Title: Bittersweet and Salty
Author: Kelsey
Pairing: Olivia/Alex & Olivia/Casey
Disclaimer: Not mine. Though as I've said before, you'd think with all the "Law and Order"s out there, they could spare one.
Author's Note: Not for Casey-haters. And I make no promise about the outcome in any way.
Summary: Someone comes back to Olivia's life, but someone new is already there. Will old love prevail, or does new love run stronger?
Rating: PG-13



There's a knock on the front door, and Olivia stirs groggily but doesn't quite comprehend. A hand nudges her and a sleepy voice breaks the silence of the bedroom. "Liv! There's somewhat at your door."

Olivia opens her eyes slowly and looks towards her front door and the annoying sound. It takes her a moment and several more knocks before she decides it's worth getting out of bed for. "This better be good," she mumbles to herself as she forces her sleepy body to rise out of the warm bed with an even warmer body and sweet embrace waiting for her.

"Remember to hear what they have to say before chewing them a new one," says the sleepy voice from the bed, and Olivia rolls her eyes briefly.

"Ha ha."

"You know you love me for it."

Olivia pads down her short hall and comes to a stop at the front door. She peers through the peephole, wondering who could possibly have gotten into her apartment building without being buzzed in, and why they'd showed up at 3:47 in the morning anyway. Her cell was on, the precinct would call her if they wanted her somewhere.

The dark-suited men that her glance through the peephole reveals don't clear up much. FBI, probably, she thinks muzzily, but what the hell do they want with me?

Pulling open the door, Olivia puts one hand on her hip and glares at the well-dressed men blocking her doorway. "It's four am, gentlemen. What the hell do you want?"

"Olivia Benson?" one of them asks, his expression changing little, and completely ignoring her question.

"I am," she replies shortly.

"We have something for you."

"Who are you?"

"FBI, ma'am."

Olivia rolls her eyes. "Yes, the black suits and the whole cloak-and-dagger thing sort of cleared that up for me. I meant, why is the FBI on my doorstep? And have I mentioned that it's four am and I was asleep?"

"I'm afraid she was rather insistent."

Suddenly awake, Olivia's pulse starts to race. FBI, have something for her… "Alex. Is something wrong with Alex?"

A slender hand presses between the two men blocking Olivia's doorway, and they part as though there were far more muscle behind it than there undoubtedly is. And standing before Olivia is the visage of the beautiful woman she hasn't seen in months, and then only briefly. "Alex?" she asks in a whisper.

Alex is grinning from ear to ear, and Olivia can only seem to stand there in shock. "It's over, Liv. Velez is dead. I'm free."

The shock cracks, and Olivia's eyes tear up as she rushes forward and pulls Alex into a tight hug. "Oh god, Alex…"

"I'm back," she whispers. "Back for good."

The FBI men seem to be human enough to have realized this is a personal exchange, and when Olivia glances around them, their backs are turned. Tears are running from her dark eyes, and starting to gather in Alex's blue ones, but they are happy tears, shed by both women while smiles grace their faces. "You don't know how much I've missed you," Olivia says softly, and Alex smiles gently back.

"I think I have some idea," she says. "If it's anything like how much I missed you."

There is another soppy smile, and then Olivia wipes her eyes with the back of her arm and grins. "We're getting really soppy," she says.

"I feel really soppy," Alex admits. "I promise in the morning I'll go back to being myself."

"Okay." As Olivia gestures that they should enter her apartment, a terrible thought runs through her mind, and she freezes just as she catches a flash of red hair in her side vision.


Casey Novak is standing in her hallway, dressed in pink panties and a camisole, rubbing sleep from her eyes with one hand and running the fingers of the other through her unruly hair. "What's wrong?" She yawns, and then her eyes focus for the first time on the blond in the living room. Abruptly her back straightens and she is instantly awake.



Chapter One


Alex is the first one to recover, and she takes in the scene, turns on her heels and leaves. Olivia watches her go, wishing she could follow her, but she knows that any overtures she makes towards Alex right now will be rebuffed, and there's someone here who she might have a prayer of actually getting to listen to her. "Casey."

"Liv." Her nickname, that's good. "Alex is safe?"

A smile spreads across Olivia's face; she can't help it. "She's really safe," she says softly, feeling it sink in for the first time.

"And she's coming back." Casey's voice is flat.

Olivia crosses the room and puts her hand on Casey's arm. The ADA lets her, but her body remains stiff and unwelcoming. "Case, she's important to me. She's my friend, above all else."

Casey nods. "I know." She relaxes a little. "I always knew this wasn't meant to last," she says.

Olivia looks up sharply. "Not… Casey, this wasn't a fling."

"No," she agrees. "But I always knew that when Alex came back I'd have to vacate." She smiles bitterly. "It's okay."

"No, it's not!" Olivia exclaims. "I never meant for you to be an interim-fuck!"

Casey looks at her fondly and a little sadly. "I know you didn't, Liv. You let me stay in your bed and become part of your life. I know you love me in a way. But I see the look in your eyes when you look at Alex. It's just… more."

There is silence for a few long moments and then Olivia looks at the floor and shakes her head. "Casey, it's four am and I've just had the world's most crazy talk with you and total emotional exhaustion wrought upon me by Alex. Can we just go back to bed?"

"Sure." Casey turns and walks back into the bedroom, and Olivia follows her close behind. They return to bed, Casey to the way of sprawling limbs and body that she always sleeps in, Olivia curled up onto her side the way she sleeps. Neither of them sleeps.

Olivia watches Casey in the dark, the ADA's eyes stubbornly closed, and ponders this. The kind of comfort they feel, sleeping their own ways. Casey's bodily sprawl would annoy a less tolerant person, and Olivia's curled-in ball has caused more than one bedmate to wonder what they've done to upset her. But there's an easy comfort here, Olivia tolerating and even finding cute Casey's limbs all over her space, and Casey knowing that Olivia doesn't need comforting, she just sleeps better this way.

As soon as Olivia's eyes close in determination to fall asleep, she feels Casey's gaze on her. "Go to sleep," she says a little grumpily. "It's what you wanted."

Casey recognizes her not-actually-upset tone and laughs lightly. "Okay. Sleeping now."

Silence reigns in the bedroom and slowly, both occupants start to fall asleep despite raging thoughts.

Morning is awkward and quiet. Even though they were able to put aside feeling and just try to sleep when Alex first left, now they are both full of doubts. Olivia sees Casey's in her eyes as she sits at the breakfast table with coffee and yogurt, and her own are constantly running through her head. Should she have gone after Alex? Why does Casey think she's only a stand-in? How the hell is she going to figure this mess out?

Luckily, work calls, and they both leave shortly after the conclusion of the very quiet breakfast. Casey rides her bike to work, despite the fact that the early morning not-quite-May temperatures are still fairly cool, and Olivia catches the subway. Unless a pressing case comes in, they won't see each other again- Casey has arraignments and a trial, Olivia will do paperwork and wait for a call. It's New York City and there's no shortage of twisted perverts- SVU always has work.

Elliot is waiting when she gets there, outside. There's a cup of coffee and a paper bag in one hand and a pair of car keys in the other. "Already?" is all Olivia says.

He nods. "Came in ten minutes ago. Couldn't get a hold of you, figured you were in the subway."

Subway reception varies from bad to nonexistent, and Olivia just nods before taking the keys from her partner's hand. "Eat," she says before he can protest. "I got to eat already."

Elliot is quiet and a little jumpy during the ride. Halfway there, Olivia stops at a red light and turns to face him. "What is it, Elliot?"
"Nothing," he lies unconvincingly.

She pulls away from the light but looks over to send him a glare. "I know you. What's going on?"

Elliot fidgets a little. "You didn't by any chance get a midnight visitor last night, did you?"

Olivia looks over at him sharply, then quickly returns her eyes to the road. "Alex?"

"I guess you did."

"Well, it was more like four am, but yeah."

"She spend the night?"

Olivia doesn't look over. "No."

"Well, I guess there wasn't much night left…" he says open-endedly.

Olivia isn't in the mood to pussy-foot around the subject. "Cut the crap, Elliot."

He does as told and asks her bluntly "Why didn't she stay, then?"

"The atmosphere got a little chilly when the current guest came out of the bedroom," Olivia replies coldly.

Elliot goes quiet for a moment. "Well. I guess that would put a damper on the mood." He cocks his head. "But she's been gone months. Surely she didn't expect you to spend all of it without company."

"I don't think it was the company," Olivia replies. "I think it was the company's identity."

Elliot raises an eyebrow, but she refuses to talk about it anymore, and they're almost at the crime scene, anyway.

The crime scene is dull, forensically speaking, and the victim is dead. There's very little for them to do on-scene, so they return quickly to the squad room. Cragen is up in arms about something, and Olivia figures that means Alex hasn't paid him a visit yet. He could never be in that bad a mood right after he got that good of news.

She finds out she figured correctly when a tall blond in a pair of subtle but dressy slacks and a v-neck purple blouse walks a little anxiously into the squad room around lunch time, her two FBI bodyguards at her heels this time, instead of standing protectively in front of her. Munch and Fin rise from their desks in expectation of a victim in need, then surprise and shock and pleasure cross their faces in quick succession.


Alex grins and envelops first Fin and then Munch in a tight hug. "It's good to be home," she says. She nods her head towards Cragen's office. "He here?" she asks.

Fin nods and Elliot steps up. "What, I don't rank a hug?" he says teasingly.

Alex rolls her eyes and hugs him. "I thought that was what the midnight visit was for," she says.

"Hey, how come he got a midnight visit and I didn't?" Munch asks.

Pulling out of Elliot's arms, Alex lowers her eyes and answers pragmatically "because I didn't know how to get to your house."

Olivia is thinking that she should be saying something or it will look funny, but then the door to Cragen's office opens, and she is off the hook, at least for the moment. "Alex!"

Alex smiles fondly and opens her arms. "I've been getting that response a lot lately," she says.

Cragen hugs her tightly, his eyes a little wet and his grin encompassing his whole face. "It's good to see you," he says. "Really good."

"Glad to know I was missed," Alex says, a little flippantly.

Getting the unspoken message, Cragen pulls away and smirks a little, something that looks very strange on the face of their captain to the detectives. "Had it with emotional reunions already, Cabot?" he asks. "That's just like you."

Alex rolls her eyes for the second time, and Olivia thinks that as horrible as it has been, perhaps something good has come out of witness protection. Alex certainly seems more relaxed than she did… before.

Even in her mind, Olivia sometimes has trouble thinking about 'before.' And she's so grateful that she got a chance to see Alex a few months previously, but the former ADA had hardly been like herself. Quiet, withdrawn, just wishing that it was all over… it hadn't been Alex.

The visit had left Olivia more troubled than before, hoping that witness protection wasn't slowly killing her lover's spirit.

She's glad to see that Alex's spirit is alive and well.

Now that Alex has said hello to everyone except her, the expectations mount, and the blonde turns reluctantly to her former lover. "Olivia," she says, and Olivia can't figure out what that tone means. It isn't really cold or unfriendly, and the look in her eyes isn't either, but it is guarded.

Olivia smiles, and decides to just go with the truth. "I'm so glad you're back, Alex."

"You seem to have been managing," she says, and her eyes travel over all of the detectives but Olivia knows it was mostly meant for her. Elliot shoots her a glance and Olivia ducks her head, not wanting to deal with her nosy partner.

"We may have managed, Cabot, but it sure was lacking," Munch replies, and she smiles at him.

Olivia finally puts a finger on something that has been niggling at the back of her thoughts since Alex walked in. "What's with the bodyguards?" she says.

Alex shifts a little uncomfortably. "It's nothing," she says, well aware that she is facing five people who tend to be very protective of her. "Just a precaution."

"And what would you need to be taking precautions against?" asks Cragen.

"Velez is dead. The bodyguards are just to make sure none of his lieutenants want vengeance," Alex divulges reluctantly.

"Aren't you supposed to stay in witness protection until they're sure it's safe?" Elliot asks.

Alex shrugs. "I couldn't. So they saddled me with these guys." She jerks her thumb over her shoulder, a movement entirely too unsophisticated for the old Alex, but somehow it looks right on her.

There is comfortable silence for a few minutes, then Alex settles herself down in Elliot's chair. "Well, I'm sure you have work to do. If you don't mind, I'll hang around for a bit."

Cragen glances over her shoulder and Alex follows his gaze. "Don't worry, they won't report to the Feds," she says. "Right, guys?" Alex's tone still has the forceful tenor that Olivia remembers best about her in court, and she smirks a little to herself when she notices that the younger of the two suits appears totally cowed. The older one is harder to read, but they both nod obediently.

The captain smiles then, and claps Alex gently on the shoulder. "Well, then, of course you're welcome," he says. Turning to the detectives, he puts his hands in his pockets and gets into work mode. "What have we got?"

Alex leaves around lunchtime for a meeting with her mother, and it isn't a moment too soon. Ten minutes after the doors close behind the blonde former ADA, Casey Novak is striding into the squad room. "We've got a problem."

Olivia and Elliot, the closest to where she is standing, look up. "What is it?" asks Elliot.

"Judge Brown is threatening to throw out the knife in the Sarcofa case."

Elliot's face twists in anger. "What!"

"That was a clean bust!" Olivia adds.

Casey isn't happy herself, and she just shakes her head. "I know, I know. But they're arguing that the warrant was signed two minutes after you busted open the door."

"So what do you need from us?" Elliot asks.

"For you to appear in chambers."

"When?" Olivia asks suspiciously. They appear in court all the time. If Casey thinks it's something they might be upset about, something must be going on.

The shoe drops. "Now."

"What? Casey, we've got an open rape/homicide and Munch and Fin are working a sexual assault. We're swamped."

"Like I'm not?" she replies a little snappily. "We've all got full plates. But I can't clear this unless you can testify that you called Fin after watching the Judge sign the warrant, and not before."

"This is bull!" Olivia exclaims. "There's no way we would be that sloppy, and the defense knows it."

"Of course they do. We've got Sarcofa dead, and they know it. It's a stalling technique. But that doesn't mean that we can just ignore it."

Elliot stands up and starts to pace, and Casey reaches over to touch Olivia's wrist gently, but she's in no mood to be calmed. "When?" she asks resignedly.

"As soon as you can get there," Casey says, straightening. "Judge gave us an hour to be there."

Elliot stops in front of the desk and nods. "Alright. Well, let's get going."

The ride to the courthouse is brief, but the wait for Judge Brown to finish whatever he was doing when they got there is much longer. Casey, never the picture of patience, glares at the door and paces, Elliot leans against the wall and affects a bored posture, and Olivia sits on the bench and stares at the ceiling.

Finally, they are called in and it takes the Judge all of six minutes and a few pithy remarks about their detective skills to decide that the knife is in. Casey breathes a silent sigh of relief, but Olivia, Elliot and the defense attorney are mostly just ticked off, for separate reasons. The afternoon mostly over by this point, Casey starts to walk them back to their car.

As they are nearing the door to the courthouse, Alex's voice rings out throughout the hall. "Detectives!"

Olivia and Elliot turn. Casey takes a breath before she joins them. "Alex. Hey."

"Casey." Alex's voice is a little cold, but mostly controlled. "Olivia, Elliot. Here on a case?"

"Just the defense trying to make our jobs harder," Casey says blandly.

"They like to do that." Alex's statement is equally void of emotion.

"Are you here checking up on old friends?" Olivia asks, and Alex nods.

"Amazingly enough, some of the judges actually liked me."

Olivia grins. "Now, I wonder how that happened."

"I wonder." Casey's face is blank and her tone is equally bland.

"Been having judge troubles lately?" Alex asks with the slightest undercurrent of …something.

Elliot is looking between the women, and understanding is beginning to dawn on his face at the tenor of their interactions. "Nice seeing you, Alex," he says. "See you later, Casey?"

The redhead nods, and Elliot, taking Olivia's arm, walks them quickly from the courthouse. As soon as they have cleared the walls, he lets go and turns to her, giving her an incredulous look. "Casey?"

Olivia plays dumb momentarily. "What?"

Elliot rolls his eyes. "Oh, don't give me that, Liv. I saw what was going on in there. Casey-frickin-Novak was your houseguest last night when Alex showed up?"

Sighing, Olivia gives up on playing dumb. "She was there. So what, Elliot?"

"So what? You never told me." He looks a little hurt, and Olivia looks away.

"I didn't think you would like it."


"Because you didn't like her very much."

Elliot's eyes narrow. "Wait. This is more than a one-night thing?"

Olivia focuses her eyes on the brick edges of a planter. "It's been a couple months now," she admits.

"And you're what? Dating? Friends with benefits?"

"Dating. Quietly."

Elliot scoffs. "I'll say. And you didn't think to tell me?"

"You had your own problems."

His masculine pride somewhat put aside, Elliot runs a hand over his hair and looks her in the eyes. "Wow. So I bet this is awkward as hell, huh?"

Relieved that he's done being mad at her, Olivia shrugs. "Not so much. Casey took it really well." She looks away. "She said she always thought we were only until Alex came back."

Elliot takes her hand and starts walking towards the car. "So, were you?"

"No! Well… I never really thought about it, Elliot. It was hard to think about Alex, and not knowing if she'd ever be home at all…"

He nods understandingly as he walks around to get into the driver's seat of their car. "So, what do you do now?"

Olivia lowers herself into the seat and sighs. "I wish I knew."


Chapter Two

There is no one waiting when Olivia gets home that night. She turns on the light, hangs up her coat, kicks off her boots and heads for the fridge to get a soda. She's relieved but a little surprised that neither the familiar redhead nor her blonde ex is here to greet her. Both have keys- at least she assumes Alex still has hers.

More importantly, they are both stubborn as hell and not prone to pussyfooting around the subject. She assumed that at least one of them would be here when she got back, determined to hash everything over and get to the point. It's struck Olivia before just how similar her ex-lover and her current one are.

But the peace and quiet of the apartment gives her a little time to think, and as much as she doesn't really want to dwell on the issue at hand, it is necessary. "After all, you got yourself into this mess," Olivia mutters as she clicks on the television and flops back onto her couch. She could have waited. Her libido would have been satisfied with the occasional trip to a bar and night out. But no. She had to take up with someone she works with, and not only that, but the new ADA. It was no wonder Alex was feeling more than a little jilted.

Casey's odd comment comes back to her now, and she mulls it over. The fact of the matter is that every time the thought of what she was going to do if Alex came back crossed her mind, Olivia pushed it away. So she wasn't lying to Elliot when she told him that she hadn't considered it. But Casey apparently had. And Olivia could see the affection in her eyes- it wouldn't be without pain that Casey would leave her to be with Alex.

Casey has never seemed the sort to be self-sacrificing, so this willingness to leave Olivia and let her be with Alex makes old insecurities raise their ugly heads. Perhaps Casey was the one waiting, only using Olivia as a bed warmer and break from awkward one night stands. Maybe she is grateful that Alex is back, and now she can leave Olivia without guilt or explanations.

Olivia shakes her head and tries to clear it of these thoughts. Whatever else it might have been, she and Casey have been good together these last months. They've become friends, and between the sex, there have been long evenings of movie-viewing and mutual work in comfortable silence. Whether there has been a real spark, there has been genuine affection.

But is that all?

Olivia gives up on the diet soda, and goes for something harder.

There isn't much sleep happening that night, and Olivia wakes thoroughly unrested. But apparently she slept deeply enough that Casey has snuck into her kitchen and brought designer coffee.

"God, you're an angel," she groans as she sinks into one of her well-worn dining room chairs and swallows the hot coffee. Casey smiles and offers her a donut. She shakes her head. "Have to lose a few pounds to be as skinny as you, counselor."

Casey shakes her head ruefully. "I carry it all on my hips. C'mon."

Olivia relents, takes a donut, and is struck for a moment with the beauty of this young woman, who, for some inexplicable reason, wants her. With all the baggage, and the painful job, and the awful stories from the past. Despite all the crap, Casey wants her.She knows she is staring, but she can't help it.

Cocking her head, Casey peers at her curiously. "What?"

"You're beautiful," Olivia says softly. She wants to say 'I love you,' because she does, but she isn't sure if she's in love with Casey, and she doesn't want to give her the wrong idea.

The redhead ducks her head and blushes. Olivia thinks it's unbearably cute- this bashfulness is where Casey most differs from Alex. Both are strong, determined, confident personalities, but where Alex would have just tilted her head and accepted the compliment with a twinkle in her eye, Casey blushes and looks away.

Chewing, Olivia grins contentedly.

As the flush starts to fade from her cheeks, Casey looks up and hurriedly grabs for a donut herself, more to busy her hands and mouth than because she actually wants it, Olivia is sure. It serves the purpose, and the rest of the impromptu breakfast is conducted in silence.

As they pull together greasy paper bags and cold-coffee-filled cups for the garbage, Olivia asks if Casey needs a ride. Sometimes it's too cold for the bike, or she's running late, and Olivia sometimes has a car from the precinct, like she does this morning.

Casey shakes her head. "Nope. I've got my wheels."

"Case, it's freezing."

Casey points to the thermometer in Olivia's window and shakes her head. "Look. Not below thirty-two degrees," she says, grinning cheekily.

They haven't touched yet this morning, but Olivia can't resist leaning over and kissing her softly. "Smart aleck," she says fondly.

"You know it," is Casey's only response as she wheels her bike out of Olivia's front hallway and down towards the elevator.

Alex is sitting in the squad room when Olivia shows up, the first detective there after Munch, who never seems to sleep. She rises and smiles a little hesitantly, and Olivia smiles back, trying to put everything aside and just be glad that Alex is back, safe and sound.

"No FBI detail today?" she asks.

"I convinced them that I didn't really need them in the middle of a police station," Alex replies. "I'm supposed to call them before I leave the building."

Olivia nods. "Sticking around again this morning?"

"You mind?"

"Of course not." There is a pause. "Alex, no matter what, you're my friend," Olivia says awkwardly, her voice pitched low to keep it from Munch's overly-interested ears.

Alex smiles softly, and tucks a piece of hair behind her ear. "You too," she says.

"Want to get lunch later?" Olivia offers, the atmosphere somewhat less tense.

Alex nods, and is about to reply when Elliot walks through the doors, looking more than a little bleary-eyed. "Good morning all," he says, heading straight for the coffee.

"Don't have coffee at your house, Elliot?" Olivia teases him, leaning on her desk and watching him burn his tongue on the first sip.

He grimaces. "Coffeemaker busted," he says. "I thought about getting Starbucks or something, but it was easier to just come here." He glances at his cup. "Even if the coffee does suck. Who made this, anyway?"

Munch raises his hand distractedly as he paws through the piles of paperwork common to all their desks. "That would be the fine cuisine de Munch," he replies.

"You need some coffee-making lessons," Elliot says, and ignores Munch when he flips the other detective off without once looking up.

Olivia turns and starts poking through her own stack of paperwork. "Hey," she says, waving a small piece of paper at Elliot, "Warner's looking for us."

"What's she doing in at this hour?" Elliot asks.

Olivia shrugs. "No idea, but she wants to talk to us. Let's get going." Grabbing her jacket, Olivia's eyes fall on the former ADA, watching them leave and making no move to join them. "Alex? Coming?"

A smile spreads across Alex's face as she rises. "Sure you want me tagging along?" she asks.

"Definitely," Elliot says, laying a friendly arm over her shoulder, and Olivia nods, grabbing the keys to the car she drove in this morning, following them out of the station.

Halfway to the car, Elliot asks about the bodyguards, and Alex grimaces. "I'd rather leave them behind," she says. "I'm with the two of you, anyway."

Olivia turns to look at Alex before pushing open the door to the outdoors. "Are you sure?" She looks away. "We weren't really enough last time."

A hand falls gently on her shoulder, and she turns to find herself heart-wrenchingly close to those piercing blue eyes that have haunted her dreams for so long. "It wasn't your fault, Liv."

The nickname tears a little shudder from her body, and Olivia feels her eyes getting wet. This is ridiculous, she tells herself. I know it wasn't my fault.

Yes, a voice in her brain argues back, but that's not the same as having Alex here, alive and well and telling you that, is it?

Olivia reaches up and closes her hand over Alex's briefly. "Thanks," she says softly. Composing herself, she lets go, and Alex lets her hand drop away. "But you're sure you don't want to call them?"

She nods. "I'm tired of having them on my heels all the time. Just don't tell them I left without calling?"

Olivia smiles. "I promise."

Elliot, trying to lighten the atmosphere, shakes his head. "I don't know… disobeying orders from a federal agent… I might have to report you, Cabot."

Alex laughs lightly, and Olivia's eyes follow her as she climbs into the car with more poise and grace than any normal person would be able to manage. Elliot catches his her staring, shakes his head and gently nudges her towards the door to the backseat, grinning.

Warner greets them at the door to the morgue, and then promptly takes a step back in shock as Alex rounds the corner and smiles at her. "Alex?" she says in a whisper-thin voice very different from her usual confident tones.

"Hi," Alex replies gently, apparently used to this reaction by now. "Sorry to shock you, but I just didn't know how else to tell you."

Olivia, who never even thought about all these people whom Alex was dead to meeting her again, wants to kick herself. There are so many… judges and other lawyers, the whole DA's office… dozens of people who remember Alex with varying degrees of fondness and never knew she wasn't dead.

"Wha…" Warner has taken a seat rather quickly at the nearest desk, and Alex looks a little pained as she steps closer and starts to explain.

"Witness protection," she says. "Velez was too powerful, and I was too stubborn… he knew I would never stop hunting him."

A little shocked laugh escapes Warner, and she looks up at the former ADA. "You never did know when to give up," she says. "You were like a bulldog in that courtroom." She rises, steadies herself with a hand on the desk, and then steps forward to embrace Alex. Never a tactile person, Alex stiffens a little, but allows it. Olivia remembers when she was dating the former ADA, Alex had once told her that the only people with business touching her were her doctor, her mother and her girlfriend. Later, that had been amended to include most of the SVU squad, whom she had grown exceedingly fond of, but other people touching her was still not up there on Alex's list of favorite things to do.

Warner steps back, her eyes a little shiny, and shakes her head in disbelief. Ever the consummate professional, though, she picks up a report on the desk she was just sitting at, and hands it to Olivia. "Your victim was sodomized and raped with an object covered in a mix of animal hair," she says. "Some kind of deer, but not anything native, as well as goat hair, and sheep's wool."

Elliot glances at Olivia, who nods as she understands his thought. "Sounds like a petting zoo."

Alex shakes her head. "So what was the object, doctor?"

Warner shakes her head. "Something wider than it was tall, and with some kind of bristles that ripped the hell out of her insides. I wouldn't testify to it, but I'd say probably a hairbrush."

"So someone with access to a petting zoo hairbrush used it to rape and sodomize her," Elliot summarizes.

Nodding, Warner returns to the body on the slab, which is not that of their victim. "That's about right, Detective."

"Anything else?" Olivia asks.

"Just a bit of lubricant from a common brand of condoms," Warner says, not looking at them as she works. "It was on the inside of her thigh. My guess? Perp tried to rape her the conventional way, couldn't for some reason, and then used whatever was nearby."

"Which begs the question of why the hell he was carrying around a hairbrush from a petting zoo," Alex adds.

Elliot grins. "We'll make a detective out of you yet, Cabot."

"Thanks," Alex replies dryly. "I'll think about it. You probably make more money than I did, all that overtime."

Olivia wants to ask what Alex is planning on doing now that she's back and her job's been filled, but she senses that now isn't the time. "That's it, doc?" she asks instead.

"That's it," Warner confirms, looking up from her dead body once more before the door swings shut behind them. "Good to see you, Alex."

Alex smiles, though it looks a little forced. "You too." As soon as the door falls shut behind them, the smile falls off her face, and she looks tired. "I hate this," she says. "All the greetings and shock and surprise and smiling and being happy to be back is getting really tiring."

Olivia lays a hand on her arm in concern. "You want to go somewhere quieter, then?" she asks.

"No." Alex shakes her head. "I'm bored of sitting still, and I'm tired of being alone. I'll be fine."

Elliot leads them all back to the car, and they head off to begin the most painstaking part of their job- interviewing the victims friends, family and acquaintances.

The parents are the first on the list of people to interview, and Olivia is sure that Alex being there is probably highly unorthodox, but neither she nor Elliot is about to leave her alone. And Alex was an ADA for SVU for nearly four years- surely Cragen and the DA's office will cover her ass if it gets out that Olivia and Elliot were carting her around to interviews.

The girl that died was barely eighteen, and had just moved out on her own. The way she died represents her parents' worst fears for what could happen to a young girl living in a city like New York all alone. The parents had been sufficiently moneyed that a roommate wasn't necessary, but they had begged her to consider having one, anyway. She had refused, and they had settled for calling her every morning and evening to assuage their fears.

Olivia feels as bad for them as she feels for the victims of every case. Here, the girl is the real victim, but she isn't alive, so the impact is next most felt by the people she left behind. "Did your daughter work with animals regularly?" she asks, when the general questions -did she have any enemies, boyfriends, etc- have been asked and answered.

Her mother gives her an odd look, but nods slowly from within the confines of her husband's strong arms. "Tanya worked at a petting zoo in the park," she said. "She wanted to be a vet, and it was good experience." She dissolves into tears, and the husband, who doesn't look much better, does his best to console her with pats on the back and whispered platitudes.

"We're so sorry for your loss," Elliot says, and Olivia knows that despite the amount of times a week he says that, he always means it. Sex crimes is not a job a detective can be good at if they don't feel passionately for the victims.

Alex, who has been quiet all this time, rises with them as they go to leave. "We'll call you when we get some leads," Olivia says, handing the husband her card. "Give us a call if you think of anything out of the ordinary that happened to Tanya recently, alright?"

As the two detectives and one ex-ADA clear the walk of the little house, Olivia's attention turns to Alex. "Are you okay?" she asks.

"Huh?" Alex's head snaps around. "Oh. Yeah, I'm fine."

"Missing being the ADA, huh?" Elliot asks with a knowing smile.

"That obvious?" A wry smile crosses Alex's face. "Yeah, I'm missing being the person responsible for putting away the scum that devastated that family."

"Have you given any thought to what you want to do now that you're back?" Olivia asks cautiously, not sure if Alex is ready or willing to talk about this particular subject.

But Alex doesn't appear upset. She just shakes her head slowly. "I don't know. I thought about maybe going into private practice, but I'm not sure it would feel right."

"I'm sure the DA's office would have you back," Elliot offers. "Despite all his whining, Branch was fond of you."

"Serena Southerlyn's replacement isn't working out as well as she might," Olivia says. "You could apply."

Alex's face crinkles in mild distaste. "Grunt work for Jack McCoy and always sitting second chair? I don't think it would be for me."

Elliot laughs. "Probably not. You never were good with taking orders."

"I'm still not," Alex retorts.

Olivia laughs, and luxuriates in the simple pleasure of having Alex back to tease and laugh with.


Chapter Three

It's still only ten-thirty by the time they get back to the precinct, and Alex calls her bodyguards begrudgingly, saying that she's had enough of crime for the day. Olivia pretends to be jealous of her being able to get away, and is only a little jealous for real.

Casey stops in for no discernable reason- she asks about the case, but since she has no real input, it doesn't count as a reason- and Olivia knows she's feeling anxious about where she stands with her. She wishes that she had a better answer for the woman who's been so good to her for these past few months, making her get back to life and the practice of living, instead of just existing and waiting for Alex's return. But her emotions are on a roller coaster ride and the only thing she can say for sure is that she cares deeply for both women.

For a woman who is notoriously easy to rile, Casey stays remarkably calm. Her temper flares predictably when confronted with the case's lack of real progress, but regarding Olivia and her former lover, there is nothing but a flash of unspecified emotion when Elliot mentions that Alex spent the morning with them.

There's paperwork after Casey leaves, and then it's time to go meet Alex for lunch. Olivia is vibrating silently in her chair with nerves- this is the first time she and Alex will be alone together since she got back. Elliot kicks her chair and smirks at her, which gives her something to do for only about ten seconds as she kicks Elliot's chair back at him and glares. Cragen clears his throat, and they both turn back to their forms in triplicate that are the bane of a detective's life.

Olivia really hopes that Alex won't push her for answers today, because she doesn't have any. Does she love Casey? Yes, but she's not sure exactly how she means that. Does she love Alex? Always. What does she want? How the hell should she know? She never thought she'd ever have a chance to decide.

"Twelve-thirty, Liv," Elliot says, glancing at his watch, and Olivia looks up from where her gaze has stalled out on the latest batch of paperwork as she zoned, and nods.

"Thanks." She gathers her coat and her bag and heads out. The sedan they were driving this morning is still signed out to her, so she might as well use it to get to the restaurant.

It's a little after one when she arrives at the little Italian place she and Alex went to all the time, and the blonde is already waiting for her at their usual table. The thought of them sitting together at their usual table is enough to send sparks down Olivia's spine- so many witness protection victims never return to their old lives. Olivia is immeasurably lucky to have Alex returned to her, and she vows to remember that.

"Hey," she greets her dining companion, slipping into the chair.

"Hi, Olivia."

There is awkward silence until the waiter comes and asks for drink orders. Then Olivia, intent on not putting painful subjects aside, broaches the topic. "Your guy, Alex?"

Alex looks up with a surprised look on her face and then laughs a little. "I should have figured. You never were one for long discussions leading up to a sensitive topic." She takes a deep breath. "I couldn't take it. Couldn't hear him calling me "Emily" anymore. We broke up just after I came back to testify."

Alex's mind is just as sharp as ever, and she quickly turns the tables on Olivia. "And you? What happened so that Casey Novak ended up in your bed?"

Olivia shrugs. "Nothing, really." She pauses. "You know, when I first met her, I didn't like her much." She laughs lightly. "I think that's a sign that I'll end up sleeping with them later."

Alex smiles tightly. "If you didn't like her, what happened to change that?" She sounds like she isn't sure she wants to hear this story, but it isn't like Alex to flee from anything, even stories of how her ex got a new girlfriend.

"I don't know. Mostly I think I just realized that she wasn't here to replace you. And she never did, Alex." Olivia puts her hand on the table and then reaches out to touch Alex's fingers, lying tensely next to her water glass. "No one could."
Blue eyes meet brown, and Alex seems to be trying to determine Olivia's truthfulness before she responds. Apparently she is satisfied, because the fingers under Olivia's turn over and twine with her own tenderly. "No one ever replaced you, either."

The waiter brings their drinks and asks for meal orders. Alex doesn't pull her hand away from Olivia's, something she's been conditioned to expect by Casey's closeted position. When she confronted the redhead about it, Casey had exploded into one of her temper tantrums and told her that Alex, as the DA's "daddy's girl" might have been able to afford the rumors of lesbianism, but she couldn't. Olivia hadn't brought it up again.

But she was really enjoying sitting in a restaurant, with her fingers tangled warmly through those of a woman she loved.

"When did it happen?" Alex asked, and Olivia took a moment to understand that they were back to talking about Casey.

"A couple of months ago. Right after you came back." Olivia averts her gaze and tries to untangle her fingers, but Alex holds onto them tightly. "I think I finally realized that I might never see you again."

"And Casey found out about me."

Olivia nods, a little surprised that Alex zeroed in on what had changed so quickly, but she knows she shouldn't be. She always did have a penchant for dating women much too smart for her.

"She convinced me that being friends wouldn't hurt you. So we became friends. And then one night… I kissed her. She was so shocked I thought she might slap me. But then she said that she just never thought I'd be ready enough to move on."

"And you told her?" Alex's gaze is impassive.

"That I wasn't ready to leave you behind, and I probably never would be. And she just nodded and kissed me back." Olivia looks right at Alex, meeting her steady gaze. "She told me yesterday morning, after you left, that she figured all along she was only filling time until you came back."

"Was she?"

Olivia sighs heavily. "I don't know, Alex! I didn't intend for her to be."

Alex nods in understanding. "I didn't think you did."

Their food arrives, and they have to separate their hands in order to eat. Olivia puts the food in her mouth, chews and then swallows, but hardly tastes it. Alex picks at her food, and Olivia opens her mouth to tell her to eat, but then remembers she no longer has that right. Alex sees her mouth open and close, though, and smiles.

"I'm eating like a bird again, aren't I?" she says. "That happens to me without you around to nag me."

Olivia doesn't respond, just puts down her fork and looks at Alex, not quite sure of what to say.

Forcing a smile, the blond picks up her own fork and takes a bite.

Silence reigns over most of the rest of the meal.

Olivia returns to the precinct in obvious emotional turmoil, and everyone stays away from her as long as possible. It is Cragen who finally approaches, announcing that she and Elliot had better get out of the station for a while and clear their heads. Olivia knows that the captain is just trying to give her and Elliot some time to talk, but she doesn't want to talk. She can barely comprehend all of the thoughts whirling around in her head, let alone articulate them.

"Want to tell me what's going on?" Elliot asks casually.


Lucky for her, Elliot's been her partner for seven years, and knows well enough when to back off. Now he switches gears easily, and starts talking about the case as he turns the car over and drives off. "Did you get anywhere calling the petting zoo?"

Olivia shakes her head. "Didn't want to alert them that we might be coming," she replies. "Thought it would be better if we just dropped in."

Elliot nods. "I got nowhere with friends," he says. "The girl was either completely antisocial or incredibly shy. She had one friend, and the girl didn't know anything about what happened." He pulls to a stop at a red light. "Olivia, just answer me one thing?"

She doesn't reply, and he takes it as a sign to continue.

"Who couldn't you live without?"

She doesn't reply, but he seems to be satisfied with just asking his question, and silence reigns all the rest of the way to the park.

When they get to the petting zoo, the attendant is a pimply-faced boy perhaps two years younger than their victim, Tanya, and he has his hands full. The corral is full of goats, sheep and some kind of small deer, as well as young children with their hands full of feed. Parents preside over the children, but the attendant has to hand out the feed and control the animals to the best of his ability, and he looks more than a little frazzled.

Olivia steps up to him and pulls her badge. "Can we have a moment of your time?"

He glances at the badge and then at the waiting family with three small children. "Can it wait ten minutes? I get a break, then."

Olivia nods, and she and Elliot step back to watch and wait. The teenager seems to have been being truthful enough- he makes no effort to slip away or run, instead, after about ten minutes, he heads to the barn door, pokes his head in, and hollers for someone named Craig.

Craig turns out to be much older than the kid- perhaps thirty or even older than that. He is a little portly, and more than a little belligerent. He clearly thinks that this is not something he should have to do, but he parks himself on the stool by the gate and proceeds to take money and dispense feed, albeit in a rather surly manner. The teenager slips away and walks over to them, motioning them back into a rather secluded alcove where only a bored looking sheep and an angry-looking goat are hanging out, away from the kids.

"I'm John Marley," he says. "Are you here about Tanya?"

Elliot nods. "How did you know about that?" he asks.

"Her mom called today and said she wasn't going to be at work," he says. "I asked why, and she said Tanya was killed. Is that true?"

"I'm afraid so. Did you know her well?" Olivia asks.

John shakes his head. "She was shy. Good with customers, but hard to talk to. Hated Craig, but the only way I knew was because she stayed as far away from him as possible."

Elliot glances at Olivia, and they know they are thinking the same thing: Gonna have to talk to Craig.

"Do you know why she hated Craig?" Elliot asks.

John shrugs. "No. Just know she did. I kinda thought that maybe he was hitting on her- she was awfully pretty, you know."

Olivia nods. Not that uncommon, an older boss hitting on a barely-legal (or even jailbait) employee. But that didn't mean anything except that the old guy liked his women young. Tanya was eighteen. "When does your break end?" she asks.

John glances at his watch and grimaces. "Right about now." He starts to walk back to the gate of the corral, and the detectives follow. "It's a crappy job, but it's really near my house, and my mom's a bit overprotective…so I took what I could get."

Olivia nods in understanding and reaches into her pants for her wallet. Pulling out a card, she hands it to John, who tucks it away in his pocket. "Give us a call if you think of anything you think might be important," she says.

"Sure," he replies. "Hope you catch them. Tanya was alright."

The detectives corner Craig as he heads back to his post in the barn with the large "Employees Only" sign on the door. "Can't you read?" is his response to their appearing in his path. "Employees only. Now get back to the kiddos. No unattended children allowed."

Olivia flashes her badge, and beside her, Elliot does the same thing. "Detective Benson, and this is my partner Detective Stabler," she says. "We need to talk to you about Tanya Martin."

Craig grunts in response, then pushes open the barn door and motions them inside. At the end, after all the stalls for the actual animals, there is a stall with a bare floor and a couch and small television in it. This is obviously where Craig spends his time "supervising." "What do you want to know?" he asks.

"John said you and Tanya didn't get along very well," Olivia begins. "Want to tell us why that was?"

Craig shrugs as best as he can from his slump on the couch. Olivia has opted to stay far out of reach, leaning against the wall of the stall, but Elliot has perched himself on the arm of the old, decrepit piece of furniture. "I dunno. She never wanted to get very close to me," he says. "I never did anything. If she wants me to put the money on the table and then back away, whatever. She did the job."

Another glances is exchanged between the detectives. This is the first they've heard of Tanya perhaps being habitually cautious around men. "Did she act like that around other men?" Elliot asks.

"Sure. She tried not to show it, since they're customers and all, but she'd sort of flinch if one of them got too close."

"What about John?"

Craig scowls. "Naw. He was her buddy. Not that they were close, I mean, but he was the only thing with a dick that could get within three feet of her."

Elliot nods and rises from the arm. "Thanks," he says.

"We'll be in touch."

"Anytime you want," Craig says with a lecherous grin in her direction. Olivia ignores him and proceeds Elliot out of the stall and then the barn.

As they leave the corral, both are deep in thought. "Do you think Craig is telling the truth?" Olivia asks.

Elliot shrugs. "He'd have something to gain by lying, but yeah, I think so."
"And John?"

"Seems genuine enough."

"So then maybe Tanya was being abused, not just attacked once," Olivia posits.

Elliot shudders a little. "Sounds like it. Poor girl. Not enough to be raped and murdered, you have to be abused beforehand, too."

"So, back to her parents?"

"Yeah. And then the friend. Maybe one of them knows more than they were telling."

Tanya's parents proclaim no knowledge of any long-term abuse. There is no DNA evidence yet, but Warner has promised to go over the body again with a fine-toothed comb, so Elliot asks the father for a DNA sample. The easiness of his acquiescence makes him an unlikely suspect, but they drive both parents over to the medical examiner's office for the test.

After they take the Martins home, Olivia drives as Elliot gives directions to the friend's little apartment. The friend, not nearly so well off, lives with three roommates in a two-bedroom apartment. Only one of them is home when the detectives arrive, but she lets them in and tells them that Kara, the friend, will be back any minute.

Barely two minutes later, Kara breezes through the door in exercise clothing with a gym bag slung over her shoulder. "Detectives," she says, holding up a cell phone. "Eliza told me you were here."

Elliot and Olivia stand and greet the girl, but she waves them back to the couch. "Just a second," she says as she disappears into one of the bedrooms. "I'm sure I stink."

A minute later, she reappears in clean clothes and with her face freshly washed. "What can I help you with?" she asks, settling herself somewhat rigidly in a chair across from the detectives.

Olivia leans forward, and Elliot sits back, glad to let her take the lead on this one. "Kara… did you ever have any indication that Tanya might be being abused?" she asks gently.

Kara averts her eyes a little, and then looks down at her lap. "Kara," Olivia prods, "We need to know, so that we can find who killed her."
The girl looks up and reluctantly nods. "Alright." She takes a deep breath. "Yeah, maybe I thought she was a bit skittish around men. But when I asked if she wanted to talk to me, or anyone else, she always changed the subject. And I never saw anything, you know. I would have reported it if I really knew something was going on."

Olivia nods. "Was there anyone she was especially skittish around?" she asks.

Kara shakes her head. "No one person. But older men, over thirty or so. And big. Muscled guys. She was never as nervous around my guy friends as she was around like, random muscley guys on the street."

Elliot leans forward now. "Is there anyone she might have talked to about this? A counselor? A professor? Anyone?"

"She never told me about anyone. But once I saw her coming out of the rape crisis and prevention center on campus. Maybe she talked to someone there."

Olivia rises from the couch. "Thank you," she says, and digs out another business card. "Give us a call if you think of anything?"

Kara nods. "I will. I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier… I just didn't think that Tanya would want anyone to know."

"You did the right thing telling us," Elliot says as the exit the small apartment.

Kara gives them a sad smile. "It doesn't really matter. She's still dead, isn't she?"


Chapter Four

Casey is absent when Olivia arrives home. She sighs, having hoped that that her current girlfriend would be there to cuddle with in an uncomplicated manner, but realizes that it was really too much to ask that of Casey. She's been incredibly understanding, and even willing to give Olivia up- she can't ask her to go on as if nothing had happened until Olivia made up her mind.

So, for the second night in a row, she takes a tumbler of Scotch to the couch and sips it slowly, watching the evening news. Her mother's alcoholism has always been at the back of her mind, and she has a mental rule about only drinking two drinks a night. She's been drunk once or twice, but she always ends up feeling like she broke some kind of sacred covenant with herself, and it never happens again for a long, long time.

She kind of wishes that tonight was one of those nights she felt dreadful enough to submerge herself in a bottle and worry about the guilt later, but it isn't. So she pours her second glass of Scotch, caps the bottle of amber liquid, and return it to its rightful place in the kitchen.

The phone is lying tantalizingly close to her right hand, and she picks it up, idly fingering the numbers that would dial Casey's apartment. If Casey's even there. The current prosecutor works even harder than Alex ever did, and Olivia is sure that a large part of it is the fact that the DA's office had made it very clear from the beginning that Casey had big shoes to fill. Casey has never forgotten that.

She remembers her own treatment of the new ADA in her first days with SVU and cringes a little. Granted, Casey was naïve and annoying, and so young that Olivia wondered how she'd managed to graduate law school already, let alone have a history working with the city, but she'd been downright rude. And it hadn't just been then, either. It had taken fully a year before Olivia warmed up to her at all.

When she finally had, she'd realized that under all that bravado and confidence so similar to Alex's, lurked a woman nothing like her former lover. Casey could be shy, though it was heavily mitigated by her passion when she was sure she was right. Alex always carried the same supreme arrogance that won her legal battle after battle; with Casey it was discarded outside the courtroom.

Olivia thought about Alex's familiar grin, full of impudence and beauty, and felt a spark running down her spine. She thought about kissing Alex, feeling those soft lips press against her own with the same kind of determination that Alex displayed in every other aspect of her life. Her body shivered a little.

But then Casey's face popped up in her thoughts, and Olivia thought about the long tender nights filled with a gentle kind of passion and the occasional redhead-blush. Casey hated them, but Olivia thought they were unbearably cute. Then there was all the quiet and soft touching, not even necessarily erotic but simply sensual, that they had engaged in.

And in their own separate ways, each of these women had made Olivia feel desperately loved and beautiful. And now that she was faced with the hardest choice in the world, she couldn't answer Elliot's all-important question: Which one couldn't you live without?

Finally having consigned herself to her bed, Olivia lays staring up at the ceiling. She is going to sleep tonight, she is determined to. If she doesn't, she won't be in top shape tomorrow at work, and Tanya Martin deserves her full attention. Justice for the victims should be her top priority, not her minor personal troubles.

The clicking of a key in the lock startles her a little, and she sits up. She's curious more than worried because the only people with keys to her door are Casey, Alex and Elliot. And the super, but it damn well better not be him.

Elliot would only let himself in if he was really worried about her. And Alex's rather hesitant behavior in the days since she's gotten back makes Olivia think that it's unlikely she would let herself in without first knocking. "Casey?"

A face framed by red hair pokes around the corner. "Hey, Liv."

Olivia smiles. Regardless of her romantic issues with the woman, she is comfortable and calmer in Casey's presence. Outside of work, that is. At work, they tend to get into rip-roaring arguments. Less often now than when Casey first showed up, but still occasionally. "Hey, Case."

"I hope it's okay I'm here," she says as she wanders barefoot into the bedroom. She's still wearing her suit from the day, and Olivia knows from experience that Casey's briefcase is on her couch, and Casey's shoes are wherever she kicked them off to. Casey is not fond of dress shoes, despite the amount of time she has to spend wearing them for her job.

"Of course. Coming to bed?"

Casey nods, pulling off her jacket and hanging it in the closet beside Olivia's. "I thought I'd sleep better here."

And she knew Olivia was obsessing and wouldn't be sleeping, Olivia knows. "I think I will, too."

Grabbing her pajamas from Olivia's top drawer, Casey sheds the rest of her clothes quickly and climbs into bed. Olivia turns to rest her head on Casey's chest- this is usually Casey's position, but tonight she wants the reassurance of it- and Casey combs her fingers through Olivia's hair. "Sleep now," she says softly, and Olivia mmms in response before tucking her chin down and her knees up and promptly falling asleep.

In the morning, Olivia wakes to the smell of coffee. Casey is no morning person, but she's got the kind of always-cheery disposition that makes her annoying to other non-morning people all around her. Olivia's mind, on endless repeat of moments she's shared with Alex, brings up a mental image of Alex in the morning, crabby as hell and mussed like she never let anyone else see her. It amuses her briefly, and she smiles as she drags herself out of bed.

"Morning," Olivia says as she walks into the kitchen and pours herself a cup of coffee. She doesn't always bother making coffee for one, finding it easier and quicker to pick up a cup on the way to work, but she enjoys this morning ritual of sharing coffee and quiet time with Casey.

"Morning," Casey responds, smiling a little nervously. Olivia frowns briefly, wondering what's making Casey nervous, then shakes her head a little and sits down at the table. It was useless interrogating a lawyer. They never told you anything until they felt like it.

"Did you get the paper?" she asks, and the redhead nods. She sees it as some kind of duty of her office to keep up with the news and how the media has twisted it this time. Olivia, fully of the opinion that politics is the DA's office's job, rarely reads the paper or watches the news. However, she's had a subscription for a while now, since Casey has started staying over more often than not.

Five silent minutes later, Olivia's eyes are starting to droop again when Casey puts down the paper, then her coffee mug, and looks over at her. "We need to talk."

"Uh oh."

Casey gives a little smile. "It's nothing bad- at least, not too bad." She takes a deep breath. "Liv, I'm taking myself out of the picture for a while."

Olivia puts down her coffee cup, too. "What do you mean?" she asks.

"I'm going back to living at my apartment. I'm not going to show up here unannounced again, and we're not going to sleep together for a while."


"Because I think you and Alex need to reconnect without me in the way."

Olivia is starting to feel the slow burn of anger in the pit of her stomach. "Why do you get to decide what I want to do?"

"I'm not trying to decide for you, Olivia. I'm trying to give you a chance to decide."

"By, essentially, leaving me?"

Casey's eyes reflect her pain at the subject. "If you're with me, you won't feel free to decide you want to be with Alex. I know you." She looks away. "Just think of it as if you weren't with either of us. You're free to choose whoever you want, without previous ties."

"Casey, I have 'previous ties' to both of you! And I don't wish it was any other way!" Olivia is standing by now, her anger feeling too contained by sitting.

"I'm not asking permission," Casey says determinedly. "If you decide you really want to be with me, I'll be there." Her voice says she finds that scenario extremely unlikely, but before Olivia can dispute that, she is speaking again. "But I'm giving you this time."

"I can make up my own mind!" Olivia shouts.

Casey looks at her, making no move to stand up. Her eyes are pleading, and Olivia realizes that maybe this isn't just all about her. "Liv, I need this too. If I don't do this, I'll never know if you want me because I'm me, or because you feel obligated."

Olivia's anger fades away, and she sits back down. "I'd never stay with you out of obligation," she says softly.

Casey stands this time. "Not knowingly," she says. "But I know you." She takes her cup to the sink, rinses it and puts it in the dishwasher. "If you need me, I'll be there," she says softly, and then she leaves the kitchen. A second later, Olivia hears the front door click shut.

Her coffee is cold, but she drinks it anyway. Maybe it will wake her up from this completely disconcerting dream, she thinks.

Olivia lets Elliot drive, since she's still reeling a little from Casey's announcement. She thinks that it confirms that her thoughts are totally whacked that the only thing she can think about is whether she's going to be able to sleep at night now.

She tells Elliot, and he looks over at her with that annoying look that says he knows something she doesn't. "I don't know Liv, are you going to be able to?" he asks mildly.

She shrugs. "But it doesn't matter!" she says. "I'm not with Casey because she's some kind of sleep aid!"

"I know that. I just think the answer to that question might be more important than you're giving it credit for."

Olivia sighs. "Why?"

"Because, Liv, you sleep best when you're comfortable and feel safe, right? So who you sleep with is a good indicator of how you feel about that person." He grimaces. "Sleeping in the same bed with Kathy was a chore for the last couple years."

Olivia lets the silence take over, and mentally chews on the idea Elliot's given her until they pull up in front of the university's rape prevention and crisis center.

The secretary at the front gives them the usual runaround- no, she can't tell you who Tanya Martin's counselor was, or if she was ever even here. No, she doesn't care that Tanya is dead, she needs to stick to the rules, which are rather prominently displayed on the wall, and the first one is that you tell no one anything about the patients. "No One," she says determinedly.

As Elliot is opening his mouth to argue their case again, an older woman comes out of the back offices and notices them. "Can I help you?" she asks. "If you're parents of a student, I have to inform you that I cannot discuss them with anyone."

Olivia shakes her head and reaches to pull out her ID. "NYPD. I'm Detective Benson, and this is my partner Detective Stabler. We're here about Tanya Martin."

The woman shakes her head a little. "I'm sorry, I still can't disclose information about a patient."

"She's dead," Elliot says bluntly. "And we think that previous abuse may have been a factor. We really need to talk to her counselor."

A hand raised to her mouth in shock, the woman takes a couple of steps back until she is leaning on the counter. "Oh my goodness," she says.

Recovering a little, she reaches out a hand and distractedly shakes their hands. "I'm Maria Slovena," she says. "Tanya was my patient. I had no idea she was dead." She cocks her head towards the hallway. "Why don't we discuss this in my office."

Following her, the detectives allow themselves to be led into a smallish room with a single window covered by light curtains. There is a couch and two chairs, a small desk and a neat collection of pens and pencils next to a clean pad of paper. Above the desk is a locked cabinet. The counselor motions them inside and sits down in one of the chairs- Olivia and Elliot chose opposite ends of the couch.

"Ms. Slovena, do you remember when Tanya started coming here?" Elliot asks.

"Well, it was right after she came to school here. She said that she didn't want to talk to anyone, but one of her professors, Ms. Crandell, had convinced her to. She really wanted to do well here, but she was having trouble sleeping because of nightmares, and it was keeping her from getting the grades she would have wanted."

"Was Tanya raped once, or was the abuse long-term?" Olivia asks.

The woman shakes her head. "I don't know. She never talked about the attack or abuse. She only wanted advice about dealing with the aftermath. I tried to get her to open up, told her I couldn't help her as much without all the information, but she wouldn't talk."

"So you have no idea who might have attacked or abused her?"

"I didn't say that." Ms. Slovena turns to her desk, and pulls a key ring from her pocket. She selects a key from the ring and opens the cabinet over the desk. Rifling through binders, she finds the one she is looking for and pulls it out. "I take notes if my patients allow it," she says. "Tanya said she didn't mind." Flipping through the pages of notebook paper inside the binder, she finds what she is looking for and sits back down. "Here. Tanya was here one day, and we came upon the subject of her high school. She got very quiet and nervous. She said she'd been to two of them, and that the first one was 'fine.' She wouldn't say anything about the second."

Elliot nods and Olivia makes a note in her notebook. "You don't know anything else about Tanya's problems?" she asks.

The older woman gives a sad smile. "Oh, lots. But nothing about a rape or other sexual abuse."

"Tanya had a lot of other problems?" Elliot queries.

"She was very shy. I think from before the attack or abuse. She had a hard time making friends, and she was lonely. Too bad, she was bright and fun to be around when she was happy."

Olivia folds her notebook shut and stuffs it back into her breast pocket. "Thank you," she says. "And I'm sorry about Tanya."

Ms. Slovena wipes a tear from her cheek and shakes her head. "It's awful," she says. "I hope you catch whoever did it."

"We'll try our best," Elliot vows, and they leave.

"So, to the high school?" Olivia asks as she and Elliot head back to the car.

He nods and fishes his cell phone from his pocket. "I'll call Munch and see if he can dig up the location of her second high school."

"Maybe we should go to the first one, too, and see why she left," Olivia suggests.

Elliot nods, then starts to speak into the phone. "Hey. Yeah, I need the locations of Tanya Martin's high schools. Yeah, the rape counselor says she went to two." There's silence for a moment. Then, "Really? Yeah, the counselor seemed pretty sure. Okay. Thanks."

He hangs up the phone and climbs into the passenger seat of the car where Olivia is already waiting with the engine on. "Munch says there's only one high school on record for her."

"Well, let's get there then," Olivia says, and puts the car in gear before pulling out of the parking lot and following the signs to the exit from university grounds. "Which way?"


Chapter Five

Elliot is quiet as they drive to the high school, and Olivia knows that he's thinking about his own daughters. As a hazard of working the job they do, he is intimately familiar with the fact that anyone, anywhere, can be a sexual predator, but it's still been hard on him when people in especially trusted positions, such as teachers, are the abusers.

"How're the kids?" Olivia asks, knowing full well that this is the best way to get him thinking more positively. But today, the smile that creases his face is less than full.

"Fine. I think Liz has grown four inches in the past six months. She's taller than Dickie now." His smiles reaches his eyes this time. "He's taking it pretty well, so far."

"Liz is what, eleven?" Olivia asks.

Elliot nods. "She's a little young, but the pediatrician assured us that she was well within the normal range for beginning puberty."

"It's been a while, hasn't it?" Olivia muses.

"Since when?"

"Since we started working together. Kathleen was eleven."

Elliot reaches across the car with his free hand and puts it on her arm. "Yeah. It's been some good times, Liv."

"Even through all the horror?"

"Even through all the horror." After a moment, he reclaims his hand, and there is silence as he parks the car and waits for her to exit it.

The principal is a short, slightly overweight, balding man in an off-the-rack suit and a gastly-orange tie. "We of course want to be of help in any way possible," he says, leading the detectives down the empty halls, "but I must say, I don't really understand how I can help. Tanya graduated last year. We haven't seen her since."

"We spoke to the rape crisis center at the college she was attending," Elliot says, holding open a door for both the principal and Olivia. "They think that she was abused by someone at one of her high schools."

"Certainly not here! We have the highest reputation, and every teacher is thoroughly screened!"

Olivia tries to soothe ruffled feathers and keep the investigation moving by changing the subject. "The counselor we spoke with said that Tanya spoke of being in two high schools. Her record only shows this one, though. Can you tell us anything about that?"

Looking suspiciously from one detective to the other, the principal nods slowly. "Tanya was a bright girl. I pulled her file when you called, and it seems that she spent her junior and senior years in our college-immersion program. She would have shown as registered here all four years, but it is a completely separate program, with its own campus and teachers and staff." The portly little man hands the file to Elliot, who glances at it and then hands it over to Olivia.

"And what is involved in this college-immersion program?" Elliot asks.

The principal straightens a little, looking like he would if talking to the parents of a prospective student, Olivia is sure. "It's a rigorous program designed for the most dedicated students to get a head start in college. They receive simultaneous college and high school credits, and as you know, the selection of classes in college is much wider than even a top-notch high school like ours can give."

"How do you manage to provide accredited college classes?" Olivia asks.

"We're associated with the local community college," the principal replies. "The program has a small part of the campus allotted to itself, where the students take basic classes such as English and living skills. The rest of their classes would be regular college classes."

"Are you the principal there, too?"

He nods. "I am, officially, in charge. But there's a director of the program who really runs it. His name is Alan Fisher, and you can find him on campus from about six-thirty in the morning until around seven at night."

"Long hours," Elliot remarks. Their own jobs often require three or four day stretches of exhaustion, but are typically followed by a few days to a couple of weeks where things are relatively slow.

The principal shrugs. "He's paid to be there from seven to four. The extra hours are his own idea, I can assure you."

"We're going to need to talk to the teachers and staff at this program," Elliot says.

"Certainly." The principal doesn't appear thrilled, but much more resigned than a moment ago. "But you have to realize that these students are, for the most part, regular college students. They are affiliated with various organizations and take various classes from every part of the campus."

"Thank you," Olivia says as Elliot rises and shakes the principal's hand. "We'll be in touch if we need anything."

Elliot waits until they are around the first corner before he sighs. "Community college," he says despondently. "Getting to anyone who knows anything at a community college is going to take days."

Olivia offers him her own response in the form of an equally put-upon sigh.

The college itself is easy enough to find, but the program hides itself away in one of the far corners of the campus. After they finally manage to locate the little cluster of buildings encompassing the program, it takes nearly an hour to locate Alan Fisher, who is apparently a hands-on type of director and moves around from building to building, trying to get things done.

"Mister Fisher!" Olivia is the first to spot him, and she holds out her badge as she lengthens her stride to reach the tall man with thick graying hair, holding a stack of loose papers in one hand and talking seriously with another man.

Fisher looks around, but stands his ground. Olivia's body, tensed in preparation for a fleeing suspect, relaxes slightly, but she stays on her guard. "Can I help you?"

"Police," Elliot says, flashing his own badge. "We need to discuss a former student."

"Oh, is this about Tanya Martin? The principal called, told me you'd be by." Fisher waves off his conversation partner and gestures the detectives towards a room. He unlocks the door with a key on a lanyard around his neck, and holds the door open as they enter. Inside is a table with six or seven chairs around it, and Fisher flips on the light and takes a seat at the head of the table. "Please, have a seat. What can I tell you?"

They each sit down, one on each side of the director. "What can you tell us about Tanya?" Elliot asks.

Fisher shrugs. "Good student, mature enough for the program, which is sometimes a problem, went off to college this year."

"Did she change significantly at any point in her time here?" Elliot asks, leaning forward far enough to rest his forearms on the table.

Fisher sighs and shakes his head. "I'm not really all that involved with my students here," he says. "There's so much administrative work to be done, and they won't hire me more assistants, so I'm usually busy with the paperwork end of things."

"The principal mentioned that you spent a lot of time working, more than you're being paid for," Olivia offers mildly.

Smiling, Fisher doesn't seem to take offense. "It's a lot of work, this job, and I could really use another of me. But I love my job."

Elliot nods. "You said you don't have much contact with the students. Can you tell us who does?"

Fisher frowns. "You might try Anna Treborn. She's the guidance counselor. Kids meet with her twice a year, minimum."

Olivia nods and rises from the table. "Thank you, Mr. Fisher."

Fisher reaches out to shake first her hand and then Elliot's. "I hope you find what you're looking for," he says. "Tanya seemed like a good kid."

Fisher heads off at a swift pace towards wherever his skills are next needed, and Elliot and Olivia trace a more leisurely path towards the administrative office. "Think he was telling the truth?" Elliot wonders.

Olivia shrugs. "He didn't seem like he knew anything about her," she says. "I think he's probably the overworked director and nothing else. But maybe the counselor can tell us more."

The counselor isn't much help. She greets them politely, and tells them that yes, Tanya started having problems about midway through her junior year, and got progressively shyer and more anxious after that, but refused to discuss it. Her parents assumed that it was normal teenage anxieties, and the counselor hadn't been sure enough that it wasn't to press the issue. Elliot asks for a printout of her schedule junior year, but when they get it, only one teacher is still teaching there, and he's on vacation.

"Well, that was a bust."

Elliot loops an arm around her shoulder. "But it's now lunch time," he says cheerily. "I'll buy."

"Food. That sounds good." Olivia ducks out from under his arm and glares up at him in mock anger. "But no hotdogs, okay?"

He laughs. "No hotdogs. Maybe I can manage to actually spring for hamburgers today."

"Wow, you do have expensive taste today, Stabler," Olivia teases, and ducks a half-hearted swing at her head.

A hamburger and large plate of fries each now in their stomachs, the detectives head back to the squad to report in and try to figure out their next move. A computer search shows that they have four teachers to track down- Tanya's calculus professor, her English and general ed high school teacher, her chemistry professor and her American History professor from her junior year. The American History professor is working at a local four-year college now, and the calculus professor has retired. The English/general ed teacher is the one on vacation, and the chemistry professor seems to have dropped off the face of the earth.

"This chemistry professor, there's nothing on him?" Olivia asks, and Fin shakes his head.

"Nothing. The guy quit at the end of the spring semester that year, and there's been no activity on his social security since."

Cragen nods. "Okay, then. Munch, Fin, keep looking. I want to know where that professor is, and I want to know yesterday. Right now, he's our best lead and our only suspect. Elliot, Olivia, track down the calculus professor and the American History teacher."

"What about the hairbrush?" Fin asks. "Is there anything left to follow up on at the petting zoo?"

Olivia shrugs. "Maybe. But she could have just put it in her backpack by accident, or something. I think for now the petting zoo leads are dead."

He nods, and Elliot, standing in the doorway, cocks his head impatiently. "C'mon, Liv, let's go," he says, clearly anxious to be on the move again.

Olivia trots out the door after her partner, wondering why he's so damn eager to get back to work. It's not like they're just about to break the case- in fact, it's more likely the case is just about to break them.

Hours and hours and no leads later, the detectives roll up to the front door of the squad room, tired and frustrated. "Want a ride home?" Elliot asks, and Olivia sighs.

"No thanks. I'll check out a car, or take a cab or something."

"You sure?"

"Yeah, it'll be fine. Go home."

"Okay, if you're sure. See you in the morning." Elliot yawns widely, and Olivia smiles tiredly.

"Don't fall asleep while you're driving, El."

In response, he raises a cup of undoubtedly ice-cold coffee and takes a few swigs. Grimacing, he swallows, puts down the cup, and shifts the car into gear. "Goodnight, Liv."

Olivia closes her door, waves to Elliot as he pulls away, and wanders tiredly into the station house. She takes the stairs two at a time, trying to wake up, but it doesn't help much. Cragen's light is on, but no one else is in, something she's not surprised at, considering the hour. She heads to her desk to get some paperwork she can work on at home, and the door of Cragen's office opens. "Olivia?"

"Hey, Captain," she says. "Going home?"

He shakes his head. "You?"

She sighs. "Yeah. There's nothing left to do tonight. We can't find anything on that chemistry professor, and the other teachers don't seem to know anything. The petting zoo is dead of leads, and CSU and the ME's given us all they can find."

Cragen steps aside and Olivia glances up to see who's there. "Alex!" She says, smiling. "I thought you were going to spend some time with your mom."

Alex grimaces. "I find that there's only so much I can take of 'I'm so glad you're back,'" she says. "You ready to get out of here?"

Olivia nods, decides that she can leave the paperwork for later, and drops it back on her desk. "Want to do something for a bit?"

"Sure." Alex grabs a coat from the coat rack inside Cragen's door. "Goodnight, Don."

"Goodnight, Alex," he says, giving her a fond smile. Olivia flashes him a grin and takes Alex's arm before heading out of the station.

"Goodnight, Captain!"

"Have a good one, Detective."


Chapter Six

The atmosphere of the little bar is low-key and calm, and Olivia remembers many a quiet night spent here with Alex, relaxing after a long day at work. Of course, it was usually late, since both of them worked demanding jobs that they often put in overtime at, but still- they were lovely memories.

The other women in the bar speak to the bar's patronage- Olivia had never been one to frequent lesbian bars, but Alex liked the calm and quiet of this one, and she'd brought Olivia here as soon as the detective had come out to her, before they'd even begun dating. It was here that Olivia had gotten tipsy enough to kiss Alex for the first time, and here that Alex's face had taken on that beautiful, ruddy glow in the low lights that had made Olivia want to worship her.

Now, they sit in comfortable silence, listening to the music which is kept at moderate levels, and watching women dance with each other without fear of prejudice or bigotry. Olivia never really relaxes her guard- so many years as a lesbian and a cop have assured that- but here is the closest she comes besides home. Alex is on Olivia's left, holding her left hand, and they are sitting too close for friends.

A new song starts to play, and Alex squeezes Olivia's hand. She looks over and smiles. Alex smiles back. "Ah. So you do remember this song."

"How could I forget?" Olivia asks softly. "It was our song."

Alex laughs lightly. "A little cheesy."

"A lot cheesy. But that was okay. We didn't get many chances for it, with our jobs."

"You're talking about us in the past tense," Alex says, he voice soft and unaccusatory. "Does that mean we're over?"

Olivia tilts her head away a little, and forces Alex's attention back to the song. "Listen," she says.

The speakers spill old rock that Alex had embarrassedly confessed to loving after a few visits here, and Olivia remembers why this became "their" song. Close your eyes and I'll kiss you…

It had been the first time they'd been dancing here, the first time since Olivia had kissed Alex on the doorstep to her apartment, that she'd been brave enough to show affection outside their homes. Granted, it was a lesbian bar, and hardly the type of place where they were likely to be thrown out for kissing, but it still representing a major step for Olivia, and she knew Alex understood that when she'd leaned in and echoed the words into Alex's ear, then kissed her as promised.

Tomorrow I'll miss you…

Alex looks over sadly, and Olivia meets her gaze. "Guess it was a little more prophetic than we thought," the blonde says.

"Maybe," Olivia allows.

Remember I'll always be true…

"Will we?" Alex asks in a soft voice, and for the first time, Olivia sees real anxiety in those bright blue eyes. "Do I get another chance?"

Olivia slides a little closer, her chest tight because Alex is hurting. "You're still on your first chance, sweetheart. You never did anything wrong."

"I went away."

"You didn't have much of a choice."

Even while I'm away, I'll write home every day…

"I didn't write," Alex says, smiling a little as she alludes to the song still playing softly on the speakers.

And send all my loving to you.

"I felt your loving," Olivia says softly.

"Can you kiss me?"

Olivia nods, and leans over. She presses her lips gently against Alex's, her hand holding firmly onto the slight wrist in her grasp. Alex turns towards her and raises her free hand to tangle in Olivia's hair, and they share a long but slow kiss, relearning and exploring each other's mouths after far too long apart.

Alex pulls back first, and as she licks her lips, she finds Olivia's gaze. Olivia hasn't moved, and their faces are no more than six inches apart. "Casey?" Alex asks a little breathlessly.

Olivia frowns. "I don't want to hurt her," she says. "But if we can have… what we had back, I have to give it a try. I love you, Alex."

The smile that spreads across Alex's face hasn't been so genuine since before she had to leave for the first time. It isn't huge or silly, but just heartfelt and beautiful, and Olivia leans in to kiss her again. "Come home with me?" she asks softly, and Alex nods.

"Of course."

Alex is beautiful and soft, her curves pressing against Olivia in a way that is utterly familiar and at the same time, completely foreign. They have made it as far as Olivia's front hallway before they are running their hands over each other, relearning bodies as they earlier relearned lips.

Olivia shudders gently as Alex's fingers tease the tips of the hairs resting on the nape of her neck. "I like your hair this way," she says softly. "It was just starting to grow out when I had to leave."

Olivia tilts her head to allow Alex access to her neck. Lips caress the tender skin, and she shudders again. "A little ready for this?" Alex teases gently.

"Oh god," Olivia responds. "Alex, I never thought this day would come," she says, her voice shaking a little, and Alex's kisses go slower and filled more with affection than passion at the trembling sound. She wraps her arms around Alex, and finds them less filled than she has gotten used to. Casey is hardly overweight, as she keeps implying, but her softball-playing muscle has left her more substantial than Alex's slender body will ever be.

The emotions that flood her at the realization are complex and contradictory. Olivia is so, so glad that Alex is back, and the feel of that thin body in her arms makes her want to cry from joy. But it also brings Casey to mind, and she really never wanted to hurt her.

Alex seems to sense this inner turmoil, and pulls back a little. "Are you ready for this?" she asks. "I know I've only just gotten back… maybe you need more time."

Olivia cups Alex's face in her hands, and leans in to kiss her slowly. When she pulls away, she only moves a few inches, and keeps her gaze on Alex's. "Do you need more time?" she asks.

"No," Alex breathes, and Olivia nods. Her response is clear as she runs her hands down Alex's sides and then pushes up her shirt and pulls it over head in one smooth movement.

"No more waiting."

Olivia opens her eyes slowly, waking with first a wonderful, soul-deep sense of comfort and lassitude, and then sudden panic. Alex. It feels like Alex in her arms. But Alex is gone…? No, Alex is back. Alex is back.

Her arms close tightly over Alex's bare frame, and the blonde mumbles a little before burrowing deeper beneath the covers and into Olivia. Olivia has never been one to make silly romantic declarations, but she swears her heart hurts with the joy that fills her at having her lover back in her arms. "Alex," she murmurs hoarsely, her first words of the day. She ducks her head and kisses Alex's forehead. "Oh god, I missed you."

Alex mumbles something but is clearly still ninety-nine percent asleep, and Olivia grins goofily as she remembers Alex's morning personality. Sunshine and lightness she is not, not before several cups of coffee about the same color and consistency as tar.

Actually, sunshine and light isn't really a huge part of Alex's personality. Olivia can recall off the top of her head more weekends than not when she had to stage a whole plot or hatch some kind of blackmail plan to get Alex to take some time off and do something fun. Her driven personality made her perfect for the SVU cases, but more than a little challenging to deal with in a relationship.

Still.. Olivia would never have traded what she had with Alex for anything else.

But Alex was taken from her. Forcibly without warning and without a choice. Olivia mourned, and then she moved on. And she really does love Casey. She only wishes she could figure out how the hell she means that.

The alarm buzzes beside her head and startles her from her reverie. Alex reaches up for the pillow, slams it over her head and groans. Olivia laughs. "Morning, Sleeping Beauty," she says.

Slowly, the pillow slips aside. "Liv?" Alex says in a sleepy voice. "'Sat really you?"

"Promise," Olivia says tenderly, and pulls the pillow the rest of the way aside. "Kind of like a dream, isn't it?"

Alex's bleary blue eyes are peering up at her from where her blond head is rested on Olivia's collarbone, and she has the most amazing expression on her face… It's like her guard is completely down, and Olivia can see what she means to this woman reflected completely and clearly in those suddenly-warm pools of blue.

Speechless, Olivia waits for Alex to speak, willing to bask in that look all day. It only goes on for a moment longer, though, before Alex groans and tears her eyes away. "You have to get up," she says.

"I have to," Olivia says. "What about you?"

Alex smirks happily. "I am gainfully unemployed, and thus do not have to slump myself out of bed until sometime way past-" she looks at the clock "six-forty in the morning."

"And yet you seem very awake this morning," Olivia remarks.

Alex's brow furrows. "I think that's because my brain isn't screaming at me with anger about the prospect of having to stay awake for the next sixteen hours."

"Very awake," Olivia repeats.

Just continuing to smile, Alex pushes herself up on one elbow and leans forward far enough to touch her lips to Olivia's. "Mmm," she says, her eyes closed, and then pulls away only a few inches. "Well, it could be the giddy excitement," she decides.

Olivia knows exactly what she means- the fact that this is reality and not just another dream has hit her hard with happy-juice too, and they are both high on life at the moment. Their very own personal miracle.

Alex kisses her again, and then rolls off of her to the left, taking most of the blankets with her. "You have to go to work," she says. Raising a hand imperiously, she points in the direction of the bathroom. "Shower."

Olivia laughs lightly. Alex in fun-mode is rare, but well worth waiting for. "Yes, mistress." She rolls off the bed, stretching gracefully, and Alex closes her mouth on what would have been her rebuttal as she soaks in the naked lines of her lover's body.

When Olivia leaves the shower and heads back into her bedroom for clothes, still rubbing her hair with a towel, she finds that Alex has made good on her promise and fallen asleep again. She stands for a moment, just observing her lover's face in sleep, relaxed and without any of the strong emotions that typically define Alex presiding over it.

When she realizes she has been just standing there and staring for almost five minutes, though, she shakes herself and walks briskly towards the bureau for clothes. On the way out of the room, she pokes Alex playfully in the shoulder and leaps backwards out of reach as the blonde takes a lazy open-handed swipe in her direction with her eyes still closed. "Hey, sleepyhead," she says, grinning. "Your aim sucks."

Alex opens her eyes reluctantly. "So would yours with your eyes closed," she grouches. "Leaving?"

Olivia shakes her head. "Just wondering if you've broken that awful habit of not eating breakfast, yet."

A smile crosses her face, and she shakes her head as best as she can with it still pressed into the pillows. "Sorry. I still live on coffee before noon."

"Well, you want some now?"

Heaving herself upright with a clear effort, Alex shakes her head. "I'm going back to bed after you leave. Coffee would keep me up."

Olivia lays a hand on her lover's shoulder. "Go back to sleep now. I'm just gonna eat and then leave."

Grabbing her robe, Alex stands and shrugs into it. "I'll come sit with you," she says, and Olivia knows better than to argue. Besides, it's not like she really wants to be away from Alex. If the world would just stop for her, Olivia would gladly spend the next week or more without letting Alex out of her sights.

Sadly, the criminal elements of the city have either not gotten the memo or have completely ignored it, and she finds herself required by her own ethics to go in to work, even though she knows none of her co-workers would begrudge her taking a personal day.

Alex settles herself on the sofa as Olivia starts to putter around the kitchen, and flips through some of the television's channels, but pronounces them devoid of anything worth watching after thirty seconds. As Olivia appears with a mug in one hand and a piece of toast in the other, Alex scoots forward on the couch and Olivia slips in behind her, reveling in the comfort of this well-known lounging position.

The coffee mug on the table, Olivia takes another three quick bites and finishes her toast. Wrapping her arms around Alex, she hugs the slight form to her, and rests her chin softly on Alex's shoulder. Alex leans back into her and sighs. "God, I've missed this," she says.

"Me too."

There is silence for a few long moments, and then Olivia realizes that Alex has started to doze on her. "Alex…" she says gently, rubbing a hand down her upper arm, "time to go back to bed."

Alex tilts her head back to look Olivia sleepily in the eye, and kisses her quickly. "Kay." She rouses herself slowly from the couch and stumbles down the hall towards Olivia's bedroom. "Goodnight, Liv."

Olivia grins. "Good morning, Alex. See you later."

There is a little wave in response as Alex rounds the corner to the bedroom, and a light thump as she lands exactly where she intended to, if a little harder than she planned to.

Olivia is almost humming as she leaves the apartment and locks the door behind herself, heading out to work.


Chapter Seven

Olivia's happy mood is quashed almost as soon as she walks in the door of the station. Elliot looks like he hasn't slept in years, Munch and Fin are carefully staying far away from Cragen's office, and everyone looks on edge. There a more than a few half-hearted glares turned her direction when she walks in, too.

Puzzled, Olivia walks over to her partner, hoping he can tell her what's going on. "El?" She asks.

He holds up a hand. "Please. Say no more. You want to know what the hell's going on around here." It's a statement, not a question, but she nods in reply anyway. "Wellll…" he says, drawing it out, and then a door slams open and his eyes wander off towards the sound, rather pointedly- "that's what's going on."

'That' is Casey Novak a way Olivia has never seen her- and Olivia's seen her a lot of ways. Unlike Alex, who always seemed to need to be the ice princess in public, Casey is the stereotypical hot-headed redhead, and Olivia's seen her fuming, crying, cursing, and almost everything in between. But now… well, there's something in her stance that makes Munch and Fin busy themselves immediately with paperwork as soon as she comes out of Cragen's office, and Elliot look the other way.

Casey doesn't stop to say anything to anyone, and Olivia is a little surprised at the twinge she feels when there is no reaction from the woman who was, yesterday morning, her lover. She's so glad to have Alex back, but she does feel something powerful for Casey… maybe last night, as good as it had been, had been more about reassurance and memories than about rekindling something.

That thought makes her head swirl and her heart pound as she tries desperately to figure out both where and came from and what it means that she's even thinking that.

Luckily, she doesn't have much time to ponder these thoughts, because Elliot tugs on the elbow of her shirt and nods his head towards the door. "Ready to get started?" he asks, and she nods quickly. Anything to get her mind off the roiling emotions and twisting thoughts that are consuming her right now. He tosses her the keys, and she slides gladly behind the wheel.

"You zoned through the Captain's instructions," Elliot says, sounding a little amused. Olivia smiles lightly, glad that he's not mad, even if his amusement is at her expense.

"My head was busy," she says.

"Blonde or redhead?"

Olivia groans. "Both. Am I really that predictable?"

"How predictable?"

"That whenever I'm distracted, it always has something to do with one or both of them."

Elliot nods, a little too quickly. "Yes."

She groans and reaches over to slap him lightly. "Thanks."

He ducks. "Hey! You asked! Besides, it's only lately."

"I know I did. And I have been preoccupied recently."

Olivia's phone rings then, and she flips it open without looking down and answers. "Benson."

The voice on the other end is familiar enough that she recognizes it, but doesn't belong to someone who calls her very often. "Olivia?"

"Mrs. Cabot, hello. Can I do something for you?"

"Do you know where Alex is, by any chance? She's not answering her phones."

Olivia glances at Elliot, knows she's going to get the third degree after she gets off the phone, and decides bite the bullet and just answer anyway. "She's at my place. But she's probably sleeping, if she's still got her cell turned off. Is something wrong?"

The woman sounds perplexed. "No. Should something be?"

"No, of course not. It's just that it's early, yet."

There's a rustle, and Olivia chances a glance over at her partner while Mrs. Cabot is busy. He's smirking, trying hard to hold back a smile, and Olivia groans to herself. In for it. She's going to be in for it.

Mrs. Cabot comes back on the line. "Oh, dear. I just checked the clock- I didn't realize it was so early!"

"Alex was sleeping on her feet when I left," Olivia replies. "She probably won't be up for a while, yet."

"Alright. Thank you, dear. I'll call her later."

"No problem. Goodbye, Mrs. Cabot."

"Goodbye, Olivia." The phone clicks in her ear and Olivia flips it shut expertly before tucking it back onto her belt with her free hand. "Don't say it," she says without even looking over.

"Don't say what?" Elliot's tone is the picture of innocence.

"Whatever it is you want to say with that big goofy grin on your face."

"What big, goofy grin?"

Olivia isn't fooled. "The one that's trying to break out right now."

There's silence for a moment, and then Elliot can't resist. "She's at your place?"

Olivia groans aloud this time. "Yes."

"You had a good night, then?"

She's about to give him some sarcastic reply, when she hears the real concern in Elliot's voice, and decides to give him better than that. "Yeah, I did."

"I'm glad." There's a pause. "But Casey sure was hell on wheels this morning."

Olivia flinches lightly. "Yeah. I figured that, from the way you guys were all cowering away from her."

"Bad break?"

One day is enough perspective for Olivia to consider talking about the subject, but not enough to actually come anywhere close to understanding it. "She said she was leaving me. So I could decide who I wanted without prior attachments."


Olivia pulls the car up to a red light and stops. She glances over at Elliot. "'Oh'? That's all you have to say?"

He meets her eyes with his piercing blue ones, a shade or two darker and warmer than Alex's. "It's a tough call, Liv. I'm glad I've never been there."

She sighs. "I wish I wasn't."

"But you're glad Alex is back?"

"Of course!" Her voice softens. "So glad."

Elliot doesn't respond, and Olivia lets the silence carry them all the way to the little house that Tanya's former calculus professor lives in. Professionalism slips back over their faces, and Olivia is glad to let her mind go silent and focus solely on the upcoming interview.

Professor Bates is a stooped, little old man with a cane. There's a wheelchair next to the door, motorized and apparently waiting for him if he wants to go out. He smiles up at them from where is head is approximately even with Olivia's shoulders, and motions them inside.

"Would you like some tea? Coffee?" he asks politely, moving slowly towards the living room.

"Oh, no thank you," Olivia replies. "We're here to ask you some questions about Tanya Martin? She was a high school student in the college-immersion program, and she was in your calculus class two years ago."

The professor sits himself slowly down in a thickly padded armchair, dropping the last few inches as his joints give out. "I don't think I remember her," he says slowly. "Calculus isn't a very hands-on subject, detective. I didn't have much cause to interact with my students."

Reaching into her bag, Olivia pulls out a photo- Tanya's senior yearbook picture. "This is Tanya, Professor Bates. Does this help you remember her at all?"

The little old man pulls a pair of glasses from his breast pocket and steadies them on his nose with shaking hands. Then he takes the photo from Olivia, and peers at it intently. "Oh! Yes, I remember her. She sat in the back of class, usually on time, never a problem."

"Did you notice any changes in her behavior about halfway through the year?" Olivia asks.

"What kind of changes?"

"Difference in her body language, sudden trouble with the material, absences, anything unusual, really," Elliot supplies.

The professor shakes his head slowly. "No… not really. She might have missed a few more days than usual, but I don't keep very good track of attendance. And she always sat in the back and was quiet, so I didn't really notice her much at all." He shakes his head again and takes off his glasses. "I'm sorry I can't be more help."

Elliot rises and Olivia follows him, holding out an arm for the elderly man to steady himself on as he gets up. "Thank you," he says, and she nods.

"Call us if you think of anything, okay?" She says, and hands him her business card. He takes it with claw-like fingers and puts it into his breast pocket, behind the glasses.


Olivia thanks him once more, and then follows Elliot down the short ramp to the sidewalk. "Well, that was a waste of time," he says.

She nods. "Where to next?"

Elliot pulls his phone off his belt and slides into the passenger seat. "I'll call Munch and Fin, see if they've dug anything up on the chemistry professor. If not, I guess we go talk to the American history teacher."

Munch and Fin report that they have tracked the missing chemistry professor as far as Idaho ("Who the hell wants to go to Idaho?" Munch adds) but have lost him there. He's dead, changed his name, or is in some other way managing to slip under the radar. Elliot sighs, hangs up the phone, and gestures to Olivia to start the car.

"American history teacher?" she says, and he nods.

"Still haven't found the chemistry prof," he replies. "He seems to be completely gone."

They're halfway to the college where the American history professor now works when Olivia's phone rings. "Get that for me?" she asks Elliot, and he pulls it off her waistband and flips it open before handing it to her.

"Liv, you okay? Elliot's not answering."

"Yeah, I'm fine. He's right here. Must be something wrong with his phone. What have you got?"

"We've got a sighting on the chemistry professor. Apparently he's come back to the city."

Olivia pulls the car over to wait. "Where?"

Fin rattles off the address, and Olivia nods to herself. "We're there. Ten minutes, tops."

She hangs up the phone, and looks over at her partner. Elliot has his phone out and is pressing buttons, trying to make it respond. "What's wrong?" she asks.

He shrugs. "No idea. It's just dead." He flattens his hand and thumps it gently. There's nothing.

"Oh, well. Least the city pays for these," Olivia says, and Elliot nods. He tucks the dead phone back onto his belt, and watches as Olivia puts the car into gear and drives away. "So they found him?"

"Yeah. They're enroute now."

The chemistry professor may have been found, but he does not want to talk with them. As soon as he confirms that they have no arrest warrant, he slams the door in the faces and refuses to open it again to Olivia's knocks. After a few moments, she turns around and looks at the other three. "So? He got a record?" She asks.

Fin opens a folder and looks down at it for a moment. "One arrest for arson when he was eighteen. Got off by convincing the judge it was a chemistry experiment gone wrong. One arrest for assault, five years ago." His eyebrows raise. "He pleaded it down from rape because there was no forensic evidence. Did a year."

Elliot nods and moves up the walkway to the door again. Olivia instinctively follows him. "Mr. Turner! We really need to talk to you!"

There's silence, and Elliot rings the doorbell once, then twice. Finally the door pops open, and Turner pokes his head out, red-faced. "Will you people just leave me alone!"

Elliot smiles, that unfailingly polite but somewhat shark-toothed smile he always gives suspects he doesn't like. "We really need to speak with you, sir."

"Are you just going to stand here until I let you in?" Neither detective answers, and Turner grumbles loudly, then opens the door the rest of the way. "Fine. Come on in." He turns around and ignores them as they follow him into the small apartment's living room, or what passes for it. "What do you want?"

"To talk about Tanya Martin."

He looks perplexed. "Who's that?"

Olivia pulls the photograph out again. "She was in your chemistry class two years ago. Do you remember her?"

Turner looks at the photograph and then shakes his head. "Nope. Don't remember her."

"You taught her for a year."

"I don't interact with my students much," he says, and Olivia wants to roll her eyes and say 'I believe you,' but with great effort she restrains herself.

Elliot has been looking around casually while Olivia is holding Turner's attention, and now something has caught his eye. He's careful to disguise it, and if Olivia didn't know him better, she'd think it was totally casual when he turned to Turner and asked to use the bathroom.

Turner does roll his eyes, and points. "Knock yourself out."

Elliot's only gone a moment, and Olivia keeps Turner busy asking him if he remembers Tanya acting weirdly, or not turning in assignments, or anything else out of the ordinary, but he insists that he doesn't remember her. When Elliot gets back, he's holding his hand curled around something, and Olivia carefully doesn't look at it for more than a split second.

"Thank you for your help, Mr. Turner," she says. "We'll be in touch."

"It's Doctor Turner," the man grumbles under his breath, getting out of his chair to show them the door, and Olivia smiles politely.

"We'll be in touch, Doctor."

When they've cleared the apartment, Elliot opens his hand and shows it to her and Munch and Fin, who are waiting. Inside is a small evidence bag, inside which are several hairs that look to have come from an animal.

"In a hairbrush?" Olivia asks.

He nods. "Let's call Novak."

Olivia does not volunteer to make the call, and luckily, Munch pulls out his phone without further prompting, and hands it to Elliot. Elliot looks a little like he'd rather be facing a prison sentence than call Casey, but he does it without too much hesitation.

From Elliot's side of the conversation, which is short and decidedly not sweet, Olivia can deduce that not only does Casey think there's nowhere near enough evidence for a search warrant, she also thinks that Elliot should know that by now and shouldn't have bothered to call her. He hangs up looking distinctly befuddled, and shakes his head once before he hands to phone back to Munch.

"I take it she said no?" is Munch's dry response.


Chapter Eight

The next stop is the lab- if they can prove that the hairs are from an animal rare enough to the area, then they might have enough for their search warrant. And they really want that hairbrush- if there's Tanya's blood on it, that's enough for an arrest.

The lab, however, is as backed up as always. Olivia and Elliot turn in their evidence, ask for an approximate time it will be ready and let the snapped-out answers roll off their backs as best as possible. Munch and Fin have headed back to the station to fill in Cragen and get together the paperwork as best as they can. There's really nothing to do but wait, though.

Elliot heads off to fill out the paperwork for a new cell phone, and Olivia decides to go back to the station. She decides to walk to try and clear her head, and takes off down the side streets of her city, habit having her watching her back carefully and constantly.

Of course, her mind instantly wanders to her most current problem, and she can do nothing but think about it. Going in circles, her thought patterns do nothing but frustrate the hell out of her, so she stops at a deli for lunch and tries to read the paper instead of think.

It's pretty much completely unsuccessful.

No one calls her, so she takes her time with lunch and walks back to the station at a more leisurely pace than necessary. She walks past an elementary school on her way, and slows to watch the children at lunch, playing. They look cheerful and good-natured, and Olivia hates that her job has her wondering how many of them are the victims of unreported abuse. Just once, she'd like to see some kids and not wonder if she's failed them somehow.

When Casey first came to SVU, Olivia had been ready to kick her ass back to the curb without a second thought. But then there was that case, and that kid, and Casey crying in her office, and Olivia had felt a sudden empathy for the woman. SVU wasn't for everyone, and even those who stuck it out suffered the inevitable side effects.

She hadn't been ready to make friends with Casey, but that little crying jag in the new ADA's office had gone farther towards making her tolerate Casey's presence than Casey would probably ever realize.

The station is full of bored cops when she arrives, and only Cragen appears to be working on something. Of course, the captain works less in the field because he has many more office-type responsibilities, and the fact is illustrated now by him being the only one with anything to do.

Fin is sitting, legs wide and elbows on his knees, watching Munch twirl a pencil and spin some wild conspiracy theory. Olivia plunks herself down at her desk and fishes into her inbox for something to write up. There's nothing there but the typical 'fill in the blanks' worksheets so typical of cop work, but she sighs and gets down to work filling them in.

Munch has apparently pushed as many of his theories as Fin can stand on him, and the dark detective turns to Olivia for escape. "Hey, Liv. Where's Elliot?"

She doesn't look up as she answers. "Filling out a request for a new cell."

"Damn, that's gonna take all day," he replies.


"The lab say anything?"

She glances up at this and gives him a slight smile. "Something about how they're backed up farther than we can imagine and we should be grateful if they get to it before next Friday."

Fin laughs. "They wouldn't last a day with our jobs."

"And we'd need ten more years of school to do theirs," Olivia points out.

"Yep. That's why we're cops and they're lab rats."

Munch gives a mock-shudder. "Advanced chemistry degrees… so much math and so many formulas…"

"I take it that was never on your list of career choices?" Olivia teases him.

"Hell, no."

"What did you want to do before you decided on being a cop?"

There's silence, and Olivia looks up to find that Munch and Fin are both focused on a spot behind her. She swivels the chair slowly and looks up. "Casey."


There's more silence, and then Munch rises from where he's sitting on the edge of his desk and wanders over. "Can we do something for you, Counselor?"

She glances at him and shakes her head. "I need Olivia's signature on this form," she says, and drops a piece of paper in front of Olivia on the desk.

Olivia glances over it, decides it's lawyer-speak that she doesn't understand and that she trusts Casey anyway, and scrawls her signature on the line at the bottom. When she hands it back to the redhead, their fingers brush and Casey pulls back like something bit her.

Olivia drops her eyes, a little hurt, as the fast clicks of Casey's heels on the hallway floor tell her that the ADA is making as quick an exit as possible without running.

Munch whistles lightly. "What did you do to her?" he asks. "I don't think I've seen her that tight-assed in years."

Olivia glances at her coworker and declines to answer, choosing to simply ignore him. Munch doesn't get the message, though, and rattles on. "You steal her boyfriend or something?"

Olivia sees Fin put a hand on his partner's arm out of the corner of her eye. "C'mon, let's leave poor Liv alone," he says. "Angry ADA's are not to be messed with."

"Yeah, that's for sure. Damn, remember how Cabot used to go so cold it felt like there was frost on your balls?" He mock-shivers at the memory. "That woman sure could make you feel two feet tall."

"Remembering me fondly, are you?" a cheerful voice asks from the door. Munch looks up, then hastily moves himself behind his desk as if the barrier will save him from the wrath of Alex.

"We were just remembering how you used to freeze those slime-ball defense lawyers in their tracks and make them look like little kids in for a spanking," Fin replies. "Come to practice?"

Alex laughs. "Nope. Came in because I am currently unemployed, my mother is driving me crazy, and I have nothing else to do. Put me to work?"

Munch and Fin exchange glances. "Well, there's not really any lawyer-work to be done," Fin says.

"But we always figured you'd make a good detective," Munch continues. "If you'd like to join us in our mind-numbing phone record search, you're welcome to." He grabs a pile of papers from his desk, hands a stack to Fin and another to Alex. "We were just taking a break, trying to make sure we didn't see seven-digit numbers for the rest of our lives."

Olivia kicks out Elliot's chair and pushes it at Munch, who catches it. "Have a seat," he says, and Alex obeys.

"Thanks. What are we looking for?"

"Evidence that Turner called the Martins," Munch explains. "If we're thinking he raped Tanya two years ago and then went to clean up his mess, then maybe they talked before he killed her."

Alex gives a skeptical look to the papers in her hands, and then to the ones in Munch and Fin's. "And these are all phone records?"

"Two whole years' worth," Fin replies, sitting down in his own chair and paging through the papers. "We had to get her parents' records too, since she was living at home at least part of that time."

"So, we're looking for Tanya's number on Turner's records?" Alex asks.

"That, or vice-versa. Or a number that either of them called a lot- other than take-out."

Olivia signs her name on the last of the forms with a flourish, and drops it in her 'completed' box. "Hey, guys, deal me in." She walks up behind Alex and leans down to kiss the top of her head. Alex leans her head back and catches the kiss on her lips.

"Hey, you. Paperwork done?"

"All done," Olivia confirms. Munch and Fin might have known about her former relationship with Alex, but in the past they were careful not to be too obvious inside the station or while on duty. Now, though, Alex doesn't really work here, even if she is volunteering her time, and apparently has decided to stop being discreet.

A glance passes between the partners. Fin returns to his paperwork. Munch, never one to leave anything alone, opens his mouth.

"It's true then?"

Alex responds without raising her head, apparently totally unaffected. Olivia raises her head, her expression wary, but doesn't say anything. "What's true?"

"The rumors. About the two of you."

The blonde raises her head slowly and meets Munch's gaze. "I suppose so."

He nods, his face speaking of his satisfaction. "I thought so."

"We never made a secret of it," Olivia says, thinking how much that was not true of her relationship with Casey. Casey had never wanted anyone to know. She had insisted that Olivia not kiss her or touch her unless they were inside, alone, and she'd refused anything that might look more like a date than a friendly coworkers' outing.

Alex was not nearly so shy. When she'd been here, the only rule they'd agreed on in terms of being discreet was 'nothing while on duty.' Because of that, Olivia knew several people had known the truth, and the rumors had run rampant.

Neither she nor Alex had ever done anything about them. They hadn't made a secret out of their relationship.

"I thought so," Munch repeated, pretty much ignoring Olivia's mild comment.

Fin, apparently having decided that the conversation wasn't going to blow up in his face, raises his head from behind his stack of paper. "Serena Southerlyn's aide told you," he says dryly.

"Don't listen to him," Munch says in a conspiratorial faux-whisper to the women. "I deduced that you were dating solely through my own powers of deduction."

"And Southerlyn's aide."

Munch nods, apparently unabashed. "And Southerlyn's aide."

Alex laughs. "Serena's aide did have a big mouth, didn't he?"

"Spread every piece of gossip he could get his hands on," Munch confirmed. "Best source of information in the DA's office."

"Made a lot of visits to him, did you?" Olivia asks blandly.

"I resent that. I am perfectly capable of finding information without a law student's help."

"But you didn't."

Munch shrugs. "Well, there is that."

Cragen's door swings open, and the boss enters the room. Everyone looks up in expectation, and he doesn't disappoint. "Found anything?" he asks.

"We just started going through the phone records," Olivia replies. She glances at Munch. "You guys finish the sexual assault case?"

Munch nods. "Guy was stupid enough to pull the same shit on an undercover narcotics officer," Fin says. "She hauled him in and he confessed to our case, too."

Olivia shakes her head. "Criminals are not the smartest characters, usually," she says.

"Yeah- defense lawyers are sneaky little bastards, though," Alex says under her breath, and Fin laughs. Olivia stifles a grin. Cragen looks down at her with an odd expression on his face and then shakes his head and gets back to his questions.

"So, anything?"

Munch takes several pieces of paper from the top of his stack and puts them on his desk. "Nothing so far."

"Well, keep looking. The lab's backed up, and we want to get Turner before he bolts." Cragen turns and disappears into his office again. Olivia watches him go, then returns to her papers. Seven-digit figures are starting to dance before her eyes, and she suddenly understands Munch and Fin's need for a break.

She's only been at it for a few minutes, though, so she grits her teeth once and gets back to it.

Alex is the one who finally throws three pieces of paper triumphantly down on the desk beside her. "Found it!" she says.

Olivia, Munch and Fin lower their own stacks of paper. "Found what?" Olivia queries.

"Turner. Calling Tanya, day in and day out for about-" she glances down at the papers "two weeks in January, the year she was raped."

"Why didn't she change classes?" Munch wonders aloud.

Olivia shrugs. "January's the end of the semester some places. Maybe she just wanted to finish it out."

"With her rapist?" Fin looks highly skeptical.

"We've seen stranger," Alex says, handing the papers to Munch and standing up. "Now if you'll excuse me, there's your lead to follow, and I'm going to get away from all these numbers before I go blind."

Munch opens his mouth to retort, undoubtedly something about the stamina of ex-ADA's when it comes to police work, but Olivia's phone rings and he closes it.


"Hey, Liv."

"Checking out your new phone, are you?"

Munch, Fin, and Alex return to their teasing banter as she takes a few steps away, knowing that Elliot is unlikely to have any information about the case. "Yeah. I think Cragen had to call in a few favors, but the requisition board seemed to see eye to eye with us about the need for detectives to have cells."

"Wow. Must be a first," Olivia responds.

"I know. Anyway, I'm on my way back. Find anything?"

"Munch and Fin are off the assault; he was caught by an undercover on another case. Alex is here. Turner called Tanya over and over right after her change in behavior two years back." Olivia hears a car turn over in the background. "Stabler, you're not thinking about driving while talking, are you?"

"I know the stats as well as you do," Elliot says. "Be back soon."

"See you then." She hangs up the phone and tucks it back into her pocket, wandering back over to Munch, Fin and Alex. "I'm going to go check on the lab," she says. "Alex, you want to come with me?"

Alex looks a little puzzled as to why she's being asked to go on a lab run, but nods, not about to waste time with Olivia. "Sure." She stands up from her chair and pushes it back behind Elliot's desk.

"Munch, Fin, someone needs to call Casey." Olivia knows she's being a little cowardly, but she really doesn't want to face another Alex-Casey standoff. Just being around Casey, without Alex, is bad enough these days. Day. God, has it really only been a day and a half since Casey walked out?

Munch already has the phone out of its cradle and is dialing. "On it," he says to Olivia as she grabs her coat. "Hey, Novak," he says into the phone as Olivia leaves the precinct at a fast clip, in case Casey is nearby. Alex is on her heels easily, grinning a little.

"What?" Olivia asks without slowing.


"Yeah, right. Nothing."

"Nothing important, then." Alex reaches out to press the button for the elevator, which they are taking in deference to her heels. "I don't know why I bothered wearing these things when I'm not working."

Olivia looks at her with an expression of mock-disbelief. "Because you know they make your legs look even better than usual?" she says, and Alex laughs.



Alex wraps her arm around Olivia from behind and pulls the detective back against her chest. Olivia lets herself rest there, luxuriating in the feel of her embrace.