"Keep talking or I'll quit, Olivia." Alex punctuated her order with a sharp tug on the ropes she wound around her girlfriend's chest, snapping her head forward and eliciting a gasp. She was taking her time, slowly and surely knotting and binding Olivia's body with bundles of silky rope. It was a deliberate process on her part, one designed specifically to draw the truth out into the open as Olivia was gradually rendered helpless. Somehow, for Olivia, the ropes digging into her flesh and contorting her body made confessing her darkest thoughts and guilts simpler. It was a part of Olivia that Alex had slowly come to respect and even more slowly to understand.

The first time, Alex had hardly believed the reality of what Olivia had been asking for. She had known all the details of the case Olivia had been pursuing. She had been the one to comfort her with mugs of warm, sweet coffee and firm reassurances at whatever ungodly hour Olivia managed to convince Cragen to boot her from the squad room. It was the case that made Olivia finally confess to Alex the exact circumstances of her birth, her life and why she kept on fighting the good fight. It was the case that explained to Alex exactly how deeply Olivia's psychological wounds ran, how guilty she felt for being her mother's constant reminder, how afraid she was of somehow becoming her father. Before, Alex had wondered about Olivia's zeal. The other detectives… well, Alex knew their reasons well enough. But Olivia… Even as Alex took her to bed, she hadn't really understood. That case had been the one to make it abundantly clear.

It had been only after their perp had gleefully eluded the detectives, leaving behind a breathing, scarred vic to deliver the message, that Olivia broke. Dripping with rain water, Olivia had pounded on Alex's door, hardly waiting for Alex to lock them in before falling to her knees and burying her face in the blonde's pajamas. Alex had been shocked and worried at first but still she had ended up with Olivia curled against her, breathing through the last of her sobs and nursing her bruised ass. Alex had soothed her and had vowed silently that it would never happen again. But, of course, it had. And then again. Well, Alex was finally ready to address it. No matter what Olivia had, or thought she had, done, she didn't deserve punishment. She deserved love and all of the comfort Alex could give her.

With that resolution firmly at the forefront of her mind, Alex patiently listened to Olivia's words as she took her girlfriend's wrist in her hand and looped the rope around it. Meanwhile, she remained silent, compelling Olivia to keep up her confession or face the apartment's silence. She cinched the hand in place, the last limb to be bound, and reached for the last coil of rope. It was time. Olivia had said her piece, whispered and hiccupped her black thoughts to her mistress's sympathetic ear and heart. Now Alex wanted her turn to speak, to soothe and put the pieces back together. Olivia's words had hurt her and Alex wanted to make her understand how deeply. She also meant to convince her that she was forgiven and wanted. As painful as they had been to hear, Olivia's words had been meant for Alex's sake, misguided as the sentiments were. In short, Alex had a lot to say and she intended to say all of it.

Alex rose up on her knees behind her girlfriend, draping her arms around her and stretching the doubled rope before her. Chin on Olivia's shoulder, she pressed their cheeks together and spoke softly. "Close your eyes, Olivia." Under her touch, Alex could feel the long, shuddering breath as Olivia complied. Roughly, Alex pulled the cord over Olivia's eyes and knotted it. She wound it around and between Olivia's teeth, tightening it until her girlfriend coughed and groaned.

Rising to her feet, Alex strode from the living room. There was just one more thing she needed. It took only a moment to find Olivia's collar sitting on the nightstand after their last night of dominance and submission. While she listened, Alex wanted Olivia to wear it. It was a physical reminder of the unconditional love and acceptance that was a fundamental aspect of their relationship. Olivia wore it when she sought comfort, when she celebrated Alex's successes, when they were intimate. She loved wearing it. But when she asked for punishment, she begged Alex not to buckle it around her neck. It was out of some unwarranted sense of worthlessness or shame or some such. First and foremost, Alex wanted to correct this needless guilt. Alex always wanted Olivia. Olivia just needed to hold that knowledge in her heart.

The familiar sensation of cool leather against her throat snapped the tenuous hold on her emotions that Olivia had finally managed to build and she fought to shy away. She was ready to comply with anything else Alex asked of her, to talk or cry or whatever, but she couldn't bear this. She had come back to the apartment to break her heart and send Alex away. She had already broken down once under Alex's onslaught of words and touches. She may have been weak but she wouldn't break again. If she was going to be able to go through with this, she couldn't allow herself to fall back into her comfortable role. She couldn't wear the collar.

Alex's fist tightened in her hair but Olivia struggled to writhe away anyway, managing only to twist her bonds even tighter. Though she could hardly form an intelligible word, she tried, moaning and choking on her gag and pleading with Alex to understand. She didn't. Or did but chose to ignore it. Despite Olivia's efforts, the collar was soon snug around her throat, buckled and locked securely in place. Squeezing her eyes tight behind the blindfold, Olivia collapsed as far as the ropes allowed. They could hold her weight for a while. Olivia was too tired and defeated.

Alex knelt in front of her sagging girlfriend, touching her knees to Olivia's and running deft fingers over every inch of rope. The touch was purposeful. Alex wanted to check for pinching or twisting, ensure that she would cause no damage with too-tight ropes. She also wanted to communicate with her distressed woman. Her touch reminded Olivia of her position, tightly bound and repentant, but Alex also sought to emphasize how thoroughly Olivia and her permission were adored. This was about love and forgiveness, regardless of how fucked up it might appear to outsiders. For Alex and Olivia, it was right.

Gently, Alex caressed the soft skin above and below the wide black collar as she took a moment to breathe and let Olivia breathe. The brunette was limp but she still trembled. The fight and violence and disappeared with the buckling of the collar but the pain remained. Alex needed to choose her words carefully if she wanted Olivia to stay once she was released from the ropes. To do that, she needed time to think. So, she stayed still and calm and let her eyes wander over the results of her efforts, just in case it was her last chance to do so.

If only the circumstances had been different, Alex would have admired her handiwork. Olivia's legs were folded beneath her, bent and secured in a tight kneel by dozens of loops of cord that dug deeply into her beautiful thighs. Her strong, tan arms were hooked over a sawn-off broom handle that pressed into the small of her back, pulling her shoulders uncomfortably back and forcing her spine into a sinuous arch. That was where the symmetry ended. Olivia's left hand was bound between her breasts, secured with elegant knots to the loops of rope wound around her chest. Her other hand was clenched in a loose fist just above her waist, tied down and wrapped in white gauze. It wasn't broken but Olivia had managed to turn it into a bruised and bloody mess. Alex hoped that the pain would serve as a reminder to her wild woman that Elliot's example was not always good advice by which to live.

Flecks of red caught her eye and Alex let her hands slip from Olivia's throat to soothe the wounded flesh near her girlfriend's bound hands. Knowing that Olivia wouldn't see, Alex let her face fall. Apparently without Alex noticing, Olivia had been scratching and gouging at her skin with her fingernails, leaving behind angry red marks and spots of bright blood. A gush of guilt clouded Alex's vision for a moment before she shook it off. She had refused to hurt Olivia this time and, consciously or not, Olivia had hurt herself. Alex could wallow in her sense of culpability but it wouldn't help either of them. What was done was done. She had to move forward and pull Olivia with her. She folded her hands over her girlfriend's to keep them still. She was finally ready to speak.

"Oh, Liv," she began quietly. "I want you to listen very carefully to what I'm going to tell you. I love you, more than anything or anyone. That is the only reason I put up with your bullshit. When I wait up for you and you come home insisting that I have to leave, telling me that I can't be with the woman I love, it hurts me. I'm not some damsel in distress, Olivia. I don't need you or anyone to rescue me because I'm not in danger. And you're not the monster you seem to believe you are. You're just a woman and I love you for that. And I choose to be with you. I can't think of any reason you could give me to change my mind. If you want me, I'll stay with you forever. But you have to make the choice. I can't stand it when you speak to me like you did tonight." Alex paused to take a breath and let go of the tension that had built up during her speech. On impulse, she shifted, scooting to Olivia's side and coaxing the bound woman to lean into her as best she could. Olivia was sobbing in earnest now, enduring Alex's rebuke. The sight made Alex's own tears prick at her eyes. She wanted to change the tone now to one of comfort and reassurance.

Pouring all of her strength into her arms, Alex gathered Olivia into her embrace and pressed her lips to her girlfriend's sweat-dampened hair. "Sweetheart, you're a good woman and a great detective but you're only human. You can't change what happened to those women and you can't change what happened to your mother. But you caught the bastard and he'll never do it again. You did your job to the best of your ability. That's all you can do. You're one of the good guys, Liv. You're my good guy." Alex pressed her closer and kissed the spot just behind her ear, the place Olivia always wanted to be kissed when she felt bad.

"I'm not saying this to make you feel better. You have every reason and right to feel like shit tonight. I'm saying it because it's true. There'll always be more evil people out there and they will always find new ways to hurt innocent people. All we can do is catch the ones we can and try to warn the others that we're watching. That's it. And you do a great job, Olivia. Really. Squeeze my hand if you understand." Alex took her hand a waited, almost holding her breath. She wanted so badly for Olivia to respond. She hated the way her speech sounded, canned and repetitive, the same platitudes she always used when Olivia felt this way. Hell, they were the same mantras Alex chanted to herself when a jury came back with the wrong verdict. It was all that could be said. It was the truth, whether they liked it or not. Alex just wanted Olivia to take comfort in the fact that she said it, that they were sitting here together and trying.

Tentatively, Olivia closed her fingers over Alex's. At first, her grip was shy and reverent but then, in an instant, her hand clamped shut, squeezing Alex's slender hand with all of the force her emotions had left to her. It was exactly what Alex needed. She rose up on her knees and spastically scrabbled at the ropes knotted at the back of Olivia's head. She threw them away and wrapped her arms around her girlfriend, pressing her head to her breast as tightly as she could manage. Olivia was hers, all hers. If she could, Alex would have wished to stay like this forever in this one, beautiful moment of relief. Olivia coughed and squirmed. Alex could feel her breath, hot through the flimsy cloth of her pajama top, as she whispered.

"I'm yours." Alex didn't know how Olivia knew to say what she did, but she felt as if her heart would burst. She relaxed her tight hold just sufficiently to press kisses to Olivia's forehead and any other inch of skin she could reach. Finally, she came to her senses and bit her tongue, cradling Olivia's jaw in her palms and looking down into her red-rimmed dark eyes.

For a moment, Alex didn't know what to do or say. She wanted to laugh or cry, kiss Olivia or slap her across the face. Then a smile caught the corner of her mouth and she went with her first instinct, chuckling gently and bending down. Very tenderly, she touched Olivia's lips with her own, closing her eyes and taking slow relish in their intimacy. She smoothed her thumbs over Olivia's cheekbones and lifted her suddenly heavy eyelids. "I know, darling. That's what I've been trying to tell you."