Chapter rating: PG
Disclaimer: Not my characters, but I am using them for entertainment and not for profit.
Notes: Written in response to the fic request from shamesis and I hope this story will be one of many that will be inspired by her idea. Being me, I broke the rules and have them living in a state that revoked the law granting marriage equality and I also didn't allow both of them to get shot, but the spirit of the story is intact, I think. Not beta read, so let me know if you see stuff that I need to correct.
“Marshals, Holt, Mendoza, has something happened?” Alex’s voice sounded tight and her body was rigid.
Olivia was glad that Alex had at least had the presence of mind to greet the Marshals, because she was reasonably sure that she herself had lost the power of speech. Terrible scenarios were flooding her mind; the worst was that Velez had tracked them to California and they’d have to move again. The business they had worked so hard to build, the house in the woods where they had learned to cook, with the breakfast nook that looked out onto a small stream, even the silly little SUV that had been used to haul everything from groceries to merchandise, medicine balls and now firewood… Everything would be stripped away overnight and they might have new identities and new jobs by next week.
“Nothing disastrous,” Mendoza said immediately, “but there have been some developments that must be discussed.”
“Can we talk inside?” His partner asked, looking around warily.
That made Olivia want to smile despite the cold feeling in her gut. Only city people thought they were more likely to be overheard fifty yards from the tree line of a dense forest, than in a building which could contain multiple hiding places for eavesdroppers. She understood that now as her sensibilities had slowly shifted. As a native New Yorker, she thought she would have minded the change in herself more than she did. That made her wonder, if it was all snatched away overnight would that be harder to go back to her old habits than it had been to adjust to rural life?
“Come on in,” she said, unlocking the front door.
The house was small and wood-framed, with old-fashioned shingles on the outside and scarred hardwood floors inside. The four of them walked in and Olivia tried to see the room from the Marshals' perspective. Without a lot of money at their disposal, she and Alex had only managed cosmetic changes, like the burnt orange paint on the walls, the new throws on the sofa and love-seat that some bureaucrat had probably chosen out of a catalog, the framed watercolors that had been obtained from a local artist in exchange for personal training sessions, the curtains that had been hand sewn in exchange for an annual membership, the lamps they’d picked up at a garage sale and bought funky new shades for and the freshly cut flowers on the coffee table. Olivia thought that it all came together quite well, despite the uninspiring beige rugs that they couldn’t yet afford to replace.
“This place looks completely different,” Holt remarked. “Nice.”
“Thanks,” Alex replied, chewing nervously on the inside of her cheek. “Please, have a seat. Can we get you anything? Coffee?”
Olivia said nothing, because all she wanted to do was scream get on with it!
“Coffee would be great, thanks. We have to drive back to San Francisco tonight.”
Alex went to put the coffee on and as soon as she came back, Mendoza said, “We came for two reasons: the first is that we believe we’ve arrested the guy who shot Miss Cabot and was contracted to kill Detective Benson. He's a pro and we have enough to charge him with multiple counts of first degree murder, so we will not need testimony from either of you unless you specifically want the AUSA to add the attempted murder rap. We advise against that, because it would make Cesar Velez aware that neither of you is dead and Velez’s organization has been weakened by competition from a Mexican cartel but we still consider him a threat.”
Alex shuddered. “I don’t need to have him charged with shooting me. A murder conviction for another crime will be more than satisfying enough. Besides, nether of us got a good look at him and I was told that there was no physical evidence because the car he used had been stolen and it was torched after the shooting.” But most of all, I don’t want to threaten the life I’ve made here. Not for some hollow concept of revenge.
Olivia had been standing at the side of the sofa watching the interaction between the Marshals and Alex. She felt self-contempt as she registered relief at the confirmation the Velez was still a threat. She knew how selfish it was to prefer the life she now had to the one she had left behind, when the opposite was probably the case for Alex, who had been an Ivy League-educated, rich socialite. She awkwardly shifted from one foot to the other, but when she saw the faint tremor in Alex’s hand she moved to sit down beside her, protectiveness making her feel strong enough to deal with whatever the second issue was that the Marshals wanted to discuss.
Mendoza cleared his throat. “The other matter really only concerns Miss Rossi.” He looked apologetically at Olivia who immediately stood to leave.
“No,” Alex said vehemently. “Whatever you have to say to me can be said in front of Gloria.”
The two Marshals looked at each other and then Mendoza cleared his throat again before speaking. It was obviously a nervous habit and did nothing to dispel the tension in the room. “Miss Rossi, we have found a way to get a substantial part of your inheritance funneled to you. A series of investments that were not brought to the attention of the executor of Miss Cabot’s will.” Alex felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland, hearing herself referred to in the third person by someone who was talking to an invented version of herself but quoting the name she'd been born with.
After clearing his throat twice, the Marshal continued, “It has taken several months to work through the process – a sort of reverse money-laundering – and now we’re in a position to say that the funds are available and will give you far more lifestyle choices than you and Miss Ferro have had so far.”
Holt looked around again. “I know it might not seem like it, but you guys actually lucked out. The long recuperation time for Miss Rossi’s injuries meant more set-up time for your new identities and an actual business. Last guy we were able to move into a small business, it was a video store.”
Although she wasn’t in the mood to make small talk and she already knew how lucky she was, Alex could see the problem with that. “Not good for future prospects in a pay-per-view and Internet-focused world.”
“Yeah,” Holt agreed. “I guess that’s why he started dealing coke out of the back room where he kept the adult movies.”
Despite her fear, a snort of laughter escaped Olivia and Alex, too found herself laughing when she realized that Holt was not joking and seemed genuinely surprised that Olivia found humor in the situation.
An uncomfortable silence descended and Alex broke it with the question. “Why did you need to speak to me? Couldn’t you have just dropped off the paperwork?” That was exactly what the Marshals had done when Alex's more liquid assets and the proceeds from the sale of Olivia's apartment had become available. They'd pooled that money to upgrade the equipment in the gym and to expand the women's locker room.
The two Marshals looked at each other. “We have been authorized to offer you legal representation. Your marriage is fully recognized in some states, but even in California you and Miss Ferro have all the rights of a married couple except the right to be a married couple. This matters because you were not given the opportunity to prepare a prenuptial agreement prior to the issuance of your marriage certificate, or to protect your assets in any way.” He looked at Olivia. “No offense meant.”
Olivia dismissed the idea with a shrug. “None taken.”
“Mainly because I didn’t have any assets,” Alex replied wryly, relaxing when she realized that the only news the Marshals had come to impart had been good.
“Well, that’s about to change,” Holt pointed out, unnecessarily and Olivia wondered if he had gone through irony-removal training.
“And I’ll be happy to sign any document that says I have no interest in… Donna’s money.”
“Can you excuse us for a moment?” Alex asked, her body language indicating that she was not happy with Olivia’s declaration.
Olivia didn’t care. “We can talk in the kitchen.” She turned to the Marshals. “Will you stay for dinner? It should be ready in half an hour.”
“We really should be heading back…” Holt started hesitantly.
“Please,” Olivia interrupted. “There are no fast food places around here, most of the restaurants will be closed by the time you get back to town and we don’t get too much company.”
“Thank you,” Mendoza replied, avoiding his partner’s gaze. Olivia guessed that it had been a long time since lunch – or whatever their last meal had been.
As soon as they were in the kitchen, Alex said flatly. “I don’t want you to sign anything.”
Olivia ignored her and opened the fridge to take out the chicken that she planned to cook. “Why don’t you take the coffee out to them and we can talk when you get back?”
Suspecting a stall, Alex narrowed her eyes at Olivia before reluctantly putting the carafe of coffee along with mugs cream and sugar onto a tray and leaving the kitchen.
Olivia sighed. She knew that Alex had lingering feelings of guilt because she had pursued a case that Olivia told her to drop, which had almost got both of them killed and which had literally made them lose everything they had worked for to that point in their lives. But it had been Olivia’s choice to leave. The threat to her would have been significantly lower if Velez thought Alex was dead, although logic was not something she’d relished betting her life on when it came to the actions of a ruthless drug trafficker.
“Olivia…” The name startled her. Alex only ever called her “Gloria” or “Fred”. It was an ingrained habit on which their lives literally depended.
“It’s not your choice,” Olivia replied firmly, before Alex could formulate her argument. “Now move over so I can take out the pan to boil the pasta.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you can’t tell me what to sign. Can you chop these for me? Really thin and about three inches long.”
Alex washed her hands and automatically started preparing the vegetables. “I think you are being unreasonable.” Her voice sounded measured and Olivia knew that meant she was angry. They had certainly had their share of spectacular arguments over the last eight months, so she knew the warning signs and sometimes she actually looked forward to the catharsis of a knock-down, drag-out war of words.
Olivia chuckled as she dropped the chicken into the pan. “I’m making it clear that I have no claim on the money you inherited from your family and that’s unreasonable?”
“Yes. Because you do have a claim to that money.”
Olivia looked quizzically at her. “How d’you figure that? You think I’m a secret Cabot from a branch of the family that migrated from Boston before the Tea Party?”
Alex clenched her teeth, resenting the teasing glint in Olivia’s eyes. She was making an important point and Olivia was refusing to take it seriously. “I’m starting to think your escape was from Salem before the trials,” she muttered.
Olivia paused, realized that Alex had just called her a witch and grinned. “You need to chop that finer,” she pointed at the zucchini that Alex was butchering.
“Which reminds you that I have a sharp knife in my hand…”
“Ok, seriously. I’m happy with everything we’re building together financially and I love being your partner, but that money is yours and you should have the peace of mind of knowing that I have no claim to it, despite the... circumstances in which we find ourselves.”
“What about the peace of mind from knowing that if anything should happen to me, you’ll be taken care of?”
Olivia’s movements stilled, but she didn’t turn to face Alex. “You’re right. We should have thought of that. Not just because we live together, but because of the business. First thing tomorrow, we’ll go into town and visit the insurance agent.”
Alex made a frustrated sound. “So that’s what our life is to you? A business arrangement?”
“No,” Olivia replied quietly. “No. You know it's not. But you've been through a lot more than I have in the last year; you were shot. You had to go through three months of rehab to regain full use of your arm. Your mom is sick and you have to deal with the fact that she thinks you're dead. And that's even without thinking about the kind of financial adjustments you had to make when we got here. I have to admit that the stress of worrying about going out of business in the first year freaked me out, but you went from being rich to being poor with nothing but rehab in between.”
“So that means that if I come into money I have to make sure I legally can't share it with you?”
“It means that I feel better knowing you have the freedom that your money will give you. You deserve it.”
It was Alex's turn to be quiet as she considered the implications of what Olivia had said. Olivia thought that the money would give her freedom. Did Olivia think that, given the choice, she would not stay in the life that the federal government had dropped them into? The life that they had worked so hard to build upon in the last eight months? Does Olivia want to be released from the cohabitation that Witsec forced us into? Or is she being self-sacrificing and stoic and giving me the option to do something that will actually hurt her?
“Look, Alex, don't. Don't decide right now. Just take a few days to think about what all this means.” And when Alex looked as though she were about to argue, Olivia added, “Why don't you go and set the table and I'll finish up the vegetables. Stay with the guys and tell them dinner will be ready in ten minutes. Maybe they can give you more information about how your payment is going to be handled.” She smiled at Alex, but it didn't quite reach her eyes. “Please?”
Alex reluctantly left the kitchen, but she felt as though she was making a mistake.