In All the Right Ways

Disclaimer: They are not mine. None of them, I promise

A/N: Hi everyone! You miss me? I apologize for the extreme break between chapters (7 months. yikes!) and I hope it has been worth your wait. Yes, I promise to update again soon. I am currently working on another story (The Western Way Redux over in the Castle universe) go check it out if you get the chance. Anyway, let me know what you think, you know how much I love your feedback! In fact, it was reading back over the reviews that kicked my butt back into gear to write another chapter. =)

Chapter 4

When Olivia opened her door it would be an understatement to say that she was surprised to see a box wrapped in shiny balloon paper sitting on her doorstep. Slowly, she planted one foot on the other side of the threshold and leaned forward so she could peer down the hall. There was no one in sight. Leaning back so her weight was once again on her back leg she frowned as she took her boot-clad toes and poked the package suspiciously. The box teetered for a moment before falling back to its original position. Fairly confidant that it would not explode, she bent to pick up the package only to freeze once again when she caught sight of the envelope underneath it. The swirly almost flawless calligraphy told her exactly whom the package was from.

The door shut with a resounding bang as she walked back towards her couch, holding the box in one hand and lighting a cigarette with the other. She was really quitting this time. Honest. Sinking to the couch, she forgot all about work, the impending snowstorm and the fact that she had been trying to get out of her apartment so she could miss the inevitable drunken phone call from her mother. The box was spinning absently in her hands as her mind wandered to the possibilities of what was in it and why now. Slowly she placed the box gently on the cushion beside her and worked her finger through the glued edge of the violet envelope. The card was simple; just a drawing of a bird perched on the branch of a tree. Olivia slowly ran her finger over the image, tracing the outline. She silently flipped the card open and felt tears threaten to spill at the two simple words written inside.

"Happy Birthday."

It had been a year to the day since Olivia Benson had met Alex Cabot. Since that night in the coffee shop, she had seen her exactly one more time in person; the night that they had met at Bill's. They had passed out in her bed after what could only be described as an overheated make-out session. Olivia leaned her head back on the couch and closed her eyes. She could still see the bright blue of Alex's eyes standing out against her pale skin and hair resting on the white pillowcase. They had whispered for hours about everything and nothing. Alex had told her of her dreams to go into advocacy and maybe eventually lobbying working with international relief organizations. Her family and friends were pressuring her to accept one of the invites from some of the more prestigious defense firms in the city. Olivia couldn't help but be impressed with some of the names that Alex was inadvertently dropping. Alex had gone on to talk about of the shenanigans she and her friends had gotten into to blow off steam during the strenuous years of law school. Olivia had found herself laughing, truly laughing, for the first time in years. She had in turn talked about work, Elliot and Munch, how annoying Cassidy was and how much harder the work was than she had anticipated. She had shied away from details about her family and childhood because she didn't want the laughter to stop. She didn't want to bring the cloud back. Her eyes had drifted shut involuntarily as Alex's fingers traced patterns over her naked back. Somewhere along the way between the living room and the bed all of her clothing, except her boyshorts, had been stripped off. Alex was down to a simple white cami and underwear, which combined with her near white hair and skin, added to her ironic portrayal of virginal innocence. Olivia wasn't complaining though.

"Thank you." The whisper had barely made it past Olivia's lips but Alex's shifting body told her that she had heard.

Olivia felt her body warm as Alex's came closer and she felt the loose strands of her hair tickle her ear, "Shh. Go to sleep."

Olivia's eyes drifted open and she lifted her head off of the back of the couch. She had awoke in the morning to the ghost of warmth radiating from the other pillow and no signs of Alex other than a few long strands of blonde hair left behind. She tried to call a few times only to find that Alex's dorm phone had been disconnected when she had graduated. A couple of months later she had caught glimpse of an article about Stever & McGinty, one of the most prestigious law firms in The City. It made mention of a couple promising young lawyers the firm had scooped up and wasn't surprised to hear Alexandra Cabot listed as one of the names. So much for advocacy, she had thought wryly. Through some of her friends at the DA's office she learned that the blonde had already earned herself the nickname The Ice Queen and was known as a ball buster. Abbie Carmichael, one of the best ADAs she knew, even said she wasn't looking forward to facing off with the new girl. After that, Olivia had shied away from information and most thoughts of Alex Cabot became distant memories that came to visit every so often.

Gently, she picked up the box and took her time picking the tape away from the sides and lifting the creased paper to reveal the plain box inside. She lifted the lid slowly and felt her lips curl up slightly at the sight of the Matryoshka Doll inside. Alex's quiet words echoed once again in her head.

"You, Olivia Benson, remind me of one of those Russian nesting dolls. So many layers to peel away."

"No," Olivia replied out loud to the memory in her head. "I'm really not that complicated. I do my job, I come home and I sleep."

"Don't sell yourself short. There is so much more of you, and you know it. Don't be afraid to show yourself. You are beautiful, you know."

Olivia let out another sigh and pushed herself up off the couch, cradling the box carefully in one arm. She propped the card up next to the phone— the only indicator that the day was any more important than the other 364 days of the year— and made her way back towards the door. She bent her head against the icy wind as she made her way down the blocks to the subway station her present pressed snuggly against her side, safe from any clumsy pedestrians.

Once at the stations she made no apologies or excuses for her tardiness. Instead she chose to silently ignore Elliot's raised eyebrow when she sat down in her chair and delicately placed the doll, still fully nested, on the top of her desk next to the picture of her and her mother. There was a stack of paperwork on her desk waiting to get done and she could feel the heat on the top of her bent head from where Elliot was staring at her.

"What?" She asked warily, after five minutes of attempting to read the same paragraph over and over again.

Elliot stared at her motionless for a second before his face broke into a giant grin. He brought a small white box from under his desk with a flourish, placing it in the middle of the paperwork in front of her.

"Happy birthday," he grinned as she opened the box to find a single chocolate cupcake from her favorite bakery.

Olivia gaped back at him. "How did you know?"

"What? That it was your birthday or where to get the cupcake from?"


"Well, for the first, I may have managed to sneak a look at your personnel record when you refused to tell me when your birthday was every time I asked for the last year and a half."

Olivia glared at him and he continued with a shrug, letting the look roll off of his back. His wife gave him worse death glares on a regular basis.

"And as for the bakery. I'm a detective. I am trained to notice things." Elliot leaned back in his chair, feet propped up on his desk, a little to proud of his responses.

Olivia merely 'humphed' in reply before dipping her finger in the fudgy frosting and offered him a quiet thank you.

Olivia stared at the small wooden doll on her desk for what seemed like hours after the boys had left for the night. Luckily, they had managed to avoid catching any new cases for the day. Even though paperwork was tedious and boring, it was a welcome reprieve from the horrors they were forced to witness day after day. She had considered twisting open the doll a couple of times to see the smaller dolls that lived inside of it, but could not bring herself to do so. She couldn't bring herself to peel back those layers, to expose the new raw skin that lay underneath. She had grown a layer of steel over the past year. She wondered briefly if Alex had had anything to do with it, but couldn't help but see the two encounters that she had had with the other woman as a small reprieve from her otherwise scarred life, rather than another compounder. Alex had become this dream in a way, just a small memory of brief happiness that she could hold onto whenever she needed it. It was everything else that had toughened Olivia.

She had been given the chance to transfer to another unit- a less stressful unit, one friendlier to more emotionally unstable cops. There is no shame in transferring, the captain had told her. Most cops wouldn't even make it this long in Special Victims. She had taken it as an insult, a challenge. Slowly, she had begun to bury her emotions, letting them slip out occasionally to comfort a victim or mourning family member, only to cage them back up when she didn't need them; when they got in the way. She wouldn't let herself fail.

Slowly, she made her way out of the precinct and into the cold February night. A small flurry of snow had begun to fall and Olivia wrapped her scarf and jacket tighter around her and stuffed her bare hands further into her pockets. Damn gloves- she would remember them one day. Her hat was pulled down far over her ears and forehead but the air still nipped at her nose and cheeks as she bent her head into the cold and walked through the dark streets. After a while she glanced up from her studious examination of her boots and the sidewalk only to notice that she had been traveling in the opposite direction of her apartment. She looked around quickly to gain her bearings and let out a small involuntary laugh. She was right across the street from Columbia University and the small coffee shop she had occupied exactly a year ago. With a sigh Olivia made her way across the street and through the doors of the café. The warm air was a welcome change and her hands slipped out of her pockets so they could thaw in the warmth. She unwound the scarf from her neck and removed her hat as she made her way towards the counter to place her order. She unzipped her jacket as she walked to one of the back tables with her coffee in her hand, and plopped down into one of the chairs with a clear view of the door. Some things would never change.

It was weird to be back in a place that she only distantly knew, but was permanently burned into her memory. Small study groups chattered around her and college girls giggled over conversations about frat parties and dorm gossip. A beatnik writer sat at the counter with a cigarette in one hand and a fountain pen in the other.

The chiming of bell on the door drew Olivia's attention away from the young man and brought her face to face with the shockingly blue eyes of Alex Cabot, or should she say Alexandra Cabot, because the woman in front of her was not the same one she had met exactly a year ago. Gone were the days of baggy sweatshirts and comfortable jeans. This woman had shoulder length, well-styled hair, a Prada suit and three inch Jimmy Choo power heels.

Any yet, the woman came towards her, never breaking eye contact. The same bright blue eyes she remembered.

"Hi Olivia."

Olivia stared at her, a thousand thoughts and emotions screaming through her brain at the same time, threatening to breakdown the well-constructed wall she had built up over the past year. She forced the traitorous tears that were threatening to swell back down and swallowed the lump in her throat. Taking a deep breath, her normally sure and assertive voice was shaky at best.