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  • Adrienne

BLIND-SIDED

BLINDSIDED

(2011 Adrienne Lee)

1.

Don't speed up. Don't turn around. The blonde tells herself as she stares at the stark red sign that keeps her rooted to her patch of concrete. Inside, she is anything but static. Jittery might be more accurate. Come on, come on, change already. Impulsively, she considers running through traffic. It's light enough; I can beat the cars. But that's not normal. A normal person – even a New Yorker - in this instance would wait. A person with nothing to hide. Someone who's on her way to work, her brain rambles on.

"Alex!" The voice calls again.

The booming sound, it is so familiar and yet so foreign. Once again, she ignores it and pretends the name means nothing to her. She flinches when a man's hand grabs her arm. Suddenly, she feels so small, so defenseless as she instinctively spins around. She gasps as their eyes meet.

"Alex?" He repeats, looking intently at her face. His features darkens when she fails to acknowledge him.

In one motion, she pulls her arm back, and puts a hand dramatically over her chest. Pretend you don't know him. You don't know him. You have never laid eyes on him before in your life. You did not date his older brother. "Pardon me?"

His brows furrow in confusion. "Alex Cabot?"

"Who? No, I'm afraid..." She says, and forces herself to smile a little at the man.

"You're not? Uh." The attorney stumbles. "Oh, my god, of course you’re not her. You can’t be her,” he says, more to himself, “She’s…” Then he snaps out of it and reaches out with an open hand. “I'm so, so sorry, Ms..."

She looks at him like he is out of his mind. Immediately, he realizes his mistake, and fumbles for more apologies. Inside she feels bad, actually feels bad, for reducing the prominent defense attorney to this red-faced stuttering fool. After all, they did grow up together; they had a relationship outside of work. Truthfully, she might even be indebted to him; but she is just not ready to deal with being recognized... Not by him. Not like this. Not in the middle of Park during morning rush hour.

"It's okay," she finally finds her voice and gives Langan a wider smile while patting him on the arm. That's not something Alex Cabot would ever do. Not the Alex Cabot he was almost engaged to, and not with a stranger. He knows that. "I'm sorry I'm not who you think I am," she says perfectly naturally. Then she glances at the traffic light, blinking red. Still time to escape if I hurry. "Have a good day," she calls back as she steps off the sidewalk.

2.

The detective looks down at her vibrating phone. ‘Where r u?’ The message says.

With an unchecked smile, she writes back, ‘At my desk. Why?’

‘Can I c u? I need to c u.’

‘Now?’

‘Pls.’

‘Where r u?’

‘SW corner.’

"Here?" The detective blurts out loud. Quickly, she looks up to see if anyone else heard her. ‘Ok.’ She returns the text.

Elliot lifts his brows in concern. "What's up, Liv?"

"She's... I gotta..." She stands and pulls on her jacket. "Cover for me?"

"Sure thing," he says, watching her exit from the squad room. When he looks back, he catches Munch’s eyes. The other detective gives him a subtle shrug. Before he can return to his paperwork, a voice interrupts.

"Where's Det. Benson?"

"Hey, Casey. She just stepped out."

"Oh. I thought..."

"Is there something I can help you with?"

"Uh. No. That's okay." The ADA replies after a moment of hesitation, "I just want to set up a time with Olivia to go over her testimony on the Mueller case."

"Ah, well, I'll let her know when she comes back."

"Thanks, Detective."

As soon as the redhead is out the door, Fin walks over and slaps a twenty dollar bill on Elliot's desk. "You win. Can’t believe I didn’t see it," he shakes his head. “Mueller my ass.”

“It is Liv’s case,” Stabler replies sounding utterly unconvinced as he tucks the money in his wallet. “St. Peter’s thanks you for your generous donation.”

"I hope for everyone’s sake you're both wrong."

Elliot exchanges a smirk with Munch. "Oh, I hope, for everyone’s sake, Novak doesn't run into her, out there," he reveals, after thinking about his partner's earlier exclamation and how quickly she had left. "Visiting Liv."

"Visiting… She’s here?"

He waggles his brows and touches his index finger to his upturned lips.

The other detectives widen their eyes in surprise. Before anyone can comment further, the captain's door swings open, and they all return their focus to the folders on their desks.

3.

"Are you okay?" Olivia asks, grabbing her lover by the elbow and walking her protectively down the street into the nearest alley. They duck under the cover of an awning. "You look..." Her observations are interrupted by hands on her lapels yanking her forward and lips crushing hers.

Her eyes slam shut. Before her brain can formulate any protest, her mouth yields to the questing tongue. They meet each other, urgent and passionate. Never mind that they made love last night, or that they are in an alley two blocks away from the precinct. She feels only the almost painful tightening of her nipples and the swelling of her sex. She cares only that those sensations are mirrored in her lover’s body, raging.

Vaguely, she becomes aware of the slender hands leaving her jacket. Using the opportunity, she pushes forward, mashing their clothed flesh together and Alex against the wall. She wants, she craves, and she presses her thigh tight against the woman’s center. Greedily, she soaks up the needful tugs of fingers in her hair, and swallows the high whimpering moans. "Alex?" She breathes after their kiss finally breaks apart. Instead of answering, and still shuddering, the other woman merely presses her forehead against her shoulder. Instinctively, she pulls the trim body closer and runs a comforting hand through the long golden curls. In silence, she waits. After several minutes, reluctantly, the blonde pulls away. She smiles up at the detective. "Thank you." "For what?" Olivia replies, brushing a gentle finger across kiss-swollen lips, slightly parted. So tempting. Still concerned, she tries to read her lover's eyes. When that fails, she asks, "What's going on?" "Nothing." Alex offers another smile. "I just miss you." "You came all the way over 'cause you miss me?" "Am I not allowed?" "I didn't say that." "Are you unhappy to see me?" "Hey, hey, waitaminute," Olivia protests. "I'm always happy to see you. It's just, you surprised me." She steps back and gives her lover a once over. There is something; she cannot put her finger on it. Whatever it is doesn’t seem to be distress or dread. Maybe agitation? She tries not to wrinkle her brows. "Slow day at work?" Alex shrugs. Not busy according to Greg when she checked in with him earlier. Instead of telling her lover she didn’t make to the office and why, she replies, "No appointments this morning. You knew that." "Ah. So your time is your own?" "Pretty much until this afternoon."

"Would you like to grab a cup of coffee then? El's covering for me." Stroking her palm along the brunette’s chiseled jaw, Alex mock-pouts, "Don't suppose we can just stay here?" Olivia snorts. "So you can maul me?" "Didn't realize I was mauling when I was trying to show my girlfriend how much I missed her. And, I’d say you jumped me." "I miss you, too, Sweetheart," the detective slips her arms inside the other woman's coat and draws their bodies closer. She leans in for another kiss, only to be interrupted by a honking car wanting to drive through. Alex laughs and links her arm with her lover's. "Come on. You can buy me that cup of coffee."

4.

“Um. I have something for you, actually.”

Alex looks up from her cappuccino and smiles in anticipation. “What is it?”

“Um, well, it’s easier if I just show you.”

“Then where is it?” She places her cup on the saucer and takes her lover’s hand. Tugging playfully on the woman’s long fingers, she asks, “When can you show me?”

“It’s, uh, right here,” Olivia replies, patting her chest pocket. “I’ve been carrying it around since Sunday.”

“Let’s see it then,” Alex pursues, releasing her grasp. She watches with curiosity as her lover fidgets with her napkin.

“I hope you’re, um, I hope you won’t…” The brunette shakes her head and starts again, “Please don’t get mad.”

Any other time, with any other person, she might find it annoying. But she thinks the detective’s hesitance charming; and the only impatience she feels stems from wanting to know. “I won’t get mad.”

“You promise?”

“Come on, Liv.” She holds out her hand. “Give.” Her eyes widen, partly in surprise, partly in confusion as the detective removes her wallet, and withdraws a slip of laminated paper from it. “What’s this?” She asks, unable to place the scrap of newsprint marked with a red circle.

“Read it,” Olivia pleads, giving her lover’s free hand a squeeze. Before she can let go, Alex twines their fingers together. Nervously, she watches blue eyes scan the words, words she can recite.

‘Olivia Benson of NY, NY and Jaime A. O’Brien, Esq. of Oxford, OH are happily announcing their engagement and upcoming union. Olivia, daughter of the late Dr. Serena Benson, and a graduate of Siena College, is a detective with the NYPD. Jaime, a graduate of Case Western Reserve University School of Law, is a partner at Szeto & O'Brien, PC, and volunteers with the Destin Foundation. The couple will celebrate with a private ceremony in the coming Spring.’

Many minutes, too many minutes have passed. “Sweetheart? Say something,” she begs, giving the slender hand a light tug, “Please, say something.”

Alex looks up with an uncertain smile. “This was in Sunday’s paper?”

Anxiously, Olivia nods.

“Has anyone else seen it?”

“Um, presumably your mom did? I asked her, before, and she kinda approved the wording,” she confesses. “Is it okay?”

“It’s a little late now, isn’t it?”

The detective’s stomach drops at the question. “You hate it.”

“Hate?” Alex blinks. “No I don’t hate it. I’m shocked. And happy. I’m, I don’t know what to say. Besides shocked, and happy.” She grins, her blue eyes sparkling. “A lot shocked and happy.”

“You’re happy-happy?”

“Are there other kinds of happy?” She leans over the small table and threads her fingers in soft brown hair. “So this is our coming out?” She asks against her lover’s lips before closing the distance gently.

Olivia’s grin only widens after they pull apart. Enthusiastically, explains, “I had Omar on 14th put aside a bunch for me. Figure I’ll give everyone a copy, that is, if you’re okay with it.”

“How many is ‘a bunch’?”

“Uh, maybe a couple dozens, you know, some for your scrapbooks?” Olivia hedges until she sees the woman’s deepening smile. “Or three, in case you want some for your people, too?”

“Three dozens… Hm...”

5.

The look on Alex’s face, the concentration in her eyes, they tell the detective she is strategizing. Suddenly, it strikes her, the similarity. It is almost like when they were talking about a case, prepping for trial, brainstorming different approaches and lines of attacks. That is the part of working with the attorney that she misses the most. With Alex, being her sounding board and offering suggestions, Olivia was more than just a cog in the system. More often than not, she wishes she could have that back.

Then again… She looks around at their surrounding. It is mid-morning. They are in a coffee shop less than half a mile away from the precinct. If they were still ADA and detective, working in the same unit, they could not be sitting shoulder to shoulder holding hands. There would be all kinds of professional ramifications. If they were to make their relationship public, one of them would have to transfer or quit.

No, it’s better this way, she justifies, even if she does miss seeing her lover in action. Then she takes in the changes in fair features. The glint in brilliant blue tells the detective that an ultimate plan has been devised. Judging by the woman’s confident grin, she can tell she is happy with it.

Maybe I’m not completely cut out. This is good, she resolves, considering the subject of her lover’s victory. “You have an idea.”

“Yes.”

“Let’s do it.”

“That’s it? You’re not going to ask twenty questions?”

“I don’t ask twenty questions, not always.” Olivia offers her lop-sided grin. “Besides, you didn’t make me tell you about this,” she says, arching her brow at the announcement. It is still clutched in her lover’s fingers, she notices.

“I love this,” Alex replies softly, her deep voice hoarse with emotion. It almost sounds like reverence. “I never expected this.”

At once, Olivia is both humbled and proud. Does it really make sense? Instead of saying anything, she twists her head, and places a gentle kiss on her lover’s cheek. Utter contentment is how she feels when the blonde closes her eyes and sighs happily against her. I love you, so much, she tells her with another kiss. Then she whispers, “I wanted to scream from the rooftop. This sounded better.”

“Definitely.” Still smiling, Alex brushes the tip of her nose against the detective’s ear. “Can I tell you what I have in mind anyway?”

“Sure, if you want to. But it’s not necessary.”

“I’d prefer you know, so you can help.”

“Oh, I see. You want slave labor.”

“Liv!” Alex gives her lover a hard shove. Then she closes the space again, and insists, “You know that’s not true!”

“Uh huh.”

“You just like yanking my chain.”

“Is that what the young people call it these days?”

Both heads snap up at the familiar voice, frosty and haughty in its tone. “Detective, aren’t you in the middle of a shift?”

“I’m on break, I’m entitled to take breaks,” Olivia responds reflexively. “Ms. Donnelly.”

“Relax, I’m not your boss.” She smiles at the detective. Her smile doesn’t waver as she turns her attention to the other blond, who appears to be frozen in place. “Have we met before?” She asks, extending her hand. “You look awfully familiar.”

6.

It is clear from the older woman’s expression that her question was merely rhetorical, possibly even a test. Why haven’t we considered this scenario? Olivia glances at her lover, who looks almost catatonic. Immediately, she turns on her charm, her own shock forgotten. “Ms. Donnelly, this is Jaime O’Brien, my fiancée,” she says the last word only with a slight pause. Her smile widens. “Jaime, this is Liz Donnelly, SVU’s bureau chief.”

“Fiancée, Detective, I didn’t realize...” Donnelly stumbles, unprepared by the surprise. She is more astounded when Jaime takes her outstretched hand warmly, and then clears her throat and speaks.

“We met before, but it was a while ago, before my job-related relocation,” Alex explains, her game face slotting into place. She gathers her old boss is expecting a full denial, even though they both knew the truth. After all, with the hair, and even her clothes, she is going out of her way to not look like her old self. Interestingly, despite her color contacts, she feels less like a fraud when she adds, “I just got back, about a month ago.” Reaching into her pocket, she withdraws a small leather wallet, monogrammed with her claimed initials. “And I joined a dear friend’s practice, here’s my card.”

Donnelly’s focus is drawn briefly to the golden letters embossed on the case. She blinks. “Thank you.” Automatically, the bureau chief takes the business card, and reads with obvious concentration. “Congratulations, on your new endeavor.” She amends after a quick inhale, “And good luck.”

Almost shyly, Alex grins at her lover, and says, “And we were just talking about making our own save-the-date cards. My mother just sent me the published announcement this morning, and I had to share with Liv. I’m glad she and I decided to meet up here and now though, so you and I can run into each other. I am so happy to see you again.”

The older woman nods, her smile finally reaching her eyes. “Likewise, Jaime. And congratulations on the engagement. I’m happy for the two of you.”

“Thank you, Liz.”

In one brief monologue, innocuous to anyone else listening, Alex manages to tell her old boss she hadn’t made a mistake, that indeed she was Alex Cabot, and she has no plan to return to the DA’s office. At the same time, she provides a distraction while giving a reasonable excuse for the detective to take her break, and wraps it all up in package with a nice red bow not even the jaded, seasoned prosecutor can refuse. Olivia chimes in, completely in awe, “Thank you.”

“By the way, Detective,” the bureau chief turns to the brunette. “Your captain is looking for you. Don’t worry, it’s just about some additional new procedures the District Attorney is requiring the officers to comply. I’m sure those instructions can wait until after your break.”

“Okay. Thanks for the heads up.”

“You’re welcome. Well, I should leave you two love birds alone and go back to my office.”

“It really is good to see you again, Liz,” Alex says genuinely, and reaches towards the older woman.

“I’m happy to see you, too, Jaime,” she replies, and leans in for the hug. “And don’t worry, I won’t tell a soul what I saw here today,” she adds with a smirk.

7.

“Wow,” Olivia exhales as she sinks back into her chair. She looks over to her lover, and takes her hand. “Are you okay?”

Am I okay? Can I be okay? Seems fate is telling me I should quit hiding, considering twice in one morning I got recognized... Don’t things come in threes?

“Sweetheart?”

Alex turns to the brunette and blows out a breath. “I think I’m all right,” she says, and conjures a smile.

“Are you sure? You look a little pale.”

“I’m just… surprised?”

“I’m sorry, for suggesting coffee…”

“Oh, Liv,” she squeezes her lover’s hand. “It’s not your fault. I asked you to meet me. I should’ve anticipated running into people who knew me from before. And I didn’t, so, if it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine.” She shoulders the responsibility, and places a kiss on the detective’s cheek. “Besides, it’s not the worst thing, definitely not the end of the world.”

“It’s not?”

“It’s not as frightening as I had imagined.” She smiles more convincingly. “Now that I have more time to digest, it’s actually quite freeing.”

“Freeing?”

“To have actually told someone and seen their reaction. We both know Donnelly didn’t like me much, but she seemed genuinely pleased to see me.”

“After she’d gotten over her shock,” Olivia snorts. “Yes, I think she was. I wonder what she was thinking at first, with the snark.”

“Well, she hates being kept in the dark. I imagine she probably also felt betrayed, or at least lied to, on the immediate, gut level. Not sure I can really blame her,” Alex offers reasonably with a shrug to let her lover know it isn’t a topic she wants to pursue. In emphasis, she adds, “Or that you’re on the clock sitting here with your latest blonde, but not her?”

“Ewww.” Olivia grimaces. “You’re so not funny.”

“Not even a little bit?”

She shakes her head. With a grin, she leans over, and gives her lover a gentle peck on the lips. “You’re my only blonde though.”

“One and only,” Alex insists, playing along, relieved to divert the conversation.

“Yep. Nobody else. Definitely not Donnelly.” The detective shivers. “No, thank you.”

“I should let you go back to work? Sounds like you have more paper shuffling,” Alex offers, her gaze lingers over their joined hands.

With a frown, Olivia checks her watch. “Yeah, I suppose. More dead trees. Lovely.”

Knowing how much the detective detests filling in forms, typing up reports and especially filing, Alex offers with a teasing smile, “Anytime you want to run away together…”

“With the new procedures?” That the bureau chief deemed necessary to deliver herself? Olivia rolls her eyes. “I might take you up on it.”

“You just let me know,” Alex says, as her phone pings. She reads the message, her brows furrowing. “Huh.”

“Is everything okay?”

“That was Ling. My mom and Marty just showed up at the office. Their appointment to go over the Foundation’s affairs isn’t until next week,” she explains her confusion. “I have to go back.”

Immediately, Olivia stands with her lover, and helps her with her coat. “Maybe they want to take you out, for brunch?”

Alex sincerely doubts it; those are the two most un-spontaneous people she knows when it comes to their calendars. Still, she replies with a smile, “Maybe. Thanks for coffee.”

“Pleasure’s mine.” The detective traces pink lips with her fingertip. “Until tonight?”

“Mm… Definitely.”

8.

For what feels like the tenth time since she walked into her office, Alex pinches the bridge of her nose. Her glasses are cradled in her other hand; she needs something to hold onto, something fragile, so she would be extra careful about crushing it.

The whole world’s gone mad. She wishes she could knock some sense into everyone. Her friend and business partner included.

“I can’t do this,” Alex reiterates her doubts. “You know this is not my area of practice. Hell, I’m not even sworn in yet. I can’t take her as a client; and neither can you, you’re not competent either in this area of the law.”

“I know,” Ling barks back. “Don’t you think I know that?” She paces around the small office they normally reserve for out-of-town clients. They are there because the room is sound-proofed, and their offices are currently occupied.

“Can’t we claim conflict of interest?”

“Martha is your godmother. What conflict?”

“I like her husband?” Alex rubs her forehead this time. “Would you stop stomping around? You’re making me dizzy and giving me a headache. I can’t believe she’s evening considering a divorce. What is she thinking?”

“Guilty conscience?”

“Excuse me?”

“What she wants is for us to prepare ourselves, and get competent, in case Randy wants a divorce.”

“Why would Uncle Randy want a divorce? What’s going on?”

“Maybe your mom should explain this.”

“Explain what? What’s there to explain?” Suddenly, an idea fell into Alex’s head. A far fetched one, she hopes. “Please don’t tell me my mom and Martha…” Oh, god.

“Oh, no, no, no.” Ling knocks her heel against the floor, just once, and crosses her arms instead. “That would be simpler.”

“What?”

“With your mom. I think Randy would understand, if Martha decided she’s in love with her best friend of what? Forty years, give or take?”

Alex shrugs. “Something like that.” She knows they met in college. That was several years before she was born.

"Yeah, it would be perfectly understandable." "Right. You and I have been friends for our entire lives..." The blonde shakes her head, the sentence too absurd to even be completed. "That's not understandable." "Not to you or me, but I'll bet to Douglas or Olivia or anyone else, it would be." It’d be like falling in love with your sister. Alex cringes. Their eyes meet and she sees the same response in her friend. "Then they don't know us." Ling hardens her jaw. "I'm just sayin'..." "You can't be serious."

9.

"You know, this is not about us." Ling rolls her eyes. "Well it is. Unfortunately, it is. We'll just have to read up on the law and talk to people. How difficult would domestic relations be?" "You're not serious," Alex repeats. "Maybe if we win, we can branch out. Pre-nups. There's a lot of work in that, especially with our clients." "You're serious." "Glass half full, remember? Your mom's famous words."

“Glass? What glass?” Shards more like. Alex shakes her head, incredulous. “What’s Marty thinking? This is just…” she lets out a frustrated growl, and demands, “Tell me. What’s going on?”

“Okay, fine. Don’t ask me for details; I don’t know. But Aunt Marty thinks she’s in love with Robert.”

“Robert?” Quickly, she runs through all the Roberts she knows. “Mom’s Robert?”

“Yes, your mother’s chauffeur.” Ling confirms with a frown that slowly turns into a smirk. “I suppose if you must have a mid-life crisis, he’s not a bad choice.”

“What do you mean, he’s not a bad choice?”

“Come on, he’s not bad looking. Gorgeous in fact. He’s got a good job, and…” "How can you...?” Alex cuts her friend off. “What if it's your mom and Thang?" "Oh, Jesus," Ling shakes her head vigorously. "You think there's something going on..." "I never said that!" "Wait, you said there might be more." "Yes. More. Like you and me. Closer than you and me.” When it is clear that Alex does not comprehend, Ling changes routes. “How do people used to keep their family close? Family you can’t claim?" "How?" Blond brows furrow. “And what do you mean ‘can’t claim’?” "Jesus.” Ling kicks her heel again against the floor.

“Fine, go ahead. Pace. Just do it quietly.”

Somehow that offer purged her restlessness. She mirrors her friend’s posture and crosses her arms. “You can't acknowledge them because they're born on the wrong side of the sheets, so you employ them. Like your mom and my mom." "Wait, wait, wait." Now it is Alex's turn to shake her head. "One, your mom didn't have to work, your dad…”

"That's beside the point." "And if you're talking legitimacy, my great grandfather..." "But we're not in Indochine and, argh. Whatever.” Ling tosses her hands up and the conversation aside, “Never mind I brought it up. We have more important things to deal with." "Wait, but this is important. Especially if you're bothered by it."

"I'm not. Our parents make the decisions they made. We just have to make sure we don't repeat their... I can't even call it a mistake. And it's not a mistake. It's part of the journey. Got us to where we are today.” Ling rushes on, “And today we have to deal with the possible dissolution of your godmother's marriage. Which will be a complete, absolutely horrendous mess." “And the scandal that would result? More like a giant black hole," Alex sighs.

"Yes! And we're sucked in whether we like it or not!" "Okay, all right. Let's go talk to them."

"No. I'm not part of that equation. I'd already talked to them,” Ling turns and walks towards the door. "Besides, I'm supposed to be meeting Bryant, who is already waiting in my office, remember?" "Oh, right.” Alex shakes her head and sighs again. "Fuck me." "That's Liv's job." Not bothering to retort, she instead squares her shoulders and slips on her glasses. "Fine, I'll go deal with them." "Good luck. Maybe you can talk Marty out of the whole stupid idea." "Which stupid idea? The divorce? Or contemplating an affair? She is just thinking, I hope." "Don't forget the affair with your mom's chauffeur who’s almost half her age part." Ling pretends to think. “Would he keep working for your mom after?” "I can't believe Robert would... Is this thing mutual? Does he even like her back?”

“Didn’t ask -- don’t really wanna know.” Ling shudders and opens the door.

10.

“Don’t you think it’s a little unprofessional?”

“Excuse me?” Olivia blinks. She had come to their ADA’s office to go over her testimony for trial; she is not prepared for the woman’s scathing tone.

“I saw you earlier, in the alley, with your, with the blonde.”

“The blonde.” Shit.

“Is it serious?” Casey demands. “I mean, it’s got to be right, since you were sucking face down the street from the precinct, where everyone can see you.”

The condescension in the redhead’s voice angers the detective. She makes a quick decision, one she hopes she will not regret. “Actually, Counselor, she’s my fiancée.”

“Fiancée?”

“Yes, the Times ran our announcement on Sunday,” she confirms. Then, with a nod of determination, she elaborates, “In fact, we’re planning a Halloween party, and we decided it’s the perfect time to let our friends and coworkers know, too. It’s a little short notice, but we hope you can come.”

“Um. Sure. Just let me know the exact time and date.”

“I’ll either send or email the invite. Oh, but please don’t mention the engagement announcement to the guys; we don’t want anyone to bring gifts, and it’s supposed to be a surprise.”

“All right.” Casey firms her lips. “Your secret’s safe with me.”

“Speaking of dates though, you’re welcomed to bring a guest.” Olivia seizes the opportunity to ask, “Are you still seeing Serena?”

“You, you know about Serena?”

“Sure. Serena and Alex were friends. And Alex and I don’t keep secrets.”

“You mean ‘didn’t’, right?”

“Uh, right.” Inwardly, Olivia sighs. She simply cannot wait for Casey to find out the truth. Some days she wishes the woman would just come out and express her interest, so she could turn her down flat. Instead of this stupid passive-aggressive game. Looking at the ADA and the sneer on too-red lips, she steels herself against further ire.

“You know, Detective, it’s probably not my place, but I’d hate for your private life to cause trouble for all of us at work.”

“Excuse me?”

“Do you really think it’s a good idea to make a commitment to another, when you’re still talking about your dead girlfriend in the present tense?”

“Wow. You know what, Counselor? You’re absolutely right - it’s not your place.” Olivia takes a calming breath and offers a half-smirk. “But, I understand your concern, I really do. So, I’m going to be civil, since we do have to work together, and ask that you please do come to our party. Maybe you can see for yourself how unfounded your concerns are.”

For a few long beats, the two women stare at each other. Finally, Casey backs down, “All right. I’ll look forward to it.”

“Wonderful.” The detective leans back against her chair, and crosses her legs. “Shall we get on with what I’m here for?”

“Yes, Mueller.”

“But, before that, let me apologize. An alley, even partially obstructed, was probably not the best place for a kiss, I agree.” Forcibly, she ignores Novak’s snigger. “And I’m sorry it bothered you to witness it.”

“No,” the ADA clears her throat, “It didn’t bother me, not personally.” She smiles a too-wide smile. “Mueller. Shall we?”

11.

“Hey,” Alex says to the light knocking on the door. She knows who it is by the cadence alone. When there is no reply, she looks up from the file. What she sees makes her close the folder. There is something in the dark eyes. Not quite hunger, but there is definitely a need. She recognizes that look; a flash of familiarity, of déjà vu hits her. “Lock the door,” she instructs with a hoarse whisper.

Even before the click of the catch, her body responds in anticipation, in welcome. Her skin flushes pink, partly in embarrassment, partly in arousal as the detective cuts her way to the desk. She lifts her head higher, her lips parting.

Olivia presses her palms against the wooden surface and bends forward, until she can taste her lover’s sweet breath.

Before either of them knew it, they are falling onto the hard surface of the desk, buttons undone, clothes shoved aside. Somewhere along the way, paperwork gets jostled making crunching noises, things clatter onto the floor. Neither cares, their attention focused solely on each other, the connection of their mouths and tongues and teeth biting into sensitive lips, their hands all over each other, squeezing still swathed flesh, touching skin.

Blindly, urgently, Olivia pushes up her lover’s skirt. She is pleased to feel only stockings and garters and almost roughly she runs her finger down the center seam of the lace underwear. The hitch in her lover’s breathing, the quick arch of her pelvis, they goad Olivia forward. Both women gasp into the kiss when she drives her fingers into Alex’s heat.

Hips jerking, rocking to the rhythm of muscles bunching and fingers pistoning, or maybe it’s the other way around, each movement impelling the other ahead. With the pressure of her thigh, Olivia rams higher, thrusts harder. She feels her lover’s nails on her back, marking her. In claiming she is claimed; she loves that, and hurls herself further into their passion. Into ‘them’.

It can only be minutes, if not seconds, when Alex’s body tenses, when she squeezes her detective’s fingers, when she wraps her whole person around her. The fall is so hard, she is torn between pulling away to breathe or holding on. In the end, she latches onto her lover’s lips, to let their kiss stifle her scream.

When her breathing calms and her heartbeat returns to normal, she opens her eyes. Weakly, she offers a smile.

“Hey,” Olivia utters softly, running her free hand through her lover’s golden tresses, glinting in the early afternoon light. She marvels at how it compliments her fair skin, still seductively pink. Finally, maybe, just maybe she understands what it means to love so much that she feels raw and inflamed. Yet, instead of pain, in fills her with indescribable joy.

In turn, with difficulty, Alex holds Olivia’s gaze. It is almost overwhelming, the way the brunette is looking back at her, her dark eyes filled with such tenderness and love. She finds herself melting all over once more. With a soft sigh, she lowers her eyelids, and let herself feel the fullness, the loving sensuality of her embrace. Finally, with a gasp of release, and regret, she lets go.

Gently, Olivia eases from her lover’s body, careful not to stain the wool fabric of the woman’s skirt. She wipes her fingers on her jeans, and touches kiss-bruised lips. “You okay?” She caresses with her voice.

Alex pulls her detective close, and nods.

12.

“Never better,” Alex whispers, after a few more breaths.

“Hey, hey.” Olivia tilts her head, so she can see her lover’s face. “Are you sure?”

No. She is not okay, not exactly. There are so many thoughts and feelings flowing through her, the only thing she is sure of, is her want to stay forever between her detective and the hard wood, and be held down by the woman’s weight. Instead, she lifts the corners of her lips, and proposes the opposite, “Let’s move over to the couch.” She holds her smile and doesn’t waver when dark eyes searches hers. When her lover shifts away, involuntarily, she sighs.

Olivia feels the loss, too; she keeps their proximity by helping Alex off the desk, and adjusting her clothing. She wonders what else is bothering her lover as slender fingers move up her shirt placket, closing over buttons. Then it strikes her, the familiarity of the gestures, the after-play rituals. She sucks in air, and waits for the final kiss. As expected, with the last adjustments of collars, soft lips touch hers, and linger chastely. Then, she allows her lover to lead the way, hand in hand.

Something shifted between them, Alex notices as she settles into the firm leather seat. Then she sees the small crease between dark brows that accompany the crooked half-smile. “What?”

“Well, this is different,” the detective laughs, and pats the couch. “Firm and supportive.”

“Oh, not like the people eater in my old office,” Alex replies with a laugh of her own. “This feels a lot better.”

“Yes, it does,” she has to admit.

“Liv? Are you all right?”

Olivia takes another deep inhale, and pauses. Then she nods. “Brings back memories. This. What we just did. Everything.”

Alex agrees. “Sure does.” Wonder why it took us so long to get back to this… routine, for lack of a better word.

Dark eyes brighten. “Next time we could do it here.”

“On the couch? To change things up?” So it doesn’t remind us of the past?

“It’s comfier on your back?”

“My back, huh?” Alex chuckles. “Thought we’re changing things up.”

Olivia shakes her head and tickles her lover with the tip of her nose. “That’s too much. You know how change adverse I am. And I like our office sex tradition,” she adds with waggling brows. “But one day? If I have my own office? You can be in charge there.”

“But it could be years before you make captain!” She ignores the detective’s exaggerated gasp, and snuggles closer. “I want sooner.”

“How’bout when we get home. You can be in charge then.”

Home. Now that’s another thing that’s different. No more guessing whose apartment ‘home’ means, no more wondering in whose bed they would sleep, or if they would spend the night together. At the end of the day, home means the same thing for both of them. That reminder grows the smile Alex is wearing, and makes it brilliant.

13.

“Home. I’d like that.”

“Yeah?” Olivia replies, her voice high with uncertainty. The grin gracing her lover’s full lips, it makes her breathless.

“Home. Our home.”

Suddenly, the detective understands. She joins in the merriment. “It’s been our home for almost a month already.”

“I know! But, I don’t know, maybe it’s the setting?” Alex gestures between them, and then around the office. “The difference? Maybe it’s the whirlwind of the move and everything else, I didn’t have time to think about it. The significance just hit me.”

Funny, that’s all I can think when you first showed me the deed to our house. Olivia feels a slight pang. She shares instead, “Yeah, no more guessing whose apartment.”

“You did that, too?” Alex laughs.

“Of course.” The detective admits, “Yours was closer to work, but I never wanted to presume.” Often she felt like she was, and that made her cautious, and hesitant. “Or assume. And you know that adage.”

Blue eyes rolled. “It’s asinine. We’ve both been guilty of that. Let’s forget it. We’re here now,” she offers, remembering what Ling had said earlier. “It’s not always about the journey. Sometimes the destination trumps. Like air travel,” she adds lightly.

“Regrets?”

“Regrets?” The smile falls away as fair brows rise. “About living together? About being together? Are you…?” She shakes her head. “Weren’t you there earlier in the café? Didn’t you see how happy I was about our engagement announcement?” You weren’t there though when I showed my mother and used it as a weapon against my godmother, trying to make her see how the dissolution of her marriage would affect other people. People like me who thinks of her as role model… She shakes her head again to clear it.

Quickly, Olivia denies, “Sorry. I didn’t mean that. I’m not sure what I was thinking.” She doesn’t understand it, doesn’t always wonder why she reacts the way she does. Not that it always matters. Few things mattered. She pauses. Okay, maybe it’s the ‘who loves more’. But that’s silly. It’s only human, right? But it’s still silly. “It’s stupid. I think the familiarity, the reminder, of before, it kinda knocked me off track. But we’re here, now. And here, now, is so much better than before. You know how I dislike uncertainties, how I need stability…” She would keep going, but for a finger touching her lips. Then the finger is replaced with a kiss. She sighs when they parted, feeling centered once more. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“Stopping my rambling.”

“You’re welcome,” Alex replies, her smile returns.

“I’m such a mess sometimes.”

“Just sometimes.” She pulls her lover’s hand into her lap and traces her life line. “Charming mess,” she says, and crosses over to her love line. “And my mess.”

“So I am.” It’s amazing how easily Alex soothes her. Just a few simple words from the woman, and her world feels right again. She knows she does the same for her lover. It’s so different compared to her other relationships. And so much easier. She presses a kiss to fair cheeks, and proclaims softy, “My soul-mate.”

Alex blinks. “Yeah?”

Haven’t I mentioned it before? Certainly thought it often. “Absolutely.”

“I’m your navel?”

“You’re...” What? Oh, Aristophanes. That makes her laughter brighter. “Yup, and I’ve got the prettiest navel. Lint-free, too!”

14.

The detective’s declaration makes Alex laugh. It feels good to laugh. To sit here, next to you, and not worry about anything else. Before she could stop it, a sigh escapes.

Immediately, Olivia is on alert. “Hey. You sure you’re okay?”

There is something in the dark eyes, something she fails to recognize. “I’m fine. It was more a happy sigh. Just happy being with you. How are you? I thought we weren’t going to see each other until tonight?”

Normally, Olivia would have picked up on the diversion tactic. Perhaps currently, her own mind is too occupied. “Well, I,” she hesitates and shrugs, just like she did in her head many times en route here. She hopes all that practice works. “I miss you. And I didn’t want to wait.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s not enough?”

“You haven’t dropped in until now. What makes today different?”

“Huh?” Olivia hadn’t prepared for that. Quickly, she provides, smiling, “How’s today different? Well, to start, a certain someone decided they couldn’t wait to see me this morning.”

“Someone?” Alex grins, trusting the identity of said someone.

“And then they dragged me into a dark alley and mauled me.”

“Hey, you did the dragging and you picked the alley!”

“So you’re finally admitting that you mauled me.”

“I admit nothing.”

“You know, the 5th isn’t going to help you.” Olivia adds before she can change her mind, “We had a witness.”

Blue eyes widen. “Witness?”

“Yup,” she keeps her voice light and casual. “You were caught.”

“By whom?”

“Our A.D.A.”

“Oh, god.” Is she it? Is she the third? Alex almost hopes that is the case; she can live without the suspense, of wondering ‘when’ and ‘by whom’.

“Don’t worry. I don’t think she saw your face. All she mentioned was me and my blonde.”

Alex’s brows arch towards her hairline. “You and your blonde?”

“Yup. Oh, so, I hope you don’t mind, I invited her to our party.”

She wants to check her lover for fever. “You did?”

Olivia nods then makes a face. “I kinda implied that she could bring Serena if she wants? I hope that’s okay?”

“Serena?” Alex repeats as her heart rate picks up.

15.

“Yeah, Serena,” Olivia nods, watching her lover’s features. “I’m not sure they’re still together though.”

“Really, why? What makes you think that?” Alex tries to sound surprised and nothing more. “They’ve been together since law school.” Then she remembers the volatility of the relationship and the drunken passes her friend had made, and she appends, “On and off.”

“I think this is ‘off’.”

“Why?”

“Um.” Olivia hesitates. She does not want to get into any of it; it will take more time than she has. Moreover, voicing it gives it power. It serves no one if she discloses her suspicion. Besides, it is just that. Never confirmed. “Just her reaction when I mentioned Serena. She was shocked that I even knew about the relationship. But more than that, I think she was… I don’t know, maybe embarrassed, like she was caught, but not because I knew which team she plays on, you know?”

“Yeah.” Alex pushes her lips together and imagines herself in the other attorney’s shoes. “All right, I think I do. Makes sense, sort of.” She shrugs lightly, acknowledging her disappointment, and sighs, “So likely no Southerlyn.”

“’Fraid not, Sweetheart.” Olivia pats her lover’s knee. “Although I could be wrong, and she’s embarrassed because they’d rather spend their free-time shagging like bunnies than go to our lousy party.”

“Oh, well.”

“Are you sure though you’re ready to see everyone again?”

“It wouldn’t be the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life,” Alex replies.

Easily, Olivia sees through the false nonchalance. Before she can say anything, there is a knock on the door.

Alex sits up with a jerk. “I wonder who…” She shakes her head. Only one person would be jiggling the handle without waiting for an invitation. “I better go get that.”

“Why don’t I?” The detective offers, standing and gesturing towards the desk. They have done this a million times. At the silent question, she gives her lover a once over and smiles. “You look deliciously professional.”

With a small laugh, Alex returns to her seat while her lover lets their visitor in.

“Hi, Ling.”

“Hi, Olivia.” The attorney replies as she brushes pass the detective. “Jaime, I need to…” Abruptly, she stops, and turns to look at both women. “I’m sorry,” she shakes her head as if to clear it. “I hope I didn’t interrupt anything, and I know we have a rule about spousal visits…”

“It’s okay…” Alex provides.

“Hey, maybe I should…” Olivia points at the exit.

“No, no, Olivia, stay. I’m just… I need to go. I think my brother’s in trouble.”

“Leon?” In trouble? “Maybe I should go?” Alex offers while getting up.

“Yeah, and I can make a call.”

“Oh, no,” Ling realizes her mistake as her friends made their offers. “I don’t mean legal. He doesn’t need defense. Anyway, I just, Monica’s cancelling my appointments, but whoever can’t wait, can we fit them into your schedule?”

“Of course. Are you…”

The woman shakes her head and steps into the corridor, ready to leave. “I gotta go.”

“You’re going now? Like this?”

“Yeah?”

“Didn’t you have a coat?”

Ling rolls her eyes and shakes her head again, as she switches direction back to her office.

16

Olivia shuts the door, leaving it unlocked this time. “Wow,” she exhales, and sinks her hands into her pants pockets. “She’s like a tornado.”

“Taz.”

“I didn’t wanna say that, but, yes.”

“Wonder what’s wrong with Leon.”

“I hope it’s nothing serious,” Olivia replies. Judging by the interactions earlier, she suspects it is anything but. “Or at least whatever it is, she can fix it.”

“God,” Alex sighs as she sinks back into her chair. “I’m beginning to think we should’ve stayed home today.”

“And pull the blankets over our heads?”

The lopsided smile is there to cheer her up, Alex knows. Unfortunately, this is one of the few times it has fallen short. She rubs her fingers across her forehead and sighs. Then she reaches out for her lover’s hand. “It’s terrible, and completely selfish, but I wish you didn’t have to go back to work.” She shakes her head before the detective could say anything. “And I wish I didn’t have to stay here and hold the fort.”

Olivia nods, agreeing with the sentiment. Then, she remembers the end to their meeting at the café, and feels she should ask, “So your mom and Marty, how are they?”

“They’re fine,” Alex responds automatically. It is not a lie, at least not a complete lie. Marty is fine; however, mom… It’s hard to tell what mom thinks… just like before. At least that’s a constant, she thinks. It’s absurd I’m seeking solace in this type of constancy. She shakes her head again.

Aware that an entire internal conversation has gone on in her lover’s mind, the detective presses, “So was I right? About lunch?”

It would be so easy to just say ‘yes’, Alex realizes; but how many lies has she told already? Just since this morning? She doesn’t want to compound them. “We did go to lunch. But mainly, Marty wanted to alert us to possible changes to her estate plans,” she offers the half-truth, knowing it was enough for the detective. Attorney-client privilege and all that.

“Ah, I see.”

I’m not sure you do, Alex thinks and closes her other hand over her lover’s. She tries not to hang on too tightly. “Promise me something?”

“Something?”

“Promise?”

The expression on her lover’s face, the near plea in pale blue eyes, they tell the detective whatever pledge being extracted is particularly important. “Anything,” she agrees.

“Promise me, we’ll always be in love with each other.”

“Of course. Always.” Dark brows furrow. Where is this coming from? Casey and Serena?

“Even when we’re old and wrinkly and grey.”

“I can’t even imagine being old and wrinkly and grey with anyone besides you.”

“You promise?”

She takes a step closer and places her free hand over her heart. “I do solemnly swear…”

“I’m serious, Liv.”

“I am, too, Sweetheart. Forever.”

17

“How’s Leon?” Alex asks as she drapes a paper napkin over her lap.

Ling, meanwhile, rests her elbow against the table, and leans her chin into her hand. For good three seconds, she feels like a child away from parental supervision, and she thoroughly enjoys the moment. Even if it’s just freedom from having to care about table manners. “Where’s Liv?”

“They just caught a case,” Alex replies, twisting the pepper mill over her plate. She surveys the specks, and decides the pasta is sufficiently coated. The half-expected critical comment from her table companion about the uncivilized amount of spice never came. So she offers, “Last I heard, she’s at the hospital with the vic.”

“Another late night, huh?”

“Probably early morning, assuming no snags.”

“Sorry.”

“I know the job,” Alex says with a small shake of her shoulders.

“Good thing. You know what you’re getting into.”

Alex nods, wondering where the garden path is leading. The fatigue circling her friend’s eyes and her drawn features remind her to be patient.

“Thanks for the dinner invite.”

“I should be thanking you for the company,” she says, knowing it to be true. “It’s just pasta. Hope you don’t mind. Liv made the sauce though.”

“She’s a great cook, which is good, considering.”

“No complaints here.” Alex smiles. “So Douglas took Michael to his folks?”

“Yep,” Ling confirms without elaboration, confident her companion knows at least some of the reasons why she chose to skip the visit. “You should see him and his little boy. Sometimes I wonder how I got so lucky,” she says conversationally instead. She is repeating things her friend already knows, but she really needs to say them. Speaking the words make them seem more real. Right now, she really needs them to be real. “I see the way Liv looks at you, and I’m grateful we both got what we’ve got. And I hope to God we never lose it.”

“Yeah.” Memory of their earlier meetings with her godmother hits. “I hope Martha comes to her senses. What she’s contemplating is insane.”

“What did you say to her?”

“I told her to talk to Randy, to get marriage counseling. My mom’s on board, thank goodness. But you probably know already.” She waits for her friend’s nod of confirmation. “But I did agree we would handle everything, if it comes to that.”

Ling nods again. “Yeah, sometimes objectivity isn’t the most important. We might have to bring in people who know the law, but we’ll probably do better damage control.”

“Right. They’re not just billables to us,” Alex agrees. “Speaking of which, I told her it’d be the same pricing structure, but the hourly would be more if we have to argue before the court. Turned down the retainer though.” She waits for her friend’s silent approval, and then continues, “Hopefully, they can resolve their issues.”

“Hopefully,” Ling repeats, controlling her exhale.

“I just can’t believe their marriage is in trouble.”

“Sometimes people grow apart?”

“And blame golf?”

The woman shrugs; she has nothing wise to add. “So we wait?”

“Yep.” Alex watches her friend twirl the noodles around her folk, pushing the cream sauce around. She isn’t surprised when she lowers the utensil once more, leaving her food barely touched. Again, she remains quiet.

18.

“Leon was drunk when he called me,” Ling finally says after a long sigh. “Yes, my brother, who writes papers and gives speeches on what alcohol can do to one’s DNA never mind liver and lipids and whatnots, drunk out of his mind.” She pauses for another deep breath, taking small comfort in her friend’s expectant silence. Giving up all pretenses of eating, she sits back, letting the chair support her. “I thought about getting him to the hospital to make sure he didn’t get poisoned. There was an empty tequila bottle on the floor, not the good stuff that comes in small bottles. Wouldn’t be shocked if he had bought it off a homeless person.”

“Sounds like maybe he just reacted, without thinking, or planning?” That does not sound like Leon at all. Alex keeps the comment to herself. “Is he…” Okay? Clearly he’s not…

“I didn’t want to, but I called my mom. She made him some dirt-like sludge. Yech.”

“I’m sure he’ll be fine then.”

“Physically, at least.” Ling replies with another loud exhale. “Sorry, I just don’t know how…”

“Hey, it’s all right, you don’t have to tell me everything,” Alex offers. She winces at the responding withering look. “Fine. Take your time then. We’ve got all night.”

Ling merely shakes her head. “Carolina is pregnant.”

“Oh. I didn’t realize they wanted…”

“They didn’t.”

“Well, accidents do happen.”

“Yes, five foot ten accidents.”

“Five foot ten accidents?” Leon’s taller than… Wait. “She’s having someone else’s child?”

“Bingo.”

“Are you sure? Is he sure?”

“He was on a three-month lecture circuit when the baby was conceived. She made no secret about the affair, or wanting to be with the baby’s father.”

“Wow.” Alex put down her folk and sinks back against her seat. She finds herself lost for words. “I’m sorry,” she only manages, while crossing her arms about herself.

“Yeah, me, too.” Ling crosses her arms as well. “I’m sorrier that I can’t kick her ass, not while she’s pregnant.”

“Did she say why she did it?”

“He’s never there? Emotionally distant when he is? Married to his job? Forgetful about special dates and terminally distracted? You know him, you can guess.” Ling sighs. “It’s not like she didn’t know those things when they started. She worked for him for crying out loud.”

“How long? Has she been cheating, I mean?”

“Who knows.” She shrugs.

“And they’ve been together?” Alex does the math quickly. “Seven year itch?”

Ling shrugs again. “Anyway, which is why we’re lucky we have what we have. Makes you think though, doesn’t it? With Marty, and Leon? Whether relationships really last? Do people just wake up one day and decide they’re bored and want to try something else?”

“Or someone else?”

“Yeah.”

“And what if you’re the one waking up,” Alex continues to voice her friend’s thoughts.

“There are no guarantees.”

“Would you stray?”

Ling returns, “Would you?”

“Never.”

“You sound so sure.” She observes. “Would Liv?”

“Would Douglas?”

“Again, there are no guarantees.” Ling shakes her head and sighs. “Fine, Leon and Carolina, they were technically just dating, but look at Martha and Randy. I thought they were it. Even if she decided against the affair and they stayed married, it still doesn’t change the fact that even their marriage is fragile.”

For several long moments, Alex contemplates the statements. She comes up with only another sigh. “I don’t know what to say. There’s really nothing I can say.” For so many reasons. “Except that we should treasure what we have.”

“That, and we really should consider branching into family law,” Ling provides with a smirk that looks better as a frown.

19.

It is easy, it can be, Alex decides as her senses home in on her lover’s proximity. She is almost certain she had known the moment Olivia walked into the house, even though the woman tried to move quietly. We have a connection that most people don’t. That should be more than enough. She wishes she were more convinced; luckily, the dip in the mattress provides a distraction. “Hey.”

“Hey, sorry I woke you,” Olivia replies as she slides under the covers, and eases in behind her lover. It is second nature, the way her arms and legs move to align their bodies, to wrap around the blonde and pull her close.

“What time is it?”

“Almost four. Go back to sleep.”

“Tired?”

“Beat.”

“How’s the victim?”

“Traumatized. It was her professor. Someone she trusted.” Olivia sighs. “Anyway, Elliot took her home.”

“Your hair’s wet.” Alex observes as she reaches back to bring her lover closer. A hint of moisture hugs the woman’s skin. “Raining again?”

“Quick shower, downstairs. Tried not to wake you,” the detective explains. “Anyway, hospital grime. Didn’t wanna bring it here.”

“Sure.” She understands that perfectly. Besides cleansing, the hot water is also relaxing. Knowing her lover, however, it would have been lukewarm at best. She fights the involuntary shiver, and offers, “Want to talk about it?”

Olivia shakes her head. “No worse than normal,” she relates her need and the condition of the victim at the same time. With a hum of contentment, she nuzzles her companion’s neck, inhaling her scent, and finding the sweet fruity floral vanilla mix calming. “Right now, all I want to do is sleep.”

“Okay.”

Is that disappointment? The thought brings a flash of heat. “Why? You have something else in mind?”

“No, you’re tired. We should sleep.”

“Oh, I’m not that tired. Never too tired,” she says with a smile. Her hand begins to wander, sliding under the hem of Alex’s shirt. She is surprised when the woman stills her progress. “Sweetheart?”

“Will you, just hold me?”

“Sure. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Alex replies and thinks better, “I’ll tell you tomorrow.” Almost immediately, she feels the regret and adds, “Don’t worry, it doesn’t affect us.”

The detective remembers Ling was joining her lover for dinner in her absence. “Oh, sweetheart, is it about Leon?”

“Yes. Tomorrow.”

“’K.”

“He’s physically okay.”

“That’s good,” Olivia replies. “You can tell me more tomorrow.”

“I will,” Alex assures. After a while, it is clear rest is as elusive as it was earlier. Judging by Olivia’s breathing, she is awake, too. With a soft sigh, she turns in her lover’s arms. The lift of the woman’s lips makes her smile. She waits until dark eyes flutter open. Then she pushes forward, rolling on top. Pressing her body down, she shifts until they fit snuggly together.

”Comfy?” Olivia gasps after Alex stops moving.

20.

With a happy sigh, Alex pushes her cheek into the top of Olivia’s chest. “Mmhmm…”

“Now you’re going to sleep?”

She can’t help but notice the strained tone in her lover’s voice, and she nods with a smile, “Mmhmm… Hug,” she demands. Her smile widens when strong arms pull tighter around her. “Nice mattress,” she praises with a deep exhale, blowing her breath across olive skin.

“Sleep,” Olivia repeats, as an order. Still tighter, she pulls the blonde in and hangs on to her own elbows lest her hands decide to stray.

Alex, however, has other ideas. She bumps her lover with her hipbone, eliciting a sharp inhale. “Relax,” she says with a smile.

“Right.”

“I can help, you know.”

Another roll of her lover’s hips makes Olivia’s toes curl. She closes her thighs tightly against Alex’s, intending to keep her from further movement. The sensation only makes her head spin. “Wait, I’m confused,” she croaks.

“Hm?”

Now the woman is staring at her breast, she notices. In response, she can feel her nipple pebbling, pushing against the thin cotton of the camisole. This is ridiculous. “I thought you just wanted to be held.”

“You are holding me. Aren’t you?”

“You know I am.”

“Don’t let go.”

“I won’t,” Olivia confirms. “But how am I supposed to relax?” She asks, not bothering to hide the need in her voice. It’s not a secret; they both know she’s beyond aroused.

“Just hold me, squeeze if you want.”

“Okay.”

Alex adds, “I mean it, don’t let go.”

The hoarseness of her lover’s tone gives the detective pause. Is there… Her brain shuts down as hips rock against her center again. She can only hold on tighter, letting go of her elbows, and wrapping her arms across slim back. Her fingers splayed, their pads gripping, she hangs on, to keep her promise, and to keep herself grounded for the ride.

Who says women need foreplay? She is already so close. The moment Alex pulls down the strap of her top, she feels herself tumbling forward. The touch of her lips is all she needs and her legs tighten against her lover’s, wanting to close her into herself as her body pulses.

Then, without warning, the rocking stops. She lets out a whimper, which dies when slender fingers push through the opening of her boy shorts and into her. “God,” she rasps.

“Hold me,” Alex breathes, before she closes her lips once more over Olivia’s nipple. She strokes her tongue against the tip and nurses as it, while she resumes the rhythmic rolling, pressing deeper into her lover.

“Alex,” the brunette whispers, “Oh, god, Alex…” And she holds her, squeezing tightly, both inside and out. She can hear their hearts thundering as they race towards her climax.

Before her body slows, the stroking deepens, and she gives in, again and again, still holding on, still holding tight, until the last time, when her arm muscles screams in protest, when she thinks she sees light. “Please, sweetheart,” she pants. “I can’t…”

“It’s okay, you can relax,” Alex offers. She smiles when her lover sags into the mattress, while keeping her in a loose embrace.

“Love you.”

“You, too, Liv.”

“So much.”

Alex nods; she knows without a doubt the veracity of that statement. “Can I stay though?”

Stay? Olivia feels her own consciousness fading. “Sure.” Her body has no desire to let go anyway; it feels whole. Forever if you want. Vaguely, she senses her lover settling in and against her for the night. Her last awareness is of warm droplets falling onto her skin. Then blackness.

21.

“Haven’t you felt that way? You think you’re in control but you’re not?” Elliot asks, remembering what the suspect had said when confronted about sleeping with a student.

Olivia sniggers; she and that feeling are well acquainted, best friends, even, at one point or another. “Yeah.”

“So you can guess how I’m feeling right now.” He nods, and tells her with his silence, And you see why I’m not sure our suspect is guilty.

“You know you could’ve come to me.” It still bothers her that he didn’t. Arguing about a case, being on different sides of it, that’s normal. How many times has she unloaded her problems on him? “Why did I have to hear about it from Lorna Scarry of all people?” She places the emphasis on the woman’s last name.

“And what? Rain on your happy parade?”

“But we’re friends,” she argues. “I come to you with my bullshit problems and this is anything but,” she reminds, trying not to let hurt color her voice. Still, she can’t stop herself from going there, “You were talking about your three musketeer costume. What were you gonna do? Make up something at the party? Not show up?”

“Kathy likes you, both of you. I was gonna beg her to set aside our differences, just for the night,” he confesses. “You two are so new – not new-new, but, heck you’re still walking around with that glow.”

“So you didn’t want to, what?” She rubs her forehead and sighs, “Rain on my parade.”

“Look, Liv, we’re friends.” Elliot lays a gentle hand on his partner’s forearm. “We’ve been friends, for a long time,” he adds. Most of the time, especially when it comes to work, they are equals. Outside of their jobs, however, he can’t help but feel protective. Maybe because he’s a man and it’s somewhat paternalistic, he admits. Or perhaps being older makes him feel like a big brother to the little sister he has always wanted while growing up in a family of boys. “We’ve been through a lot together, and I haven’t seen you happy before, not when compared to this. You deserve it, every single bit of it, and I didn’t want to affect that, in any way. Even if it that means keeping from you that my life’s falling apart. It’s not like there’s anything anyone can do anyway.”

“Have you talked to Kathy?”

“What’s there to talk about? I’m difficult to live with.” He grins at the lift of her brows. “Yes, probably harder to work with, I know.”

“You want to get back together with her?”

“She’s my wife, the only woman I’ve loved for over half my life. I wanna see my kids.”

“Yeah, all right, stupid question.”

“No, not stupid.” He pats her shoulder, and leaving his hand there, he advises, “We’re friends, and you know me, better than a lot of people, most people. You know how I am. Learn from this, learn from my mistakes.”

Without warning, moments from the morning jump forth. Olivia remembers being the first one awake. Sometime during sleep, Alex had pulled out, but she was still sprawled on top, definitely using her as a mattress. That thought had made her smile. Then she recalled her last conscious awareness, and she looked down, trying to trace tear tracks on her lover’s face. She thought she saw them, but before she could do or say anything, the alarm went off. Then before she could even blink, Alex was off of her and the bed, and moving around preparing for the day. The woman reminded her more of the Tasmanian Devil than Ling did when she spun out the door.

“Hey, you okay?”

A light squeeze brings her back to the present. She shakes her head. “Yeah, sorry.”

“Where’d you go?” His brows furrows as he reads his partner’s face. “Not trouble in Paradise?”

“Oh, no.” Despite everything, Alex had seemed okay, cheery even. Olivia smiles recalling the playful kisses she got every time their paths crossed while getting ready.

“You’re not thinking what I think… Never mind, I don’t want to know.” Elliot wrinkles his nose and smirks at his partner and the doe-eyed-dreaminess she is desperately trying to contain. “Anyway.” He slaps her back and before he walks away, he adds, “I’m serious, don’t screw it up.”

22.

“Hey, how are you?” Olivia speaks into the phone, cupping her hand over her mouth. “I miss you.”

“I miss you, too, Liv.”

The detective can hear the smile behind her lover’s words, and that makes her smile along. “Do you really?” She asks, not really needing to, only wanting to hear the answer.

“You know I do.”

“Just checking.” Olivia grins, unable to help herself and feeling like a teenager. “You ran out of the house this morning.”

“I had a meeting,” Alex explains.

Olivia can hear hesitance in the woman’s voice. Suspecting the true reason for the pause, she prompts, “Yeah?”

“I couldn’t be late.”

“Uh huh.”

“I had to focus on getting ready.”

The detective’s smile widens. “Uh huh.”

“Liv!”

This time, she laughs. “You tried to get away from me. Avoided me.”

“Don’t put it like that!” Alex scolds. “You know it wasn’t like that, absolutely not like that.”

“You’re repeating yourself, Sweetheart.”

“You’re accusing me of,” she huffs. “I don’t know what you’re accusing me of.”

“I’m not accusing you of anything.” Olivia softens her tone. “I miss you, and I just want to know you miss me, too.”

“You know I do, Liv, I do miss you,” Alex replies, her smile still lingering. It reminds her of the many phone calls they had while she was in Chicago, and they were eight hundred miles apart. The thought warms her from the inside out. She also knows if they are not careful, where this conversation would lead; she tries to maintain control. “You’re aware that we’re being ridiculous. Is there a point to your call?”

“Do I need a reason to call my girl?” Olivia asks, and can see the blonde chewing on her full bottom lip while trying to formulate a retort. Perhaps they are being puerile, and she was the instigator, but after the conversation with Elliot, she needs the connection. She needs to know and feel their bond, and its strength. For the first time, in a long string of relationships, she is allowing herself to acknowledge this reliance on another person. Sometimes the power of this need is unnerving. She decides to wait for her lover to break the silence.

Finally, Alex asks, “How’s your day?”

The deliberate avoidance draws a chuckle from the detective. “It’s fine,” she offers. “We’re moving along in our investigation. Talked to some of the victim’s friends, and her boyfriend. It’s all right, except…” She swallows before picking up another, but more logical thread for their conversation, “Well, now Lorna Scarry represents the vic and she’s trying to force our hand.”

“Because you and Elliot can’t agree if there’s a case?”

23.

How much should she reveal? Olivia wonders. Sooner or later, Alex will find out about Elliot and Kathy, the breakdown of their marriage. What will she say? What can I say? Before her mind delves too deeply, she sighs. “Now I’m not so sure, if there’s a case.”

“Why? What did you find?”

“It’s not so much what we found, although what her boyfriend said really didn’t help her. But she accused Elliot, of inappropriate behavior.”

“Meaning?”

“That he touched her.” The words felt so wrong in the detective’s mouth.

“What?”

“Yeah.”

“Maybe Scarry put her up to it. That woman’s bat-shit crazy,” Alex opined uncharacteristically, not hiding her outrage. “I’m glad I don’t ever have to go up against her again. She makes me want to… ugh, she gives women lawyers a bad name,” she wraps up her rant. “He’s not in trouble, is he?”

“No, not with the captain.” At home, however…

“That’s good. Of all the people to accuse and of all the things to accuse Elliot of…”

“I know.”

“He’s such a devoted family man. His wife’s a lucky woman.”

“I know.” Olivia sighs inwardly. It will be hard to break the news to her lover. Maybe there is a big head in the sky and he or she will help fix Stabler’s marriage. Then I won’t have to… A sharp peep interrupts her thoughts.

“Hold on a sec,” Alex says, and without waiting for an answer she presses the intercom button. “Yes, Greg?”

“Geoffrey Bowens is here to see you.”

“All right. Tell him I’ll be with him shortly.”

“You have an appointment with Geoffrey Bowens?” The question flew out of Olivia’s mouth before she could stop it.

“Well, I guess I do now,” Alex replies honestly. Something jarring in her lover’s tone causes her to replay the two recent, tension wrought meetings with her childhood friend. “You’re not still jealous of Geo, are you? You’ve seen him with his lover, never mind that he’s with a man.”

“No, I’m not jealous,” Olivia defends. “Okay, maybe just a little. He shares something with you that I don’t. I mean your past, not the gallery stuff.”

“Good, ‘cause I was just about to remind you of your promise to take classes with me.”

“And I will. We’ll sit down and look at the catalogues, maybe even this weekend, okay, Sweetheart?”

“I’ll hold you to it,” Alex concedes. She cannot deny that sometimes she likewise wishes Olivia’s past did not include so many people. It’s irrational. “Geo is a friend, from my childhood,” she relates as a precursor, “It doesn’t matter, the people in our past. You’re my present, and my future.”

“We’re each other’s,” Olivia corrects. “You’re right. And I should let you go, so you don’t keep your friend waiting.”

“All right.”

“Hey, you still picking me up tonight?”

“If you still want me to.”

“If you still want to?”

Alex laughs lightly. “I’ll pick you up.”

“Ok, I’ll text you if anything changes,” Olivia provides. “Love you.”

“Lots.”

24.

Standing, Alex surveys her office as she loops the last button of her jacket through its hole. With a satisfied smile, she runs a hand through her hair and steps out of her domain and into the corridor. Her smile widens into a welcoming grin as she reaches the reception area. “Geo,” she greets her friend and kisses him on both cheeks. “How are you? What a nice surprise.”

“Sorry, Jaime, I came unannounced. If you’re busy…”

“Nonsense, come on in.” She leads the way through the wooden door. “Let me show you around. I think Ling’s in her office…”

“No, no, maybe next time.” Bowens refuses. “I’m actually on my way to a studio visit, but I was in the area, and I have some information for you, which I just want to drop off.”

“Oh.” Information? “Come this way, then.” She motions towards the other end of the corridor. The silent walk down to her office is thankfully short. “Here we are,” she gestures, holding onto the door handle with her other hand.

“Nice space.” He grins, his attention immediately drawn to the large windows. “Even better view,” he comments, facing the Chrysler.

“Oh, you should see it at dusk, all the purple and orange reflected in the glass. Please,” she offers one of the visitor’s chairs.

“Thanks. I’ll bet it’s gorgeous, like you.” He winks and sits. “So.”

“So,” Alex replies, taking her seat.

The gallerist re-crosses his legs, and settles more comfortably into the chrome and leather chair. “This is a little strange. After all these years.” He laughs, motioning around the room. “You’re definitely not little Bohemian Jenny with the orange hair.”

She smiles. “And you lost the red high tops and skinny acid wash jeans.”

“You forgot the dangly earring.” He pulls on his left ear, eliciting a deep chuckle from Alex.

“I think we grew up.”

“We most certainly did,” he agrees with a thoughtful nod. “So.”

The almost hesitant way the man is smiling and the searching look in his eyes, they make her uncomfortable. She slides her glasses higher along her nose and putting on a deeper smile, she echoes again, “So.”

“Yeah, the information.” He slaps his leg. Then, reaching into his moss sharkskin jacket, he pulls out a postcard and a folded piece of paper. “Here,” he says, and place them in front of his friend.

“What’s this?” Alex asks, looking at the realistic portrait of a woman. “Oh, is this your next show? Nice work,” she comments, turning over the card. “Wait, this is not yours?” She asks, noting the name of a renowned gallery.

“Check out the artist.”

“Cass Sevin?”

25.

He reaches across the desk and unfolds the sheet of paper to a web print-out. “Cass D. Sevin,” he reads, pointing at the name. “I know you said you didn’t want me to check, but when I got the postcard in the mail, it just seems like kismet. Anyway, I don’t know what the ‘D’ stands for, so we can’t be sure that’s your Cass.”

“She can’t be,” Alex gasps, blinking at the Stony Brook faculty biography. “She’s not…”

“She’s from the City,” he relays. “And not much older than us.”

Alex can only nod.

“Her work, it’s figurative. Wasn’t that your Cass’…”