Chapter Five

A graceful summer night's breeze rustled the peach tree nestled in Alexandra's backyard. On its gentle branches bore the fresh fragrance of suburban summer: the sweet smell of ripened fruit, heady floral scents, and the way silence tasted when the cool air was sucked in. For a while Alex believed those aromas had healing powers, if you breathed them in hard enough.

Alex sat on her backyard swing, rocking slightly through the breeze. She felt dead inside. They were to leave for New York this evening; the first one of her biggest dreams, but the anticipation of the actual moment held no joy for her. She would go, because she needed to, and she'd stick with the challenge, because she was disciplined. But for some reason part of her couldn't imagine there being any satisfaction in any of it.

Was it the fear of rejection? No, she'd been rejected before and she could almost deal with being rejected again. She'd have to. Was she afraid to be loved again? Maybe. Having a lover was foreign now; would she know how to cope with a relationship? Another unanswered question. She tried cross-examining the voice inside of her head, trying to bull dog it into giving her answers. It had none. She'd even went so far as to beg, and it laughed. Then with a haughty tone it said, 'you'll just have to wait until you get there, won't you?'

Shit!

The crack of a twig made her jump upright and peer through the darkness. Had she imagined it? Or was someone walking around in her yard? She squinted, trying to discern a human figure from the bland darkness, but her tree was casting dancing shadows about the moonlit ground.

She heard the sound again, and was sure; someone was coming towards her. She froze, motionless, not fearfully because there was nothing to fear, but resentful of having her interlude broken. There wasn't really anybody she desired to talk to.

"Mommy? The voice emerged from the darkness. "Are ya there?"

Alex exhaled. Connie. She waved her hand for the boy to join her side. Connie's figure emerged from the blackness and sat down next to her on the swing. She opened her arms to him and he burrowed right in.

"Did I scare you?

"No Buddy, you didn't. You need anything? Do you need help packing?"

"Nope, everything's ready. All we need is you."

"All right," she said getting up and lifting Connie into her arms. "Let's go."

Alexandra watched as Oakland International Airport receded, and smiled softly as she watched her children piling on top of one another to enjoy the view. They'd fought over the window seat during the drive to airport and the only way Alex could think to end the quarrel was to take the seat for herself, neither boys argued with her. And of course they found something as else to fight over. Olivia. Kenny, following in his brother's footsteps, had taken a liking to Olivia and wanted to sit with her on the flight. This quarrel was also easily solved, and Olivia set in the isle seat adjacent to them so no one could sit with her. There were a few protests, but everything else went fine.

Now, sitting in a comfortable business class seat of the United Airlines 757 with the boys and Olivia, setting off for her old home, she thought she could know no greater confusion. However, she decided not to concentrate on that. Like her inner-voice had said, she was just going to have to wait until she got there.

She sensed presence next to her and realized Kenny was lying on her shoulder, still staring out of the window, where Oakland was now a square, turning green and empty. "That's the last time we'll ever see home, Connie," he said to his brother. "Don't be a baby and get homesick."

"We'll be back here in a few weeks Connie," Alex reassured when she saw the look on his face. "And it's okay to get homesick, I get homesick too."

"Mommy, we're not coming back," Kenny countered.

"Oh? And how do you know this?"

"I haven't seen you this happy before. I know you're gonna be too happy to leave. I don't wanna come back anyways, New York is cooler."

She looked at him, unsure of what to say. Was he right? Was she that readable? She did want to stay back east, but why should she if she had nothing to go back to? No job. The DA might not take her back. Her parents? She had no problem flying on a plane. John? There was always the rejection. She sighed, why do these children say things that always make me think?

The weather in New York City during the summer was usually a modest heat, a bit of breeze as the sun would lie overhead, like a protecting parent.

But today the warm sun bathed the busy city alone, breezeless, leaving everything in a golden glow. She stood outside with Olivia and the boys, waiting for Elliot to scoop them up. Lucky for her Elliot knew she was alive and she didn't have to deal with him being surprised. That relaxed her. She and Olivia stood there talking while Kenny and Connie entertained themselves with their Nintendo Gameboys. Everything seemed great and now the lump in her stomach was slowly ebbing.

"There he is," Olivia pointed to the black four-door Toyota Avalon that was coming towards them. She waved her hands in the air grinning from ear to ear. "El, over here!"

Alex watched as the car swerved into a parking space and come to a complete halt. Elliot, still the same built brown haired boy hero, stepped out of the driver's seat grinning ear to ear. Still smiling, he walked around to the passenger's side and opened the door. It was Alex's turn to be surprised.

"Mommy!" A little auburn haired boy flew from the car and into a smiling Olivia's open arms. Alex looked on as Olivia hugged and kissed her…son. Wait? Olivia had a son, with Elliot?

"I missed you so much," she kissed him again before turning to Alex who was holding the hands of her own two sons. "Mikey, this is my friend Alex, my friend in the picture."

"Hi," he shook her hand with a shy smile. "My name's Michael, but everybody calls be Mikey."

"Nice to meet you Mikey," he was a striking boy. He defiantly had Olivia's eyes, they weren't the same shape, but like Olivia's big dark eyes they could read a person's soul, the ability know them before they uttered a word. He was also blessed with her beautiful smile. Unlike his mother, Mikey had an oval face and a thinner nose. Alex figured them to be things he'd inherited from his father, a man who obviously wasn't Elliot.

"Alex also has two sons, Mackinley and Connor," Olivia nodded towards the twins who still had their heads buried in their Gameboys.

"Guys," Alex called; the two came to her side immediately, rolling their suitcases behind them. "This is Mikey, Olivia's son."

"Hi," Kenny said confidently. "I'm Kenny and he's my brother, Connie."

"Hi," Connie mumbled shyly. Mikey nodded his head and then snuggled next to his mother.

"Wait," Elliot piped after a long silence. He looked from Kenny to Connie then at Alex. He gawked at her and Olivia in shock. "Sons?"

"Yes Elliot," Alex smiled. She was praying he didn't ask in inevitable 'with whom?' "This is Connor and this is Mackinley. Guys, meet Elliot Stabler, Olivia's partner."

"I thought only gay people had partners, Mommy," Kenny arched his eyebrow and darted his eyes from Elliot to Olivia. "He's a man and she's a lady."

"Not that type of partner," Growing up in the Bay Area has influenced him. Lucky for her, both Elliot and Olivia found it humorous. "Elliot is Olivia's partner at work. They work together when they solve cases and they're good friends."

"Oh, well nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you too," Elliot laughed. "Well now that everybody's acquainted, let's get moving. Cragen still expects me at work."

"Thanks for dinner," Alex said, sipping the warm latté Olivia had served her. After getting herself and the boys checked into a hotel, she'd taken Olivia's offer for dinner. She hadn't known Olivia to be the cooking type, but motherhood changes people. Mikey and the twins were off in his room doing god knows what and now she and Olivia could talk. "You've got to give me that recipe! I wouldn't have thought soy sauce and butter could taste go great together, especially with shrimp."

"And I wouldn't have thought we'd be sitting here exchanging recipes like two middle-aged house wives. But like you said, things have changed."

"For the better," Alex smiled down at a picture of Mikey and Olivia. He was grinning with his arms wrapped around a laughing Olivia's neck; both were dressed formally standing on what appeared to be a dance floor. "Where'd you guys take this?"

"You know that annual get-together the city has to commemorate the NYPD and their families? It was there. Casey took that picture."

"Casey?"

"Sorry," Olivia said, feeling somewhat embarrassed. "I'm just so used to her being around that I figured…"

"She's the ADA?"

"Yeah, she's pretty good. It took us a while to warm up to her, but she's a really great person. Really laid back. She plays softball and rides a bike to work."

"She sounds…not very Lawyer-y."

"When she goes to trial she does a damn good job. She's had her screw-ups, but she's grown a lot while working with us."

"It's great that you guys get along with her so well. I'd like to meet her one day."

"When do you plan on going down to the station?"

"I don't. Well not for a while anyway. It's too soon."

"All right," Olivia placed her steaming mug down to stared at her friend before speaking. "Facing this is like removing a Band-Aid, the slower you do it the more it hurts."

"But the Band-Aid helps the wound to heal; it keeps the unwanted germs out."

"You've got an argument for everything, don't you?

"I'm a lawyer, what do you expect? Or…err…I was anyway."

"Well," Olivia sighed. She picked up her empty cup and started for her sink. "I expect you to win the jury over."

"The jury?"

"The little voices inside of John's head that assess people."

"How the hell do I do that?"

"Make a hell of a speech."

"Mommy did you see that?!" Kenny exclaimed. "I swam in the deep end!"

Kenny, Connie, and Mikey had been swimming the hotel's indoor pool for over an hour and they had yet to grow tired of it. They'd raced, played every water game imaginable, and swam laps but there was no evidence of lack of energy. Alex was experiencing quite the contrary. It had been two days since her conversation with Olivia and she hadn't slept since. How the hell was she going to win?

Now that she thought about it, did it make any sense to stay away? He wasn't the one with the wound. Sure he believed she was dead and he was grieving, but she had the secret. Her. All this was about her! She was dragging this out because of her own fear. She was afraid of his reaction and she was afraid of the changes, but she'd shot fear down before. Her mind was made up; she was going to tell him, damnit, fear or no fear.

"Come guys!" Alex called to the three children. "I've got some calls I need to make."

"You're sure about this?" Olivia asked. Once again the two were sitting in her living room drinking coffee while the boys played in Mikey's room. "You sure you don't want to take a little more time?"

"Weren't you the one who told me to get this over with?"

"Well yeah, but don't rush this."

"I'm not; it needs to be done so I'm doing it."

"All right, whatever you want. So let's go over this again. You want me to basically update Munch. Fill him in on the witness protection program and then drive him over to your hotel so you can talk?" Alex nodded.

"Umm…aren't you going to give him time to process?"

"Tomorrow's Wednesday, there'll be traffic and he can process then. But seriously; if he feels uncomfortable let him know that it's all right if he wants to wait."

"What do I tell Cragen?"

"The truth. He might as well know too."

"And you're sure?"

"If I wasn't, would I commit to this?"

"Do I really need to answer that?"

"No," Alex laughed. "Just make sure he's on time."