file." Mary stopped talking long enough to think about what it must be like to have no choice in the matter. "Though when you're a private person, it probably feels like half the Western world knows." She paused. "You know what your problem is Alex?"

"By all means, diagnose me Dr. Shannon. Everybody's doing it."

"You're too smart for your own good."

"Story of my life."

"You proved one thing to me though."

"What's that?"

"You don't need therapy. You have insight your own soul; you understand your predicament. And anyone who carries the Code of Federal Regulations around in her purse understands how to follow the rules."

"I don't carry it with me. I just store a few volumes under my bed in case of insomnia."

"Touché. Now as to whether you want to follow the rules or will follow the rules, that's entirely up to you."

"In summary, I'm totally screwed," Alex drained her drink and ordered them both another. "Don't you have some federal cop superpowers you can call on to help me out?"

"Well…not that I'm doubting your ability to find happiness or long-term success in the program or anything. But maybe I'll just track down old what's his name – Velez?"

"That's him."

"And kick his ass. Then you can go home."

"Ok then. We have a deal."

"I'm sure I'm not the only woman who would potentially kill for you," Mary added sheepishly. She really should not be having this conversation.

Mary reminded Alex a little bit of Olivia. Maybe a little more verbose, she thought, suppressing a smile.

"Something suddenly funny about this situation?"

"You just remind me of someone I know. Used to know. Know? It's complicated."

"Isn't it always," Mary sighed. "So how did you track me down?"

"I know a thing or two about tailing people. I was going to wait until after lunch and follow you to the office, but you spent so much time with your boyfriend this morning that I started to get pissed off."

"Marshall is NOT my boyfriend."

"I'm not talking about your partner." She thought about Olivia and Elliot. "That would be incest. I'm talking about that Latin guy you spent the morning taking batting practice with."

"You know about him? Nobody knows about him."

"I'll keep it to myself. It could be good blackmail material," she teased. "He's got a killer body. Nice job Inspector."

"I thought you weren't into men," Mary said suspiciously.

"I'm so not!" Alex was exasperated. "I can admire them the same way I would a Rodin. You know, look, but don't touch?"

"Okay, okay. You're a lesbian. I get it. Can I ask you something without you biting my head off again?"

"Depends. Are you buying another round?"

"You really are trying to get me drunk, aren't you?"

"Ever kissed a girl Mary?"

"You're stalling, Cabot."

"I could say the same about you. But go ahead. Obviously I have nothing to hide."

"Well then, here goes. Your psych records mention that you're picking up college girls?" Mary ducked in case she got punched.

"They're college women. So?"

"Do you think it's healthy to be screwing college girls? I mean women?"

"They're of age." Alex said, feeling instantly guilty. "No one would ask a man that."

"Maybe not, but I'm not sharing drinks with a man who used to work sex crimes."

"What are you implying?"

"Nothing. Just promise me you'll consider this…" Mary looked around to make sure no one was listening.

"I'm listening."

"Consider whether Alex Cabot would believe tramping around with college girls is appropriate behavior. Would Alex Cabot – leave Cavanaugh out of it for right now – would Cabot give you her blessing on this?"

"Alex Cabot is dead."

"Alex, look at me." Mary remembered what she should have said earlier, when they were still in the parking lot. "I've been doing this long enough to know that you've got to stop dividing your life into before and after. When you leave – if you leave – you won't be able to pretend this never happened. And if you stay, you have to make peace with the past, while still giving that person, Alex Cabot, room to breathe inside you. You have to integrate who you were with who you are, or you will never be happy."


Chapter 23

Alex's conversation with Mary left her at rock bottom. She called in sick to work for the rest of the week. Once, in desperation, she picked up the telephone and dialed Olivia's number. It rang twice before Alex changed her mind. What am I going to say – I can't handle this, come get me? No. There didn't seem to be a way out.

Her sexual escapades stopped. She poured her sexual and mental energy into running the canyons. The only things on her daily agenda were running and swimming. The two and three mile climbs were challenging. They became her silent meditation. The sun shone down on her whether she wanted it to or not, so she stopped resenting it. The air was pure. She started thinking about a triathlon. She stopped working and lived off the trust fund. For the first time in her adult life, Alex gave her analytical mind a rest and let herself just be.

She lived that way for three months before she had an epiphany. After an exhausting morning charge up Piestwa Peak, she was finally able to give meaning to Mary Shannon's words:

There was only one solution to her problem, and that was to dust herself off, pick herself up and live like Alex Cabot again. Witness protection may have left her with scar tissue on her soul, but she was no "Emily," she was no "Alex Cavanaugh." The only life worth leading was an authentic one. Consequences be damned.

And that was how Alex Cabot found a new career. And a new love.


IV. Baggage Claim


Chapter 24.

Alex woke up early, inexplicably replaying scenes from her life as it had been lived since the Velez fiasco. Olivia was on her mind. While it was true that not a day went by that she didn't worry about Olivia, she had learned to think those thoughts once a day and let the rest of their saga go. It was the only way to survive.

Why this day of all days? It could have been because of the steps she had been taking to reclaim her life from the pits of hell. But she suspected the real answer had something to do with who was in her bed.

"I'd offer you a penny for your thoughts, but I think you have more expensive tastes than that." The voice of her lover broke her concentration.

Alex was amused. "You think you know me that well, do you?"

"Uh-huh. I'd say you're going to need a least a quarter."

"Wait a minute. My thoughts are worth at least a dollar."

"Well I'm a tough negotiator. I think you should give me your personal discount."

"You know something counselor?" Alex said, turning toward the bed, untying then retying the belt on her white plush robe.

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure I know something," the woman grinned in response.

"Hmm. I suppose you do." Alex crawled over the bed like a long cat, straddling the blonde. Seeing the attorney's bed head and dark blue eyes, Alex was overcome, not by lust, but by something deeper. She ran her fingers through the short hair and leaned down, softly kissing the base of her throat. "Sometimes I want to tell you everything," she whispered.

The attorney paused for a minute to acknowledge the sudden shift in tone. "I know you do Alex, I know," she said, brushing Alex's hair out of her eyes and touching her face.

"Do you?" Alex scanned her face for any evidence her trust had been misplaced.

"I do." From the moment they met, she knew that something about her touched a nerve with Alex. And she knew that Alex was not who she said she was. But the attorney was more concerned with protecting Alex from whatever tormented her than she was with finding out her story. "Somehow I know." Alex would reveal it when she was ready.

"Good." The two kissed hungrily before the attorney rolled Alex onto her back.


Chapter 25.

Olivia was walking through a Brooklyn cemetery. It was her day off and she was searching for her mother's headstone. She didn't feel bad about forgetting its precise location. Serena Benson's remains were interred there, but Olivia didn't need to go to her grave to feel close to her. The only thing she regretted was wasting so much time tracking down her father's family. It brought her nothing but grief.

She thought a quiet walk would help sort out her feelings. When Alex was killed, the entire squad had to go through mandatory grief counseling. Olivia knew exactly how to convince the doctors she was fine. First tell them she wanted Cabot to live a happy life. Next, say that she couldn't hold on to the past. Then offer the simple truth that while Alex's death would always be a tragedy, she was grateful to have made the connection, however brief, and she was lucky they had had any time at all. Sometimes she even made herself believe all that.

Olivia's recent longing for Alex made her think she had been fooling herself all along. She had found no acceptable way to cope with the loss. Now she was looking for her mother because the two people she really wanted to talk to were off limits. One was Alex. The other was Elliot.

Olivia and Elliot were out of sync. She was so busy straightening out his life that she didn't notice how unhealthy she had become. Here she was, trying to fix El's marriage, giving him self-righteous lectures on raising his kids, riding to the rescue again and again… When she wasn't even sure if their partnership extended beyond the squadroom door anymore.

Her feelings for Alex were just one example of something Olivia could have trusted Elliot with, but didn't. A year earlier Olivia started the adoption process with the City. She was rejected almost immediately. She waited until she thought she was over it before she said anything to Elliot. His reaction was so strong – he wanted to fix it, he was upset – that it bothered her. In a weird way she felt she had let him down.

Elliot had her back and there was no one she would rather have by her side. But was now the time to dump her personal stuff on him? Olivia didn't think so. He had gone through too many changes of his own lately and he seemed overwhelmed.

She was going to have to find another outlet.


Chapter 26.

Alex was rattled by her thoughts of Olivia. She could feel the sadness settling in again. So for what seemed like the hundredth time, she did something she swore she would never do: she sat down at her desk with a pen and a notepad and wrote a letter to Olivia.

Two hours later she climbed in the car and pointed it South. When she was far enough away from Phoenix that hers was the only car on the road, she parked. She trudged away from the highway and into the desert.

Alex walked until she could no longer see the road. She surveyed the landscape. It had been an unusually wet spring in Arizona, leaving the desert plants in surprisingly colorful bloom. The red rocks were in the distance. This wasn't her original idea of beauty, but it would have to do. In fact, she decided she was learning to like life on Mars.

The sun would be setting in another hour, so she opened the manila envelope that held Olivia's letter. There were other letters, too. One was for her mother ("I pray you can forgive me") and one belonged to Bill ("I'd have never stayed"). Another letter addressed her mentors ("I tried not to let you down, I followed my conscience"); while the longest was a post mortem on the career she might have had ("I could have done anything I wanted. But at what price happiness…")

Alex planned to burn the letters and let them fly into the ether. She wasn't quite sure why this had to take place in the middle of nowhere. Cabot, when did you become such a drama queen?

She took one last glance around to make sure she was alone. That's when she saw it. A small sign that said "Property of the United States Government. Area is video-monitored. Trespassers will be prosecuted."

Fuck. I can't get rid of big brother even in the middle of the goddamn dessert. She looked around for video cameras. Do they really monitor these properties? What the hell can they possibly be keeping out here – aliens? Where's John Munch when I need him?

She decided Munch would tell her to set fire to the letters, since it was the best way to find out if there really were video cameras. What's the worst that can happen? Jail time for trespassing and arson? Oh well. She decided she had nothing to lose anymore.

Before she took out the matches, Alex read her letter to Olivia. It was short and sweet. That was the only way she could get the words down on paper.

Olivia Benson,

We missed our chance to be the lesbian crime-fighting duo of the SVU. The twists and turns would've killed our relationship, I'm sure of it. But I would like to have taken that ride anyway. And I know you would have, too.

We may never meet again. So I'm throwing you out of my life. Maybe someday there will be a time machine. Until then, we have to let us go.

Goodbye Olivia.


Chapter 27.

Olivia thought she was emotionally healthy. She didn't need a best friend and had always been able to live without a lover. Olivia had always kept her own counsel, even as a little girl. Maybe it was growing up an only child, or without a father in the house. She learned early on that she was different from the other kids who didn't have fathers. There were times she hated her mother for her honesty. Being the child of a rapist was a big thing to hang on a child. But whenever she thought about it in detail, she realized her mother did the best she could, and her decision to tell Olivia the truth wasn't wrong.

She found it difficult to make friends within her peer group. She was drawn to mentoring relationships. In the early days, even Elliot filled that role. It was also easier for her to form friendships with men. She could have personal relationships with them without becoming too emotionally involved. She saw that as a good thing.

Her first sexual relationships with women were terrifying in their intensity. She couldn't shake them off as quickly as she could her relationships with men. Initially, she thought women were not to be trusted. Later, she decided that it was she who was not to be trusted around them. She dismissed the idea that this was in any way related to her father and what he did to her mother. Still, a nagging voice in her head tried to tell her that it was true. She was dangerous.

When Olivia met Alex she was as confident as she had ever been in her personal and professional lives. She assumed the reason for her positive place was that she had learned how to balance her passions. She pursued relationships, mostly sexual, with whomever she wanted. She would avoid things that made her the most passionate, because wearing her heart on her sleeve on the job was enough.

Alex tipped that balancing act right over. They immediately formed a bond. It could have been that they were both women in a male-dominated arena. But if that was their only connection, there would have been other friendships available to both of them. They were more than kindred spirits.

Olivia let their friendship blossom despite all the warning signs in her head. She knew she wanted Alex more than anyone she had ever met. But she was hesitant about going after her. That little voice inside her was afraid that she would fail, Alex would get hurt and Olivia would be destroyed.

All of that happened anyway. Which begged the question: what would I have done six years ago if I had the chance to do it all over again?


Chapter 28.

Mary Shannon was in Phoenix helping a family settle into their new lives. She was putting away groceries and watching the three kids fight with each other when she heard a familiar voice. She walked into the living room, where she was shocked to see Alex Cavanaugh on television, looking very much like the ADA who was killed and resurrected in New York.

It had been a year since the conversation Mary and Alex had in the bar. Alex had seemed so lost then. But she turned it around. During their annual review a few weeks earlier, Alex said she was satisfied doing contract work and possibly in love. Mary had patted herself on the back for fixing this one. But this TV appearance was most certainly not about contract work. This was precisely the kind of activity she was told to avoid.

In child psychology, this behavior is known as "escalating."

Alex was sitting in the middle of an overly bright television station, ready for a live interview. She sized up the perky news anchor. It was going to be hard not to get snarky. She hoped she still had a game face.

"We're here with Alex Cavanaugh, the freelance reporter whose articles on the alleged corruption of Sheriff Joe have been making headlines lately. Sheriff Joe is now suing Cavanaugh for defamation and slander. This is her first televised interview. Welcome to Channel 19."

"Thank you. It's good to be here."

"Unless people have been living under a rock the last six months, they've probably heard about your very public feud with the longtime sheriff of Maricopa County. For those few folks who haven't been reading the newspapers, why don't you fill them in?"

"First of all," Alex corrected, "I would hardly call it a 'feud.' Anyone who has been following this knows it isn't about me." She turned toward camera 1 to address the viewers directly. "It's about an elected official violating the law, sexually humiliating prisoners and advocating policies that caused a pregnant woman to bleed to death on the jailhouse floor. When I was writing about those issues, he ignored me. Now that I've exposed his corruption, he's decided to file a lawsuit in an effort to silence me and the newspaper. I have one message for you Sheriff: it won't work."

"Wow!" the anchor exclaimed, pausing to wait for instructions from the teleprompter. "Those are strong words from Alex Cavanaugh. So you aren't backing off your shocking allegations?"

"Of course not." Alex gave the anchor her most withering look. "Sheriff Joe is a sleazebag who has cost this city more than forty million dollars in settlements and judgments. Moreover, I would hardly call my allegations 'shocking.' Anyone who has lived in this town for more than ten minutes knows that the man thinks he is a dictator and he runs the County as his own little fiefdom. All I've done is examine the hard evidence and put the information out there. A woman and her child are dead because of the way he runs the jail. This is about justice for them and it has been right from the beginning."

The reporter had a panicked look on her face. She couldn't control this interview. "Well, what about the allegations he made against you in the lawsuit?"

"They're false and baseless and obviously someone has been giving him bad legal advice." Alex was growing more irritated. "We have the First Amendment in this country. It protects my ability to give you my opinion – like when I called Sheriff Joe sleazebag. It also protects my right to tell the truth, whether government officials like it or not. All I have to prove in a defamation lawsuit is that the things I've said and written are true. And now we have a great opportunity to do that. Because of this lawsuit, we will finally have access to the documents that will show what a fraud this man is, and where the public money goes."

The anchor was out of her depth. "Earlier today, Sheriff Joe issued a statement accusing you of making false allegations and then refusing to confront him to his face."

Alex stared at the anchor for a second too long. This person is clearly an idiot. "What do you think this is, a schoolyard brawl? That's just Sheriff Joe doing his professional wrestling imitation and hoping that someone over here will take the bait. I would love to talk to him face to face." Alex had an idea. "In fact, I'll debate him any time he wants."

The anchor raised her eyebrows. "Is that a challenge?"

Alex smiled. "You can call it whatever you want. If he's so anxious to meet me, I would be happy to make his day."

"Is there anything else you'd like to say?"

"Two things. First, the next election is in twelve months. It is ultimately up to the voters to decide what kind of government they want. Second, the D.A.'s office is still trying to decide whether to file charges against the corrections officers who were on duty when Eva Reynaldo and her baby died. Apparently they are waiting on the report from the Bureau of Criminal Investigations, which has been delayed twice. That is something you want to pay attention to when it is finally released."

"Well. I guess the answer is stay tuned, folks!"

Alex called Sam from the car. "How'd I do, counselor?"

"How'd you do? You were sizzling."


"Really. I'll tell you exactly what I was thinking. First, please let me try this case to a jury. Second, when did you decide to call out the D.A.? That was brilliant."

"It was spontaneous. I figured somebody needed to put some pressure on those gutless morons. There's no excuse for these delays. Those guards should have been tried and convicted by now."

"Well, I loved it."

"I knew you'd approve."

"You're a total natural up there."

"I don't know about that. Will I see you later?"

"Of course."

They hung up. Sam McGowan considered the woman who had claimed her heart and wondered, not for the first time, who are you?


Chapter 29.

It was late afternoon in the 16th Precinct. Cragen was pacing around his office with a pink telephone message slip in his hand. It was from Hammond, and it had him troubled. He wanted to return the phone call first, but he didn't trust himself to do what needed to be done if he heard what Hammond had to say.

Finally, Cragen made a decision. "Elliot!" he bellowed, opening the door to his office. "In here, now."

Elliot had been sipping a cup of coffee and trying not to fall asleep in his chair. He wondered what he was about to get chewed out for. He looked around the squad room for Liv. It was always easier to get called into the principal's office with your co-conspirator.

"Let's go Elliot," Cragen said irritably.

Elliot reluctantly moved toward Cragen's office. "What's wrong?"

"Shut the door."

Elliot groaned inwardly. "What is it?"

"You tell me. What's going on with Olivia?"

"Going on?"

"Surely you've noticed. She isn't well." Elliot had noticed. He just hadn't made time to pry whatever it was out of her.

"She's just…" Elliot tried to buy time to figure out how to protect Olivia from whatever was about to get thrown her way. "I don't know. She'll be ok, though."

"That's not the answer I was looking for."

"I'll talk to her Cap, don't worry."

Cragen nodded. "Alright, you do that. In the meantime, I'm giving her some time off."

"You're suspending her?"

"Hopefully she won't make me do that. I shouldn't have let things go this long, but what happened the other day was too close a call."

"She told me she was close to pulling the trigger on that guy, but she didn't. She stopped herself. She knows where to draw the line." Elliot rubbed the back of his neck. The prospect of not having Olivia by his side stressed him out immediately. "Can I go?"

"Go on."

Olivia was waiting for Elliot in the squadroom. "What happened?"

Her jerked his thumb toward the door. "Dad wants to see you."

Cragen was staring at the telephone when Olivia came in, fingers pressed together, obviously deep in thought. Olivia had a good idea of what was about to happen. She wanted to avoid it.

"Captain, you want me to come back?"

He considered the message slip that was sitting on his desk. "No." When she shut the door, he gave her his full attention. "Olivia, what happened the other day—"

"Won't happen again. I'm getting help."

"Good." That surprised him. He couldn't let her off the hook though. "You have more leave time than anyone else in the 16. I want you to take as much time as you need."

"Are you suspending me?"

"Don't make me do that Olivia. Take your time and don't come back until you're ready." He knew she was intensely private, but he offered her his ear. "And if you want to talk about anything, I'm here."

Olivia opened her mouth to speak, then changed her mind. She stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind her.


Chapter 30.

Alex was leaving the television station when Mary Shannon appeared out of nowhere, pounding on her windshield. "Stop now."

Alex rolled down the window, more than a little surprised to be caught by her field agent. Mary was furious. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Working, what's it look like I'm doing?"

"We worked so hard to keep you low profile and suddenly there you are on TV."


"The Marshals have never lost a witness to an act of violence when the witness follows the rules. You broke the rules, Alex. What is going on? How public are you?"

"Maybe you should read my articles. They're all archived online."

"Not good enough. I need to know everything."

"I'm following your advice. This is me listening to Alex Cabot.

"This is not a game. You could be killed."

"I realize that this is not without risk, but what do you want me to do? Continue to live like a pod-person?"

"Just answer my goddamn questions."

"No, you answer mine!"

Mary decided enough was enough. "Get out of the car."


"Sheriff Joe garners national headlines all the time. The national media could pick this up. In fact, the story probably already has been."

"I respect what you're trying to do, but it's my life."

"We can do this the easy way or the hard way," Mary said. "Don't make me pick the hard way."

Alex glared at her, but didn't respond.

"Get out of the car and come with me right now, or I will remove you from the program. And you need our protection." Mary hated doing this, but Alex gave her no choice.

Alex slammed the car door. She climbed into Mary's SUV. "Now spill it," Mary said. "Tell me everything."


Chapter 31.

Cragen sighed and picked up the telephone. He had come so close to telling Olivia everything: that he had been receiving status updates on the case against Velez for more than three years. That he had known about her feelings for Cabot since the Connors trial. That Cabot was getting herself in hot water somewhere out West. That the message from Hammond was urgent.

He looked through the glass at the bullpen. He had to let Olivia get healthy on her own before she got caught up in this business with Velez. He sat down and dialed Hammond.


Chapter 32.

When Alex had to explain herself to Inspector Shannon, she started with the simple premise that the seemingly endless cycle of drugs and violence had changed her life twice. The first time it killed her and sent her into exile. The second time, it brought her back to life.

It started with a thirty-second news report about a young woman dying in labor on the floor of the Maricopa County jail. Eva Reynaldo was eight months pregnant. She had been taken into custody along when the car her boyfriend was driving was stopped for expired tags. Police found drugs hidden in the engine. There were no drugs on her person, but they decided to arrest her. Charging her would put pressure on the boyfriend, who was believed to be a major dealer.

Eva was transferred to the county jail. After 48 hours of asking for help, she died in childbirth in a holding cell, in full view of deputies who had previously accused her of faking it. By the time paramedics were called, there was no hope for the baby girl. She died a short time later.

The Maricopa County jail was the jurisdiction of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the self-billed "America's Toughest Sheriff." His methods were controversial. He delighted in sexual humiliation, requiring male inmates to wear pink underwear and pink striped jumpsuits. He put them on starvation diets and housed them in tents in the sweltering desert heat. He reinstituted the chain gang. He made public comments joking about AIDS and prison rape.

It was preposterous that this fool could get reelected. But he was a relentless self-promoter, appearing on reality shows and speaking out against immigration and stirring up controversy every chance he got. The public loved it.

The pink underwear was inexplicably popular with the locals. They didn't understand that sexual humiliation was a good way to turn garden-variety drug dealers and thieves and into sociopaths and sex offenders.

Alex was not impressed by any of this, especially when she started researching his history. He had cost Maricopa County more than 40 million in judgments over the years for torturing prisoners and blatantly ignoring constitutional standards. The county had been sued fifty times more than the cities of New York, Chicago and Houston combined.

Eva's death sickened Alex. The woman was a native-born American, but the anti-immigration contingent somehow turned her death into a rallying cry. Alex read the letters to the editor and the comments on the online version of the newspaper. They were beyond ugly – they were racist, and racist wasn't a term she used lightly. Page after page of invective declaring "war" on "drug mules who cross the border to give birth to babies just so they can grow up as American citizens, selling more drugs, polluting our jails, costing taxpayers money and turning this country into a Spanish-speaking republic."

That memorable letter was signed by one of the self-styled "chieftains" of Sheriff Joe's civilian militia. It was cited repeatedly by other writers, who were full of outrage and ready to join "the movement."

What movement? Alex thought, incensed. The movement to have more pregnant women and their babies die on the floor of the jail? And why is an elected official encouraging vigilantism?

Alex wrote a scathing letter to the editor pointing out that Sheriff Joe was obviously unfit to be a public servant. The newspaper printed it. There were so many online comments to her article that it temporarily shut down the server. The newspaper was thrilled with the ensuing flame war.

Alex Cavanaugh's no holds barred writing style won her a guest role on the opinion page, where she wrote about criminal justice issues. She continued to write articles critical of Sheriff Joe. She highlighted the plight of pregnant women in prison, who were treated worse than animals, often handcuffed and chained to their hospital beds. Her article won her widespread acclaim.

People started emailing her tips about Sheriff Joe accepting bribes and siphoning money from the public trust for his personal playground, which included cars, boats, an airplane and a lavish home. Alex figured if the people wouldn't get their heads out of their asses and vote him out, she would take him down herself. She set out to prove that Sheriff Joe was corrupt.

The first person she went to see was Sam McGowan.


Chapter 33.

Olivia packed up her things and gave Elliot a few last minute notes before she left on her mandatory vacation. He waited patiently for her to finish. "Olivia, I know we haven't exactly gelled lately. These last few months have been pretty stressful for me. I'm sorry."

"Just months?"

"Ok, year. Maybe years," Elliott conceded. "Never thought I'd be changing diapers while watching my daughter locked up with bipolar disease." Then he realized they were somehow talking about him again. "Damn it Liv, as much as I know you're going to hate this, we were supposed to be talking about you here."

"I'm fine."

"No you aren't. Look at you.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You're out of sorts. Miserable. And Cragen is sending you home."

Olivia was defensive. "Elliot, this is none of your business."

"Like hell it isn't. You've been all over my life. I know you're just watching out for me. But shit, Olivia, get your own life. Get a haircut, do something."

"Excuse me, did you just tell me to cut my hair?"

Fuck, Elliott cursed, three daughters and a wife haven't taught you anything about the perils of commenting on a woman's hair?

"It's just a figure of speech."

"I can't deal with this right now." Olivia shook her head. "I need some space."

"All I'm saying is that I still care. I care, Olivia. Don't shut me out again."

"You can't fix things Elliot. It's up to me to figure things out."


Chapter 34.

Alex did not have a cover story as a reporter. People were bound to wonder who this woman was and why she was writing so authoritatively about constitutional and criminal justice issues. It was only a matter of time until someone realized who she was.

Alex had two alternatives. Move to a new identity or leave the program. Mary doubted Alex's ability to live through either of those choices. She was obligated to treat Alex as if hit men were still chasing her, until she was notified that the threat was over. She couldn't live with herself if Alex was gunned down after she had made it this far.

"You're in trouble, Alex." Mary tried to think of something that could make a new identity easier the third time around. Maybe the next time we move her, she won't be alone. "What about the woman?"

Alex stared into the distance. "I think I love her. I haven't been this confused since…" Don't say it Cabot. Do not say it her name. "You know the first time we met, I thought she knew who I was."

"Sam, I tried to get rid of her, she insists she's a reporter."

"It's alright." Sam hadn't glanced the secretary's way since she walked in the door and laid eyes on Alex. "I know who you are."

Alex startled – briefly, imperceptibly, but it was enough for the other attorney to notice.

"Come on, we'll talk in my office."

Sam McGowan was a blue-eyed blonde with short hair and a petite, tight little body. She was all of about 5'3". Observers would later note that Alex towered over her, but the height difference did not register with Alex for a long time. In her mind, they were equal. And why not? She's won some impressive cases.

Alex mentally reviewed the list she read in preparation for their meeting. She's sued a lot of cops. She also represented a transgender officer who was fired from the Tucson police department. And got her reinstated. Alex wanted to pick her brains on how she convinced a jury of that, with all the bias and prejudice against the trangendered. Then there were the abortion cases, including one on behalf of American servicewomen who were finding their access to the procedure blocked by radicals.

They probably weren't going to see eye to eye on every criminal justice issue, but there was enough common ground for quite a conversation. But the reason for the meeting was not for Alex to relive her days as an ADA. McGowan had had been suing Sheriff Joe for ten years. She knew where all the bodies were buried.

Plus, she's confident and attractive. Alex berated herself for noticing. Here stands a smart woman with brass balls and all you can think about is getting her in bed? Snap out of it.

"So what happened back there when I told you I recognized you?"

"Meaning?" Alex played it cool.

"You looked like you saw a ghost."

"Well, I was a little surprised that you had heard of me, my name hasn't been out there that much."

Sam didn't buy the explanation, but she had also sworn off cross-examining civilians. She smiled.

Alex later noticed that when she was thinking – or was it when she saw something she liked – she did this subtle, lip curl thing that could get a girl in trouble.

"I've seen you out before. The old Club Majestic, I think."

"I would have remembered," Alex said.

"You seemed to be busy with a certain brunette, I think it was." Sam grinned innocently. "Anyway, I don't get out that much. Too many hours wrapped up in these cases."

Alex wanted to say she could relate. Instead she said, "but you're not adverse to a little fun, are you?"

"I'm not adverse to a lot of fun, Cavanaugh."

The two were immediately smitten. It wasn't too long before Sam asked Alex point blank if she was a lawyer.

Thinking about Sam made Alex's chest feel heavy. She knew she couldn't leave her. Not like this. "I don't have any options, do I?"

"No good ones." They needed a plan. "Keep a low profile for now. Can you do that?"


"I'll post people outside your property while I see if there's anything in the wind about Velez. We haven't done a threat assessment in a while. I'll call Bob Hammond tonight."

"Mary, I want to tell her everything."

"It's your discretion."

"Thank you."


Chapter 35.

It took Cragen hours to track down Hammond. He was miffed to be left hanging. "What's so urgent Agent Hammond?"

"We have reliable information from people in the Bronx that Velez is going to be in Jersey next week. We have enough to bring him in. Things are intense around here, as you can imagine."

"Do you expect him to surrender?"

"If our information is correct, and he's there, he won't surrender. But I also don't think he's the type who will decide he'd be better off dead. He might want a deal to rat on his enemies."

"What does this mean for Alex?"

"Don't know yet. We have to get him in custody first. There will be many charges against him, and Alex might wind up a low priority with his people on the street. Of course if he decides he wants a shootout, we'll take him out, and the threat level is probably minimal, or gone."

Cragen didn't say what was on his mind – that he would like to kill Velez himself. None of his officers had been the same since Alex left.

"You said she was in trouble?"

"That's an understatement. Found her way right into something high-profile. Is giving our agents all kinds of hell. I told them would check to see if she went rouge and contacted any of your people."

"My people? You mean Olivia Benson."

"Yeah her."

"I don't know." That would explain a lot about her recent behavior. "I'll let you know."

"Thanks. We need to figure out if she's going to go AWOL or not."

"So when does SWAT move out?"

"Monday night."

"Can I observe?"


"Call me with the details."


Chapter 36.

"Olivia," Fin ran down the street to catch up to her.

"Hey. Guess you heard."

"You'll bounce back."

"I know. It's just something Elliot said got to me…"

"What did Dr. Cranky Balls say?" Fin tried not to criticize Elliot around his partner but when he was in a mood, it brought the whole crew down, and Fin was sick of it.

"He said I needed to get my own life." Fin started to say something but she stopped him. "It's ok, he's right. But I'm trying, you know?"

"I know you are. You've hit rock bottom. And you wouldn't be there if you hadn't been attacked in that prison. None of that was your fault."

"I guess." She frowned.

"What do you mean you guess? You know I'm right."

"You're right."

"That's better. Why don't you come around later and watch the fight with me?"

"Thanks, but I really don't feel like going out."

"It's not out. My place. I've already paid for it, just you and me. It's a true heavyweight match for a change, hopefully it'll last longer than ninety seconds."

"That's what I used to say," she said with a sly grin.

It took Fin a second to catch her meaning. "Olivia Benson, you old dog." She used to crack jokes all the time. "That's my girl." It was a relief to see her smile again.

Fin and Olivia weren't as close as Olivia and Elliot. But they had enjoyed easy banter from day one. She was always hesitant to share the details of her dating and sex life with her partner, who tended to be serious. With Fin she could let things hang out without any judgment.

They used to trade quips about various women, including all of their former ADAs.

Alex was their favorite. When she blew into the station looking particularly smoldering, they would exchange knowing glances. Elliot used to catch them grinning and wonder what was going on. "Am I missing something?" They usually said no, or joked that he couldn't see what he was missing because of the ring on his finger.

After a few years of watching Olivia and Alex go at it, Fin concluded they had something going. "We're just friends," Olivia always said.

"I don't care what you say. She wants you bad," Fin would tease back.

Olivia showed up at 8 with a twelve-pack and pizza. She and Fin agreed not to talk about work.

"So what are you going to do with all that time off? Vacation?"

"Nah. I don't know. Volunteer somewhere I guess."

"Olivia, don't take this the wrong way, but you need to get laid."

"I can't believe you just said that." Olivia was offended.

"Sure you can. Do you know anybody else who has the balls to tell you to get laid? I haven't heard about you seeing anyone lately, except that rumor about you and that douche bag reporter. And I know that couldn't have been true."

Olivia stared straight ahead, sipping her beer.

"What happened, did you lose you taste for the ladies?"

"Fin," she warned, cutting her eyes at him.

"Oh lighten up Olivia. It's just a suggestion. You always had your pick. Women and men. Nothing has changed."

"I just can't go there."

"Why not? What happened?"

"Why are you pushing this?"

"Because I want to see you happy. And I know they aren't discussing this in group therapy. This is the cheapest and best advice you'll ever get."

"She ruined me." Her voice was so quiet Fin had to strain to hear.

"Who did?"

"Promise you won't tell Elliot?"

"Why, did you sleep with Kathy?"

Olivia busted up with laughter. So did Fin. "He should be so lucky," Olivia said, tearing up.

"Oh hell no, now I'm telling him, just to see the look on his face when he hears that one."

"Don't. That's all I need - Elliot thinking about me doing his wife." They laughed harder.

Olivia was too relaxed, too tired and too drunk not to confess. "It's Alex... Alex ruined me. I thought I had a handle on this, but I can't stop thinking about her."

"You and Alex." Fin's mouth dropped. "I knew it." A pall quickly fell over them. "Why didn't you say something?"

"It didn't happen until we, until she came back. Then she was gone."

"This is some deep shit Olivia."

"Tell me about it. Why now, after so much time?"

"Because you're in trouble."

"So?" Olivia put her head in her hands. "What do I expect her to do? Save me?"

"Maybe. Or maybe she needs you to save her." Fin finished his beer and handed Olivia another. "Come on, let's finish these off."

Olivia leaned back. "I'm going to have a hangover tomorrow."


Chapter 37.

After the night at Fin's, Olivia put her energy into routine maintenance. She cleaned her house. She lifted weights. She cut her hair. She didn't want anything too short, just something streamlined. Her stylist said it made her look ten years younger. Which, she admitted, was probably a good thing.

The hair, the weights and the rest of it were Olivia's attempt to coax the old Benson out of hiding. She had to stop being a passive witness to her own life. She thought about all the loose ends – her half-brother, the failed adoption, the sexual assault, Alex Cabot – and resolved to fight back.

The first thing she realized was that the adoption idea was still very much alive in her heart. So was Alex Cabot. It was fitting, because they were the two things she had really wanted in her life but was afraid to act on. Alex Cabot and a child. She had never linked them together before. And she didn't see them as a unit now. They were just dreams, unfulfilled.

The adoption could be difficult to address, but it was possible. With Alex, it was different. If she could turn back the clock, she would never have let Alex out of her sight once Velez threatened her life. She would never have let her return to witness protection without some kind of plan.

But where did that leave her now, when Alex was gone, probably for good?

She didn't have to wait long for an answer. Cragen called. The urgency in her boss's voice had her worried. Was her job on the line? He was on the way to her apartment.

"Olivia, I'll get straight to the point. Have you heard from Alex?"

"No. Is something wrong?" She felt a panic attack creeping in.

"She's fine. But things are happening and we know…" He was unsure how to proceed. "I know you two were close." Silence filled the room. He cleared his voice. "I've been in touch with Bob Hammond about Velez. He's kept me in the loop for a few years now. Before you get angry with me, understand that I've kept you and Elliot out of it because it needed to be strictly off the record. And frankly, I was afraid it would be a distraction. You'd both meddle. It isn't your job to catch Velez."

Olivia was hanging on every word. She knew that at any moment Cragen could say something that would dramatically change her life, for better or for worse.

"I tried to keep this from you, but I can't. You should know. The FBI has a bead on Velez. They've rebuilt their case and they're moving on him tonight, in Hoboken of all places. They expect to arrest him for drug trafficking, conspiracy and a series of other violent crimes."

"I need to be there. Can I go?" Olivia wanted to see him brought to justice. She had to tell Elliot. He would want the same thing.

"No, you're too close to it, Olivia. I'll call you and let you know when it's over. Now about Cabot. She's apparently up to her old tricks, involving herself in some political matter, I don't know the details." Despite the seriousness of the matter, he smiled, marveling at his former ADA's resilience. "A long time ago, I told Hammond that when Velez was either captured or killed, I wanted to be the one to tell her. He agreed."

Olivia's heart was in her throat. She knew what Don Cragen was about to offer.

"But I always intended to give that job to you. She was special to this unit, and the two of you were closer than you've ever let on." That this was true was written all over her face.

"We were. We had… have… a connection."

"You deserve this Olivia," he added.

"Cap, I don't know what to say. You're sending me to see her?"

"And soon. The Marshals feel like she needs to know that her status may be changing fast, from both directions."

"Is she alright?"

"I don't know. They've offer to move her to a new identity, but apparently she's reluctant. Of course if Velez is killed, she's safe. If he isn't, it's a question mark, but she'll still have decisions to make."

Olivia decided for her. "She needs to come home."  

Cragen stared at her for a long moment before reacting. "Then go get her, Olivia. And bring her home."


Chapter 38.

Mary Shannon told Alex that there had been significant developments in the government's pursuit of Velez. The FBI was sending someone to talk to her. The visit would have to be someplace where Alex was lower profile than Arizona or New York. Or she could stay in Phoenix and get her update from Bob Hammond.

When all of that was relayed to Alex, she was interested in just one thing.

"Who are they sending?"

"Benson." Mary knew the prospect of reuniting with Benson would cause Alex major angst. She also knew Alex would go.

Alex tried hard to pretend the meeting was not about Olivia Benson. "And what's the goal of this meeting? Other than to give me information that Velez is dead or captured? Do I have to decide something?"

"Our job is to give you information. We owe you that much. The threat may be so diminished that you just went from two options to unlimited freedom." Mary saw the panicked look on Alex's face. "It's only a chance to decompress while you sort things out. Nothing has to be decided. Think of it as the government's way of saying thank you for a job well done."

Alex thought back to the day she burned Olivia's letter. "I have looked forward to this day for six years. Then the minute I let go of the past, this happens."

"Alex, I'm here for you. Someone has to work security, so I'll even camp out with you in Cleveland, if that's what you need." She touched Alex on the arm. "I'm in your corner. Understand?"

"We're going to Cleveland?"

"Yeah, but we're taking the long way. Tucson to Minneapolis to Detroit to Cleveland."

"Is that really necessary?"

"We don't take chances, even if the risk is low. I'm sworn to protect you until the very end, even if you are a pain in the ass."

"You'll miss me when I'm gone."

"I'll ponder the absence of your foot in my ass later. Are you in?"

"Let's go."


Chapter 39.

The plane ride to Cleveland was short. But it felt like an eternity to Olivia. For ninety minutes, she played the "what if" game: what if she's married, what if she doesn't want to come back, what if she doesn't want to see me, what if, what if, what if.

By the time she pulled into the rendezvous point at Edgewater Park, Olivia was a woman possessed. She had washed her hands of the worry and the fear. She assumed this wouldn't be easy. She expected Alex to be conflicted. Velez wasn't dead; he had only been captured. And she was prepared to hear that Alex had settled down or married, although she hoped like hell that wasn't the case.

Ultimately it did not matter, because Olivia wasn't stepping aside. She had already played not to lose. It was time to play to win. And if the worst happened, she would cross that bridge then. But not before she had to.

Olivia dialed the number she was given. Inspector Shannon answered again. "Can I talk to her now?"

Mary was annoyed. "Like I said, she wants to wait to see you face to face. Are you here?"

"Yes. Are we alone?"

"Do you have your duty weapon?"

"Of course."

"Good, because she insists I leave you two alone. She's on the pier. Was determined to meet you outside."

"OK. You can go now."

Mary decided she would stick around the parking lot and watch from a distance. Just in case.



Alex was standing at the end of the pier, staring into the water at a dead carp. She found it oddly comforting. It was overcast. She was told on a clear day she could look across the Lake and see Canada. Oh well. She still had an affinity for industrial cities and slate gray skies. It was cold for April. Coming from 100-degree heat, the cool air felt like a salve on her battered and bruised heart.

Wearing her dark skinny jeans and a crisp white button down with the sleeves rolled up, Alex felt both over and underdressed. Her finishing school training didn't really cover this kind of event. Mom, what is the appropriate thing to wear when you take three planes to meet the woman you may or may not love for the first time in three years? And oh yeah, this reunion is happening on a pier over Lake Erie. She didn't think mom would know either, although she generally disapproved of shirttails.

Olivia saw a woman with blonde hair all the way at the end of the pier. If she hadn't known any better, she would think the woman was contemplating hurling herself into the Lake. Olivia walked a little faster. That was Cabot all right. She could tell by the way she was carefully put together, the white shirt casually untucked, wearing black patent leather shoes with sturdy heels. She looked timeless, like a character in a movie with Bogart and Bergman. But Olivia had already played Bogey in this little drama. She stopped to remind herself that once, she had been forced to see Cabot off in an FBI van headed for parts unknown, while she stayed behind with Stabler, her beautiful friendship, to fight another day. This time instead of leaving Bogey stranded at an airport in North Africa, Alex was waiting for her on a pier on Lake Erie.

Alex sensed someone approaching, but she wasn't ready to turn around just yet. It was either Olivia or a hitman, and Olivia was the one she feared more. She reviewed her predicament again. She loved Sam. That much she was sure of. As for Olivia… Second chances were rare and third ones were preposterous. If she looked into those deep brown eyes and immediately felt her heart beating out of her chest, she would know her feelings were still there. Then things would really get complicated.


Thud. The mere sound of Olivia's voice caused Alex's heart to beat skip a beat. She turned around to see what she already knew. It was Olivia, strong and true, standing before her wearing a leather jacket, eyes full of love and warmth. Still.

"It's you," Alex said.

Olivia smiled. "Who else is going to get you out of trouble?"

"You know, I resemble that remark."

"You sure do. Are you cold?" Olivia took off her coat and wrapped it and herself around Alex before she could say no. "So counselor, what happens next?"

Alex put her arms through the sleeves of the leather jacket and held onto Olivia for dear life. "Things could get messy. A character in a movie once said 'just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.'"

"You watched the Godfather?"

"Godfather II," Alex corrected.

Olivia inhaled Alex's hair and whispered in her ear. "So you're comparing our relationship to the mafia again?"

"The shoe does fit, detective. You can't leave the mafia unless they let you go. And neither of us seems especially good at letting go."

"I've heard the only way out is death."

"I've tried that. Didn't work." Olivia's laugh was a low rumble that Alex could feel in her entire body. "There's no getting rid of you."

Olivia decided to reinforce her perception. "That's because no one can love you like I love you."

"I think I've always known that." Despite her effort to hold back, a single tear slid down Alex's face. "I just never expected to hear you say it."

"Then let me prove it." This time, Olivia was the one to kiss first. Urgently, passionately, on the lips and all over her neck, mouth finally sliding down to Alex's chest while her hands roamed freely, and everywhere.

"Public indecency," Alex murmured between sighs.

"It's the only way to get rid of the federal marshal parked over there."

"Ah," Alex spied the car. "Then lead on, detective. Lead on."

The End

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