Slaying Saint George by Harper

Title: Slaying Saint George
Author:
Harper
Rating:
R
Fandom:
Law and Order: SVU, Soul Food, and Law and Order
Pairings:
Alex/Teri, Alex/Abbie
Archiving:
This will be at www.realmoftheshadow.com/harper.htm. List archives are welcome to it, but anyone else please ask.
Disclaimers:
I don�t own the show or the characters. Dick Wolf and Showtime, respectively, have the rights to those. I�m just borrowing them. I get no money and mean no infringement.
Spoilers:
Soul Food up to Never Can Say Goodbye. After that, things take place in the made up world conjured by my mind. No real spoilers for L&O:SVU and one hopefully fairly well known one for L&O.
Public Health Disclaimer:
I don�t think that unprotected sex is a good idea, but I didn�t include the safer version here. For one thing, its fiction so I can make everything turn out well. For another, its just not as fun to write. That doesn�t mean, of course, that I think it was a smart thing for any of the people in this story to engage in, and I certainly don�t advocate it, hypocritical as it may be.
A/N:
Once again, in my mind Abbie never left the DA�s office. I�ve taken some liberties� well, okay, broad liberties, with the canon for all shows involved. Mainly you�ll find some timeline quibbles if you look hard enough, and some of my facts may be a bit off. All for story development, I assure you. If you don�t know who Teri is, or if you�re not familiar with the show "Soul Food", then I suggest that you look at the following page: http://www.paramount.com/television/soulfood/abouttheshow/characters.html.
I�ve placed Abbie and Alex in the same building, office wise. I should probably also mention that I undoubtedly drew heavily on Sharon Bowers� work for some of my background on Abbie. My apologies to Sharon, though I probably did it unintentionally. Her stuff is great, and what�s really canon and what I�ve picked up from her fics has melded together in my head, so I can�t say what came from Dick Wolf and what came from her. This is un-beta�d, so it undoubtedly contains numerous errors. For the sake of my ego, please overlook them. I�ll go ahead and warn you that this is pretentiously long, but like Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys, I just couldn�t stop. If you�d like to send feedback, I�d love to receive it. I�ll be at Xfjnky2@yahoo.com

| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 |

Part 3

Alex groaned as impossibly bright sunlight seemed to pierce her eyelids and stab straight into her corneas. Her entire body ached and her mouth was so dry that she wondered if she�d ever produce saliva again. Her head felt as if it might fall off at any moment, and with a jolt she realized that she had no idea how she�d gotten home. Which, she soon noted, was the least of her problems. Opening her eyes, forcing them to stay that way despite the shooting pain that shot through her skull, she concluded that she wasn�t home at all.

"Oh my God," she whispered, suddenly hyperaware of the sound of someone else breathing beside her. She was loathe to roll over and see who it was, and in fact spent several long seconds contemplating the possibility that she could simply close her eyes, flee wherever she was at and never have to see the face of whatever colossal mistake she�d made.

Abbie leaned back against the headboard of her bed. She�d slipped under the covers minutes before, wanting a front row seat for Alex�s awakening. Thus far, she hadn�t been disappointed. "Good morning," she rasped, not bothering to hide the grin that tugged at her lips.

The voice was far too familiar for Alex to ignore, and with another pained moan, she tilted her head to the side, only to lock eyes with the one woman she�d never imagined she�d see.

"Oh my God," she said again, her voice weak. Abbie Carmichael. She was in bed with Abbie Carmichael.

A lazy smirk was her reply. "Not unless they recently appointed me to deity status, darlin�," Abbie drawled, and Alex had to fight the urge to whimper. This was so, so, so very bad.

Taking a deep breath, she rolled once more onto her back, eyes focused resolutely on the ceiling. She couldn�t remember much, only Teri�s disastrous phone call, the earlier altercation with Abbie, and pulling a bottle of Grey Goose from her private stash. Things after that were incredibly blurry, and even though she didn�t remember anything that might let her know exactly how she�d ended up in the position she found herself in, she was uncomfortably aware of the fact that she was only wearing a tee-shirt and her panties which didn�t indicate anything positive.

"Did we�" she started to ask, then stopped, taking a second to wet dry, cracked lips. She didn�t really want to know, but then again, she had to. "We didn�t� we didn�t� have sex, did we?"

She blushed scarlet as soon as the words passed her lips, and refused to look at Abbie even as the other woman started to chuckle. "I prefer my partners to be conscious," Abbie finally managed, watching with delight as the tips of Alex�s ears burned bright red. "Its just a little quirk of mine."

"After this little stunt, I�m not sure that I�d put anything past you," Alex muttered, drawing a hand up to her forehead, thumb and middle finger each massaging an aching temple.

Abbie felt herself freeze at the words. She went from amused to furious in approximately 0.3 seconds, and almost without thought propelled herself out of the bed to tower over the still lounging Alex. "Look, Cabot, I was doing you a favor, whether you believe me or not. But, don�t worry, next time I�ll just leave you there, passed out on your desk for everyone to see, because this sure as hell is the last time I do anything for you. Now get out."

Dumbfounded and frowning, Alex eased herself into a sitting position. "Huh?" she managed to croak.

"I said, get out," Abbie repeated firmly, a deep scowl etched into her features.

Alex�s mind dimly registered the fact that this was the second time in a row she was being kicked out of a woman�s bedroom. Irate herself, she pushed up off of the surprisingly comfortable mattress, trying desperately to ignore the fact that she was barely dressed, and half of what little she was wearing didn�t appear to be hers. Spying the pile of her clothing on a nearby chair, she slipped hastily into the skirt and pulled the jacket on over whatever tee shirt it was she was wearing, not even bothering with her hose or anything else for that matter. Running a shaky hand through her hair in an attempt to calm it down a bit, she slid into her shoes and then marched from the bedroom, keenly aware of Abbie�s dark gaze following her every move.

As she made her way through the living room, Alex took note of the mussed comforter and indented pillow decorating the couch, realizing with no small amount of chagrin that Abbie must have slept there the night before. But, that wasn�t a fact she could take the time to process considering she was trying to make as haughty of an exit as she could manage under the circumstances, and instead filed the information away for future digestion.

She had her hand on the doorknob, bracing herself for the ordeal that she knew stepping out into the world with the headache she was sporting would be, when she heard Abbie bark, "Wait."

Stopping, turning slowly, she let her gaze trace up the other woman, noticing for the first time Abbie�s tee shirt, her short track shorts. The part of her mind that wasn�t taken up with self-flagellation took a moment to appreciate the sight before focusing on what the brunette was saying.

"I didn�t bring anything of yours from your office," Abbie said shortly, her words tinged with awkwardness. A jerky movement caught Alex�s eye, and she realized that the other woman was holding a crisply folded bill out to her, and she could only stare in puzzlement. "You�ll probably want to go home and clean up before you head back into the office to collect your things. I don�t know how far away you live, but surely this�ll cover the cost of your cab fare."

"Abbie, I�" Alex started to protest, only to be cut off by the other woman�s glare.

"Just take it and leave," Abbie said flatly, moving forward another few steps so that she could tuck the folded bill into the fold of clothing Alex was hugging against her torso. There was an awkward, strained moment of silence, and then Abbie rasped vehemently, "I would never take advantage of someone, Cabot. Never."

"I didn�t� I�" Alex stumbled, making an abortive attempt at apology. The look in Abbie�s eyes said that she wasn�t really interested in listening, though, so with a long sigh Alex pulled open the door, stepped out into the hallway and made her way out of the building with as much decorum as she could manage.

It took longer than she would have liked to hail a cab, and as Alex slid into the comforting confines of the backseat, she plucked the speck of green from her pile of rumpled clothing, noting with some amazement that it was a fifty dollar bill.

Sighing forlornly, letting her head fall to the side so that the cool glass was pressed up against her forehead, the sensation temporarily quelling her nausea, Alex pondered that she hadn�t been acting very much like her normal self as of late. She�d never in her life done anything so rash as she had the evening before, drinking herself into a near stupor at the office, and in retrospect, she was intensely glad that Abbie had taken her out of there before anyone else could see her. Of course, it chafed to know the other attorney had been witness to her momentary lack of common sense, and she cringed to think of what she might have said or done that she didn�t even remember. And then, she had the lack of good grace to insult and offend her benefactor, when really she should have been thanking her. All in all, it was not a stellar moment in the annals of her history.

And, she thought with a sigh, it was all because of a woman. Maybe they really were evil creatures after all.

XXXXXXXXXX

Abbie pulled her glasses off with a vicious jerk, tossing them down onto her desktop before running her hand raggedly through her hair. She was angry, she was tired, and she was hungry. All three combined meant that she was in an extremely bad mood, and as she looked down at the case she�d been reviewing with something akin to abject hatred, she mused that it just might be time for her to leave the office and go home.

Going home meant moving, though, and she wasn�t at all certain that she possessed the energy necessary to do that, so instead she let her head drop back against the comforting leather of her chair, eyes closed against the harsh overhead lighting. Taking several deep breaths, she let the exhaustion settle over her like a blanket, weighing down her bones and seeming to pull tight at her very skin.

Just as she felt herself start to drift off into the haze that precedes sleep but that doesn�t preclude conscious thought, Abbie heard the soft rap of knuckles against her doorframe, and assuming it to be Jack McCoy coming to lay even more work on her desk, she let loose a long, aggrieved sigh. "Yes?" she snapped, not even bothering to open her eyes.

There was a moment of silence, and Abbie had begun to hope that her obvious displeasure at the interruption had driven away whoever it was that had felt brave enough to darken her doorstep.

"I, uh� I just wanted to thank you. For what you did the other night. And to apologize. I behaved abhorrently, and there�s really no excuse. So, I come bearing gifts in a lame attempt at, uh� apology."

The voice was very clearly not Jack McCoy�s, and with no little amazement, Abbie opened her eyes to see Alex Cabot standing uncertainly in her doorway, a brown paper bag in one hand and crisp white envelope in the other.

Hastily pushing herself up out of her chair, one hand instinctively flying to her head to smooth down what she could only imagine was incredibly unruly hair, Abbie blinked dumbly for a few long seconds before managing to pull together her scattered wits long enough to actually motion in the other woman. "I� You didn�t have to," she said finally, still not completely comprehending what was happening.

Alex wavered for a moment before depositing the bag on a mostly uncluttered area of Abbie�s desk. "Yes, I did. You did me a favor and I did nothing but act like a raving bitch. Speaking of, thanks for the cab fare home."

With that the blonde laid the unmarked envelope on Abbie�s desk, shooting the other woman a small, shy smile. Subsequently, Abbie tried to get her brain and her mouth moving in accord to say something, anything, but apparently she had been struck dumb by a mixture of confusion and sheer exhaustion because nothing seemed to be forthcoming despite her obvious effort.

"I figured you�d be working late. It seems to be a pattern with you, actually," Alex said softly, fair cheeks tinged with the slightest hint of a blush. In its implementation, her plan seemed much more, well� embarrassing, than she�d imagined. Groveling had never been one of the blonde�s strong suits. "So anyway, I badgered Jack about your late night dining choices, but this was the best he could come up with."

Alex was moving as she spoke, delving into the brown paper bag to remove numerous cartons of still steaming Chinese food, and Abbie felt a scowl settle over her brow. She�d just convinced herself that Alex Cabot was completely unworthy of her time, attention, efforts or even thoughts, and now the other woman had gone and done something that flew in the face of her conviction, and she could already feel her internal barriers weakening.

"I guess I�ll leave you to it," Alex said a little uneasily, well aware that Abbie had spent the majority of the past five minutes in a completely non-verbal state. Which was, she imagined, better than being on the receiving end of a tirade, though she really did wish the brunette attorney would say something.

Abbie shook her head as if to clear it. She finally took note of Alex�s clumsy retreat, and reached a hand out, almost as if to physically hold the other woman in place. "Wait� there�s more than enough for two here. Join me?"

The words were out of her mouth almost before she could even think about uttering them, and for the few seconds when silence hung between them, just before Alex tentatively nodded her head �yes�, Abbie wished that she could pull them back. But then the blonde was moving forward again, pushing the chair on the opposite side of Abbie�s desk closer, and the brunette smiled, innately pleased that something seemed to be going right for the first time in longer than she could remember.

"Chicken Lo Mein, right?" Alex asked softly, one golden brow arched in question. She had wrapped her hand around the base of the carton, the steam-softened paper warming her palm, when Abbie reached out to claim it. And when she did, Alex felt another kind of warmth all-together as the other woman�s fingers brushed by her own, tickling against her skin and sending a jolt of feeling up her arm. Momentarily disconcerted by the sensation, she sat down abruptly, pulling her hands back so that they rested primly in her lap.

"�Coke?"

Snapping her head up in confusion, catching the tail end of a question, Alex looked at Abbie for a moment, trying to puzzle together what she�d just said. But, her mind had been elsewhere, awash with the unsettling realization that, despite her broken heart, she apparently wasn�t completely immune to the charms of other women. That it was this particular woman who had elicited a response was more than a little disturbing, and Alex felt her brow wrinkle as she contemplated the horrors of having, and here she paused to swallow nervously, a thing for Abbie Carmichael.

None of which did a thing to answer whatever question it was that the brunette had asked, so with a sigh, Alex was forced to say, "I�m sorry. What did you say?"

Abbie grinned slightly, thoroughly intrigued by the look of bafflement on Alex�s face. "I asked you if you wanted a Coke."

Shaking her head, clearing it of all errant thoughts, Alex nodded. "Uh, sure. Whatever you�re having will be fine."

She watched uneasily as the other woman darted out of her office, apparently en route to the vending machines that took up an alcove down the hall, and used the time alone to do a little thinking. Was she attracted to Abbie? The other woman was, without question, an attractive human being. Long, dark, silky sable hair, piercing deep brown eyes, a slim, straight nose, full lips and that cute little cleft in her chin ensured that, and Alex was suddenly more than aware of the fact that had she just seen Abbie out somewhere and not known her, then she definitely would have paused to take a second look. And her personality? Alex didn�t know. She�d spent far too much time fighting with the other woman and really had no gauge. She knew Abbie had a vicious intelligence, was stubborn to the extreme when she felt she was right, and was more than willing to work hard to accomplish what she wanted. All that would normally be an aphrodisiac cocktail for Alex, who had always been drawn to strong, self-confident and capable women. Her numerous crushes on law professors could attest to that.

But Abbie?

"You know," Abbie drawled, breezing back into her office, two 20 ounce Cokes in hand, "I�m sorry for kicking you out like that. It was�"

"No," Alex said quickly, holding up a hand, "don�t apologize. I undoubtedly deserved it. I�m really, well, embarrassed actually. Normally I would never have done something like that, but�"

"But your girlfriend broke up with you, and you were feeling sorry for yourself," Abbie finished matter-of-factly, taking up where Alex had trailed off.

A blush immediately stained Alex�s skin, and she tilted her head forward, no longer meeting Abbie�s eyes as she smiled wryly. Shifting uncomfortably in her chair, Alex struggled to find the words to say what she wanted to say, but needing reassurance that her little secret wouldn�t find itself available for public consumption, finally managed an apprehensive, "No one really knows about� that. I�d appreciate it if you kept it a secret."

A dark brow arched upward at Alex�s vague choice of words, but Abbie didn�t press for clarification. "Afraid they might see you differently?" she asked, a glance at the doorway indicating what she meant� the other ADA�s, the police officers that they worked with every day, the world.

With a sigh, Alex leaned back in her chair, food forgotten. "I guess I just don�t want to put up with the hassle I�d get from some people. And, I�d like to run for office one day, and I don�t want to have to dig myself out of a hole of gossip and innuendo before I even get started."

Cracking open her Coke, the noise breaking through the tension that had started to mount in the room, Abbie looked at Alex assessingly. "Well, then, this is probably the absolute worst moment in the world to say this, but I�m going to anyway. I�ve wanted to ask you out for a long time, but I didn�t think you�d be interested. After this, though, I know you�re at least open to the idea, if not actually open to the idea of dating me. And," Abbie said, holding up her hands as if to forestall a protest from Alex, "I know you just got out of a relationship and I know you probably need time, so I�m not going to ask you out now. I�m just, I don�t know, giving you a warning. So, don�t shoot me down just yet. Wait until I actually do ask, which will probably be in a couple of weeks, just so you know. Until then, just, well, try to forget that you despise me."

The last was said teasingly, with a cocky grin thrown in to boot, but Alex was too dumbfounded to even react. That was� that was� well, she hadn�t expected that. "Abbie, I�" she started weakly, only to be cut off.

"No. No turning me down yet. You can do that when I ask you, which isn�t right now," the brunette said determinedly, parallel dimples creasing her cheeks as she smiled.

Alex blinked slowly, taking a brief moment to align things in her mind. Only, the moment didn�t do much good. Everything still seemed fairly misaligned, with Teri�s words from that fateful conversation ringing in her head and Abbie looking at her somewhat expectantly, and so Alex did the only thing she could do. Standing quickly, balancing a hand against Abbie�s desk for a short second, she looked at the other woman closely, doing her best to hide the small spasm of panic running through her behind a cool fa�ade.

"I have to go," she said, a hint of humor in her tone. Not because she found the situation amusing, per se, but because her world had managed to turn itself completely upside down in the span of seven short days, and there just had to be something funny about that.

If nothing else, she could laugh at the vagaries of fate, even as it cursed her.

XXXXXXXXXX

Alex kicked open the door to her apartment, shouldering it closed as she made her way into the kitchen to deposit the bags of groceries that she�d picked up on the way home. Edging out of her shoes, leaving them in the middle of the floor as she continued her trek, she sighed at the feel of cool hardwood against her burning soles. No matter that she�d been wearing heels for at least half of her life, her feet still protested the fact vehemently at the end of every day.

A quick glance at the answering machine showed it to be sadly void of messages, but Alex tried not to let that fact bother her. No calls on her machine meant that no calls had to be returned, and since she didn�t want to return 90% of the calls that had to be returned, then she could at least be 50% happy there weren�t any waiting on her. Of course, that elusive 10% of calls she did want to receive meant she couldn�t tip the balance of the scales in any one direction, which didn�t seem to make sense, statistically speaking, but was true nonetheless.

Putting the grocery bags down on her counter with a wet thump, Alex shrugged out of her suit jacket and draped it across the back of a nearby chair. Taking a moment to stretch her shoulders and roll her neck, both doing little to ease the tension gripping her spine, she nonetheless tried to slough off some of the stress of the day. Feeling a bit of a headache lingering behind her eyes and hoping it would go away once she�d eaten dinner, Alex turned back to the counter, ready to unload her groceries.

But, she was stopped short by the ringing of the phone.

Padding over to grab the cordless, she flicked the phone without even bothering to look at the caller ID display. "Yes?" she asked tiredly, idly pulling a bag of salad from a plastic bag with her free hand.

"You never have answered the phone properly in the entire time I�ve known you," the voice on the other end of the line said brightly, the overly cheerful words clashing against Alex�s frazzled nerves with a garish jolt.

The blonde took a deep breath, a scowl settling over her features. "Teri?" she finally asked in disbelief.

There was a short, bitter laugh, and then, "Yes, its Teri."

"What do you want, Teri? I was fairly certain that you�d managed to say everything you needed to say the last time we talked," Alex said sourly, dropping the bag of salad to the counter, forgotten. She turned, bracing her back against the hard surface of the refrigerator, one arm wrapped reflexively around her midsection.

There was a long sigh, and then Teri began to speak again, her words slow. "About that Alex� I�m sorry. I was� I shouldn�t have said what I said. You didn�t deserve it. I was hoping that, well� that we could still be friends. I�m going to be in New York next week, and I�d really like to see you."

The last bit held a touch of seductive promise, and Alex stiffened. "Are you still back with Damon?" she asked, her voice rough.

There was a protracted pause, and then, "Yes. We�re still trying to work things out."

Alex laughed, the sound completely devoid of humor. "And what? You want me to be the mistress tucked away in New York? A little bit of a diversion for you when you travel out of town? Your perfect little above reproach life in Chicago with me on the side, just far enough away not to complicate things for you? Is that it, Teri?"

"Alex, don�t be this way," Teri pleaded, and Alex pushed away from the refrigerator, standing in the middle of the kitchen as her ire drew to a peak.

"Don�t be what way? Don�t not want to be your playtoy? Not good enough for you to actually be involved with, but good enough for you to sleep with? I�m sorry, Teri, but I�m not interested. Maybe you had the right idea before. Maybe we should just not see each other or talk to one another anymore," Alex said coldly, fingers curling around the edge of her counter until her knuckles turned white with the pressure.

"Alex�"Teri tried again, exasperated.

"No," Alex interrupted. Outrage gone in the face of exhaustion, she finished brokenly, "Good-bye, Teri. Don�t call me again."

And with that, she hung up. Barely resisting the urge to shatter this phone into a million pieces as well, she laid it calmly on the countertop. Then, groceries sitting forgotten on the counter, she made her way into the bedroom, shedding her clothes in messy piles as she went. Once there, she curled up underneath the sheets, the fabric cool against her bare skin, hot tears streaking down her face.

XXXXXXXXXX

"Carmichael," Abbie snapped distractedly, snagging up her phone on its second ring. She didn�t pause from her task, highlighting a particularly salient paragraph in the case she was reviewing.

"Abbie? Its Alex� Alex Cabot."

The brunette dropped her highlighter, immediately focusing all attention on the phone call. "How can I help you?" she asked curiously, leaning back in her chair, tucking the phone into the crook of her shoulder.

"Actually, I was hoping you�d have some free time. We�ve never really talked about the work you do in the SVU, and I was thinking that maybe we could work out an arrangement of sorts. Just iron out some practicalities perhaps," Alex said smoothly, and Abbie could almost picture the set of her features. Glasses on, face empty of all emotion, nothing but cool, understated beauty.

Looking down at the pile of work on her desk, Abbie didn�t hesitate as she said, "Why don�t we discuss it over lunch? I can spare an hour or half an hour if you can."

"Now?" Alex asked, somewhat surprised.

"Sure, why not?" Abbie replied, a hint of smile echoing in her words. "There�s a little deli down the street. We could grab something to eat, iron out whatever needs to be ironed out. What do you say?"

There was a short pause, and then, "I�ll meet you in the lobby in five minutes."

When Alex finally made it down to the lobby, a few minutes later than the five she�d quoted, it was to see Abbie lounging against the wall near the door, a long black coat over her severe dark gray suit, long hair spilling out from under a funkily stylish black hat.

"Ready?" the lanky brunette asked, pushing herself away from the wall and grinning expectantly.

Though she tried not to be nervous, Alex couldn�t help but remember the other woman�s words. Abbie was interested in her, and as a result, she couldn�t look at her in the same way she had before. Now Abbie was someone to be assessed and measured, someone whose motives were perhaps suspect, and Alex found herself admiring the long length of leg peeking out from under the hem of the jacket. It was, she realized, an old trap, and one into which she�d apparently fallen. Knowing that someone found you attractive made them, reflexively, more attractive in return. At least, that�s what Alex chose to believe.

Pulling the lapels of her coat closer together, already dreading stepping out into the cold, Alex nodded. "Sorry I kept you waiting, but I got a phone call," she said shortly, moving past Abbie to the door.

"Not a problem," Abbie drawled, reaching out to catch the door as Alex pushed through it. That the other woman didn�t stop and hold it for her was a fact she noted with some amusement. Her longer legs soon caught up to Alex, despite the other woman�s slight head start, and Abbie chose to walk in companionable silence. She didn�t really have anything to say and didn�t particularly care to indulge in inane polite conversation. In her book, it was better to say nothing at all than to talk for no reason and only come out looking like a fool.

Alex, however, felt her nervousness grow as the silence lingered. Quick, covert glances out of the corner of her eye told her that Abbie looked quite content and not at all anxious, and Alex didn�t like knowing that she was uncomfortable while Abbie was not. In her mind, there should be equal levels of uncomfortableness to go around because being the only one to shoulder that burden wasn�t a pleasant sensation. Accordingly, she felt prompted to say something to break the tension she could feel between them.

"Did you run track back in Texas or were you only a fan?" she asked suddenly, the words the first thing to pop to mind. Of course, as soon as they were out, she blushed, thinking about the genesis of the question.

Abbie nearly stopped in her tracks. "Pardon me?" she asked, more than a little confused. She hadn�t, to her knowledge, discussed her past with anyone in the office, least of all her former antagonist, Alex Cabot.

Alex�s blush deepened. "I� well, your shirt. The one I� borrowed," she said, uncharacteristically inarticulate.

When she�d gotten back to her apartment the morning after spending the night in Abbie�s apartment, it was to find that she�d absconded with one of the other woman�s tee shirts. The shirt itself was a near monstrosity, a color that Alex could only think of as burnt sienna, no doubt a left over of childhood Crayola days. It was actually more the color one would get from mixing ketchup and mustard together, and had to be close to the most hideous thing Alex had ever seen. In the middle was a huge white silhouette of a cow�s head, horns stretching out to a near absurd length, with the word TEXAS written above and TRACK written below. She hadn�t returned the shirt yet, mainly because she didn�t know how to do so without calling attention to the fact she�d walked out with it, though she�d managed to do that in one fell sweep with her question.

"Oh, right. That one. I was wondering where it�d gotten off to," Abbie said absently, her mind flashing back to the image of a half-naked Alex stumbling into bed, wearing little more than her favorite shirt. "I ran, actually."

"For the track team?" Alex asked with a hint of disbelief, one brow arched.

Abbie returned the look with one of her own. "Yes, for the track team. Cross country primarily, though I did do a few of the short distance sprints on occasion. Its how I got through undergrad."

"By running for the University of Texas Cows," Alex said slowly, still not quite sure she believed the other woman. Abbie had a runner�s lean physique, but for some reason, she couldn�t quite picture it. Or, maybe, she could picture it too well. Long legs disappearing into miniscule track shorts, a sleeveless lycra top molded to her torso, long hair pulled back into a messy ponytail and a fine sheen of sweat gleaming on her skin in the heat of the midday Southern sun. And, Alex realized, noticing a sudden shortness of breath, maybe it�d be best to stop thinking about it altogether.

At that Abbie did stop, looking at Alex in disbelief. "The University of Texas Cows?" she echoed faintly, looking almost as if Alex had committed heresy.

Shrugging her shoulders in a gesture that said she didn�t quite understand Abbie�s problem, Alex said slowly, "Yes. Cows. That is what�s on the shirt, isn�t it? Or maybe you�re the Bulls. Is that it?"

Mouth opening, Abbie tried to speak, but couldn�t seem to manage it. Finally, after taking a long, calming breath, she said emphatically, "The Longhorns. The University of Texas Longhorns. You did know that, didn�t you? I mean, you were just kidding before, right?"

At Alex�s blank stare, she added, "You know� Hook�em Horns?" Throwing in a decisive nod, Abbie stared at Alex in anticipation, clearly awaiting some sign of recognition.

Alex watched with detached amusement as Abbie stuck her hand out, thumb and pinky extended with the other three fingers folded under, and shook it from side to side quickly. "Hook�em Horns," the brunette repeated, obviously expecting Alex to catch on.

"I never was a particular fan of college athletics," Alex said blithely, moving once more down the street. It took a few seconds for Abbie to follow, and when she caught up, Alex could still hear her muttering under her breath.

After listening to the barely audible grumbling for a while, Alex said, smiling as she did so, "Abbie, I�ve got it now. Longhorns. Hook�em. See, no more cause for distress."

Abbie shook her head in muted frustration, still unable to comprehend Alex�s apparent ignorance on the subject. "I don�t understand. Didn�t you ever watch college football with your folks on Saturdays?"

This time it was Alex who grew quiet. "No. I can�t say that I ever did," she finally answered, her tone frosty.

Not one to ignore a warning that clearly said back off, Abbie instead gestured to the front door of the deli. "You first, Councilor," she said with a small smile and a gesture of her hand, head tilted rakishly to the side.

After making their way through the line and battling for one of the few spare tables, Abbie decided to get through the business part of the luncheon. "So what�s this about an arrangement?" she asked around a bite of her sandwich.

Alex held up a finger, indicating that the other woman would have to wait until she finished chewing for an answer. "Since we�ve moved past our earlier� misunderstanding," Alex said, the corners of her mouth quirking up with the hint of a smile as she contemplated the polite phrasing for the far from polite war that had raged between herself and the other woman since their introduction, "I think that we should find a way to work together."

"Simple," Alex said, brows lowering. "We stop arguing about petty bullshit and move on with things. That should cover it."

Taking a deep, fortifying breath, Alex continued. "That�s not exactly what I had in mind. I was thinking more along the lines of setting up a system of communication. Maybe you can let me know what days I can expect to see you hanging around the SVU. I�m well aware that you report to someone much higher than me on the food chain," the blonde admitted wryly, "but that doesn�t mean that I don�t have an interest in keeping up with what�s going on in my unit. And, it is my unit."

"I�m well aware of that," Abbie shot back a bit irritably, " and I�m not trying to step on your toes, Alex, despite what you might think."

"I really don�t understand why you�re there at all," Alex said suddenly, taking a drastic departure from her intended conversational goals. But, she�d wondered since she�d first seen the obviously busy attorney skulking about her turf, and it seemed imperative at that moment to find out why. "Its not as if you don�t have enough work to do over at the DA�s office. Why go looking for more?"

Abbie grew still, her eyes narrowing, and for a moment Alex thought that her volatile companion was going to storm from the restaurant. But, seconds later all of that fire had disappeared, leaving cool detachment in its place. "Because I want to, for one. Think of it as entertainment," she replied flippantly, and Alex shoved down her initial impulse, which had been to shoot back a no doubt inflammatory retort.

"Then you have an odd idea of what constitutes entertainment," she finally managed to get out, struggling to keep her tone as cool as Abbie�s.

Brown eyes flared for a second. "My motivations are really irrelevant though, aren�t they? Its not as if you don�t need the help. Your division is too small as it is. There�s no way that you can handle the influx of cases that come through the SVU without additional resources. So, let me provide some of those free of charge."

Despite the jolt of anger that shot through her, hearing the implied �You should be thankful for it� that was clear in Abbie�s tone, Alex forced herself to remain calm. She wasn�t going to fall back into old patterns. "Provide away," she said dryly, "just tell me when you�re going to be there and brief me on each perp you deal with before I see anything official cross my desk."

Abbie sat back against her chair, folding her arms over her chest, half-eaten sandwich laying forgotten before her. "You�re being unreasonable," she argued. "How can I expect to get anything done if I have to hunt you down and explain my actions every five minutes?"

Pushing her glasses up to pinch the bridge of her nose in a gesture born of habit, Alex sighed. "You don�t have come running with reports of your every move, Abbie. I just want to hear what you�ve done. Is that so hard? Dropping by my office and filling me in?"

Relaxing her defensive posture somewhat, Abbie relented. "No. I can do that."

"Not that you shouldn�t look into finding more free time for yourself," Alex said off-handedly, though internally she was screwing up her courage.

A self-effacing look crossed Abbie�s features. "Whatever for?" she asked with a wry grin.

Taking a deep breath, hoping that she sounded more confident than she felt, Alex said, "Because whenever you get around to asking, I�m going to say yes."

Abbie didn�t say anything for a long moment, her features frozen in shock. Finally, though, she managed a quiet, faint, "Oh."

XXXXXXXXXX

Alex eyed herself critically in the mirror. Abbie had said casual, had said that they�d go to dinner and a movie because that�s what people on first dates did, and so she�d gone through five different outfits looking for just the right amount of casualness, cursing herself through each change. She wasn�t sure why she was worried. After deliberation, Alex had decided that the best way to get over Teri was to find something new to occupy her time, and Abbie�s happened along had been fortuitous. Was she using the other woman? Possibly. Would things turn out badly for them? Probably. Was it a bad idea? Almost definitely. Still though, she found herself evaluating the gray wool flat-front slacks, the thick cream cowl-neck sweater, wondering, well� wondering if Abbie would find her attractive.

"Idiot," she mumbled, turning decisively away from the mirror. It wasn�t worth the effort. After all, she was going out with Abbie Carmichael, a woman she most certainly didn�t envision herself getting into a long term relationship with, and so it didn�t really matter, did it?

A sharp knock at the door pulled Alex from her musings, and inhaling deeply in an attempt to steady her nerves, she made her way across her living room. A quick glance out of the peephole assured her that it was Abbie, and seconds later she was pulling the door open, revealing the other woman in all her glory.

And glorious she was, Alex had to admit. Abbie was dressed in unrelenting black, from the boot cut slacks to the tight and thin vee-neck sweater that hugged her curves, from the unbelted thigh-length black leather jacket to the lambs wool Cossack hat atop her head. To say that the color suited her well would be an understatement, and suddenly Alex felt severely underdressed.

"Hey," Abbie said, her rough voice low, her smile crooked. Alex couldn�t help but notice just how enticing of a picture the other woman made, and with a sigh resigned herself to feeling an unsettling attraction for the tall brunette.

"Hi yourself. Are you ready to go?" she replied somewhat inanely, fighting the urge to flinch as she heard the words make their way out of her mouth.

But, Abbie merely nodded, canting her head to one side. "Sure am. You look beautiful tonight, Alex."

The words sounded strange, coming from a mouth that had spent far more time cursing Alex Cabot than complimenting her, but Alex couldn�t do anything about the blush burning her cheeks in response. The approving gaze in Abbie�s eyes backed up the statement, and somehow unable to do anything else, Alex said, "You don�t look so bad yourself."

She nearly laughed as Abbie preened under her gaze. "You think so?" the other woman asked, her drawl seemingly more pronounced in the more intimate setting. "I got a new hat for the occasion."

Alex couldn�t help but laugh, watching with no little amusement as Abbie reached up to tentatively stroke the item in question. "And quite a nice hat it is."

Abbie nodded her agreement. "If you ask nicely, I�ll let you borrow it," she offered, watching impassively as Alex turned to lock her door.

Still chuckling as they made they way down the hall, Alex said, "I�ll keep that in mind. Now, are you going to tell me where we�re going?"

"Dinner and a movie," Abbie responded immediately, reaching out with one long glove-encased finger to hit the down button for the elevator. "Remember, you actually agreed to go out on a date with me, and that�s what people do."

Rolling her eyes, not at all used to this more playful Abbie Carmichael, Alex sighed. "So I�ve been told. But, how about being a little more specific."

For a moment, Abbie seemed to ponder Alex�s request. Then, with a mischievous smile, she answered, "No. I�ve got to stay mysterious or else you�ll lose interest."

"What are you talking about?" Alex asked, looking at Abbie as if she were a little crazy.

The elevator dinged, interrupting anything Abbie might have been going to say, and she waited until they were on their way downstairs before answering. "Dating secret number 148. Stay mysterious or else your date will lose interest," she said sagely.

"And why is that?" Alex challenged, watching with some amusement as Abbie�s features screwed up in thought.

"Because," the brunette said authoritatively moments later, having pondered the question. "If there�s no mystery, there�s nothing left to learn. If you learn everything there is to know about another person, they become boring, stale, uninteresting. Don�t you think?"

"Maybe," Alex started to reply, then paused as the elevator doors opened. "Maybe learning everything about another person means that they�ll be comfortable. And, there�s absolutely nothing wrong with comfortable."

"I don�t know," Abbie mused, one hand on the small of Alex�s back as she guided the other woman through the front door and out into the cool evening air. "Comfortable sounds so� I don�t know� unexciting."

Alex stepped back to ensure that she was out of range of the wildly swerving cab that pulled up at Abbie�s wave. The brunette opened the door, gesturing Alex in, and the blonde waited until they were on their way before resuming the conversation.

"Why do things have to be exciting? I won�t argue that its good to have a little excitement, but if you�re striving for a non-stop emotional roller coaster, then I�d imagine that you�d have more to worry about in terms of imminent exhaustion than in just simply being comfortable," she argued reasonably, turning slightly in her seat so that she could see Abbie�s profile. There was a hint of a smile curling at the other woman�s lips, and Alex suddenly had the sneaking suspicion that she�d been had.

"You�re making fun of me, aren�t you?" she accused. Deep brown eyes swung her way, and she watched the shallow dip and play of dimples struggling to remain hidden.

"Do you always take everything so seriously, Alex?" Abbie asked softly, amused.

Falling back against the seat, resisting the urge to massage away the nervous tension that seemed to have taken up permanent residence behind her temples, Alex sighed. "Maybe I do. But, in my defense, I�ve taken everything seriously all my life, so I think it would be absurd to expect me to stop now."

Abbie opened her mouth, not entirely sure what she was going to say but wanting to take away the weary look troubling Alex�s features. She never got to do so, though, because the cabbie chose that moment to turn in his seat, eyeing both women appreciatively. "We�re here," he grunted, jerking his head to the side to indicate that they were, indeed, in front of the address that he�d been given.

Pushing a bill into the man�s hand, Abbie followed Alex out of the cab. The moment, she noted, had been lost.

Alex drew to a stop, looking up at the building in front of her with speculation. "Abbie," she said slowly, turning to focus suspicious eyes on her companion, "this doesn�t look like a restaurant. In fact, while the memories may be a bit fuzzy, I�m reasonably certain this is where you live."

Abbie had the good grace to flush. "Just come upstairs, Alex," she muttered, hands in her pockets pulling her jacket closed.

Alex raised a dubious brow, but decided to go along. For the moment, at the very least.

The entire way up the stairs and to the front door of the apartment, Abbie fidgeted. It was, Alex noted, a bit endearing, especially coming from the normally consummately collected attorney, and she didn�t bother biting back a smile. Now that she wasn�t in the position of possible ridicule anymore, she could afford to laugh.

Abbie nearly dropped her keys trying to get the door open, and glanced back over her shoulder in the vain hope that Alex hadn�t noticed. The glint in the other woman�s eyes assured her that she had, though, and so with a sigh Abbie finally managed to fit the recalcitrant piece of metal into the lock, shouldering the door open. Tilting her head to the side, she indicated that Alex should proceed her, and the blonde entered the darkened apartment hesitantly, almost as if she were afraid the place was booby trapped.

"What�s that smell?" she asked seconds later, stopping dead in her tracks, her mouth already starting to water.

A wide grin split Abbie�s face, and she wound her fingers through Alex�s, startling the blonde. "Come on," Abbie rasped, giving their joined hands a little pull. Since Alex had no choice but to follow, she did, making her way carefully through the unlit room.

Eventually, they found themselves in the kitchen, and Alex took in the set up with a mixture of disbelief and curiosity. Abbie�s kitchen had a breakfast nook lined with windows that opened up onto what wasn�t necessarily the most spectacular view in the world, that of the sparse trees lining the sidewalk at random intervals, but that was made infinitely more romantic by the line of thick, glowing candles spaced around the sill. Alex mentally noted the fire hazard posed by leaving those things lit while the apartment was empty, but decided not to say anything about it, wanting to leave unromantic practicality out of things for the moment.

A plain steel bucket sat on the floor off to the side, the capped tops of beer bottles poking up through ice, and she watched with some amusement as Abbie picked up a remote, pointing it off to the left and hitting a button with a decisive click. Seconds later, soft strains of what Alex was reasonably sure was country music drifted out of speakers that she couldn�t see, and she turned to look at Abbie with an amused grin.

"See, just like a restaurant," Abbie said softly, giving Alex a gentle push toward the table. She pulled the blonde�s chair out, waiting until she was settled before stepping away. "You�ve got your candlelight, your mood music, everything you could want."

Alex looked down at the still empty table, noting the silverware and long, flat bar tool. "Well, everything but food," she murmured, biting back the hint of sarcasm she could feel pushing to come out.

Abbie grunted, shaking her head in a chiding manner at Alex. "Darlin�, you�ve got food too. Can�t you smell it?"

Moving over to a drawer, Abbie pulled out a clean white dish towel. Alex almost jumped out of her chair when the other woman tossed it at her, but she managed to catch it.

"What is this for?" she asked with no little confusion, staring down at the thick, abbreviated towel.

Abbie had pulled open the refrigerator door and was rummaging around, so her words, when they did come, were muffled. "Put it on," she advised, pulling bowls out and laying them on the countertop.

"Put it on?" Alex echoed, brows lowering in puzzlement and disbelief. "What do you mean, put it on?"

"I mean," Abbie said, bending once more to pull something out of the oven, "put it on. You don�t want to get sauce on your sweater, now do you?"

"Sauce?" Alex said faintly, watching with amazement as Abbie brought a still steaming plate over to the table, placing it before her with a flourish. Seconds later, a similar plate graced her side of the table.

Abbie looked at Alex in consternation for a second. "The sauce from the ribs. You�ll have it all over you if you don�t watch. Just tuck that in to your collar and spread it out and you shouldn�t have to worry."

Alex looked almost affronted at the thought. "You mean you want me to wear this like a bib?" she asked, incredulous.

Abbie nodded, shooting the blonde a half smile. "Exactly. That�s for wiping your fingers," she explained further, pointing to one of the rolled towels that Alex had assumed were for their laps. Touching it quickly, however, she noted that it was warm and damp, with a few little sections of lemon resting along-side, and she looked up at Abbie quizzically.

"I don�t understand," she muttered, though she had a feeling that she did.

Sighing patiently, Abbie moved out of her chair, coming around the table to kneel at Alex�s side. Taking the towel from limp hands, she neatly tucked it into the other woman�s wide, open collar, spreading it out so that it covered as much of Alex as she could manage to get covered.

When Abbie settled back into her chair, Alex looked down at her newest accessory, and then up at Abbie accusingly. "Why aren�t you wearing one?"

"Because," Abbie said off-handedly, reaching down to the bucket to snag two bottles of beer, "I�m wearing black. If I do get something on me, it won�t show. But, all of the fuzz from one of those towels would, don�t you think?"

"Abbie," Alex said slowly, looking down at her plate, taking in the enormous slab of ribs there, the crisp french fries, the bowl of creamy looking cole slaw, "I�m not sure that this is what people do on their first dates."

"Sure it is," Abbie shot back. "At least, back home that�s what they do. Here� well, you just can�t find a decent rack of ribs in this city. Something about fire hazards or health code restrictions or clean air initiatives or something equally idiotic."

"Then where did you get these?" Alex asked, confused.

Abbie looked at her as if the answer was obvious. "I made them. Well, I baked them. To do things right, I�d have had to grill them, but I couldn�t do that since I don�t have the right kind of grill. Now, I didn�t make the sauce. That came straight from my favorite bar-be-que place back in Dallas. You can order jars of it over the internet now, if you can believe that."

"And the music, is it from back home too?" Alex asked, with a bit of a bemused grin.

Abbie rolled her eyes. "Alex, that�s Patsy Cline. What�s a bar-be-que joint without Patsy? Not a good one, that�s what."

"And the beer?" Alex gestured to the still unopened bottles resting on the table. With a twirl, Abbie spun the flat piece of metal around one finger, then quickly popped off the tops of both bottles.

"Dos Equis," she replied, handing Alex a bottle. "From a place a little more South than where I�m from."

"And where are you from, exactly," Alex asked, snagging a french fry. It was remarkably crisp and wonderfully seasoned, so she grabbed another one.

"Dallas," Abbie said warmly, reaching for her knife. She used it to section one of the ribs away from the slab, then picked the sauce-covered tidbit up with her fingers, bringing it to her mouth to tear the meat away with firm, even white teeth.

Alex hesitantly followed her example, and nearly groaned in ecstasy at the rich flavor of the sauce. "Why�d you leave, then? Its clear that you loved Texas."

There was a slight pause, a barely perceptible stiffening of Alex�s shoulders. "Because there wasn�t anything left for me there," she said coldly, any trace of fond remembrance gone.

"Not even family?" Alex prodded, delving into the cole slaw.

Abbie shifted uncomfortably in her chair for a moment, then sighed. "I�d rather not talk about it, Alex."

The blonde stopped short, looking up to catch a fleeting flash of grief shoot over her companion�s face. "I�m sorry, Abbie," she said softly. "I didn�t mean to bring up bad memories."

"No, its�" Abbie started, then sighed. "My folks kicked me out the summer before my senior year at UT. Well, Daddy kicked me out and Mom just went along with what he said. She sends me a card every Christmas and on my birthday, but other than that, I haven�t talked to them since I left. I have a brother and a sister, and I talk to them on the phone a couple of times a year, but that�s all. I moved up to Austin for my last year at undergrad, stayed through law school, and then I came up here."

"Oh," Alex said starkly, and then, before she could sensor it, "Why? Why did they� I mean�"

"Why�d they kick me out, you mean?" Abbie asked somewhat bitterly. "I�d been seeing this girl, Katherine Barber, for probably a year and a half. She was wealthy, old oil money kind of wealthy, and all those families knew one another somehow. Anyway, we kept things secret for well over a year, but then somehow her folks found out about it, probably through a sorority sister of hers that was a �friend of the family�. They confronted her and she admitted that we were involved. Then, they called my Daddy and told him everything, accused me of corrupting their precious little Katherine Anne, said I was only after her because of her money. Anyway, when Daddy asked me if it was true, I told him it was. Told him I was in love with Katherine. He didn�t care about that though. Just said that I was a disgrace to the family, that he didn�t want to see me around any more. So, I left, and he hasn�t seen me since then."

"What about Katherine?" Alex asked softly, almost ashamed by the intense curiosity she felt. It was fascinating, in many ways, to observe the shambles of someone else�s life.

Abbie laughed shortly, closing her eyes for a second. "She transferred up to A&M and I never saw her again either."

"I really am sorry, Abbie," Alex said, and realized that she meant it. She might not like her parents all that much, and she might not have much to do with them, but at the very least they hadn�t booted her out.

Shaking her head as if to clear it, Abbie smiled bright. "Don�t worry. All water under the bridge now. It doesn�t hurt like it used to."

"So you�ve been up here ever since you graduated from law school," Alex mused. "And to think, I never knew."

Abbie arched a brow expectantly. "Never knew what?" she prodded.

"That you were a lesbian. Surely you�ve been involved with at least a few women."

Abbie laughed. "A few maybe. Not anyone you�d know, I imagine. Well, a detective once, but not from any precinct we work with. She still calls me every once in a while and we hook up, but she lost her husband a while back and isn�t really looking for a relationship. Other than that, I�ve seen a few women that I�ve met around at various places. I haven�t had anything that lasted for long, though. Apparently I�m either �emotionally unavailable�, or �care more about my job than I do them�," the brunette scoffed.

"No," Alex said dryly. "Really? I can hardly picture it."

Abbie glowered at the other woman for a second. "What about you, Cabot?" she asked, pointing at her companion with a crispy fry. "Have you dated anyone I might know?"

Alex felt herself blush, the hot flush sweeping up her neck to burn her cheeks. "Just Teri," she said, eyes shooting off to the side. "Before her� well, there wasn�t really anyone for a long time."

"I find that hard to believe," Abbie said wryly.

Alex took a moment to glare at the other woman. "Well, don�t," she said crisply, picking up another rib and biting down to avoid any further conversation on the topic.

Following her lead, Abbie decided that silence was probably the best option for a while anyway.

XXXXXXXXXX

"I don�t like romance movies," Abbie muttered, looking up at the marquee at the theatre.

Alex huffed, then moved forward another step in line. "Well, I don�t like action movies."

"But there�s nothing else good playing," Abbie said, coming perilously close to whining.

Shooting her companion an annoyed glance, Alex hissed, "Abbie, I wore a towel as a bib at dinner. A bib. You�re going to go watch a romance and you�re going to like it, do you understand?"

Two and a half hours later, Abbie moved as if in a daze from the theatre.

"That was absolutely the worst movie that I�ve ever seen," she said distantly, still not quite sure that she�d emerged from the mind numbing stupor she�d dropped into about half way through the film.

Alex scowled. "I thought it was sweet."

"It was. Disgustingly so. Who acts like that in real life anyway?" Abbie asked, appalled, flashing back to all of the sappy speeches, the corny gestures. Shuddering, she tried to push the pictures out of her mind.

Alex�s scowl deepened. "Some people happen to like a little romance in their lives," she said huffily.

Abbie stopped, a scowl of her own forming on her lips. "Is that what you�re looking for? Something like that?"

With a sigh, Alex shook her head. "Maybe not like that, exactly, but nobody minds being pampered a little bit, do they?"

Abbie was quiet all the way back to Alex�s apartment after that, and the blonde began to wonder if she�d simply be let out at the curb and left to walk herself upstairs. She�d considered, quite a few times, picking a topic at random and starting up a conversation, just to break through the nearly unbearable silence, but in the end decided that it wasn�t worth it.

Much to her surprise, Abbie didn�t leave her at the curb. Instead, she calmly paid the driver and walked Alex into her building and up to her apartment, still without saying anything. Just as Alex was about to say goodnight and excuse herself as quickly as possible, she felt Abbie wrap long fingers around her wrist, holding her in place. Alex looked down at their hands, then back up, startled to see Abbie�s dark eyes surprisingly close to her own.

"Was tonight not romantic?" Abbie asked, her voice low and scratchy and innately seductive, and Alex felt the words roll through her on a wave of arousal.

Taking a few deep breaths, not completely sure that she was comfortable with their position, Alex pressed back against the doorframe to give herself a little room before answering. The move didn�t work, though, because Abbie followed right after her, closing the distance until there was once again only a few inches separating them.

"I had a good time tonight, Abbie," Alex replied honestly, intensely aware of the hot wash of the other woman�s breath against her cheek.

Abbie didn�t seem completely satisfied by that, though, and inched forward even closer. "But it wasn�t romantic?" she pushed, her thumb rubbing a slow, lazy circular pattern on Alex�s wrist.

Swallowing nervously, Alex took a moment to think. She flashed back over the evening, the obvious care that Abbie had taken to cook for them, the candlelit nook, the soft music playing in the background. In its own way, it had been very romantic, she realized, bib notwithstanding. "No� I mean yes, it was," she stumbled, feeling her heart rate increase as Abbie leaner even closer.

"So," Abbie rasped, the hand not holding Alex�s wrist coming up to tease past her neck, fingers winding into the thick hair at her nape, "I managed a romantic evening. Does that mean I get to kiss you now?"

Eyes wide, mind scrambling in panic, Alex nonetheless nodded shallowly, watching as Abbie�s lids fluttered shut, as her face moved closer and closer until finally she was there, her lips soft against Alex�s, and the blonde tried not to whimper.

It was a soft kiss, a fleeting wet press, and Abbie pulled back for a second, dark eyes searching Alex�s face before she moved forward again, her lips brushing against the other woman�s once more. And then, again and again, each kiss just infinitesimally longer than the last until finally she captured Alex�s bottom lip between her own, sucking on it gently as she pulled away.

"I�ll call you," Abbie whispered, still so close that Alex could almost feel the words against the suddenly oversensitive skin of her lips, and she sighed.

"Okay," Alex murmured by way of response, not at all concerned with her sudden lack of articulation. Her knees felt a bit weak, and she could hear the flutter of her rapidly beating pulse in her ears, and both facts seemed more important than coming up with some clever or witty rejoinder.

"Good night, Alex," the brunette said, sneaking one last, quick kiss before she turned, striding jauntily down the hall. Alex watched until she�d disappeared into the elevator, then finally made her way into her apartment, mind still awash with confusion and wondering if maybe, just maybe, her plan to use Abbie to get over Teri had been fundamentally fatally flawed.

XXXXXXXXXX

Abbie rolled over onto her back, long arms extending up past her head as she stretched, back arching off of the mattress and toes curling as each and every muscle in her body tensed and then released. A quiet groan of satisfaction rumbled past her lips at the delicious feel, and with a sigh, she rolled over so that she was sitting on the side of the bed, rubbing blearily at her eyes as she tried to focus on her alarm clock. The attempt was futile, like she�d known it was going to be before she even looked, and one hand flailed out to the side, inching along the cool wood of her night-table before catching on her glasses. Settling them in place, she looked again, though this time the effort was rewarded by the sight of clear and easily readable red numbers.

9:30

She wasn�t quite sure how long it�d been since she slept in that late, but this particular morning, it felt wonderful. Of course, she�d also felt wonderful the morning before, though not quite as wonderful as she had the night before the morning before. The wonderfulness seemed to be a pattern, however, one no doubt set in place by the memory of soft lips beneath hers, of light blue eyes gone dark with arousal following her as she made her way down the hallway.

She�d gone on a date with Alex Cabot.

That in itself seemed to verge on miracle territory, and the fact that they hadn�t either gotten into a violent argument or parted ways with the express intent of never seeing the other outside of work would have been right up there with the water into wine trick in Abbie�s mind if she hadn�t been raised Baptist and thus instilled with an irrational fear of any hint of blasphemy.

Now, all she had to do was call Alex. She�d said she was going to call, and she was� it was just that she�d been waiting for the appropriate moment. And, hopefully 9:30 in the morning on a Sunday was perfectly appropriate.

One hand snagged her cordless phone from its cradle while the other rummaged through her bedside table for the scrap of paper bearing Alex�s home number. When both were secured, she took a deep, fortifying breath and dialed, listening anxiously to the drone of the first ring.

And the second.

And the third.

At the fourth, she reached up with her thumb, resigned to the fact that Alex wasn�t going to be answering the phone that particular Sunday morning, when the ring was interrupted. Moments later, a voice slurred, "Hello?"

"Alex?" Abbie asked, reasonably sure that she was speaking with the blonde, but not quite certain.

There was the quiet rustle of bedsheets on the other side of the phone line, and then an irritable, "Yes, this is Alex. Abbie, is that you?"

Flopping back down onto the bed, Abbie nodded, "Sure is. Good morning."

Alex yawned broadly, scratching sleepily at her belly. "Its been two days," she noted idly, not quite conscious enough yet to delve into much meaningful conversation.

Alex was quiet for a moment, not quite sure how to answer that. "I know. But, I said I�d call. I didn�t say when I�d call, just that I�d call," she said, somewhat defensively.

There was an annoyed snort from Alex. "You can tone down the skittish routine, Abbie. I�m not doing my obsessed psychotic impersonation. I�m just saying that its been two days. Every person who�s ever said they would call me calls after two days. Not one day, not three days, not a week. They call after two days. Is it a rule somewhere? Is it in your mysterious little books of dating secrets?"

"Oh," Abbie said, coloring a little even though Alex couldn�t see her. "No, it just seems to make sense. Call the next day and you run the risk of looking desperate. Call after three and you could wind up coming across as indifferent. Two is a happy medium, don�t you think?"

"Your logic is fascinating," Alex droned, her tone not at all convincing. "Put much time into coming up with that little equation?"

"Don�t mock me," Abbie shot back, her tone teasing. "You weren�t the one who had to debate the various merits of random call back times."

Yawning once more, Alex replied sleepily, "Not my fault. You were the one who said she was going to call, thus the blame for all of your calling time woes falls squarely on your own shoulders."

There was a brief pause, and then Abbie said earnestly, "Did you not want me to call? I mean, not to delve too deeply into my insecurities at 9:30 on a Sunday morning, but I had a good time the other night and was under the impression that you did too."

"I did have a good time the other night, Abbie, and I did want you to call," Alex said on a sigh, though inwardly she was rather amused. The thought of an Abbie Carmichael with insecurities was both comforting and humorous.

There was a satisfied grunt, and then, "Well then, now would be a good time for you to do your obsessed psychotic impersonation."

"Excuse me?" Alex drawled, rolling over onto her side and settling down into the bedding.

"Well, I think now would be the perfect time for you to tell me how much you�d like to see me again. Maybe you want to have brunch. Maybe you want to plan something for later in the week. Of course, it doesn�t matter to me what we do, just so long as you make sure to mention at least twice that you�ve missed me terribly," Abbie said blithely, and Alex could almost picture the smile she had no doubt the other woman was wearing.

"You are terrible," Alex deadpanned, chuckling at Abbie�s aggrieved sigh, "though why anyone would miss that, I don�t know."

"Now I know why I�m interested in you," Abbie said dryly. "Its got to be the boost you give my self-esteem every time we talk. Got any other compliments to throw my way?"

"Hmm," Alex purred, pretending to ponder. "Well, I hear you�re a colossal bitch."

"I�m not the only one, darlin�," Abbie drawled.

Alex rolled her eyes. "You did ask," she pointed out sensibly.

"I guess I did. You know, this is almost like a neanderthal mating dance. First you bludgeon me almost to death with your words, and then you drag me off by the hair to your� just where are you going to drag me off to, Alex?" Abbie asked, a hint of warmth in her whiskey smooth tone, and Alex felt a corresponding heat settle low in her belly.

Thinking quickly, trying to find some way to diffuse the sudden tension that had sprung up, at least in her mind, at Abbie�s words, Alex murmured, "To brunch."

Abbie chuckled softly at the other woman�s response. "You�re doing good so far. Now, come on, just one little �I missed you� and everything�ll be perfect."

"Abbie, three weeks ago, I couldn�t stand the sight of you," Alex said drolly, shaking her head in a mixture of amusement and consternation.

Abbie waited a beat, and then asked expectantly, "So?"

"So don�t push it," Alex shot back teasingly.

There was a long, overly dramatic sigh from Abbie�s end of then line, and then, "Am I picking you up or meeting you somewhere?"

"Picking me up, of course."

Continue to Part 4

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