DISCLAIMER: characters belong to Wolfe and Law and Order. Maddy belongs to me. I make nothing, zero, and zilch from this. This is just an amusement and practice making coherent sentences.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Merci beaucoup to betas, foolish heart and comma splice and also for the advice of tall girl at the inception of this story.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Blue Christmas
By raginhoops

Chapter 10

The squad room was bustling as Alex neared the interview room. She'd hoped to have more time for her ego to repair before she actually had to face her. With a deep breath, she entered the room. Elliot turned and acknowledged her presence. Cragan was glued to the mirror. Thankfully, Olivia was in the box with the suspect.

"Tell me why would a young woman want a man twice her age?"

"Look she started it. She flirted with me. Said older men had more experience. She wanted the affair."

"I guess she wanted to be beat up too." She leaned over and stuffed a picture between his hands.

"She made me. She likes it rough."

"Do these bruises look consensual? I doubt that they will to a jury."

"I didn't hit her that hard."

"You put her in the hospital. She needed 14 stitches where the sun doesn't shine."

"Hey, we never did that. I did not do that to her. I can't believe that she would say that I did that to her." He began to cry.

"I think that will be enough. This woman is lying. It is clear that she seduced him. Mr. Lawson is a very successful businessman. She's just looking for a settlement." The lawyer put papers together in his briefcase. "This interview is over."

It was always weird to see a grown man break down. Alex asked Elliot, "What's your take on him?"

Elliot shrugged, "Someone hurt her. He admits they play rough; but it would be hard to imagine asking for that kind of damage."

Cragan answered, "Five hundred thousand reasons could make it easier to imagine. Alex, we're charging him; but Munch and Fin are following up on the extortion angle."

Everyone filed out of the room. Alex hung back waiting for Olivia to exit the interrogation room. When they were safely out of earshot, Alex lightly tapped Olivia on the forearm. "We've got to talk. I'm so sorry about the other night. I was so out of line."

"Yeah, I got your voice mail. I really don't want to have this conversation here." She looked around surreptitiously. "I was just getting used to the idea of being your friend. How could you drop such a bombshell?"

"Liv, can we start over?"

"I don't think that this is a good idea. We work together. Look how uncomfortable this is and nothing has happened." Olivia gazed at a very deflated, beaten Alex. It was a side Olivia had never seen. "Lets talk about this later."

As she turned to leave, Alex grabbed her elbow. "I'll be off about five. Meet me at the Coffee Pot, Union Square?"

When Olivia caught up to Elliot, he looked at her expectantly.


His eyes widened. "You're going to stand there and tell me there's nothing going on between you two?"

"El, it's nothing. We are just good friends; and, we've had a disagreement."

He snickered. "She's making a play for you. I'm a guy. I can tell these things."

"Would you stop it? I don't even know what's going on. How can you?"

"Let's see, I'm a damn good detective; and, I've known you for a thousand years. She's one sexy beast with legs that could seriously hurt you. I've seen you notice them, Liv. You can't deny that."

Olivia fell into her chair. "It's all so crazy. All of a sudden, out of the blue, she says she's interested in me, just when I get asked out by two other women this week."

Elliot leaned closer, "Jesus, Olivia, what kind of party did you go to?"

Olivia shrugged. "It's a fluke. Must be the seasonal rush. Everyone's power dating for the holidays. Gotta bring someone home for the turkey dinner."

"And someone's more interesting than our fearless leader? Jeesh, that must have been some party."

"El, I just can't wrap my mind around it. Dating our ADA seems…unethical. Besides, look at her…"

"Hey, cut the shit. I've seen you decked out. You clean up real nice."

"You know what? I'm not really sure that she's gay. Lesbianism is the new black these days. Been there, done that."

"Oh ho, you can rest assured she appreciates the ladies. We've all noticed Ms. IcyHot checking you out. And in case I'm mistaken, haven't you been dating the male of the species lately?"

"We? Who's we?"

"Munch and Fin and me, you know, we look out for someone that might be, uh, right for you. Alex is pretty solid in our book."

Olivia pushed herself back in her chair and gaped at Elliot with a shocked look. "So my personal life is water cooler fodder with you guys? I thought you were my friends."

Elliot threw up his hands. "We just want you to be happy."

"I think that I'm perfectly capable of handling my own love life. And I don't need the three of you playing yenta for me…" She stopped short as Munch and Fin approached her desk. Aggravation was swept under the game face as she refocused on the current case.

Munch ignored the uneasiness that bathed Olivia and Elliot and launched into his summary. "We just got finished interviewing the business partner, Hiram Smith. We also talked to the staff. It seems that the secretary thinks the business is bust. She's been worried about getting laid off."

Fin added, "His partner says it is ridiculous, their company is flush. He supports the extortion angle. But says that a civil suit would ruin the company."

Munch said, "It just doesn't seem right. I believe the secretary. She also alluded to us that the vic's mother has been more than friendly in the past with Smith. She's close to the books; and, people tend to worry about feeding their families. We'll be asking for a warrant for the company books. If the company is in trouble, there may be an insurance policy protecting against this sort of claim."

Elliot merely grunted and Olivia nodded and mumbled about checking out the insurance angle. They grabbed their coats and abruptly left without another word.

"What, no comments on our brillant theory? No debate? No comments on Fin's loud tie today?" Munch announced to the squad room.

"What's up with those two?" Fin mused. "They always got some smart assed remark." He looked up the hallway at Munch's gesture at the ADA staring over her raised cup at the retiring duo. "She ain't lookin' like she had her raw meat dis mornin'."

"Well, it's official. Nobody in this precinct is getting any."

"Speak for yourself, Skeletor. I been doing just fine. But I just as soon not get my cherry busted today by her majesty."

"So, who'll it be first, the vic's family or the harried partner's, Whore of Babylon?"

Chapter 11

It wasn't hard to pick Alex out of the crowd, even among the 'beautiful' people in the café. No one else had their laptops out working on briefs in what was obviously a pick up joint. Olivia slid across from her in the booth. Alex gathered up the notes and put them away, giving the woman across from her undivided attention.

"I took the liberty of ordering your usual, I hope you don't mind. I thought it would save time."

"That's fine." She acknowledged the waitress as a cold mug of brew was placed in front of her.

"I'll make this short and sweet. I don't have many good friends. I can't afford to lose you. I'll accept any ground rules there are. If you happen to change your mind about the nature of our relationship, you'll let me know."

"Jesus, Alex, how can you be so clinical about this. Emotions are not like a faucet that you can turn on or off."

Alex looked down. "I just want to salvage this, this thing that we have. I feel comfortable with you. I feel like I connect. It's good and I know you feel comfortable with me too." She reached over and placed her hand over Olivia's. The energy was undeniable yet dismissed. Olivia had made up her mind. There would be no crossing that line with her ADA. Olivia quickly pulled her hand away.

It was the God's honest truth. Olivia knew that the growing friendship with Alex Cabot was a bright spot in the darkness. She let herself be unguarded with her. Admittedly, she actually flirted a bit in the weeks preceding the fateful evening at Maddy's.

"Look this is just too drastic, too fast. You know I really like being with you. I'm just wondering why the full court press? Why now, after all this time we've known each other?"

"Because I didn't think it was possible." Alex's voice raised in frustration. "All I saw you ever date were guys. And it's not like I ever heard you say anything about women to me."

Olivia countered. "Yeah, and I never heard you say that Warner's looking especially fetching today either."

Alex stopped and took a measured breath. "I have always been a very focused, goal oriented girl. My month out of work was pretty damn empty. There was nothing but things around me. I guess I simply woke up. I didn't want to ever be so alone again. I wasn't sure you would be interested. Then Maddy met you and it all became possible."

A point just behind Olivia's right eye began to bore into the center of her cortex. It pulled and stretched until it began to burn. Alex's pleading eyes behind the lenses started to blur and a wave of nausea overtook her darting thoughts.

"Alex, I'm not ready for this. I can't deal right now. I was just getting the feeling that I could talk to you about things that really bother me. And a lot of things have been bothering me. Now who do I talk to with you chasing me? I just really need a friend right now, not a lover." She rubbed her temple.

"I can do that. I can be your friend. I can listen and stand back and let you get to know me better. I just want the chance. Don't shut me out."

Olivia took in the sincere plaintive look mixed with a silent command. This must be how the snake charmers do it. They wear one down with shear determination. Subliminally, drawing and bending one to their will. She was giving in to the soft/hard sell.

"Alex, we can't date each other. We can go out together; but we keep it platonic."

"I get to keep my friend?" She said hopefully. "Can I still make you laugh? When I liked Harvey White, in fourth grade I poked him in the ribs every day until he finally gave in."

"What did you get?"

"A kiss behind the cafeteria and the most rad ID bracelet."

"You see, that's exactly what I mean. You can't be trusted."

"Liv, I was nine. I'd like to think that I can keep a promise by now. You know that about me."

Yes, Olivia thought, that woman got everything she ever wanted for Christmas.

"You'll let me take things at my own pace?"

She nodded contritely. "I can't guarantee that I won't poke; but I can say that the first move won't be mine. Deal?"

"Just lay off the heavy stuff." Olivia knew that she should say no, she should get up and walk out. Everything about Alexandra Cabot screamed danger. If she let herself fall for her, it could threaten a lot more than a simple friendship. She was persistent. She would not let go. She was a pit bull. But there was something so charming about her under the pressed front. Olivia folded, smiled, and put out her hand to shake Alex's.

With a sigh and a grin she took the hand and slid her left thumb up her forearm to a depression, simultaneously pressing it and the web between Olivia's thumb and index finger. Olivia's brows arched in question and surprise.

"It's to get rid of the headache I just gave you. It is the least I can do. Just relax, I know what I'm doing. I dated an acupuncturist."

A sore ache traveled up Olivia's arm. At the same time, she swore that she felt a vibration in her left leg. A minute later, she realized that the hot poker was gone.

Alex smiled, "Gone, huh? See how useful I am?"

Olivia was amazed. Not only was her headache gone but she had a strange feeling of well being. She didn't feel cornered any more.

Their conversation turned to the current cases and the mood at work. Olivia acknowledged that she was getting the business from the guys at work. Alex was amused that they had noticed what was going on. That was a good sign. They began to make light of the situation and things didn't seem so god awful heavy.

The rest of their dinner was relaxed and comfortable. It was like the last three days never happened. Olivia was amazed that Alex was able to change the mood with a turn of a phrase and well placed smirk. She was skilled. Olivia went from flopping around on deck, gills flaring, to swimming in a comfort-controlled tank. Curiously, she wasn't upset about it. As they were sharing dessert, a well-dressed man approached their booth.

"Friend of Father at eleven o'clock." Alex warned.

"Hello John," she stood up and shook his hand. "This is my friend Olivia Benson. Olivia, this is John Lambert."

"I was unaware that you moved to this neighborhood."

Olivia noticed his manicured nails and sprayed on tan. He had a starched collar with a tie pin that most certainly cost more than two months rent. This man never worked in the sun a day in his life.

"I haven't. This restaurant happens to be a favorite of mine. The filet is terrific. You must try it sometime."

"Well," shifting a glance at her dinner guest, "I have to say that I'm surprised. I thought you gave up this sort of social life when you joined the DA's office. The public can be so fickle, especially with their politicians."

Olivia felt the air get heavy. She stiffened and felt Alex grab her arm under the table.

Alex smiled calmly. "John, I appreciate your concern over my reputation; however misguided, but I'm quite sure your dinner is getting cold. "

"I meant no disrespect. I'm just trying to be helpful." He looked at Olivia. "She has a bright future in politics. I have an obligation to her and her family name to warn her of the dangers of bringing private aspects of our lives out in the open." Olivia tensed and started to stand. John awkwardly started to retreat.

"Oh and John, no need to report to my father. Olivia will be accompanying me to Boston for Christmas."

"What the fuck was that about?" Olivia exclaimed as John made it back to his table. "The pot calling the kettle black?"

"Father thinks I should be a nun or safely married off to the right surname. He thinks I'm too brash and I'll ruin my career. Now Mother, she's all about the garden club crowd. You'll find out soon enough."

"You aren't serious about me going with you?"

"I was going to ask you if you had holiday plans. Boston is lovely. You need to get out of the city. I could use the buffer. My family can be intolerable to deal with, especially at the holidays."

"Did it occur to you that I might have plans already?" Olivia was annoyed. Her temple started to throb again.

"Detective, even you couldn't work that fast. Last week you were in a quagmire over holiday plans. You haven't been out with any of your hot dates yet. You said you didn't want to repeat turkey day…" She smiled and pleaded with praying hands." Pretty please, with sugar on it, if you ever were my friend, be one now, in my hour of need? I'll know that I'm really forgiven."

"What about Maddy? She could be there for you."

"She begged out on me. She's going on some trip with her newest crush. I love her dearly but she's not very reliable. I promise, I won't lay a hand on you."

"Alex, you have to know that I'm not very good at the family gathering thing. I don't know if I am up to it."

"Relax, say yes, pretend you are going to the circus, and enjoy the show. I don't expect you to get my family but you'll meet some interesting characters."

"Alright. You win. Boston it is. Don't blame me if I freak out."

Alex put Olivia in a cab and crossed the street to catch an uptown ride. John rushed out the café, hailing her. "Can I share a fare with you?"

Alex glared, "You won't win any acting awards, honey. But, it worked anyway."

"So she's going to Boston with you?"


"You know that you are going to hell, Alexandra," he paused. "Why did you have me do the bad masterpiece theatre act in there?"

"She can't just show up there and I have to explain Father's peculiarities, or worse, not ready for them."

"You could just tell her."

"But then maybe she wouldn't come. I deal with juries everyday, one thing I know about is that people love drama, it reels them in. They can't help it."

"What are you going to do about your mother? Isn't she the rate limiting step in your personal life?"

"I don't know John, can we have her kidnapped and dropped off in Nova Scotia?"

John laughed, "Now that would be an amazing race episode that I would watch."

"I'm just hoping to stay out of her way as much as possible. There is no getting anyone acclimated to Mother."

The cab ride was quiet as Olivia contemplated the date she just had and made. She wasn't quite sure if it was a complete set up or Alex simply wanted to bring a low rent date to her Brahman family just to piss them off. She knew Alex well enough to know that she wasn't going to give up that easily. A part of her was annoyed that she was letting herself be tempted and the other was screaming for her to give in to it already.

Chapter 12

The week flew by. Olivia wasn't accustomed to all these extracurricular nights. They were waiting to be called to testify on a case they worked months before. It was like being on a stakeout. Elliott shoved a cup into her hands. It was the fifth cup of the day. "I think that you're immune to the stuff. I hope you're getting some."

"Give it a rest. I'm not in the mood."

"So, you're not, what gives? Talk to daddy. Come on, Liv. I talk to you. You used to talk to me about everything. Lately you're all closed lipped about everything. I mention Christmas and you look like you're ready to get your ashes. I ask how your date went and you hold your breath." Elliot pulled on his tie to loosen it more. Sometimes the job was so confining that it threatened to cut off his oxygen.

"This is different. It isn't about sex. You and Kath have been great to me…I just find it hard to talk about dating women."

"I thought you said there was no big dif, women, men, all the same." Elliot pictured the line of first dates Olivia had through the years. The second date line was dwarfed by it. The rejected suitors asked and pleaded with him to give them a clue or what they'd done to get shot down. Elliot had no answers for them, only sympathy. Olivia was the most beautiful enigma he'd met.

"Well, I lied. It feels weird. The emotional bond with women is different; and, the sex, way more complicated. Truth is I'm not sure I'll ever be able to have what you and Kathy have. I mean I'm not sure I'm capable."

"That's bullshit. Of course, you're able. You haven't met the right one yet."

There was something in the way Olivia was holding herself that made Elliot think this discussion was going way beyond the mechanics of sex with men versus women they usually had. He already knew that she was freer with men; there were rules with women. Elliot knew that Olivia was afraid to let her guard down with women. He suspected that she was afraid to be too physical with them. They had the whole top and bottom talk before, completely in jest but Elliot could fill in the blanks. She cracked that with women she was femme in the sheets and butch in the streets. With men, she was a switch hitter. She never spent the night. He knew that she used men for release but couldn't stand the small talk and bonding. She got what she needed and moved on. It reminded Elliot of his days in the service. No strings.

"Remember what you told me, about being able to trust Kathy completely, no matter what, that you felt safe."

"Yeah, so what's your point?"

"You know the Lawson case."

"Yeah, so."

"I'm capable of that." Olivia looked far down the hallway and prayed for someone to come in and stop her confession. This kind of catharsis could only come with Elliot. She had tried a million times to get this off her chest but always let her cowardice win out. Talking with a therapist was easy. It was the revelation of the fetid parts of the soul with your best friend that was the real absolution.

"Liv, that's not you. That kind of violence, that isn't who you are."

"El, I have and I am."

Elliot waited.

"I had a girlfriend in college. She was cheating on me and denying it for weeks. I knew she was lying. To make a long story short, I caught her with a guy that had been stalking me for a year. I ended up breaking three of his ribs. After the cops took him away, my girlfriend and I had sex… It wasn't sweet and tender."

Elliot sat staring straight ahead, hardly breathing. Olivia had never been that frank with him.

"I had sex with her because I was angry and I wanted to hurt her." Olivia recounted with disgust. "She thought it was great. She was finally getting some emotion out of me. She fuckin' liked it. It scared the hell out of me. All I could think of was that I was my father's daughter. El, how could anyone feel safe with me, when I don't feel safe with myself."

Elliot started slowly. "I know you better than anyone. I think that you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who knows you better. I've listened to your issues. Frankly, you sound healthier than I am. I don't know anyone that hasn't had a fight just to have the hot make up sex. As for the rest, if I had been in your shoes, there would have been more broken than three ribs. And you know that's the truth."

"That's basically what my therapist said at the academy, that I was over identifying. He said it was common to study a disease and to find the symptoms within. We talked about my father and my fears about what I may have gotten from him. He told me that just because I had angry, rough sex and liked it didn't make it rape. He pointed out that I had a willing partner, an active participant. It took a lot of therapy to understand that. The fact remains that it was all about power and control, that is what still bothers me."

Elliot looked around and moved nearer. Being in a public place made it difficult to provide support. "Lots of what we do is about that, control. Liv, you are so freakin' hard on yourself, in everything you do. So forgive me for thinking that you might be making more of these inner demons than might be necessary. Using sex as a weapon is not a rare thing. If that guy was stalking you, it's a miracle that you didn't kill him."

"It's the closest that I ever came to the edge." Olivia suddenly felt lighter. Elliot was her rock. She would die for him.

"Your girlfriend, she didn't know this guy knew you?"

"No, she had no idea that he was the guy I had a restraining order out on. He started working with her to get to me." Olivia sighed and decided to tell El the whole story. She owed him as much. "He was a casual friend from one of my classes' freshman year. He asked me out one day and I brushed him off. He kept on, so I finally just told him that it would never happen, I was gay and would never be interested in him. Turns out to be the worst thing I could have told him. I couldn't get rid of him. He did all the textbook stuff. When he started leaving dead animals on my step, I went to the police. He laid off. I thought I was done with him. I got sloppy. One night he caught me drunk coming out of a bar alone. If it wasn't for a passing squad car, I may have gotten hurt badly. He gets away with it. I file another complaint."

"So he cozies up to your new squeeze to get to you that way. Baits you, you fall for it; he throws the first punch and misses knowing that you'd mess him up. Devious fucker. Let me guess, he gets off because you're the jealous bulldyke."

"If it wasn't for the restraining order, I might have been indicted. It was enough to let him walk and cause me a shit load of trouble for a while. I had no money for a lawyer and his family had one on retainer. I barely got into the academy because of him."

"And the girlfriend?"

"It was over. I couldn't touch her again. We had issues before she went shopping around. After that, there was no trust."

"So did you ever lose it again?"

"Never. It terrifies me. That it's inside. That I could actually hurt someone. El, I felt the rage take over."

"I'm no therapist, Liv, but we all been there. There is a line. It sounds like your girlfriend didn't think that you crossed it. That's the important part. Hell, I felt that kind of rage. I live with it everyday. You know I'm right. Liv, you've got this fear and it's paralyzing you. Ya gotta get over it."

"Tell me about it. I've been seeing Huang for the last two months."

"Jesus, Liv. You sure that's a smart thing to do? Look what they did to me and Jefferies."

"It's outside the job. My own time, his own time, no insurance involved. It's the only way I would do it. Huang agreed to help me off the record. I think I'm making headway. But every time I take one step forward, something happens and I find myself three steps back. But at least I'm dating again."

"So why the big steps back?"

"I've been on three dates in the last week. I haven't had three dates all of last year. Laura was very nice. We had a nice conversation, great time. No real chemistry between us so it wasn't a big deal. Then there was Drea, lots of chemistry. She was interesting, fun, great dinner, great time, she invited me in. We fooled around a little. And then I just had to leave. I couldn't do it."

"Oh yeah, that wouldn't have anything to do with your third date, the one you're not talking about, the one with Alex?"

She looked at him with true sisterly annoyance. "You are such an asshole. How did you know I had a date with her?"

"I got my sources."

"Is she talking to you?" She looked at him accusingly.

"No, but I think that wouldn't be such a bad idea. You two would be great together. I've already told you that."

"Don't you even think about it." She paused. "The truth is the whole time I was with Drea, I was thinking about Alex. Freaked me out. They're nothing alike and I was really into her; but all I could see was Alex."

"So what's the problem, Alex likes you, you like her?" Elliot was exasperated. No wonder Olivia Benson was still single.

"El, I'm afraid of her. I'm afraid of me. I'm afraid of starting something that I just can't finish. I have so many things to work out. It would feel like on the job training with Alex. What if it doesn't work? I can't risk ruining our friendship just because I'm a basket case."

"What is there to be afraid of? Happiness? You can't have it if there isn't anything to risk. Sometimes you just have to just dive in." Her partner rolled up his sleeves and stared off down the hall. He wished that he could beat some sense into that pretty head of hers.

"El, I've never had a relationship last more than six months."

Elliot pursed his lips and scowled. "Have you ever stopped to think that they were meant to fail because it wasn't right for you? You've got experience now; you know what's out there. You are old enough to know what you want and what you don't want. I gotta say, Alex would be lucky to get you. What's stopping you, really? I know that you've been thinking of it, it's all over your face." Elliot leaned back into the bench splayed out, and cocked his head confidently. He expected Olivia to come clean with him. He waited for her to get it.

"I don't know if I….if I can fit in her world. I'm hot dogs and mustard and she's.."

"Champagne and caviar, I get it; save it for the idiots. You know that's a crock. I don't know her that well but she seems fine with our pizza and beer nights. Give her some goddamn credit. You're afraid of something else, Olivia Benson, and you know it."

She looked up at Elliot and shook her head. "I don't know if I want my private life public."

"The first lady syndrome? You don't want to be a politician's wife? Now we're getting somewhere. I was not aware that you were in a frickin' closet."

"I'm not going to shout it from mountaintops; but it's more than that. Being with Alex would mean a lot of limelight. I don't think I could deal with it."

Olivia Benson, his tough as nails partner, transformed into a shrinking mass of putty during their conversation. It frightened him to think of her as this vulnerable. There wasn't another soul on this planet more deserving of happiness. Elliot was determined to make a difference.

"Liv, listen to me. If I didn't have Kathy, it would be so gray, this life." All the confidence left his body as he began his story. "Her father hated me. He thought I was a punk. Maybe he was right. I was always fighting, getting in trouble. When we decided to get married, they said no, so we eloped. It was a whole year before they talked to Kathy. She risked everything for me. Because she had guts, I've got a life I could only dream of."

"But you guys were meant to be together."

"Yeah, and it wasn't easy. We were teenagers, barely out of diapers. We just took every new twist in the road and dealt with it the best we could. The God's honest truth is we took a big chance to find that out. You should take that chance. It's freakin' worth it to come home to someone instead of talking to a shrink your whole life."

Just then the double doors opened and they were summoned inside. Olivia would have a lot to discuss with Huang later that day. Elliot did know her very well. And she had to admit that she had been thinking a lot about Alex and the possibility of a real life with her. Yet fears that chained her in the past were working on her. Alex's pursuit had her spooked. What if she was just impulsive? Olivia was just as confused about her own conflicting feelings. She knew she was interested in Alex. But something beyond rationalization was making her balk.

Chapter 13

Olivia arrived at the Hilton fashionably late. As usual, she and Elliot put in extra hours on their latest case. She couldn't wait till next Thursday even if it meant the stress of the long weekend holiday with Alex alone. She'd been thinking of little else.

So here she was in the dress that Alex picked out, feeling like an alien from planet wimp. She checked her table number with the map at the entrance, memorized the route and made a beeline for table 23. El and Kathy were already there. Munch had a date with a paralegal he had been seeing; and, Fin was escorting a certain recently separated ME. They were out on the dance floor. Olivia was met with a low whistle from, of all people, Kathy. "I'm glad you had only a few minutes to get ready, you look fabulous."

"Kat, I don't know how your husband leaves you everyday. You look lovely, as always." A kiss and a hug later and the evening was on.

Everyone made small talk and quick greetings. Slowly the frame of reference shifted as Olivia canvassed the room in a grid. Then she saw her, in Armani, impossibly beautiful, understated elegance. Slacks cascaded from a mother of pearl buckled belt, encircling just the right height heels. Her hair was loose with just the right portions tucked and entwined, loose fringes framing her radiant face. She was laughing heartily. One hand at her open neck, a gleaming white tuxedo shirt open way lower than God had intended but man certainly dreamed of, covering a platinum deco pendant. She had matching cufflinks. Cufflinks and ebony button covers! Alexandra Cabot would have made a gay man swoon. Olivia thought she was going to smother as she noticed the other hand holding one ruggedly handsome dark haired man.

She tried not to stare. But under the circumstances, this was futile. He was 6 ft 4, 200 pounds and built like a Greek god. She now understood the definition of square jaw as it was holding up chiseled cheekbones and the bluest eyes she'd ever seen. His slightly crooked smile was the only thing that wasn't symmetrical and only served to prove that he was a real being. He was Alex's date. She was obviously fond of him and it was mutual.

Olivia excused herself and headed for the bar. This was a job for vodka, straight up and dry. It also afforded her a more camouflaged vantage point. Either they danced together often, or they were Fred and Ginger, reincarnated. Two more trips to the bar were necessary before she returned to the table. Fin was quick to point out that Alex had a new look and a new beau. Munch added that the man was so beautiful that he'd consider dating him. Everyone laughed but it wasn't far from the truth. Not a soul at the table could deny the attractiveness of the man escorting Alex to their table.

Olivia thanked her lucky stars that she had her fifth martini in her hand and prayed to God that she wouldn't drop it. It gave her something to concentrate on; otherwise, there would be nothing holding her synapses together.

She heard an introduction all around, sounds and syllables twirling and tumbling. She struggled to corral them for comprehension, failed miserably, and was struck dumb. The rest of that period was an out of body experience. She saw herself graciously interacting but hadn't a clue what was said. She caught herself staring at the texture of Alex's shirt; the threads were two different shades. In an instant, she stopped herself from reaching out to touch it, under the influence; she couldn't quite tell what was reality and fantasy. There, that was real, a smile just for her. Melting, Olivia felt herself, turn to mush. Just turn off the burner, she thought, I'm done. Did a giggle just come out of me? Olivia had absolutely no control over herself. She was unable to create the mask that she wore everyday. The fourth martini had effectively robbed her of that ability. Thankfully, the ordeal was soon over. Alex and Martin, the man was French, goddamn it, moved on to the next table to schmooze.

Fin and Warner brought her home and tucked her in. When Olivia awakened the next afternoon with a headache the size of Outer Mongolia, she wondered how she got there.

Alex, on the other hand, was having a celebratory brunch with Martin and Ricardo, her dearest friends in Soho. Objective prime was met last night. Olivia Benson noticed.

Part 14

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