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 14

The toast rang out, "Hair of the dog." The crew was out celebrating the closure of the Lawson case. It was mostly a paper chase. Munch's hunch was correct; it was a conspiracy after all. The accusation was a red herring. They were all in it together, after the insurance money. The case was transferred over to major cases. To the detectives, this meant a huge break in their schedule. What a Christmas present this was.

Olivia was appropriately roasted for over imbibing and looking so femme at the ball.

"Looked like you switched looks with Cabot. She certainly sent some looks over your way. Really Liv, you should go for it."

Fin chimed in, "She gave you more looks than Iverson in a big game."

"Guys, lay off. It's your overactive imagination running wild. Gotta be a man thing."

Fin countered, "Well, Warner thought so too, and she ain't no man. She said you two looked like a Van de Graaff generator making a lightning show."

Munch clapped his hands together. "So I guess the date with Warner went better than you are letting on."

"Stuff it, John." Fin stared at him menacingly.

"Ok, ok, all I'm saying, Livi, is that anyone would sell their soul to get close to Cabot. Come on, you have a shot. Take it."

"Yeah, and you sure looked like you liked her attention." Fin cocked his head back.

"Speaking of the devil." Munch gestured at the devil coming through the door, Alex in her uniform, the power suit with just the right slit up the skirt. The legs certainly caught the eye; but what was mesmerizing to Olivia was the confidence in the strut. It made her knees weak and her mind wander.

The guys quickly arranged themselves so that Alex could join them. Munch called over to the bartender to get her a glass.

"I can't stay but I wanted to come by to congratulate you on a job well done. Really good detective work Munch."

Fin looked hurt. "Don't I get a pat on the head."

"You get the pat, if I get the kiss on the cheek."

Alex smiled. "I couldn't handle you guys. I've got a meeting to go to. Play nice." She addressed Olivia. "I'd like to talk to you later, ring me."

Olivia scowled at Munch. He had that shit-eating grin plastered over his mug. She imagined him saying the lady doth protest too much.

As she walked away, Olivia knew that she just couldn't go on a trip alone with Alex. She was losing her resolve. An affair with a co-worker was out of the question and she was tired of the games. Alex was all wrong for her. She was certain she was all wrong for Alex. Olivia was not sure if she was right for anyone. She was having the dreams again. She doubled up on her sessions with George. Olivia felt like soon she'd have to move in with him to get any peace.

later that night

Olivia stood in front of the brownstone for a good ten minutes before she asked the doorman to buzz her up. As the elevator door closed, the walls felt like they were collapsing upon her. It was too late now; she could not turn back. When she entered the door, instant regret washed over her. Alex wasn't alone.

"Mrs. James Stratford Cabot." A tall, thin 60ish woman strode across the room, grasped a surprised guest, and shook her hand as if she were buying fruit. "My friends call me Sue. If you are a friend of my daughter, I suppose you would qualify." Her smile was as tight as a week after her first facelift. She walked around and led Olivia to the living area, with a matador's flourish and bravado. Olivia definitely felt herself being sized up, categorized, and shelved all in a minute's time. "I have heard the most agreeable things about you. Alex tells me you'll be joining us for the holidays."

Olivia opened her mouth to speak, but before she could utter a sound, Alex swooped in and redirected Olivia to the couch. "Mother, let's let Olivia relax a bit before she gets the third degree. I'll get us all a drink and we can get acquainted." As she turned away from her mother, she gave an apologetic look to Olivia. "Mother came down to do some holiday shopping. It gets boring in upstate New York. Plus there is all this gossip to investigate. Scandals are so much juicier in the city."

She handed Olivia her drink then presented her mother hers.

"Yes, well we do have more time on our hands than you do, dear. And I'm sure your guest here doesn't have much time for leisure. So Olivia, I hear that you have been a detective for quite a few years, that's quite impressive. I am aware that it takes some years and experience to make that level."

Olivia uttered her first words. "Well thank you for the kind words, but I am not that young."

"She and her partner are a very big part of my success at SVU."

"It must be a particularly hard job. The things you must see everyday. What makes a woman like you take that kind of detail, I wonder?"

"Someone has to do it. I'm willing."

"You've done it for quite some time. I've heard that it is a field that is a high burn out ratio. It must be a very personal thing to you."

Olivia was quiet, and then answered. "It isn't an easy job and it is very personal."

Alex took a breath and interjected. "Lets not talk shop, it is Christmas. I'm sure that we can find something more pleasant to talk about."

"So I guess your mother will be angry at us for stealing you away to Boston."

"My mother is no longer with us." Olivia knew that Susanne Cabot was well aware of that fact. She figured that she left Saratoga with a dossier to study in the limo ride down.

"Oh I'm so sorry. It must make the holidays very hard for you."

"Yes, especially since she was the only family I've left." Olivia figured that she'd beat her to the punch. Sparring with a mother was a skill, like bike riding.

Alex looked relieved. She's holding her own God bless her, she thought. "That's why I asked her to come with me, to have some family gathered around. Our family is so blessed that I figured that we could share some holiday spirit. We do still have some of that lying around us. Don't we?"

"Oh Alex, you are making us sound so bourgeoisie. Will you be staying on the hill or at the cottage?"

Olivia mentally added up real estate.

"I figured we'd stay in Cohasset, out of the way."

"Well, I'll be off. I've a long day ahead of me. I'm sure you have some cases to discuss. Or whatnot."

Olivia had no doubt that Alex's mother waved a mean cape. And as she left for the Regis, Olivia could have sworn that she'd been skewered, kebobed, and served up well done.

Alex closed the door with all her 125 pounds, clicked the dead bolt, and gave a short prayer of thanks. It wasn't so bad. No blood was spilled and no one was disemboweled. Sue had been known to make short work of some of Alex's paramours, faster than a touch at epee. This lasted a bit longer. Mother must approve. This was definitely a good omen.

"You know Alex, I came here tonight to tell you to forget about me coming with you. I was going to tell you that you were full of shit. I didn't buy the 'I need you to survive the family visit' fiasco. I was going to say that you could take your games to some other playground." She looked at the door that was barred with genuine relief. "You didn't lie about that."

"I wanted to prepare you for the scrutiny. Most people have a difficult time with vivisection."

Indeed, she felt like a fly without wings burned under a prism. "I guess I know where you got your cross technique."

"Yeah, I didn't steal a lot of traits. I am my mother's child." Alex felt panic claw at her throat. Olivia looked angry. She couldn't imagine what she had done to incur such wrath.

"I have to tell you that frightens me more than I can say. So, what was your excuse at the ball? Could you have found a more gorgeous man to bring you?"

"It wasn't like that. Martin and I are great friends, and he's escorted me to these things for years. Everyone knows he's gay. It's not a beard thing."

"It's not that; it was the whole package. You were making no bones about flirting with me." Alex felt the punch of her words. For a moment, she couldn't speak. She never imagined Olivia as a closet case.

"You noticed me didn't you?"

"Everyone in a 3-mile radius did. You have been a little more subtle. Your father is right; you really don't care about your career. You bring a Rock Hudson and do a Dietrich. I half expected you to walk over and give me a rose."

"I thought you were out, Liv. Besides, you were pretty attentive to me too."

"Look, I'm not ashamed of it but I don't advertise. Certainly not like that. None of the gay cops do. We don't like to have to watch our backs for our less enlightened brothers. I'm frankly shocked that you pulled a stunt like that."

"I don't think I have to apologize for pushing the envelope every so often. That's the problem, being invisible, things never change that way."

"You know, it's easy to be so militant when you have money and power."

"What's that supposed to mean? Olivia, you are not destitute." Their voices escalated through the exchange.

"I'm not in the Mayflower Society. If I get the shit beat out of me coming out of a bar, no one gives a good goddamn. If you go to the cops, they patronize you, 'cause you shouldn't have been at that kind of bar with that kind of date. Your mother would not have been so drunk that she couldn't hear a phone ringing to come pick you up from the hospital. They won't let your girlfriend take you home, because she's not family. And then when you pick the guy out and eventually he gets let go because of a technicality. There's no hot shot lawyer to take your side." Olivia stopped short. She never expected to let this out. Her face was crimson and her head felt like it would explode.

Alex advanced, "Liv, I'm so sorry. Nothing like that should happen to anyone."

Olivia turned away. She said too much. "I gotta go. I can't do this with you Alex. Find some other trailer trash to bait your mother with."

Alex pulled Olivia back to the couch and tore her coat from her. "That is NOT what I am doing and that is NOT who I think you are." Her eyes flashed white-hot. "Is that who you think I am?" She backed off in shocked realization. "That boy was rich wasn't he? His family influence bought the technicality."

Sadly, she picked up Olivia's coat and smoothed it off. "My family has no doubt benefited from their money and influence. I'm sure we've stepped over many a body in our history." She looked at her and added, "I had no idea that I'd have to pay for the sins of my father, much less some young asshole that I've never met. I played these games to get you to know that I was serious about you. That I could be open and not be intimidated into hiding politically. That I would be proud of standing next to you in front of New York, your peers, my family... I guess I was too flippant about it. I just wanted you. I won't apologize for going after what I want." She paused and gave Olivia her coat. "Believe what you want." She turned and walked into her bedroom. "Turn the light off when you leave."

Chapter 15

"Come in Olivia, have a seat."

"Thanks for seeing me again this week. It has been a rough couple of weeks."

Huang leaned back and regarded a haggard Benson. She's not getting much sleep he thought. "So, what brings you back so soon?"

"I'm getting the dreams again."

"When did they start?"

"I've been having them all along though only every so often. Though in the last few weeks they are coming more frequently. Now I'm having them every night."

"Why do you think this is happening again?" George knew full well that she avoided mentioning her dreams for a reason. They hadn't discussed them since the beginning of their sessions. Olivia knew they were self-revelatory and she was very good at denial.

"I always have a tough time around the holidays. I've been thinking a lot about my mother's death."

"Do you still feel responsible?" George thought, she's running away again. They resolved these issues weeks ago. Get her back to the dreams.

She looked up. "I know that I should be over that. It's just that I can't help thinking that maybe her life would have been different if she had aborted me. Everyday I was a reminder of that day and what he did to her."

"You can't blame yourself for her drinking. That may not be the reason she drank. Even if it was the reason, she's the one who chose to not deal with her issues and pain."

"I know I'm not all powerful. I should be; then I could just will all of this to go away, meet The One, and live happily ever after."

"So are you seeing anyone in particular?"

Olivia was uncomfortable. George could really cut to the chase. "No, but someone is interested in me."

"Is this why your dreams have returned? They are relationship anxiety dreams." He didn't believe her response one bit. He would have to be gentle. Let her walk the path. It was telling that she was hiding her interest from him. Detectives were worse than doctors for thinking they could outsmart the shrinks.

Olivia reflected. Her nightmares did start with Alex's flirting with her. She's dated before without this.

"Olivia?" He shook her from thoughts.

"Is there a connection with this new interest and your mother?" Huang thought that this might be what finally awakens Olivia to live. They were having very intense sessions for the last few weeks. The game had changed. He had her on the run.

"No, other than the fact that the person is a woman. They couldn't be more different." She wasn't ready to tell Huang it was Alex.

"How do you feel about her?"

"I …I don't know. I think about her a lot. I'm attracted to her. I go back and forth. One minute I'm ready to throw myself at her and pack up the u-haul and the next, angry at her and running out the door."

"What, in particular, has made you angry and, as a result, afraid of her?"

"She's been passive aggressive, playing games, and bending the truth. Manipulative."

George smiled behind his mask. She passed over the suggestion of fear. Olivia's denial of her basic emotion in relation to relationships spoke volumes. He decided to let it pass, for now. "Why do you think she's doing this?"

"She said she wanted to get my attention. It worked."

George noted Olivia's change in posture. Her body language was screaming shut down. He changed the line of questioning.

"It seems this woman is related to your dreams. Is it the same dream or has it changed?" He looked over his notes as Olivia began to talk.

"Everything is the same. I'm being chased through the corridors; but when I get to room 12, instead of the desert and my mother, there is another door. It is the number 13. My Aunt Nancy is there. She wants me to go through. I don't want to go. I turn back and the way is blocked. She opens the door. And there is a cliff. She pulls me to the edge and throws me off. Then I wake up."

"Have you ever dreamed of your aunt before?"

"No. I haven't seen her in years, since Mom's funeral."

"You must have some idea on why she shows up now; at this point in your life, when you are contemplating a new relationship."

"I'm not thinking about it."

Huang looked at her with that look. The one that said that she wasn't being up front with him. "If we are going to do this, you've got to come clean with me. What's with the mystery? If you aren't being honest with me here, I know that you aren't being honest with yourself."

Olivia knew this was Checkpoint Charlie. Looking at George's face confirmed that it was now or never. With a deep breath, she began. "It's Cabot. She wants me to come to Boston to meet her family. I want to keep it friendly right now but she's pushing me. We had a fight because I have a problem with her socioeconomic class." Olivia looked up at Huang. "You know my history. It is in the way. I'm not going to Boston."

"What happened Olivia? Three days ago, you were ready to take chances. It was Alex that we were discussing, right?"

"I just don't feel right about it."

"We talked about the conflicts over a workplace relationship. Are you reconsidering?"

"It's not that. She's just pissing me off. She's so… so damn sure of herself."

"So why is that upsetting you? It is who she is. I have you at a disadvantage knowing the subject."

"She said she would back off and let me decide where to go with our friendship. She shows up, looking great, continues flirting."

"Frankly, Olivia, Alex is always working the crowd. Flirting is not exactly a deal breaker, is it? There seems to be something deeper here, tying into your feelings about family, your mother." His voice got softer and softer as he continued, "What does your aunt have to do with anger and rage? We have established that the dream is tied into your fears of your own rage. Does Alex's background remind you of Brian Weston? Is that what is pushing your buttons?"

Olivia was quiet. She had been thinking of the man that pushed her to the brink. He was why she was afraid of her genetics. Because of him, she knew she was capable of violence.

"Let's talk about Brian, again. Last time, we talked about his seduction of your girlfriend and your violent reaction to his violation of your life. This was a man that didn't take no for an answer. You wouldn't date him; he stalks you for a year. He nearly rapes you one night and he gets off because he gets a good lawyer and his father is influential. He's a big part of why you joined the academy." He paused for emphasis. "Lets talk about that night that you found him with your girlfriend. You never answered me about her prior knowledge of him. Did she know you had a restraining order against him?"

"No, she didn't know he was the one I was afraid of."

"Are you still afraid of him?" Queen takes knight. Getting close.

"I'm still afraid of what he made me feel like. I wanted to kill him… I could have killed him."

"Yes, you probably could have. But you didn't, did you? You stopped. You immobilized him and you called the cops, just like you use restraint everyday. I can see why Alex would drum up these feelings and memories. But you haven't exactly rejected her until today. Your dream would indicate that your aunt has some significance. Perhaps, she represents family. What does your aunt have to do with your internal fears?"

Family. On holidays they get together. Not hers since Timmy drowned at one of those. She remembered this at Serena's wake, after seeing her aunt Nancy at the casket, the same grief she saw at ten over Timmy. The accident was always a shadow in her memory. Serena never spoke of it. Olivia recalled that whenever she asked her mother about it, her mother had such a pained expression. She touched her face and told her that she should forget about it. Then she'd knock off a fifth and go on a bender. Olivia quickly learned to avoid the subject. But there, in the soft light of the viewing room, the memory, so hazy before crystallized. She couldn't face her aunt and avoided her for the rest of the funeral.

Olivia quietly said, "I'm responsible for her son's death."

"You've never mentioned this before." Huang mentally made a visual spot check of all Olivia's medical records. It was the equivalent of pulling a slot machine handle. In all her years of therapy, there was never any mention of anything remotely connected to a death of a cousin. "Why is that? Even at the academy, there is no mention of this event."

"I hadn't thought of this in years. When Mom died and my aunt showed up there, it came to me, why we stopped going to family functions." She trailed off deep in thought. "I don't know why this seems so weird now."

"What do you remember?"

"It was an accident really. I was 10. We were at my aunt's. Timmy kept picking at us, my other cousin, Sue. He was a little older and was being a jerk so I hit him. He staggered back and was fooling around taunting me that I was a weakling, tripped, and fell into the pool. I think that he hit his head. We couldn't get him out. We were just kids. I can't remember too much more except the ambulance coming, the noise, and Aunt Nancy's crying… Mamma holding me. We never went back to Aunt Nancy's. She and Mom didn't talk much after that."

Huang regarded his patient calmly speaking of a traumatic event of childhood, not evident in any therapy sessions ever. She was much too detached. It played like a false memory recovered in adulthood under post traumatic stress. This was Olivia's life with her mother. Now she was gone. The child must continue to take responsibility. He played on his hunch. "I think you need look at this. I wonder if this is truly what occurred or a fabrication." He paused and studied Olivia's face, brow furrowed, no doubt, chasing the visions. "In your dream, your aunt wants you to go through a door. You need to talk about Timmy's death with her. You need to resolve it with her and yourself. Your dreams are trying to tell you truths."

"How can I bring up her son, all that pain, especially now, it's fucking Christmas. It would be so selfish."

"Accidents happen. You can't carry this guilt around you everyday. I think there is more to this. We often have a different perspective with time. As for the memories, I'm sure your aunt would think of her son no matter if you brought him up or not. Maybe you simply need to talk to her just to see that she does not blame you. Open that door Olivia."

Olivia called Aunt Nancy. She sounded happy. Could she see her soon, what about lunch? Olivia was surprised. She hadn't expected her aunt to accept her phone call. She expected a polite refusal. On the contrary, she looked joyful at the restaurant. She had forgotten at how much she resembled her sister. It was only that her face was tranquil, missing the hard lines and ashen color of too many cigarettes and glasses of whiskey.

"Olivia, you look wonderful. I'm so glad to see you, especially at the holidays. We both know how hard it is."

"That's kind of why I wanted to talk to you. I've been in therapy for a while now and I have to ask you to talk to me about something very painful to you."

"You want to talk about Timmy." She softened and reached out for Olivia's hand. "It's OK. We both miss people we love and it's fine to talk about them. It keeps them alive, if only in memory."

"I'm so sorry. You have to believe me. I wish I could change things and he'd still be here." Olivia blurted out, half choked with tears.

"We all wish that. It took many years for me to accept that I couldn't have done anything to change things. I kept thinking that if I would have brought him to the hospital earlier, maybe they could have treated him and he would have survived. He just had a headache and went to bed early. I thought he was just tired from playing all day with his cousins." She smiled. "He had so much fun with you guys. Everyone lived so far away that we didn't have too many days with family. The doctors said that there was nothing to indicate the meningitis."

Olivia froze. "Meningitis? Timmy drowned. I was there. I pushed him. I saw him hit his head and fall in the water."

"Olivia, Timmy died of bacterial meningitis. We had to call all of you in. You had blood drawn and antibiotics because you were all exposed to him. You were in the hospital for a week, very ill, but you survived." She looked shocked. "You have been thinking that you caused his death all these years?"

"I never hit him? We didn't fight?"

"Olivia, of course not. We didn't have a pool."

"Then why did you and Mom stop talking?

"Oh gosh, honey, your mom and I had a lot of issues between us. More than you could know. She imagined that I blamed her for your survival and Timmy's death. I never blamed anyone but myself. I think her drinking had a lot to do with her thinking I'd be angry with her; but I wasn't. Serena's alcoholism was a problem our whole adult lives together. I was not happy about us drifting apart. I needed my sister. She chose to withdraw from the family. We felt badly that we were losing you as well. But there was nothing we could do. She just stopped coming to family gatherings. You must have gotten the feeling that you were the reason. But that's not the truth."

An hour later, Olivia was on her way back to the city. She rang Huang.

"How did you know that I had nothing to do with Timmy's death?"

"Your dream told me. You knew it yourself. You were trying to tell yourself this for years."

"Why didn't you just tell me this?"

"You had to find it out and what it meant yourself. What actually happened?"

"He had meningitis, so did I." She recounted the aunt's story.

"Hospitalization is traumatic for a young child who is already isolated, especially one that already feels responsible for every move her mother makes. It's not surprising that this child would utilize magical thinking in this instance. You were a little old for it; but illness will cause regression. You've been keeping this waking dream to make yourself responsible for what you might be capable of; in fact, you control all your feelings very tightly, not just the anger. It looks like you are trying to change all that. Your dreams are telling you to do this."

George smiled as he hung up his phone. It was satisfying to win. He couldn't help mentally knocking over the king. The next big hurdle was going to be Olivia's sexual hang-ups. Alex Cabot was certain to stir up the big one, her dread of physically hurting her partner in bed. She already identified Alex with Brian Weston. In therapy, she confessed realizing that this was the main reason she still slept with men. She could be dominant and as aggressive as she wanted. With women, she was typically passive and tentative. The terror she had with emotion and physicality affected all her subsequent relationships. Eventually, her partners wanted a more reciprocal physical relationship and Olivia was unable to comfortably comply. All this led to a myriad of meaningless sex for quite a few years. Olivia had to recognize that it was the main reason for her commitment phobia. George was trying to get her to realize that she wasn't a sex addict. Olivia had been convinced that this was the reason that intimacy was painful. Perhaps, this deep revelation would help her break through.

Olivia had one destination in mind. She got to Alex's office to find it empty. Her secretary said she left for the airport a half hour ago. "She left this for me to mail to you. I guess I can just give it to you now."

Olivia opened the letter. In it was a faded sheet of paper with worn edges and a juvenile slant to the script. She read the short note on the letterhead page enclosed.

Munch met her coming from the office. "Hey what are you doing here? Thought you were on vacation?"

"I'm looking for something I left here. Do me a favor? Can you keep my piece for me? I gotta catch a plane now."

As she rushed out the door, Munch turned to his partner. "Yeah, looking for a blue eyed blonde, 5' 7", 125 pounds of red hot lawyer."

"We should pitch in and get 'em a room and lock 'em in for a weekend. That should do the trick." Fin grinned through his smirk.

"You think we could televise it, HBO pay-for-view. We'd make a mint."

"Yeah, but you'd have to spend it all getting Alex's briefcase out of your ass."

The airport

She passed her credit card into the e-ticket monitor. She already had a ticket. It wasn't cancelled. She passed through security in record time. Not having luggage certainly helped. She figured, I'll just get what I need there or I'll just turn right back on stand by.

She made it just in time. They were about to close the jetway. She found a seat as close as she could to the blonde in 14 A hard at work on her laptop. She stopped working only when the FAA mandated. She then focused out the window, blank and expressionless, for the 40 minute flight. Olivia couldn't take her eyes off of her. She felt like a smoker on a transatlantic flight. As soon as she could, she deplaned and waited for Alex.

Alex rounded the corner and felt her garment bag pulled out of her grasp. She spun around ready to swear only to find Olivia's face only a foot away. Computer bag dropped; and, she wrapped her arms around her surprise burying her face into the soft leather of her jacket. She pulled a long breath filling her lungs with the distinctive saddle smell mixed with tangerine. She waited so long to drink this so closely. She felt herself shrinking so she held on tighter. As she finally let go, Olivia swept her thumb over her cheek pushing a tear away. She pulled in and brushed her lips against the salty trail stopping at her ear. She whispered, "Let's go meet the rest of your family."

Chapter 16

The short walk through the cement walled corridor to the waiting town car was meat locker frigid. The uniformed driver quickly threw down and smashed his cigarette into the pavement. Within seconds, he relieved them of their bags. "Good evening Ms. Cabot, Ms. Benson. Will it be Louisburg or Cohasset tonight?" Before Olivia could blink twice, bags were stashed; the car doors opened, and they were herded into a pre-warmed back seat. "Cohasset, Edward." Alex squirmed out of her coat. "It will be a bit of a drive. We'll see the Hill tomorrow so why don't you take us down Memorial. Olivia has never seen Boston, might as well see the skyline." Cell was out, "Hello Christopher, Ms. Benson will be with us after all. Could you set up Martha's room for her? Excellent. Is Mother there?" The corners of her lips turned slightly upward. There was a God she thought. "We'll arrive in about thirty. Thank you, Christopher." With that, the cell disappeared into her handbag and she turned to her companion. "I am so glad you decided to come." The walk enabled her to regain her composure; but she was still nervous. This was it, a real first date.

Olivia sank into the seat as the car wound through a maze of tunnels and construction emerging on the Cambridge side of the river. She heard Alex quietly pointing out landmarks and with snippets of history, filling up as much space in the car as she could. There was still a bit of snow left over. City lights twinkled and reflected off the white surroundings. The Citgo sign looped on and on. Fenway Park she heard. She watched Alex's eyes sparkle as she gestured and gushed. She was alive.

Olivia, on the other hand, was spent. She had a roller coaster of a day and had thrown all caution to the wind to come here. She had a major breakthrough in therapy that shook her to her core. Everything she knew or remembered was now called to question. She wasn't sure if she could trust any memories. Yet one thing was certain. She wanted with every fiber in her being to be here with Alex, to make new memories that hopefully wouldn't be twisted by darkness. It was daunting. This brash new self was daring her to take the risk. All through the flight, Olivia worried about how she would apologize to Alex. Yet, she saw her and nothing seemed to matter. Alex forgave her without a word, without a need for an explanation. Olivia was beginning to understand the depth of Alex and just how lucky she was to be here getting a personal tour of Boston.

Soon they were turning onto Jerusalem Road lined with mansions. Summer cottages one hundred years ago they were. Alex continued to expound as they pulled into a long circular drive. The door swung open and a tall thin man held his hand out to Olivia. "Your suites are ready and refreshments are in the study."

"Thank you Christopher. Wonderful to see you." As they crossed the threshold, she whispered to him.

"It will be taken care of."

"We'll go upstairs and freshen up."

"At some point, I'll have to go to a store."

"That may not be necessary. Christopher is going to pick up a few things. He's got wonderful taste."

"You've got to be kidding? You aren't sending him out to get clothes for me ?"

"Of course I am. It's his job. He's shopped for my sister and me for years. Believe me, he loves it."

Christopher walked up. "I'll take you your room." He led Olivia up the grand staircase winding past massive oil paintings as their footsteps echoed off the marble. When they neared the top, he leaned and said, "It really is my favorite part of my job, dressing beautiful women." She looked into an open, sincere face wearing a gentle smile. "This is your room. The bath is the second door there." He gestured down the hall. "The study is at the end. If you need anything, just use the intercom and Maggie will get what you need."

Olivia felt shell-shocked. She was dropped into a F Scott Fitzgerald novel completely naked. She knew the Cabots were well off but this was beyond her imagination, drivers, maids, and a butler, British, no less.

Alex popped in from an adjoining door. "You finding everything?" In fact, Olivia hadn't moved from the center of the room. Alex shrugged. "I know it's a bit much but it's home." She led her to the bath, already drawn with a robe and lotions set up like a resort spa. "Here, have a bath and meet me in the study. You must be starved. Christopher makes the best food on earth. He may be English but he cooks like an Italian grandmother. By the way, we have the place to ourselves. Everyone is at the main house in Boston."

"This is not the main house?"

Alex stopped. "Is this going to be a problem?" She looked concerned. "We can go to the Marriott or the Holiday Inn. I don't care."

"No, it 's ok. It's just a little hard to get used to," she gestured around, "all this."

"I forget how it must all seem." She turned and looked out the window stalling for the right words. She had to be more careful than she'd been.

Olivia hugged her from behind. "Don't worry, I'm working on it. I'm sorry about how I've been taking my stuff out on you. I know you aren't part of my baggage. I've been facing some things in therapy…" Olivia felt Alex sink into her chest.

"No need to explain. I'm sorry for being me. I know that I'm pushy and impulsive. Someone once called me a steamroller. I get how I can be."

"How about if I can call you on it?" Olivia whispered into Alex's ear.

Alex felt a burst of hope swell up and a rush of heat through her body. "I can deal with that. In the meantime, you'd better get in the bath before it gets cold." She wiggled out of Olivia's arms and nearly sprinted out the room, not before she turned and added, "For future reference, if you expect me to keep my part of the bargain, there will be no breathing on my neck. Drives me wild."

Olivia watched as Alex left the room amazed at how fast life could change. This morning she was full of misplaced anger. Now, she was beating down the urge to follow Alex into her room to find out if she was a real blonde. This wasn't going to be easy. Olivia was sure that her problems with relationships stemmed from jumping in too fast. She didn't want to screw things up. She turned on her heels and stripped for the bath.

The warm water claimed her body as she slowly submerged in the fragrant pool. Rosemary, that was the scent. She wondered what aromatherapy it was supposed to foster. Since she was a kid, she loved the safe warm cocoon of a hot bath. If there was shouting in the other rooms, she could always dive. Sanctuary. It was surprising how she could have let herself believe she had seen Timmy drown and still be comfortable in water. It should have been evident. She resolved to get it back. She had a family and there was nothing standing between her and the Benson clan now. She'd get practice with the 'family' gathering thing this weekend. It was no wonder now that she freaked out about coming here with Alex. It had nothing to do with flirting. How could she be so clueless about herself. She lost herself in time as jets of liquid fingers massaged her neck and shoulders.

Olivia entered the study just as Alex looked up and broke out in a wide grin. "My pj's look good on you."

"Very funny." Olivia was sporting a Red Sox baseball shell and flannel tie bottoms.

"It wasn't me. I promise. It's Christopher's joke."

"Now that's just creepy. When I went into the bath, there was nothing there. I come out and this is laid out, packages are in the corner, clothes are hung, and I heard nothing."

"They are very good at what they do. They used to work for the Queen Mother."

"It makes me nervous."

Alex laughed. "Well you can rest assured now. No one will be popping in unannounced. Maggie and Christopher are off for the holidays so we are on our own for the next two days. By the way, that means Mother likes you."

"How can you tell?"

"Because she's not here." She offered a wrap to Olivia. "Here, you love tuna salad. I dare you to say you've had better."

Alex was right, the spread was outstanding. After the second glass of wine, she really started to relax. She began to talk about her life growing up with an alcoholic, her isolation from her mother's extended family, and how she was hoping to get acquainted with them again. She told Alex things that she'd never told Elliott. Pretty soon they were strolling through the house, getting a tour, and talking about Olivia's escapades as a young girl. It turns out that she was a swimmer at the local Y. She also took her first self defense lessons there. Her mother wanted her daughter to be better equipped to handle attacks than she was. Her whole life was predicated on her mother's fears for her. She told Alex about her first love and loss. How she was so afraid of intimacy she waited until her college years to discover sex. She told her that once she started; she couldn't stop. She talked about her sex addiction years, her series of short intense relationships and the abrupt endings. Her realization that her problems stemmed from not getting her needs met growing up. Alex learned more about Olivia in these short hours than in the whole time they knew each other.

"That's why I'm afraid of scaring you. I've got so many issues to work out. I'm fairly certain that if you find out who I really am, you'll run the other way as fast as your legs will carry you.

Alex straighted up and said, "I'm a Cabot and a Stratford with a side of Peabody. We don't scare easy. Impatient, willful, controlling, overbearing, yes : frightened of a little baggage, niet. Come on I'll show you the grown up side of the house. I am working on patience now; and that sox logo is just bringing out your eyes a little too much."

Olivia was happy that Alex provided some comic relief and got them moving after her spilling her guts. It seemed to be ok. Alex didn't seem alarmed at her history. She took it all in stride; but then that was Alex after all.

They ended up in the senior Cabot's office. One wall was filled with pictures, trophies, and ribbons. "These are all you."

Alex rolled her eyes. "Maddy calls this the Alex shrine. I admit it. I'm daddy's girl. My sister and brother didn't share his interests. I did." She shrugged. "Caused some problems, especially with Martha. She was always fighting with me for his attention. Ruined my first love." She pointed to a picture of herself on a bay in full hunter riding gear. Holding the halter was a young woman. "She was my riding instructor, an older woman. She was twenty-one and I was sixteen. I learned a lot more than posting up that summer."

"That's horrible. She was a predator."

"It really wasn't like that, Liv. I'm the one that made it happen. Martha found out about us making out in the tack room and when the time was right, she got me back by telling Father. My parents agreed with your assessment of her. Within a week, she was gone. . . Oh, it worked out for her. She got a place on the Olympic team in Pennsylvania. I never saw her again. Martha got her revenge alright. I made sure I dated lots and lots of boys after that."

"I have to agree with your parents, except I would not have rewarded her for fooling around with my daughter."

"Yes, but they knew I was the aggressor. They were teaching me a lesson in discretion. It's how my family works. It's all about appearances with them. And I'll be damned if I have a marriage like theirs."

"Your parents are separated?"

"On the contrary, they are very married, except it's more like a merger. They live separate lives; but they do seem to like each other. Maddy says that they had sex at least three times. We look too much like Father."

"They approve of your lifestyle?"

"It's not about approval. Look, don't take anything personally, especially Father. He's very protective of me and my career."

"And your love life, I'm sure."

"I am his baby."

Olivia looked at the rest of the photos. No doubt Alex was his favorite. Alex playing field hockey, riding, swinging a racket, manning a tiller, bangs blowing back in the wind. Moving. Constantly. She stopped at a picture with Maddy and Alex beaming with a trophy held between them. It was in the most prominent place on the wall. She glanced at Alex with a questioning look.

"That is my proudest accomplishment. We won the state debate championship. We upset Phillips Exeter. It was big."

Olivia looked again at mini Alex, brimming with confidence and exuberance. It was almost blinding. Even standing still for a photo op, Alex looked like she was in motion. That's what she noticed about all the photos, action. She thought about Alex in a courtroom and all that motion contained so well, packaged, and completely in control.

"We were so psyched. Maddy and I killed 'em that day." She looked so pleased as she dwelled in the memory.

Slowly, they made their way back to the bedrooms and said good night. Alex had a lot planned for them the next day. Olivia closed the door and shut her eyes as she pulled the covers up.

She heard a noise that shook her out of sleep. Out of instinct she reached for her gun on the side table. It wasn't there. She remembered where she was. The noise sounded like it came from Alex's room. She got up to investigate. It was dark and quiet in Alex's room. It took a few minutes to accommodate to the shadows. Alex was asleep and looking so serene. Olivia couldn't help it. She leaned over and softly kissed her forehead. Suddenly, she found herself pulled down into a full embrace on top of a very awake Alex. "You aren't getting away with this. It's Christmas Eve and I'll have my present now." She wrestled her over. Olivia was completely overpowered, tumbling in the surf, sucked down by the riptide. She couldn't breathe. Drops dripped from Alex's hair as her wet locks dangled above her. Alex grinned wickedly as she had Olivia underneath her one hand pinning an arm to the bed and her other hand deftly under the flannel bottoms. Olivia gasped.

She looked around. She was alone in her room, sweating and soaked.

Chapter 17

Olivia stirred; the smell of a strong dark roast brought her up out of a sound sleep. She opened her eyes and found Alex standing over her with a tray of steaming eggs, coffee, toast, and fruit, breakfast in bed.

"Merry Christmas Eve."

"I had no idea you could cook."

"Of course I can." She positioned the tray across her lap and tucked a linen napkin in the space between tray and abdomen. "The food's good too. Up and at 'em. We have lots to do today."

The morning was a blur of activity. There was a walk on the beach and trying on clothes. Christopher really had a great eye. He picked out the perfect shade of red for Olivia. Alex found a pair of sling backs in her sister's closet that worked perfectly. It turned out Olivia was nearly the same size as Martha. Pretty soon they were off to Boston. And not a moment too soon because Olivia was beginning to be painfully aware of the fact that she and Alex were alone in a huge house with several comfortable beds. She was having fun, on a date, and not stressing about it.

Olivia and Alex took the trolley tour. Olivia had to admit to herself that she barely heard the tour guide or saw the sights. She was aware of the arm and thigh pressed up against hers. Wisps of blonde hairs distracted her. Blue eyes peeking through were infinitely more interesting than the Old North Church. The trolley turned up into Beacon Hill, narrow streets cobble stoned and tree lined. It was centuries old and felt like a time warp.

"Here's where we get off." Louisburg Square, the Cabot home, was part of the tour. Olivia entered the grand old house and was immediately relieved of her coat. She recognized Alex's mother holding court in the center of the great room. Alex's father was next to her. Alex was unmistakably his. She felt his gaze train on her, as he walked over to greet his daughter.

"Merry Christmas, honey." He gave Alex a bear hug and pulled her back to give her a long once over. "You're too skinny. You should take better care of yourself." He turned to Olivia. "This lovely lady must be Detective Benson. I've heard a great deal about you; but they neglected to say that New York's finest was so beautiful."

"You are too kind. Thank you for inviting me to your home. It's… they are both very lovely." She collapsed inwardly. She expected discomfort but not this level of anxiety. He was a great deal warmer than his wife; but, Olivia sensed more danger riding under the surface.

She found herself drawn into a conversation with the patriarch that she knew was designed to ferret out the most information in the least amount of time. He feinted and sidestepped. He asked for answers requiring color and feeling. It was intended to check for a measure of a man, or in this case, woman. Maddy showed up and rescued Olivia, prattling on about getting the desiccated Yankee a drink.

As she led her off, Olivia exclaimed, "I thought you weren't going to be here."

Maddy looked at her with amazement. "Me, miss the Cabot holiday? Darlin', if I'm not in N'awlins, I'm here with my girl. This is like an episode of 'Dynasty', except there's no glitz or glamour. Liquor flows freely and the women are loose, just like at the Kennedy compound."

"It's really alright. You don't have to put on the act with me. I know that you came to take care of her. I wish I had a friend like you."

"I'm glad you decided to come. Alex was crushed that you rejected her. She nearly ruined my best cashmere sweater with her tears." She looked at Olivia intently. "Your intentions are honorable, I hope. 'Cause if they aren't I may have to hurt you."

They walked through the house and Maddy explained the cast of characters and the degrees of separation. As they neared the bar, Maddy pulled her aside. "There, in the corner, is what I am here to protect you from. They've stolen many a babe in the woods." Olivia recognized the duo from the photos.

"So that's her cousin and the ex."

"You know about that. Yeah, she's the dingo that ate the baby."

"I had no idea she'd be here. Is that why I'm here?"

"Olivia, I knew cops were paranoid but you take the cake. I shouldn't be telling you this but Alex doesn't fall easily. Alex hasn't brought anyone here since Maria. Keep that in mind."

"Can I ask you something?" Impulsively, Olivia grabbed Maddy's forearm. "Why me? She could have anyone."

Maddy paused, "Have you asked her? You should. What the hell. Ask her about her list. Surprising that Alex would have a list, huh? Then look at the people Alex has around her, a long hard look, and you'll figure it out." With that, she turned Olivia toward the corner. "Time to separate the wheat from the chaff." As they lurched forward Maddy added, "And yeah, she could have anyone; but she wants you." She switched over to hostess mode, put on her best smile, and locked her arm in Olivia's to make their approach. Within the minute she was introducing Olivia to Natalie and Maria.

"Oh, so you are a detective, how interesting. My next role is a cop. I'd love to pick your brain." Natalie moved over closer to Olivia, executing a perfect body block. Maddy was astounded at her skill. She quickly took notes and filed them away.

Maria interjected, "Now I'm sure Olivia didn't come here to be grilled about her job, Nat. I want to know how long you've known Alex." It was a pick and roll; Maddy was now outside the Olivia sandwich.

Maddy thought, damn, they're a force to be reckoned with. If they ever decided to fight on the side of good instead of evil, world peace would be realized.

"Maddy dear, I'm just dying for one of your special vodka tonics." Natalie smiled as she delivered her line. Maddy was sure she was playing the python from the jungle book.

Alex caught up to Maddy at the bar. "Where's Olivia?" Maddy cocked her head towards the back of the room. Seeing Liv corralled by the two filled her with panic. She could only imagine what they were discussing. "How could you have left her alone with them?"

"Relax Alex; she's had plenty of experience with sexual predators. She'll be fine."

"I'm not chancing anything. Lets get over there quickly."

Alex walked up feeling like the girl left out of the clique. They barely acknowledged her; their focus was on the dark meat in the red dress. But when Alex went to the bar to freshen Olivia's drink, Maria pealed off with her.

"So, she's your new squeeze…. Impressive."

"No, Maria. We are just friends."

"So you wouldn't mind if I made a play for her."

"You and Nat on the outs?" She looked puzzled then set herself in a power pose. "Don't go there. I mean it. I thought you guys gave the ménage a trois thing up. Not here, not now."

"You left her alone with us, what did you expect; that we'd be content to sample the finger food?" She glanced back over appreciatively. "So, you're telling me that you haven't thrown her on her back yet?"

"No and don't screw things up for me. I am waiting for her to take the lead."

"Now that's just wrong. Alex Cabot not chasing her prey down?" She turned to glance back at Olivia, cocking her head. "I can't believe what I'm hearing. I may have to lie down."

"I'm ready to settle down, Maria. I think this is it. Seriously, don't interfere."

Maria relaxed, looked perplexed, and finally responded sincerely, "Wow, I gotta say that I never thought I'd hear this…. That's …fabulous." She walked back to the group with Alex feeling definitely bittersweet. Someone had finally taken her place.

Alex placed her arm through Olivia's and begged the group's pardon as she had to introduce her to others at the party. Alex made the rounds through the guests and they ended up going up a stairwell to the roof. "This is a time honored tradition of the Cabot kids, going up to the roof during our parents' parties to see how long we'd last in the cold. Peter started it by going up to get high. Martha brought her dates up to make out."

"And you?"

"I just liked watching the Citgo sign. You know, we had a party up here the night they turned it back on. It had been off for the energy crisis. It was a magical night. Everyone was paired off up here and I was sitting here all alone, pretending the Back Bay was my kingdom."

Olivia could see it. That girl in the photos commanding from this roof, this hill, this palace, surveying her subjects as she canvases juries, lords over a courtroom. She was born to it; she cultivated it. Her whole life led up to the leader that she'd become. Olivia Benson knew that there was not another human being like her and no one that she'd ever want more.

Olivia pulled Alex close and pushed a strand away from her brow. Fingertips slid down the frame of her face to her jaw. Her thumb brushed Alex's lower lip and stayed there. It wasn't cold anymore. There wasn't anything in the world but Alex's eyes, misty through the small space between them.

Alex felt panic. Her heart started to race, her chest got tight, twisting her gut into a ball. It was going to happen. Oh God in heaven, her eyes dilated. Olivia closed the space cradling Alex's head in her hand. Velvet, soft lips nudged hers, tentative then in earnest. There was no space left between them. Alex felt Olivia's arms tighten. She grabbed on tight and pushed her body into Olivia's. She felt faint as the kiss lengthened. Olivia literally held her up as she continued to back her up to the wall. The icy brick scraped her back as she rocked against it. Portions of bare burning flesh pulled and pushed across her own exposed parts. The hot and cold of it was mind blowing. All that was keeping her up was muscle thrust between her legs, flexed and firm. When Alex thought she'd faint from lack of oxygen, her lips were released with a shudder. Alex's chest was heaving the puffs of smoke into Olivia's face. The tingling sped through her core. Time folded seconds into eternity locked in each other's eyes. Finally, Alex broke the silence. "Liv, I can't feel my feet."

"I guess I better take you home."

The cab ride was an eternity and Olivia began to panic. There was going to be sex and she was not sure that she was ready. Alex, on the other hand, was ecstatic. As they entered the house, she nearly sprinted up the stairs pulling a hapless Olivia behind her. As she shrugged her coat off, she winced and Olivia noticed the abrasions on Alex's back.

"You're bleeding." Olivia backed off in dismay. "I did that."

"This? It's nothing, just a flesh wound," she joked as she struggled to take a glance over her shoulder. "Hey, you can't kiss me like that and just leave me high and w…" She stopped short as she watched Olivia erratically pacing about with the wall-eyed look Max gave before he grabbed the bit and ran wild. She suddenly understood. She had been going about this all wrong. She softened her stance and became very still. Her voice became soft and calm. "I'm fine Olivia. I've had worse stealing second."'

Olivia was trembling. "I can't stay."

"Liv, it's midnight. Where do you want to go?" she answered even softer.

Olivia was muttering under her breath then suddenly looked up. "What are we doing here?"

"We were having a very nice second date, presumably investigating what we seem to have between us. I was hoping to ask you in for a nightcap." She added silently, a thorough rubdown and a nice long ride.

"I'm afraid."

"It's OK. I'm not."

"I don't want to hurt you," delivered through a pained look.

You wouldn't hurt me was stifled. Alex was very careful to keep Olivia's gaze before she answered, "Liv, ..I .. won't .. let you." She held out her hand.

"I've got issues…"

"Everybody does. Come. I'll do the driving. You tell me if I'm going somewhere you don't and I'll stop." Her smile was liquid, all movements fluid.

Olivia took a step, then another. Alex waited patiently for her to move right next to her. She could feel Olivia's breath but she still made no move forward. It wasn't until her hand was taken and Olivia leaned into her that Alex touched her and felt a brief quiver under her skin. Without breaking the gaze, she started to step back into her room, leading with a firm but gentle grasp. It was all soft touches and gentle encouragement as Alex removed each article of clothing. Soon Olivia was following suit. Before long, they were in bed and Alex was pulling her close, expertly positioning for as much body contact as she could muster all the while whispering incredible lines in multiple languages, all entreating Olivia to all sorts of activities. She was bound to get her to choose one. In the end, she chose several.

Christmas morning found both women in a sea of tangled sheets. Olivia had lain awake for hours staring at the amazing woman sleeping soundly next to her. It had been so easy with her. No struggle for dominance, no anxiety over control. She simply led and Olivia followed. The most amazing thing that night was that the paralyzing panic fell away and Olivia felt free and present for the first time in her life. She let herself take her with satisfying force devoid of anger or rage. It was infinitely more powerful to feel rather than detach, to participate emotionally and not intellectualize the act. The difference astounded her. She did not need ire to reach the apex, this was the proof. Alex kissed her with impossible care and a tenderness that defied physics. The shear intensity of the reaction was blinding. Olivia never thought it possible to have an orgasm at such a simple touch, yet it happened in what can only be described as epic proportions. Whispered phrases, soft sighs, mixed with urgent demands delivered through clenched teeth, answered prayers. Tables turned and Alex gave as good as she got. That was what perplexed Olivia and caused her to study the sleeping figure beside her for so long. What she had experienced was so foreign yet oddly comforting. It was abundance. Christmas would never be the same again. Something inside had slipped into a gear and everything ran smoothly. It was more than the poetry and the mood. It was the woman.

As the sunlight crept into the room bathing the walls with splashes of color, the warmth spread through her soul like wildfire. Her mother was so right about how important it was to be surrounded by such beauty: last night, this morning, this feeling. She watched as Alex stirred and lazily opened her eyes, focused, and blazed into a smile. It was the perfect shade of blue. This was far better than any painting imaginable. Maybe she was going to live after all.

The End

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