The first time it happened, Olivia thought she was seeing things. The woman she saw disappearing around a corner in the courthouse was the same build, with the same long blonde hair, maybe a little longer. But she was certain that it was Alex, and nothing Elliot could say (discreetly and under his breath) could convince her otherwise.
The second time it was unsettling. She didn't know if it would be worse if Alex were actually dead: somehow the fact that Alex was alive out there somewhere made the idea of her still being here in New York just that little bit more plausible.
By the third time, Olivia had some perspective back. Enough to notice the slight difference in the hair colour; the fact that the mystery woman's hips were just a little wider than Alex's. It was enough to convince Olivia that it wasn't Alex she was seeing. But not enough to convince her that she didn't want to know who it was who had unsettled her so.
Her name was Cynthia Bennington. She was a public defender doing work tough despite being able to take life easy if she'd wanted to. Olivia found that much out at a bar one night after work: the same one she'd gone to with Alex, where a lot of the female attorneys went to network and stay in touch. This was where Alex had talked easily with defence attorneys, unlike most of the rest of the time. And so Olivia felt comfortable there, too. She was welcomed by friends when she walked in, and knew who to ask when she wanted to be introduced to Cynthia. Danielle smiled. 'I thought you'd want to know her, Olivia. It's been a long time since Alex died.' Olivia didn't know how to respond.
They started meeting once a week, and then more often. Olivia, not sure what she was looking for: Cynthia wanting someone with whom she could share the problems of work, and later the problems of home, and her problems with men. Olivia was almost relieved by what Cynthia told her of her troubled relationship, because there was part of Olivia that felt disloyal to Alex. She felt it would be easier if Alex were dead, and then every time she thought that, Olivia felt guilty for wishing her girlfriend dead. Alex wasn't dead, but she wasn't here either, and Olivia was still struggling with what that meant for her.
And there were so many ways in which Cynthia could have been Alex. Alex had been less idealistic, but at the same time, more gentle. Cynthia's life was hardening her, making her almost brittle, and that shell made Olivia feel a little less guilty about pursuing Cynthia, which was what she was definitely doing by now. She was flirting gently over dinner, sending innocent emails, and leaving slightly less innocent phone messages. Olivia began to place her hand over Cynthia's at opportune moments; to kiss her hello and goodbye (on the cheek, but drifting closer to Cynthia's lips each time) and Cynthia responded.
Because Cynthia worked nights, their dates – which they both admitted now were actually dates – happened at odd hours. They were having a late dinner (by Olivia's reckoning, which was lunchbreak for Cynthia) when they kissed for the first time.
'I've got tomorrow off,' said Olivia, hesitantly, as they broke the kiss.
'Really,' said Cynthia. 'How about you meet me at the end of Night Court. I can put my paperwork off until tomorrow.'
Olivia smiled. 'Are you sure?'
Cynthia nodded, and they kissed once more before Cynthia went back to work.
Olivia was waiting for her when Court rose for the evening, and they went to Olivia's apartment together. Cynthia still lived at home, and Olivia and Alex had mostly been together at Alex's place. But there was still a twinge of guilt somewhere within Olivia when she arrived home, holding Cynthia's hand. Olivia opened the door and pulled Cynthia through, and began to kiss her.
They were down to underwear, and lying on Olivia's bed, when Cynthia pulled back. 'Who is it that I remind you of?' she asked.
'No one,' said Olivia, although she paused first, and then wondered whether the pause had been noticeable.
'I've learned a lot since you first met me, Olivia. I spend my nights cross-examining cops. Who is it that I remind you of?'
Olivia sighed. 'My girlfriend. My ex-girlfriend. Alex Cabot.'
Cynthia nodded. 'I thought so. I've had a lot of people tell me I remind them of her, and... well, I'd heard that you and Alex,' she paused. 'Everyone thought you were really great together.'
They were lying half-naked on Olivia's bed, and Olivia had to try hard not to laugh. 'I didn't realise everyone knew.'
'Not everyone,' said Cynthia. 'Just some of us.'
'Do you mind? That you remind me of Alex, I mean?'
Cynthia shook her head slowly. 'I suspected, I guess you'd say. At the beginning. But I guess... I guess I can compete with a ghost. After all, I'm the one who is here.'
'Yeah,' said Olivia. 'You're the one who is here,' she repeated, and as she shifted above Cynthia and slid Cynthia's bra straps off her shoulders, she clamped down on the curl of guilt within her. Because Olivia knew that Cynthia thought Alex was dead, and yet she knew that if Alex ever came back, it would be Alex that Olivia would choose.