Chapter 46:  Fallen

In the middle of the journey of our life

I found myself astray in a dark wood

Where the straight road had been lost sight of.


How hard it is to say what it was like

In the thick of thickets, in a wood so dense and gnarled

The very thought of it renews my panic.


It is bitter almost as death itself is bitter.

But to rehearse the good it also brought me

I will speak about the other things I saw there.


How I got into it I cannot clearly say

For I was moving like a sleepwalker

The moment I stepped out of the right way


--Dante, Inferno, Canto I




Alex wouldn’t be so lucky with getting her personal life in order just yet.  Once Robert had returned from Hong Kong the Monday evening following their dinner, they’d spent nothing but the past week arguing on and off.  If it wasn’t about the lack of time they got to spend together, he was accusing her of being uncommunicative or not putting as much effort into the relationship as he was.  She accused him of not being supportive enough of the demands of her job or her need for solitude.


One of the main reasons she had started dating Robert was because she thought someone entirely new to her life could help her ditch her traumatic past and fill the void more than sex alone could.  However, the fact that she was now having problems with him only served to increase that void and defeat the purpose entirely.  He was supposed to take away from her mental and emotional anguish—not add to it.  What made things worse is that she had no one to talk to about things.  Her family adored Robert and so did her social circle.  


But now it was a new week and she hoped that things would lighten up.  She told herself that the stress of both their jobs was getting to them, but she knew deep down that it was something else—Olivia.  Ever since she’d seen her again at the restaurant, she hadn’t been able to get her mind off her.


As if that were not enough, it was time for quarterly reports again at the bureau, so things were getting even more hectic.  The ride to the office that morning was done mostly in silence as they each sat on opposite sides of the backseat.  Robert was checking his Blackberry, which was typical.  Alex was thinking about her workload for the day and didn’t want to be disturbed, and she thought it was for the best anyway since the less she had to say to Robert, the smaller the chance of words being misconstrued and causing an argument.


Even though she knew she had a long week ahead of her, she would much rather be at work than walking on eggshells at home.  The car pulled up to One Hogan Place and she let out a sigh of relief.  As their driver got out and opened the door for her, Robert got out, too.  “Maybe I’ll see you later?” Alex asked.


Robert reached out to touch her arm with the back of his hand.  Alex met his touch in an effort to alleviate some of the tension.  “Yeah,” he answered.


“Thanks,” Alex said, walking off.


“Okay,” he responded.


Jim was waiting for her as she walked up.  He wasn’t so bad when he wasn’t arguing with her and was actually being a friend.  “Morning,” he said.


“Good morning,” Alex responded cheerily.


Robert noticed that Alex had left her scarf on the seat of the car, so he quickly walked over to give it to her.  “Sweetie, you forgot this.”


“Oh, thank you,” Alex replied almost simultaneously.  Looking from Robert to Jim, she decided to reintroduce them.  “Honey, this is—”


“Jim Steele,” Jim finished for her, extending his hand to Robert.


Robert firmly shook it.  “Sure.  Good to see you again.  We met last year at the uh, Christmas party.”  Right on schedule, his Blackberry began to ring. 


“Yeah.  The—I think that’s right,” Jim responded.  He looked at Robert’s ringing phone and then back up at him again, wondering if he was going to answer it.


Robert gave him a quick smile and then turned to Alex again.  “I gotta go, baby,” he said, leaning in to kiss her goodbye.


“Oh, bye.  Have a good day,” Alex replied, exchanging a kiss on the cheek with him.


“See ya,” Jim told Robert.


Robert threw him one last cocky, guarded smile and then headed to his car.


“So the eighth floor is hounding me for those quarterly reports,” Alex told Jim.  “We need to show an increase in volume in trials, convictions.” 


As Alex talked, Jim watched Robert and his chauffeur drive off in a Mercedes-Benz S550.  How much money does this guy have? he wondered, feeling a bit envious.  “Wall Street sure pays better than Centre Street, huh?”


Alex turned around to follow his gaze.  With a grin, she joked, “But they don’t get to spend all day with rapists and murderers.”




A little later that morning, Jessica saw Jim walking back toward his office.  Walking up to him, she started, “Hey, I was thinking about pleading out that robbery case, NYU freshman robbed at gunpoint.”


“This an I.D. case?” Jim asked.


“I have three witnesses.  The victim plus two elderly Ukrainians who have Coke-bottle glasses,” she answered as they walked into his office.


“Let me guess.  The NYU student was drunk,” he said.


“And stoned,” Jessica added.


“How about the Ukrainians?” Jim asked, sitting behind his desk.


“Described the suspect as ‘a tall, chocolate man with big branches.’” 


“Sounds like a plea to me,” Jim answered.


“Yeah,” Jessica said with a grin.  With a quick glance over her shoulder to make sure no one was paying too much attention, she walked toward his desk and proposed, “I thought maybe we could get together for dinner this week?”  With a flirtatious smile, she explained, “Like a proper date.”


Jim leaned back in his chair to contemplate the offer.  But before he could answer, the secretary Cheryl came to his door and informed him, “Steele, Cabot wants to see you in the conference room.”  She threw a glance at Jessica and then left.


Getting up, Jim told her, “We’ll pick this up later on, ok?”


“Mm-hmm,” Jessica murmured with a hint of irritation, watching him as he left. 




When Alex got home that evening, all she wanted to do was kick off her heels, soak in the tub, and try to get some sleep.  After she finished her bath, she walked into the bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed.  Robert closed his laptop and moved over to massage her shoulders.  “Have a nice bath, sweetheart?” he asked, brushing her hair back and placing a soft kiss on her cheek, then her neck.


“I did,” Alex answered. 


“You’re so tense, honey,” he observed.


Alex chuckled.  “I can see you’re taking care of that.”


As he continued massaging, Robert began, “Well, you know I’ve been thinking…”




“Maybe we should consider tying the knot.”


Alex’s heart started to pound.  Marriage?  This soon? she thought.  She turned around to face him.  “Why the rush?”


“Well, to be honest with you, Alex, I knew that you were the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with from the moment I first laid eyes on you,” he avowed.  “So why would I need to date you for years to realize something I know now?  When you’re older, you’re more mature; you know what you want and not what you think you want.  We’re both very established in our careers and I just think it’s the right move.”


Alex looked down, trying to find anything to focus on but Robert.  “This is all so…sudden.”  She shook her head quickly and let out a deep sigh.  Dragging her hands down her face, she continued, “Honey, I am absolutely exhausted.  I’m really in no state of mind to discuss something so serious right now.”  Reaching out to touch his cheek, she said in a softer voice, “You understand, right?”


He kissed her on the forehead.  “Of course.  We’ll talk about this more later on, ok?  Get some rest, beautiful.”


Alex flashed a smile.  “Ok.”  She pulled back the covers and slid beneath them.


Robert turned off the lamp and pulled her into his arms.  She tried to relax but couldn’t shake her feeling of discomfort.  It was like she was being held by a stranger, and in a way she was, for she’d only known him a few months.  In the end, she just closed her eyes and tried to imagine herself somewhere peaceful in the hopes that sleep would soon release her from the captivity of her thoughts.




The next day, Alex knocked on Jim’s open door as she walked into his office.  “Why the drop in drug-related indictments?” she asked, throwing the file down on his desk.


“Fewer drug-related arrests,” Jim explained matter-of-factly.


“Are you counting charges or defendants?” Alex asked.


“If you want to embellish the numbers to impress the big guys on the eighth-floor—”


Turning around and starting to walk away, Alex rolled her eyes and threw up a hand as she said, “You are such a bureaucrat.”


“Is that why we broke up?” Jim shot back with a grin.


Alex turned around quickly to set the record straight.  “We never dated,” she reminded him with an amused grin.


“Oh, that’s right.  I’m sorry, I forgot.  We were just sleeping together,” he conceded, smiling.


“Something like that, yeah,” Alex answered, nodding.  She turned back around to leave.  She wished Jim didn’t have a tendency to see what he wanted to see instead of how things actually were.


“It was fun, though, right?” Jim asked.


“Sure was,” Alex said, not bothering to turn around again.


“Then why did I get dumped?” Jim asked pointedly. 


“Jim,” Alex began, turning around at the door and walking back to him.  She did not want to do this and didn’t know why he couldn’t just let it go.  Furthermore, she knew it would only hurt him.


“I’m-I’m serious,” Jim responded, getting up from his desk.


“I don’t want to talk about this,” Alex declared, crossing her forefingers in front of her in a time-out motion.


“No, I’m totally over it.  I promise,” Jim insisted, walking up to her.


“I’m sure you are,” Alex stated sarcastically.


“So, we never really talked about it,” he explained.  With a solemn chuckle, he asked, “Why’d I get the ax?”


“Because I met Robert and he seemed like the perfect guy,” Alex replied.


“What do you mean ‘seemed like’?” Jim asked.  Alex gave him a look.  “Are you in love with him?” he continued.


“He’s a wonderful man,” Alex stated instead.


Jim was not about to let her slide so easily.  He definitely thought her deflection was odd.  “That’s not what I asked.”


“Of course I love him!” Alex snapped defensively, her eyes dodging before meeting his again.  She wanted to get him off her back and hoped he wouldn’t call attention to the fact that she still refused to say that she was in love with him.


“Am I sensing problems?” Jim asked somewhat cautiously.


Alex looked at him for a few seconds as she struggled to come up with a response.  Deciding to evade his question, she looked down at her watch and said, “The problem is that I have a meeting in five minutes, so…”  She turned to leave but then had a second thought.  Turning back, she asked, “Do you want to have dinner later?”


“Sure.  Yeah,” Jim answered, a bit surprised.


“I’ll let you know where,” she said, smiling over her shoulder at him and then starting to walk out.  At the door, she happened to turn her head and see Jessica looking at her from the opposite doorway in Jim’s office.


Jessica smiled at her, but her smile quickly dissolved into a cheeky, competitive smirk as she stared her down.


Alex pursed her lips and stared her down right back.  She didn’t know how long she’d been standing there, but she was not about to be intimidated by one of her underlings and most certainly not Jim’s little fuck buddy.  She had no problem reminding her that she was the one in control—in every sense of the word.  If Jessica Rossi thought she could win any battle against her, she had another thing coming.  But she didn’t have time for this now.  Knowing that she had work to do, she tore her eyes away and walked into her office.


Jim, of course, had seen the entire interaction but wasn’t going to get into it.  “What’s up?” he asked, sitting down at his desk again.


“Close to a deal on that NYU case,” Jessica started, walking up to his desk.  “Misdemeanor assault, one year probation.”  She handed him the file.


“Sounds good,” he answered.


Diving right in, Jessica put her hands on her hips and said, “I was thinking of making my world-famous penne vodka tonight.  Feel like coming over?”


“I thought I wasn’t allowed in your apartment,” Jim teased, remembering the “deal” that they had.


“Maybe it’s time to expand the rules…” Jessica suggested.


“I’d love to, but I’m-I’m having dinner with Alex.  We’re going over this whole quarterly report thing,” he said, nodding swiftly.


Nodding and smiling, Jessica whispered, “Oh.”  She could tell he was trying to downplay the fact that he had a thing for Alex.


“Rain check?”


“Yeah, sure,” she said.


“Cool,” Jim replied. 


Giving him one last amused look, Jessica turned around and walked out.




Jim was excited to leave his office later that evening because he looked forward to dinner with Alex.  With his coat on his arm, he went to Alex’s office and knocked on the doorframe.  “Hey, Forlini’s sound good?”


Alex was just getting her coat off its hook.  “Ohh, I can’t!  I’m sorry.  I have to get home.”


Walking into her office, he asked, “Is everything ok?”


“Yeah.  Robert wants to have a talk,” Alex explained.


“That sounds like fun,” Jim said dryly.


“It should be easy, you know?  Falling in love, committing, getting married,” Alex said wistfully.  She thought about Olivia and all the obstacles that prevented it from being easy. 


With a smile, Jim replied, “You’re talking about the rest of your life.  There’s nothing easy about that.”


“I just always thought I’d have this feeling in my gut, telling me, ‘This is it.  This is the one.’  But I don’t.”  At least not for a guy, she thought.  The truth was that she did feel it and had felt it for some time for a woman.  However, she knew that Jim had no reason to even suspect that she was attracted to women, so he wouldn’t think that “the one” could be anyone but a guy in the first place. 


Unfortunately for Jim, the meaning of those words set in all too well.  He knew that if Alex was saying that she didn’t feel like she’d met the guy who was “the one,” then that didn’t just cancel out Robert, it also cancelled him out as “the one” as well.  After all, she’d known and been intimate with him before Robert.  Trying to lighten the mood, Jim joked, “Yeah, that sweet little romantic voice shuts off after awhile—like, right around the 10th murder trial.”


Alex chuckled.  Then she asked seriously, “Are you telling me I should marry Robert?”


He was a bit caught off guard.  Trying to find the words, he replied, “I…am not good at these conversations, Al.”  Alex nodded in understanding.  Jim continued, “So, with all due respect, I’d-I’d just rather not get involved.”


“Yeah,” Alex said, nodding again.  “Night.”


Jim nodded goodnight and left her office.  Alex watched him leave, a pensive look on her face.  She really wasn’t surprised that he didn’t want to get involved.  But it’s not like she could talk to Olivia or Serena; both of them knew way too much about her actual orientation.  Jim might be able to guess that her relationship with Robert was a matter of political and social privilege, but that was where it ended.  She had thought discussing things with Jim would offer some clarity in the matter, but she still was left not knowing what she should say to Robert.


Robert was waiting for her when she walked in the door.  “Hi, honey,” he said, walking up to her and giving her a kiss.  “How was your day at work?”


Alex smiled at him.  “Stressful, but good.  What about yours?”


He smiled suavely.  “About the same.”  He took her hand and led her over to the sofa.  Handing her a glass of Pétrus, he sat down beside her and asked, “So have you thought anymore about what we discussed last night?”


“Some,” Alex answered softly.  She took a sip of wine and then set her glass down on the coffee table.


Robert set his glass down as well.  Then holding both her hands in his, he looked her in the eye and proclaimed, “Alex, I can’t imagine my life with anyone else.  You are absolutely the most gorgeous, intelligent, and remarkable woman I’ve ever met.  I’ve dated many women but none have the ability to captivate those around them quite like you do.  And your past experiences in life have only molded you into a woman whose strength and gumption few could ever possess.  You are truly a rare gem that I never expected to find.  If you marry me, I promise to love, honor, and treasure you for the rest of our natural lives.”


Alex blushed to have such praise lavished upon her.  Looking down, she responded, “Wow…I don’t know what to say.”


“Just say yes,” he prodded, smiling.  When she didn’t say anything for a few moments, he lifted her chin gently so that her eyes were level with his again.  “If you’re hesitant because of the problems we’ve been having, don’t be.  I take full responsibility for my part in our fights and I apologize for all I’ve done to hurt you.  But I want us to put all of that behind us and look forward to the future.  Dwelling on the past only hurts us more, right?”


“True,” Alex agreed.


He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand and continued, “Besides, I realized that instead of fighting with you, I should be pouring all my energy into giving you everything you want and more.  I’m completely ready to make a permanent commitment to you and treat you like nothing short of a queen.”


“That’s all very sweet of you,” Alex replied.


“Do you see yourself with anyone but me, Alex?” he asked pointedly.


Alex swallowed hard as Olivia immediately popped into her mind.  She shook her head, both to make the thought of her go away and to give Robert his answer.  “No,” she lied.  “It’s just that this is a pretty big decision and I’m afraid I need more time to think about it before I give you an answer.  I’m sorry.”


Robert nodded.  “Don’t be.  I respect that.”  He leaned in to kiss her.


Placing a hand on the back of his neck, Alex returned the kiss.  She tried to drum up some emotion, no matter how slight, in order to make it feel real.  She was going to play her role to the hilt—just like so many women before her.




Meanwhile Olivia was lying down in the crib.  Elliot walked in and teased, “Gettin’ your beauty sleep?”


Olivia smirked and sat up.  “I was trying to.”


He sat down beside her.  “How are things with Zoe?”


“They’re good,” she replied. 


“You guys still doing the casual thing?”


“Yep,” Olivia confirmed.  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”


“When was the last time you heard from Alex?”


“Week before last,” she answered.  “We ran into each other at dinner.”


Elliot’s eyes widened.  “Really?”


“Yes, really.  She was with Prince Charming and I was with Zoe.”


“Wow,” Elliot replied.  “That had to be awkward.”


“Yeah.  She and Robert actually came over to our table to say hi.”


Elliot laughed.  “Are you kidding?”


“I wish I was.  Oh, you should’ve seen this guy, El.  Bragging about his money and how he and Alex were gonna buy property in Hong Kong or Tokyo.  Robert is one of the most pretentious jerks I’ve ever met.”


“How does she stand it?”


Olivia scoffed.  “You tell me.   So a little later, I went out to the balcony and Alex followed me.  She wanted to apologize for how things ended between us.  She said we were bound to run into each other from time to time and she didn’t want it to be awkward.  I told her it always would be.”


“Well, it doesn’t have to be,” Elliot said thoughtfully.


Olivia rolled her eyes.  “No more of the hopeless romantic stuff, El.”


Elliot shrugged.  “Call me a sap if you want, but I still think you two crazy kids will find your way back to each other—for good.”


Olivia grabbed the other half of Elliot’s sub and bit into it.  “Don’t count on it.  Alex made her bed.”


“Yeah, but you both have to lie in it.”


Olivia turned back to stare at him for a few seconds in silence as she pondered what he’d said, despite not wanting to do so.  Then looking down, she bit into her sandwich again and slowly chewed it.




Jim walked into the conference room late the next evening.  “Homicide numbers,” he said, dropping the file on the table.


“Charges or defendants?” Alex asked, turning toward him.


“Defendants.  That’s how I play it, Al.  I’m sorry,” he said in a strained voice.


He started to walk back out but Alex turned around more and asked, “Where are we on the shaken baby case?”


“Two days away from indicting the father,” Jim said, propping his arm on the door.


“What about the mother?”


“Looks like she’s gonna cooperate,” Jim replied.


“She watched her boyfriend shake the life out of her baby.  She has to answer for that,” Alex protested.


Jim narrowed his eyes.  “We need her as a witness.  She’s the only one who saw what really happened.”


“Indict her.  Keep the pressure on,” Alex insisted.


“I disagree,” Jim stated firmly.


“With all due respect, I don’t really care,” Alex replied nastily.


Jim walked up to her.  “‘With all due respect?’” he repeated incredulously.


Alex cocked her head to the side.  “Yeah.  Is there a problem here?” she challenged, daring him to object.


“I don’t appreciate being told how to run a case!”


Alex crossed her arms and with a cocky smile retorted, “It’s my bureau, Jim.”


Jim furiously spouted, “You know what?  I know that you and Robert are having problems right now—”


Alex was livid that he would even dare bring that up.  It was a definite low blow to use that as ammunition in an argument, especially since he had acted as if he was concerned when he’d asked the previous day.  Her beautiful features contorted into a scowl.  Shaking her finger at him, she interrupted, “This has nothing to do with that, do you understand?”


Jim threw up a hand and turned around to walk away.  But Alex grabbed his arm and shouted, “Don’t you walk away from me!”  She was not going to let him achieve control of the situation or dictate when the conversation was over.  After all, she was the boss.


Jim looked down at his arm in her hand as if she’d lost her mind.  He yanked his arm out of her grasp and the force of it caused Alex to fall back a step.  There was a split second where she looked at him in fear, wondering what he was going to do next.  He charged her and pushed his mouth against hers in a bruising kiss as he held her head in a rigid, iron grip.


Immediately feeling herself dissociating, Alex moaned into the kiss and started to undo his tie.  Despite the fact that she knew she shouldn’t be doing this, she needed the release.  So in a moment of reckless abandon, all rationale flew out the window, overridden by her desperate desire to escape everything that plagued her and to keep her world from crashing down on her.  In that short span of time, it was as if everything had culminated at once—the aftermath of her shooting and time in Witness Protection, the situation with Olivia, the feelings she’d tried suppressing about Mike’s murder, the high stress of the bureau, and the problems with Robert. 


She broke the kiss and Jim ripped open her suit jacket to reveal her bra underneath.  With one arm, he lifted her and dropped her down on the table with a quick kiss while Alex put her hands on the back of his head to steady herself.  With his other hand, he impatiently pushed off as many materials on the table as he could and Alex’s back hit the wood with a hard thud.  Jim pulled his tie over his head as Alex reached up to frantically try to rip his shirt open.  Knowing that he was stronger, he helped her out by ripping his own shirt and undershirt.  He quickly pulled off what was left of his shirt while she removed her jacket completely.  He struggled to unbuckle his pants on top of Alex as their mouths joined in a series of fleeting, passive kisses once more.  With her eyes closed, Alex ran her hand through his hair and then with a flick of her fingers against his head, she pulled away from the kiss.  She threw her head back in pleasure and moaned as he kissed her neck.  The stiffness with which the table edge pushed into her neck was uncomfortable, but it was something she was willing to bear.


The act was animalistic and emotionless save for anger that needed to be purged.  She didn’t care that there was no chemistry or romance as she was never concerned with that anyway when she slept with Jim.  Just for a little while, she needed something to replace the emptiness.  If that meant going through the motions of sex while being otherwise disinterested, then sobeit.  She sought some flicker of light, no matter how illusive, to cut into the dark, cold forest.  Each thrust of him inside her thrust down the ache and loneliness she felt so deeply. 


When it was all over, Jim rolled off her onto his back.  “Wow, that was intense.”


Her chest still heaving, Alex agreed, “Yeah.”  As the realization of what she’d done started to set in, she thought, Shit.  After another moment of resting, she slowly pushed herself up and pulled her bra strap back on her shoulder.  She looked at everything scattered everywhere and said, “Boy, is this place a complete mess.”


“I’ll help,” Jim said, trying to catch his breath.  “Just give me a minute.”


As she finished getting dressed, she tried to think of what she would do.  She then began cleaning up and reorganizing files.  Jim got up and helped her.  Suddenly, the air became different, awkward.  The heat of their tryst had faded.  He tried to read Alex’s face, but it was emotionless.  “You ok, Al?”


Alex forced a smile.  “Yeah.  I’m fine.”


“You…want me to walk you out?” Jim offered.


Alex shook her head.  “No.  But thank you,” she said, heading for her office. 


“See you tomorrow,” Jim said.


“Night,” Alex told him.  She grabbed her coat and bag and then turned out the lights to her office.


Alex was actually glad that she had driven to work that day.  She had told Robert in the morning that she’d probably be working late and didn’t know when she’d be home, but she’d had no clue how handy that would come in until now.  She hoped that the drive home alone would allow her to clear her head.  


Even though everyone had cleared out for the night, she shuddered to think what would’ve happened if someone had come back and caught them in the act.  They were in a public area, not her office.  Then again, she also knew how much clout her family had and that she’d committed much greater offenses with only a suspension or being found in contempt as her punishment.  At least with a late night conference room tryst, she wasn’t violating anyone’s civil liberties by an illegal search or threatening a judge with a grievance in open court.  She also knew that it wouldn’t cause nearly as much scandal as a same-sex relationship.


Regardless, had she really sunk so low that she was having sex at work?  Just how far off the path had she fallen?  The shame hit her like a ton of bricks.  In her desperate attempt to control her sexual orientation, she was losing control in other ways.   But ultimately, she had chosen the lesser of two evils.  Although she lost control of her impulses, the irony was that the impersonal nature of the sex with Jim had stopped the personal issues she faced from overtaking her and thus, she could re-establish control of them. 


But for how long? she wondered.  The blaring of a horn behind her jarred her out of her thoughts.


After she showered and got into bed, she lay awake for the next hour and a half.  The relief from the sex had once again proven ephemeral and the cerebral fog she’d tried to escape was closing in on her.  She felt incredibly guilty and selfish.  She knew she had cheated on Robert before with Olivia, but she hadn’t felt as guilty because she was in love with Olivia.  However, Jim was another man and even worse, someone she harbored no romantic feelings for whatsoever.  Thus, it somehow cheapened her relationship with Robert even more.  Despite Robert’s faults, she felt that he didn’t deserve it.   As far as she could tell, he did love her and was trying to make things better between them.


She sighed deeply.  She just wanted to be stable again.  She decided that perhaps it would be best to marry Robert to avoid losing further control.  Furthermore, if she accepted his proposal, it would give them a clean slate to start fresh and put their problems behind them.  New meaning could be injected into a relationship that was devoid of it.


The next morning at breakfast, she surprised Robert when she said, “Yes.  I’ll marry you.”