Chapter 15:  Adagio Sostenuto

They strolled into Alex’s apartment the next evening in much better spirits.  Alex put her coat in the closet and then took Olivia’s from her.  “A great day at the museum, huh?” she asked Olivia with a bright smile.


Olivia smiled in return.  “Definitely.  I always love new exhibits.”


“Like a kid in a candy store,” Alex said, brushing Olivia’s hair behind her ear.


Olivia felt warmth surge through her at the simple gesture.  Alex slid her hand down to her shoulder.  “Do you really have to go home tonight?”


“Alex, you remember that I was only staying the weekend,” Olivia told her.


Alex gave a small smile.  “I know, I know.  But a girl can hope, can’t she?” she said, letting her hand drop to her side.  “But you can surely stay a couple hours, right?”


Olivia gave Alex the lopsided grin that always made her heart skip a beat.  “I guess.”


“Good.  So what do you wanna do?”


“Whatever you want.”


Alex raised an eyebrow and grinned slyly.  “Really?”


Olivia laughed and shook her head.  “Within reason.”


“Well, is holding you within reason?”


Olivia gave her a look.  “Do you hold all your friends, Alex?”


Alex sighed.  “All right, all right.  Point taken.  Well, how about we order a pizza?”


“Sounds good,” Olivia replied.  She sat down on the sofa in the living room and continued eating her Mister Softee.


“Mind if I try yours?” Alex asked.


“Not at all,” Olivia said, holding her spoon out for Alex to taste her strawberry sundae.


“I think yours tastes better than mine,” Alex replied, licking her lips. 


“I used to get these all the time as a kid,” Olivia said.  “Strawberry’s always been my favorite.”


“Remember when we’d sometimes stop and get them on the way home from work?”


“Yeah.  They came in pretty handy after a tough case.”


“I miss those times we shared,” Alex murmured nostalgically.  She took another bite of her chocolate dipped cone and then offered it to Olivia.


Olivia took a bite and nodded.  “Love the chocolate shell.”


“Maybe next time I’ll get your sundae.”


After they’d finished eating their ice cream, Olivia shivered and remarked, “Now I’m cold.”


“Ice cream will do that to ya.  I think I can warm you up some, though,” Alex replied, getting up and leaving the room momentarily.  She returned and spread a cashmere throw over their laps.  They enveloped themselves in the warmth of the throw and each other. 


“You know, for an ice princess, you’re not so frosty,” Olivia quipped.


“It’s because you make me melt,” Alex replied, brushing Olivia’s cheek lightly.


“You should make a plaque that says, ‘Alex Cabot, true romantic.’”


“Well, you do bring out the best in me,” Alex replied.


“This throw is mighty cozy,” Olivia commented. 


“Reminds you of old times, huh?” Alex asked.


Olivia gazed into her eyes.  “Yeah.” 


“Wouldn’t it be great if every wonderful moment we shared was placed in a time capsule somewhere?  Then we could open it and relive each one,” Alex said dreamily.


Olivia smiled.  “You’re quite a dreamer, aren’t you?”


“It’s because of you that I have pleasant dreams,” Alex replied.


“Are we ever gonna order that pizza?” Olivia asked, abruptly changing the subject.  She didn’t want the conversation to cross into territory that was too sentimental of their relationship.


Alex laughed.  “Sorry, I forgot all about that.  I guess we just got so caught up going down memory lane.”  She reached for the cordless phone.  “What do you want?  Pepperoni and extra cheese?”


“You remembered my favorite,” Olivia answered, secretly pleased.


“I never forget anything about you,” Alex replied, calling and placing their order. 


“How long before it’s ready?” Olivia asked.


“About 30 minutes.  But we can do something fun to pass the time.  Tell me your favorite memory of childhood,” she requested softly.


Olivia paused.  Since she had grown up with an alcoholic mother, her childhood hadn’t been filled with sunshine and happiness, but she treasured the few pleasant memories she did have.  “Well, every year around Christmas, my mom would take me to Rockefeller Center to see the tree.  It didn’t matter if I’d had a bad day or not, when I saw that tree lit up and sparkling so brightly, it was like magic.  I just felt that everything would be ok.  I didn’t even notice the cold.  All I noticed was the tree and all the excited faces smiling around me.  To see everyone come together like that was just the most phenomenal experience.  I’d never felt so alive.  Then we would go ice skating afterwards if it wasn’t too crowded.  I’d feel such a rush each time I passed Prometheus.  One year she gave me the most beautiful pair of skates for Christmas and I couldn’t wait to try them out.  I fell down a few times, but it was completely worth it.  I learned my first tricks in those skates…”


Alex studied her face carefully as she continued talking.  The yellow light from the lamp danced in her chocolate depths and her cheeks flushed with warmth.  She loved the way her perfect smile wafted up to the corners of her eyes as she became more and more descriptive.  It made Olivia that much more beautiful.  The way she relayed her story touched a special place in her heart.  She could feel Olivia’s emotions surging through her own body just as if their minds were intertwined.


“Those were the happiest times of my life.  It almost seemed like we were a normal family,” Olivia finished, her smile slowly fading.


“That was beautiful, Liv,” Alex breathed.  “It reminds me of my times at the Rockefeller.  We could’ve been there at the same time and didn’t even know it.” 


Olivia smiled at her.  “It’s possible.”


Alex reached out and squeezed her hand.  She was pleasantly surprised when Olivia didn’t pull back. 


Olivia stared into Alex’s eyes and saw within them the raw desire and love, which pulled at her heartstrings like a magnet.  She felt like she could fall into the clear blue pools and drown.  The quiet times between them were always the hardest.  Now here she was—faced with no noise, no distractions, nothing but their unadulterated love for each other.  Without thinking, she placed her head on Alex’s shoulder to escape.  Shit, wrong move, Benson! she thought, trying not to panic.  She started to sit up when Alex placed a warm hand on her cheek to gently but firmly hold it in place.  She didn’t fight her but slowly began to relax instead.  They listened to the calming sound of each other’s breathing for the longest time, the rise and fall of their chests falling into sync.  An eternity could have passed and neither of them would have been the wiser.


Alex’s hand moved down to her shoulder and then her side.  As she started a gentle stroking rhythm, Olivia felt her breath catch in her chest and her heart start to pound.  She expelled the breath she’d been holding as the phone started ringing.


Alex answered the phone.  It was the pizza delivery guy.  “Ok.  I’ll tell the concierge to give you clearance.”


A couple minutes later the doorbell rang.  Alex opened the door and paid him.  She brought the box of pizza over and set it down on the coffee table.


“You usually eat in your living room?” Olivia joked.


“My apartment is for living in, isn’t it?” Alex asked, winking at her.  “Not appearances.  Besides, we ate our ice cream here earlier.”  She opened up the box of pizza.  The hot steam hit the air and spread its delicious aromas throughout the room.  “Mmm…this smells delightful.  Go ahead.  Dig in and get a slice.”


Olivia picked up a big slice of pizza and took a bite.  “This is really good.”


Alex smiled.  “You’ve got some cheese on the side of your mouth.”  She leaned over and wiped away the string.


Olivia laughed.  “Thanks.”


Alex put her slice down and said, “I’ll go get us some sodas.  Be right back.”


She returned with two tall glasses and handed one to Olivia, who nodded her thanks and took a sip.  “Alex, I’m gonna be so full I won’t be able to move.”


“That’s what I was hoping,” Alex teased.


“Planning to hold me captive?” Olivia asked.


“No.  But only because I know you’d break out of your restraints,” Alex replied with a sly grin.


Olivia finished her slice and reached for another.  “Am I that predictable?”


When they’d finished eating several minutes later, Alex placed Olivia’s head on her shoulder again.  “Pinch me, Liv.  I want to know that this weekend has been real and not just a figment of my overactive imagination.”


Smiling, Olivia pinched her side.  Alex let out a tiny yelp.  “Convinced it’s real now?”


“Yes,” Alex said, sifting Olivia’s hair through her fingers.  “I feel like the luckiest woman in the world.”


“Well, if a pinch makes you feel that way, then maybe I’ll have to do it more often,” Olivia joked.


“Oh, silly.  You know what I mean.”


Suddenly an idea popped into Olivia’s head.  She knew that Alex had taken piano and violin lessons for many years in her youth, and she never tired of hearing her play either.  She played both wonderfully, but there was something about the way that she took charge of an instrument so vast and turned it into a whole body experience that made it Olivia’s favorite to experience.  She didn’t just play the music, she became it.  “How about playing something on the piano for me?”


“What would you like?”


“Anything you want,” Olivia replied.


Alex led her over to the piano and sat down.  She began to play the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Adagio Sostenuto.  She played the piece with quiet passion, slow and sustained as it was written to be.  It was tragic, romantic, beautiful, serene, and sublime.  She closed her eyes so she could feel every note as she struck the keys.  The visceral emotions bubbled from the depths of her soul and flowed with the utmost poise through her fingers; it was remarkable how the music could transform something so crude and chaotic into something so elegant and organized.   Her fingers caressed the keys, making love to each one she touched on a bed of sweet melancholy.  She could feel the piece overtaking her, clutching her heart and refusing to let go until the story was told.


Olivia was absolutely amazed at how well Alex could play the piece.  She knew it was something that many people struggled with, but Alex played it as perfectly and delicately as some concert pianists she’d heard.  She felt chills go down her spine as she watched each beautiful, tormented emotion materialize in her facial expressions.  Even the nuances of the piece were not lost on Alex.  The inexplicable longing, dissolution, and despair that Alex expressed were so puissant that they permeated the air and flooded Olivia’s soul.  But there was a warmth to them, a warmth that illuminated the very darkness from which it was embedded.  She could feel a tear roll down her cheek as Alex finished the last tortured notes of the sonata.  She knew that Alex had expressed every agonizing emotion she’d tried to bury in the past couple years; emotions that mere words alone could not express.


Alex smiled at her as the tears rolled down her own cheeks.  “How was that?” she asked humbly.


“Beau—” Olivia’s voice broke as she brushed Alex’s tears away.  “Beautiful.”


Alex took her hand and kissed it.  “Thank you.  The ironic thing about all this is that Beethoven didn’t think too highly of it.  I, however, think it was his greatest.”


“Beethoven would be pleased to have such a wonderful talent playing his music,” Olivia complimented. 


Alex blushed.  “You’re too kind.”


“You’re too good,” Olivia responded.


“Not even half as good as Wilhelm Kempff,” Alex replied.  She took her hand and led her back over to the sofa.  “It’s been such awhile since I’ve played.  I was worried I’d be a bit rusty.”


Olivia let out a soft laugh.  “Then you shouldn’t worry so much.”


Alex smiled.  She loved it when Olivia laughed that way.  It was so carefree and filled with tenderness.  She took Olivia’s hand into her lap and rubbed the back of it with her thumb.  “This has certainly been an interesting evening.”


“I’ll say,” Olivia responded, looking down and watching the movements of Alex’s thumb. 


After another hour of talking and laughing with Alex, Olivia looked at her watch.  “It’s getting late.  I should go.”


Alex felt her heart sink a little at the announcement.  She didn’t want her to leave, but she knew that their weekend together had to come to a close at some point in time.  “Ok.  I’ll help you pack your things.”


They ascended the stairs to Olivia’s room.  Alex went into the bathroom to retrieve her things while Olivia removed her clothes from the closet and neatly folded them.  She had enjoyed Alex’s company during the weekend more than she’d expected and was feeling a bit dismal at the prospect of going back to her lonely apartment.


After helping Olivia pack her things, Alex put the strap of her bag over her shoulder and asked, “Got everything?”


“I think so.  But if I forget anything, I can always come back and get it, right?”


Alex gave her a devious smile and pretended to open her bag.  “That can be arranged.”


Olivia laughed at her.  “Oh, no you don’t!  You’re not gonna purposely take my things out just to have me come back tonight!”


Alex laughed in return.  “Ah well, it was worth a shot.”


They made their way back downstairs.  “You know, it felt really good playing for you tonight.  Maybe I’ll play Allegretto and Presto Agitato for you another time,” Alex said.


Olivia smiled at her and retrieved her coat from the closet.  “I’d like that very much.”  She took her bag from Alex.


Alex draped her arms across Olivia’s shoulders.  “I just wanted to let you know what a wonderful time I’ve had with you this weekend.  I wish it could go on forever.”


Olivia nodded.  “This was the best weekend I’ve had in a really long time.”


“Well, hopefully we can have many more of these in the future.  I’ll be frank with my intentions.  I’m very happy with the progress we’ve made now.  But I don’t want friendship to be the endpoint.  I hope at some point in the future that we can be more again,” she admitted, placing a hand on her cheek.


Olivia sighed.  “That depends on you, Alex.”


Alex wrinkled her brow.  “What do you mean?”


“Things can’t be the way they were before.”


Alex moved in closer.  “And they won’t be.  I promise.  I want you to trust me with your heart.”


Olivia shook her head.  “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Alex.”


Alex frowned.  “I don’t understand.  Why are you doubting me?”


“Because I don’t want history to repeat itself.  As they say, ‘once bitten, twice shy.’  And because of our past, I don’t know if I’ll ever fully be able to trust you with my heart again.”


“Liv, why are you doing this to me?  Holding the past against me?” Alex asked, her heart breaking.  “I thought we were starting over.” 


“It’s not the beginning I’m worried about.  It’s the end.”


“What’s that supposed to mean?” Alex asked tearfully.


“Alex, can you honestly tell me right now that if push came to shove and you found out, say...tomorrow, that you would lose everything for being with me—your job, any chance of the political future you want, everyone’s respect for you—that you would stay with me?  Can you honestly tell me you wouldn’t break things off again to save it all?”


Alex looked down at the floor as the tears poured down her face for the second time that evening.  She couldn’t meet her eyes; she felt so much shame.  “I-I...”


Olivia raised Alex’s chin so that their eyes were level.  “Alex, I love you with all my heart, I treasure every second we’ve spent together, and I do want to be with you...but until we’re on the same page, we can’t be together,” she said regretfully.  “I’m sorry.”  She brushed her lips against Alex’s and started to make her exit. 


Alex grabbed her arm and begged, “Liv…why can’t we just try being discreet again?”


Olivia turned around and sighed heavily.  “Alex, I can’t deal with the closet.”


“We were doing just fine before…” Alex cried.


“Alex, I wanna be able to walk down the street holding hands with the woman I love.  I don’t want to be introduced at social events as your ‘friend.’  I don’t want to have to witness you going out on dates with men just to save face.  I wanna be able to kiss you in public just like any straight couple.  I want—need—the security of knowing that when I come home, you’ll always be there.”


“But you have my heart, my soul, my mind, Liv!  Isn’t that enough?”


“No, Alex.  Not anymore.  Listen, uh…” Olivia said, looking down briefly before meeting her eyes again.  “I’ll keep in touch, ok?”


All Alex could do was nod distractedly.  She felt like crumpling to the ground.  The wounds that had finally started to heal had been ripped wide open again.  She surely hadn’t foreseen this ultimatum coming.  She might as well have asked her to climb the Empire State Building.  Had it been in Olivia’s head the entire time?  It just didn’t seem fair.  They had shared so much with each other that weekend that it seemed as if they were one person instead of two.  She felt like a part of her had died all over again.


Olivia opened the door and turned to Alex.  “Have a good night.”


“You, too,” Alex replied weakly as the love of her life walked out.  She watched her walk down the hall and call the elevator.  Forcing a smile, Olivia gave her a solemn wave as the doors of the elevator began to close.  Alex lifted her hand to wave back slowly and then shut the door. 


Alex dropped onto the sofa and mindlessly stared out the window.  After awhile, her physical tears had dried up, but her heart was still crying.  She didn’t imagine that it would stop anytime soon.  But why was she hurting so much?  She had told Olivia that she would be happy to have her in her life in any that she could, so she was thankful that Olivia was willing to be friends with her again.  So why had it been enough then if it wasn’t enough now?  Why had she jumped the gun?  After all, beggars couldn’t be choosers.  And more importantly, why could she guarantee everything to Olivia except what she wanted most?  She knew that to Olivia her words would be meaningless unless she could back them up with actions.  I can’t win for losing, she thought.  Every single time she got her hopes up, they were torn apart like a ship dashing upon hidden rocks and splintering to the four winds.  She just would have to find a way to reconcile her heart’s desires with the painful reality in her head.  But despite everything, she hoped that one day she would have the courage to meet Olivia’s wishes so they could be more.  But would Olivia still be available and willing when—if—that happened?




As Olivia sat in the backseat of the taxi, Alex’s performance of the Moonlight Sonata played over and over again in her head as she thought of their last few minutes together.  Like the sonata, those moments had been bittersweet.  They hadn’t ended on bad terms and she’d left the door open for friendship, but she still felt unsettled. Why did she feel so guilty about rejecting a relationship with Alex?  After all, she’d told Alex ahead of time that she didn’t want her getting the wrong idea.  But Alex had looked so crushed when she left, and that alone was a stab to her heart.  Was it wrong to refuse discretion?  She didn’t have the political aspirations or social status that Alex had, so she understood that it would be riskier for Alex than herself.  Was she being just as selfish as she’d accused Alex of being?  


She ultimately decided that she wasn’t because they shouldn’t have to cower in the dark like their relationship was somehow inferior to those of others; they weren’t second class citizens.  Could they reach a compromise at some point in the future?  She thought back to how deeply Alex had hurt her and the familiar taste of bitterness hit the back of her throat.  She was determined to stay steadfast in her own convictions about not becoming romantically involved again unless she agreed to her terms, and if Alex really loved her, then she’d respect that.  So why did she have a sinking feeling that perhaps she’d made the worst mistake of her life?