That was Olivia’s first thought as the lights flickered off in the bathroom, and the warm water rapidly turned cold. This place was a complete shithole, she thought, as she quickly flipped the freezing stream off, then floundered around for her towel, cursing as she knocked it, and her bathrobe, off the edge of the bathtub and onto the floor.
Stepping carefully out of the tub, she swore again as she groped around in complete darkness. Her things, which had slid out of the protective plastic carrier during their descent, were soaking wet. The shower had no curtain and had sprayed everything within about five feet of the tub. Her robe and towel were lying in a puddle, rapidly absorbing water.
“Damn,” she swore softly as she picked up the sopping material.
Her clothes were back at the tent – she’d begun to change into her nightwear after her late night run, then realised that it was probably politer to shower after exercising if she was sharing a warm, confined space with someone. Not wanting to dirty her single pair of pyjamas on the muddy walk over, she’d thrown on her old robe and trotted on down to the shower room, confident that no one would be about at this late hour.
She let her eyes adjust to the darkness, so she could look around and find something dry to cover herself with. But there was only black. Which was to be expected, considering they were in the middle of nowhere.
Detective instincts kicking in, she quickly mapped out the lay of the room in her head. It was a large space; nothing more than a big wooden shack really. But it had seemed clean, which was something, she supposed. She was standing with her back to the bathtub, the main door to her right. On the back wall a few yards to her left was the sink, then further along in the far corner, a stall.. Nothing else at all apart from these basic facilities, and no windows, which was probably for the best considering it was a bathroom.
It was set alone at the far side of a fenced-off field – Olivia guessed at one time it had been a shed for animals, or maybe storage. The other side of the pasture was the camp, where her workmates were in tents, probably asleep by now, as she’d left for her run at around midnight.
She had no idea what had possessed Cragen to send them here. The ‘bonding’ bit she got, yes. Olivia could understand why the captain was keen to forge a better relationship with the District Attorney’s office, as relations in the past had been strained on occasion. A settling-in ADA was the perfect opportunity for that. And she was quite happy with the opportunity to get to know Alexandra Cabot better. All in the name of smooth relations between their two departments, of course.
From her own personal perspective, it had been quite a good weekend. The campsite, which was situated in a small corner of an isolated working farm, was rough and ready, but she’d enjoyed the activities. She’d excelled at the climbing, relaxed during the hikes, and found horseriding much more enjoyable than she’d expected. As had Elliot and Fin. And Abbie.
She had no idea why the dark-haired attorney was there, as she’d been made redundant in the unit by the arrival of Alex. But Abbie had shoehorned her way onto the long weekend, announcing she was ‘making sure the handover went smoothly’, and no one had dared to argue. Olivia had a sneaking admiration for the other woman’s attitude. But that faded somewhat when she observed the overriding competitiveness of their former ADA.
Abbie had thrown herself into every activity with an enthusiasm that bordered on obsessive. It was supposed to be a relaxing weekend, but Abbie stirred up tensions that were really not necessary. Fin, in particular had tried to match her fierce competitiveness, and had ended up grumbling in annoyance to anyone who would listen about ‘that woman’s damn feistiness’.
Munch had chosen to distance himself from all of this, refusing to do any of the arranged activities except for the hiking. Olivia didn’t blame him – she assumed he’d come on this weekend just to be part of the group, rather than to partake in any strenuous activity. She was glad to see he’d found a kindred spirit in Alex. Alex, after a disastrous first day outing on the horses, had declared she wasn’t cut out for this ‘outdoors lifestyle’, and hated the ‘facilities’. She spent her time chatting with John, rather than taking part in things like the climbing, or kayaking.
At least one of the squad is building bonds with her.
Elliot, like herself, took part in the activities with understated interest, participating while observing the others’ interaction with detached amusement. They privately admitted to each other that the whole weekend was turning out to be counterproductive. Except for Munch, none of them were making any kinds of inroads with the ADA, much to Olivia’s disappointment.
Olivia sat on the edge of the tub with a resigned sigh as she waited for the electricity to kick back in.
She’d taken off on a late-night run, craving the solitude she loved when she ran alone in New York. Elliot was like a brother, but spending the whole day with him and the squad, then finding herself paired in a tent with her partner, well, she sensed that they both needed a little time alone. She counted herself lucky, actually. Munch and Fin were sharing, which seemed to be a little tense at times, although the two of them knocked along in their usual push-pull way.
But poor Alex had been paired off with Abbie. Sure, they had some common ground as ADAs, and Olivia had no doubt that Abbie could offer some very useful advice on the peculiarities of working in the sex crimes unit. But as for bonding? The two women were, as far as Olivia could ascertain from her limited contact with Alex so far, like oil and water. The same basic consistency, but very different when you got down to the elements that were at the core of them. And they certainly didn’t mix easily.
Both were efficient at their jobs, but where Abbie was strident and unrelenting, Alex seemed…different. Olivia had yet to pin it down, exactly. The blonde had a façade of the same uncompromising determination, but Olivia sensed that while ADA Carmichael’s attitude was deep rooted, only occasionally revealing the less professional, more human side, Alex had a kindness that was lurking much closer to the surface.
Olivia wondered what the two of them found to discuss at night in that tent.
She was brought out of her reverie by the sound of the door opening. She froze, hoping idiotically that if she stayed still, whoever it was would not notice her.
Olivia tried to work out who it was. So far, there was only shuffling.
Please God don’t let it be Munch or Fin. Or Carmichael.
Bizarrely, she found herself hoping that it would be Elliot. The embarrassment factor seemed somehow less with him; he knew her better than anyone else on the team, and he, out of all of them, could be trusted to keep this to himself.
Only one way to find out.
Summoning up her courage, Olivia tried to speak.
All that came out was a whispered, “Hey.”
The movements stopped. There was a quiet inhalation, then, the guarded question,
“Who’s in here?”
Olivia immediately recognised the cool, if slightly flustered tone of Alexandra Cabot. She was gripped by a combination of relief and complete humiliation of being discovered like this in the bathroom by their ADA.
“I said, who is that?”
Relief flooded over her as she realised Alex couldn’t, in fact, see her in the darkness. Feeling oddly reassured, she answered,
“And this is?”
Olivia paused for a minute at this apparently nonsensical question, listening as Alex entered the bathroom, shutting the door behind her firmly.
Huh. Guess those ‘occupied’ signs don’t count for anything in the dark.
The ever-alert policewoman part of Olivia made a note to lodge a complaint. That was downright risky. There should be a lock, at least.
“Um…it’s Olivia? Detective Benson?” Olivia couldn’t keep the slight bewilderment out of her voice.
“No, I mean what is this place Where am I?”
Confused by this question, Olivia went for the most obvious explanation.
“Alex, have you been drinking? You’re not making any sense. And, well, I wasn’t going to mention it, but quite frankly, you reek.”
Olivia wrinkled her nose as Alex began moving around in front of her, apparently trying to determine where she was. Alex smelled rank. Rancid, in fact, in the distinctly ‘countryside’ kind of way. There was an odour emanating from her that was deeply unpleasant.
“No. I have not been drinking.”
The firm tone, laced with barely contained irritation left Olivia in no doubt as to the truth of the assertion.
There was a loud clang as something connected with the side of the bathtub.
Olivia’s eyes widened. She’d never, ever heard Alexandra Cabot swear before.
Then some patting sounds as Alex felt her way around the object in front of her.
“Bathroom. Hallelujah. At least one damn tiny thing went right for me in this godforsaken place.”
“Why are you in here, Olivia, anyway?”
Alex’s tone was distracted, Olivia noted, as she heard the blonde begin to work her way along the tub.
“Uh, I came for a shower. After my run.”
“You went running? In the dark? Alone? In the countryside?”
“I’ll never understand you people.”
Olivia decided to let that go, as curiosity got the better of her.
“Alex, why are you here? In the dark. Alone. In the countryside?” She couldn’t help mocking Alex’s disbelieving tone.
“Which way’s the stall in this place?”
“Uh, keep going, I think. You didn’t answer my question.”
There was a soft thunk as some part of Alex hit the side of her target. Followed by another, quieter curse.
“I needed to use the bathroom.”
“Couldn’t you just have…I don’t know…gone behind your tent or something? Instead of trekking all the way over here?”
The tone was warning.
“I’m the ADA.”
“Do you really think I want the rest of the squad, not to mention Abbie, listening to …that?”
Olivia didn’t dare answer. She didn’t trust herself not to laugh. Biting her lip hard, forcing out an even tone she prodded,
“Why the … erm … fragrance?”
“The lights went out and I slid on … something. Then fell in … something. Damn shortcut.”
Olivia nodded in the dark, beginning to put the pieces together.
Waitaminute…oh my Lord, this was priceless.
“Shortcut?” She asked, in as innocent a tone as she could manage.
“Through the pasture. Wish I’d gone the long way now.”
Olivia heard the slight creak of the stall door as Alex entered the small space.
Another creak as the door closed.
“I thought you were sc… didn’t like animals.”
Olivia could hear clothes rustling.
“I don’t. What’s your point, Detective?”
“Um. The cows? In the field?”
The soft rustling stopped. There was complete silence for a moment. Then a whisper, so faint that if it hadn’t been the dead of night in a small, dark bathroom, Olivia’s hearing would never have picked it up.
Then a clearing of the throat, before she continued in a voice that Olivia recognised as Alex’s best ‘I’m not really convinced but I’m going to sound convincing’ tone.
“They put them away at night. To sleep.”
“Uh, Alex … I don’t think they do. The barns are miles away.”
“Sure they do. You don’t just leave animals out at night.”
Almost the same tone, but Olivia heard the tiniest note of doubt creeping in.
Right on cue, there was a loud, anguished ‘moo’. Which came from someplace clearly closer than the farm.
“Oh my God.”
Olivia actually had to clamp her hand over her mouth, and was unable to respond. It didn’t matter, as Alex started muttering frantically.
Olivia was grinning now. She’d never seen this flustered scatty side of Alex before; it was so different than the reserved, professional persona at work. Completely unexpected. But Olivia kind of liked it. Found it quite charming, actually.
Olivia waited patiently for the whispering hysteria to subside, her smile growing wider as she listened to the monologue. Much of it was indecipherable, but she caught the odd phrase. ‘Wild animals’, ‘stampeded’, ‘told me it would be tennis and golf’ and ‘middle of the damn countryside in the middle of the damn night,’ peppered the extended rant.
She chuckled softly to herself.
Apparently, this was enough to bring Alex out of her mutterings, as the next words were extremely clear.
“Don’t laugh at me. I could have died out there.”
The tone was so dramatic, Olivia couldn’t help laughing louder.
The amusement irrepressible now, Olivia answered, “You could not.”
“I’m warning you Detective. Don’t you dare mock me.”
“Or what? Alex, they’re cows. Not … panthers. And they were probably asleep, anyway. Think of it this way. At least you’ll have a heroic story to tell Abbie now.”
She heard Alex give an indignant huff. Then the clothes rustling again.
Olivia felt a tiny bit of sympathy for Alex, and her adorable moment of panic.
“It could be worse, Alex.”
“How? How could this possibly be worse?”
Olivia stifled another laugh at the indignant tone.
“You could be stuck in here with Carmichael.”
There was a silence for a moment. Alex was apparently considering this.
“You know, she’s getting right on my… nerves,” Alex stated.
“Really? Couldn’t tell,” Olivia answered in fake nonchalance.
In truth, Abbie’s enthusiasm for this trip and downright arrogance and competitiveness had been getting on everybody’s … nerves.
“Where the hell did she learn to ride bareback anyway?” Muttered Alex in annoyance.
Olivia couldn’t help it. She gave a short bark of laughter. Alex had been hopeless with the horses. She had been terrified of them from the start, and so had been given the oldest, most placid horse. Which was lucky. Yet not. After she’d been coaxed into the saddle, and the beast took its first plodding step forward, Alex had yelled out ‘Oh my Lord it’s MOVING!’ in a crescendo that ended in the girliest, most un-counselor like scream that Olivia had ever heard.
This had startled the horse into taking several rapid trots forward. Unfortunately, Alex had chosen this moment to panic too and had quickly slithered off the animal’s back and onto the ground. Suddenly released from the alarming woman on his back, the horse had decided to make a bolt for freedom, scattering the horses and riders all about him in different directions. Olivia had been busy getting her own horse under control, so she hadn’t seen what had happened next.
But she’d heard about it that night, as Abbie had proudly recounted her story of leaping onto the back of the nearest mount, which was waiting to be saddled, and chasing the galloping monster through field and forest, eventually capturing him several miles from camp. Alex had kept a dignified silence throughout, although the warm hue of her normally pale face in the light of the campfire had spoken volumes.
“Olivia? Step outside for a moment.” The tone was commanding.
Olivia automatically looked down at herself, even though there was nothing to see in the pitch black. There was no way she was going outside with no clothes on. Although Alex didn’t know she was nude, she remembered. And she had no intention of revealing that fact. She was sure Alex would delight in getting some payback, after the way she’d been humiliated.
“I need to …”
Oh, right. That weird little insecurity about people hearing her ‘go’.
“I think it’d be safer if I just stayed in here and guarded the door, don’t you?”
Heh. Good save, Benson…
“You can do that from outside.”
…or not so good. Damn.
For a second Olivia considered the practicalities of standing around in a soaking wet robe outside on a cool night. Then realised it was ridiculous – she would be risking hypothermia and insect bites in all sorts of unusual places and who knows what else, just for the sake of Alex’s outrageous sense of propriety.
Just then, a cow mooed again.
Inspired, Olivia went with it. Putting on her loudest conspiratorial whisper, she announced,
“Alex, there’s all sorts of wild things out there roaming around. It might be dangerous”
Alex was quiet.
Encouraged by this, Olivia continued,
“I mean, what if something got me? You’d be in here all alone with it out there, prowling.”
Okay. Don’t get carried away. Shut up now.
“Fine. Point taken. But don’t listen.”
Rolling her eyes in the darkness, Olivia nevertheless stuck her fingers in her ears. Then wondered how she was going to be able to tell when Alex had finished. And why she was obeying Alex’s instructions when Alex would never know anyway. She took her hands away. Listened for a moment. Then covered her ears again, stifling another laugh.
Alex was humming. Loudly and tunelessly. To cover what she was ‘doing’. An incredibly off-key version of what sounded like … You are my sunshine???
She listened again. Alex hit a horrible high note. Yep. ‘You are my sunshine.’
Guiltily, Olivia clamped her hands over her ears again, as if Alex would somehow be able to tell she’d been listening, on emerging from the stall.
This situation was getting utterly ridiculous. As she stood there, emphatically not listening, Olivia tried to think of a way she could get out of this situation without revealing her current state of undress. She came up with nothing. She was going to have to admit it to Alex. After what she judged to be a safe amount of time had passed, she let her arms fall to her sides. To hear the sound of Alex moving towards her and clothes rustling again. Then the soft whump of fabric hitting the floor. And that ‘distinct’ aroma.
What the hell is she doing now?
“You have a towel?”
The sound of clothes being slid off. Then of running water.
“You’re taking a shower??”
Olivia’s tone was incredulous. And also, apparently loud enough for Alex to hear over the sound of the shower. The water stopped.
“Damn cold water. Should’ve known.” Alex muttered, before continuing in an irritated tone, “Yes, I’m taking a shower, Olivia. I’m covered in … excrement. I’m not going back to the tent stinking like this.”
As she inhaled, Olivia couldn’t help agreeing. As time passed, the smell seemed to be getting stronger. And more sour, somehow.
“Dammit. These pants cost three hundred dollars. Ruined.”
Olivia had been wondering about that. Alex’s outfits had been completely impractical. Without thinking, she asked,
“Maybe you should have brought something more … appropriate? Don’t you have jeans?”
“Yes, I have jeans,” Alex practically growled in irritation. “One pair,” she gruffed, as if that explained everything.
“Those one pair of jeans cost almost five hundred dollars.”
Olivia was glad for the darkness as her jaw dropped open.
“Guess it’s lucky, then, that you didn’t wear them…considering.”
“Hmf,” was the only response, as Olivia heard Alex clamber into the bathtub, her bare soles making little squeaking sounds as she fumbled around again for the water controls.
Olivia shrugged. If Alexandra Cabot was determined to take a cold shower in the dark, there was no point in arguing with her. Although it was slightly ironic that the attorney had no problem showering in front of her, but wouldn’t use the toilet, behind a closed door, no less, if anyone was even in earshot. Interesting quirk.
“Soap’s on the ledge right in front of you.”
“And the shampoo.”
“It’s the middle of the night. I’m not washing my hair.”
As if that were the most evident fact in the world.
Olivia didn’t respond.
“Watch the door.”
Olivia decided she’d had just about enough of these orders, and opened her mouth to say so.
The tone was much softer, and genuine this time. Olivia moved to the door, and grabbed the handle.
The water started up again. Olivia heard Alex hiss out a breath as icy cold water contacted with warm skin.
She discovered just how cold, as Alex began soaping up. Every so often, a fine spray of freezing water would be directed her way, bouncing off Alex as she moved around briskly in the shower.
The misty coolness against her own chest and stomach suddenly alerted Olivia to the reality of their situation. She was nude in a bathroom with Alex Cabot. A wet, naked Alex Cabot. Olivia closed her eyes, as if shutting them would chase away the phantom image that was rapidly taking shape in the darkness. Didn’t make any difference. She shivered, and it was only in small part due to the cold sheen of water that was gathering on her skin.
Olivia quickly crossed her arms, deciding she’d rather risk someone opening the door than let her thoughts stray any further along that particular path.
The water stopped.
There was silence for a long second. Olivia wondered what Alex was waiting for.
“Right, towel,” Olivia muttered, crouching down at the end of the bathtub and groping around, relieved to put her hand straight onto terrycloth. Extremely wet terrycloth.
Straightening up, Olivia took a deep breath and held out the towel, waggling it in the approximate direction of Alex. A brief moment as the attorney’s hand contacted with hers, and then Alex’s voice, slightly confused.
“Olivia, this is wet throu…”
She didn’t have time to finish her sentence.
The lights flicked on for a split second, then quickly off, then on again.
Olivia blinked against the sudden brightness. Dropping her hand, the first thing she registered was that it was, in fact, the robe and not the towel she’d been holding out to Alex.
Composing herself quickly, she determinedly fixed her eyes on Alex’s face.
Don’t you dare look down, Benson.
It was surprisingly easy to keep her gaze above shoulder level. The first thing Olivia noticed, or rather, couldn’t fail to notice, was that there was a big clump of something brown matted into the side of Alex’s pale blonde hair.
Eyes widening slightly, Olivia’s eyes moved to meet Alex’s. Who was looking down. At her.
Okay. That’s just an automatic glance.
Olivia was suddenly hyperaware of everything as she kept her gaze on the blue eyes in front of her. She felt her heart thump once. Loudly.
Alex’s eyes were moving slowly up her body. Scanning.
She was expecting you to be wearing clothes, dummy. Any moment now…
Another couple of beats.
And she’s still looking…Whoa! What is that? Interest??
Olivia was powerless to prevent the lazy, knowing smirk she felt spreading across her face, as Alex’s mouth opened slightly.
After a long second, Alex’s eyes met hers. Olivia couldn’t wipe the lopsided grin off her face when she saw the flash of guilt at being caught staring. Alex’s cheeks reddened instantly. Then her neck. And shoulders.
Hm. Do not follow that blush, Benson.
She felt no small sense of satisfaction as she watched Alex suck in her bottom lip and bite down hard on it.
Neither of them spoke.
The lights flickered off again.
She heard Alex exhale loudly. A tightly controlled breath, but with an edge of shakiness.
Olivia allowed herself a congratulatory nod in the darkness. She waited.
Alex was the first to speak.
“Sculpted perfection?” Olivia interrupted, resisting a sudden, childish urge to flex.
She heard the proud smugness in her own voice, but didn’t care. She knew she looked good, and was more than pleased at Alex’s stunned reaction.
She heard Alex give a small huff.
“I was going to say naked. But now I’ll settle for arrogant.”
All of a sudden, counselor-Alex was back again.
Yeah. ‘That’ Alex knows how to deal with ‘arrogant’.
With a small pang of regret at the loss of the ever-so-appealing flustered Alex, Olivia pointed out,
“You are too. Naked, that is.”
There was silence for a moment before Alex continued slowly,
“So you’ve had no clothes on, this whole time.”
It was a statement more than a question, so Olivia didn’t bother answering. Alex seemed to be thinking something through.
“We’re both here. Like this. Quite a predicament, wouldn’t you say?”
Olivia raised one eyebrow in the darkness. She wondered exactly what was going on in Alex’s mind.
She heard the soft ruffle of fabric again, and shook her head.
“Uh, that’s not the towel. Hold on.”
Again, she groped around by the side of the bathtub. Finding the towel, she pushed it at Alex.
There was an amusement in Alex’s tone Olivia wasn’t sure she liked the sound of. Feeling she’d lost the upper hand in some way, but not quite sure how, she cast around for something to tip the balance back.
“By the way, you have cowsh… excrement in your hair.”
Before Alex could answer, the lights came on again.
Olivia felt an curious mix of relief and disappointment when she saw Alex was now wearing the wet robe.
Quickly taking advantage of the light, Alex strode to the sink to inspect the mess in her hair. Shaking her head, she walked back to the bathtub and flipped on the water, grabbing the shampoo as she bent over to lather up.
Olivia watched, intrigued. Alex was now acting with a definite sense of purpose. She would have put it down to embarrassment on the blonde’s part for her earlier lechery, but Alex didn’t seem to be particularly concerned or self-conscious. Her movements were controlled and efficient, rather than nervous or brusque, as she rubbed her hair pointlessly with the wet towel, draping it around her neck when she’d finished.
Alex looked Olivia squarely in the eye.
“Right,” she stated, in a tone that brooked no argument. “I’m going to go and grab some clothes from your tent.”
Olivia wondered, suddenly, about Alex’s newfound bravery in the wild outdoors. She opened her mouth to make a sarcastic comment, but was silenced by a palm held up in front of her.
Olivia’s eyes widened as Alex unashamedly glanced down. She reflexively swallowed, hard. Alex was looking at her – it seemed for a second as if the blonde was assessing her. This was very, very different from the stunned stare earlier. It was almost…brazen. And there were definitely the beginnings of a smile on the blonde’s face. Before the implications of this had time to settle in Olivia’s head, Alex continued quickly,
“…will stay right here.”
Olivia could only nod dumbly as Alex gathered her soiled clothes from beside the tub, then strode past her and out into the cool night air. Wasn’t as if she had any choice but to stay where she was. She was naked.
She sat on the side of the bathtub. The lights went out again. Olivia rolled her eyes.
Then thought – Alex could easily have sent her out to get clothes. Which would have made more sense, considering the blonde’s patent fear of the countryside at night.
Five minutes passed.
She’s been gone a long time. Too long. Shit.
Olivia suddenly felt guilty. She was the police officer. She should have been the one to have gone out alone.
Damn. What if something happened to Alex?
Suddenly not caring she was naked, Olivia stood up and went to the door. She needed to make sure that Alex was okay.
As she moved to open the door, she stopped. Noises.
Olivia held her breath, trying to discern exactly who it was.
Please, please let it be Alex.
Stealthy footsteps, drawing closer to the building.
Then a voice.
Alex. Is okay. Thank god.
Hold on a second…
She grabbed the handle, and pressed her ear up against the crack between door and jamb. Whispers. Straining, she heard the familiar tone of Elliot.
*‘You sure Alex? It’s dark in there. And quiet. Looks empty to me’.*
*‘What kind of detective you anyway, Stabler? Counselor says she heard a ‘commotion’ You a pussy without your piece, or what?’*
Olivia waited. For the inevitable…
She did a little drum roll in her head…And to complete the hat-trick…
*‘Just let him do his thing, Odafin. Go on, Elliot’*
Yep. Munch. My three musketeers. Cheers, Cabot… Wait, shouldn’t they be knocking first?
*‘Man, how come Stabler always gets to break the door down?’*
Christ, it’s a miracle they ever get a bust. Those two are like a pair of old ladies.
*‘Because he looks somacho when he does it.’*
Stick the knife in, why don’t you, Alex?
Olivia moved away from the door, and slipped quickly into the stall.
For a split second, an image of clear blue eyes looking at her body appreciatively flashed into her mind.
Then she heard the familiar, rapid, heavy footsteps of her partner.