She wanted to quit. She, Olivia Benson, wanted to wash her hands of it all, the horror, the seemingly endless hours, all of it. For the first time in her life, Olivia wanted to give up. This life, her life, was just too much for her to bear anymore. Too little good came of her efforts. The instances when they saved someone or succeeded in securing some measure of justice seemed too few to justify the pain. Too often, she was left with only some therapist's business card to hand to a victim, a single band-aid to heal someone's gaping wounds. It was an unwinnable fight but she had never lat that dampen her passion. Until now.

As she walked, Olivia turned her face towards the black sky and let the chilly wind whistle over her cheeks and down the open neck of her jacket. It stung and she could feel the heat of her own blood pricking just beneath her skin. She welcomed the sensation. It meant that she could still feel something, even if it was only pain. It meant that she was still human. Even on the best of days, she constantly had to remind herself that she was no monster, that she was one of the good guys. This was far from one of those days. Today, she had learned that good intentions meant little or nothing. Even meaning well, she could still be a plague to others. That was what she was, a plague, a pest, a monster, a curse. She let her head fall forward to stare at the concrete and she hunched her shoulders. It was late. She should go home.

Even though she wished she didn't have to, Olivia turned the corner onto her block. Home was the last place she wanted to go. Alex was there, yet another person Olivia could disappoint. Disappointment was, after all, the sum of her life's work. From the moment of her conception, Olivia had been a disappointment, unwanted, despised. She should never have been born but, still, she was here and she had to live with herself. But, she was finally realizing, that didn't mean she had to inflict her curse on Manhattan's hapless victims or on Alex, for that matter. She resolved to quit it all. SVU could replace her easily and Alex… Alex would never be lonely. For all of her dark resolutions, however, Olivia still had to go home tonight. She had to get some sleep and a change of clothes somewhere. She could deal with the rest in the morning. She jammed her key in the lock and jogged up the stairs.

Taking a deep breath, Olivia tamped down her black emotions as well as she could. Alex had almost certainly waited up for her and Olivia wanted to wear a strong face. She eased the door quietly open and slipped tiredly inside. She was tired, emotionally and psychologically exhausted, and she didn't want to start anything with Alex, good or bad. She just wanted to lay down and wait for the sun to come up. But, as she heard the patter of slippered feet on the tile and the thump of a mug on the coffee table, Olivia felt that thought slip away. Usually Alex waited for her in bed, tucked in with work or a novel. She only stayed in the living room when she wanted to talk or when she thought Olivia would want to. As Alex appeared in the foyer, Olivia turned away to hang her coat and take a moment to breathe.

Before she was ready, Olivia felt Alex's arms slip around her waist and her hands splay flat over her stomach. Alex pressed her lips to Olivia's hair, just below her ear, and Olivia… oh God, she just wanted to relax into Alex's embrace so badly. She knew that, if she just let her, Alex would kiss and caress all of her troubles away. But she couldn't do it. Something stopped her. She just couldn't fall into that rut again. It wasn't fair to Alex. She didn't deserve to always be the one to pick Olivia up. For once in her life, Olivia was ready to stop being a burden. So she stayed stiff in Alex's arms, waiting for the blonde to release her so that she could hide in the dark bedroom. Keeping her eyes glued to the floor, Olivia tried to slip away but made it only two steps before Alex blocked her path, stretching one arm to bar the way and touching Olivia's shoulder with the other.

For a moment, Alex held her tongue. She knew Olivia had had a hard day. That was nothing new. But tonight, something was different, terribly so. Usually, it only took a touch to convince Olivia to talk or at least heave a sigh. On really bad days, that same touch would make Olivia's knees collapse underneath her and she would sink down to kneel at Alex's feet and plead for release. Tonight, however, Olivia only flinched and then held herself stiffly, obviously waiting uncomfortably for Alex to move. For her part, Alex wanted no part of this. Olivia would give her some response or Alex would force one out of her. Silence was not an option; it never had been for them.

From the first tentative steps of their relationship, Alex had insisted on communication. It didn't ever have to be much, just a word or a note or an expression. Her one requirement was honesty. She had worked with SVU long enough to know exactly the types of horrors Olivia had and would face. She had also had ample opportunity to witness how those horrors could shut the detectives down and destroy their families. Fin had all but shuttered himself off from any woman who might reach through his rough façade. Munch had already lost more wives than Alex could count and Elliot… Elliot's family was a mess of ecstatic highs and tense coexistence. Alex had no intention of letting Olivia fizzle that way. Very slowly, Alex took Olivia's hand and squeezed it, ignoring its dead slackness.

"Come on, Olivia. I'll get you a glass of water." Alex spoke quietly but in a way she knew would compel Olivia to obey. She led her silent girlfriend into the kitchen, sitting her on a chair and setting a glass in front of her. She sat close by, brushing Olivia's short hair back from her face and trying to catch her eye. "Say something, darling." Olivia wrapped her hand around the cool glass and Alex could see her knuckles were white with strain.

"I don't want to talk about it, Alex. And don't call me that." Shocked, Alex almost recoiled. Olivia had snapped her words out with the fury she usually reserved for particularly disgusting perps or, on rare occasions, for her frustrating partner. She never shouted at Alex in anger. Never. Taking a calming breath, Alex replaced her hand in Olivia's hair.

"Olivia, don't snap at me. I know that you've had a bad day but that doesn't give you the right. If you don't want to talk about it, that's fine, but you need to say something. Just tell me what you want." Very gently, she tried to coax Olivia to look at her but the pressure only seemed to make Olivia snap. She leapt out of her seat and away from Alex's touch, flinging the water glass into the sink. It exploded, sending glass shards skittering against stainless steel and white tile. The violence felt good. She felt wild but in control. She craved the feeling. Grinding her teeth, she drew her hand back and lashed out at the nearest cabinet.

As pain exploded in her knuckles and raced down her forearm, she glimpsed Alex out of the corner of her eye. Olivia scrambled away from the blonde's extended hands, pressing her hips into the corner of the kitchen counter and cradling her throbbing fist against her body. After her outburst, everything suddenly seemed very still. The adrenaline rushed through her veins and she trembled against the powerful instinct to fight as she forced herself to look at her girlfriend. She had to see the fear and disappointment she had caused. It would make what she had to do easier.

Their eyes met and Olivia could only gape dumbly. She saw no fear in Alex's eyes, no disappointment or disgust or loathing. She saw caring and pleading. She saw concern. She saw love. Choking, Olivia raised her fist and smashed it down on the countertop. This wasn't right. None of it was right. Didn't Alex understand? Didn't she know what that look was doing to her? Only the pain felt good and right. She smashed her fist down again, gasping as the bones jarred and ground together. Even as the tears she had fought to hide stung her eyes and wet her cheeks, she knew she wanted more pain. She wanted it and she deserved it. Squeezing her eyes shut, she raised her fist a third time but froze in place when she felt a hand grip her wrist. She opened her eyes.

Alex was directly in front of her, so close Olivia could feel her warm breath drying the tears on her face. Olivia tried to pull away, to escape, but she was trapped between Alex's body and the counter. With all of her natural authority, Alex pushed Olivia's arm down to her side, silently ordering her to keep it there. She slid both hands over Olivia's throat to cup the nape of her neck. Maintaining her calm, she rubbed her thumbs in soothing circles and followed Olivia's eyes with her own, forcing her to make eye contact.

"You can't run away. There's nowhere to go. You have two choices here. You can either agree to talk about whatever it is that has made you so upset or you can tell me how to make you feel better. What'll it be, Olivia?" As she spoke, Alex could see Olivia changing before her eyes. Her tense posture was cracking and crumbling and, when Alex said her name, Olivia's last defenses broke down and she crumpled in Alex's hands. She pressed her head into the crook of Alex's shoulder.

"Why do you have to do this to me, Alex?" she whispered harshly.

Alex wrapped her arms around her girlfriend and stroked her hair. "Do what, honey?"

Olivia choked and shuddered against her, struggling to find her voice. "Be so… perfect." That wasn't what Olivia had wanted to say. She wanted to scream at Alex, tell her to run away while she still could, before she was saddled with a loser. But what she said was right. Compared with herself, Alex was perfect.

"Oh Liv," Alex sighed. "You know that's not true. I'm not perfect but I love you and I want you to be happy. Now, please, tell me what you need." Olivia trembled but took deep breaths, finally tearing her gaze away to focus on her feet. She reached back and took hold of Alex's hand, shrugging out of her girlfriend's embrace. Alex took a half step back and Olivia dropped stiffly to her knees. She pressed her swollen hand to her waist and balled the other in the loose cloth of Alex's pants. Her head and shoulders fell forward, folding her body into a posture of total exhaustion and loss. She knew what she needed and she knew she had to ask for it.

"Please punish me, ma'am."