Title: Baked Apples
Feedback address: email@example.com
Date in Calendar: 1 January 2007
Fandom: Light, Water, Muses
Pairing: None. Just a few suggestions!
Series: prologue to Rapids.
Category: Sequel to Refractions. Part three of the Light, Water and Muses saga.
Summary: Old friends are reunited for the holidays.
Spoilers: Just the info on Olivia's mom.
Advertisement: Part of the FSAC:DW06
Personal disclaimer: There are so many wonderful people that you will meet in Rapids, that I needed a little intro to a few of them. This was the very first time that I wrote Michael, and her personality remains pretty consistent, which pleases me. (Note for New Years, 2007. This story was finished many moons ago and accidentally kept getting passed over in updates to Shatterstorm. Since it would be just wrong for me not to participate in the Calendars, this is a perfect solution. The writing bug has been on vacation for some time for me, but this piece has held up well with time. Enjoy!)
Disclaimer: “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”, the characters and situations depicted are the property of Wolf Films, Universal Network Television, NBC, etc. They are borrowed without permission, but without the intent of infringement. This story is in no way affiliated with "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” Wolf Films, Universal Network Television, NBC, or any representatives of Stephanie March or Mariska Hargitay.
Disclaimer: “Facts of Life”, produced by Embassy Pictures Corporation and TAT Communications Company. Created by Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon.
++ Detective Olivia Benson ++
I snatched up the buzzing cell phone without looking at it, habitually bracing myself for the bad news waiting for me at the other end of the line. Typical day for New York City’s finest. “Detective Benson.”
“Detective Benson,” a familiar voice sing-songed back at me mockingly and all of the sudden my day was a whole lot sunnier.
“Jo! How the hell are you?”
A low, happy chuckle carried through the tiny little phone. “Better now that I’m finally home sweet home.”
“I take it that case is finally wrapped up?”
“Yeah. And if I ever get the insane idea to go undercover in the godforsaken wilds of California again, shoot me.”
Now I laughed in earnest. Even trying to picture tough Bronx-girl Vice Detective Jo Polniaczek in a place like Weed, California boggled my mind. “You’re on. Did you make it home in time for Christmas with the kid?”
“Yes, thank God. Jamie has decided that she won’t disown me quite yet. But I’d better stick around for awhile to make sure! Anyway, I seem to be alone tonight.”
My voice turned wry. “I take stitch and bitch is on for tonight?”
“Hell yes! I’m calling Sandano after I’m through begging you to show. I’m sure that she can drag Lucas out for beer and chuckles. It’ll be a scream. Bring Jesse if you want.”
I again felt regret for the missing presence of the one other woman on my squad. “You keep forgetting that she left.”
“Aw shit, you’re right. Sorry.”
“It’s okay.” A flash of blonde hair and an aggressive stride caught my eye. It was Alex, pouring over a folder as she made her way out of the courtroom we’d both been stuck in all day. “Maybe I have an entertaining alternate.”
“Excellent. See you at The Chimera after about… what, eight-ish?”
“Yeah, I can have my work wrapped up by then, unless something comes up.”
“Isn’t it always like that?”
++ Alexandra Cabot, Assistant District Attorney ++
While I had been raised a New York native, I knew a very different layer of the Big Apple than most of the masses. The upper crust specifically. There were still mixed feelings about that fact.
Then came law school…
More specifically, after law school.
Oh, mommy and daddy wanted me to follow family tradition and join the family business. I had every intention of following that tradition to the letter.
Except, a series of coincidences redirected me. As upper crust, I had no real concept of just how bad things could really get. Oh sure, I watched the TV and all, but there I had no connection to the suffering.
Then came fired-up classmates… brutal case studies… victims and perpetrators alike that came into the classes and spoke to us young hopefuls.
Suddenly, a career of blue-blood, white-collar, black tie and silk legalities began to look like a prison.
So… I broke the mold.
Even now, after years of practice with the city, the family treated me as some sort of barely tolerable black sheep. God forbid, I should mingle with the unwashed masses that really needed me. This was not a life of protecting monetary assets and public images. This was a life of bloodied and broken victims, lives torn apart by the monstrosities that humanity perpetuated on itself.
I think I deliberately angled for the most fringe unit that I could find, determined to do the most good. That was how I hooked up with the Manhattan Special Victims Unit. It was a brutal job, for these victims were the most heart-wrenching group. These were the rapes, the child molestations, the sex crimes from minor to horrific. It was rewarding work, despite being absolutely soul draining.
Thankfully, for both my career and my sanity, I had the finest detectives the city could offer. They had been understandably cool with me when I’d first come onboard, but the relationship was now pretty solid. Sarcastic and sharp Munch, tough guy Fin, solid Elliot… and enigmatic Olivia. When the lone woman in the bunch had slowly warmed to me, I had been shocked by the friendliness. It was rare that detectives even tolerated their assistant DAs, much less chummed up to them. So, I naturally basked in the general acceptance of the unit, but particularly Olivia’s. She was an endlessly fascinating puzzle to my busy mind and a challenge to my lonely existence. We were both in the business pretty much 24/7, but socialized when we could.
Imagine my surprise leaving court today, when Olivia casually invited me to go hang out with some women cop buddies tonight, since tomorrow was New Years. Tomorrow is when the shit would hit the fan, despite it being a Monday night, so I could understand the need to keep calm now. With a sarcastic snort, she had enticed me with, “they’ll love having fresh meat to tell stories to. Great bunch, I think you’ll like them.” Fully aware that my mother would be livid at me blowing off the family gathering, I eagerly accepted.
++ Olivia ++
What in the name of my sometimes questionable sanity had I been thinking? These boisterous drinking get-togethers with a few of my fellow women officers on the thin blue line couldn’t possibly be Alex’s cup of tea. But she’d jumped at the chance, saying it sounded like fun. God, the others were gonna have a field day with my ADA at the table. Buck up, Liv, you asked for it. Though, I’d bet my badge that she was going to be great company, because there were a million fascinating layers to Alexandra Cabot. It was that complexity that drew me, roiling just beneath the cool and implacable surface.
The Chimera was one of the last honest watering holes, though not quite what one might expect. The owner was an old role-playing game nut that had the place done up like a tavern right out of a fantasy book. There was a ‘unicorn’ horn proudly displayed over the bar, and various fantastic animals mounted on the walls like trophies. My favorite was the twenty-four point stag with its lips pulled back in a snarl to reveal a mouthful of teeth like a badger. The bloody red eyes that glowed faintly was the perfect final touch. The place was well established as neutral territory for all parties and the booze was the best in the damn city.
“Wow,” Alex breathed as she looked around and I grinned.
“This place is great, and completely unforgettable.”
Anything else I would have said was cut off by a chorus of familiar shouts. I caught my name, a ‘how the hell are you?’ and a ‘get your butt over here.’
Let the games begin.
++ Alex ++
The shouts had startled me for a moment, but Olivia merely smiled and headed over. “Alright, you ruffians, don’t make me run you in for disturbing the peace.” The three women at the table laughed, threw peanuts and booed mockingly.
“Hey,” said the woman closest to me, dressed in jeans and a biker jacket. “I thought you just happened to walk in at the same time as Studmuffin here. Are you with her?”
I suppose I ought to be mildly taken aback by the leer in her voice, but I played along instead. Putting on my best impassive ‘lawyer’ face, I looked Olivia up and down before regarding the table placidly. “Nope,” I deadpanned. “Never seen her before in my life.” They howled with laughter as Olivia rolled her eyes and grabbed the lapels of my heavy coat to slip it off my shoulders. For good measure, I handed her my briefcase as well, smiling gratefully.
“Oh yeah, I was right, you’ll fit in just fine.” Liv chuckled. “Guys, this is Alex Cabot, she’s ADA for my unit, but she’s cool. Be good and do intros while I coat check these and get a round.”
Another burst of garbled affirmations sounded off and I sat across from the striking woman who had put me on the spot moments ago. She regarded me thoughtfully, electric blue eyes as piercing as any hunting bird or hungry dog. So I remained calm and returned the steady gaze. Abruptly, she snorted with laughter and slapped the table decisively. “Damn, you gotta game face on you.” Her accent was thickly Bronx. “Jo Polniaczek, pleased to meetcha.” Ouch, she had a handshake on her like a wrecker. A tip of the mug in one fist indicated the two other women, both still in their uniform blues. “Anne-Marie Lucas, Joanna Sandano, both ASPCA. I’m Manhattan south vice. How the hell did you end up with Benson?”
Ah, there it was, the penchant that police had for calling one another by last name almost exclusively. I grinned as Olivia made her way across the room. “I was enticed with promises of stories.” That made them howl again.
When Joanna spoke, her Bronx accent made the words nearly undecipherable. “Oh, we got stories alright. But’cha gotta share.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Where Joanna was dark in the manner of Italian decent, as if the name wasn’t a dead giveaway, Anne-Marie was blonde and cool. As informal and relaxed as Joanna was, Anne-Marie was in contrast to her by being neat and buttoned up, but smiling engagingly.
“Ignore these junkyard dogs,” Anne-Marie suddenly spoke up in a smooth voice devoid of any accent I could identify. The Jo’s wolf-howled lustily at the comment as Olivia shoved me over with an imperious hip. “They’re showing off because there’s fresh meat at the table.”
I flashed Olivia a wry look that made her grin sheepishly and duck her eyes away. “I seem to remember someone using a similar description.”
++ Olivia ++
While the gang cracked up at Alex’s dig, I set down a couple pitchers of beer and two mugs I’d lugged over. A boisterous round of ‘how have you been’ was traded as I topped off the used mugs and filled mine. Then I asked Alex, “sweet or bitter?”
Waving her hand negligently, Alex protested, “I’m not a beer drinker.”
We all yelped in alarm.
“Don’t say that!” Joanna verbalized. “Ingle’ll…”
Too late, as a familiar, towering figure materialized from nowhere. “Ingle heard,” she said simply, in that low, smooth voice that could break up riots. Hell, I’d seen her do it. For a long moment she regarded Alex in a calm, level manner that said nothing. My pal merely looked taken aback and a hair defensive.
“What did I say?”
With a sigh, Ingle tucked her pencil behind her ear and gave me a scolding look. “Did you not explain the place to her? How long have you been coming here anyway?”
“Hey! It’s been years since we’ve had a new face.”
Rolling her eyes at my obtuseness, Ingle smiled gently at Alex. “I’m a micro-brewery aficionado. And I will find you something you like. I always do.” There was a well-deserved finality to that statement. “And you’re buying,” she informed me politely.
“There goes my pension,” I sighed and was immediately cuffed up alongside the head by the skyscraper blonde. The others screamed with laughter, while Alex just looked bemused. There were few people that I could act like this around, but we’d shed a lot of tears here, and drowned a whole city full of sorrows. Ingle had earned the right to treat me like a sibling a hundred times over.
“She’s got a point though,” Ingle mused thoughtfully, her strange European accent suddenly faintly noticeable. “How do you rate?”
Alex shrugged. “No clue. But I’m happy to be here. So, you’ll find me a beer I’ll like? You’re on.”
“Good. I’ll get the pool started.”
“Pool?” But it was too late to get the question answered by the endlessly enigmatic bartender. Though, towering multiple inches over the six foot mark, she was clearly visible in the growing crowd. So Alex turned her questioning expression on me. “Pool?”
“There’ll be a betting pool started within minutes. Tradition, you understand. It’s mostly the staff, but sometimes the regulars get involved. Ingle has a reputation to maintain about her precious microbrews. The dark one here,” I tapped the pitcher Jo and I were drinking from, “is from some weird, unpronounceable town in Wisconsin. They call it Mudhole, and it’s totally addictive.”
Anne-Marie jumped in on the explanation. “The pale is from British Columbia. Believe it or not, the brewers call it Mad Cow Piss. Disgusting name, but I’ve been drinking it for… what, three years now?”
“Somethin’ like that,” Joanna chuckled. “Here comes Ingle for the interrogation. Brace yourself.”
++ Alex ++
Interrogation was the right word. I was quizzed on what I liked to eat and drink, not to mention my sleeping patterns and work habits. She also asked me about wines, and no matter the odd vintage or winery, the tall woman seemed to know exactly what I was talking about. Her knowledge was of a depth that I knew my mother would be thrilled with her.
“I can’t believe that you’re familiar with Chateau Ironwood,” I marveled. “A bottle of that vintage, any year, is like gold.”
“Platinum,” Ingle demurred, her teasing smile hinting that she knew even more than she was letting on. “Let’s just say that I have an ‘in’ with the vintner. If I told anyone my trade secrets, I’d never be left alone by the wine snobs. No offense.”
“None taken. Maybe I’ll have to drag my mother in here and see if you can really work a miracle.”
She merely chuckled and made a few more notes on her little pad. The others had chatted quietly among themselves during all this, and had managed to kill off the two pitchers that Olivia had provided. With a muttered comment I couldn’t understand, Ingle flipped the pad closed and tucked it into her pocket. “Okay, guys, the usual rules apply. You see Alex; I have a standing dare on myself that I can guess a brew you’ll love with only three samples. I’ll also get you four police dogs restocked. Back in a minute.”
“Ingle always did like a challenge,” Jo chuckled. “What do you think of this place?”
I eyed the fantastic décor. “It’s like a fairy tale book. I half expect some barbarian wearing fur and carrying an axe to step through the door.” They laughed and laughed at the description while I stared up at the odd creature’s heads mounted all over the walls. “I think my favorite is that suit of lion fur behind the bar.”
“Ingle says its armor,” Olivia scoffed. “That’s where she got the name of this place. That’s supposedly a chimera hide. It’s got to be some kind of lion, but one the size of a Clydesdale. Bet she’d even fit in the thing.”
Before we could speculate further on the chimera-suit, Ingle returned with a tray and two pitchers. With the others happy with their favorites, she grinned at me again. “Okay, here’s the three. First, is Summer Sun, straight from the Camden Valley, outside of Atlanta, Georgia. This is the one I’m not completely sure of, but decided, what the hell. It’s a sweet honey ale.”
One swig of the wet bottle convinced me that I was drastically mistaken about beer. “Wow,” I marveled and licked my lips while I stared at the bottle. The others laughed while I gathered my thoughts. “That’s delicious. What is that? Peach?”
“Yep, good guess. Now, that brew has a slight aftertaste that you might be leery of.” On cue, the faint, bitter trace slid across my taste buds. I didn’t scowl or anything, but Ingle obviously read my non-expression. “Yep, I’m right.” A cup of black coffee was handed over. “Here, clear your palate and try number two, which is even smoother. From Castaic, California, this is Thrill Ride, made at the southern base of the famous and deadly stretch of freeway known as The Grapevine. Believe it or not, this was concocted by a former inmate of a massive prison complex located there. He works as a mechanic at the local rollercoaster park now and he and some buddies brew it in the local industrial complex during their free time.”
“Great,” I muttered playfully. “Now I’m drinking beer made by convicts.” It was even better than the last one, musky and smooth like a still, hot day in Southern California. “Mmmmm, what’s that odd taste?”
“Sweet barley, immature bread-quality wheat and wild sage, if you can believe it. I was hesitant to try such an odd combination, but I try any beer that my customers and contacts bring me. This is actually one of my personal favorites.”
“It’s wonderful. And no aftertaste.”
“Nope. Coffee again and we’ll see if I get to keep my reputation intact. This last one has no name. It’s made by a crazy artist in Seattle that calls himself the Mad Hatter. He ferments this stuff in the basement of the old industrial building he owns, which is actually in the Seattle underground. Makes every batch tenderly by hand and it’s damn hard to get a hold of, because his attention span is erratic at best. But when he does, it’s pure magic.” With the bottle halfway into my hand, she paused and gave me a laughing look. “I’ve been in this business, such as it is, for longer than anyone would believe, even if I were completely frank, and I have no clue exactly what’s in here. All I know is that there’s nothing illegal in it, did the tests myself through a reputable lab.”
I had to admit that I was eager to try the crazy artist’s concoction after such a great introduction. It was a big, green, forty ounce bottle of what was obviously blown glass, not machine made. There was no sticker on it and a thick, fruity smell wafted from the open mouth.
++ Olivia ++
The look of almost orgasmic pleasure on Alex’s face was hysterical. She smiled in a faint, blissful way and gazed warmly at the dark bottle. “Oh my,” she hummed. “Damn that’s nice. Do I taste blackberries?”
“That was my guess too,” Ingle chuckled in satisfaction at her new patron’s delight. “Good stuff, huh?”
“Mmmm,” Alex hummed again.
“Strong too, so look out. Now, I only have three bottles left, but they’re yours if you want to pay for them. I cough up twenty bucks a bottle to Hatter for these. You pay thirty. Sorry, Liv, I wasn’t deliberately trying to kill your paycheck, but this is the best of the subtle, fruity blends I thought Alex would like.”
“It’s okay,” I chuckled. “The look on her face is worth it. Toss the three on my tab.”
“You got it. So, have I changed your mind about beer, Alex?”
“Excellent. You girls have fun. Holler if you need anything.”
While Alex enjoyed her treat, I listened to Joanna regale us with the wild and woolly tales of being an animal cop in the Big Apple. Occasionally, Anne-Marie tossed in her two cents to keep the story accurate and on track. “Damn punk,” Joanna finally grumbled and leaned back in her seat. “Beats his dog nearly to death and then acts all surprised when we toss his sorry butt in jail. His girlfriend didn’t look much better.”
We all sighed in sympathy and a long moment passed in a sad quiet. Alex, bless her heart, broke the mood. “So, how do all of you know each other? Besides the obvious,” she added on, gesturing at the matching black uniforms.
“Joanna and I are partners, technically,” Anne-Marie supplied. “There are only ten ASPCA special officers in New York, so we get passed around a lot.”
“Ten?” Alex marveled. “How do you get anything done?”
“With help from the cops,” Joanna chuckled. “All but two of us started out helpin’ animals and then trained for police work. The other two used to be cops and then joined us.”
Now Jo piped up. “The ASPCA cases overlap with other facets of law enforcement constantly, because where there’s pit bull fighting, in particular, there’s drugs nearby. It’s like peanut butter and jelly. So, I made nice with these two while I was undercover, and stayed friends since.”
“And Olivia,” Alex queried, flashing blue eyes from Jo to me. Ole’ blue-eyed Polniaczek just smirked and waited for me to explain. But I knew she wanted to do it herself and stayed quiet.
“We were partners out of the two-two in the Bronx for over five years. Man, those were good times,” she reminisced fondly and her grin grew evil. “Earned our gold shields together. There was no way in hell I could handle SVU, so I went to Vice, and stayed put in the Bronx. I try to keep the kids out of trouble so Liv doesn’t have to deal with them. Y’know?”
“I know,” Alex sympathized quietly. “There are nights I can’t sleep.”
++ Alex ++
After that, the group tried to keep the mood more lighthearted and I pried open the second bottle of that magnificent Seattle brew. Soon the conversation inevitably turned to weirdness and raunch, and I was laughing right along with them. “He was a pig,” Joanna snorted at Anne-Marie, who flushed. “Dunno why the hell you were datin’ him.”
The place had begun filling up, and now it was pretty crowded. It was a varied crowd, club punks, cops, gangers and suits mingled freely. There was a remarkable rapport to the gathering, none of the usual threat with so much diversity in a relatively small space. I liked this place, and told my new pals that. They agreed and we clinked mugs and bottles happily.
“So, Alex,” Jo suddenly asked. “How’d you end up here on a holiday weekend?”
“Happily blew off my stuffy family party, and looking forward to being too hung over to deal with them tomorrow. And the courts are closed, so I have no reason to hold back. It was lucky for Olivia that I was working on a Sunday.”
“Sweet. Family can be overwhelming, but I still adore my big clan.”
Conversation was halted as a big, muscular body suddenly appeared at the edge of the table. “Well, hello you sexy things,” purred a deep, English-accented voice. He was good-looking in a scruffy, long-haired gay boy kind of way, an image heightened by his leather club/bondage clothing. By the happy reception he received from my police escort, he was a friend. A second man joined him as he chatted. This one was paler and cleaner cut. He was as focused and intent as his taller buddy was relaxed and laid back. They were introduced as Ian and Ben, respectfully, and the later gallantly kissed my offered hand. It was very sweet.
“So,” Ian asked in his deep voice. “Have you guys seen Michael lately? You are still asked about by certain parties, whose names I hardly need to mention, hmmm?” To my surprise, Liv flushed and ducked her head away, much to the amusement of the others. Then, he grinned at me. “Unless you’re the jealous sort.”
The man thought we were a couple! How weird… except that I abruptly realized that I was leaning somewhat drunkenly against my friend. Liv looked freaked by the exchanged and I gave her hand a squeeze of reassurance. Smiling cheekily at Ian, I teased, “I have to catch her first, before I can be the jealous sort.”
That comment even made the quiet Ben chuckle, while the others howled. Kisses to cheeks were passed around, including me, and the men melted into the crowd with another reminder to look up this mysterious Michael. Only then did Olivia flash me a sheepish look from under lowered lashes. So cute.
“Sorry about that. Those two know me under… really different circumstances. I’ve never bothered to explain any misconceptions.”
Jo snorted. “Yeah, and having me become a regular only keeps you more enticing, oh Enigmatic One. Poor, poor Pai, mooning over the one that she couldn’t keep snared with her many charms. She still pines over you.” Anne-Marie and Joanna snickered and Liv glared somewhat half-heartedly. “So, is this where I start embarassin’ you in front of your ‘girlfriend’?”
++ Olivia ++
It was more than a little late to start embarrassing me, and Jo knew it. Once more, I had to wonder what in hell had possessed me to invite Alex along. But I knew the answer. Loneliness was taking its toll, years of isolation and pain with only mom to lean on, and I was still missing her fiercely. Only two weeks ago had marked a year since losing her, and my heart was still aching. Elliot was great, one in a million, but I could only lean on him so hard. His family needed his strength at least as much as I did. He was a little stoic sometimes too, and interaction was what I craved. Alex provided that for me. She was close to home, but with a certain distance that our jobs required. She was also smart, dedicated and funny. All the things I appreciated in a person.
I hated telling this embarrassing story, and they all knew it. Hell, it wasn’t as if my buddies didn’t know the story pretty much by heart. Maybe I could make them tell it. But guileless blue eyes convinced me that I needed to do this. So, I screwed up my courage and went for the honest route with her.
“There was this really bizarre case,” I began haltingly, almost too quietly to be heard. Alex leaned harder against my shoulder, her warmth reassuring me. Big blue eyes were open and guileless and not a little drunk.
“Give me a minute, this is kind of humiliating.”
“Chickenshit,” Jo teased fondly. “You’d think your shock value would be nil, long as you’ve been the job.” I knew she didn’t mean to hurt… but she was right. I’d ‘been the job’ for so very long. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I know,” I growled around the lump in my throat. “It’s just embarrassing to talk about. See, Alex, those guys work for a woman named Michael.”
“A woman?” Alex sounded mildly taken aback.
“Yeah. Her boss owns clubs and a crack security company, a real para-military unit. They’re actually a great bunch, and rarely a pain in the ass for the police. But KC’s real business is a network of sex clubs. They rarely get busted because they’re incredibly careful to keep within the law and the safety of their patrons. Classy organization and run like the damn Army. Ian and Ben are third in command and enforcers for the woman who really runs everything.”
“Yeah, Michael. The really exclusive places are kink-specific, and can be really wild. But she keeps things in control like a dictator. And everyone adores her for it. Clients pay dues for access to the clubs, invite only, of course.”
“Of course,” Alex agreed quietly and settled in even closer.
“And the employees, such as they are, cannot be touched while on the payroll. Even if I wanted to bust Michael for prostitution, it would be next to impossible. But there’s always a few trying to catch her with her pants down, so to speak.” I couldn’t help but flush at certain memories parading across my mind’s eye. Alex smiled enigmatically and gestured for me to continue. “So, me and Jo here are getting to the end of shift one night, when we hear a scuffle.”
“Scuffle,” Jo snorted bitterly. “This red-headed guy stumbles out of an alley, half-dead from a beating. Six guys after him, six! They came rippin’ out after him, only to be facing a pair of service revolvers. We only caught four of the bastards, three at the scene and the one they rolled over on later. The red-head is hurtin’ pretty bad and we send him off in a wagon to get patched up.”
“Imagine our surprise,” I broke in. “When he comes limping into the station house just a few days later. Smiling around the swelling and full of praise for the two of us. Sweet guy, that Gabriel. We’re worried about him moving around so soon, but he laughs us off. Never met anyone that laughs as much as that man. Comments about being used to it, but it usually being done with love. Then this woman strides in like she owns the place and he lights up like a Labrador separated from mommy for too long.”
It was uncanny, absolutely surreal how the woman did it.
Even as I said the words, a dark figure melted from the crowd to regard me languidly. “I’ll be damned,” I breathed in wonder and all eyes followed mine. A faint, self-satisfied smile tilted the full mouth, and one dark brow arched in arrogant question. “How do you do that?”
“It’s a gift,” Michael shrugged nonchalantly as she glided up to the table. “I see the gang’s all here, ready for the chaos tomorrow. I’m surprised that they let anyone with a badge out of Times Square.”
And I knew what was coming next.
++ Alex ++
Olivia braced herself, literally grabbing the edge of the table and wincing as though expecting a blow.
I was glad I leaned away from her to get a better look, as a slender, darkly garbed body rocketed out of the crowd, squealing Olivia’s name. A ‘whuff’ escaped Liv as she was rocked back into my smaller body and I thumped into the wall behind me. Pressing happy-dog kisses all over Olivia’s striking features, the girl was quite happy to see the stoic cop she was draped all over. “I’ve missed you,” she purred like a gigantic cat, curling up tight against a resigned Olivia.
Should I worry that my coworker felt all too wonderful, pressed heavily into me like this?
“How have you been?”
While they caught up, a handsome young man also appeared at Michael’s side while the woman leaned over to murmur quietly with Jo. The long, warm kiss they shared spoke volumes. It wasn’t easy for me to admit that I was fascinated by what was going on around me. Setting a hand on Olivia’s shoulder, I paused in pushing her upright. Crystal blue eyes met mine from beneath Olivia’s chin, regarding me warily.
After a moment, the strange young woman’s expression changed, closing off completely, and she scrambled to her feet to take position at Michael’s right shoulder. “Sorry,” she murmured uncomfortably, hands clasped in front of her, eyes demurely cast at the floor.
Ooookay, that was weird. Olivia slowly sat up and gave me a strange, curious look as I shrugged uncomfortably at the young woman’s behavior. After quirking a curious eyebrow at her companions, Michael returned her attention to the table. “May I hazard a guess that you are the famous Alex?”
Michael’s calm question took me by surprise. A sharp glance at Olivia was rewarded by a sheepish flinch, and a shy smile that I’m quite certain that she was hoping would keep her out of trouble. “I talk about you,” Liv explained quietly and I sighed before returning my attention to the mysterious Michael.
“It’s all a pack of dirty lies,” I deadpanned dryly, setting off Joanna and Anne-Marie into hysterics. A slow grin warmed Michael’s aristocratic features and she chuckled ruefully.
“Touché counselor. I admire wits on a beautiful woman.”
Somehow I sensed that Michael was not the type to randomly hand out compliments. So I took the admiration to heart, letting it warm me, and flashed my best smile.
++ Olivia ++
I worried for a moment how these powerful women might react to one another. Not to mention the flattering flirtatiousness that was mildly out of character for Michael. At least to a complete stranger that was an ADA, for crying out loud.
Then I saw Alex’s eyes warm, and the sweetest, most beatific smile spread across her normally cool features. “Why thank you, Michael,” she chuckled throatily and offered a hand. She smiled even deeper when Michael bent over the slender offering and pressed a chaste kiss to fine-boned knuckles. “See, you street dogs, you could learn some manners here.” The comment had been directed at us cops and we all started laughing. “Alexandra Cabot,” she offered to Michael, smiling in the most charming way.
I was staring.
“Grace la Magne. It’s a pleasure to put a face to Olivia’s stories.”
She had a girlie name? Jo’s eyebrow arched in mild surprise at the name, but it was obviously not a shock to her. Unlike me. I was floored. In all the years I had known Michael, I had never heard her legal name. A faintly amused look from the woman in question made me shut my mouth and return my attention to my beer. What the hell did I care if she gave Alex her real name?
And what the hell did I care if she was flirting?
The introspection brought up some very uncomfortable truths for me. Years ago, I had given myself freely to this enigmatic woman who held such power over Jo. I still remembered the way I had felt that long, long night. The two boys had very carefully kept their masculine equipment far away from any of us girls, relying on other well-honed talents. Poor Leslie had seemed faintly uncomfortable, but he would walk on water for Gabe or Michael, and did whatever was ordered of him. Pai had decided that she wanted to be my best buddy that night, if it meant she could get back in my pants. It had become a bit of a running gag over the years. Michael had orchestrated them all like a musical conductor, bringing the most insane intensity of carnal pleasure to me. My strongest memory was of the woman wielding a silky smooth toy strapped around her hips with more talent than any lover I’d had before…
Probably why I really tried not to analyze my feelings too closely.
Because, then I might have to be jealous that she was flirting with Alex.
A sharp buzz and vibration at my hip actually made me jump, the shrill tones of my cell following up the vibrate function. I smiled in apology at the table and vacated my seat to the chorus of them booing at me. “Benson.”
“Hey,” Fin’s voice came over the little speaker. “Sorry to bug you, but your name came up.”
Looking back wistfully at the table, all I could mutter was, “damn.”
++ Michael ++
“Stubborn,” I admonished fondly as Olivia stepped away from the table, before returning my attention to her lovely companion. “She’s something else.”
Alex smiled slowly; a feline, predatory expression and I took a quick drink of my beer to cover my grin. “That she is.” Oh, Olivia was in trouble now! With this clever kitty on her tail…
Hang-dog, Olivia came back the table and we all knew what was coming. “They need me.” The chorus of denial went up and she raised her hands. “Elliot’s eldest is sick. I love you guys, but I can’t ask him to walk away from his sick kid. I just can’t.”
Jo was up first, wrapping Olivia in a bone-crunching hug, muttering something that made the brunette laugh. She high-fived the ASPCA officers and gave me a warm smile. “Alex? Can I give you a lift back the precinct?”
Alex pouted. It was such a little-girl; kittenishly flirtatious expression that I once again went for my drink to preserve my dignity by not snorting with humor. “You really have to go?”
“Yeah, something nasty came down the pipe and Fin caught it. Munch is out of town and it’s just me to watch his back.” Did Olivia have any clue how transparent she was about this golden creature? All I could do was roll my eyes and hope that they figured it out one day.
“I can give her a ride,” Jo suddenly piped up. “I went to the virgin stuff a pitcher ago. Another hour and my bloodstream’ll be clean.”
Alex’s pout transformed into a beatific smile. “Thank you, Jo. Give Fin my love, Liv.”
Watching the indecision on Olivia’s face was the most entertainment I’d had in weeks. Finally, she gave in and smiled queasily. “Okay. See you guys soon.”
In the lull of Olivia’s passing and the group returning to their festivities, I leaned in close to Jo, discreetly running my hand up the inside of her thigh. “Give her a ride home, hmmm?” I purred low and soft, her body growing still, breath strangled. I had taught her well. “You just make sure that’s all you do. Tonight, and into tomorrow, you’re mine, my sweet. I plan on ringing in the New Year with your cries.” After a quick scrape of fingernail over the crotch seam of Jo’s jeans, I sat back as though nothing had happened, confident that the others hadn’t even noticed the exchange.
I hadn’t counted on Alexandra Cabot. Or her curious and knowing blue gaze.
++ Jo ++
It wasn’t the same without Liv, so we only hung out my required hour to ensure sobriety. I was to damn distracted by Michael to be my usual weird self anyway. It was almost a relief when we all silently agreed that it was time to go, despite that it was only just after midnight. Joanna returned my back-breaking hug and Anne-Marie allowed my enthusiastic good-bye with a grin. With much hollering and carrying on, they went to get the cab Ingle had called for them. That left me with Michael, Alex and a still-brooding Pai.
“Well, this has been enjoyable,” Michael suddenly piped up, bowing deeply to the woozy Alex, again kissing the woman’s knuckles. “A pleasure to finally meet you, Alexandra. Take good care of Olivia, won’t you?”
“With pleasure,” Alex chuckled and I knew I was right. The SVU duo had a mutual thing for each other. And, per usual, Liv had decided to pretend it didn’t exist. Girl had waterfront property on the denial. “Thanks for the offer of a ride, Jo, but I can get a cab.” If she hadn’t been unsteady and slurred like a bad cliché, I would have complied, but someone could get the best of her to damn easy like this.
“No can do, counselor. I promised Liv, and she’s meaner than me. Go get your coat.”
Making some kind of strange, undignified noise that sounded like a snorting horse, Alex toddled off to do as she was told. That left me with the woman who had reshaped my world. It was hard to meet her eyes, she had trained me carefully to not to do so unless given permission. A gentle touch on my chin raised my head. The deep amber-gold eyes were kind, a hint of playful danger dancing like there like wind-swept smoke. “I’ll be waiting at your place. Take your time and make sure Olivia’s kitten gets home safe. Until then.” A sweet kiss left me sighing like a happy dog as Michael sashayed from the bar.
“She’s cool,” Alex said wistfully as she rejoined me, tripping slightly and thumping into my shoulder. “And kinda sexy,” she chuckled, waggling blonde eyebrows. Terrific, a drunk lawyer that worked with my best friend. I wasn’t even going to joke about the mutual crush thing….
“C’mon, Alex, let’s get you home.”
++ Olivia ++
A hard hand shaking my shoulder roughly screwed up the soft, sensual dream that had taken over my exhausted mind. “Much as I’d like to record you moaning like that for later blackmail,” Elliot smirked as I jerked awake, disoriented. What the hell was he doing in my room? “I figured I’d wake you up and save you some humiliation. Damn good thing I didn’t send Munch in.”
Rolling onto my back nearly put me in his lap as the damn mattress was so fucking narrow. The cobwebs finally started to clear at my partner’s laughing expression and his big hands on shoulder and hip. “Wha…?”
“It’s morning, Sleeping Beauty and the Beast. You need to debrief me and Munch. Fin was yakking in the toilet when we got in. Seems something he ate didn’t sit well with him. So, tag, you’re it.” Taking his hands off me gingerly, obviously worried I would fall off the damn cot; Elliot straightened up from his crouch and stretched. It came back to me; the long night tracking down Fin’s perp, getting in as the sun was coming up, passing out in the crib on one of the hated cots. The quick phone call to the Chimera at closing time to reassure myself that Alex had, indeed, left with Jo. My shirt was twisted around my torso chokingly tight, the buttons threatening to give way and my bra was digging in all kinds of sensitive spots. I wasn’t even gonna get into the wedgie that was gonna have me singing soprano soon…
Groaning, I managed to figure out gravity without kissing linoleum, and gripped my aching head in my hands. With as much alcohol as I’d drunk last night and very, very little sleep, I was anything but my best. “Might want to clean up a little,” Elliot couldn’t resist on his way out. “You look like something the cat dragged in. Oh, and there’s a mysterious present on your desk.”
That finally got me up, even if I did have to grab the upper bunk while my inner ear gave me the one-finger salute. The vertigo passed and I rammed all ten fingers through hair I could feel sticking out at impossible angles as though I’d been hit by lightning. I was still yanking my clothes into some kind of order after hitting the bathroom, and I wandered unsteadily into the bullpen.
“It lives,” Munch quipped dryly and I flashed him a dirty look. “Hey, I came off my vacation early so that you could catch up on your beauty sleep.” I was surprised that he refrained from taking the comment any further, and went for the brown paper bag on my desk. I recognized Jo’s handwriting scrawled on the paper.
‘The Kitten made it home safe. Eat, drink and be merry, for soon we shall meet again!’
I couldn’t help but chuckle at my old pal’s sense of humor, unrolling the top of the bag. A sweet, honeyed smell wafted up as the bag gaped open and I drew the scent in deep. “Oh, bless you, Jo.” It was cinnamon rolls from our favorite place on the north end, two big Starbuck’s bottled coffees and…
And a set of keys I’d never seen before. There was a yellow Post-it note jammed in one of the rings that read, ‘Go get her, you gorilla. I had to lock up and she’d probably like the other roll and coffee. Happy New Year!’ There was a big happy face and an address.
I couldn’t help it and started laughing and laughing, very pleased with how my year was wrapping up.