Alex studied the brownstone rising above her, its stone facade the color of burnt brick. Ivy crept around the front windows and trailed upwards, giving the narrow home an almost whimsical look compared to its stoic, shuttered neighbors. Alex had been no stranger to the comforts of a fine home when she was younger, but the places she had lived in since had been more on par with a dank cellar or musty attic. And a far cry from the Upper West Side.
"A far cry from Birdie's, isn't it?" Olivia asked, placing a hand against Alex's back.
"Who knew the women's movement paid so well?" Alex replied, her eyes grazing over the narrow stained glass windows nestled in the front door. "How exactly did you manage to convince Nan to let me stay here?"
"I mentioned that you'd meddle in everything from the way she organizes her office files to how she hangs her coats, and she jumped at the chance." Olivia hid a smirk, reaching into the backseat of the car. It was a loaner, and had nothing on her Plymouth, but at least its interior wasn't covered in blood. Slim was right; the stains were a nightmare.
"Did you also promise I would cook her meals?" Alex retorted playfully.
"No, then I'd never get you back." Olivia slid one of the bags towards her.
"The doctor said no heavy lifting." Alex's reminder floated behind her.
"He told you not to do any heavy lifting. If I recall, you were unconscious when the doctor was patching me up."
Alex rolled her eyes. "I'm beginning to think you were unconscious when the doctor gave you instructions. You haven't even been wearing your sling."
"Because it's uncomfortable." She slammed the car door, gripping the handle of Alex's suitcase with her left hand.
"That's not a reason."
"Okay, it's unfashionable," Olivia tried, opening the black wrought iron gate. "That's something you should understand, no?" She motioned Alex toward the front steps.
"You are so stubborn, you don't even make sense sometimes, you know that?" Alex surmised as she made her way slowly up the front steps, stabilizing herself with one hand on the wide limestone railing.
Olivia grabbed her other arm, gently guiding her. It had a couple of days for Alex to even get out of bed, and a couple of more for her to take more than a few steps around her hospital room. "Easy does it," Olivia said, measuring her pace against Alex's. "Just a couple more steps."
Alex couldn't help but chuckle, even though it sent an unpleasant pull through her still tender side. "Olivia, I'm sore, I'm not blind." At the top of the steps she paused, exhaling slowly.
Olivia fished the key Nan had given her out of her pocket and unlocked the door. "Looks like you could use some more aspirin."
Olivia's words were lost on Alex as she took a step inside the door, pausing to admire the entryway to what served as Nan's formal headquarters. Although Alex had expected something more formal than Birdie's, her lips parted in awe at the space Nan had created. A sofa and three chairs sat in a small room off to the side, and pamphlets, newsletters, and books littered the coffee table, as if a group had just left. Framed posters of campaign paraphernalia decorated the walls, some recent, some dating back thirty or so years to the height of the suffrage movement. "Wow," Alex breathed, taking a step into the open room at her left, where rows of chairs sat facing a podium, as if waiting for one of the women on the posters to enliven the room with a speech.
"Nan's office is in the back," Olivia explained, setting Alex's bag down at her feet, taking a small break. "The apartment's upstairs." She paused, studying Alex's midsection. "Think you can make it one more flight?"
Alex laughed, bypassing Olivia and heading toward the stairs, her gait slower, but still confident. "And what if I couldn't?" she asked, raising an eyebrow and letting her fingers just barely graze Olivia's injured shoulder. "Would you carry me?"
Footsteps echoed from the back of the house, and Nan appeared, giving them both a wide, welcoming smile. "You've made it," she said, her green eyes filled with a curious enthusiasm as she glanced at the suitcase Olivia carried. "One bag?" she asked, perplexed. "You must have let Liv pack for you."
Alex laughed softly. "There are two more in the car, but I wouldn't let our poor damsel here lift them," she said, placing a protective hand on Olivia's back.
Olivia raised a finger to disagree, but Nan waved her off. "Don't worry about it, I'll get them myself. Alex, make yourself at home. Vera got your room all settled for you; it's the second door on the right. She's usually here in the mornings, so if you need anything at all, she will give you a hand." Before Alex could offer a thank you, she scurried down the front steps, the silk of her skirt fluttering around her legs.
Alex noted the row of framed photographs that lined the stairs, and she studied them, hoping they offered some glimpse into Nan's personal life, which always seemed just out of reach, masked by her business-like demeanor. The photographs were portraits of women, some Alex recognized as pioneers of the women's movement, all of them looking composed, their lips in fine, tight lines across their faces. "Most people have pictures of their family along their stairs," Alex observed, pointing at one of the portraits.
"Technically, these women are family," Olivia laughed, more than familiar with the women that lined Nan's walls.
Alex looked down at her, surprise etching the corners of her eyes. "All of these women are lesbians?" she asked, both eyebrows raised.
Alex pointed to one photograph. "That's Margaret Sanger. I've seen photographs of her husband."
Olivia nodded. "And I've seen photographs of her lover."
"Do you think her husband knew?"
Olivia continued to usher her up the stairs, reminded of how new Alex was to their small, but close lesbian community. "Nan will give you the guided tour, complete with all the gossip," she promised. "That's not my forte."
"You don't strike me as the gossiping type," Alex admitted, pausing at the top of the stairs to give her a grin.
"I don't kiss and tell, either," Olivia said lowly, a playful edge in her voice as she backed Alex carefully down the hallway, sliding her inside her new room. Before she could take advantage of Alex's parted lips, the blonde had caught a glimpse of the room, and her attention was immediately thwarted.
"Wow," Alex sighed, circling in place and taking in the paintings that adorned one wall, made even brighter by the sunlight angling in from the windows. The room wasn't large, but it was grander than her old apartment by a mile. Most of her things would easily fit, with the added bonus that she wouldn't have to pass her nights listening to johns moan from the apartments next to her. "This is wonderful. I don't know who to thank more: Nan, or you for convincing Nan to let me stay here."
Olivia sidled closer to her. "I'd be happy to accept any gratitude on her behalf," she said, finally achieving her goal of connecting with Alex's lips.
They parted, but their foreheads still pressed together. "I wonder if Nan has a policy on overnight guests," Alex murmured softly.
Rather than reply, Olivia kissed her again, making up for the lost hours she had passed watching Alex sleep in the hospital. Alex deepened the kiss, enjoying the privacy. The touches she'd come to rely on from Olivia had been fleeting in the hospital, where nurses, orderlies, and doctors would surprise them at any moment. A sharp pain in her side finally made Alex rear back, reluctantly breaking the kiss. "That felt really good," she smiled. "Until it didn't. Pesky gunshot wounds."
"You sit," Olivia said, pointing to the bed, which was covered with a leaf green blanket. "I'm going to make you some tea." She made her way down the short hall towards the kitchen, bypassing the bathroom and a small sitting room, where the chaise still rested against the window, just as Olivia remembered. The kettle sat on the stove, a tin of tea bags in the cupboard beside it. The kitchen was Vera's domain, and Olivia had learned the hard way never to interfere with the Ukrainian housekeeper's domain, or else feel the sting of a wooden spoon across her knuckles.
She had barely filled the kettle before she heard Alex's bare feet pad into the room. "Alex, you need to be in bed."
"You can't keep me in bed forever," Alex replied, her cheeks only blushing when the words floated between them.
Olivia placed the kettle onto the stove, lighting the flame. "That's a shame," she said with a smile, sharing a quick look with Alex.
A door closed downstairs, and Olivia heard Nan's heavy heels clicking on the stairs, her voice echoing up the hallway as she walked toward Alex's room. "For such a fashionable woman, you certainly pack light."
"In the kitchen, Nan," Olivia called.
"Nothing ever good comes from you in the kitchen!" Nan's voice reached them from the room, and Alex suppressed a chuckle as she lowered herself into a chair beside a wide kitchen table.
"Vera left some things for lunch in the refrigerator," Nan informed them as she stepped into the room, adjusting a button on her emerald blouse.
"Oh, I'm not hungry at the moment," Alex clarified, her appetite having yet to recover from the rubbery relics that passed for food at the hospital. Her attention faded as she caught a glimpse of the day's newspaper atop a pile of unopened letters, the image on the front capturing her attention and spiraling the rest of the room away from her. She recognized the dark eyes and slick gray hair, but it was the smile that sent a paroxysm of fear through her, stiffening her shoulders. Nan's voice sounded again from the doorway, but the words muffled in her mind; she only saw her stepfather leering up at her from the front page.
"Alex?" Nan put a hand on her rigid back, pulling her attention away from the headline.
Olivia followed Alex's gaze toward the paper, and she let out a small curse. She had seen the paper that morning in the waiting room of the hospital, perusing the story for any mention of their names, a daily ritual that had become as familiar to her as gulping down a cup of low-grade hospital coffee. So far, they were still in the clear. Sam Thorne, however, was scrambling, attempting to clear both his name and rescue his son's image. She recalled the headline clearly: DA Thorne and ADA Son - Caught in the Crossfire.
Nan kept a hand on Alex's shoulder, attempting a casual tone even as she tossed a concerned glance at Olivia. "Samuel Thorne is pulling out every excuse in the book to save his job. If he's doing that, it's because he's in real danger of losing it."
"The media seems to be buying it," Alex said, flipping the newspaper over.
"The media buys anything that sells, sweetheart," Nan reminded her. "That doesn't mean anyone else is buying it."
Alex turned, pressing a hard look at Olivia. "We need to talk to Elliot," she said. "He knows about the arms shipment, and I guarantee Sam knew what Robert was doing. He's been covering up for Robert for years. We can ask the woman who works for him. She knows the paper trail."
Nan glanced quizzically from Alex to Olivia, her mouth dropping open in a surprised circle. "What arms shipment?"
"Never mind, Nan," Olivia answered, brushing her off and attempting to stifle whatever creative ideas were about to rail from her assistant. "Alex, none of that matters now."
Alex narrowed her eyes, a look that Olivia had come to know and dread. "Of course it matters," she countered, standing and taking a few deliberate steps toward Olivia to accentuate her point. "He's just as culpable in all of this as Robert and Jack Spade."
Olivia was all too aware of both Alex's and Nan's eyes on her, a fixation that she wasn't particularly fond of in any situation, much less in one where she was attempting to keep both of them from acting rashly. "Alex, the best thing you can do right now is let all of this blow over."
"So Sam Thorne just gets to martyr his son and walk away."
Olivia met Alex's eyes, more than aware that the pain she saw in them had nothing to do with the DA's media ploy, and everything to do with how he'd helped destroy her life over the years. "Robert's not walking away, though, you made sure of that. Isn't that all that matters here?"
Alex reeled, the words packing an almost violent punch. There was a minuscule shake of her head, but then she turned, brushing past Nan and disappearing down the hallway. Olivia put her head down for a moment, cursing under her breath. She may have put a lot of thought into her actions around Alex since they'd left the hospital, but the words coming out of her mouth were another matter.
"What arms shipment?" Nan asked again, walking briskly toward her and pointing a thin finger into Olivia's chest, her green eyes ablaze with an unspoken accusation. "I agreed to host Alex here because I thought you told me everything I needed to know." She pressed harder. "What are you not telling me?"
The last thing Olivia needed at the moment was to have another woman angry with her, and she grabbed Nan's finger, kissing its tip. "You're always so beautiful when you're paranoid."
The attempt at charm only made Nan angrier. "Maybe I should be paranoid for the both of us," she said lowly, her eyes darting toward the hallway.
Olivia put a hand to her head. "Nan, we already went through this."
"Apparently, we didn't go through all of it. What arms shipment?"
"Robert Thorne and Nicky Burns sabotaged a shipment of guns at the docks."
Nan tossed her head in disbelief. "And what, you and Alex just happened to be there?" Olivia gave a reluctant nod, making Nan's eyes widen incredulously before she dipped her head, putting a hand to her temple. "Where are the guns, then?" she asked.
Olivia sighed. "If you would just ask questions that I knew the answers to, both of us would be a little less frustrated right now."
"Okay," Nan said, accepting the challenge. "Here's one: How far down the rabbit hole are you going to let this girl take you?"
"Oh come on, Nan, you've helped a ton of girls before - "
"Not like this - "
"All those prostitutes that waltz into Birdie's, all those women you think you can save with a little feminist education - "
"I wasn't in love with them," Nan hissed, exasperation humming through her.
An angry laugh bubbled from Olivia's throat. "Okay, now I see where this is going."
Nan rolled her eyes. "Jesus, Olivia, you may be an expert at reading criminals, but you can't read a woman to save your life. This has nothing to do with us. Alex had polished your ego so hard you can't see anything beyond her. And she can't see anything beyond her past." She took a step forward, lowering her voice. "You know what that does to people."
"Yeah, I do," Olivia snapped, but she exhaled, trying to control her temper. "I also know what it's like to have someone in your corner while you try to start over and scrap something out of a life that you didn't even think meant anything anymore." She took a step forward, staring hard at Nan, boring her own memories into her. "Do you remember what it's like to help someone like that?"
Nan looked away, her teeth catching her bottom lip, and Olivia knew her point had hit home. When Nan looked back after another moment, her eyes had hardened with resignation. "Go to her," she said, motioning toward the hallway. "I'll be downstairs in the office." She walked to the door, but turned back and motioned toward the tea pot, a softness in her jaw. "And don't forget to take her a cup of tea."
Olivia waited for Nan's heels along the stairs before she poured a cup of tea, contemplating making two, but thought better of it, wishing she had made coffee as well. Nan's words, no matter how out of line, struck something in her, and she needed to prove them wrong. Alex was stronger than she had ever been, but Olivia had seen hatred flooding through her in the moments before she shot Robert, the sound of the gunshot only confirming it. She knocked softly on Alex's closed door, waiting until a soft voice called her inside. As she closed the door behind her, Alex turned from the window, the fury melting from her features, but still hardened in her eyes. "That wasn't exactly the first impression I wanted to make," she sighed, taking a seat on the bed.
"I brought you some tea," Olivia offered, setting it on the bedside table and taking the opportunity to settle on the bed next to Alex, leaving a small space between them.
Alex looked at it, the steam rising in a narrow plume above the mug. "Thank you."
"Look, Alex, it's probably best to steer clear of the newspapers for awhile. Reading about all of this is not going to make you feel any better."
"You mean it's not going to make me forget." She stared straight ahead, focusing on an oil painting on the opposite wall, letting her attention get lost in a maze of impressionist flowers. "He doesn't get to get away with this," she said after a pause, her voice quivering with anger.
"Get away with what, Alex?" Olivia asked, but she already felt the answer creeping over her. This wasn't about dead girls in Skid Row, or an arms deal gone wrong. "With killing your father? Isn't that what all of this has been about from the day you started working for me?"
"It's about justice."
"Is it about justice or revenge, Alex? Jack Spade is gone. Robert Thorne is gone. You got exactly what you wanted."
Olivia saw her words stiffen Alex's spine. "Got what I wanted?" Alex scoffed, turning a pair of haunted blue eyes toward Olivia. "I still see Robert in my dreams every night. I feel him next to me. Killing him didn't get me what I wanted," she said, her voice stretched tightly.
"Then why do you think punishing Sam Thorne is going to make you feel any better?"
The fight went out of Alex's shoulders, and she slumped towards the bed, gingerly bringing her feet up behind Olivia and resting her head on the pillow. "Because it has to..." she tried, but Olivia could see the fight draining out of her, the last of her energy spent.
"Just let me take care of it," Olivia said, sympathy building inside her, along with a taste of rage at the cruel twist of fate that had brought them here. "I'll take care of everything." She leaned closer, brushing a smile against Alex's cheek. "I'll wake you up when it's all over." Alex didn't offer her usual rebuttal or stubborn refusal. She was silent, her eyes closing softly. Olivia was more than familiar with this kind of silence. After all had been said and done, the only thing left was grief.
Days passed, and the media's obsession with the scandal only grew as theories were tossed casually around, some implicating Robert Thorne, others implicating his father, Samuel Thorne, as the mastermind behind most of the crime in the city. Olivia holed up in her office, the newspapers her only link to the investigation since she had avoided Elliot's phone calls for a solid week. According to Cragen, he'd visited the bar once or twice, each time while Olivia was wiling away the hours watching a drugged Alex sleep off any residual pain. The guilt weighed on her, but the case would eventually blow over, and the two of them would get back to normal; it was a hopeful lie, but it helped ease her conscience. As she sat in the small hole that served as a coffee shop down the street from her office, her eyes scanned another front page headline blazened across an abandoned newspaper. She plucked it up, taking a seat, her coffee still too hot to drink.
"Should've known I'd eventually find you here. You can't make coffee for shit."
Olivia glanced up, splashing hot liquid across the paper and onto her hand. "Fuck, Elliot," she hissed, setting the cup down.
He took a seat across from her, plucking a few napkins from a dispenser and handing them over to her. "Funny, that's exactly the greeting I expected after over a week of you avoiding my telephone calls." His gray eyes narrowed at her, and whether it was from the sunlight streaming through the window behind her or his own suspicion, Olivia didn't know. "You disappeared on me, Liv. Want to tell me why?"
Olivia met his eyes, but only briefly, before staring back down at the brown liquid in her cup, which suddenly turned her stomach. She drank it anyway, hoping it gave her the courage to lie. "I've been laying low," she said. "After you guys took Johnny in, he wasn't very happy with me."
Elliot sighed. "Well, he should be pretty happy now. The whole black market scene has completely shifted. He'll be ruling the majority of the city now."
"I guess your Chief is pretty happy to be rid of Spade," Olivia surmised, glancing over at him. "You get a promotion out of this, at least?"
Elliot laughed. "Not a chance. The Chief is just scrambling to make everyone think that he was on the right track the whole time. But, we both know that was a load of bullshit." Elliot leaned over, picking up her coffee cup and taking a long sip. "I came by the office a couple of times. You fire your assistant or something? Or is she laying low, too?" He chuckled. "Or are you two laying low together?"
"She's been away from the office," Olivia answered, offering nothing more. A lone man walked into the coffee shop, fishing through his trousers and counting through spare change.
"Her name came up the other day," Elliot said casually, drawing her attention back to him. He pressed a finger against the headline of the coffee-stained paper. "Sam Thorne's been screwing over a ton of people, even her. His secretary came forward with a paper trail of corruption about a mile long."
Olivia swallowed. "Enough to put him away?" she asked, covering up any concern by taking another long gulp of her coffee. The caffeine buzz wasn't helping her nerves.
"Hell yeah. Thorne's got no more allies. Judges, cops, they're all staying away from him. Consider him toxic at this point." He stared pointedly at her. "Alex had filed a dispute with him over her mother's will. You know anything about that?"
"She may have mentioned it."
Elliot laughed, shaking his head. "Holy shit, Liv. How long have we been friends?"
Olivia narrowed an eye. "What, are you writing a memoir or something?" She stood, draining the rest of her coffee and tossing the paper cup toward the trash can. It missed. She had never been able to aim with her left arm, but throwing anything with her injured one was sure to elicit even more questions from Elliot. She stepped out of the shop and onto the sidewalk, the sun sending a bit of warmth through the cool air.
"In all the time we've been friends, you've never been this much of a closed book when it comes to women," Elliot pointed out, stepping in line beside her, measuring his long strides against her shorter ones. "Want to tell me why this one is so special?"
"I know all about Alex's legal run-ins with Samuel Thorne," Olivia began, giving him just enough to get him off her shoulders. "She's been through enough. There's no reason for her to get mixed up in all this."
"It's a little late for that, don't you think?" Elliot asked. "She's working for you. She's already in the middle of it. I'm going to need to talk to her."
"She's off-limits, Elliot."
He laughed, tossing his head toward the sun. "I'm not trying to steal your girlfriend, Liv, I'm trying to solve a case." When she didn't respond, he grabbed her arm. If he had grabbed her good arm, she could have kept the lie going a little longer, but his grip pulled her injured shoulder and sent a spasm of pain running all the way up to her neck. She let out a cursed grunt and pulled away from him, balling a fist and reeling away from him, blinking back the pain. When she finally met Elliot's eyes, she saw that her cover had been fully blown. Whatever lies she'd been spinning the past week unraveled as he stared at her, a concerned, but also a hurt, look morphing his features. "What the hell is going on, Liv?"
She sighed, leaning against the wall, suddenly tired. "You're sure Sam Thorne isn't going to be a problem for Alex?"
"Liv, I'm going to be your fucking problem if you don't start coming clean with me." He motioned with his finger up the street. "We're taking a walk. As of right now, I'm off duty."
He turned to look at her, his eyes floating toward the shoulder that she was now favoring. "Because whatever you tell me, I'll be listening as a friend. Not as a member of NYPD. Got it?"
She nodded, meeting his eyes, grateful for the trust in them. "Deal." She stepped beside him, still nursing her shoulder, but for the first time in over a week, she felt the blanket of deceit lift, making her her feel a bit lighter.
Alex awoke with a start, the suddenly jerk of her body making her cringe as she struggled to sit up, a throb emanating from the bandage across her midsection. She was panting, and the air hitting her clammy skin gave her a sudden chill, making her shiver. The dream was the same as it always was: Robert's eyes turning wolfish as he crept toward her, her skin on fire as he came closer and closer. Even when she awoke, she still heard the sound of the gun firing, as if her dream was merely meant as a reminder, a way of provoking of her waking memory into remembering what she had done.
Alex moved the twisted sheets off her legs, placing her feet on the cold hardwood floor and reaching for her robe. Cinching it around her waist, she padded quietly out of her room and down the hallway. The apartment had become familiar to her over the past few days, and she needed no more than the dim moonlight to find her way to the kitchen sink. She filled a glass with water, drinking it quickly before refilling it again and sitting down at the table. Sleep hadn't been easy over the past week, and although she chalked it up to physical discomfort, she knew that wasn't the only thing that prevented her from closing her eyes. Robert may have been dead, but he was still very much with her.
She heard footsteps on the stairs, and the hall light flipped on, revealing Nan. Her eyes drifted automatically toward the figure in her kitchen, and she let the dim hall light guide her to the table. "Couldn't sleep?" She carried a few small envelopes, leftover business notes that always found their way to the kitchen table, littering its pristine top. It was a practice that irritated her housekeeper, but Nan never could leave her work completely downstairs. She slid one envelope over to Alex, taking a seat in the chair next to her. "This was in the mail today," she said. "For you."
Alex caught the address on the envelope, an address that she knew too well, having seen it on various pieces of mail littered around her father's desk when she was younger. He'd let her play with old envelopes, and she'd pretend to file her own important briefs, wanting her own tiny desk to mimic her father's. She turned it over, blocking the courthouse address. "Thank you," she managed, taking another sip of water, concentrating on the coolness it left in her parched throat. "Do you always work this late?" she asked, preferring to steer Nan's attention away from the envelope she was eyeing.
"I like to write," Nan explained, peeling off a pair of glasses and hanging them from her blouse. "Use my frustrations of the day to really squeeze out some subversive prose." She smiled. "When I write, I don't have to play by the rules," she continued. "I don't have to smile and nod politely when all I really want to do is shove my political capital up some legislator's ass and call it a day."
Alex appreciated the banter, which helped banish the memory of her nightmare. "You never know, some of those legislators may actually like that kind of thing."
Nan chuckled. "More than you know," she said, leaning back in her chair and crossing her legs. "So, Miss Cabot. What is your plan for when you're back on your feet? Olivia mentioned that you were considering finishing graduate school."
Alex had mentioned it once, in between naps, but hadn't had the wherewithal to think deeply about it. "This fall, perhaps," she replied. "I'm a bit rusty, but nothing a few weeks with some law volumes won't fix."
Nan nodded, her fingers tapping her thigh thoughtfully. "How long do you have left?"
"About a year."
"And you plan on taking the bar here in New York?" Even in the dim light, Alex could see an idea prickling behind Nan's eyes.
"That's my plan, yes," she confirmed.
Nan leaned forward, as if confiding some secret. "Listen, I'm looking to hire another team member. Someone with a legal mind to help navigate the waters of elections and politics. I'd love to have you work for me."
The offer caught Alex off guard, but, never forgetting her manners, she smiled graciously. "That is quite an offer," she said pensively, although she couldn't prevent the hesitant lilt in her voice.
Nan studied her, tilting her head before giving a slow, understanding nod. "An offer you don't particularly want," she said, employing the uncanny ability she had to read someone's intentions before they were known.
"Did Olivia ask you to offer me this job?" Alex asked, not sure if she really wanted to know the answer.
"I make my own personnel decisions, sweetheart," Nan reminded her, but she broke eye contact. "She mentioned it to me, and you seem like a bright, stubborn young woman. You'd fit right in." She sighed. "At least think on it a night or two."
Alex sighed. "I like the work that I'm doing. It's been a long time since I've enjoyed something like this."
"Is it the work you're enjoying, or is it Olivia?" Nan asked. She sighed. "Olivia is drawn to you in a way that she's never been drawn to anyone. And I wonder if it's because the two of you share the same darkness."
Alex swallowed. "Darkness?"
"A past that's clawed its way so deeply into you that you're darkened by it." The words twisted something inside Alex, and she felt her palms dampen as Nan continued. "It taints you, it makes your skin crawl in the middle of the night, and you hate yourself because of it." The green eyes that stared at her were calm, but cool, seeming to reach inside of Alex. "I watched Olivia overcome that. It took years. But now, I see it in you, and it frightens me for her."
Alex blinked back the wetness behind her eyes, keeping her emotions as stilled as she could. "I'm sorry you feel that way," she whispered, afraid if she were any louder her voice would betray the lump in her throat.
"Those dreams that keep you up at night," Nan pressed softly, sympathy drawing her lips into a frown. "The ones that make you call out Robert Thorne's name every night..." The marble in Alex's throat grew, becoming almost painful. "Olivia cannot protect you from those, Alex. She can't protect you from your own demons, but she will drown trying to help you, and I won't let her do that."
The wetness that Alex had been holding back somehow made its way down her cheek, and she raised a heavy hand, wiping a tear away as quickly and as forcefully as possible. "I think you've made your point," she managed, moving to rise from her chair, but Nan pressed a gentle, but firm hand against her knee.
"When did it start, Alex?"
The question made Alex stop breathing, the simple words unearthing a shame that was getting harder and harder to bury. "I didn't know you were a licensed shrink," she tried, but her voice wavered, losing its intensity.
"In my house, I can be anything I want," Nan replied, but a flash of compassion creased her brow. "Did you ever talk about it with anyone?"
"Of course," Alex said bitterly. "Samuel Thorne and I discussed it all the time." Her sarcasm stretched thinly, and she quickly reached up to wipe another betraying tear from her cheek.
"I know you've come a long way by yourself," Nan continued. "But, you're smart enough to know that you can't start over without acknowledging what happened to you. I know a woman, she's very discreet, but very good. I can put you in touch with her, just so that you can start talking about this with someone who can actually help you work through it."
"Why are you going out of your way to do all of this?" Alex asked. She knew about Nan and Olivia's past. She'd seen that connection play out in front of her. There was a love between the two of them that ran deeper than she liked, and at times she felt she was only skimming the surface of it.
Nan looked directly at her, meeting the suspicion in her eyes. "Because I love Olivia," she said firmly, but then she qualified her words with a shake of her head. "I don't love her in the same way that you do, Alex." Her voice softened for a moment, and a look of wistfulness passed through her, deflating her chest. "It's an old love, like a worn coat. You can't get rid of it, but you never wear it." She pulled her glasses from the collar of her shirt and set them on the table, the light glinting off the lenses. "But, I also want to help because you've got a spark in you, and it's not only Olivia who can see it. You will be okay, Alex. It will just take some time." She smiled tentatively. "And possibly some professional help."
Alex let out a shaky breath, appreciating the attempt at levity. "Have you ever seen this shrink?"
Nan averted her gaze for a moment, picking her glasses up from the table. "I've seen her, slept with her, and fought with her," she replied. "And I still recommend her." She stood, placing a hand on Alex's shoulder. "Try and get some sleep, okay?" she said, patting her shoulder twice before leaving the kitchen, her shoes echoing down the hall.
Alex pulled the large brown envelope towards her, fingering the edge of it with her nail, still unsure if she was ready to open it. Elizabeth Donnelly had almost assured her that her brief would be successful with any judge in Manhattan, but Manhattan didn't seem to run on merit. She exhaled, slipping her finger under the edge of the envelope and ripping it open. As her eyes gazed the letter, the print blurred, and the tears she had successfully held it while talking to Nan ran freely down her cheeks.
Alex hadn't slept much after finally making her way back to her bed, but the few hours she had managed to squeeze in before morning were dreamless. She dressed fully, wishing she had asked Olivia to at least bring her a few more of her clothes, but she made do with what she had, slipping on knee-length skirt and a blue blouse. Opting for shoes without a heel, she stepped as briskly as she could down the stairs, attempting to shift her skirt lower so that it wouldn't interfere with the bandage just above her waist. She heard voices coming from the front room, and quickly gave up her efforts with the skirt, patting her hair into place. It had been more than two weeks since she'd made her way back out into the world, and she wasn't sure she fully remembered how to present herself to actual people.
Nan and two other women glanced up at her as she came to a stop. "Well, you've certainly got a bounce in your step," Nan observed, giving Alex a welcoming smile. "Gertrude, Bertha, this is Alex Cabot. She's renting my upstairs room. Alex, this is Gertrude Klein, member of the Bronx City Council. We're scheming ways for Bertha here to win a newly vacated seat."
Alex nodded cordially at the both of them. "It's lovely to meet you both. Two women on the Council and the Bronx may make history."
"Here's hoping," Gertrude piped up, her wrinkled eyes squinting towards Alex. "Are you Bill Cabot's daughter, by chance?"
Alex felt the familiar drop in her stomach at the mention of her father, but she smiled through it. "Yes," she said proudly. "I am."
Gertrude nodded, raising a finger in the air to emphasize her point. "Now, he was a good man. Almost as good as any woman."
Alex chuckled, riding the small sense of joy she got from discussing her father, which she rarely allowed herself to do. "I'm sure he would appreciate that." She gave the three of them another nod, preparing her leave, but Nan raised a finger.
"One moment, Alex," she said, rising from her chair and motioning her towards her office. "Where are you headed?" she asked over her shoulder, patting a stray piece of auburn hair back into place.
"Nowhere special," Alex replied vaguely, hoping that Nan wouldn't press her any further. "But, if Olivia comes by, just tell her I'm getting some air."
Nan looked back at her as she stepped in to her office, knowingly narrowing her eyes. "Whatever you say, Alex." She fished through a desk drawer for a moment before extending a business card. "I meant to slide this under your door this morning."
Alex took the card, reading the name, and she glanced up at Nan. "Thank you," she whispered. "I will make an appointment with her."
"Of course," Nan replied casually, flipping through the notes on her desk before locating the one she needed. "One more thing: are you familiar with an Elizabeth Donnelly?" She arched an eyebrow. "She rang me this morning and mentioned your name."
Alex's eyes brightened. "I do know her, yes. And if you are still looking to fill that position that you offered me, I think you should consider her instead. She worked for my father for years; she knows the law like the back of her hand."
Nan nodded, slowly, pursing her lips. "Well, she either has an uncanny sense of timing or she's just lucky. Either one of those is a definite plus in this office." She raised a finger. "But, you'll be the one to tell Olivia you didn't take the job. That's not a battle I want to fight."
"Understood," Alex said with a smile. She brandished the psychiatrist's card once more before dropping it into her purse. "Thank you again."
"Of course." Nan rounded her desk and leaned in closer to her. "If you want to get away while you can, leave through the back. Bertha and Gertrude can talk for hours."
Alex smiled, giving Nan a quick wink before turning and making her way to the small back door, the sun only beginning to slice through the small alley. She turned her head toward the sky and exhaled, making her way toward the street.
Cragen's car sat nicely at the curb outside the bar, and Olivia couldn't help but tap its hood as she bypassed on the way into the bar. Even though it was only midday, a few outliers littered the booths at the edge of the wall, doing business in the low light. "Well, look who it is," Cragen said, popping up from behind the bar, his requisite towel thrown over his shoulder. "Have a seat, I'll get you a drink." He pulled a glass from below the counter. "Maybe then you explain to me how I loaned my car to a beautiful blond and had it returned by a large toad."
Olivia nodded. "I figured you'd wonder about that."
Cragen nodded, filling Olivia's glass with a dark Scotch. "I'm not sure if I should," he said lowly, glancing at the booths. "For instance, if my car were anywhere near that shoot-out between Jack Spade and Nicky Burns, I'm not sure if I'd want to know that." He gazed pointedly at her as he poured himself a drink, tossing it back. "And if that beautiful blond you hired was actually working with Spade or Burns, I'm not sure I'd want to know that, either."
"She wasn't working with either of them, Cragen," Olivia said, wrapping her fingers around the cool glass.
Cragen nodded slowly as he eyed her, his eyebrows arched. "So what you're telling me is that my car was near Bay Bridge that day."
"We have everything under control, Cragen, there's nothing to worry about."
He didn't respond, and slid his used glass down to the end of the counter. "Where's Alex? I haven't seen her since that day."
"She's just taking some time off."
Cragen rolled his eyes, then reached over and jerked Olivia's half-filled glass from her hand. "Listen, Benson, you walk into my bar and accept a drink, you better damn be ready to tell the truth. Now level with me."
Olivia sighed. Chances are Cragen had already heard the rumors drifting in and out of the bar. "Alex took your car that day after we found a lead in the Skid Row murders. You know, the prostitutes?" She waited for Cragen's nod. "She got there before I did, and things got a little complicated. She took a bullet."
"She all right?" He waited for Olivia's nod before grinning. "She may not look it, but she's a tough broad." He reached for something underneath the cash register, and slid a copy of the day's paper over to Olivia. She had already seen the headline, had monitored the papers for the past week making sure the cops were going along with the narrative she and Slim left for them. "Looks like things are uncomplicated for the police. Maybe not so much for the District Attorney. But the Chief's getting his balls licked for busting open a corruption scandal the likes of which this city hasn't seen for awhile."
Olivia nodded. "Lucky for him, he's got no witnesses left. He can make up whatever he wants."
Cragen sighed. "Yeah, but this just means there will be a new scramble for power. A new world order in these parts. Unless Johnny slides in and takes over while he can. He's always wanted more than just the docks."
Olivia shrugged, then cringed, favoring her shoulder. "You mind if I get that drink back?" she asked, pointing to her abandoned glass.
Cragen slid it back over to her, his small eyes studying her. "You ladies sign up for matching bullet wounds, or what?" He refilled Olivia's glass. "There are less painful ways to impress a girl, you know."
They both looked over as the door opened. Slim squeezed his bulging frame through the entryway, a dark eye immediately noticing Olivia at the bar. "Well, look who's here," he said cheerfully, baring his coffee-stained teeth. He took a seat at the bar stool next to Olivia and it creaked beneath his weight.
"Let me guess, Slim, you're here to buy me a drink."
Slim snorted. "Yeah, with your money." Craven walked over to him, ready to offer him a drink, but Slim out his hand out to decline. "I'm just here on business, Cragen, but thanks." Cragen nodded, tossing his bar towel back over his shoulder and walking back to the end of the counter. "Speaking of business," Slim said, talking out of the side of his mouth. "I'd say we handled things pretty well as far as clean-up goes, don't you?"
"So far, so good." She slid her glass along the bar, enjoying the sound it made against the counter. "I bet you and Johnny are looking pretty had to find out where those lost guns are, huh?"
Slim shrugged. "Maybe. Thorne had to hide 'em somewhere, didn't he? I asked that pretty assistant of yours if she knew anything about it, but she ain't saying anything. A bullet through the gut didn't seem to change her a bit."
Olivia's slid glass once more, but this time didn't bother to stop it as Slim's words registered. It kept sliding, until it clinked against a metal napkin holder. "What did you say?"
"Blondie. Upstairs. She told me you hadn't been to the office today." He pursed one side of his lip. "Although if you're trying to avoid the job, maybe you want to drink someplace that ain't right underneath it."
Olivia shook her head as if shaking water out of her ear. "Alex is upstairs? In my office?" She stood, shaking her head and throwing a couple of bills on the table. As far as she knew, Alex was in no condition to be out, much less at the office, much less at a job that had almost gotten her killed.
"Uh-oh, trouble in paradise?" Slim asked, scratching his chin. "Handle your broad, Benson. But I'll be back tomorrow for the rest of that deposit."
Olivia had already turned toward the back staircase, but she gave him a nod over her shoulder. She tried to dampen her anger as she walked, but each step only lit another flame under her, and she had to pause and exhale slowly outside of her own door before opening it.
Sure enough, Alex sat perched at her desk, which was as just as organized as it always was, as if she'd never left. Alex smiled at her, and for a moment Olivia forgot about all of the reasons she had feared her assistant coming back to work for her. "I brought coffee for you," Alex said, gesturing towards Olivia's open office door. "It's on your desk."
"You want to tell me what you're doing here?"
"I'm working," Alex said simply. "Last I heard, you hadn't fired me."
Olivia took a couple of steps closer to the desk, exhaling in order to rid herself of the slow irritation bubbling in her gut. "Alex, we discussed this."
Alex looked sharply up at her, ready for an argument. "Actually, I don't think we did. You may have discussed it with Nan, but you definitely didn't discuss it with me."
"You're telling me that you turned down the job Nan offered you?"
"I turned it down because I already have a job."
Olivia's eyes darted towards the ceiling. "And even if you did still have a job here, which is still up for discussion, what makes you think you need to be back at work so soon?"
"I can only stay cooped up for so long, Olivia."
"Then go for a walk, Alex. Sit on a park bench, for crying out loud, and watch people. But, don't come here." Her words were harsher than she meant them to be, and she quickly backpedaled. "I thought you were going back to school."
"I am, but not until the fall." Alex placed her hands on her desk, as if claiming her territory. "Until then, I'd like to continue working here. I finally got my life back - "
Olivia cut her off with a disbelieving wave of her hand. "Your life back? Alex, you almost lost your life. You're acting like you took a bullet to the brain instead of your gut."
Alex's eyes darkened. "No," she refuted, shaking her head. "No, Olivia. Having Robert haunt me every single day, that was losing my life. I'm not some dumb broad, I know I have a long way to go in starting over, but I want this - " she gestured toward the room - "I want all of this to be a part of it."
Olivia averted her eyes for a moment, and they caught the glint of Alex's pocketwatch. Her father's watch. Her father had been District Attorney of Manhattan, and there was no reason his daughter should waste her time hanging around a two-bit private detectives office when she was surely destined for better. And as soon as Alex got a taste of school, and of a normal life, she would realize that and leave as quickly as she came. She buried that fear, and used her last defense mechanism: power.
"What if I decide I don't need an assistant anymore?"
Alex balked at the question, but quickly recovered, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear. "We both know that's not the case," she countered. "This place was a complete mess when I got here this morning."
Olivia scanned the room, noting the smallest of touches that Alex added: Flowers on the top of the small filing cabinet that sat next to her desk, her long, slim coat hanging on the rack by the door, and the small mirror that sat next to her typewriter. She had come to count on them, as reminders of the warmth she felt when Alex was around. For the second time that week, she felt her last defense give way. "What if I decide I don't want such a stubborn assistant anymore?" she asked, the first sign of a playful smile twitching a corner of her lip.
Alex hid a grin of her own. "Well, then we may have a problem."
Olivia slipped her jacket off her shoulders and tossed it onto the chair in front of Alex's desk. Alex stared pointedly at it. "Do you mind hanging that?" she asked. "I don't believe that qualifies as heavy lifting."
Olivia rolled her eyes, but as she moved to pick up her coat, she saw the type-written letter laying on Alex's desk. "What's that?" She pointed, but then leaned over and slid it closer, scanning it quickly. "You got the will overturned," she said, her eyes widening. "You got the estate."
Alex nodded vaguely, reaching to take the letter back. "I got everything. The house, the estate, all of it."
"You don't seem particularly elated," Olivia observed.
"I'm selling it," Alex stated firmly. "The house, at least."
Olivia gave her a half-nod. "I can see how the place can be a little traumatic," she offered. "Considering what just happened."
Alex shook her head, pushing away from her desk and busying herself by flipping through a stack of files. "It's not just that. All the memories that come with it, Olivia, they're toxic. I don't want them anymore. I don't want the good memories, I don't want the bad ones, I just want to forget about that place." As she spoke, her painted nails flipped even faster through the files.
Olivia knew what was happening. She'd seen it before, this complete denial of the past. She'd run from her past, too, but it always caught up with her. Most of the time it caught up with her as she stared at her own reflection, and wondered about the monster she'd never met who'd given her the lilt of her upper lip, her square jaw. The past wasn't something that you just let go; it was inside you. "Come here," she said, extending her hand to Alex.
Alex seemed surprised by the gesture, but for once she didn't question her, and let Olivia lead her into her office. Once inside, she let go of Alex's hand and walked to the small record player she kept in the corner. She had listened to the same record on repeat for the last week, another one of the small touches that reminded her of Alex. "You have to let the memories come, the good and the bad, or else they'll rip you apart." She flipped the record player on, taking the needle in her hand. "You can sell the house and start over. But, do it because you want to, not because you're afraid of going back. There are always things worth remembering." She let the needle drop, and the music floated softly, almost as if it were catching a breeze from the open window behind her desk.
Alex's shoulders tensed as the horn line began, followed by the tune that was so familiar to her.
"You've made me happy today..."
She closed her eyes, letting the music drift warmly through her, conjuring up both memories and a deeply sated sense of the present. "I didn't know you had this record," she said softly.
"Technically, it's your copy," Olivia admitted. "I grabbed it from your place while you were at the hospital. I just wanted to hear it again." She hummed along with the melody, extending her hand again. "Want to dance?"
Alex's peered over at her, caught off-guard by the question. Olivia was even caught off-guard herself, but she never estimated what she'd do for a beautiful woman. "My moves aren't exactly what they used to be," Alex answered. "A gunshot will do that to a girl."
"Even better," Olivia retorted, taking her hand. "I'm a horrible dancer."
This got a soft chuckle out of Alex, and she bowed her head, hiding her smile, but glanced coyly at Olivia. "Okay," she said, nodding. "Show me your moves."
Olivia wrapped her arms gently around Alex, swaying slowly, smiling when Alex slid her arms around her waist and let her head rest on her good shoulder.
"You're a good swayer," Alex murmured against the collar of her shirt. Her breath sent a slight quiver through Olivia's neck.
"I've won contests," Olivia teased. Something about being as close as she was to Alex made her tongue a little looser, as if she was drunk off just her scent. "I missed you," she offered lightly. Alex was quiet, and for a moment Olivia hoped her words had been lost in the music.
Alex leaned back, just a little and smiled. "Good," she whispered, before closing the space between them and pressing her lips lightly against Olivia's. After a moment, she deepened it, letting her tongue do the work that her body couldn't. Her tongue eased its way across Olivia's cheek, then to a spot just behind her ear, before placing her head on her shoulder once more.
"I can afford to pay rent now," she said lowly, fingering the collar of Olivia's shirt. "Which means, I can afford to have guests..." she smiled imploringly, raising her head.
"I say we put in a half day here at the office," Olivia replied quickly, edging Alex toward the couch.
"And what will we do until closing time?" Alex whispered.
A loud knock startled both of them, and Alex braced herself with both arms against Olivia's chest. She cleared her throat, attempting to regain the professionalism she lost while Olivia's hands roamed over her body.
"Hello?" called a feminine voice, as the outer door clicked open. "I'm looking for a detective..."
Alex used both hands to straighten her blouse, moving quickly toward Olivia's door. "One moment!" she called. She turned back to Olivia, a finger pointing to her cheek. "Wipe my lipstick off you," she whispered harshly before regaining her composure and walking into the main office.
Olivia laughed as she heard Alex offer a more formal greeting to their new customer, and she peered into the mirror above the small sink. She wiped away the remnants of Alex's kisses and gave one last look at herself in the mirror, surprised by the brightness of her own smile.
"Duty calls," she said, already anticipating her next case, and hoping like hell it was nothing like the one she'd just had. She'd take housewives over mobsters any day.
Thank you all so much for reading. It's been remarkable how this little community has kept this story going. Thank you for all of the kind words and the great motivation.
I'm having such fun in this little AU-verse. Is anyone interested in more?