by Sängerin

A wind had blown away the sun
A girl ran in
Her hair was rainy
Her breasts were breathless in the little room.
--Lawrence Ferlinghetti, "The Pennycandystore Beyond The El."

When the jury foreperson announced the finding of 'not guilty', it felt as though the world closed in. Behind her, Alex knew they were staring at her: Elisabeth Montañes and her sister, and behind them, Olivia Benson. Alex hated to lose a case, but it had gotten worse since she'd been assigned to the Special Victims Unit. Before, losing had made her act like a three year old, stamping her feet in a temper tantrum. The other DAs knew to avoid her for an hour or two after an adverse verdict came in, but Alexandra Cabot was a professional, and after a furious workout at the gym, she would be back in her office, dressed impeccably and ready for the next trial in her diary.

But when the verdict came back in the Cirrillo case, it was different. She didn't feel briefly dejected: she felt an irredeemable failure. She walked out of the courthouse that afternoon and didn't care that it was pouring with rain. She didn't bother hailing a cab, and she didn't bother going back to the office. She walked the streets back to her building, getting wetter and wetter, ignoring the stares and the one, hesitating offer of an umbrella.

When she reached her building, the doorman had the presence of mind not to comment on her bedraggled state. He gave her a handful of mail and hit the elevator call button. Their conversation usually revolved around the weather; tonight he said nothing. Alex stepped inside the lift when it came, and the doors closed behind her, shutting her in.

Cirrillo had not been an easy case. Alex was still finding her feet with the Special Victims unit, and this was the first case she'd caught from Benson. You could track their friendship through it: from their first serious conversation, through the misunderstandings and tensions, to the arraignment when Olivia had watched Alex steadily, and Alex had felt the weight of her gaze.

Alex knew that she was herself responsible for most of the weight on her shoulders. The curse of the perfectionist was something she'd been aware of since high school: the loading of guilt onto her own shoulders, even when there was nothing else she could do. This was why she had a post-loss routine, a usual way of dealing with the times when a case didn't go her way. No one in the DA's office had a 100% conviction record -- if anyone did, it would have been time to move to Canada.

The elevator arrived at her floor, and she let herself into the apartment. She tossed the mail into a corner and slumped into the sofa without even taking off her raincoat. In her mind, Alex ran through each step, from the first time Olivia had called her down to the SVU to rule on whether the unit had enough evidence to make an arrest. Had she done enough in this case? Had her preparation been thorough? Had she made the right choices, called the right witnesses? Phrased her questions as best she could? The self-examination descended into minutiae.

The dampness from her raincoat began to soak through her jacket and shirt. Water from her hair ran down her neck. She wiped a couple of drops away: they tickled, and were cold. Icy trails ran beneath her shirt -- she made no move to halt them.

Finally, she breathed deeply. Without evidence, it was impossible to convict. The adversarial process usually got things right, Alex reminded herself. There was no doubt in her mind that Cirrillo had been the perpetrator, but it was the jury who had to be convinced and they hadn't been. Cirrillo had been acquitted. The case against him was over. Tomorrow morning when Alex went to the office there would be more case files on her desk, more trial dates in her diary. The system kept going, even when you wanted the entire world to stop for your convenience.

This was always the point at which Alex was able to get up and go on with life. Tonight, her limbs were still heavy. She leaned against the back of the sofa and wondered why this case was different.

A key grated in the lock, disturbing Alex's thoughts. The noise was so unexpected that Alex was unable to move. The door opened.

The chain was on the door -- even in her state, she'd remembered that at least. A crack of light the width of the chain spilled across the floor.

'Alex?' A woman's voice called out. 'It's Olivia. Let me in!'

Suddenly Alex realised what was different about this case. Olivia. She had been the lead detective, she had been Alex's liaison. And Alex realised that she couldn't bear the thought that she might see disappointment in Olivia's face. It was that which kept her in her seat.

Olivia called out again. 'The chain's on the door. I know you're here,' she said.

Alex forced herself off the sofa and across the room. She let the chain off the door without meeting Olivia's eyes. She was vaguely aware of grocery bags in Olivia's hands.


Alex walked away, letting Olivia follow her into the apartment or not, as she wished. Alex heard footsteps, and heavy objects -- the grocery bags -- being set down on her kitchen table. Knowing Olivia was behind her, she kept her face turned away until Olivia moved around and put a hand on her shoulder.

'What's up, Alex?'

She had no choice but to look into Olivia's face. All she saw was confusion and concern -- no disappointment, no coldness.

Olivia looked at her for a long moment, her eyes wide. 'I got Elisabeth home,' she said, eventually. 'She's upset, but she knows that you did your best. Sometimes things work out like this.'

If Alex had been asked to explain why she was pulling away from Olivia -- why she could barely look the other woman in the face -- she couldn't have put three words together. They were standing at arm's length: Olivia's hand was on her shoulder, stretched out straight. Finally Alex said, with the sort of persuasive effort she only usually used in a courtroom, 'I did my best.'

'I know you did.' Olivia made it sound like a foregone conclusion, and her certainty began, finally, to bring Alex back to herself. 'It's the legal system,' Olivia continued with a shrug. 'Sometimes you win, and sometimes you don't.' Olivia leaned in and wrapped Alex in a hug. 'I know this isn't your first loss,' she said through Alex's hair.

Olivia's breath tickled her ear. Alex was suddenly aware of the curve of Olivia's breast where it touched her, a gentle pressure just above her own. The clearing fog of fear in her brain was replaced by confusion: every point at which her own body and Olivia's touched seemed to burn.

Alex pulled away abruptly. The world settled back into place around her, and she chided herself for reacting like an adolescent. For letting little things get away from her, including the fact that -- 'How did you get in? Martin never lets people in without buzzing me to check.'

Olivia looked away, then pulled her badge out of her pocket. Alex was too tired to protest.

'I won't do it again,' Olivia said, but then her tone changed. She reached for Alex's raincoat. 'You're completely soaked,' she said, accusingly. 'Go have a hot bath.' Olivia walked back to the kitchen table and began to unload the grocery bags. 'Here -- bubble bath. And scented candles. I thought you might like them. I know you usually go at it hard in the gym...' Olivia didn't say, “when you lose,” but Alex heard the words. 'I got dinner, too. The Deli downstairs does a mean pesto, so they tell me. I'll heat it up.'

Alex joined her at the table to collect the bubble bath. She breathed in the scent of the candles, and looked at the container of pesto. It was a deep green, which Alex hoped meant good quality basil rather than simply large quantities of spinach. 'You didn't have to do all this, you know,' she said. Watching Olivia, she realised that not all the dampness on the other woman's sweater was transferred from her own clothes. Olivia's hair was wet -- here and there Alex could see individual droplets, but most of it was just plain damp. 'You're soaked, too!'

'I didn't walk as far as you did,' said Olivia.

Alex was not about to let Olivia shrug her off. 'Don't worry about dinner yet,' she told Olivia. 'Get a towel and dry off. And stop fussing about me.'

Olivia turned around to face Alex head on. 'You're the one who tried to drown in a rainstorm. Go have that bath.'

'Do you want a towel?' Alex asked.

'No.' Olivia waved her away.

Alex nodded, and then put her hands on Olivia's shoulders. She leaned forward and kissed her -- lightly, quickly -- on the lips. 'Thank you.' She let go and turned away, stopping at the hall closet to take out a towel for herself.

She was opening the door to the bathroom when she heard Olivia call out, 'What's to say I'm not planning to join you?'


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